This text and subsequent poem is an examination of A. J. P.Taylors theory that the start of the first world war was as a direct result of Czar Nicholas making the trains run on time 

Tick Tock! Tick Tock! (war by railway time table) a poem and text by M.A.Meddings is the site that owns copy write to the picture. I acknowledge their permissin to use this in a non commercial application.

A. J. P Taylor the celebrated British Historian claimed that the bloodiest conflict of Modern history, the First World War began as a result of  the accidental and quite incidental foreign policy of  the major European political powers.

He argued that rather than actively seeking war as a vehicle to extend there political influence, none of the powers prior to 1914 thought that war would take place.

Rather he argued, they believed implicitely  that the secret to a sustained peace was their own  individual ability to 'Mobilise troops' ready for war. The faster one could mobilise troops, the greater would be the military advantage.

The concept of the ultimate deterrant was thus born, and the 'arms race' in effect started.

Secret to this general ability to mobilise troops quickly was an efficient and well maintained railway network in each of the countries involved prior to the start of the war. Thus the general staff of all of the European countries in question,sceduled efficient and accurate railway time tables to realise their aim of being able to mobilise faster and more efficiently than their enemies. The clock began to tick. Taylor argued that the headlong dash in the mobilisation race was no less important  for political influence than was the nuclear arms race Five decades later.

Of all the protagonist nations Russia was singularly successful in getting the trains to run on time thus one of the greatest tragedies of History was about to unfold quite by accident

After Arch Duke Ferdinand of the Austria Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarejevo on  June 28th 1914 Tension between the Serbs and Austria Hungary that had been fermenting since the inconclusive Balken wars  of 1912 and 1913  again became intense. Austria/Hungary who was seen as a sick and ailing Dynasty was concious of losing its Empire and actively sought German support for its policy of containment in the Balkens.

Germany, who had already indicated that it viewed the rise of Serbian and Bosnian self identity as a counter influence to its own political ambitions, was only too keen to guarantee Austria Hungary an alliance.

In turn the Russians gave assurances in the Balkens that they would support them should Germany come to the aid of Austria/ Hungary, in what was seen as an unwarrented attempt to prop up a defunct and unrealistic Empire.

Both France and Britain too, having  eyed German influence and ambitions in Europe as not in the interests of peace were only too pleased to guarantee Russia full support of its policy towards The Balken states.

France, who  was still realing after its defeats at the hands of an embryonic German military machine during the Franco Prussian war had been virually on a war footing for three decades and was only too willing to reinforce the 'Entente Cordiale' with Britain. Both therefore, gave assurances to the other that they would support each other, guarantee the sovereignty of Belgium and also undertake to support Russia in its designs for the Balkans.

The clock continued to tick. However none of the nations, still viewed war as the likely outcome of the tensions of that summer.

Germany made clear its stance, that it would view any general mobilisation of troops, as an act of war and would act accordingly in defence of its borders and those of its allies

The clock continued to tick.  On the 26th of July Austria Hungary having issued an ultimatum to  the  Serbs following the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, mustered its troops along the Russian border but the Russians, having sensed the increase in tension following the Austrian Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia on 23rd of July, had aleady filled the troop tains according to the new railway time tables. Therefore by the time Austria Hungary had mustered its own troops  on the Russian border, Russian general mobilisation had already begun, in line with the demands of the Railway time table.

Hence Taylors name for his theory.  War by 'railway time table'.

The Germans saw this movement of Russian troops as an act of war and following the declaration of war by Austria Hungary on Serbia on 28th July 1914, They declared war on Russia on 1st of August 1914.

On 3rd of August Germany declared war on France and Britain in turn declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. That Day Germany invaded neautral Belgium
Who's neautrality had been guranteed by Britain in a treaty dating back to 1839.

Four years of the greatest slaughter in History had been started by flash point politics and the accidental incidence of  Russian railway logisitcs.

Later Critique of Taylor's theory, points to the fact that it was merely a vehicle he used to point out the dangers of nuclear weapon proliferation as the ultimate deterrant and that he did not seriously believe it a significant factor in the start of the First world war.

It was in fact critics observed merely the flambouyant Historian

'Showing off' to his students who were in awe of him


Tick Tock! Tick tock!

by M.A.Meddings

Tick tock listen to the clock
Was that the sound of gunfire
Of course not 'twas the sound
Of marching boots parading troops
Off to war my son
A war that will end all wars
But do the soldiers want it father
No but they have no say
left right, left right, left right
Shoulder arms, embark
But why is it so dark father
The clouds hide the sun my child
But  what are we marching for
And why the day before that
Has the war begun then
No not really
But they have to catch the train
In plenty of time
Dont want to miss this one
This war will end all wars
Tick Tock! Tick Tock!
Is any one watching the clock












Poetry by lastromantichero The PoetBay support member heart!
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Written on 2007-03-18 at 11:19

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great historial lesson, great poem michael

Kathy Lockhart
Oh Michael this is a wonderful narrative and poem. The time you take to reveal the history behind the poetry is so appreciated by me. First you take me back to the time capturing the fullness of events. Then you open up the deep emotions of war and make them personal through your poetry. Thank you for this outstanding piece. xxxxyb

Michael, your history poems are so clever so filled with a sense of being there just then ... a view inside the times gone by.

This poem is so sad and tragic ... and as always I think of my Grandfather going out in that war a boy of fourteen ... comming back to a life with black shadows ....

Thank you for these poems ..... they are beautiful and the text that follow them filled with interesting facts served in a very informativ and to the point way ... You are a very good writer of poetry and fact ....

sunday best

very interesting theory, thank you for sharing it! it is quite a chilly thought, that a simple train timetable could generate a warld war...but in the end, wars are generated maybe for less than that...
Lilly xxx