Manchester Guardian in the First World War

Charles Prestwich Scott, the owner of the Manchester Guardian, initially opposed Britain's involvement in the First World War. Scott supported his friends, John Burns, John Morley and Charles Trevelyan, when they resigned from the government over this issue. As he wrote at the time: "I am strongly of the opinion that the war ought not to have taken place and that we ought not to have become parties to it, but once in it the whole future of our nation is at stake and we have no choice but do the utmost we can to secure success."

During the summer of 1914 most of the newspaper's writers, including C. E. Montague, Leonard Hobhouse, Herbert Sidebottom, Henry Nevinson, and J. A. Hobson had called for Britain to remain neutral in the growing conflict in Europe. However, once war was declared, most gave their support to the government.

J. A. Hobson remained opposed to Britain's involvement and joined the and anti-war organisation, the Union of Democratic Control (UDC). Hobson served on the UDC's executive council and wrote the book Towards International Government (1914) which advocated the formation of a world body to prevent wars.

C. P. Scott
C. P. Scott

C. E. Montague, although forty-seven with a wife and seven children, volunteered to join the British Army. Grey since his early twenties, Montague died his hair in an attempt to persuade the army to take him. On 23rd December, 1914, the Royal Fusiliers accepted him and he joined the Sportsman's Battalion.

Montague was later promoted to the rank of second lieutenant and transferred to Military Intelligence. For the next two years he had the task of writing propaganda for the British Army and censoring articles written by the five authorized English journalists on the Western Front (Perry Robinson, Philip Gibbs, Percival Phillips, Herbert Russell and Bleach Thomas). Howard Spring, another of the newspaper's writers, also worked for the Military Intelligence in France.

Henry Nevinson, the newspaper's main war reporter, was highly critical of the tactics used by the British Army but was unable to get this view past the censors. C. P. Scott and Leonard Hobhouse opposed conscription introduced in 1916 and the following year supported attempts made by Arthur Henderson to secure a negotiated peace.

Primary Sources

(1) Editorial in The Manchester Guardian (27th July, 1914)

On the whole, English newspapers have avoided taking sides in the quarrel. All with, we think, only with one exception (the Morning Post) have recognised the extreme provocation that Austria has received, and her right to take the strongest measures to secure the punishment of all concerned in the assassination of the Crown Prince.

(2) Editorial in The Manchester Guardian (30th July, 1914)

If Russia makes a general war out of a local war it will be a crime against Europe. If we, who might remain neutral, rush into the war or let our attitude remain doubtful, it will be both a crime and an act of supreme and gratuitous folly.

(3) C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, wrote a letter to Charles Trevelyan suggesting that he should not publish a pamphlet he had written that raised doubts about the reported atrocities being committed by the Germans in Belgium (5th September, 1914)

It would be expedient to hold back the pamphlet. The war is at present going badly against us and any day may bring more serious news. I suppose that as soon as the Germans have time to turn their attention to us we may expect to see their big guns mounted on the other side of the Channel and their Zeppelins flying over Dover and perhaps London. People will be wholly impatient of any sort of criticism of policy at such a time and I am afraid that premature action now might destroy any hope of usefulness for your organisation (Union of Democratic Control) later. I saw Angell and Ramsay MacDonald yesterday afternoon and found that they had come to the same conclusion.

(4) H. W. Nevinson, The Manchester Guardian (14th April, 1916)

After the strain of carefully organised preparations, the excitement of the final hours was extreme, but no signs of anxiety were shown. Would the sea remain calm? Would the moon remain veiled in a thin cloud? Would the brigades keep time and place? Our own guns continued firing duly till the moment for withdrawal came. Our rifles kept up an intermittent fire, and sometimes came sudden outbursts from the Turks.

Mules neighed, chains rattled, steamers hooted low, and sailor men shouted into megaphones language strong enough to carry a hundred miles. Still the enemy showed no sign of life or hearing, though he lay almost visible in the moonlight across the familiar scene of bay and plain and hills to which British soldiers have given such unaccustomed names.

So the critical hours went by slowly, and yet giving so little time for all to be done. At last the final bands of silent defenders began to come in from the nearest lines. Sappers began to come in, cutting all telephone wires and signals on their way. Some sappers came after arranging slow fuses to kindle our few abandoned stores of biscuits, bully beef, and bacon left in the bends of the shore.

Silently the staffs began to go. The officers of the beach party, who had accomplished such excellent and sleepless work, collected. With a smile they heard the distant blast of Turks still labouring at the trenches - a peculiar instance of labour lost. Just before three a pinnace took me off to one of the battleships. At half-past three the last-ditchers put off. From our familiar northern point of Suvla Bay itself, I am told, the General commanding the Ninth Army Corps was himself the last to leave, motioning his chief of staff to go first. So the Sulva expedition came to an end after more than five months of existence.

(5) C. P. Scott, letter to Arthur Balfour about the threaten introduction of military conscription (2nd January, 1916)

You know that I was honestly willing to accept compulsory military service, provided that the voluntary system had first been tried out, and had failed to supply the men needed and who could still be spared from industry, and were numerically worth troubling about. Those, I think, are not unreasonable conditions, and I thought that in the conversation I had with you last September you agreed with them. I cannot feel that they had been fulfilled, and I do feel very strongly that compulsion is now being forced upon us without proof shown of its necessity, and I resent this the more deeply because it seems to me in the nature of a breach of faith with those who, like myself - there are plenty of them - were prepared to make great sacrifices of feeling and conviction in order to maintain the national unity and secure every condition needed for winning the war.

(6) Herbert Sidebottom, The Manchester Guardian (18th July, 1916)

To expose human flesh and blood to the malignity of machine-guns is not scientific war but the untutored valour of the savage. What we seem to need for operations of this nature is some kind of armour which would enable the attack to get to close quarters with the defence without suffering such heavy losses. The defence is in effect wearing armour - the armour of a wall of bullets from their machine-guns besides the wall of masonry. The attack should have armour too, and as in those close operations the support of heavy artillery is out of the question the real parallel is not with anything known in field operations but with street fighting.

(7) C. P. Scott, recorded in his diary comments made by David Lloyd George at a private meeting on 27th December, 1917.

I listened last night, at a dinner given to Philip Gibbs on his return from the front, to the most impressive and moving description from him of what the war (on the Western Front) really means, that I have heard. Even an audience of hardened politicians and journalists were strongly affected. If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know, and can't know. The correspondents don't write and the censorship wouldn't pass the truth. What they do send is not the war, but just a pretty picture of the war with everybody doing gallant deeds. The thing is horrible and beyond human nature to bear and I feel I can't go on with this bloody business.