The Times and the First World War

In 1898, Lord Northcliffe purchased the The Times for £320,000 was accepted. Circulation of the paper had fallen to 38,000 and was losing money. Northcliffe re-equipped its outdated printing plant, reduced the newspaper's price by a penny to twopence, and appointed a new editor, Geoffrey Dawson.

In March, 1914, Northcliffe reduced the price even further, and by the outbreak of the First World War, the one penny The Times was selling 278,000 copies a day. During the early stages of the war Northcliffe created a great deal of controversy by advocating conscription and criticizing David Lloyd George and Lord Kitchener. This upset many readers and circulation of The Times began to fall again. Harmsworth stopped attacking the government and in 1918 was asked to take control of British war propaganda.

After a row with Northcliffe, Dawson resigned as editor of The Times in 1919. He was replaced by Henry Wickham Steed, the former foreign correspondent. When Lord Northcliffe, died in 1921, the newspaper passed into the hands of John Jacob Astor, the younger son of Lord Astor.

Primary Sources

(1) Editorial in The Times (8th April, 1914)

The division of the Great Powers into two well-balanced groups with intimate relations between the members of each, which do not forbid any such member from being on the friendliest terms with one or more members of the other, is a twofold check upon inordinate ambitions or sudden outbursts of race hatred. All sovereigns and statesmen - aye, and all nations - know that a war of group against group would be a measureless calamity.

(2) Editorial in The Times (30th July, 1914)

We can no more afford to see France crushed by Germany, or the balance of power upset against France, than Germany can afford to see Austria-Hungary crushed by Russia and that balance upset against Austrian and Hungarian interests.

(3) Arthur Moore of The Times wrote an account of the Battle of the Mons but the government would not allow the editor, Henry Wickham Steed, publish it until it had been rewritten by F. E. Smith. Moore explained to his editor why he believed it should be published.

I read this afternoon in Amiens this morning's Paris papers. To me, knowing some portion of the truth, it seemed incredible that a great people should be kept in ignorance of the situation which it had to face. It is important that the nation should know and realise certain things. Bitter truths, but we can face them. We have to cut our losses, to take stock of the situation.

I would plead with the English censor to let my message pass. I guarantee him as regards the situation of the troops I have nothing to say that is not known and noted already by the German General Staff. There is no reason, either in strategy or tactics, why every word I write should not be published.

(4) Arthur Moore, The Times (30 August, 1914)

Amongst all the straggling units that I have seen, flotsam and jetsam in the fiercest fight in history, I saw fear in no man's face. It was a retreating and broken army, but it was not an army of hunted men.

Since Monday morning last the German advance has been one of almost incredible rapidity. The German attack was withstood to the utmost limits, and a whole division was flung into the fight at the end of a long march and had not even time to dig trenches. Along the Sambre and in the angle of the Sambre and the Meuse, the French, after days of long and gallant fighting, broke. Naumer fell, and General Joffre was forced to order a retreat along the whole line.

Our losses are very great. I have seen the broken bits of many regiments. Let me repeat that there is no failure in discipline, no panic, no throwing up of the sponge. Every one's temper is sweet, and nerves do not show. The men are battered with marching, and ought to be weak with hunger, but they are steady and cheerful, and wherever they arrive make straight for the proper authority, report themselves, and seek news of their regiment.

(5) The last paragraph of Arthur Moore's report was rewritten by F. E. Smith, the government censor (The Times, 30 August, 1914)

To sum up, the first great German effort has succeeded. We have to face the fact that the British Expeditionary Force, which bore the great weight of the blow, has suffered terrible losses and required immediate and immense reinforcement. The British Expeditionary Force has won indeed imperishable glory, but it needs men, men, and yet more men.

(6) Henry Wickham Steed, letter to friend (November, 1914)

Joffre thinks the war will be practically over within eight months of the start which is, with all modesty, an estimate I have constantly made from the beginning. I look for the big crisis towards Christmas, and think that by the middle of the end of March we ought to begin to see daylight ahead.