Cyril Bartlett - the beginning of the Great War

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On 4 August 1914 Britain entered the conflict that became known as the Great War, and on 1 September 1914, Cyril joined thousands of other young men and enlisted. Cyril joined the First and Fourth Royal Berkshire Regiment. His eighteenth birthday was on 10th September and family history has it that he was sent outside the Recruiting Office for a few minutes and told to come back when he was eighteen. Presumably his birth date was falsified by the enlisting officer.

The Battalion became part of the South Midland Division, moved to Chelmsford for mobilisation and landed in Boulogne on 15 March 1915.
La Defense du Drapeau – the Defence of the Colours.
In June 1915 Jessica Kate Green received a postcard from Cyril:

Dear Jess, Received your letter with many thanks. We are going back to the trenches today. I bought this PC at a large town the other day where we went to have a bath and a change of clothing. Feel much better for it too.
Will write letter soon, hoping you are well.
Yours ever, Cyril xxx

Cyril translates the front of the card as follows: La Defense du Drapeau – the Defence of the Colours. Pour La France


By the week ending 5 September, perhaps influenced by the Kitchener posters exhorting ‘Your Country wants YOU’, 175,000 men had volunteered.

Kitchener Posters and Recruitment

During the government's main recruiting drive, up to six million posters were printed, to more than 140 different designs. They also produced many smaller strip posters for use on taxi cabs and trams and in railway carriages. Several designs included Kitchener's name and/or image, but the famous 'pointing finger' design was not among these official posters.

The Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, said in the House of Commons on 3 August 1914:

… if we are engaged in war, we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer if we stand aside

The idea of serving one’s country, given the publicity about alleged German atrocities in Belgium, would appeal to a young man’s natural patriotism; it must have seemed a very exciting prospect

By the end of September 1914, 750,000 young men had volunteered for this great adventure, expecting to be home by Christmas.

In November 1914 the Cabinet acknowledged that its expectations of a short war had proved false.

A New Kind of War

In the First World War – and for the first time in history – whole nations, and not merely armies, took up arms against one another. For the first time, too, poison gas, aeroplanes and other scientific ways of waging war were introduced.

Thirty million men were under arms. Ten million were killed. Millions more were disabled

It was an international conflict between Germany, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria, and the Allies, of whom Britain, France, Russia and latterly America were the chief.

Origins of the War

The war arose out of the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, by a Serb at Sarajevo on 28th June 1914. There were stringent demands by Austria for satisfaction, and although Serbia agreed to eight of the ten Austrian demands, Austria, with the assurance of German support, broke off relations with Serbia and formally declared war on 28th July.

Russia immediately mobilised in support of Serbia, and Germany retaliated by declaring war on Russia, whose ally, France, was next brought into the conflict. On 1st August German troops crossed the frontiers of Luxembourg and Belgium. This action by Germany brought an ultimatum from Britain, a signatory to a treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality.

Pervasive War

On 4th August Britain declared war on Germany, and for the four years from 1914 to 1918 fighting went on in Flanders, France, Italy, the Balkans, Mesopotamia (an area largely corresponding to present day Iraq), East Africa and China. Nor was war fought just on land; it raged also on the high seas and in the air.

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