Sunday, 27 April 2014

The World in 1914

For many years the boiling pot of European politics had simmered away in the background of people’s everyday lives. Militarism was rife throughout Europe and the British Empire was involved in a naval arms race with Germany, a result of the Kaiser’s policy of Welt Politik.

The German leadership wanted to ensure that the nation had it’s ‘place in the sun.’ They wanted to create an overseas colonial empire and move away from their traditional Eurocentric foreign policy as formulated by Bismarck.

The creation of a powerful fleet of warships and such an aggressive foreign policy upset the European balance of power and put Germany on a collision course with Great Britain. The seriousness with which the British Government viewed this issue is illustrated by the abandonment of the age old policy of ‘splendid isolation,’ where Britain remained aloof from conflicting European alliances.

In 1904 Britain put aside her colonial differences with France and entered into an alliance known as Entente Cordiale. She followed this in 1907 with a similar agreement with Russia. Opposing the Entente was the German lead Triple Alliance that tied her to the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. However, Italy’s position would change as war approached as the chance to improve her lot at the expense of her traditional enemy, Austria-Hungary, proved too strong to resist. Thus Germany found itself potentially surrounded and facing the real possibility of a war on two fronts.

The early years of the new century had seen several international flashpoints but mutual common sense and a feeling of being not quite ready for war pervaded, allowing the European status quo to carry on.

In the summer of 1914 it was to explode in the most cataclysmic fashion imaginable and destroy millions of people’s lives forever.

The early summer of 1914 was a spectacularly warm one. The Cook family business continued as normal with all three brothers now having settled in to running the company following the death of their father. Down in Brighton at the school, Eddie Cook was busy with his studies and also making a name for himself on the cricket pitch, excelling as the school First Elevens all-rounder. The Brighton School Past & Present magazine reflects on the 1914 cricket season and in the notes on the First Elevens section he is described thus:

R.E. Cook. – Bowls at a good pace and keeps a splendid length; his batting shows a marked improvement; he hits well and with great power.

This was the Cook’s world in early 1914. A successful business had been passed from one generation to another with an heir from the next generation poised to take the business on into the middle of the still new 20th century.

I have recently found the photograph below which is of King Edward VII memorial parade in May 1910. There are several pictures of this parade but I have never seen this one before and I was delighted to see some familiar faces. Almost in the centre of the photograph, staring directly at the camera, just below the banner of the Crawley Temperance Society is Uncle Ted. The two ladies on the right are Aunt Em and Ted’s wife Laura.

So Eddie’s parents are in the picture is it too much to hope that he is the boy turning round to speak to some friends? Of course we will never know.

Close to the front of this picture are gentlemen from the Crawley Rifle Club including young Bernard Taylor, looking splendid in a bowler hat, who was to join the Royal Flying Corp and win the Croix de Guerre during the Great War.

Everyone in the photograph would have the lives changed forever by the impending catastrophe. 

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