from the book
'a Diplomatic Diary'
by Hugh GIbson
an American Diplomat in Brussels

German Troops Marching in the Grande Place in Brussels


Brussels, August 6, 1914. - The Belgians continue to be a surprise. At last accounts they were still holding the forts at Liege. The French appear to have established themselves along the Meuse and to be ready for the attack when it comes. Where the British troops are, nobody here seems to know-and, strange to say, they are not advertising their whereabouts. There are plenty of people who have had confidential tips from their cook's brother, who lives in the country and has seen them with his own eyes. According to such stories they are all landed at Ostend and are being hurried across the country through Malines. Another story is that they have been shipped through to Liege in closed freight cars to outwit German spies, and that they are now in the thick of it. According to still another of these confidential fellows, they have been shipped through Brussels itself in the night and we were unaware when they passed under our very windows. You can choose any story you like and get an audience with it these days.

To-day's mouth-to-mouth news is that the French have fought a big battle near St. Hubert and repulsed the Germans with heavy losses. This has about as much confirmation as the reports as to the whereabouts of the British Army.

To-day trains have been coming in all day with wounded from Liege, and the lot - Belgian and German - are being cared for by the Red Cross. The Palace has been turned into a hospital, and the Queen has taken over the supervision of it. Nearly every big hotel in town has turned its dining-room into a ward, and guests are required to have their meals in their rooms. Some of the big department stores have come up finely in outfitting hospitals and workrooms, clearing out their stocks, and letting profits go hang for the time being. The International Harvester Company cleared its offices here and installed twenty-five beds-informing the Red Cross that it would take care of the running expenses as long as the war lasts. The hospital facilities have grown far faster than the wounded have come in, and there is an element of humour in the rush of eager women who go to the station and almost fight for the wounded as they are brought off the trains.

I impressed the services of several people to help out to-day, but the most valuable are two crack stenographers who have been turned over to us by business firms here. By dint of labouring with them all morning and afternoon and seeing as few people as possible, I have managed to clean up my desk, so that I can go to bed with a clear conscience to-night - I have got through my call to London.

Brussels, August 8, 1914.-To-day our new organisation is working like clockwork. In Cruger's formerly calm chancery there are five typewriters pounding away, and at the committee rooms there are swarms of people working to take care of odds and ends. Monsieur de Leval has a table at one side of my room, and the committee relieves us of the people who want information and those who want to talk.

Sunday, August 9.-I got this far when the roof fell in last night. During the afternoon yesterday I got out to attend to a few odds and ends of errands, arid, as always happens when I go out, things began to happen. I came back to find the Minister and Leval wrestling with a big one.

A curious telegram had come from The Hague, quoting the text of a message which the German Government desired us to present to the Belgian Government. Here it is in translation, a truly German message

The fortress of Liege has been taken by assault after a brave defence. The German Government most deeply regret that bloody encounters should have resulted from the attitude of the Belgian Government toward Germany. Germany is not coming as an enemy into Belgium; it is only through the force of circumstances that she has had, owing to the military measures of France, to take the grave decision of entering Belgium and occupying Liege as a base for her further military operations. Now that the Belgian army has upheld the honour of its arms by its heroic resistance to a very superior force, the German Government beg the King of the Belgians and the Belgian Government to spare Belgium further horrors of war. The German Government are ready for any compact with Belgium which can be reconciled with their conflicts with France. Germany once more gives her solemn assurance that it is not her intention to appropriate Belgian territory to herself and that such an intention is far from her thoughts. Germany is still ready to evacuate Belgium as soon as the state of war will allow her to d6 so.

Of course we were loth to present anything of the sort, but the thing had to be handled carefully. After some pow-wowing I went over to the Foreign Office with the message and saw Baron van der Elst. I told him seriously that we had received a very remarkable telegram which purported to contain a message from the German Government; that it bore no marks of authenticity, and that we were not sure as to its source; but that we felt that we should be lacking in frankness if we did not show him what we had received. He seized the message and read it through, his amazement and anger growing with each line. When he had finished, he gasped for a minute or two and then led me into the next room to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Davignon, to whom he translated the telegram aloud. When they had finished discussing the message and I had a pretty clear idea as to the Belgian attitude toward the proposal-not that I had had any real doubt-I asked him: "If the American Minister had delivered this message what would have been its reception ? " Without an instant's hesitation, M. Davignon replied: "We should have resented his action and should have declined to receive the communication."

That was all I wanted to know and I was ready to go back to the Legation.

I took Baron van der Elst home in the car and had the pleasure of seeing him explain who he was to several Gardes Civiques who held up the car from time to time. He was very good-natured about it, and only resented the interruptions to what he was trying to say. His son is in the army and he has no news of him. As he got out of the car he remarked that if it were not so horrible, the mere interest of events would be enough to make these days wonderful.

When I got back to the Legation and reported the result of my visit, we went to work and framed a telegram to Washington, giving the text of the German message, explaining that we had nothing to prove its authenticity, and adding that we had reason to believe that the Belgian Government would not accept it. The same message was sent to The Hague. This pleasant exercise with the code kept us going until four in the morning. Eugene, the wonder chauffeur, had no orders, but curled up on the front seat of his car and waited to take me home. He was also on hand when I got up a couple of hours later, to take me back to the Legation. Chauffeurs like that are worth having.

When I came in this morning the place was packed with Germans. Some cheerful idiot had inserted a notice in the papers that all Germans were to be run out of the country, and that they should immediately apply to the American Legation. As the flood poured in, Leval got on the telephone to the Sureté Publique and found out the true facts. Then we posted a notice in the hall. But that was not enough. As is always the case with humans, they all knew better than to pay any attention to what the notice said, and each one of the hundred or more callers had some reason to insist on talking it over with somebody. When they once got hold of one of us, it was next to impossible to get away without listening to the whole story of their lives. All they had to do was to go down to the German Consulate-General, where we had people waiting to tell them all there was to know. It was hard to make them realise that by taking up all our time in this way they were preventing us from doing things that were really necessary to serve them in more important matters. I said as much to several of them, who were unusually long-winded, but every last one replied that HIS case was different and that he must be heard out at length.

Our refugee train left this morning and took eight hundred more of the poor people. Where they all turn up from, I don't know, but each day brings us a fresh and unexpected batch. Many of the cases are very sad, but if we stopped to give sympathy in every deserving case we should never get anything practical done for them.

To-day's budget of news is that the French have got to Mulhouse and have inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Germans. According to reports, the Alsatians went mad when the French troops crossed the frontier for the first time in forty-four years. They tore up and burned the frontier posts and generally gave way to transports of joy. I would have given a lot to see the crowds in Paris.

A letter came yesterday from Omer, the Legation footman, who is at Tirlemont with the artillery. He said he had not yet been hit, although he had heard the bullets uncomfortably near. He wound up by saying that he had beaucoup de courage-and I believe him.

It seems that some of the German troops did not know what they were attacking and thought they were in France. When brought here as prisoners, some of them expressed surprise to find that Paris was so small. They seem to have thought that they were in France and the goal not far away.

The town is most warlike in appearance. There is hardly a house in the town that does not display a large Belgian flag. It looks as though it were bedecked for a fiesta. Here and there are French and British flags, but practically no others. Every motor in town flies a flag or flags at the bow. We fly our own, but none the less, the sentries who are stationed at all the corners dividing the chief quarters of the town and before all the Ministries and other public buildings stop us and demand the papers of the chauffeur and each passenger in the car. We have passports and all sorts of other papers, but that was not enough, and. we finally had to be furnished by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs with a special laisser-passer. This afternoon I slipped out

The gossip and 'inside news" that is imparted to us is screamingly funny - some of it.

Yesterday, according to one of these yarns, four nuns arriving at the Gare du Midi were followed for some time and finally arrested. When searched, they proved to be young German officers who had adopted that dress in order to conceal carrier pigeons which they were about to deliver in Brussels. Wireless outfits are said to have been discovered in several houses belonging to Germans. I cannot remember all the yarns that are going about, but even if a part of them are true, it should make interesting work for those who are looking for the spies. The regular arrests of proven spies have been numerous enough to turn every Belgian into an amateur spy-catcher. Yesterday afternoon Burgomaster Max was chased for several blocks because somebody raised a cry of Espion based on nothing more than his blonde beard and chubby face. I am just as glad not to be fat and blonde these days.

Yesterday afternoon a Garde Civique came in with the announcement that the Chancellor and clerks of the German Legation, who were locked up there, were in dire distress; that a baby had been born the day before to the wife of the concierge, and that all sorts of troubles had come upon them. Leval, who had announced that his heart was infinitely hardened against all Germans, was almost overcome by the news of a suffering baby and ran like a lamp-lighter to get around there and help out. When we arrived, however, we found them all beaming and happy. The baby had been born some days before and the mother was up and about before the Legation had been closed. Their meals arc sent in from a neighbouring restaurant, and they are perfectly contented to bide their time as they are. They had orders from Berlin not to leave the Legation, so it made little difference to them whether they were blockaded by the Belgian authorities or not. I shall drop in every day or two and see whether there is anything I can do to lighten their gloom. Of course their telephone was cut off and they are not allowed to receive mail or papers, so they are consumed with curiosity about developments. It was, of course, necessary to refuse to answer their questions about what was going on, and to make assurance doubly sure, I had the Garde Civique stand by me while I talked with them.

As things shape up now it looks as though we were the only life-sized country that could keep neutral for long, and as a consequence all the representatives of the countries in conflict are keeping us pretty well posted in the belief that they may have to turn their interests over to us. We shall probably soon have to add Austrian interests to the German burdens we now have. If there is a German advance, some of the Allied Ministers will no doubt turn their Legations over to us. The consequence is that we may see more of the inside of things than anybody else. Now, at least, we are everybody's friends. This is undoubtedly the most interesting post in Europe for the time being, and I would not be anywhere else for the wealth of the Indies.

Brussels, August 10, 1914.-The Belgian Government has finally got out a proclamation, urging German subjects to leave the country, but stating that, in the event of a general order of expulsion, certain classes of people will be allowed to remain, such as very old persons, the sick, governesses, nurses, etc., and even others for whom Belgians of undoubted reputation are willing to vouch. There are quantities of Germans who have lived here all their lives, who are really more Belgian than German, have no interest in the present conflict, and are threatened with financial ruin if they leave their interests here, and it is pretty hard on them if they are to be obliged to get out, but they are only a few of the many, many thousands who are suffering indirectly from the effects of the war. It is not any easier for the manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Liege, who will see the work of many years wiped out by the present hostilities.

Our hall ways have been jammed with Germans all day, making uncouth noises and trying to argue with us as to whether or not we are in charge of German interests. The mere fact that we deny it is not enough for them! I suppose that the hall ways will continue to sound like a celebration of the Kaiser's Geburtstag until we have sent off the last of them.

This morning a large, badly frightened darkey came in looking for a passport. He awaited his turn very quietly, and grew visibly more and more apprehensive at the long series of questions asked of the people ahead of him. When he moved up to the desk, the first question was:

"Where do you want to go?"

"Jes as fur as the stature of Libbuty."

“Are you an American citizen ?”

"Me? Lawd bless yuh! No, I ain't nuthin' but a plain ole Baltimoh coon."

Then they gave him the usual blank to fill out. One of the questions on it was:

"Why do you desire to return to the United States?

Without any hesitation he wrote:

"I am very much interested in mv home at the present time."

Everybody here is intensely curious as to what has become of the British Army; the most generally accepted story is that troops have been landed at Calais, Dunkirk, and Ostend, but although this is generally believed, there seems to be absolutely no official confirmation of it. Everyone seems to take it for granted that the British will turn up in good form when the right time conies, and that when they do turn up it will have a good effect. If they can get to the scene of hostilities without everybody knowing about it, it increases by just so much their chances of success, and anyone that knows anything at all is keeping mum and hoping that no British soldier will stumble over a chair and make a noise and give away the line of march.

Our letters from London indicate intense satisfaction with the appointment of Kitchener and confidence that he will get a maximum of service out of the forces at his command. We have been looking from one moment to another for news of a big naval engagement, but suppose the British Navy is somewhere waiting for a chance to strike. Colonel Fairholme, the British Military Attaché, has made a number of trips to the front and reports that the moral of the Belgian troops is excellent, that the organisation is moving like clockwork, and, as he expresses it, that "every man has his tail up."

This evening I went over to the British Legation to see the Colonel and learn whatever news he had that he could give me. There was a great scurrying of servants and the porter was not to be found in the chancery. The door to Grant-Watson's room was ajar, so I tapped, and, on being bade in a gruff voice to "Come in," walked into the presence of a British officer in field uniform, writing at Webber's desk. He was dusty and unshaven, and had evidently come in from a long ride. I promptly backed out with apologies and was hustled out of the place by Kidston, who came running out from the Minister's office. I asked him if the rest of the army was hidden about the chancery, and his only reply was to tell me to run along and find the navy, which they themselves had not been able to locate. They evidently have all they need to know about the whereabouts of the army, but have succeeded in keeping it dark.

The Red Cross is very much in evidence. I went around to the headquarters after my call at the Foreign Office, to make a little contribution of my own and to leave others for members of our official family. The headquarters is at the house of Count Jean de Mérode, the Grand Marshal of the Court. The entrance-hall was filled with little tables where women sat receiving contributions of money and supplies. I had to wait some time before I could get near enough to one of the dozen or more tables to hand in my contributions. This is the headquarters, but there are any number of branch offices, and they are said to be equally busy. The society has been quite overcome by the way people have come forward with gifts, and they have been almost unable to get enough people together to handle them as they come in. The big cafés down-town nearly all have signs out, announcing that on a certain day or days they will give their entire receipts to the Red Cross or to one of the several funds gotten up to take care of those suffering directly or indirectly from the war. Many of the small shops have signs out of the same sort announcing that the entire receipts for all articles sold on a certain day will be handed to one of the funds. They must have gathered an enormous amount of money, and I don't doubt they will need it. The wounded are being brought in in great numbers and many buildings are quite filled with them. In nearly every street there is a Red Cross flag or two, to indicate a temporary hospital in a private house or a hotel or shop, and people are stationed in the street to make motors turn aside or slow down. There are scarcely any motors on the street except those on official business or Red Cross work; and, because of the small amount of traffic, these few go like yo ung cyclones, keeping their sirens going all the time. The chauffeurs love it and swell around as much as they are allowed to do. I pray with ours now and then, but even when I go out to the barber, he seems to believe that he is on his way to a fire and cuts loose for all he is worth.

Quantities of German prisoners continue to be brought here for safe keeping, and many of them are taken on down to Bruges. Among those removed there for unusually safe keeping yesterday was a nephew of the Emperor.

Judging from the stories printed in the London Times which arrived to-night, the German Government aroused great enthusiasm by playing up the capture of Liege. The Germans evidently were led to believe they had gained a great victory; whereas the forts, which are the only object of the campaign, are still intact. The city itself is undefended, and there is no great military reason why the Belgians should not allow it to be taken. The German troops that had invested the town have not taken over the administration, but appear to be confining themselves to requisitioning provisions and supplies, of which they are in need. The Berlin papers made a great hurrah about the capture of the citadel, which is a purely ornamental old fort without military importance. From what they tell me, I judge that you could back an American army mule up against it and have him kick it down without the expense of bombarding it. It sounds well in the despatches, however.

Eight French aeroplanes sailed over the city this afternoon, probably coming from Namur. One of the machines landed on the aviation field at the edge of the city, and the aviator was nearly torn to shreds by admirers who wanted to shake him by the hand and convince him that he was really welcome to Brussels. It is said that some of these fellows are going to lie in wait for the Zeppelins which have been sailing over Brussels by night to terrify the population. We hear that one of the Belgian army aviators did attack a Zeppelin and put it out of business, bringing to earth and killing all the crew. He himself went to certain death in the attempt.

The afternoon papers say that in Paris the name of the Rue de Berlin has been changed to Rue de Liege. Here the Rue d'Allemagne has been changed to Rue de Liege and the Rue de Prusse to Rue du General Leman, the defender of Liege. The time abounds in beaur gestes and they certainly have their effect on the situation.

Kitchener says that the war may last for some time. At first it seemed to be taken for granted that it could not last long, as the financial strain would be too great and the damage done so enormous that one side or the other would have to yield to avoid national bankruptcy.

Brussels, August 11, 1914. Our halls have been filled with Germans and Americans, the latter in smaller numbers and the former in larger crowds than ever. They are gradually being got out of the country, however, and those who are going to remain are being induced to go to the right authorities, so that their troubles will soon be settled to a large extent, and they will not be coming here so much. We are getting off hundreds of telegrams about the whereabouts and welfare of Americans and others here and in other parts of Europe; this work alone is enough to keep a good-sized staff working, and we have them hard at it.

While I was out we saw a German monoplane which sailed over the city not very high up. The newspapers have published a clear description of the various aeroplanes that are engaged in the present war, so that nobody will be foolish enough to fire at those of the Allies when they come our way. This one was clearly German, and the Garde Civique and others were firing at it with their rifles, but without any success. Our Legation guard, which consists of about twenty-five men, banged away in a perfect fusillade, but the airman was far too high for them to have much chance of hitting him.

Yesterday afternoon when the German biplanes passed over the city, a Belgian officer gave chase in a monoplane, but could not catch them. Contests of this sort are more exciting to the crowd than any fancy aviation stunts that are done at exhibitions, and the whole town turns out whenever an aeroplane is sighted.

Brussels, August 12, 1914. - A few minutes' gap, so I seize my pen to scratch off a line. Last night when I left here I rode up the Rue Belliard on my way home. I was stopped in front of the German Legation by the guard which was placed across the street. They examined the chauffeur's papers carefully and then looked over mine. They compared the tintype on my laisser-passer with the classic lineaments of the original, and after looking wise, told me to move on. When we got up to the Boulevard there was great cheering, and we came out on a long file of French cavalry which was on its way through town from the Gare de Midi. The crowd was mad with enthusiasm, and the soldiers, although plainly very tired, pulled their strength together every now and then to cry "Vive la Belgique t" There were crowds on the Boulevards, waiting for news from la' bas. A few French officers were going about in cabs, and each time that one appeared the crowd went mad. The officers were smiling and saluting, and every now and then one stood up in his place and cheered for Belgium. In twenty minutes or so I saw that we could get through, so started for home and bed.

When we got to the Porte de Namur, we heard frenzied cheering down by the Porte Louise. The chauffeur is a regular old war horse who does not want to miss a trick. He cast a questioning glance over his shoulder; and, catching my nod, put on full speed down the Boulevard until we came to a solid crowd banked along the line of march of more French cavalry. The people in the crowd had bought out the near-by shops of cigars and cigarettes and chocolate and small flasks of brandy, and as each man rode by he was loaded up with as much as he could carry. The defile had been going on for over an hour, but the enthusiasm was still boundless. All the cafe's around the Porte Louise sent out waiters and waitresses with trays of beer to meet the troops as they came into the Avenue Louise. Each man would snatch a glass of beer, swallow it as he rode along, and hand it back to others who were waiting with empty trays a hundred yards or so down the line of march. The men were evidently very tired, and it was an effort for them ~o show any appreciation of their reception, but they made the effort and croaked out "Vive la Belgique!" The French and British troops can have anything they want in this country. They will be lucky, though, if they escape without acute indigestion.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was coming out of the chancery of the British Legation, a little cockney messenger in uniform came snorting into the court on a motor-cycle. As he got off he began describing his experiences, and wound up his story of triumphant progress-" And when I got to the Boulevards I ran down a blighter on a bicycle and the crowd gave me an ovation!"

More troubles to-day about the German Legation. The Etat-Major gave orders that nobody but I should be allowed to enter. The laymen who have the onerous duty of protecting the Legation held a council of war, and decided that this precluded them from allowing food to go in; so when the waitress from the Grand Veneur with the lunch for the crowd inside came along, she was turned back and told I should have to go with her. I went around to the Legation and fixed it up with the guard. A few minutes ago the waitress came back with word that more bread and butter was wanted, but that the guard had changed and that she was again barred out. Monsieur de Leval and I went around again and fortunately found someone from the Etat-Major who was there for inspection. He promised to get proper orders issued, and now we hope that we shall not be obliged to take in every bite under convoy.

There are ominous reports to-day of a tremendous German advance in this direction, and it is generally believed that there will be a big engagement soon near Haelen, which is on the way from Liege to Tirlemont. Communications are cut, so I don't quite see where all the news comes from.

After dinner.-News sounds better to-night. Although there is nothing very definite, the impression is that the Belgians have come out victorious to-day in an engagement near Tirlemont. I hope to get some news later in the evening.

During a lull in the proceedings this afternoon, I got in Blount's car and went out to Brooks to see his horses and arrange to have him setid them in for our use every afternoon. He came over here a few months ago to spend the rest of his life in peace and quiet. It looks as though he wouldn't get much of either.

The Avenue de Tervueren, a broad boulevard with a parkway down the centre, is the most direct way into town from the scene of the fighting, and there has been a general belief that the Germans might rush a force into town in motors that way. In order to be ready for anything of the sort, a barricade has been made of heavy tramcars placed at right angles across the road, so that they do not absolutely stop traffic, but compel motors to slow down and pick their way. It is close work getting through, and can only be done at a snail's pace.

The latest news we have is that the nearest large German force is just 88 miles away from Brussels.

Brussels, August 18, 1914. - Stories are coming in here about the doings of the German troops. According to reports they came into Hasselt and took the money in the town treasury and the local bank-some two and a half millions altogether. The story, whether true or not, has caused a great deal of ill-feeling here. There is another story that the commanding officer of one of the forts around. Liege was summoned to parley with a white flag. When he climbed on top of his turret, he was shot through both legs and only saved by his men pulling him to cover. Of course there are always a great many stories of this sort scattered broadcast at the beginning of every war, but in this instance they seem to be generally believed and are doing the Germans no good at all.

Mlle. D-, one of our stenographers, has a brother in the French Army. She has not heard a word from him since the war began, and had no idea where he was. Yesterday a small detachment of French cavalry came along the street. She ran out, called to one of them that her brother was in the , and asked where it was. They told her it had not yet been in action and she has been walking on air ever since. But she could not telegraph the good news to her family, for fear of betraying military movements.

Roger de Leval, the eight-year old son of our friend, practically broke off diplomatic relations with his father and mother because he was not allowed to be a Boy Scout. His father was at the Legation, his mother at the Red Cross, and he had to stay at home with his governess. He felt so badly about it that we had Monsieur de Leval register him as a B. S., and have him assigned to special duty at the Legation. He attends in full uniform and carries messages and papers from my room to the other offices and vice versa. When we go out he rides on the box with the chauffeur and salutes all the officers we pass. They are used to it now and return the salute very gravely. The youngster now feels that he is really doing something, but is outraged because we go with him. He wants to undertake some of the big missions alone.

This afternoon I went over and made inquiry as to the well-being of those who are cooped up in the German Legation. They are getting along perfectly well, but are consumed with curiosity as to the progress of the war. The Government have not allowed them to have any letters or newspapers, and they are completely in the dark as to what is going on. I felt like a brute to refuse them, but could not very well do anything against the wishes of the Government. They were decent enough not to embarrass me by insisting, which made it harder to refuse. The son of Hofrath von Grabowsky, the Chancellor of the Legation, is Secretary of the German Consulate at Antwerp. He came down here to say good-bye to his father the day war was declared, and lingered so long that he was cooped up with the others. He is liable for military service in Germany, and having left his post at Antwerp at such a time, he must face a court-martial whenever he does get home. There are five or six people there, including the wife of the old Hofrath, who are firmly convinced that they will all be murdered in their beds. It is my daily job to comfort them and assure them that nobody now here is giving any thought to them.

Last night I dined with Colonel Fairholme and Kidston, the First Secretary of the British Legation. We went to the usually crowded terrace of the Palace Hotel, where we had no difficulty in getting a table in the best part of the balcony. The few other diners were nearly all colleagues or officers. Military motors and motor-cycles came and went, and orderlies dashed up on horseback and delivered messages; it looked like war.

The proprietor of the hotel, who has given one hundred thousand francs to the Red Cross, rolled up in his motor from a trip to the front and got out with an armful of Prussian helmets and caps which he had collected. A crowd gathered round the motor and displayed as much pleasure as though he had brought in a whole German army corps. The novelty of these souvenirs has not yet worn off.

Women with big tin boxes came by every few minutes to collect for the Red Cross or some other fund. Finally the Colonel protested, and asked if there was no way of buying immunity. That was quickly arranged by giving up five francs, in return for which we were given tags of immunity. Dozens of collectors came by during the evening, but our ostentatiously displayed tags saved us.

We ate at our leisure-out of doors-the first unhurried and unharried meal I have had for days, and then got back to the Legation.

This afternoon the Minister and I went over to see Sir Francis Villiers, the British Minister, and spent half an hour with him. He is evidently all ready to make a quick get- away whenever it looks as though the Germans would come to Brussels. A number of the other diplomats are also prepared to depart. Those who are accredited at The Hague will probably go there, and the others will go to Antwerp. We are too busy here to enjoy the luxury of spending a month undergoing a siege, so no matter what happens, we shall probably not go along. The Minister and I shall take turns from time to time, going up to pay our respects.

Having some things to talk over, the Minister and I went for a drive after our visit, and it was well we did, for when we got back we found the hall filled with callers. As the tourists and the Germans leave, the war correspondents begin to come in, and in a few days we shall probably have the place full of them. I heard to-day that there were 200 of them in London, and that most of them want to come on here.

Maxwell, the British correspondent, told me this afternoon that he looked for a big engagement at Diest to-morrow or the day after. He has been down through the fighting zone ever since the trouble began, and probably knows more about pending operations than any other civilian.

While I was writing, Z- came in, suffering from a bad case of panic. He announced as he burst into my office that the Germans were within 20 kilometres of Brussels and were going to occupy the city this evening. He was fairly trembling, but got indignant because I denied it, having just talked with Colonel Fairholme and with Maxwell, both of whom had no more than come back from the front. The fact that the news had been published in the Soir was enough for him, and although it had made him nervous, he hated to have his perfectly good sensation spoiled.

The authorities, so as to be prepared for any eventuality, have this evening published a communiqué to impress upon the population the necessity for abstaining from any participation in the hostilities in case of an occupation. It advises everybody to stay indoors and avoid any words or actions that might give an excuse for measures against non-combatants.

August 15. - Yesterday's papers announced France's declaration of war against Austria. This morning comes the news that Montenegro has also declared her intention of wiping Austria off the map. Our daily query now is-"Who has declared war to-day?"

Every minute we are not hammering a way at our work, we sit around and talk of the latest developments. These things make such an impression that I can quite understand old veterans boring every body to death with reminiscences. I see some forty years from now that people will be saying: "I don't want to let old man Gibson get hold of me and tell me all about the war of 1914!"

This morning I received a telegram from Richard Harding Davis, who wants to join the Belgian forces. We are trying to arrange it this morning, and I expect to see him any day now.

We are going to have a lot of newspapermen in our midst. I met two more of them last night. None of them who have so far appeared speak any language but English, but they are all quite confident that they can get all the news. I look next for Palmer and Jimmy Hare and the rest of the crowd.

Maxwell, the Telegraph correspondent, yesterday showed me a photograph of a French bulldog that has been doing good service at Liege. His master, who is an officer in one of the forts, fastens messages in his collar and shoves him out on to the glacis. The puppy makes a blue streak for home and, as he is always sent at night, has managed so far to avoid the Germans. His mistress brings him back to the edge of town and starts him back for the fort.

The Belgian troops have so far had to dam the flood of Germans with little or no help from the Allies. The Kaiser expected, so far as we can make out, to sweep through Belgium with little opposition and be fighting in France in three days! The Belgians have knocked his schedule out by twelve days already, and there is no telling how much longer they may hold out. "My military advisers" tell me that in view of the great necessity for a quick campaign in France, so as to get the army back in time to head off the Russian flood when it begins to pour over the northern frontier, the loss of this much time is equivalent to the loss of the first great battle. The moral effect is also tremendous.

Brussels, August 16, 1914.-This morning I walked out of my office and bumped into Frederick Palmer. I had no idea he was so near. Two weeks ago he was in Vera Cruz, but made a bee-line for Brussels at the first news of impending war. In the breathing spaces during the morning I got in a little visiting with him. He stayed to lunch at the Legation and so did I. In the afternoon I took him to the Foreign Office and the War Office and the Gendarmerie, and got him outfitted with passes, so that he can make a try to get towards the front. As a measure of precaution I added another laisser-passer to my collection, with a beautiful photograph on it. The collection grows every day.

I went to the Palace to dine with Palmer and Blount. We had hardly got seated when in walked Richard Harding Davis and Gerald Morgan and joined us. I had not expected Davis here so soon, but here he is. He was immaculate in dinner jacket and white linen, for war does not interfere with his dressing.

While we were dressing, a lot of motors came by filled with British officers. There was a big crowd in the square, and they went crazy with enthusiasm, cheering until the windows rattled.


In the intervening period, Hugh Gibson went on a trip to the Haelen battlefield (* see a Trip to the Haelen Battlefield)


Brussels, August 20, 1914. - To-day has been one full of experience and the end is not yet. Last night there was a great stir in the streets, and crowds of people and weary- looking soldiers. At the Palace Hotel I found the usual collection of diplomats and some other people whom I knew, and from the crowd I elicited the fact that there had been some sort of rout of Belgian forces near Louvain, and the soldiers were falling back. That was about all they knew. I started back to the upper town in the hope of finding some news at the Porte de Namur. On the way up the hill I was stopped by half a dozen groups of Gardes Civiqucs and soldiers, who asked me to take them to Ghent. They were so excited and in such a hurry that they could hardly be made to realise that the car was not liable to seizure. I took advantage of the opportunity to get a little first-hand news, and learned that they had been driven back all along the line and were ordered to retreat to Ghent by any means they could find. There were no trains available; nobody seemed to know why. The last group that I talked with said that the vanguard of the German cavalry was only about fifteen miles out of town and would be in this morning. They were all tremendously excited and did not dally by the wayside to chat about the situation with me. I can't say that I blame them, particularly in view of what I have seen since.

At the Porte de Namur I found that the Garde Civique in Brussels had been ordered to disband and that the plan for the defence of the city had been completely abandoned. It was the wise thing to do, for there was no hope of defending the town with the small force of Gardes at the disposal of the military governor. It would have been quite futile and would have entailed a big loss of innocent civilian life. The governor wanted to do it purely as a matter of honour, but he would have paid for it heavily and could not have accomplished anything beyond delaying the Germans for an hour or two. The Garde Civiquc was furious, however, at the idea of not being able to make a stand. There was a demonstration, but the cooler heads prevailed, and the men withdrew to their homes.

I was out by seven this morning and looked about for news before coming to the Legation. I found that the Germans were steadily advancing and that the vanguard was about seven kilometres out of the city. They expected to begin the triumphal march about eleven. The Garde Civique had disappeared from the streets and there were very few police to be found. The shops were closed, shutters down on all houses, and posters everywhere with the proclamation of the Burgomaster urging the people to refrain from hostile acts. It was an abandoned and discouraged-looking city. On the boulevards there were long lines of high carts bringing in the peasants from the surrounding country. They are great high-wheeled affairs, each drawn by a big Belgian draught horse. Each cart was piled high with such belongings as could be brought away in the rush. On top of the belongings were piled children and the old women, all of whom had contrived to save their umbrellas and their gleaming, jet-black bonnets, piled with finery. Those who could not find places in the carts walked alongside, some of them carrying other things that could not be put on the carts. It was the most depressing sight so far. Lots of them were crying; all looked sad and crushed. Every one of them was probably without enough money for a week's living. Even those who have money in the banks cannot get it out at this time. They have no place to go to here and have a bad prospect even if this part of the campaign is finished quickly and they are soon able to return to their homes. Their crops are rotting in the ground and many of their homes are already in ruins. That is the hard side of the war - lots harder than for the men who go out and have at least a fighting chance for their lives.

When I got down to the Legation I found that the telegraph and telephone communication had been cut off. The train service is abandoned and we are completely isolated from the outside world. I did not think it would come so soon and only hope that before we were cut off the news was allowed to get out that there would be no fighting in the city.

I had a lot of errands to do during the morning and kept both motors busy. I found time to get up signs on my door and that of M. de Leval, warning all comers that both places were inviolate. That was in anticipation of quartering of troops on private citizens, which has not been done.

We got word that the Spanish Minister had some news, so I went over to see him. He had heard from the Burgomaster as to the plans for the entry of the troops, and wanted to pass it along to us. The Commanding General, Von Jarotzky, was already at the edge of the city, on the Boulevard Militaire, and was expecting to start into town at one o'clock. He was to march down the Chaussée de Louvain, the boulevards, and out the other side of the city, where his men were to be encamped for the present. Other forces, comparatively small, were to occupy the railway stations and the Grande Place. At the Hotel de Ville he was to establish the headquarters of the Staff and administer the city government through the regularly constituted authorities. It was all worked out to a nicety, even to the exact measures for policing the line of march.

As the Garde Civique was withdrawn, the prisoners in the German Legation knew that there was something in the air and ventured forth into the light of day. They were not long in learning just what had taken place, and called upon us to express their thanks for what we had done for them. I suppose they will be trotting away for their own country before there is a chance to lock them up again. It must be pretty dismal for them to be locked up without any news of the outside world when they don't know whether their armies are victorious or badly beaten.

As I was about to start to see the triumphal entry, the Spanish Minister came along with his flag flying from his motor, and bade us to go with him. We made off down the boulevard and drew up at the Italian Legation-two motors full of us; the whole staff of the Spanish Legation and ourselves. The Italian Minister bade us in to watch the show, which we had intended he should do. This did not work out well, so M. de Leval and I started off down the street together. The first of the Germans appeared as we stepped out of the front door, and we saw that they were not coming over the route that had been originally planned. Instead, they were heading down the hill into the lower town.

They proved to be the troops that were to occupy the Grande Place and guard the headquarters of the Staff at the Hotel de Ville. We cut across through side streets and came upon them as they were passing Ste. Gudule. There was a sullen and depressed crowd lining the streets, and not a sound was to be heard. It would have been better had the crowd been kept off the streets, but they behaved wonderfully well.

A large part of the reason for bringing the German troops through here was evidently to impress the populace with their force and discipline. It was a wonderful sight, and one which I never expect to see equalled as long as I live. They poured down the hill in a steady stream without a pause or a break; not an order was shouted nor a word exchanged among the officers or men. All the orders and signals were given by whistles and signs. The silence was a large element of the impressiveness.

These troops had evidently been kept fresh for this march, and I should not be at all surprised if it should prove that they had not seen any fighting. If they have suffered any losses, they have closed up their ranks with wonderful precision and show none of the signs of demoralisation. They had clearly been at great pains to brush up and give the appearance of freshness and strength. Nearly all the men were freshly shaven, and their uniforms had been brushed and made as natty and presentable as possible. They swaggered along with a palpable effort to show that they were entirely at home and that they owned the place. The officers looked over the heads of the crowd in their best supercilious manner, and the men did their best to imitate their superiors.

First came some lancers - a couple of battalions, should think; then there was a lot of artillery, rapid-fire guns and field pieces. Then more cavalry and a full regiment of infantry. When the last contingent of cavalry came along, they burst into song and kept it up steadily. There was a decidedly triumphant note, and the men looked meaningly at the crowd, as much as to say: "Now do you realise what your little army went up against when it tried to block us? " It seemed to me pretty rough to rub it in on them by singing songs of triumph as they rode into an undefended city. If they had been attacked and had succeeded in driving the enemy back into his own capital, it would be understandable; but it seemed to me rather unnecessary to humiliate these people after trampling on their poor country and slaughtering half their army. It was more than de Leval could stand, so I walked home with him to the Legation.

When we got back to the Legation I decided that I ought to see all I could, so Blount and I went back in his car. First we worked our way through to the lower town and got a look at the Grande Place. There were a little more than two full battalions resting there, with their field pieces parked at the lower end of the square. Small squads were being walked around doing the goose step for the delectation of the bons Bruxellois, who were kept a block away up the side streets leading to the square. The men had their arms stacked in the centre of the square, and were resting hard - all but those who were supplying the spectacle.

From there we went down to Luna Park, an amusement place on the edge of the city. The stream was pouring by there just as steadily as it had earlier in the afternoon. We watched the passing of great quantities of artillery, cavalry and infantry, hussars, lancers, cyclists, ambulance attendants, forage men, and goodness only knows what else.

I have never seen so much system and such equipment. The machine is certainly wonderful; and, no matter what is the final issue of the war, nobody can deny that so far as that part of the preparation went the Germans were hard to beat. The most insignificant details were worked out, and all eventualities met with promptness. The horses were shod for a campaign in the country, and naturally there was a lot of slipping on the smooth cobble pavements. The instant a horse went down there was a man ready with a coarse cloth to put under his head, and another to go under his forefeet, so that he would have some grip when he tried to get up and would not hurt himself slipping and pawing at the cobbles. The moment he fell, all hands rushed to the rescue so effectively that he was on his feet again in no time, and the procession was barely arrested. The men's kits were wonderfully complete and contained all sorts of things that I had never seen or heard of, so I turned for explanation to Davis, who had come along, and was lost in admiration of the equipment and discipline. He said he had been through pretty much every campaign for the last twenty years, and thought he knew the last word in all sorts of equipment, but that this had him staggered. I began asking him what a lot of things were for, and he frankly admitted that he was as much in the dark as I was.

A great many of the officers wore, upon their chests, great electric searchlights attached to batteries in their saddle-bags. These are useful when on the march at night, and serve to read sign-posts and study maps, etc.

The supply trains were right with the main body of the troops, and were also carefully equipped for purposes of display. The kitchens were on wheels, and each was drawn by four horses. The stoves were lighted and smoke was pouring from the chimneys. The horses were in fine shape and in huge numbers.

The troops marched down the right side of the boulevard, leaving the left side free. Up and down dashed officers on horseback, messengers on bicycles and staff officers in military cars. There were no halts and practically no slackening of the pace, as the great army rolled in.

Here and there came large motor trucks fitted out as cobblers' shops, each with a dozen cobblers pounding industriously away at boots that were passed up to them by the marching soldiers. While waiting for repairs to be made, these soldiers rode on the running board of the motor, which was broad enough to carry them and their kits.

After watching them for a while, we moved back to the boulevard, where we found the Minister with the ladies of the family who had been brought out to watch the passing show. We had hesitated to bring them out at the beginning for fear that there might be riots, or even worse, precipitated by the foolhardy action of some individual. Fortunately, there was nothing of the sort, and while the reception given the troops was deadly sullen, they were offered no affronts that we could see. The entry was effected quietly, and perfect order has prevailed ever since.

Afterwards we drove out to the country and watched the steady stream nearer its source ; still pouring in, company after company, regiment after regiment, with apparently no end in sight. We watched until after seven, and decided that the rest would have to get in without our assistance. On the way back a German monoplane flew over the city and, turning near the Hotel de Ville, dropped something that spit fire and sparks. Everybody in the neighbourhood let out a yell and rushed for cover in the firm belief that it was another bomb such as was dropped in Namur. It dropped, spitting fire until fairly near the spire of the Hotel de Ville, when it burst into ten or a dozen lights like a Roman candle - evidently a signal to the troops still outside the city - perhaps to tell them that the occupation had been peacefully accomplished. We learned afterward that the Minister and Villalobar were riding down the hill and the infernal machine seemed right over their car, giving them a nice start for a moment.

When I got back to the Legation, I found that the Minister had gone with Villalobar to call on the Burgomaster and the German General. They found the old gentleman in command at the city hall, carrying on the government through the Burgomaster, who has settled down with resignation to his task. He is tremendously down in the mouth at having to give up his beautiful Grande Place to a foreign conqueror, but he has the good sense to see that he can do more good for his country by staying there and trying to maintain order than by getting out with a beau geste.

The first thing the General did was to excuse himself and go to take a bath and get a shave, whereupon he reappeared and announced his readiness to proceed to the discussion of business.

The General said that he had no intention of occupying the town permanently or of quartering soldiers, or otherwise bothering the inhabitants. He was sent there to keep open a way so that troops could be poured through toward the French frontier. They expect to be several days marching troops through, and during that time they will remain in nominal control of the city. Judging from this, there must be a huge army of them coming. We shall perhaps see some of them after the big engagement, which is bound to take place soon, as they get a little nearer the French frontier.

Brussels has not been occupied by a foreign army since Napoleon's time, and that was before it was the capital of a free country. It has been forty-four years since the capital of a European Power has had hostile troops marching in triumph through its streets, and the humiliation has been terrible. The Belgians have always had a tremendous city patriotism and have taken more pride in their municipal achievements than any people on earth, and it must hurt them more than it could possibly hurt any other people. The Burgomaster, when he went out to meet General Von Jarotzky, declined to take his hand. He courteously explained that there was no personal affront intended, but that under the circumstances he could hardly bring himself to offer even such a purely perfunctory manifestation of friendship. The old General, who must be a good deal of a man, replied quietly that he entirely understood, and that under similar circumstances he would probably do the same. The two men are on exceedingly workable terms, but I don't believe they will exchange photographs after the war is over. Poor Max was going to spend the night at the Hotel de Ville. Most of his assistants cleared out for the night, but he could not bring himself to leave the beautiful old building entirely in control of the enemy. He curled up and slept on the couch in his office, just for the feeling it gave him that he was maintaining some sort of hold on the old place.


Back to Introduction