Community prepares for impact of First World War

War! It was a cataclysm that had not touched Central Alberta for a dozen years since the end of the South African (Boer) War. However, that conflict had been limited to a distant part of the British Empire. Now, all the world’s great powers, their colonies and allies were about to plunge into a global war.

The declaration of war by Great Britain and its empire, on Aug. 4th, 1914, was sudden, but not totally unexpected. On June 28th, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie had been assassinated by a Serbian radical in Sarajevo, capital of Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the spark that ultimately caused the start of the Great War.

However, few people realized at first the significance of the assassination.

No senior member of the European royal families, other than Hapsburgs of Austria, attended the Archduke and Duchess’s funeral. No head of state was present either. The reports of the murder of the royal couple only appeared on page four of the Red Deer News and page six of the Red Deer Advocate.

Nevertheless, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in trouble.

Senior members of the Empire’s government were determined to use the pretext of the assassination to put Serbia and other ‘problem’ states in the Balkans in their place, thereby showing the world that the Empire was not as weak as it appeared to have become.

Hence, the summer was spent making threats and ultimatums.

Both Austro-Hungary and Serbia called on their allies to back them in the diplomatic brinkmanship. Consequently, more and more countries got pulled into the dispute. By the end of July, although everyone insisted that they were still dedicated to ensuring peace, the outbreak of war seemed inevitable.

On Aug. 4th, German troops entered neutral Belgium on their way to invading France. Great Britain immediately declared war on Germany and a few days later on Austro-Hungary. Canada was automatically part of the declaration as a loyal member of the British Empire.

Word of the outbreak of war reached Red Deer around 8 p.m. on Aug. 4th, 1914. The community responded to the news with a large spontaneous demonstration. The Red Deer Community Band, out for their weekly practice, got the rally started.

They were rapidly joined by the Sons of England who had been holding their regular meeting at the Anglican Parish Hall.

Soon all kinds of people were rushing to join the demonstrations – members of the Central Alberta Light Horse militia, veterans of the Boer War, downtown businessmen and a great many members of the general public.

Flags appeared everywhere. A number of people brought their automobiles. Soon there was a kilometre-long procession moving from the Parish Hall on Gaetz Ave. near McLeod (54) St. to the Armouries on Mann (49) St. southeast of City Hall. The Community Band led the informal parade with lusty renditions of marching and patriotic songs.

Finally, the crowd gathered on the City Square, on the west side of the Armouries and City Hall. Hiram Hadley started things off with the singing of The Veteran. After more choruses of patriotic songs and enthusiastic cheering, the speeches by various dignitaries began. There were assurances that victory over the enemy would be swift. Many men in the crowd announced that they were willing to enlist right away.

Major Carlyle Moore of the 35 Central Alberta Horse wired the Minister of the Militia to indicate the local squadron’s willingness and readiness to serve immediately. He also posted notices that the squadron would assemble every evening at 8 p.m. at the Armouries for drill and rifle practice. Despite these eruptions of patriotic excitement, there were some public cautions about what was happening. The Red Deer News printed the prediction that the world faced, “The most terrible war since the Fall of the Roman Empire.”

Tragically, it was a prediction that was to prove to be all too true.