20th March 1915 (Saturday)

War – the ethics of foreign policy

Italy’s price for joining the Triple Alliance: After a long delay the Allies respond to Italy’s terms that they cannot accept complete Italian control of the Adriatic (because of Russia’s continuing support for Serbia). As the wrangling continues, the British political class confide in each other their private opinions of Italy and its people: “greedy and slippery” (Prime Minister Asquith); “the harlot of Europe” (Navy Minister Winston Churchill); “mere organ grinders” (Admiral Fisher); and “the most contemptible nation” (David Lloyd George).  [ Mark Thompson: “The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919”]

Britain’s price for a Russian Bosphorous: Meanwhile, also today, Britain and Russia sign a separate agreement where Britain will take control of oil rich Ottoman provinces in Mesopotamia in return for Russia taking control of its Black Sea route to the Mediterranean through the Bosphorous and the Dardanelles. [UK government national archives online]



The “Spectator” offers its opinion on “Russia’s prize” –  “It is quite clear that France as well as Britain will now welcome Russia’s entry into the warm water, and that winter will no longer mean for Russia the sealing up of all her chief ports. Russia will unquestionably get a great accession of strength by the possession of Constantinople, but no reasonable section of public opinion either here or in France will envy her. She has made great sacrifices for the common cause and deserves great rewards.”


3rd March 1915 (Wednesday)


In the Middle East: At Ahwaz, in Persia, close to the Shatt al-Arab waterway, a small British force attacks, and is soon forced to retreat with heavy losses by, a larger Turkish and Arab force.


26th January 1915 (Tuesday)

BORN TODAY: in Colorado, USA – The Rocky Mountain National Park, a “huge expanse of scenic rugged terrain” [Google maps].



Transcaucasian Front, and beyond: In Sufian in Persia (now in Eastern Azerbaijan province in Iran) Russian forces under General Chernozubov overpower Turkish forces, enabling the Russians to re-establish local control and authority in Tabriz, ignoring Persia’s declared neutrality.



Taxation blues: In Dublin, in (British) Ireland, Mr Richard Reeve Smythe of Griffin Lodge is being prosecuted for refusing to pay his motor tax, as required of motor owners under the provisions of the Motor Tax Licence Duties Collection Order, 1910. My Smythe’s legal council questions the validity of the tax, noting that “motorists across Ireland rarely paid it to their county councils and prosecutions were like angel visits, few and far between” [RTE century ireland].


21st August 1914 (Friday)

BORN TODAY: in California – Robert Emmet Smith, “Art Director”



Western Front: On the second day of the “Battle of the Frontiers”, French General de Castenau hears that his son has been killed in battle.  “He said, after a moment’s silence, in a phrase that was to become something of a slogan for France ‘we will continue, Gentlemen’ ” [Barbara Tuchman: “The Guns of August”].

In the Belgian village of Obourg, near Mons, close to the French border, 17 year old British Private John Henry Parr, former butcher’s boy and golf caddy, is shot dead by German riflemen while performing reconaissance on his push-bike. He is believed to be the first British or Commonwealth soldier killed by enemy action during the first world war [Wikipedia].


On a foggy morning in the forests, the Battle of the Ardennes starts badly for both French and German units when advancing forces meet at short range with no previous warning. [Tuchman].

 Africa: In southern Africa, German troops from the colony of South West Africa cross the border and invade British South Africa.



In Sweden  (and other places too – Russia, Turkey, Iraq and Iran) day briefly becomes night as the Swedes experience the first of four total eclipses of the sun that they will ‘enjoy’ over the next 40 years.



20th May 1914 (Wednesday)

BORN TODAY:  in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire (England) – John ‘Ted’ Edward Dickinson, left-handed cricketer.


World Affairs: In Athens, the Ottoman Ambassador to Greece proposes to the Greek Premier Venizelos a “population exhange” whereby the muslim communities of Macedonia (including Salonica – now Thessaloniki) will be “swapped” for the Greek communities  in and around Smyrna (now Izmir) on the Anatolian coast.


Global oil: The British government and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) sign an agreement for the British Government to become a majority (51%) shareholder in APOC. The agreement gives the British government the right to appoint two directors on the Board who have the power of veto on any questions relating to British national interests. Also on the same day, a contract is signed between APOC and the British Admiralty by which APOC guarantees the supply of oil to the British Admiralty for 30 years at fixed prices.


Exploration: In St Petersburg (later Petrograd, then Leningrad, now St Petersburg again) Sergei Fedorovich Oldenburg leaves for his second Russian Turkestan expedition, accomapnied by the  artist V. S. Bikenberg, topographer N. A. Smirnov, photographers Dudian and Romberg, seven Kazakh guards, and a Chinese interpreter. The expediton will take 3 months to reach its final destination  –  the ‘caves of a thousand Buddhas’ at Mogao, near Dunhuang.


Society and culture: In a village south of Lyon in France, Monsieur Falour accepts a wager to eat 50 eggs and a pound of bread at a single sitting. Sadly, he drops dead after the 45th egg.

Men, eh?




26th January 1914 (Monday)

BORN TODAY:  In  the Çamlıca Palace, Uskudar, Istanbul, Turkey – Her Imperial and Exalted Highness The Princess Hatice Hayriye Ayşe Dürrüşehvar Sultan, Imperial Princess of the Ottoman Empire, Princess of Berar. Daughter of the (not yet) deposed Ottoman Caliphs, and by 1931 the wife of the richest ruler in the world, after previously being sought by the Shah of Persia and King Fuad I of Egypt. “She believed that women should earn their own living” (!) [Wikipedia].


Accidents: In Liverpool, England, a gas cylinder explodes while the Cunard Line’s SS Mauretania is undergoing its annual service. Four men die and six more are injured.


4th November 1913 (Tuesday)

BORN TODAY: In Switzerland, Paul Irniger – fraudster, robber and murderer who became, at the age of 25, the second to last person judicially executed in Switzerland – guillotined on the 25th August 1939.


Crime and Punishment: In Wolverhampton, England, Josiah Davies murders his landlady, for which crime he will be convicted in December 1913 and executed (hanged) in March 1914.


World Affairs:

~ In Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey, representatives of the Ottoman Empire and of Persia sign a protocol defining the boundary between Persia and the Turkish lands (which are now part of Iraq).


~ The Kingdom of Bavaria, which has been “annexed” by the German Empire since 1871 (when the crown was offered to King William I of Prussia) amends its constitution to include a clause specifying that if a regency for reasons of incapacity lasts for ten years with no expectation that the King will ever be able to reign, the Regent can proclaim the end of the regency and assume the crown himself. Bavaria’s most recent two kings have been Ludwig II (1864-1886) who “bankrupted the country building fairytale castles and hosting Wagner concerts”, before he was mysteriously drowned, and his younger brother and successor King Otto, who was declared insane in 1875. King Otto was “by some accounts not even aware that he had become King” [Colonel J’s Bavaria].


Natural Disasters: in the Apurimac region of Peru an earthquake kills 155 people.


A sign of the times?  The pre-dreadnought class steel armoured battleship launched in 1891 – HMS “Empress of India” is ignominiously used for target practice, presumably by her fully dreadnought class successors, and sent to a watery grave.


11th January 1913 (Saturday)

BORN TODAY – Lona Cohen (later, Helen Kroger), in Adams, Massachusetts, American  communist who spied for the Soviet Union, later taking a New Zealand identity and spying against Britain.

FIRST BALKAN WAR: The Manchester (UK) Guardian, reports a recent  address to the Imperial Institute:  “Some Lessons of the War in the Balkans” by Mr. Spenser Wilkinson, Chichele Professor of Military History at Oxford:

QUOTE:  In the present war, for the Balkan Allies to have taken Constantinople would have been to strike Turkey such a blow that her recovery would have been doubtful. The Powers would have had to consider the future of Turkey in Asia and perhaps its partition, which would have been unwelcome, and there would also probably have been a change in the attitude of Russia. These were probably among the reasons which led the Allies to prefer a truce to an attack upon Turkey’s last position which would have had little meaning unless it had been carried to the Bosphorus. Other difficulties of the Allies were the attitude of Austria and the desire of Roumania to exert her influence. Russian national sentiment was deeply attached to the prosperity of Bulgaria and Servia. An Austrian attack upon Servia and probably a Romanian attack upon Bulgaria would make it almost impossible for any Russian Government not to take action in defence of the Balkan States. In that case Germany would feel called upon to come to the assistance of Austria, and France could not refuse to co-operate with her Russian ally.

The problem of British statesmanship was whether in that eventuality, Great Britain could remain neutral consistently with her own self-respect and the position she had hitherto held as a European Power. For that reason it was desirable that all Englishmen should make up their minds while there was time as to their country’s duty in Europe and concerning the necessity of national organisation for war. UNQUOTE. [Manchester Guardian, 11 January 1913].

Transportation: The Paris public transport system moves from horse drawn to electric street-cars, and the last horse drawn car is withdrawn.

High Society: Archduchess Mechthildis of Austria marries Prince Olgierd Czartorysky of Poland. They will settle in Poland and emigrate to Brazil at the outbreak of World War 2.

Changing places: In Iran, Mirza Mohammad Ali Khan becomes the country’s 15th prime minister since the Iranian constitutional revolution in 1906.

Extreme weather: Nottingham in the UK is hit by a “Great Blizzard” that disrupts trade, transport and sporting events.