from the Daily Chronicle War Library
'The Great Battles of the Great War'






THE heroic resistance of Liege to the Kaiser's legions had an inspiriting effect on the Belgian troops. They opposed the invaders with gallant-hearted courage. At Haelen, on August 12th, the Belgian soldiers defeated a force of German cavalry and artillery; and on August 13th there was another Belgian success at Eghezee. Everywhere the spirit and courage of the Belgian troops were admirable. King Albert, in these anxious days, set a fine example to his people, going here and there among his soldiers, sharing their perils and privations, and preserving a serene faith, though his heart must have been wrung by the unmerited sufferings inflicted on his innocent people, and by the ruin and devastation carried through his beloved land by the modern Huns.

From the nature of things, it was impossible that little Belgium, by her own unaided exertions, could long keep at bay the myriad soldiers of the Kaiser. She held up for days the head-waters, but presently the rising German tide broke through the barrier of her resistance. Realising the inevitable, King Albert and his Ministers removed the seat of Government on August 17th from the capital to Antwerp. They had previously declined a fresh proposal from the Kaiser, who offered easy terms of peace provided Belgium would abandon its resistance.


Brussels is an open city without any defences. It is a city rich in noble public buildings and in art treasures. By the decision of the Government that Brussels should offer no resistance to the enemy, the Germans were left with no excuse for bombarding the city and despoiling it of its glories.

It was on August 19th that the Germans took possession of Brussels, and on the following day 50,000 of the enemy's forces marched through the principal streets of the city. It was characteristic of German methods, and of their desire to create a moral impression, that they selected for the march into Brussels troops that had not been in action, with all their accoutrements shining, men and horses very spick and span, bearing no trace of hardship and none of the stains of war. The march of this highly- burnished force through the city was witnessed by silent and saddened spectators, whose hearts burned within them as they watched the invaders file by.

A correspondent in The Times thus describes this spectacular display:

"The invaders were led by a typical Prussian general, whose name I could not get; 'a swarthy, black-moustached, ill-natured brute dressed in khaki-grey,' to quote a Belgian who escaped from the occupied city.

The troops sang, but sometimes in a monotone that suggested an emphatic order to do so. 'Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles! shouted one battalion as they marched, their heavy-soled boots clanking on the cobbled streets in harmony; 'Die Wacht am Rhein,' echoed another. Some of the more boisterous Prussians indulged in the catching refrain, 'Puppchen.' At first the Kaiser's host experienced the cold comfort of deserted streets and houses still as the grave, but towards the centre of the city the crowds had gathered on the pavements ten and twelve deep. In stony silence they watched the German soldiers pass the children appeared interested in the wonderful spectacle, women trembled and whispered beneath their breath, old men and men too young for the Belgian colours stood white as ghosts and speechless with anger.


"The German soldiers behaved simply as they had been ordered to do, and cannot be said to have outraged the ordinary laws of war, but their arrogance and absolute lack of tact came out in the actions of the officers. They laughed derisively in the faces of the defenceless crowds, and mockingly tore down Belgian flags which flew from deserted dwellings and arranged them over the hindquarters of their chargers. They ordered hotels and cafés to be thrown open, and on the terrasse near the Gare du Nord Station they ate, drank, smoked, and made merry in the noisiest manner. Some mounted the stairs in different hotels in the popular quarters, took possession of the rooms, and sat smoking and drinking at the open windows or on the balconies far into the night. They never missed the opportunity to impress on the poor inhabitants that they were the conquerors, and that the populace was mere dirt."

It has been the hard fate of Brussels to suffer as few cities in Europe have suffered from the rude blasts of war. What a history is that of this beautiful city in the great plain of Flanders! Of what heroic incidents has it been the scene in its ten centuries of crowded life ! The name Brussels is derived from "Bruksel," signifying "the manor in the marsh." It stands on one of the great highways of Europe. During the middle ages, and long before, here was the most frequented crossing of the river Senne. Through Brussels ran the main Roman and Frank road between Cologne and Tournai. Down the centuries great military captains have hammered at its gates or hurried through its streets at the head of armed hosts. With distressing frequency the city was involved in quarrels not its own. But it had itself a militant population. In the middle ages Brussels was famed for its manufactures of cloth, and it was dominated by its merchant princes. Between them and the weavers raged fierce feuds comparable to the struggle between the plebs and the patricians in ancient Rome.


Few cities in Europe have so thrilling and romantic a history as Brussels. It became the capital of the Dukes of Brabant in the fourteenth century, and thenceforward was caught in the swirl of the European current. It was here, in the early years of the Reformation, that the Emperor Charles V. abdicated. Leaving Spain, the Netherlands, Naples, Milan, the Indies, and the protectorate of Rome, to his son Philip II., and Austria and Germany to his brother Ferdinand, the great emperor retired to a monastery in Spain, to spend the remainder of his life in a hermit's cell. In the wars of religion Brussels had an unhappy prominence. It was here in the Grand Place, during the tyrannous rule of Alva, that Egmont and Hoorn were executed. On the same spot many another gallant man paid with his life for an unsuccessful adventure or for fidelity to his religious convictions. The chief military captains of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries knew Brussels well - William the Silent, Parma, Don Juan, Tilly, Eugene, Marlborough, Napoleon, Wellington - European nations having fought out most of their quarrels on the plains of Flanders. Here, in very truth, is the cock-pit of Europe.

Within easy reach of Brussels are the sites of the most famous European battles. The city has itself made history. In December, 1789, the people of Brussels rose against the Austrian garrison and proclaimed the independence of the States of Brabant. Austrian power was re-established in 1791 ; but a year later it was swept out by the armies of revolutionary France. Flanders then shared for some years in the fortunes of the French Republic and the Empire. After the fall of Napoleon the country was united with Holland in one kingdom under the Prince of Orange. It was an unnatural alliance, owing to profound differences between two peoples in ideas, religion, language, spirit and tradition. An insurrection in Brussels in 1830 began the movement which culminated in the separation from Holland and the establishment of the independent kingdom of Belgium. Since then Belgium has prospered exceedingly.


To-day Brussels is a beautiful and thriving city, with a population of over 700,000 persons. It has a fine University, a celebrated academy of music, prosperous industries, magnificent public buildings. It is sad to think that this famous capital should have fallen into the hands of German soldiery. The Germans, not content with making free of the city and all its contents, imposed upon it a fine of £8,000,000, threatening if this were not paid that they would remove the art treasures, The Mayor of the city, M. Max, stood up manfully to the invaders. His energy and spirit during anxious, trying weeks cheered the citizens and won general admiration. Early in October the Germans, incensed at the spirit and energy of M. Max, arrested him; and a few days later the patriotic burgomaster was removed to Germany as a prisoner of war.

On August 20th the German General placarded the following proclamation all over Brussels:

  • German troops will pass through Brussels to-day and on the following days1 and are obliged by circumstances to demand from the city lodging, food, and supplies. All these matters will be regularly arranged through the municipal authorities.
  • I expect the population to conform itself without resistance to these necessities of war, and in particular to commit no act of aggression against the safety of the troops and promptly to furnish the supplies demanded.
  • In this case I give every guarantee for the preservation of the city and the safety of its inhabitants.
  • If, however, there should be, as there has, unfortunately, been elsewhere, any act of aggression against the soldiers, the burning of buildings, or explosions of any kind, I shall be compelled to take the severest measures.
  • The General Commanding the Army Corps,



An interview between M. Max, the burgomaster, and General Sixtus von Arnim had the following results:

(i) The free passage of German troops through Brussels. (2) The quartering of a garrison of 3,000 men in the barracks of Daily and Etterbeck. (3) Requisitions to be paid for in cash. (4) Respect for the inhabitants and for public and private property. (5) The management, free from German control, of public affairs by the municipal administration.

The Germans guaranteed the lives and property of the inhabitants on condition that they abstained from any demonstration against the German troops and that provisions and forage are supplied.

"Quarters must," said a German proclamation, "be found for soldiers and horses, and the inhabitants must keep their houses lighted all night. They must also put the public roads into a condition enabling vehicles to travel easily, remove all obstacles, and assist the troops to the best of their ability, so that soldiers may be able to perform their duty, which is doubly difficult in an enemy's country.

It is forbidden to hold meetings, to enter into relations with the enemy in any way, or to ring bells. The Mayor, a priest, and four citizens will be held as hostages.

"Any inhabitant found with arms in his house, or who attacks the troops, will be shot. The whole town is responsible for each one of its inhabitants."

To further terrorise the people powerful guns were placed in the principal squares; and field-guns were trained upon the Government offices and the Royal Palace.

From August 20th the Germans remained in possession of Brussels, but always the Belgians could hope that they would be driven forth, and that Brussels, free from the defiling touch of the conqueror, would be enabled to resume its gracious, active, fruitful and bustling normal life.


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