On this date in 1914, the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Yugoslavia set in motion events that would plunge the world into a hitherto unimagined period of carnage. Yet, it must have been eerie for the month following the assassination, as political maneuverings sought to either ameliorate or exacerbate the conflict. For it wasn’t until July 28th that the first retaliatory shots were fired! Nevertheless, this day will mark the beginning of remembrance for those countries which suffered the consequences of an ill-named “Great War”.
Perhaps reflecting Switzerland’s insularity, Charles Constantin makes sparse reference the war in his Annales de la Maison d’Horlogerie Vacheron et Constantin. As a military officer, he was mobilized on August 1st and dispatched to their northern front. Interestingly, he mentions a peripheral role V&C played assisting families of soldiers;
From the time of the first battles of the World War, our clients or occasional correspondents, as in all the camps, bombarded us with questions about parents or friends, prisoners of war, or missing people. Up to the moment when the Agency for Prisoners of War, founded very quickly under the auspices of the Red Cross, advanced and began to make known to the entire world the humanitarian name of Geneva.
Business concerns occupied Constantin’s commentary until 1917 when he notes the entry of the United States into the war and their establishment of a procurement office in Berne. But let him speak for himself;
After I learned that this office was looking for bids for pocket watches, I presented them with an interesting assortment. We had the opportunity to be entrusted with supplying the first order under contract of 3,000 pocket watches, a simple timepiece of oxidized silver, face and hands of radium, engraved with “Corps of Engineers”, at 325 Francs each. A second type of plainer quality was provided to us by some mountain factories.
Some further information regarding the “plainer quality” watches can be discovered in this surviving document from the aforementioned Berne purchasing office. It describes the specifications for their order of 2,000 time-only pocket watches at a cost of 96 Francs each; the price of a "half-chronometer" apparently being less than of third of that for a chronograph.
Many countries have organized an extensive program for this auspicious year. If you are interested, may I recommend the website 1914.org.
There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene.
Ernest Hemmingway, a WWI veteran, in A Farewell to Arms, 1929