ON Thursday, January 1, 1914, the front page of the Yorkshire Observer morning newspaper, normally devoted to church notices and public announcements, carried a message from Bradford's Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.

Alderman and Mrs John Arnold wished the citizens of Bradford "a prosperous new year". If they suspected something catastrophic was blowing in the wind from Central Europe they saw no reason to anticipate trouble before it arrived.

In a letter to the editor, industrialist and former Liberal MP Sir John Brunner called for retrenchment in taxation by cutting back on "unproductive expenditure and waste upon armaments."

Liberal association throughout the country, Sir John declared, should pass resolutions before the end of January in favour of cutting back spending on weapons of war. The idea was to send a message to Herbert Asquith's Liberal Party Government before the military and naval estimates for 1915 had been finalised.

Imperial Britain and Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany had been building bigger and more powerful warships. Fearing Germany's expansionism, Britain's policy was to maintain a 60 per cent superiority in the number of the Royal Navy's capital ships.

The Yorkshire Observer's London correspondent wired a prophetic little piece to the paper about increased army recruitment in Russia and Austria in response to political tensions between Turkey, Germany and Russia.

Under the headline 'Dark clouds in the near east' the correspondent wrote: "The crisis on this occasion is undoubtedly in the Near East.

"St Petersburg is determined to dislodge the Germans from the positions they have acquired in Constantinople, but the task is going to be one of extreme difficulty, and there is little doubt that the strain upon the international situation will become very severe in the first few weeks of the new year."

Between 1911 and 1913 there had been four small wars in South East Europe involving Italy, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania and Serbia - Servia as it was known then.

Peace of a sort had been brokered by the bigger powers; but like the over-heated calm before the storm, people feared a bomb or a bullet would spark off a conflagration.

When Serbian nationalists assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the neighbouring Bosnian city of Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the fire-storm wasn't long in coming.

Within six weeks five European empires - Britain, Germany, Russia (which included Poland), Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) were at war with one another, pulled in by a network of diplomatic alliances designed to prevent it happening.

The oldest of these, the Treaty of London, dated back to 1839. By this the UK, which then included all of the island of Ireland, guaranteed to defend the neutrality of Belgium.

When German troops invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914, by 7pm that evening Britain formally declared war on Germany.

Britain and her colonies and dominions, including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa, lined up with France and Russia, Japan and later Italy and, from April 1917, the United States.

Austria-Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Turkey (which included Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula) lined up with Bulgaria.

In Bradford the chief concern was food shortages.