In Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, it was assumed
that the outbreak of war would prompt a wave of patriotic enthusiasm.
Observing the cheering crowds in Trafalgar Square on 4 August, the
philosopher and pacifist Bertrand
Russell noted unhappily that 'average men and women were delighted
at the prospect of war'. Many politicians and journalists repeated
the truism that 'public opinion' had forced the Asquith government
to declare war on Germany.
Patriotic crowds and solidarity with 'plucky little Belgium' were
undoubtedly important features of the popular mood at this time.
But the war also engendered a variety of other responses. It provoked
resignations from the Asquith government and was vociferously opposed
by left-wing organisations such as the Independent
Labour Party (ILP). Even war enthusiasts such as the poet Rupert
Brooke were ambivalent about a conflict that would be fought
against a 'civilised' nation (Germany) and alongside a 'barbaric'
Outside the educated élite, many people greeted the coming
of war with a mixture of determination and apprehension, rather
than with any great outpouring of enthusiasm. The 'rush to the colours'
after 4 August was largely ephemeral. Only in late August and early
September were recruiting offices flooded with volunteers keen to
enlist for military service. By the autumn, numbers were falling