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East Chinnock and World War 1
Part 2
by Jeremy Churchill
Although the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on the 28th June 1914 at the hands of what would now be seen as terrorists of Serbian origin provoked outrage and, in Great Britain, some sympathy for Austria-Hungary, it was not seen as an event likely to lead to further trouble and the attention of the British establishment and people soon turned back to domestic affairs. Only a very few with particular interests in the region would have noticed the occasional reports in the newspapers of the diplomatic consequences of the assassination and the escalation into world war which is usually known as the July Crisis.

One thing that stands out is the tiny number of people involved in the outbreak of war. One of the best books on the July Crisis – Clive Ponting’s “Thirteen Days” – gives a list of 185 politicians, diplomats and soldiers, of which only some 30 were actually involved in decision-making (all men – the only two women involved – the Tsarina of Russia and the Kaiserin of Germany – seem to have seen it as their duty to stiffen the spines of their respective husbands when either showed signs of vacillating in favour of peace). Although historians have always argued about the individual motives of those concerned and assigned different levels of blame to different countries as a result, the essential facts are as follows:

  • An act of terrorism sponsored by a group high up in the Serbian government resulted in the assassination of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • The Austrians and Hungarians (the latter reluctantly) decided that their only possible response was a war to eliminate Serbia as “a factor of political power in the Balkans”. First, however, they asked for – and received – the support of Germany as insurance against any possible Russian reaction. These decisions meant that a diplomatic incident escalated first to a “minor” war confined to the Balkans (the third such in the last two years), then to a major European war.
  • The situation was further complicated by Russia. The Tsarist Empire, seeing itself as the protector of Serbia against Austro-Hungarian aggression, threatened to respond to any danger to Serbia by mobilising its armies against the Austro-Hungarian border. This, regarded by most historians as just a gesture to show Russia’s support for Serbia in the expectation of Austria-Hungary and Germany backing down, is seen by others as evidence of Tsarist Russia’s responsibility for the outbreak of war.
  • However, the final nail in the coffin of peace was hammered home by the Germans, who felt themselves encircled by their enemies: their one and only plan in the event of war was to attack France first and to defeat her, then to transfer their troops across Europe to subdue Russia. The insanity of the Schlieffen Plan has led many historians to doubt its actual purpose, but as far as July 1914 is concerned the result was the same; the German armies invaded Luxembourg and Belgium – in so doing, convincing the British that the Germans were not to be trusted and ensuring the entry of the British Empire into the war. The German actions thus involved the French and British Empires and so escalated the conflict into the first World War.

What did all this mean for the people of East Chinnock?
Very little, until August 4th, when the British government’s ultimatum to the Germans to get out of Belgium or face the consequences expired.

At least 17 men of the village were already serving in the Army and Navy – Talbot Axe and George Morgan in the Royal Navy; Frederick Axe had just been discharged unfit at the end of his enlistment in the 2nd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, Herbert and Maurice Axe were in the Royal Field Artillery (Herbert serving in India), as was Robert Taylor (of The Rookery), while George and John Trask were serving the heavy guns of the Royal Garrison Artillery (John left for France with the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) advance party on the 10th August 1914).

Herbert Hallett and Thomas Rockett had completed peacetime enlistments in the Royal Field Artillery and would have had little idea that, as members of the Army Reserve, they were about to be called up again – but this time for real. Arthur Russ and Albert Dane were serving in the 1st Battalion of the county regiment, the Somerset Light Infantry – both would be leaving for France on the 21st August. Walter Russ in the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, and William Taylor (Robert’s brother) – who, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, were due to leave with the advance party of I Corps of the BEF on the 12th August – Walter Pike (of 441, Weston Street) serving in the 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade, would be leaving on the 22nd August, while Charles Vagg, with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, was stationed at Wellington Barracks, London (next to Buckingham Palace) from August 1914 to 26th July 1915.

Finally, of all the East Chinnock men who served in World War 1, only two were cavalrymen; one of them, William Young was a member of D Squadron: Yeovil (Crewkerne, Chard, Ilminster, South Petherton and Martock) of the West Somerset Yeomanry (the county Yeomanry regiments forming the cavalry element of the Territorial Force which was supposed to defend the British Isles in the event of the regular Army being sent overseas) and as such would be off to Winchester after mobilising but by 15th August had moved on to Ardleigh (near Colchester).

Part 3
Aug - Sept 1914