What if…


…Britain had remained neutral in World War 1?

What if Washington had surrendered to Cornwallis at Yorktown? What if Nelson had been defeated at Trafalgar? How might the world have been a different place? With the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War now upon us we could ask: What if Britain had remained neutral? Difficult to see how that might have been achieved but perhaps if the Kaiser had respected Belgian neutrality and not menaced the shipping lanes there could have been a narrow window of opportunity. Or would Britain, like the US, have eventually been dragged into the conflict anyway?

Without British involvement how might the war have turned out? The advantage would have been with Germany and Austria with no British army on the Western Front and no blockade of German ports. Probably the end result would have been a Europe with territory either annexed by Germany or under German domination. Difficult to see how the Romanov dynasty in Russia could have survived and any successor government would have been forced into capitulation although the worst of the Bolshevik revolution and ultimately Stalin might have been avoided. Similarly in Germany the conditions which facilitated the rise of National Socialism might never have come about and a political elite which had achieved a victory could have been strong enough to suppress any revolutionary movements. A defeated France on the other hand would have been in an entirely different position. With some territories like Alsace-Lorraine lost to Germany along with some colonies and a bankrupt pro-German puppet government in Paris the country would have seemed ripe for its own revolution. Then there was the Ottoman Empire whose grip on its territory was already loosening; if it had collapsed the resulting map of the Middle East, without the Sykes-Picot Agreement, would have been radically different from that we see today.

So we would most likely have seen a world divided into four major power blocs – The empires of Britain, Germany and Japan along with the United States. Rivals suspicious of each other and competing for access to resources, there would have been many potential flashpoints where conflicts could have erupted.

Economically Britain might have seen a short term benefit from picking up trade lost by warring continental powers but with peace could have been excluded from European markets.

The only thing of which I can be reasonably certain is that if Britain had stayed out of World War 1, my grandmother’s first husband would not have died at Ypres and I would have had a different grandfather. All speculation of course.

First published by the Barnsley Chronicle – Penistone Living July 2014