The War We Germans Never Talk About

In 1912 Kaiser Wilhelm had an ambitious task for my great-great-great uncle Karl Max von Lichnowsky. He sent him to London to be our ambassador there, with orders to try to ensure Britain’s neutrality (at the very least, in cases of conflict with Russia and France). Although Lichnowsky already had a sympathetic relationship with Britain’s foreign minister, Edward Grey, who also hoped to avoid a war, his mission failed. His personal objective — to deter the Kaiser from going to war — fell flat too. In a telegram sent on 18 July 1914 he pleaded with Kaiser Wilhelm to ‘spare the German people a war from which nothing can be gained but everything lost’. Less than a fortnight later he was on a ferry back home to Prussia, while Austrian-Hungarian, Russian and German soldiers were marching off to fight. When he arrived home, and broke news of war to her, Lichnowsky’s Bavarian-born wife Mechthilde took up a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm and flung it to the floor.

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