'the Tragedy of Belgium and the Fall of Antwerp'
from the Graphic Extras - the Second Phase 1915
illustrations from 'the Graphic Extras - the Second Phase'
The Belgian army had retired behind the southern forts of Antwerp on August 19th, the eve of the German occupation of Brussels. But King Albert had no intention of becoming a spectator of the struggle or making his army of 100 000 men a mere garrison for the entrenched camp of Antwerp. The fortress had always been regarded as a rallying place from which the Belgian army would operate in the field against an invader. In Brialmont's original scheme for the defence of Belgium it was taken for granted that Holland would be an ally, or at least a very benevolent neutral and that succour would arrive at Antwerp from England by the Scheldt. But some four years before the war the Dutch Government had reasserted its sovereignty over the lower waters of the estuary by the project for the fortification of Flushing, and as a chief grievance against Germany was her violation of Belgian neutrality, neither Belgium nor her Allies could think of violating Dutch neutrality by the passage of transports and warships through the lower Scheldt.
In this third week of August, however, help was expected from a different quarter. The Allied armies of France and Britain were massing on the southern borders of Belgium, and the plan of campaign was that the line should swing forward pivoting on Namur, to drive the invaders from Brussels. In this movement the British Expeditionary Force on the Allied left would as it advanced join hands with the Belgian army striking southward from Antwerp against the right rear of the enemy.
It would appear that the Belgian Staff at Antwerp was not kept fully informed as to the progress of events on the southern frontier, for it was on Monday, August 24th, the day when the Allies were everywhere in retreat, that King Albert marched out to attack the Germans. Reinforced by troops from the Antwerp garrison, he was able to put about 120,000 men in line. The Belgians advanced on a wide front, the right southwards along the Brussels railway towards Vilvorde, the left south-eastwards towards Louvain by the Aerschot road. The Germans did not expect the attack. They thought that the Belgian army could not so soon venture upon any enterprise in the open field. At first their detachments were everywhere driven in. Troops were hastily collected from all sides to check the rush of the Belgians, which was coming dangerously near the capital. Brussels listened in hopeful anxiety to the roar of cannon north of Vilvorde. Louvain heard with delight that the Belgian vanguard was in possession of Aerschot.
One good service the Belgian sortie did to the Allied armies, now hard pressed in northern France. General von Boehn's army, which was marching by Tournai to reinforce the attack on Sir John French's left, was hurriedly recalled to Belgium. But for this an additional force Of 40,000 men would have been engaged in the flank movement against Smith Dorrien on the 26th at Le Cateau.
On the evening of the 25th the German reinforcements were coming into line north of Brussels and the Belgian onset was checked. That night a Zeppelin hovered over Antwerp and sent a shower of exploding bombs into the streets-the first appearance of the huge airships in war. Next day there was hard fighting along the extended front from Vilvorde to Aerschot. The Belgians were making no progress but were holding the ground they had won. The severity of the fighting was shown by the long trains of wounded that came rolling into Antwerp. That evening witnessed one of the awful tragedies of the war.
In order to feed the hard pressed fighting line the Germans had sent every available man from Louvain to the front near Aerschot. The garrison was reduced to some 2,ooo men, Landwehr troops under a Major von Manteuffel. He seems to have been one of those men whose nerve is not equal to an emergency and who blunder into merciless cruelty in the effort to appear strong. The garrison was undoubtedly in a nervous state of excitement and if report does not belie them some of them had been trying to keep their courage up by drinking over freely. The townsfolk were also excited, for the Belgian cannon were booming a few miles away to the westward, and rumour said that King Albert's men would soon be marching into Louvain. What precisely happened is not quite clear, but there is the evidence of an American spectator that early in the evening a German convoy passing up the broad Rue de la Station was fired upon ; some of the drivers were shot and the teams came racing back down the street. Most of the Germans were concentrated about the station. They were seized with something like a panic. The report ran that the town was in insurrection and the troops were let loose upon the people, and went through the streets firing upon all they met, breaking into houses, setting them on fire, and shooting the people as they ran out. There was a night of terror followed by a morning of more deliberate outrages. Von Manteuffel proceeded to summary executions of citizens who were denounced to him by frightened witnesses as having resisted the troops or been found with arms in their houses. Then some hundreds of men were collected under military escort and marched out by road or packed in crowded trains to be taken as prisoners to Germany.
From the station to beyond the central square the town was burning. The old Halles with the priceless treasures of the University library and the beautiful collegiate church of St. Pierre were among the buildings thus destroyed. The Hotel de Ville, one of the marvels of Gothic architecture, was saved. The first reports that the whole of the city had been reduced to a blackened ruin were exaggerations. The destruction was only partial. But far more terrible than any mere wrecking of historic monuments was the awful loss of life in the massacre of Louvain and the widespread human misery resulting from this act of terrorism.*
* On tile morrow of the sack of Louvain a brave man, M. Alfred Nerincx, Professor of International Law in the University, formed a provisional council of prominent citizens and himself assumed the dangerous post of Burgomaster. He arranged with the German authorities for the protection of those who remained in the place, enrolled special constables to perform police duties and thus lessen the risk of friction between the people and the foreign troops, and provided for the relief of the destitute. In a few days he had even gangs of workmen clearing away the ruins, telling them that he was preparing for the rebuilding of Louvain when brighter days dawned for Belgium.
And, unhappily, it did not stand alone. The German system of making a whole population suffer for the hostile acts of a few individuals led to excesses of the same kind elsewhere. Dinant was reduced to ruins, and many of the villages of the Ardennes were the scene of cruel reprisals because a handful of French and Belgian soldiers, who had escaped from the surrender of Namur, were carrying on a guerrilla warfare in the wooded hills of the district. Aerschot suffered the terrors of fire and sword when the Belgians were at last forced out of the city; the Germans alleged that the citizens had taken part in the street fighting.
The Belgians were driven back into Antwerp after a week of battle ending on August 31st. They had fought with obstinate and reckless courage and only retired behind the forts after enduring heavy loss. In the hospitals of Antwerp alone there were 8,000 wounded, and there were thousands more sent on to Ghent and Bruges. In the last stage of the fighting Malines, which stands close in to the advanced forts of Antwerp, was bombarded by the German artillery. It was the first of a series of bombardments in which the town was wrecked and the great cathedral of St. Rumbold suffered serious damage.
During the fighting south of Antwerp the German cavalry raiders had swept through western Belgium on their way into France, and to secure Ostend from being rushed by them a force of British Marines occupied the place. It was important to secure it as the only way by which communication could be kept open between England and Antwerp.
The greater part of Belgium was now in the hands of the invaders. The systematic terrorism they had practised and the awful scenes of the sack of Louvain and other places led to a flight of hundreds of thousands of the people into Holland and across the sea to England. The stream of fugitives began to arrive in the last week of August and for months after there was a steady flow of refugees, men, women and children of all classes, among them thousands who in a few days had found themselves reduced from comfort or wealth to utter poverty. With the refugees came large numbers of wounded from the Belgian battlefields. They were received in Britain and in Ireland with a kindly hospitality that did something to console them for their loss. Our people thus strove to do something to repay a part of the debt due to Belgium for the heroic self sacrifice with which she had flung herself across the path of German aggression.
After the August sortie the Germans found it prudent to keep a large force north of Brussels to watch the army of Antwerp. The troops held an entrenched line facing the southern forts and on September 6th, in order to secure the left flank of this position from an attack across the Scheldt the town of Termonde was bombarded and carried by storm.
After this for ten or twelve days there was only skirmishing along the front between Belgians and Germans. But in this interval news came of the great victory of the Allies along the Marne, the successful crossing of the Aisne and the attack on the heights beyond the river. It was thought that the tide of battle had turned in France and once more King Albert judged that the time had come when he could make a useful diversion in favour of the Allies by attacking the German lines. It might even be that under the pressure they were enduring in France the invaders were on the point of giving way, and a sortie from Antwerp might be the first step in the re-conquest of Belgium. He had rejected renewed overtures for peace made to him by the enemy. Supported by his people he preferred to face the perils and the sufferings of war.
The sortie proved a failure and again the Belgians fell back behind their forts, but only to renew the struggle again a few days later by an attack on the enemy across the Scheldt about Termonde. By this time, in order to meet the ever extending' flank attack from the westward the Germans were building up their long battle line northwards from Roye and Lassigny by Albert and Douai towards the Belgian frontier and were beginning to send a mass of mounted troops towards Lille to work round the extreme flank of the lengthening Allied line. They fully realised that the Belgian army posted at Antwerp in their rear was a standing danger to them, and besides this it forced them to keep a large army to protect Brussels and watch the southern exits of the fortress. To put an end to the menace of the Belgian army they decided to lay siege to Antwerp.
The army north of Brussels, now under the command of General von Beseler, was reinforced with fresh troops, including a naval division and an Austrian contingent which brought with it a number of heavy howitzers to supplement the siege train of the German artillery.
The operations began on Sunday, September 27th. That morning the Germans fiercely bombarded Malines and occupied it in the afternoon, when the hapless city which had already been more than once under the enemy's fire became the target of the big Belgian guns at Fort Waelhem. On Monday, 28th, the attack on the southern defences of Antwerp began.
There could be no question of investing a huge entrenched camp with a circuit of fifty-six miles, and traversed by a deep and wide river. To have occupied a line hemming in the works of Antwerp on both sides of the Scheldt would have required an army of at least 6oo,ooo men. The Germans had concentrated about one third of this force. They therefore decided on an attack concentrated upon a sector of the defences and chose as their objective the south-eastern front-a fortified line of about eight miles in length from Fort Waelhem north of Malines, near the point where the Dyle runs into the Nethe, to Fort Lierre on the Aerschot road. Four forts of the most modern type with armoured cupolas protected by massive beds of concrete guarded this line, and between the forts there were minor works. Behind the forts the ground slopes to the hollow of the little river Nethe. The sluices on the Nethe and lower down on the Rupel had been opened and the hollow was filled with an inundation narrowing away to the eastward near Lierre. Beyond the Nethe there was a second line of defence formed of trenches, gunpits and well concealed batteries. The front had been cleared by demolishing all the buildings that could afford near cover to the attack or mask the fire of the forts and batteries. It is said that during the weeks before the siege the Belgian engineers thus demolished more than ten thousand houses.
This double line of works along both sides of the Nethe formed the real defence of Antwerp on this side. Once it was penetrated the city and port would be within reach of hostile bombardment. But five miles behind the line of the Nethe there was an inner line of permanent works, which included the older forts constructed by Brialmont as part of the plan of 1865, and now connected by a line of ramparts of which they formed the bastions.
On Monday, September 28th, the German batteries established behind Malines, and to the east of it, opened fire at a range of between seven and eight miles. The guns were the heavy German and Austrian howitzers and siege pieces, throwing high explosive shells of about 800 lbs. weight. Their fire was directed chiefly at Forts Waelhem and Wavre St. Catherine. The bombardment continued day and night, and on Tuesday the guns of Fort Wavre St. Catherine were silenced. The heavy shells had shattered the cupolas and penetrated the beds of concrete around them, and the casemates below. One of them exploded a magazine, and after the wreckage caused by this disaster it was found to be impossible to keep any of the guns in action. Fort Waelhem held out longer. On the Wednesday evening a few of its guns were still replying to the German fire, the last of them was not silenced until Thursday, October 1st.
Belgian infantry in trenches near Fort Waelhem
In the rear of Fort Waelhem, in a very bad position, were the waterworks of Antwerp with a large embanked reservoir. On the Tuesday it was evident that the German guns were trying to destroy the waterworks, for they kept up a steady fire of howitzer shells that passed over the fort and obviously had for their target the reservoir and the waterworks building. Several shells burst in the water, throwing up great geysers hundreds of feet into the air, and on the Wednesday morning a well placed shell made a huge breach in the embankment of the reservoir. The flood of water that poured out of it deluged nearly half a mile of the Belgian trenches and batteries beyond the Nethe, and made these works for a while untenable. The destruction of the reservoir was a disaster. It cut off the main water supply of the city and until the end of the siege the large population had to depend upon a scanty supply brought in buckets from a few artesian wells within the inner rampart.
By Thursday evening the two other forts on the line attacked - Konigshoyckt and Lierre - were silenced, and the town of Lierre was on fire. The Germans had now put out of action the first line of defence. This had been accomplished in less than four days. Yet these forts were of the very latest type, and before the war it had been anticipated that they could hold out for months. The defence of the city now depended upon the Belgians being able to hold the second line of works, the trenches and the batteries along the north bank of the Nethe, behind the inundations along the river's course.
After the siege some of the critics of the German operations argued that General von Beseler had made a bad mistake in pressing the attack on Antwerp from the south-east, and leaving the western front open, so that when the place became untenable the Belgian army was able to withdraw instead of being forced to capitulate with the fortress or take refuge in Holland. This criticism was not quite justified. For while he was attacking the south-eastern forts Von Beseler was trying at the same time to get possession of the country to the south-west of Antwerp, between the Scheldt and the Dutch frontier, in order to cut the Belgian line of retreat. On Sunday, the 27th, the day before he opened fire on the forts, he began a series of attacks north and south of Termonde against the positions held by the Belgian army on the other side of the Scheldt. These attacks continued all through the siege, and it was the unexpectedly obstinate resistance of the Belgians that foiled every attempt of the Germans to cross the river, and thus kept the way open first for the arrival of British reinforcements, and later for the retreat of the greater part of the garrison.
During the 1st and 2nd of October, the Germans were able to concentrate the fire of their siege batteries on the Belgian positions along the Nethe, and it was evident that the defence of them could not be very long maintained. On the morning of Friday, October 2nd, King Albert and the Commandant of the fortress, General de Guise, took the first steps for the evacuation of Antwerp. It was realised that the most important point was to keep the Belgian army intact and available as a field force to co-operate with the Allies. And a persistent defence of the place seemed likely to end in the Germans simultaneously forcing the line of the Nethe and of the Scheldt above Termonde, thus at once making the fortress untenable, and cutting off the retreat of the army, which was barely able to supply enough men for the defence of the two river lines. Arrangements were made for the transfer of the Government to Ostend, and steamers were provided to take away the Legations and their staffs, and the British residents of the city. These preparations were in progress when during the Friday afternoon a sudden change came over the situation. It was heralded by the arrival of Mr. Winston Churchill with his secretary and a couple of British naval officers in a motor car from Ostend. He promised the immediate arrival of a British naval brigade with heavy guns, and told of important operations which were being begun to force the Germans to raise the siege of Antwerp. All thoughts of abandoning the fortress were put aside, and as the news of the English succours spread through the city there was general rejoicing at what was regarded as a sudden change from impending disaster to assured success.
It is not yet possible to tell the full story of the British expedition to Antwerp. Very little official information on the subject has been published. It seems to have been decided upon very suddenly, and the methods adopted were certainly open to criticism. The force employed at Antwerp was commanded by General Paris of the Royal Marines, and was made up of a brigade of Marines and two Naval brigades, about 8,ooo men in all, with some heavy guns. These naval brigades were not, however, composed of long-service bluejackets from the fleet, but were drawn from a new force that had been formed a few weeks before by organizing as naval battalions some thousands of Reservists and Naval Artillery Volunteers. A large part of the force was really made up of landsmen, and there were some thousands in the ranks who had had only the briefest of training, even the equipment of the men was not always complete. It was afterwards explained that the sending of these naval brigades was part of what was intended to be a much larger operation.
What this larger operation was can only be conjectured from what was being done at the same time by British troops in the west of Belgium. There had been a garrison of British Marines at Ostend since the last week of August. In the closing days of September, and on the ist and 2nd of October, considerable numbers of British troops were landed at Ostend and Zeebrugge, and began to move forward through Bruges and concentrate at Ghent. At the time the secret of the expedition was well kept and not a word about these movements appeared in the press. The force was commanded by General Sir Henry Rawlinson, and was made up of the 7th Infantry division, about 2o,ooo strong, and a cavalry division under General Byng, which included a strong contingent of the Household Cavalry. It was probably intended that this British field force should combine with the Belgian army on the Scheldt in an attack on the left flank and rear of the German army in front of Antwerp while the rest of the Belgian army, with the help of the naval contingent, held it along the line of the Nethe. It was a plan that might have given great results if action had been taken a little earlier, and on a larger scale. As it was it came too late. To use the words of a soldier who got as far as Ghent, " We went out to help the Belgians at Antwerp, and we met them coming back." One of the points to be explained when the full history of the war is investigated is why it was that if Antwerp was to be helped, no attempt was made to succour it during the whole of September, though all that time the country between the Scheldt and the Dutch frontier by way of Bruges and Ghent was clear of the enemy, and the railways were working from Ostend and Zeebrugge to the western front of Antwerp.
The first British detachment, a brigade of Marines 2,200 strong, reached Antwerp on the evening of Saturday, October 3rd. The people of the city at once passed from a state of rising panic to hopeful optimism. An exodus to Holland and by sea to England had already begun, and the city was crowded with fugitives coming in from the outlying villages. The arrival of British help diminished though it did not entirely put a stop to the stream of fugitives that set northward towards the Dutch frontier. Heavy fighting was in progress along the Nethe, and the Germans were concentrating their efforts upon the crossing near Lierre, where the lie of the ground narrowed the inundation along the stream and made it no very formidable obstacle. To Lierre as the danger point the British were sent. They arrived there early on the Sunday morning, helped to barricade the streets among the ruined houses, and took the places of the exhausted Belgian infantry who had been holding the trenches near the town. A couple of naval guns were mounted on an armoured train which was run out to assist in the defence. The German batteries were not only heavily bombarding the trenches but some of them were sending their shells far into the zone between the outer and the inner fortifications, taking for their targets villages supposed to be sheltering the supports of the Belgian and British fighting line.
In the night between Sunday and Monday (October 4th and 5th), the Germans succeeded in crossing the Nethe below Lierre, and drove the 7th Belgian Infantry out of its trenches. This endangered the right flank of the British line, but the Marines held on all through the next day, co-operating with the Belgians in an attempt to drive the enemy back across the river.
On the Monday afternoon the two Naval Brigades arrived, but by this time the position on the Nethe was all but lost. During the night the Germans reinforced their troops on the north bank, repulsed a determined counter attack, and in the grey of the morning cleared a great part of the Belgian trenches. The situation was now hopeless. The Marines fell back towards the city holding for awhile a rapidly entrenched intermediate position outside the inner line of forts. The two newly arrived brigades had meanwhile helped to man the ramparts between these old forts, and mounted four of their heavy guns on this inner line.
On this day, Tuesday, October 6th, General von Beseler sent in a flag of truce, summoning General de Guise to surrender the fortress, and threatening to bombard the city if the summons were rejected. In view of this eventuality he asked to be supplied with a map of Antwerp marked with the situation of the churches, hospitals and works of art, so that these might be spared by his gunners. The Burgomaster and the City Council nobly sent a message to De Guise telling him to think only of military considerations, and to be in no way influenced by whatever calamities the place might suffer. At the same time they advised such of the citizens as wished to avoid bombardment to depart. De Guise sent back a refusal to capitulate. He knew that the fall of Antwerp was inevitable, but it was all important to prolong the defence until the retreat of the field army could be secured. With this reply an official of the American Consulate took to the German headquarters the marked map that had been asked for.
The retirement of the Belgian army from Antwerp began on Tuesday, October 6th. The troops marched across the Scheldt by a long bridge of boats, which connected the city with the suburb of the Tete de Flandre, and the Ghent railway station on the west bank. As they moved across in detachments, the people did not at first realise that the evacuation of the city had begun. The columns of troops crossing the bridge were supposed to be reinforcements sent to support the Belgians who were defending the line of the Scheldt towards Termonde. The warning issued by the City Council that a bombardment was imminent, led to a sudden increase in the stream of fugitives that poured out of Antwerp, mostly by the northern road towards the Dutch frontier. In the city the people were preparing to occupy the cellars, providing them with stores of foods and candles, and in many places piling banks of earth over the openings into the streets. During the day the German fire was directed against the inner forts and the defences between them on the south side. The men of the Naval Brigades were under fire for the first time, and though many of them were young recruits they behaved with unfailing steadiness. They worked hard to improve the defences, and kept their guns in action all day, though with little effect, for they were mostly outranged by the German artillery. The London Naval Volunteers were largely represented in one of the brigades.
Shortly after midnight the. bombardment began. It was a less terrible experience than had been anticipated. The enemy did not use the heavy howitzers which had blown the forts to pieces. If these had been brought into action, the city would have speedily been reduced to a mere wreck. Very few even of the lighter type of high explosive shells were used. The projectiles employed were mostly shrapnel, which burst high over the houses and sent down showers of bullets. Evidently the object of the bombardment was mainly to cause a panic in the civil population and produce a movement that would force the Governor to surrender. It was not concentrated on any one point, but scattered all over the city in what might seem at first sight a haphazard fashion. But the German gunners were working very deliberately, and there was proof of this in the fact that the places marked on the map supplied to the enemy's headquarters were all studiously spared. Here and there some damage was done to a church or a public building, but this was obviously the result of accident. The houses suffered most in the south-western quarter, a new district of large mansions, with gardens, the residences of the wealthier classes. Here the bursting shells started some fires. But the character of the district prevented them from causing any widespread conflagration. In the rest of the city after the siege in some of the streets, hardly a house was touched. In others a good deal of damage had been done, but there was happily very little loss of life.
The bombardment continued all through the 7th. As soon as day broke, thousands were in movement by the north road towards Holland, while others crowded the steamers going down the river, or crossed to the other bank in boats of all kinds in order to make their way towards Ghent or Bruges. The floating bridge was reserved entirely for the troops, and hour after hour the infantry were tramping across it, or batteries of artillery and long trains of waggons were being transferred to the west bank. Strange to say, though shells were falling and bursting now here, now there, there was no loss of life among the moving crowds, though there were many narrow escapes. Great alarm was caused in the afternoon by the sight of a German aeroplane circling over the city. It was expected that it would throw down explosives, but nothing of the kind happened, and it was evidently engaged only in reconnoitring. The report current at the time that a fleet of Zeppelin airships co-operated in the bombardment was one of the many fictions of the war.
Now that the evacuation had begun, it was important to destroy any stores that might be useful to the enemy. The most valuable of these were the great supplies of oil in the huge oil-tanks on the river bank, south of the city, the largest store of the kind in Belgium. The oil was set on fire during the 7th, and burned in gigantic masses of flame during the following night. It was the glare of this gigantic conflagration that reddened the sky for many a mile through Flanders, which doubtless led to the report that the whole of the city was in flames. Several German steamers lying at the quays and some Belgian liners were disabled by exploding dynamite in their engine-rooms, and wrecking the machinery. All munitions of war that could be moved were sent across the river and loaded on goods trains at the railway station. .
The bombardment continued during the night between the 7th and 8th. The flight of the people and the march of the troops across the floating bridge went on by the light of the burning oil tanks. In the morning the final orders were given for the abandonment of the city. It was thought that the safe retreat of the army was assured, the inner line of defence was crumbling under the German fire, a long resistance would have been impossible, and would only have exposed the city to useless ruin. The British Naval Brigades held the line of defence until after dark, and began to march back through the town about half-past seven in the evening. By an unfortunate mistake the 1st Brigade, on the extreme left did not receive the order at the same time as the 2nd on the right. They remained in the works they held long after everyone else had retired, and only began their march when they found that they were quite alone, and German troops were in possession of the ground close in to their right.
After the 1st Naval Brigade and the last of the Belgians had crossed the bridge, it was destroyed by cutting adrift and sinking a number of the barges which supported it. When the march westward began a report was received by General de Guise, who was with the rearguard, that the Germans had crossed the Scheldt in force below Antwerp and cut the direct line of retreat. A detour was therefore made to the northwards in order to reach Ghent by marching along the road and railway near the Dutch frontier. Part of the force was got into trains on the railway. All went well till the wayside station of Moerbeke was reached. Here as the last of the trains and the rearguard were passing through, the Germans arrived, cut the line, and derailed one of the trains. There was a confused fight in the darkness. Most of our men got through, but some were captured and others only escaped being made prisoners by crossing the neighbouring Dutch frontier and laying down their arms as they entered neutral territory.
Some thousands of the Belgian rearguard also crossed the Dutch border. Those of the Naval Brigade who had got through Moerbeke pushed on to the junction at SeIzaate and entrained there, and reached Ghent in the morning.
The losses of the British Antwerp expedition were 28 killed, 67 wounded, and 2,428 missing. Of the missing, about 2,000 were in Holland, and the rest had been made prisoners by the Germans. After the skirmish at Moerbeke there was no further fighting. The naval men were sent on by train to Ostend, and Sir Henry Rawlinson's division, with Sir Julius Byng's cavalry, fell back from Ghent to Bruges. Had they remained in Ghent, they would have had to meet the onset of forces outnumbering them ten to one.
bombardment of Antwerp
While the evacuation of Antwerp was being thus completed, more than half the population was in flight from the city. Thousands escaped down the river in crowded steamers and boats, and all along the road from the northern gate to the Dutch border there was an unbroken stream of fugitives, mostly on foot, and this exodus included numbers of sick people who were being carried by their friends or conveyed in carts and barrows. Happily the weather was fine, but even so, the journey of fifteen miles to the frontier station proved for many of those who attempted it a trying enterprise, and ambulance parties were busy during the day rescuing those who fell exhausted by the wayside. There were not a few deaths among the sick and aged, whom their friends had taken from their beds and brought away with them in terror of the German invasion of their homes. Few more pathetic scenes have ever been witnessed in civilised Europe than this panic flight of a ruined people, leaving behind them their homes, veiled in the drifting smoke of the dying fires.
The Burgomaster and the City Council had bravely remained at their posts to protect those who were still left in Antwerp. In the morning they sent out a messenger under a flag of truce to arrange for the handing over of the city to the conquerors. On the night of Thursday the 8th, a large German force had pushed into the southern suburbs after occupying the inner forts. At sunrise a detachment pushed on into the heart of the city. A party moved down to the bridge, some soldiers swam the gap in it and established a post at the Tete de Flandre on the west bank. A regiment of pioneers set to work, and in two hours the floating bridge was repaired, and a brigade of infantry with some batteries marched across.
On the Friday afternoon the main body of the victorious army marched in, and were reviewed by General von Schutz, who had been appointed Governor of Antwerp. Surrounded by a brilliant staff, he sat on his horse in front of the Royal Palace in the broad Place de Meir and saw 6o,ooo men march past. The long parade lasted for five hours. An American correspondent who saw it gives a striking description of the march past :
"Each regiment was headed by its field music and colours, and when darkness fell and the street lamps were lighted the shrill music of fifes and rattle of drums and the tramp of marching feet reminded me of a torch light election parade. Hard on the heels of the infantry rumbled artillery, battery after battery, until one wondered where Krupp found time or steel to make them. These were the forces that had been almost in constant action for the last two weeks and that for thirty-six hours had poured death and destruction into the city, yet the horses were well groomed and the harness well polished. Behind the field batteries rumbled quick firers, and then, heralded by a blare of trumpets and the crash of kettle-drums, came the cavalry, cuirassiers in helmets and breastplates of burnished steel, hussars in befrogged jackets and fur busbies, and finally the Uhlans, riding amid forests of lances under a cloud of fluttering pennons.
"But this was not all, nor nearly all. For after the Uhlans came bluejackets of the naval division, broad- shouldered, bewhiskered fellows with caps worn rakishly and the roll of the sea in their gait. Then Bavarian infantry in dark blue, Saxon infantry in light blue, and Austrians in uniforms of beautiful silver grey, and, last of all, a detachment of gendarmes in silver and bottlegreen.
It would be easy to contrast this triumphal march of the Germans into Antwerp, with the miserable procession of tens of thousands that were at the very same time being driven by panic along the road to Rosendael, the Dutch frontier station. As the German armies poured westward from Antwerp and Termonde, the same panic spread through the towns and villages of Flanders. Fugitives who had reached Ghent and Bruges abandoned these cities on the approach of the invaders and Ostend was crowded with a terrified multitude, some of whom had begun their flight from the eastern provinces of Belgium weeks before, and gradually fled further and further westward until at last they reached the sea.
The British and Belgian troops had fallen back without fighting, Rawlinson's division and Byng's cavalry marching from Ghent by Bruges, and then turning southward towards Ypres. German cavalry rode into Ghent on the Sunday after the fall of Antwerp, (October iith), and the city was occupied by a strong force next day after a convention had been arranged with the Burgomaster and the Council. At Ghent, as at Antwerp, the troops who occupied the city behaved well. The Germans having overrun the greater part of Belgium were now trying to reassure and conciliate the inhabitants. It was indeed their interest to do so, as they were anxious to restore the ordinary industrial life of the great centres in order to facilitate their own occupation of the country.
Bruges was occupied by the invaders on Wednesday 14th, Ostend was already being evacuated by the Allies. The British Marines were being embarked and the Belgian garrison marched southward towards Nieuport and Dixmude. One of the columns lost its way during a night march, came in contact with the German advance, and lost heavily in the fight that followed. The Belgian Government had been transferred to Havre, but the King remained with his army.
On the withdrawal of the garrison and the English contingent the greater part of the civil population of Ostend and the fugitives who were crowded into the place abandoned it. Not only the cross Channel steamers, but every kind of craft that could be used put off for England or for Flushing, crowded from end to end. Other fugitives found their way southward by land towards Nieuport. When the German vanguard marched in on Thursday, October 15th, Ostend was a deserted city.
Zeebrugge, the new port of Bruges, with its docks and harbour works, was occupied on the next day. All that was left of Belgium was a little corner of territory in the extreme south west. Its government had been forced to take refuge on foreign soil, but its army, still unconquered, had ranged itself beside the Allies in the one fragment of the national territory that remained, and its heroic King was still at the head of his war-worn soldiers, refusing to despair or to make terms with the enemy, and still hoping for the day when the tide would turn, and he would be hailed by his people in Antwerp and Brussels, ruined Louvain and Liege and Namur, as their deliverer from the invader who had wasted their fields and given up town and village to fire and sword.
* see 'the Graphic Magazine'
Belgian refugees fleeing over the bridge of boats across the river Scheldt