This is the second part of Charles Moore’s notes. You can read the first part here.
On Tuesday 4 August, NM rang his London house: ‘Roberta our house-maid said that “Master Gilla had got a commission in the Army & Master Alan was to be appointed a surgeon in the navy”.’ Gilla sent a telegram saying ‘sorry cannot return shove off this evening’. NM read and admired the Commons speeches of the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and the moderate Irish nationalist leader John Redmond in the Times. Ethel Portal wired: ‘Ultimatum sent to Germany respect Belgian Neutrality or we declare war at midnight.’ ‘Milicent & I dined,’ wrote NM, ‘a large bright moon visible through the glass door into the tennis lawn.’ They went to bed in the last hour of peace.
The following day NM received a letter from Gilla which ended: ‘Goodbye… I shan’t see any fighting yet. Hope we smash the Germans.’ At his aunt’s request, NM painted a shorter quotation from Virgil on the beam above her fireplace ‘to commemorate the beginning of the war & our meeting together at Browns’. He wrote: ‘ARMA VIRUMQUE CANO A.D. IIII. NON. AUG. MCMXIV.’ Alan survived the war, or I should not be writing this. Gilla was killed at the first battle of Ypres, three months later.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 2 August 2014.
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