The Great War, later known as World War I (1914-1918), began in Europe after a long period of smaller wars, political problems and an arms race.
By the late 19th century, many European nations had industrial economies, overseas empires and growing populations. Most had large armies with compulsory training for young men. Britain had the biggest navy but, in 1897, Germany began to build a modern navy. A new naval race began after the 1906 appearance of HMS Dreadnought (the first all big-gun battleship) made every battleship obsolete.
The parts of Germany had gradually formed into a large nation centred on Prussia. While Germany prospered, the older Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires declined. Further east, Russia began to modernise but in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5, it was defeated by Japan's increasing power. The US had grown enormously in the 19th century and was becoming an industrial power.
A loyal colony
New Zealand was a loyal member of the British Empire. Two major events showed our loyalty. One was the formation of a new Territorial Army in 1911. Men aged 18-25 did compulsory part-time military training. By the outbreak of war, 29,000 men were territorials. Wairarapa men were in the 17th (Ruahine) Infantry Regiment or 9th (Wellington East Coast) Mounted Rifles Regiment. In 1914, Masterton was the headquarters for an area from Palliser Bay to Waipawa.
The second was New Zealand's gift of a warship to the Royal Navy. HMS New Zealand, a battle-cruiser with eight 12-inch guns was launched in 1911. The ship made a lengthy visit to New Zealand in 1913, calling at 20 ports and allowing many thousands to see how the country had spent 1.7 million.
Newspaper articles commented on the political situation in Europe. Most said Germany was a threat to peace. The big European countries gradually formed into two groups - the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and the Triple Entente (France, Russia and Britain). These were defensive arrangements and were supposed to stop war.
The approaching war
The trigger for war was the killing of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife during a visit on June 28, 1914, to Sarajevo, in the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was reported in the Wairarapa Daily-Times on June 29 but a week later the story had faded. A small story on July 9 mentioned Austrian troops on the border with Serbia, which had been blamed by Austria for the killings. But stories about Home Rule for Ireland and the doings of English suffragettes were bigger.
The first local editorial about the deepening European crisis was on July 27. Austria had made dramatic demands on Serbia, which the Wairarapa Daily-Times noted as "of such a character as to make peace almost impossible". Germany backed Austria while Russia supported Serbia. Small countries hoped Europe's big nations would respect borders and neutrality. Belgium, neighbour of Germany and France, was taking "stringent measures to ensure neutrality".
Sir Edward Grey (British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) tried to calm the crisis. Once mobilisation (calling up armies for active service) began, peace efforts became harder. Mobilising meant millions of troops moving by railway. Once started, it was hard to reverse.
The German Army did not want to fight Russia and France at once. It aimed to quickly attack and defeat France with an invasion through Belgium. Once France was beaten, Germany would attack Russia. This plan ignored Belgium's neutrality. Germany demanded her troops be allowed through Belgium to attack France. This was refused, so on August 3 Germany invaded Belgium and its smaller neighbour Luxembourg. Britain decided she must fight Germany over the attack on Belgium. She did not want German troops on the North Sea coast or the German Navy in the North Sea. Britain declared war on August 4 and this included New Zealand. On August 5, 1914, under the headline "The War of 1914" the local newspaper ran many stories about the European situation.
In the Wairarapa
The Wairarapa Daily-Times, on August 6, published a New Zealand Defence Department call for volunteers for an expeditionary force.
"Applications ...from Territorials, members of the general training section, and also civilians who have previous military experience and are between 25 and 30 years of age ... Applicants must have reached the age of 20 years. Preference will be given to single men ... No one will be accepted whose weight exceeds 12st (76kg) and is under 5ft 4in (1.62m)." New Zealand and Wairarapa had entered the war.
The Defence Department wanted 3000 horses for the Expeditionary Force. Many Wairarapa people pledged horses or money. Mayor James Coradine called a meeting of citizens for August 11 in the town hall "to consider the best means of assisting the Government in the present crisis" and his wife formed a local committee of the Lady Liverpool Fund.
Meanwhile, the troops gathered. Medical inspection of nine officers and 189 men took place at the Drill Hall on August 10, and those chosen left Masterton on Thursday, August 13. Thirty-two mounted riflemen, led by Captain Norman Cameron, and 69 infantry, led by Major Herbert Hart, paraded from the Drill Hall to Masterton Railway Station, accompanied by bands. Residents went to cheer them off. The train took the infantry to Palmerston North's Awapuni Racecourse and the mounteds to a camp at Dannevirke. More men left for camp over the next few days.
In most countries, the population supported the declaration of war. If there was Wairarapa opposition, newspapers carried no hint. In many places there were displays of great enthusiasm. Such scenes would not last for long.