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37 Days, BBC2 - Saturday 8th March, TV Review

By mbarber  |  Posted: March 09, 2014

37 Days

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In just three hours of riveting television, the 37 days that led up to the declaration of the First World War were superbly dramatised, culminating in last night’s episode.

For the first time we met George V - cousin to both the Kaiser and the Czar - who had been told about the phone call that supposedly guaranteed French neutrality in a forthcoming war between Germany and Russia, over that assassination in the Balkans.

And all the time we witnessed General Moltke constantly urging the Kaiser to go to war.

“There can’t be a powerful Germany and a powerful Russia on the same continent,” he said.

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Chilling stuff.

The Governor of the Bank of England said war would change the economy of Britain and that we should stay out of it.

At the same time, Labour leader Keir Hardie warned a war would be the end of civilisation.

The Cabinet was reminded that a 1912 agreement with France required France to guard the Mediterranean and Britain, The Channel.

Lord Morley, Lord President of the Privy Council (Bill Paterson) said: “Why should we follow France into a war because her Russian allies decided to mobilise its entire army against Austrian opposition?”

Germany thought it would take just six weeks to defeat France - but here was the crunch - they would have to go through Belgium, which in 1839 had been guaranteed neutrality.

We saw people enjoying leisure time in a park on August Bank Holiday 2nd August - with just 48 hours to war.

The Cabinet were divided, and there were resignations following a comment: ‘How does an army of several million men defeat another army of several million men. It will be a war without victors’.


On 4th August, Germany invaded Belgium and received an ultimatum from Britain that unless they withdrew their troops by midnight ......

The scene switches to Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary, Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister and Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, waiting for the answer. Big Ben shows 11pm (midnight in Berlin).

Who would believe that an assassination in Sarajevo would have such a tsunami effect throughout Europe that in less than 40 days a neutral Belgium would be invaded - and that over the following four years, ten million would die.

This was a BBC production at its very best.

Catch it on iPlayer.

Marilyn Barber

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