'The Diary of a Dispatch-Rider
Attached to the Belgian General Staff'
by E. Van Isacker


Motor-Cycling in War-Time

repairing a motor-cycle


I was at home at Heyst-sur-Mer when an order for general mobilisation surprised me at work. Off to Bruges, where I received my equipment for the campaign.

The genral of the 4th brigade asked for me on August 2 and asked me to drive a motor bicycle for the General Staff of the 1st Division. I was given a Scaldis motor bicycle of 2 1/2 h.p. At midnight the bugle sounded the departure for the frontier. The transport had gone the previous day.

At 1 a.m. we left barracks in a downpour of rain. The band was playing, and the General Staff, to which I was attached, followed. The town turned out to cheer, to throw cigarettes, cakes, money, and the ladies were kissing every soldier. I was carried by friends for at least 200 yards; my bicycle also was carried triumphantly.

Many trains waited us at Bruges Station, and at 3.15 a.m. the special train for the staff took us to Vertrick, near Tirlemont, to which town the whole division marched. At 3 p.m. I was sent from Tirlemont with the first despatches to Hasselt, returning to Tirlemont the same afternoon, where another despatch awaited me for Louvain, where I arrived at 6 p.m., and handed them to the burgomaster.

Returned to Tirlemont, and at 10 o'clock again off to Louvain, but on the way was stopped by the sentinel, the password having been changed from the afternoon, when it was "-----." Back to Tirlemont to get new password, "-----," and so to Louvain.

11.30 p.m. Back at Tirlemont, where I fell asleep from fatigue in the office. 4 a.m. next morning I was awakened by the bringing in of the first spy — a big, stout German in a tall hat, taken whilst cutting telegraph wires. His hands were tied, and away to the cells. Was shot two days after.

To sleep again. 6 a.m. awakened again to do sentry-go while officers have breakfast — some left for me at 7 a.m. Quiet till 9, when two spies brought in dressed as nuns. They were taken begging for alms — a whole batch of papers of information about the neighbourhood found pinned to the inside of their skirts and in a basket two pigeons. Shot next day.

At 10 a.m. arrival of the King at Tirlemont. Amidst great shouts and cheers he comes to the General Staff, where I am sentry. In ten minutes I am wanted for despatches to Grimbde. On my return I lunch and am then set at a printing press to print the ordres du jour.

Further spies are brought in, amongst them two dressed as Capuchin monks with Red Cross armlets. To the cells. Afternoon, further despatches to Hackendover and Contich. Spies are being brought in all day — one man dressed as a nurse with a two-year-old baby. Nurse to the cells, baby — what nationality ?

A soldier has a bright idea. A sausage on the end of a bayonet is offered to the baby, who takes and eats it with gusto. Loud shouts from all, " Un allemand." Baby sent to Brussels.

First Taube aeroplane seen in evening — shot at without effect.

At 10 p.m. Further despatch for Contich. Back to bed.

At 4 a.m. on August 5, I am awakened. Despatches for Hallen.

At 8 a.m. further despatches, Hackendover; and on returning we were at breakfast in the square when everybody started singing "La Marseillaise" on the arrival of French officers. Another Taube sighted, and a Belgian aeroplane gives chase, without result. The rest of the day I am given liberty. Next day the King again visits us. At mid-day whilst eating we are all called up and march off to Hauthem St. Marguerite, five kilometres away. The captain sends me to get some very good cigarettes as they may be the last he will smoke.

About 4 p.m. we see the cannons arrive, and a whole mixed brigade. It is evident a battle is imminent, and we get what rest we can.

At 5 p.m. Further despatches for a regiment at Grimbde, and on returning side-slip and receive my first injury.

At 6 a.m. next morning another despatch for Grimbde. I did not stop soon enough for a sentinel and got his bayonet through my cloak. Trumpet calls — the Germans are seen in the neighbourhood of Diest coming from plundering Hasselt. Our advance guard captures a band of Uhlans splendidly equipped but half starved.

Despatches for Hallen. On returning I take the wrong road and my machine gives trouble, and whilst repairing same I suddenly find myself surrounded by ten Uhlans. lam stripped and searched for papers, but have none — some wish to shoot me, but finally take me and my machine with them to an officer, who questions me in French. I reply in German that I am ignorant and am looking for my regiment. I am given in charge of a soldier and feign illness and fatigue. My captor leaves me to fetch a doctor — my hands tied at my back. I roll into a ditch and make my way with water to my chin under the bushes far enough to lose sight of the Germans, then emerge and take to my heels. A peasant unties my hands. I arrive at night at the General Staff and am given a fine machine — 7-h.p. Indian. I remain with the General Staff whilst the battles of Diest, Hallen, near Aerschot, and Tirlemont are fought, and on the retreat from Tirlemont I am sent with despatches to the advanced guard. It was here that my machine and I came to grief.

At night, returning from the advanced guard, I had a most exciting encounter with some Uhlans which so unnerved me that I lost consciousness. I came to for a few minutes in a farmhouse and saw a doctor and stretcher-bearers. I came to myself finally in the hospital at Ghent, where I remained for a week, and was then sent home as unfit for further service.

My three friends, also despatch-riders, have been less fortunate than myself. All have gone.

see also : the Dispatch-Rider


portrait of the the author

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