02 August 2014

And In The Fields They Fought...Part 1

(Photo Live and Dream a little dream)

One hundred years ago the War that would ended all Wars was fought in faraway fields...

(Photo source Google)

The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary started what would be known later as the First World War or the Great war.
On 2 August 1914 the Germany posed an ultimatum on Belgium to grant Germany free passage through Belgium allowing them to encircle the French army massed on the Franco-German border. Respecting it's neutrality the Belgian government refused to let the Germans pass.

King Albert I of the Belgians' Speech to the Belgian Parliament 

"In the name of the nation, I give you a brotherly greeting. Everywhere in Flanders and Wallonia, in the towns and in the countryside, one single feeling binds all hearts together: the sense of patriotism.

One single vision fills all minds: that of our independence endangered. One single duty imposes itself upon our wills: the duty of stubborn resistance. 

In these solemn circumstances two virtues are indispensable: a calm but unshaken courage,and the close union of all Belgians. 

Both virtues have already asserted themselves, in a brilliant fashion, before the eyes of a nation full of enthusiasm. 
The irreproachable mobilization of our army, the multitude of voluntary enlistments, the devotion of the civil population, the abnegation of our soldiers' families, have revealed in an unquestionable manner the reassuring courage which inspires the Belgian people. 
It is the moment for action. 

I have called you together, gentlemen, in order to enable the Legislative Chambers to associate themselves with the impulse of the people in one and the same sentiment of sacrifice. 

You will understand, gentlemen, how to take all those immediate measures which the situation requires, in respect both of the war and of public order.
No one in this country will fail in his duty. 

If the foreigner, in defiance of that neutrality whose demands we have always scrupulously observed, violates our territory, he will find all the Belgians gathered about their sovereign, who will never betray his constitutional oath, and their Government, invested with the absolute confidence of the entire nation. 

I have faith in our destinies; a country which is defending itself conquers the respect of all; such a country does not perish! "

War was declared on Belgium on the morning of 3 August 2014.

King Albert, as prescribed by the Belgian constitution, took personal command of the Belgian army.
On 4 August 1914 the German army entered the country and launched an attack on Liége who managed to resist 10 day, earning the city the French cross of the légion d'honneur.

Unfortunately it wasn't enough to stop Germany and in the end the entire country was occupied, but for a little piece of Belgium in West Flanders where Albert I stayed with his army and shared the fate of his soldiers, regularly visiting the trenches thus earning him the name of "The Soldier King" or "King Knight".


First Wold War Timeline (HERE)

Louvain/Leuven, fell to the German First Army on 19 August 1914 as part of the German strategy to overrun Belgium during the month of August 1914. 

Occupied thereafter by the Germans the city was relatively peaceful for six days until 25 August. On that date German units to the rear of the city were attacked by an initially successful Belgian force advancing from Antwerp.

Panicked, those German troops under fire withdrew inside Louvain, which in itself caused confusion to German soldiers already stationed in the city. Shots were heard amid fearful cries that the Allies were launching a major attack.

Once it became clear however that no such Allied attack was underway or even imminent, the city's German authorities determined to exact revenge upon Louvain's citizens, whom they were convinced contrived the confusion that day.

The German form of retaliation was savage. For five consecutive days the city was burned and looted. Its library of ancient manuscripts was burned and destroyed, including Louvain's university (along with many other public buildings). The church of St. Pierre was similarly badly damaged by fire. Citizens of Louvain were subject to mass shootings, regardless of age or gender.

The city of Ypres/Ieper lay in ruins. Ypres/Ieper was the first place in human history where poison gas such as chlorine and mustard gas was used on a large scale (mustard gas is also known as Yperite). Unfortunately the destruction of Ypres/Ieper only foreshadowed the destruction of the next war.

And Ypres/Ieper wasn't the only city in ruins.

In Dinant in one of the worst atrocities of the First World War, German troops executed hundreds in the Belgium town, then sacked and burned everything.

Nearly 700 Belgians, of whom 73 were women and 39 children, had been killed; and some 600 others who had been made prisoner had been sent to Germany, where they would be forced to work for the enemy. Of the 1,400 houses which Dinant contained 1,200 were destroyed, burned to the ground, having first been pillaged; and the factories which had afforded a livelihood for several hundred, were now but heaps of ashes. 

On the Belgian coast, evacuations were in effect as the German army marched via Bruges towards Dunkirk certain to crush the Belgian army which had escaped them in Antwerpen but which this time they would annihilate. Without losing a single gun during their stirring retreat, the Belgian Army reached the Yser line.

"Throughout these 360 hours of deadly strife, the entire Belgian forces had been in the thick of the battle, without respite. Crouching in their shallow half formed trenches, or in the muddy ditches, with no shelters, ill-fed, and fully exposed to the inclement weather, the men nevertheless stood firm. 

In their tattered uniforms, they scarcely looked human. The number of wounded during the last thirteen days was more than 9.000, that of the killed and missing over 11.000. The numbers of sick and exhausted ran into hundreds. The units were reduced to skeletons. The losses in officers were particularly heavy: in one regiment only six were left." Thanks to their sacrifice stoically borne the Belgian Army barred the way to Dunkirk and Calais and the enemy failed to reach the coast from which they expected to threaten England.

For the Germans, that battle ended in total and bloody defeat. 
For Belgium the name Yser which their gallant King caused to be embroidered on the flags of his heroic regiments,  remains a glorious victory!

It was only the first of many battles in the trenches...

Soldiers of all Nations came to those Flanders fields to give their life for God and Country. The first to fall was a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) soldier: Private John Parr became the first British casualty close to the city of Mons. 

Note: For those interested here are some great links to visit:

WW 1 - Belgium 

Royal British Legion WW 1 Centenary

A Bit About Britain

Michelin Guide to the Battle fields 1914-1918 

A Woman's Holiday in Belgium (Oamaru Mail, Volume XLIX, Issue 13915, 17 November 1919, Page 2)

The Rape of Belgium by Larry Zuckerman

Finally, Noelle's corner:

During the 1914 evacuation of Heyst sur Mer a 12 year old girl (later to be my grandmother) was forced marched onto Bruges with her family where she resided throughout the duration. Their villa (Pierre et Paul) was confiscated and eventually bombarded.

Harvesting berries the following Summer the teenager was credited with saving her 6 year old cousin, pulling her safely into the ditch when Huns charged the little girl on the canal's bank. 

Meanwhile an 18 year old man from Hasselt, Limburg (later to become my grandfather), and the youngest of 8 children, volunteered his services to God and Country and served in the trenches for 4 years until Armistice. He was struck by mustard gas and lost a lung. Known for his height, the soldier was often told by his mates to go first during assaults...His answer was "Qui m'aime me suit" (Who loves me, follows me). They never failed him!

Maleine (see photo in banner) and the soldier met the Summer of 1927... and the rest is history...

This post is dedicated to the Grandmother who taught me her love of reading and the man who adopted my Mum!


  1. Thanks for your generous comment on my blog. That is an amazing story you tell; ever thought about telling more? All the best to you.

    1. I very much enjoyed your WW 1 post Mike (along with those older posts of yours! Very interesting) and I appreciate your comment.
      Both paternal and maternal sides of the family lived through two wars and yes, there is much to tell. I enjoy mentioning here and there a few of those events but I must respect their privacy.

  2. Girl you are a reading machine! You find some many good ones. :)

    1. I chuckled at your comment Stacey! It is a good thing I never owned my own shoppe, I would never sell the books and instead would keep all of them!
      All the best,

  3. Very interesting Noelle! I know so little about WW1 in comparison to WW2. Now I am curious to know more about my great uncle's service in Europe (if I recall correctly it was in France but I am not sure). Thanks for sharing and hope all is well in your little piece of paradise:)

    1. Aimee, there are excellent resources available online to check military records and I hope you will find it just a little more about him. It's a way to honour their sacrifice!
      WW 2 is my favourite period time but I have learned so much about WW 1 these last few years thanks to others (whom like me, like to research such events). I pray it will teach us one day to savour Peace as much as we love Wars!


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