German soldiers returning from the front marching across the Rhine

German soldiers were retreating en masse. Will Spencer heard the Germans’ side of the story via his wife’s family.

24 November 1918

Johanna read to me letters of Nov 20th & 21st which she had received from Agnes. In her letter of Nov. 17th she had spoken of soldiers returning from the front marching through the town & across the Rhine, & now – on Nov. 21st – they had six soldiers in the house for one night, & expecting six more the next night.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)


An overpowering Germany is shewn by this war to be a Curse to the world

Unlike many, John Maxwell Image did not believe the Armistice meant peace.

29 Barton Road
17 Nov. ‘18

My very dear old man

The town – even in London – is full of riot and devilry. I send you the Cambridge Daily News of the first day – and nightly bonfires have succeeded – with the Kaiser for Guy Faux [sic]. The u.g.s that evening, and on Tuesday, are said to have gone to Girton with music, and serenaded the fair captives “in dismal dance about the furnace blue” – dismal, for on Monday evening no dove would listen – on Tuesday a few weakened, and the whirl became epicene. Then the Mistress phoned to Cambridge for Proctors – who hurried up with bulldogs in motor cars: and at their mere aspect – pulveris exigui jacta quiescent – the u.g.s scattered and fled.

Each day that passes heightens my conviction that the Hun has done us – as it was prophesied by his own people he would. Who can believe that Foch was left free handed in the matter of this armistice? Foch, who had everything matured for the final battle that would have left the Hun army a run away rabble, howling for mercy on any terms – and the Armistice simply gives them a fortnight (or is it a month?) of Rest Cure, to rehabilitate discipline and morale unhindered, and at the end confront us with a restored army well-equipped – Foch knows his Hun. Unhampered by the politician allies, he surely, if grant an armistice he must, would have demanded as sine qua non the bridge heads over the Rhine – over which he would have guaranteed a peaceful passage to the German forces after surrender of their arms.

He would never have allowed this debating about Terms. The man who has his boot heel on the adder’s head, and suffers the reptile to wriggle free, deserves his fate.

Directly debates begin, US (the only safe terms) is lost. The Hun will promise anything; and stick to no promise he can find means to evade. He has himself carefully taught the world that.

I should like to see Germany broken up into free republics. If German Austria unites with the Hohenzollern empire, the agglomeration will be numerically the ‘Predominant Power’ of Europe. An overpowering Germany is shewn by this war to be a Curse to the world.

Ever your affec.

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

More than a ‘scrap of paper’: what we are fighting for

The Burghfield parish magazine explains the moral impetus it saw behind standing against a militaristic Germany in defence of weaker allies:

The great war, long foreseen, is upon us. Before these words, written in mid August, are published, the issue of the first gigantic conflict in Belgium and Luxemburg [sic] will be more or less gradually becoming clear. And other conflicts whether by our gallant sailors in the North Sea or Adriatic, or by our allies in more remote parts of the continent, will have thrown some light on the prospects before us all. May the outlook give good ground for hopes of complete success.

In the meanwhile, in spite of all that has been written and spoken, many people in quiet country parishes like ours must be wondering what we are fighting for. The short answer is to this effect:-

(1) When we asked Germany and France to keep their word, given long ago, and not send troops into Belgium, Germany refused though France at once gave the required undertaking.

(2) Germany, on the point of declaring war against France, asked England to remain neutral, on the terms that the French territory in Europe should not be diminished, though her colonies might be taken from her.

In short, we could only keep out of the war by breaking our word to Belgium, and leaving France to the mercy of a foe who had just shown his contempt for his own solemn vow. When our Ambassador was taking his leave of the German Chancellor at Berlin, the latter is said to have exclaimed with irritation “Why should you make war upon us for a scrap of paper?” The reply was simple but severe, that the “scrap of paper” (the Treaty guaranteeing Belgium neutrality) bore our signature as well as that of Germany! What faith then can we put in any fresh promise of a promise-breaker?

Our honour is enough. But there are other reasons. The neutrality of Belgium and Holland was guaranteed by the Powers of Europe because they knew that it stood for peace. If any great Power came to hold these countries, she would be too great a menace to the rest of Europe. And knowing what we do now about German schemes of universal dominion, we ourselves can clearly see what would be the result to us if the mouths of the Rhine were in German hands, which would soon fill them with ships and dockyards and fortresses for our destruction. For supposing we had stood aside in the present war, and Germany with Austria were to win, as very possibly they might have done, who can doubt that the independence of Belgium and Holland would have vanished, and what help from others, when our turn came, could have been expected by us if we hd ourselves refused to give help in time of need? Even if Germany had lost, we should have had an embittered France and a resentful Russia, as our neighbours at home and in India.

Honesty has again been the best policy; since if we cannot win with such splendid allies, we should indeed have stood little chance alone.

But it may be a long and terrible struggle, and we may have trials and losses more than can be estimated now. Germany, or rather the ruling military caste, is fighting for its life; and the nation has been hardened and trained to arms, which we have too long neglected.
May strength and determination be granted to us to fight for our righteous cause; and to use the victory, for which we pray, with justice and with no other object than the highest welfare of mankind.

Burghfield parish magazine, September 1914 (D/EX725/3)