On August 3, 1914, twenty-two of England’s best public school cricketers gathered for the annual schools’ representative match. The game ended the following evening. Britain’s ultimatum to Germany expired a few hours later. Seven of those twenty-two would be dead before the war was over. Anthony Seldon and David Walsh’s fine new history of the public schools and the First World War bears the subtitle “The Generation Lost” for good reason.1

Britain neither wanted nor was prepared for a continental war. Its armed forces were mainly naval or colonial. The regular army that underwrote that ultimatum was, in the words of Niall Fergusson, “a dwarf force” with “just seven divisions (including one of cavalry), compared...


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