Universal Calamity Impending

“Universal Calamity Impending: The World’s Greatest War” was the news headline in The Daily Advertiser from 4 August 1914.  The phrase sums up well the air of foreboding that we imagine was hanging around on that day. It was on 4 August that Britain declared war on Germany.  And where Britain went, Australia was determined to follow.

With so many interwoven agreements, promises of support and alliances throughout Europe, when the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, the resulting mess was seemingly inevitable. Countries were mobilising even before any declarations of war – Australia included. No one wanted to be caught out.

In that Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Advertiser, the editor gave the people of Wagga details on what the Government could offer Britain in the event of war.  Prime Minister Joseph Cook was quoted as saying “the Australian fleet is ready, and at the disposal of the Empire, as it has been and ever will be when our navy is wanted to help the mother country.”

Wagga Wagga Express, 4 August 1914
The Special War Edition of the Wagga Wagga Express, 4 August 1914

The next day, a Wednesday, the Daily Advertiser ran the headline “All Europe in Arms” followed by “Decisive Step By Britain; Great Naval Engagements; Eight German and Three British Vessels Sunk; etc. etc.”  And so it was on.  The editor could hardly understand it:

“Has Germany suddenly gone made?  What possible chance can she have against a combination such as Britain, France, Russia, and Japan?  What has she to gain by going to war?  These are questions which perplex the minds of the majority of thinking people, and even of people who do not habitually use up much mental energy in the effort to think.”

Just as a side note, while the Advertiser did devote one whole page to the outbreak of war in their 5 August 1914 edition, on the other three pages it was business as usual.  Mr A Mitchell, foreman at Hardy and Co’s joinery works, had met with an accident and was in Belmore Private Hospital; George Randall was up before the police court having been drunk and disorderly and had used indecent language in Fitzmaurice Street, and Elisher Sydenham was acquitted after having been charged with “having insufficient lawful means of support” (she had been seen sleeping in Newtown Park (Collins Park)).  The Wagga Choral Society had just held their annual meeting, the painters of Wagga were invited to a meeting that night to form a union, and a fancy dress football team was to meet an “old buffers’ combination” at Mangoplah on Wednesday week.

We think of the world as suddenly being consumed with war between 1914 and 1918 but during those years a lot of people still went to work, played sport, went to gaol, died, had babies, went shopping, and gambled on the horses. The newspapers paint this picture in such an immediate way – they published reports, advertisements, and commentaries almost daily which now provides us with a wonderful way to see life as it unfolded, whether on the world stage or at home in little ol’ Wagga Wagga.

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