On the morning of August 27, 1916, the Crown Council of Romania is convened in Bucharest at the Cotroceni Palace. It is a special Council where the King will not ask for advice, but will inform political leaders of an extremely important decision for the future of the country. Romania will enter the war on the side of the Entente as a consequence of a political and military convention negotiated and signed on 17 August 1916 by Prime Minister Ionel Brătianu. If the vast majority of political leaders, with the exception of conservatives, supported the entry into the war on the Entente side, how will Romanian society react to this news?
When the First World War broke out, Romania was a member of the Triple Alliance ever since 1883. The membership of Romania to the Triple Alliance was not brought to the knowledge of the Romanian people because of the pro-French feelings of the Romanian society and political leaders but also of the way in which Hungary treated the three million Romanians in Transylvania. During the period of neutrality, the pro-French feelings of the Romanian society eventually extended to the Entente, despite the fear felt by a large part of the population towards the Russian Empire.
The news that Romania will join the Entente was made public immediately after the Crown Council and was enthusiastically received by the population. Even before the Council meeting, the people in Bucharest gathered in the streets of the city. The historian Constantin Kiriţescu, a witness to those events remembers that: “By midday, the great news came, with thousands of voices started to sing the old Romanian hymn «Awaken thee, Romanian! » in a spontaneous outburst”.
“Delirium and hugs”
The politician and the writer, Constantin Argetoianu, would also leave the Romanians a testimony regarding the atmosphere right after the announcement was made: “… I went for breakfast to Capșa. The cafeteria, the restaurant, the confectionery, the sidewalks were jammed with pugnacious people. No one wanted to stop other than beyond the Tisa. […] A contagious and collective joy that cannot be resisted, resembling the most childish and generous enthusiasm, which does not seem to conceive of any other reality and wilfully embracing the absurd. […] at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I witnessed from the balcony the proclamation for mobilization. There was a great crowd in the street, the like of which you see only during a holiday. Delirium and hugs. After a quarter of an hour, even louder roars and cheers. The King and the Queen were on the road in an open car. I was given the chance to see for the first time in Romania a real explosion of love and loyalty to the dynasty. The car could barely move forward.” Similar manifestations of joy and patriotism also took place in the rest of the country.
The French ambassador in Bucharest, the Count of Saint-Aulaire, would also record what happened that day: “On the 28, an enthusiastic crowd gathered for several hours in front of the Legation, singing «Marseilleza » and flying Romanian and French flags. I had to appear several times on the balcony and respond to some speeches, sharing with the orators the certainty of the victory […]. When the manifestations of the crowd were finished, I had to receive late night visits by numerous Romanian personalities, politicians, journalists, teachers, who without foreseeing the huge sacrifices that will be made in the near future, ensured their unshakable loyalty to the common cause and fidelity to ourselves because as they were saying, this cause was indeed one which we all shared. «Our destinies» said a teacher, «are so intertwined that, starting with the Crusades, we learn our history by learning the history of France. And for a century, our history unfolds as a consequence of your history. »”
The returning to reality
One day after the war declaration was handed, the German Zeppelin LZ 101, based in Jambol, Bulgaria, received an order from Mackensen’s headquarters to execute a night attack on Bucharest. The military and rail facilities in the northwest of the city were targeted. Illuminated by the Romanian projectors, it stunned the people of Bucharest as it moved slowly over the city. The bombs that were dropped caused little damage, but they were a warning of what was to follow.
Constantin Argetoianu recorded the “visit” of the Zeppelin: “On the evening of August 15, 1916, Bucharest recorded the first alert of the air war. […] I go down again; this time we see up in sky, caught in the light of the reflectors, a Zeppelin of «gold» that slid quietly from the south to the north. The night was so serene and silent that the noise of its engines could be heard on the ground, interrupted only by our helpless cannons and the fizzle of absurd signal rockets, which like the cannons did not disturb the majestic flight of the Zeppelin at all. The occasional loud thunder was that of the enemy bombs exploding. However, as none of them fell in our vicinity, I was more impressed in this first contact with the reality of the war by the beauty of the show more than by the danger I had just been through. At 2 o’clock in the morning everything was over and we could go back to sleep quietly.”
Glenn E. Torrey, România în Primul Război Mondial [Romania in the First World War], Meteor Publishing House, Bucharest, 2014.
I.G. Duca, Memorii [Memories], vol. I, Expres Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.
Henri Prost, Destinul României: (1918-1954) [The destiny of Romania: (1918-1954)], Compania Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006.
The Count of Saint-Aulaire, Însemnările unui diplomat de altădată: În România: 1916-1920 [The testimonies of a former diplomat: In Romania: 1916-1920], Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2016.
Constantin Argetoianu, Memorii [Memories], Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.
Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [A sincere history of the Romanian people], 4th edition, Encyclopaedic Universe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa