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The 17th Brigade, for its part, had succeeded in carrying the
iSchrans farm and the enemy's defences in front of Eppeghem, but
;it did not succeed in taking the village itself. Lastly, on the extreme
right, beyond the Willebroeck canal, the 1st Regiment of the Line
ipushed forward until its front rm Humbeek-Den Heuvel-Eversem.3

This general attack was to have been proceeded with on 12th
: September. But at dawn it could be seen that the enemy had
'brought into line important reinforcements. The 6th Reserve
Division had retraced its steps by forced marches and enabled the
Germans to counter-attack. Abundance of heavy artillery supported
■them. 4 The day was marked by combats of exceptional violence. The
efforts of the German reinforcements were principally directed towards
Wespelaer, where the turning movement of the Belgian left wing had
caused anxiety on the previous day. The enemy's counter-attacks
were launched in the direction of Betecom, Werchter, and Haecht.s

On the extreme left. General Drubbel's brigade had fallen back

from position to position, and had safely arrived at Aerschot. De

Witte's cavalry division, in the early hours of 11th September, had

abandoned the Pellenberg, leading their horses by the bridles, with

the wheels of their caissons and carts muffled in straw, and marching

I in impressive silence for a long hour and a half. When at dawn the

I Germans threw themselves on the bivouac of the division, they found

I not a man nor a horse there. All danger had been averted in this


' La eampagne de Varmie beige, pp. 78-9.

• " Pages de gloire. Quelques fastes," etc., already quoted.
3 La eampagne de Varmie beige, p. 79.

* " Pages de gloire. Quelques fastes," etc.

5 La eampagne de Varinie beige, p. 79 ; U Action de VarrrUe beige, p. 43,
^ "La 7^ brigade mixte," etc.


During the day of 12th September the enemy attacked the other
troops of the 2nd Division, which had been held up at Wygmael and
Putkapel, driving them back on Rotselaer and Wesemael. The 6th
Brigade had soon to evacuate its positions, which had become un-
tenable under the constant hail of shells. Just when the infantry
began to fall back hastily, carrying away with them in their retreat the
supporting artillery, a major took up his stand right in the middle of
the plain and, under a deadly fire, waved his kdpi above his head,
trying to gather his grenadiers to him. For half an hour he kept on
at this, continually crying this loud, monotonous cry : " Grenadiers !
To me ! Grenadiers ! To me ! Grenadiers ! " He collected twenty-
five to thirty at the utmost. A few detached themselves from a
retreating company, but they were stopped by the shells. In the
midst of his little group of men lying flat on the ground, the major,
standing upright and alone in the plain, continued to wave his kepi
and make his appeal.'

As for the troops of the 5th Brigade, they suffered heavy losses at
Molen. The 2nd Division had no alternative but to fall back on the

The 6th Division was attacked, in its turn, between Thildonck and
Wackerzeel. It held out against the Germans for five hours ; but
when the retirement of the 2nd Division had bared its left flank, it too
was compelled to beat a retreat to the D^mer. This movement, again,
exposed the flank of the 3rd Division. At the beginning of the day,
the latter had gained ground towards Over-de-Yaart. It was savagely
attacked in front and on the left, and found itself hard pressed from
noon onward. Laer and Wespelaer had to be abandoned. 3 At Haecht
the struggle was terrible. The 14th Begiment of the Line lost there
more than a third of its remaining effectives.'* As for the 12th of the
Line, forming the rear-guard of the division, it fought with despair, and
only retired on receiving superior orders. s The obstinate resistance of
the division continued until night, when it retired slowly on Rymenam
and Hansbrug under a terrific cannonade.

In front of the positions of the 1st Division the Germans, protected
by the Willebroeck canal and the Senne, offered a fierce resistance to
all attacks. The Belgians dislodged the enemy from the chateau of
Linterpoort, behind Sempst, from the hamlet of Dries, and from the
houses in Weerdenhoek. But the first assault on the village of Weerde
itself failed.^

Here is the very vivid description by an American war correspondent
of this first assault : —

It was known that the Germans occupied Weerde in force, so throughout the day
the Belgian artillery, masked by heavy woods, pounded away incessantly. By noon
the enemy's guns ceased to reply, which was assumed by the jubilant Belgians to be
a sign that the German artillery had been silenced. At noon the Belgian 1st Division
moved forward. . . .

* F. H. Grimanty, Six mois de guerre en Delgique par un soldat beige, Paris, 1916.
' La campagnc de Varmie beige, p. 79. ' Ibid.

< •' Nos regiments, Le 14^ de Ligne," in the Courrier de VArmie, 12th December

5 " L'entr^edu Prince Leopold dans Tarmde. Le discoura duRoi," in the Courrier
de I'ArvUe, 10th April 1915.

• La campagne de Varmie belge^ pp. 79-80.


Late in the afternoon word was passed down the line that the German guns had
: been put out of action, that the enemy was retiring, and that at 5.30 sharp the whole
Belgian line would advance and take the town with the bayonet. Under cover of
' artillery fire, so continuous that it sounded like the thunder in the mountains, the
Belgian infantry climbed out of the trenches and, throwing aside their knapsacks,
formed up behind the road preparatory to the grand assault. A moment later a dozen
dog-batteries came trotting up and took position on the left of the infantry. At 5.30 to
- the minute the whistles of the officers sounded shrilly and the mile-long line of men
swept forward cheering. They crossed the roadway, they scrambled over ditches, they
climbed fences, they pushed through hedges, until they were within a hundred yards
of the line of buildings which formed the outskirts of the town. Then, Hell itself broke
loose. The whole German front, which for several hours past had replied but feebly
to the Belgian fire, spat a continuous stream of lead and flame. The rolling crash of
musketry and the ripping snarl of machine guns were stabbed by the wicions pom- pom-
-pom-pom-pom of the quick-firers. From every window of the three-storied chateau
opposite us the lean muzzles of mitrailleuses poured out their hail of death. I have
seen fighting on four continents, but I have never witnessed so deadly a fire as that
\ which wiped out the head of the Belgian column. The Germans had prepared a trap
'and the Belgians had walked — or rather charged— directly into it. Three minutes
later the dog-batteries came tearing back on a dead run. . . . Back through the
hedges, across the ditches, over the roadway came the Belgian infantry, crouching,
stooping, running for their lives. Every now and then a soldier would stumble, as
though he had stubbed his toe, and throw out his arms, and fall headlong. A bullet
had hit him. The road was sprinkled with silent forms in blue and green. The
fields were sprinkled with them too. One man was hit as he was struggling to get
through a hedge and died standing, held upright by the thorny branches. Men with
■ blood streaming down their faces, men with horrid crimson patches on their tunics,
limped, crawled, staggered past, leaving scarlet trails behind them. A young otlicer
^f chasseurs, who had been recklessly exposing himself while trying to check the
retreat of his men, suddenly spun round on his heels, like one of those wooden toys
which the curb-venders sell, and then crumpled up, as though all the bone and
muscle had gone out of him. A man plunged into a half-filled ditch and lay there,
with his head under water. I could see the water slowly redden.'

Nevertheless, a fresh assault was ordered. The Belgians gained a
Footing in Weerde and conquered the place entirely by nightfall.^

Still further on, between Eppeghem and the Willebroeck canal, the
16th Brigade fought furiously to keep the Katte-Meuter-Bosch. The
Germans made efforts to retake the wood and so threaten the flank of
,fche troops attacking Eppeghem. But the Mons Chasseurs, who had
orders to hold it, stuck to their positions with the finest courage.
Scattered along the southern edge of the wood and over the neighbouring
ground, nearly as far as Eppeghem, they resisted obstinately, regardless
Df the terrible losses indicted on them by the enemy's batteries.
Moreover, the Belgian artillery and machine guns which supported
}hem tore terrible holes in the German ranks. Lieutenant Clooten,
n command of the machine guns, never ceased to stir up his men's
courage, going from one group to another and punctuating with
' Bravos ! " the magnificent firing of his guns. Suddenly he collapsed,
cilled stone-dead by a bullet in his forehead.

At Katte-Meuter-Bosch the position was becoming critical. Major
Delbauve's battalion there was overwhelmed by a sustained fire at
.hort range and by the shooting of a battery which had just been planted
Darely 800 yards from the wood. To rescue these heroes, the second
?un of the Belgian 84th battery was brought forward at full speed and
succeeded in getting into position under the enemy's fire, when it

* E. A. Powell, Fighting in Flanders, pp. 155-161,

" La campagne de Varmie beige, p. 80.



started to work furiously. Thanks to this support, Delbauve's
battaUon Eaanaged to hold its trenches.^

Lastly, on the extreme left, across the canal, the 1st Regiment of
the Line gained possession of Limbosch, Beyghem, and the woods
south of Humbeek. When they tried to emerge from this cover, they
were checked by a battery of high calibre posted about Grimbergen.'

The battle was now reaching its end. The various divisions had
been obliged gradually to fall back, beginning with the 2nd on the left
wing, the 6th and 3rd in the centre. The retreat of the 5th and
1st Divisions, in their turn, became necessary. Consequently, on
13th September the whole army broke off the fight and retired on

The object of the Great Sortie had been accomplished. The
operation had compelled the Germans to recall the 6th Division of
the 3rd Reserve Corps definitively to the Belgian front. Furthermore,
the 9th Reserve Corps, under Von Boehn, wandered about for two days,
not knowing which way to go, and suspended its rapid march on
France at the precise moment when the German armies were in
pressing need of reinforcements during the retreat on the Marne.3

i\.s Mr. Powell well says —

Owing to strategic reasons the magnitude and significance of the great four
days' battle which was fought in mid-September between the Belgian field army and
the combined German forces in Northern Belgium was carefully masked in all ofi&cial
communications at the time, and in the rush of later events its importance was lost
sight of. Yet the great flanking movement of the Allies in France largely owed
its success to this determined offensive movement on the part of the Belgians.*

The enemy had been made to feel seriously anxious, and the
German soldiers could not refrain from giving expression to their
admiration of the qualities of the Belgian soldier. A soldier of the
48th Infantry Reserve Regiment, taken prisoner at Elewyt, scribbled
the following remarks in his diary, under the date 11th September : —

Whoever pretends that the Belgian soldier is a coward has never learnt to know
him. The Belgians know very well that they can do nothing against us, and thai
they can expect no reinforcements. They defend themselves, nevertheless, with such
spirit that we only succeed very rarely in dislodging them from what they hold, and I
then at the cost of the greatest sacrifices. We thought, at the beginning, to make but !
one mouthful of them, but we must yield to the evidence; we have not yet finished
with them and the thing may go on for a long time yet.s

Subsequent events fully proved that this German soldier gauged*
his enemy correctly.

* •• Pages de gloire. Quelques fastes du 2*= Chasseurs a pied."
' La cawpagnc. de Varm^e beige, p. 80.
' UArtion dc Vnrvi^e beige, p. 43; Lacampagne de I'armce beige, p. 80.

* K. A. Powell. Fighting iri Flanders, p. 153.
' Cf. Courrier de VArmie, 14th November 1914.



'The Great Sortie had convinced the Germans of the need for definitive
operations against Antwerp, if they were not to be continually harassed
by the attacks of the Belgian field army. They therefore undertook
the initial measures for laying siege to that stronghold. They brought
up a train of heavy guns, probably from Maubeuge,^ and seit a large
body of troops northwards.

They were obliged, in view of the attacks on the fifth sector, to
establish themselves in possession of Termonde, in order to cross the
Scheldt at that point and cut all communication with the west. This
is the explanation of the fresh attack on Termonde on the 16th and
17th September. On the 16th, at about half past five in the evening,
the German troops renewed the bombardment of Termonde.^ The
majority of the inhabitants, who had returned to the town after the
10th September, immediately withdrew to the left bank of the Scheldt.
So did the little Belgian garrison of two hundred and fifty men. The
enemy aimed deliberately at the recently restored Church of Notre-
Dame.3 A dozen shells struck the building, causing irreparable damage.

Two hours after the bombardment began the Germans entered the
town. Pushing forward, they once more seized upon a number of
civilians — men, women, and children — belonging to the commune of
. St.-Gilles. Suddenly the civilians tried to escape. The Germans fired
on them and used their bayonets ; more than twenty were struck down
in this manner. 4

i¥s they advanced into Termonde the Germans captured a large
number of the inhabitants, whom they drove before them, with their
hands up, to the brink of the River Scheldt. On the opposite bank the
Belgians had entrenched themselves. In reply to the Belgians' fire,
the Germans placed their prisoners in front of them, using their
shoulders as rifle rests, in order to fire with greater precision. Among
these prisoners was Dr. Van Winckel, local President of the Red Cross
Society. The German soldier on his right was killed, the man on his
left seriously wounded.

The Germans spent the evening in plundering the cellars of some
houses which had escaped destruction during the sack of the 4th-6th
September. On the Place du Marche au Lin, carpets, chairs, and
cushions were spread, a piano was brought, and bonfires lighted. The

^ L' Action de Varmee beige, p. 43.

^ Rapportu iur la violation du droit des gens en Belgique, i. p. 115.

3 Ibid., i. p. 105. * Evidence and Documents, /8.


ofi&cers celebrated a perfect orgy all night long. The next day,
between 4 and 4.45 p.m., the remains of the miserable town were given
to the flames. The tower of the town-hall caught fire, and only the
walls of the fine building remained standing. The archives and com-
munal library were destroyed. x\ll the pictures were saved, with the
exception of three.

Belgians and Germans continued to observe one another on opposite
banks of the river. The bridge of Termonde, already destroyed once
by the Belgians, had been rebuilt, but w^as quickly mined by the
defenders of the left bank. The Belgians, on their side, had set up
a gun to enfilade the bridge at close quarters, and the defensive was
very strong on both sides. The banks of the river were nothing
but deep trenches, and the houses along them had been transformed
into blockhouses for machine guns and small cannon. The Belgian
lookout-men, always on the alert, endeavoured to surprise the slightest
preparation of the enemy in the familiar ruins of the burnt town.
From time to time a shadow was seen gliding between the ruined walls
in the moonlight, and was at once greeted with a bullet. On the
other side of the river also, little blue flames flashed like will-o'-the-wisps
as the German crack shots aimed at heads seen above the Belgian

After the sortie of 9th-13th September the Belgian High Com-
mand did not remain inactive. They knew that the network of
railways in Belgium ofi:ered splendid facilities to the enemy for the
victualling and transport of troops. It was decided to destroy these
communications at certain specially important points. Seven volunteer
detachments of a hundred cychsts each were formed, and these
courageous soldiers were sent through the enemy lines to unpin or
blow up the rails at places marked in advance on the map.^ They left
Antwerp on 22nd September each group for a separate zone of
operations. Thanks to their boldness and skill, most of them suc-
ceeded in slipping through the German lines and accomplishing their
object. They cut the principal lines in Limburg, Brabant, and
Hainault, and disorganized the German transport. Most of these
volunteer detachments made their way back safely to Antwerp ; others
amongst them were discovered, surrounded, killed, or taken prisoners.3

The Germans, true to their traditions, retaliated on the civiHans
of the place or the neighbourhood. For example, ten motor-cyclists
unpinned the rails between Bilsen and Tongres. Two hours later, a
German troop train was derailed. The Germans, in fury, entered
Bilsen, shot down eight civilians, and set fire to part of the village.'*

Another motor-cyclist column was surprised by the Germans in
the act of blowing up the line at Tubize. Surrounded by the enemy,
they sold their lives dear, and a few escaped and took refuge in a
neighbouring village. Shortly afterwards one of these soldiers found
stretched beside the line, near the scene of the skirmish, the bodies of
two civilians shot by the Germans. Several houses had been burnt
down in the vicinity. s

' " La mort de deux braves sur le pont de Termonde," in Le XX^ SUcle, 1st
October 1915.

= U Action de Varmie beige, p. 44. 3 Ibid. * Ibid,

s Rapports sur la violation du droit des gens en Belgique, ii. pp. 26-7.


A third cyclist column cut the Brussels-Paris main line, not far
from a farm occupied by the burgomaster of Montigny-lez-Lens.

The Germans took their revenge by burning down the parish priest's
house and the burgomaster's farm, not neglecting to break open the
safe and loot all they could carry away. The same fate befell some
wretched little neighbouring farms. ^

We must read in the light of these events the proclamation issued
ion 25th September by the Governor-General Yon der Goltz Pasha as
follows : —

Convoys of trucks and patrols have recently been surprised and attacked by the
inhabitants in certain districts not actually occupied by German troops in greater
or less force. I draw the attention of the public to the fact that a list of the towns and
communes in which these attacks have occurred has been drawn up, and that they may
expect their punishment when the German troops pass through their neighbourhood.

On the very day that these heroic cyclists carried out their dangerous
Lduty the French High Command informed the Belgians that, as violent
engagements were developing on the left wing of the Franco-British
Iront, before Rheims and Roye, it seemed advisable to undertake a new
attack in force on the German communications. There was reason
ilio suppose that the enemy forces before Antwerp had been reduced
by the despatch of reinforcements to France. The region to the west
of Brussels was chosen by the Belgian High Command as the scene of
the projected offensive movement. The cavalry division were despatched
hy rail to Ghent in order to move on Alost, while the main army, con-
centrated on the fourth sector, was to march southwards. During the
preliminary movements of this fresh sortie the Belgians quickly learnt
ibhat, far from having been reduced, the German effectives before
Antwerp had been increased, for the Germans had determined to
begin the siege. Thus the projected sortie was not carried out, and
the only result was a slight westerly movement of the main body
Df the army.

Nevertheless the High Command took a favourable opportunity
Df overwhelming an isolated German detachment. The 37th Brigade
Df Landwehr were engaged in the direction of Termonde. At once orders
ivere given to the ith Division to move on Termonde and, issuing from
ihe town, to carry out a frontal attack. The 5th Division were to take
ihe enemy on the right flank, while the cavalry division, which had
oeen sent from Ghent towards Alost, attacked on the left wing. The
iGlerman troops withdrew from the ruins of Termonde on the approach
)f the 4th Division, which passed through the town, along both banks of
iheDendre, and there was a brisk engagement at St.-Gilles, Audeghem,
ind Wieze. But the 5th Division, fearing for their left flank, only
mgaged the enemy with weak forces. Two battalions tried to cut
)ff the retreat of the 37th Landwehr by an advance from Buggenhout
im Lebbeke. x\t nightfall Lebbeke was occupied ; meanwhile the
l5avalry division pushed back the German detachments guarding the
Dassages of the Dendre at Alost. There was a sharp struggle between
•he Belgians and Germans on opposite banks ; some groups of Belgian
javalry pushed on as far as Assche.

But in spite of all these operations the brigade of Landwehr

' Rapports sur la violation d^i droit des gem en Belgigue, ii. p. 86.


succeeded in escaping from the encircling movement which menaced
them. They skirted Lebbeke on the west, in the dusk, and reaching
Opwyck by cross-country roads, they rejoined the main body of their

The engagement between Belgians and Germans at Alost took place
on 26th and 27th September. The combatants were separated by the
Dendre, which flows through the town. The Germans immediately
revenged themselves upon the inhabitants of the part of Alost which
they occupied. An old weaver who was carrying a pail of water across
the street was bayoneted. In the poor quarter of Binnen Straat some
houses were set on fire and two men killed. One of these latter was
the father of a large family, who had shut the door of his house as his
children were screaming with terror. He was called upon to open, and
immediately killed in spite of his explanations. In the Rue des Trois
Clefs about forty civilians were dragged from their homes, stripped
of their valuables and money, and then driven to the river Dendre
to serve as shields against the fire of their countrymen on the opposite
bank. The Belgian lieutenant in charge of the mitrailleuse command-
ing the drawbridge signalled to these civilians to throw themselves
on the ground. They did so, and at once the Belgians fired, forcing
the Germans to retreat. The Germans thereupon killed eight or nine
civilian prisoners. In the Rue des Trois Clefs seventeen houses were
ignited, some with grenades, others by means of petrol, and some people
who tried to fly from the burning houses were cut down. There were
also cases of arson in the Rue Lenders and Rue de I'Argent. In the
first of these streets about ten civilians were killed ; in the Rue de
I'Argent nine were despatched — bayoneted. In all, some forty persons
were killed, including a young girl and two boys aged respectively
twelve and sixteen years. A woman of eighty was terribly injured by
a bayonet thrust. ^

A German column of two to three hundred soldiers left Alost for
the village of Erpe, taking twenty-five prisoners with them. Having
reached Erpe, the Germans set fire to the houses and killed five or six
civilians who tried to escape. Suddenly a Belgian car with a machine
gun appeared on the scene : the Germans at once placed the twent}' -
five hostages from Alost before them on the road ; two young fellows
received wounds from the Belgian bullets before the machine-gun
crew, perceiving that the civilians were being used as a screen, ceased
their fire. 3

At about the same time fighting took place in Campine between the
Germans and the 4th Volunteer Regiment. These volunteers, quite fresh
recruits, occupied the camp of Bourg-L6opold (Beverloo), and cleared
the country-side of the German scouting parties who ventured so far.
The presence of these volunteers in the Limburg district harassed the

Online LibraryLéon van der EssenThe invasion & the war in Belgium from Liège to the Yser → online text (page 27 of 44)