1914 • Into the abyss

In far-off Sarajevo, on 28th June, a young Bosnian Serb anarchist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was a shocking incident, but no one could have foreseen the resulting catastrophic chain of events that was unleashed. Within five weeks Europe was ablaze with war as the Austrians, supported by Germany, retaliated against the Serbs, while Russia came to the aid of their Slavonic brothers. An existing treaty with Russia brought in the French, against whom, after decades of simmering rivalry, the Germans immediately took the opportunity to go on the offensive. In spite of an ultimatum issued by the British and French that Belgium’s neutrality should be respected, that country was invaded by the advancing German army, intent on reaching Paris.

 

David Lloyd George, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, later wrote in his War Memoirs, that as the midnight deadline for the ultimatum approached on 3rd August, and no reply had been received, ministers were gathered around the table in the Cabinet Room:

 

“It was like awaiting the signal for the pulling of a lever which would hurl millions to their doom. … ‘Boom!’ The deep notes of Big Ben rang out into the night, the first strokes in Britain’s most fateful hour since she arose out of the deep.”

 

On 4th August Britain and her Empire now entered the conflict. In the following weeks, still more nations, seeking to expand their territories or reclaim lands previously lost, took sides, and before long the conflagration was global.

 

Organised sport, in this context, was very small fry. Belgrave Harriers almost immediately suffered as some three dozen members enlisted within a few weeks. John Garnett, now a Sergeant of the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, wrote home a letter, published in the “Sporting Life” of 3rd October, informing that, “… no casualty has as yet occurred amongst members of the Club who are at the front. Around 50 Belgrave members are at present with the colours.” That was about half of the entire membership! For now, optimism ruled, and many were cheered by those words often evoked in time of crisis: “It’ll all be over by Christmas.”

 

The Annual General Meeting for 1914 went ahead as normal, held at “The Surprise,” Christchurch Terrace, Chelsea, on September 17th, the war barely even hinted at in the meeting minutes. Oscar Horwood, the Hon Secretary made a short speech, thanking members for their support and commenting on the generosity and backing provided by the President; but he concluded by tendering his resignation. The meeting would have none of it. They would not accept Oscar’s retirement from his role after he had done such a good job, turning a substantial deficit into a credit balance in just the two years since he had become involved. Clem Arnold came to the rescue. He had only been a member since April that year, but he offered to take over all the Hon Secretary’s duties until such time as Mr Horwood felt able to renew them; his desire was that Mr Horwood should retain his post during what was a trying time. A compromise had been reached, and Messrs. Horwood and Arnold were duly elected Joint Secretaries.

 

Monthly Committee meetings went ahead through until December, still at “The Surprise,” although Jimmy Belchamber was invited to attend in place of A.E. Macher who had also “joined the Colours.” It was decided to exempt members from paying a subscription while they were serving their country and Bob Ricketts suggested that a special Christmas card be sent to all Belgravians serving in His Majesty’s Forces; the idea was wholeheartedly taken up. On another matter, a dispute had arisen over payment for use of “The Surprise” as the Club’s headquarters. A new manager had taken over who feigned to know nothing of the fact that payment had already been made by the Club to the former manager. The Committee refused to pay again, leaving it to the manager to take any action he thought necessary. Whether this impasse was resolved we do not know, but, for one reason or another, no further meetings were held until October 1915 – and then at a different venue.

Left: Bob Ricketts suggested that a special Christmas card be sent to all Belgravians serving in His Majesty’s Forces. 

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