Miscellaneous Ramblings: 100 Years Ago Today the Great War Begins

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”.

 100 Years Ago Today the Great War Begins

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.

 100 Years Ago Today the Great War Begins

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.

 100 Years Ago Today the Great War Begins

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


 100 Years Ago Today the Great War Begins

Thanks Dean, (yet another) interesting, informative and
06/28/2014 - 09:42

well documented post.


thank you

I reiterate the words of Alex...
06/28/2014 - 10:59

Best wishes, Dean...


Great post, Dean.
06/28/2014 - 15:52

Perspective is a critical element to understanding. Getting a very unique and clear perspective like this - from Constantin, in this case - is informative and enlightening. Too bad we'll have to wait till 2039 to hear his musings on World War II. Unfortunately, it's nickname (the War to End All Wars) proved to be ill-advised as well).

Thank-you gentlemen
06/28/2014 - 19:18

the idea behind Miscellaneous Ramblings is to take advantage of reduced forum activity on the weekends to indulge in small discussions.  I'm glad it meets with your approval so far and pray I don't run dry of ideas enlightened

"Morganatic Wife"
06/29/2014 - 17:40

That prominent term from this period newspaper account of the assasination encouraged a tangental enquiry into the meaning of "Morganatic Wife".  Fascinating rule of social hierarchy that was important back then and simply archaic today.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a "Morganatic" marraige was one between a male sovereign or member of a noble house and a woman of lesser status.  Under the terms of this union, the woman and their children cannot ascend to the husbands rank or gain his titles and properties.  Derived from matrimonium ad morganaticum, the Latin meaning translates as "marriage on the morning gift", implying that all the bride would receive was a dowry.  Apparently it was particularly a Germanic tradition as a means of reconcilling the requirements of law that parties to legal transactions be of equal status, whereas church law allowed for marriages of unequal social rank.


Please, don't tell my wife...
06/29/2014 - 19:53

As I am sure to be known as her Morganatic husband from that day forth, should she find out. I was clearly of lower social status, by late 20th century standards. 

Reilly - Ace of Spies
06/30/2014 - 00:03

This anniversary reminded us of one of our favorite BBC docudramas of the 1980s; Riley - Ace of Spies, starring a very young Sam Neill.  The episodes are still available on YouTube and, upon watching, I was struck by the clear similarity with another character penned later by Ian Flemming (the books, not the movie ponce).

Sidney Reilly was a real spy before during and after The Great War, working for the British, himself, and other murky interests.  Keith Jeffery, author and Professor of British History, in his book The Secret History of MI6, devotes six pages to Reilly but curiously omits him from the Index.  Jefferey acknowledges Reilly's brilliant insight in 1920 when he predicted an "alliance between German militarists and Russian Bolsheviks mainly wiht the object of attacking Poland".  Unfortunately, Reilly himself fell victim to a Soviet counter-espionage operation which created a false Monarchist organization in Paris that duped British intelligence.  They assigned Reilly to infiltrate the group, which lured him into Russia and capture.  Sidney Reilly was shot on November 5th, 1925.

Where this is leading, in a round-about manner, is to give credit to the BBC for their historically accurate and griping retelling of events.  Sam Neill himself also ranks up there with Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes IMHO as a masterful piece of character acting.

And to bring this post back to horological significance, I just had to grab a screen shot of a scene from Episode 2 which accounts for Reilly's involvements at the beginning of the second Russo-Japanese war in 1904, as the Japanese Fleet was steaming to attack the Russian Fleet at anchor in Port Arthur, which was in Manchuria (confused yet?  And I thought V&C history was a tangle of spaghetti).  Here the Japanese Admiral of the Fleet, standing on the bridge, checks the marine chronometer as the hour of attack draws near.  Good choice of timekeeper!

Reilly - Ace of Spies

Another of my favorites, David Suchet, has a sinister role in this episode that is also worth viewing if you ignore the racist elements...

Great post, Dean
06/30/2014 - 16:59

I enjoyed learning about V&C's tangential role during the War with respect to the families.  And it is really interesting the read the letter ordering the pocket watches.