Andenne is a small town on the Meuse between Liege and Namur, lying opposite the village of Seilles (with which it is connected by a bridge over the river), and was one of the earlier places reached on the German advance up the Meuse. In order to understand the story of the massacre which occurred there on Thursday, August 20th, the following facts should be borne in mind: The German advance was hotly contested by Belgian and French troops.
From daybreak onwards on the 19th August the 8th Belgian Regiment of the Line were fighting with the German troops on the left bank of the Meuse on the heights of Seilles. At 8 a.m. on the 19th the Belgians found further resistance impossible in the district, and retired under shelter of the forts of Namur. As they retired they blew up Andenne bridge. The first Germans arrived in Andenne at about 10 a.m when 10 or 12 Uhlans rode into the town.
They went to the bridge and found it was destroyed. They then retired, but returned about half an hour afterwards. Soon after that several thousand Germans entered the town and made arrangements to spend the night there. Thus, on the evening of the 19th August a large body of German troops were in possession of the town, which they had entered without any resistance on the part of the allied armies or of the civilian population.
About 4.30 on the next afternoon shots were filed from the left bank of the Meuse and replied to by the Germans in Andenne. The village of Andenne had been isolated from the district on the left bank of the Meuse by the destruction of the bridge, and there is nothing to suggest that the firing on the left came from the inhabitants of Andenne. Almost immediately, however, the slaughter of these inhabitants began, and continued for over two hours and intermittently during the night. Machine guns were brought into play. The German troops were said to be for the most part drunk, and they certainly murdered and ravaged unchecked. A reference to the German diaries in the Appendix will give some idea of the extent to which the army gave itself up to drink through the month of August.
When the fire slackened about 7 o’clock, many of the towns people fled in the direction of the quarries; others remained in their houses. At this moment the whole of the district round the station was on fire and houses were flaming over a distance of 2 kilometres in the direction of the hamlet of Tramaka. The little farms which rise one above the other on the high ground of the right bank were also burning.
At 6 o’clock on the following morning, the 21st, the Germans began to drag the inhabitants from their houses. Men, women and children were driven into the square where the sexes were separated. Three men were then shot, and a fourth was bayoneted. A German colonel was present whose intention in the first place appeared to be to shoot all the men.
A young German girl who had been staying in the neighbourhood interceded with him, and after some parleying, some of the prisoners were picked out, taken to the banks of the Meuse and there shot. The colonel accused the population of firing on the soldiers, but there is no reason to think that any of them had done so, and no inquiry appears to have been made.
About 400 people lost their lives in this massacre, some on the banks of the Meuse, where they were shot according to orders given, and some in the cellars of the houses where they had taken refuge. Eight men belonging to one family were murdered. Another man was placed close to a machine gun which was fired through him. His wife brought his body home on a wheel-barrow. The Germans broke into her house and ransacked it, and piled up all the eatables in a heap on the foot and relieved themselves upon it.
A hair-dresser was murdered in his kitchen while he was sitting with a child on each knee. A paralytic was murdered in his garden. After this came the general sack of the town. Many of the inhabitants who escaped the massacre were kept as prisoners and compelled to clear the houses of corpses and bury them in trenches. These prisoners were subsequently used as a shelter and protection for a pontoon bridge which the Germans had built across the river and were so used to prevent the Belgian forts from firing upon it.
A few days later the Germans celebrated a Fête Nocturne in the square. Hot wine, looted in the town, was drunk, and the women were compelled to give three cheers for the Kaiser and to sing „Deutschland Uber Alles.”
The fight round Namur was accompanied by sporadic outrages. Near Marchovelette wounded men were murdered in a farm by German soldiers. The farm was set on fire. A German cavalryman rode away holding in front of him one of the farmer’s daughters crying and disheveled.
At Temploux on the 23rd August a professor of modern languages at the College of Namur was shot at his front door by a German officer. Before he died he asked the officer the reason for this brutality, and the officer replied that he had lost his temper because some civilians had fired upon the Germans as they entered the village. This allegation was not proved. The Belgian army was still operating in the district, and it may well be that it was from them that the shots in question proceeded. After the murder the house was burnt.
On the 24th and 25th of August massacres were carried out at Surice, in which many persons belonging to the professional classes, as well as others, were killed.
Namur was entered on the 24th August. The troops signalised their entry by firing on a crowd of 10 unarmed unresisting civilians, ten alone of whom escaped.
A witness of good standing who was in Namur describes how the town was set on fire systematically in six different places. As the inhabitants fled from the burning houses they were shot by the German troops. Not less than 140 houses were burnt.
On the 25th the hospital at Namur was set on fire with inflammable pastilles, the pretext being that soldiers in the hospital had fired upon the Germans.
At Densee, on the 28th of August, a Belgian soldier who had been taken prisoner saw three civilian fellow prisoners shot. One was a cripple and another an old man of eighty who was paralysed. It was alleged by two German soldiers that these men had shot at them with rifles. Neither of them had rifles, nor had they anything in their pockets. The witness actually saw the Germans search them and nothing was found.
In Tamines, a large village on the Meuse between Namur and Charleroi, the advance guard of the German army appeared in the first fortnight in August, and in this as well as in other villages in the district, it is proved that a large number of civilians, among them aged people, women and children, were deliberately killed by the soldiers. One witness describes how she saw a Belgian boy of fifteen shot on the village green at Tamines, and a day or two later on the same green a little girl and her two brothers (name given) who were looking at the German soldiers, were killed before her eyes for no apparent reason.
The principal massacre at Tamines took place about August the 23rd. A witness describes how he saw the public square littered with corpses and after a search found those of his wife and child, a little girl of seven.
Another witness, who lived near Tamines, went there on August 27th and says: „It is absolutely destroyed and a mass of ruins.”
At Morlanwelz, about this time, the British army, together with some French cavalry were compelled to retire before the German troops. The latter took the burgomaster and his man servant prisoner and shot them both in front of the Hôtel de Ville at Péronne (Belgium), where the bodies were left in the street for 48 hours. They burnt the Hotel de Ville and 62 houses.
The usual accusation of firing by civilians was made. It is strenuously denied by the witness, who declares that three or four days before the arrival of the Germans, circulars had been distributed to every house and placards had been posted in the town ordering the deposit of all firearms at the Hôtel de Ville and that this order had been complied with.
At Monceau-sur-Sambre, on the 21st August, a young man of eighteen was shot in his garden. His father and brother were seized in their house and shot in the courtyard of a neighbouring country house. The son was shot first. The father was compelled to stand close to the feet of his son’s corpse and to fix his eyes upon him while he himself was shot. The corpse of the young man shot in the garden was carried into the house and put on a bed.
The next morning the Germans asked where the corpse was. When they found it was in the house they fetched straw, packed it round the bed on which the corpse was lying, and set fire to it and burnt the house down. A great many houses were burnt in Monceau.
A vivid picture of the events at Montigny-sur-Sambre has been given by a witness of high standing who had exceptional opportunities of observation. In the early morning of Saturday, August 2nd Uhlans reached Montigny. The French army was about 4 kilometres away, but on a hill near the village were a detachment of French about 150 to 200 strong lying in ambush.
At about 1.30 the main body of the German army began to arrive. Marching with them were two groups of so-called hostages, about 400 in all. Of these, 300 were surrounded with a rope held by the front, rear, and outside men. The French troops in ambush opened fire, and immediately the Germans commenced to destroy the town. Incendiaries with a distinctive badge on their arm went down the main street throwing handfuls of inflammatory and explosive pastilles into the houses.
These pastilles were carried by them in bags, and in this way about 130 houses were destroyed in the main street. By 10.30 p.m. some 200 more hostages had been collected. These were drawn from Montigny itself and on that night about 50 men, women, and children were placed on the bridge over the Sambre and kept there all night. The bridge was similarly guarded for a day or two, apparently either from a fear that it was mined or in the belief that these men, women, and children would afford some protection to the Germans in the event of the French attempting to storm the bridge.
At one period of the German occupation of Montigny, eight nuns of the Order of Ste. Marie were captives on the bridge. House burning was accompanied by murder, and on the Monday morning 27 civilians from one parish alone were seen lying dead in the hospital.
Other outrages committed at Jumet, Bouffioulx, Charleroi, Marchiennes-au-Pont, Couillet, and Maubeuge are described in the depositions given in the Appendix.
A clear statement of the outrages at Dinant, which many travellers will recall as a singularly picturesque town on the Meuse, is given by one witness, who says that the Germans began burning houses in the Rue St. Jacques on the 21st August, and that every house in the street was burnt. On the following day an engagement took place between the French and the Germans, and the witness spent the whole day in the cellar of a bank with his wife and children. On the morning of the 23rd about 5 o’clock, firing ceased, and almost immediately afterwards a party of Germans came to the house. They rang the bell and began to batter at the door and windows.
The witness’s wife went to the door and two or three Germans came in. The family were ordered out into the street. There they found another family, and the two families were driven with their hands above their heads along the Rue Grande. All the houses in the street were burning. The party was eventually put into a forge where there were a number of other prisoners, about a hundred in all, and were kept there from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. They were then taken to the prison.
There they were assembled in a courtyard and searched. No arms were found. They were then passed through into the prison itself and put into cells. The witness and his wife were separated from each other. During the next hour the witness heard rifle shots continually, and noticed in the corner of a court yard leading off the row of cells the body of a young man with a mantle thrown over it. He recognised the mantle as having belonged to his wife.
The witness’s daughter was allowed to go out to see what had happened to her mother, and the witness himself was allowed to go across the courtyard half an hour afterwards for the same purpose. He found his wife lying on the floor in a room. She had bullet wounds in four places, but was alive and told her husband to return to the children, and he did so. About 5 o’clock in the evening he saw the German bringing out all the young and middle-aged men from the cells, and ranging their prisoners, to the number of 40, in three rows in the middle of the courtyard.
About 20 Germans were drawn up opposite, but before anything was done there was a tremendous fusillade from some point near the prison and the civilians were hurried back to their cells. Half an hour later the same 40 men were brought back into the courtyard. Almost immediately there was a second fusillade like the first and they were driven back to the cells again. About 7 o’clock the witness and other prisoners were brought out of their cell and marched out of the prison.
They went between two line of troops to Roche Bayard about a kilometre away. An hour later the women and children were separated and the prisoners were brought back to Dinant, passing the prison on their way. Just outside the prison the witness saw three lines of bodies, which he recognised as being those of neighbours. They were nearly all dead, but he noticed movement in some of them. There were about 120 bodies.
The prisoners were then taken up to the top of the hill outside Dinant and compelled to stay there till 8 o’clock in the morning. On the following day they were put into cattle trucks and taken thence to Coblenz. For three months they remained prisoners in Germany.
Unarmed civilians were killed in masses at other places near the prison. About 90 bodies were seen lying on the top of one another in a grass square opposite the convent. They included many relatives of a witness whose deposition will be found in the Appendix. This witness asked a German officer why her husband had been shot, and he told her that it was because two of her sons had been in the civil guard and had shot at the Germans.
As a matter of fact one of her sons was at that time in Liege and the other in Brussels. It is stated that beside the 90 corpses referred to above, 60 corpses of civilians were recovered from a hole in the brewery yard and that 48 bodies of women and children were found in a garden. The town was systematically set on fire by hand grenades.
Another witness saw a little girl of seven, one of whose legs was broken and the other injured by a bayonet.
We have no reason to believe that the civilian population of Dinant gave any provocation, or that any other defence can be put forward to justify the treatment inflicted upon its citizens.
As regards this town and the advance of the German army from Dinant to Rethel on the Aisne, a graphic account is given in the diary of a Saxon officer. [A copy of this diary was given by the French military authorities to the British Headquarters Staff in France, and the latter have communicated it to the Committee. It will be found in Appendix B. after the German diaries shown to us by the British War Office.]
This diary confirms what is clear from the evidence as a whole both as regards these and other districts, that civilians were constantly taken as prisoners, often dragged from their homes and shot under the direction of the authorities without any charge being made against them. An event of the kind is thus referred to in a diary entry:
„Apparently 200 men were shot. There must have been some innocent men amongst them. In future we shall have to hold an inquiry as to their guilt instead of shooting them.” The shooting of inhabitants, women and children as well a men, went on after the Germans had passed Dinant on their way into France. The houses and villages were pillaged and property wantonly destroyed.
About August 9 a powerful screen of cavalry masking the general advance of the first and second German armies was thrown forward into the provinces of Brabant and Limburg. The progress of the invaders was contested at several points, probably near Tirlemont on the Louvain road, and at Diest, Haelen, and Schaffen, on the Aerschot road, by detachments of the main Belgian army which was drawn up upon the line of the Dyle.
In their preliminary skirmishes the Belgians more than once gained advantages, but after the fall on August 15 of the last of the Liege forts, the great line of railway which runs through Liege towards Brussels and Antwerp in one direction and towards Namur and the French frontier in another, fell into the hands of the Germans. From this moment the advance of the main army was swift and irresistible.
On August 19 Louvain and Aerschot were occupied by the Germans, the former without resistance, the latter after a struggle which resulted early in the day in the retirement of the Belgian army upon Antwerp. On August 20 the invaders made their entry into Brussels.
The quadrangle of territory bounded by the towns of Aerschot, Malines, Vilvorde, and Louvain, is a rich agricultural tract, studded with small villages and comprising two considerable cities, Louvain and Malines. This district on August 19 passed into the hands of the Germans, and, owing perhaps to its proximity to Antwerp, then the seat of the Belgian Government and headquarters of the Belgian army, it became from that date a scene of chronic outrage, with respect to which the Committee has received a great mass of evidence.
The witnesses to these occurrences are for the most part imperfectly educated persons who cannot give accurate dates, so it is impossible in some cases to fix the dates of particular crimes; and the total number of outrages is so great that we cannot refer to all of them in the body of the report or give all the depositions relating to them in the Appendix. The main events, however, are abundantly clear, and group themselves naturally round three dates - August 19th, August 26th, and September 11th.
The arrival of the Germans in the district on August the 19th was marked by systematic massacres and other outrages at Aerschot itself, Gelrode and some other villages.
On August 25th the Belgians, sallying out of the defences of Antwerp, attacked the German positions at Malines, drove the enemy from the town and reoccupied many of the villages, such as Sempst, Hofstade, and Eppeghem, in the neighbourhood. And just as numerous outrages against the civilian population had been the immediate consequence of the temporary repulse of the German vanguard from Fort Fleron, so a large body of depositions testify to the fact that a sudden outburst of cruelty was the response of the German army to the Belgian victory at Malines.
The advance of the German army to the Dyle had been accompanied by reprehensible and indeed (in certain cases) terrible outrages, but these had been, it would appear, isolated acts, some of which are attributed by witnesses to indignation at the check at Haelen, while others may have been the consequence of drunkenness. But the battle of Malines had results of a different order.
In the first place it was the occasion of numerous murders committed by the German army in retreating through the villages of Sempst, Hofstade, Eppeghem, Elewyt, and elsewhere. In the second place, it led, as it will be shown later, to the massacres, plunderings, and burnings at Louvain, the signal for which was provided by shots exchanged between the German army retreating after its repulse at Malines and some members of the German garrison of Louvain, who mistook their fellow countrymen for Belgians.
Lastly, the encounter at Malines seems to have stung the Germans into establishing a reign of terror in so much of the district comprised in the quadrangle as remained in their power. Many houses were destroyed and their contents stolen. Hundreds of prisoners were locked up in various churches, and were in some instances marched about from one village to another. Some of these were finally conducted to Louvain and linked up with the bands of prisoners taken in Louvain itself, and sent to Germany and elsewhere.
On September 11th, when the Germans were driven out of Aerschot across the river Demer by a successful sortie from Antwerp, murders of civilians were taking place in the villages which the Belgian army then recaptured from the Germans. These crimes bear a strong resemblance to those committed in Hofstade and other villages after the battle of Malines.