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By Sir Max Hastings

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Samsonov (DeAgostini/GettyImages) Russians under attack. Russian prisoners after Tannenberg (© Robert Hunt Library/Mary Evans). Rennenkampf (RIA Novosti). Fortunino Matania’s painting of L Battery’s action at Néry (© David Cohen Fine Art/Mary Evans Picture Library). C. Money. LC GS 1126. Reproduced with the permission of Leeds University Library) A Suffolk girl at the handle of a Lowestoft tram (© IWM (Q 31032) Russian soldiers in bivouac (David King Collection) A Russian field hospital (David King Collection).

In polite circles even language was tightly corseted: the words ‘damn’ and ‘bloody’ were impermissible, and more extreme epithets were unusual between men and women save in the most intimate circumstances. ‘Decent’ was an adjective of high praise, ‘rotter’ a noun of profound condemnation. Fifty years later British writer and war veteran Reginald Pound asserted: ‘The sardonic objectivity of our latter-day school of historians can neither penetrate nor dissipate the golden haze of that singular time.

It remains nonetheless a dazzling essay in narrative history, which retains the unembarrassed affection of many admirers, including myself, in whom it contributed significantly to stimulating a passion for the past. Those days will exercise an undying fascination for mankind: they witnessed the last fatal flourishes of the old crowned and cockaded Europe, followed by the birth of a terrible new world in arms. MAX HASTINGS Chilton Foliat, Berkshire June 2013 1914 Chronology 28 JuneArchduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated in Sarajevo23 JulyAustria-Hungary’s ultimatum delivered to Serbia28 JulyAustria-Hungary declares war on Serbia29 JulyAustrians bombard Belgrade31 JulyRussia mobilises,fn2 German ultimatums dispatched to Paris and St Petersburg1 AugustGermany and France mobilise3 AugustGermany declares war on France4 AugustGermany invades Belgium, Britain declares war on Germany8 AugustFrench briefly occupy Mulhouse in Alsace13 AugustAustrians invade Serbia, French launch major thrusts into Alsace and Lorraine15 AugustFirst Russo-Austrian clashes in Galicia16 AugustLast fort of Liège falls to the Germans20 AugustSerbs inflict defeat on Austrians at Mount Cer20 AugustBrussels falls20 AugustFrench repulsed at Morhange20 AugustGermans defeated at Gumbinnen in East Prussia22 AugustFrance loses 27,000 men killed in one day of the abortive ‘Battles of the Frontiers’21–23 AugustBattle of Charleroi23 AugustBritish Expeditionary Force fights first action at Mons24–29 AugustBattle of Tannenberg26 AugustBEF fights at Le Cateau28 AugustBattle of Heligoland Bight29 AugustBattle of Guise2 SeptemberAustrian fortress of Lemberg falls to the Russians6 SeptemberFrance launches Marne counter-offensive7 SeptemberAustrians renew invasion of Serbia9 SeptemberGermans begin retreat to the Aisne9 SeptemberBattle of the Masurian Lakes23 SeptemberJapan declares war on Germany9 OctoberAntwerp falls10 OctoberAustrian fortress of Przemyśl falls to the Russians12 OctoberFlanders campaign begins, climaxing in three-week First Battle of Ypres29 OctoberOttoman Empire enters the war on the side of the Central Powers18–24 NovemberBattle of Łódź, ending in German withdrawal2 DecemberBelgrade falls15 DecemberAustrian army in Galicia driven back to the Carpathians17 DecemberAustrians once more expelled from Serbia The Organisation of Armies in 1914 The structure of each belligerent’s forces and the size of their sub-units varied, but it may be helpful to offer readers a very rough crib: An ARMY might be composed of anything from two to five CORPS (each usually commanded by a lieutenant-general).

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