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Remembered Today:

Belgian Franctireurs 1914


fritz
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Hi, Steve;

From whichever position you take there is no denying that subtstantial numbers of Belgian civilians were shot or died in their burning houses over this weekend in 1914. For example, the 120 civilians from Rossignol, Tintigny and Breuvanne executed on the railway embankment near Arlon is well documented but over this August weekend many local villages will have commemoration services, not just to remember the soldiers killed but also the civilians executed. (I will be attending one such event tomorrow). Those killed range from young children to old men. Many houses in villages were burnt down deliberately (not destroyed by artillery fire) - for example in the small village of Les Bulles 25 houses were burnt and 6 civilians killed.

In this case, there seems to be considerable agreement as to the number of Belgian civilians killed, by whatever means and reasons, in 1914. Again, I have not studied this question in a global fashion, but I have seen an accusatory Belgian piece of 1915 claim that 6500 civilians died, while I also saw a defensive German piece of 1915 admit that 6000 civilians died. Also, above, various Pals put out a figure of 6000. So we seem to have considerable and surprising agreement as to the scope, if not the nature of the problem. This is in "happy" contrast to, for example, the Iraq mess, where the "Coalition of the Willing" have asserted that 31,000 Iraqi civilians have died, while three major Brit or US studies assert that the figure is closer to one million. (Let's not get any further into that issue, I just give it as an example of how wide the spread in such matters usually is.) I have never argued with these numbers, only questioning the nature of some of the events.

The German "White Book" that previous posters refer to put such outrages down to their legitimate response to "Franc-Tireur" activity; just as some English sources' extreme refrences eg "children been bayonetted" are propaganda-led, so too this German rationale. The vast weight of numbers/cases of victims, destruction and hostage taking is far greater than the number of alleged attacks (let alone the proven ones).

I cannot agree with your second sentence. I have no idea of the number of "alleged attacks", but they are numerous. Both my grand-father's letters (and oral history) and the diary I am translating mention several incidents each, from the viewpoint of one individual, and these accounts are from the manuscript accounts written on the battlefield before the "Rape of Belgium" issue arose as a major, organized issue on both sides. And my grand-father was a candid and hard-headed observer (he admitted to extremely profitable looting), and on wired orders from the Ministry of War he took several cars and an escort and tore about most of occupied Belgium on a tour of inspection (which he described in an article published after the war), obviously seeing more of Belgium than some Landser marching down a dusty road. But a sample size of two is hopelessly small. What we need is 100 manuscript diaries and collections of letters.

Some people believe it was down to "memories" of the Franco-Prussian war when perhaps such activity did take place - it was certainly recounted in German newspapers in the lead up to the opening engagements of WW1 (propaganda ?!?). Others feel that it was down to the German Army's need to suppress Belgium (and its people who were to be occupied) quickly so they could move on and in to France. I suspect we will never know all the reasons but to deny it happened I think is disrespectful to those Belgians whose villages even today carry painful memories of August 1914.

The two possible reasons you postulate are good candidates for possible factors influencing what happened. You wrote: "to deny it happened I think is disrespectful to those Belgians whose villages even today carry painful memories of August 1914." Are you referring to me? I have not denied a single reported death of a Belgian civilian. I have no information with which to even attempt such a thing. The one happy thing here is that there seems to be surprisingly close agreement on the number of civilians who died, even in 1915.

I am reminded of a previous thread on this Forum, which started when a Pal posted several photos of heads on stakes and naked corpses that he had found on an Armenian web-site. A Turkish forum Pal chimed in and asserted that the photos in fact were lifted by the Armenians from a book written by his father (he gave a complete citation and page numbers), and that they depicted Turkish villagers killed by bands of Armenian irregulars, and as far as the heads were concerned, he gave the village and date at/on which they were allegedly killed. Then we were off to the races. (The thread was eventually blocked and erased by the moderators after over 100 unhappy posts.) The guy who started the thread obviously knew nothing about Turkish/Armenian history, and had just plucked the photos from the Armenian site he had come across. I foolishly got involved, and stated that is seems that about 800,000 Armenians were killed (over 29 years of communial fighting), and the PC guy who started it posted, seemingly foaming at the mouth: "Sir, you are a Holocaust Denier!!! 800,000 Armenians were killed!!!" (It has been observed that the figure of 1,500,000 Armenians killed sometimes claimed is higher than the census figures for the total Armenial population of the affected corner of Turkey. And some survived, one of my best friends is a Armenian Turk who served in the Turkish Army.) We get so cranked up in these sorts of discussions that we often do not read what someone else has actually posted. Again, I have not denied the death of a single Belgian civilian.

Not trying to start a tussle here, Steve. I have valued your contributions, and especially appreciate your multi-ethnic perspective.

Bob

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Hello again

I just read trough the foreword to the White Book.

A few remarks :

Most of the newspapers are small newspapers (so no roving reporters) from both catholic and liberal origin (Nieuwe Gazet, Handelsblad, Le Nouveau Précurseur in Antwerp) (Burgerwelzijn from Bruges) Now newspaper archives are quite good in Belgium. It would therefore be possible to check the newspapers and see if the articles exist, are correct and if the English translation is correct. The original texts are always better.

One of the articles mentions fierce civilian resistance at Herstal. A likely story After all FN is still here so weapons would be easily available.

However I have not yet seen any German source talking about Franc tireurs in this location which I think they would have. So I have my doubts about this newspaper item.There was fierce fighting in Herstal. One of the regiments in German 34 brigade (I think the 89th) even lost its regimental standard.

Bob

the sole case I'm sure off is

In the evening of 06/08/1914 Belgian General Headquarters near Leuven received a gendarmerie rapport that farmers in the Haspengouw region (that is interestingly in the Flemish part of Flanders) used their hunting rifles and pitch forks against German cavalry patrols. The rapoort further stated that the weapons were impounded

Carl

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Thank you for these two links, Joe. The preword on page vi makes sense and expresses my opinion. There must have been many violent activities by civilians. What I said at the start of this thread: ”in nearly all German regimental histories are mentioned engagements with armed civilians”. All wrong, all lies? Don´t believe it. I can´t imagine that all these reports of the German army are false. If we don´t like to call them franc-tireur then let´s say “civilians with arms in their hands”. The execution of this partisans is explicable.

The American Libraries Internet Archive files seems to be an interesting source for informations about Great War. I believe the title “History of 200? German divisions of WW1 “ has the same origin? Thank you for that too.

On the other hand we have these cases of indiscriminately killing of people by German troops . Steve called again some other incidents of such kind. Why this? What was the reason for this inhuman doing? Carl, have you any information about the Saxon regiment that had done it in Dinant? Would like to read their comment in their regimental history if available.

Fritz

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Hi, Carl;

Hello again

I just read trough the foreword to the White Book.

A few remarks :

Most of the newspapers are small newspapers (so no roving reporters) from both catholic and liberal origin (Nieuwe Gazet, Handelsblad, Le Nouveau Précurseur in Antwerp) (Burgerwelzijn from Bruges) Now newspaper archives are quite good in Belgium. It would therefore be possible to check the newspapers and see if the articles exist, are correct and if the English translation is correct. The original texts are always better.

That would be a great service to the debate. This 1923 English translation of the White Book is a bit of a mystery to me, was the Foreword written by the translator? These assertions about these newspaper articles are, to my mind, sensational, and it would be useful to know if these articles are simply invented by someone. Then of course the Foreword information is not at all useful. If they are the actual articles (more or less), then we can worry if the information in them were actual events or were invented. But it is hard to see why several Belgian newspapermen would be inventing such stories, as they would assist the Germans and also increase the likelihood of German ill-treatment of the civilian population.

One of the articles mentions fierce civilian resistance at Herstal. A likely story After all FN is still here so weapons would be easily available.

However I have not yet seen any German source talking about Franc tireurs in this location which I think they would have. So I have my doubts about this newspaper item.There was fierce fighting in Herstal. One of the regiments in German 34 brigade (I think the 89th) even lost its regimental standard.

If the hypothesis that there were frequent examples of franc-tireur activity is true, the lack of it being mentioned sometimes would hardly prove anything. There was all sorts of unusual military activity by the Belgians, and very possibly troops carried out snipings from windows and other activities and that was thought to be civilian snipers. Most military units would not do something of the sort as the position, the stray house in a city, could not be held, and this would not be part of what most armies would consider a coherent set of tactics. In the case of the sergeant and the diary that I am translating sometimes they were fired upon, and the position was taken and civilians siezed, but in another case his company entered a village, was suddenly fired on from many houses, and the company had to rapidly pull out of the village. The sergeant then fairly commented that it could not be ascertained if they were fired on by civilians or soldiers, as they were not able to storm any of the houses involved and find out who was shooting. This was the location where, only a few hours later the two Belgian officers in German uniforms tried to drive thru a German checkpoint with explosives hidden in their car. The narrator mentioned this twice, and also an odd event (which I have not fully figured out) where a German soldier seemingly took a wrist watch from one of the Belgians, only for the German officers to insist that it be given back. Ironic as one would imagine that the Belgians were (correctly, I think) shot a day or two later.

To the outside observer (me), almost everything about the Belgian Army and its behavior in 1914 seems odd, the uniforms, the behavior, tactics, the intrepid dogs pulling MGs, a lot of seemingly suicidal activities in action. I wonder how much of this was behind these events?

Bob

the sole case I'm sure off is

In the evening of 06/08/1914 Belgian General Headquarters near Leuven received a gendarmerie rapport that farmers in the Haspengouw region (that is interestingly in the Flemish part of Flanders) used their hunting rifles and pitch forks against German cavalry patrols. The rapoort further stated that the weapons were impounded

I guess that I am going to have to start entering such reports in a time-line. Many thanks for that detail.

Carl

Bob

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Hi, Steve;

Bob

Hi Bob,

All I was meaning by the "disrespectful" angle was a reference to those (not I hasten to add including you) that seek to deny that a disproportionate number of Belgian civilians were killed by the German Army in reprisals for "franc-tireur" and other "unhelpful" activities (e.g not telling the Germans where the French were) in the frontial region of southern Belgium, which is the only region that I can speak of with some knowledge.

I would stress that for this particular area the "fighting" was all over this weekend in August 1914, followed by 4 years of occupation. The "fighting" was some of the bloodiest of the entire war (on the basis of attrition rates). All the civilian deaths/punishments that I refer to incurred in the heat of battle and its immediate aftermath (although not an excuse); following August there were no such incidents in this region that I am aware of. The major event in those next 4 years that incurred the wrath of the local Belgians was the deportation of the unemployed to Germany to provide a workforce to replace those fighting elsewhere, a policy where perhaps it is easier to understand both points of view.

It is also worth pointing out that the Germans were scrupulous about honouring the dead, in the years after 1914 bringing over their own architects etc. to design cemeteries where soldiers of both sides were (and in some cases still are) buried in the same cemetery.

The subject of life under occupation from the perspective of occupier and occupied, at this time, is perhaps one that this forum with its largely anglophone perspective often ignores

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A few weeks ago I started to look at the question of the multiple translations of the so-called "German War-Book", and its elevation from an obscure book probably only printed in an edition of 200 or 300 (my wife was able to get me one of the few copies of the original in the US, another library had it but would not release it, and the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, by far (142 million cataloged items)does not have it), to the most impoortant book in Germany, used to train many tens or hundreds of thousands of officers (with 300 paper-bound copies printed?), not only soley responsible for the Great War, but also the German invasion of Poland in WW II, and even the swine flu and male pattern baldness. But then a lot of craziness in my life forced me to put the question aside for the moment.

However, there was an interesting statement by Capt. Morgan (the fortunate fellow promoted from captain to brigadier general in 1919, so that he could mingle more comfortably with Allied generals). He was a professor and scholar of military law, and he stated that the Hague Conventions and international law held that ordinary civilians, in civilian dress, if their country was invaded, could take up arms, kill enemy soldiers, and then surrender, and had to be treated exactly as honorably surrendering uniformed soldiers would be, all the protections, proper rations, etc. Now this is quite opposite to everything that I have read and understood in reading about military matters for say 60 years, and I did take a course in military law during my training as a US Army officer, many centuries ago. Is this correct? Or was Captain/General Morgan building a case for considering German shooting of armed civilians as a war crime? I see no evidence that the US or UK Armies treat "insurgents" as ligitimate POWs according to the rules of war. Am I living in a parallel universe?

Incidently, I find it remarkable and commendable that the present participants in this discussion, who could perhaps be broken down into UK/Belgian and Hunnish teams, seem to be agreeing on as many things as not. A very productive and gentlemanly discussion of a potentially abrasive topic. Let us all risk straining our shoulder joints and twist about and pat ourselves on the back.

Bob Lembke

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Steve;

Thanks for your comments. I, perhaps with a bit too much of an edgy manner, just wanted to make it clear that I have never denied a single Belgian civilian death, which I would of course have no information to try to do if I wished to. The number of civilian deaths does not seem to be in particular dispute, surprisingly.

In a letter from Verdun, my father expressed the wish to engineer a trip to Belgium, where he felt that there was more food than available to troops in German-occupied France, or back in Germany. I have no idea if this was actually correct. He never made it and was badly wounded soon thereafter.

Bob

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quote ''In the history of Jägerbataillon 10 I read, that the paymaster of the battalion had his purse full of Goldmark in order to buy all what they needed in Belgium correctly''

This is really a a joke, the Germans simply took what they needed, or they paid with worthless debt papers.

In letters sent home during the invasion in 1914 they already named Belgium 'Klein Deutschland' (little Germany)

Regards,

Cnock

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Carl, have you any information about the Saxon regiment that had done it in Dinant? Would like to read their comment in their regimental history if available.

Fritz

Fritz,

My information (article in Shrapnel I referred to) says : (I translate)

This massacre [in Dinant] was the work of the 12th Korps, 3. Armee. Made part of it : 23. Infanterie Division and 32. Infanterie Division. The 23. ID consisted of 45. and 46. Infanteriebrigade, resp. 100. and 101. Grenadiere and 108. Schutzen R. and 182. IR.

32. ID consisted of 63. and 64. Infanteriebrigade, resp. 102. and 103. IR and 177. and 178 IR.

Also 12. RAC and 48. RAC are considered responsible for this massacre, together with Infanterie Regiments 100, 101, 108, 182, 103 and 178.

But the good news is the last 3 lines of the article : "Pas enkele jaren geleden heeft bij monde van haar ambassadeur, de Duitse republiek haar spijt betoond voor deze afschuwelijke misdaden."

Pas enkele jaren geleden = it was not until a couple of years ago

Spijt betuigen = express regrets

Afschuwelijke misdaden = horrible crimes.

Aurel

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It wasn't just the unemployed who were taken forcibly to Germany to work. In many places the entire male population was lined up - or factory workers lined up at work, even railway workers, and then taken away.

Complaints were always met with the reply that it was only the unemployed who were taken but the Germans never bothered to explain just why the unemployed would have been working in factories or on the railways.

Of course, there was a lot of unemployment. The Belgians couldn't get raw materials to feed their industries (except steel and coal).

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quote ''In the history of Jägerbataillon 10 I read, that the paymaster of the battalion had his purse full of Goldmark in order to buy all what they needed in Belgium correctly''

This is really a a joke, the Germans simply took what they needed, or they paid with worthless debt papers.

In letters sent home during the invasion in 1914 they already named Belgium 'Klein Deutschland' (little Germany)

Not a joke but so planned and not realized because the situation in Belgium developed quickly to a war. And sorry this is war: the winner of an occupied territory decrees the conditions. Ever.

Never heart "Klein Deutschland" for Belgium. In the history of IR 163 I read about the advantage of north-german soldiers being able to communicate with their "Plattdeutsch" to Belgians. Also the landscape is resembling Schleswig-Holstein. May be there is a connection?

Thank you Aurel for your informations. I shall try to discover anything about those days if possible from their regimental histories.

Kind regards

Fritz

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"almost everything about the Belgian Army and its behavior in 1914 seems odd,"

Well Bob

The Belgian army certainly deserves better coverage in English.

The uniforms date back to the 1860's. Higher officers complained about the slovenly appearance of the men. Equipment and weapons are fine (mostly German in origin ;) (Mauser rifle, Maxim HMG). Some material is very modern (eg lots of armoured cars). High command realised early on that only defensive tactics would give a small chance of survival against the numerical superiority of the German invasion. (take cover in houses or behind barricades, fire a few rounds and leave. Even the cavalry are (contrary to most continental cavalry) willing to fight dismounted and fire from cover. (they are also already armed with LMG at the start of the war). Dog carts were once very common in Belgium. Most of the dogs were specially bred (Matin Belge). The Belgian strategy was essentially as follows : call on the guarantors of your neutrality, fight a defensive battle and retreat to the national redoubt around Antwerp.

Belgian soldiers were apparently willing to try everything (armoured trains). Near Antwerp there were even some cases where crewless locomotives ( very ' machina loca ' from the mexican revolution) were launched at full speed at the Germans

So odd indeed

Carl

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Fritz

Again there is no evidence for large amount of Franc-tireurs. I do not dispute the existence of the references in German regimental Histories. But the fact that you believe you were shot at by civilians does not prove that fact.

Most (if not all) regimental histories were produced during the early twenties. A period when Germany is still reeling from its defeat. There were attempts by French and Belgian authorities to prosecute for war crimes. No German writer of regimental histories (they were probably mostly ex or still serving officers) will suggest anything that might be used as evidence against them. Germany wants to believe Hindenburg when he says " Mit reinen Händen habe dass Deutsche Heer das Schwert geführt" (the German army fought with clean hands)

May I just quote from a 2008 article in the Bundeswehr Magazine " Zeitschrift fur innere Führung"

.... als represaille verstehen die deutschen Besatzungstruppen auch ihr Vorgehen in Belgien und Nordfrakreich wo während des Krieges über 6000 zivilpersonen als Vergeltung für vermeintliche überfalle so genannter "Franctireurs" (Freischärler) erschossen und Hunderte von Menschen nach Deutschland deportiert werden. Geflissentlich übersehen davbei die örtlichen Befehlshaber, dass der Art. 50 der HLKO die Verhängung von Kollektistrafen für die Taten Einzelner ausdrücklich verbietet. Die überführung eines echten Franctireurs gelingt den deutschen Militärbeh¨rden in Belgien aber in keinem Fall. Unbestritten stelt der Massenmord an unbeteiligten Zivilpersonen das massivste Kriegsverbrechen des Ersten Weltkrieges dar....

Carl

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Sorry,

it was 'Neu Deutschland', not Klein Deutschland

Belgium was going to be annexated, no more no less.

Cnock

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I agree that regimental histories have to be used with great caution, and are not likely to mention excesses committed against the population. That is why I place great weight in the few sources that I have, letters and a diary, the actual manuscripts, not something found in a book, written in the field at the time, and before the "Rape of Belgium" war of words really developed. Unfortunately few such sources, at least in my hands.

Bob

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Hi,

2 months after the invasion, Belgium was already named 'Neu Deutschland'

Post Card send from Gent to Germany on 18/10/1914

Regards,

Cnock

post-7723-1251131676.jpg

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Cnock;

Do you have the other side?

Bob

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Hi Bob,

here it is,

again 'Neu Deutschland' mentionned

Regards,

Cnock

post-7723-1251136437.jpg

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Sorry,

it was 'Neu Deutschland', not Klein Deutschland

Belgium was going to be annexated, no more no less.

Good Prussian tradition. Kingdom of Hannover made this experience 40 years before.

And Germany by himself when the winners of war diveded their booty.

Fritz

Hi Bob,

here it is,

again 'Neu Deutschland' mentionned

Perhaps a joke of Gustav???

Fritz

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I agree that regimental histories have to be used with great caution, and are not likely to mention excesses committed against the population. That is why I place great weight in the few sources that I have, letters and a diary, the actual manuscripts, not something found in a book, written in the field at the time, and before the "Rape of Belgium" war of words really developed. Unfortunately few such sources, at least in my hands.

Bob

Yes thank you I know the malices of such regimental histories, but it will be interesting to know their description. Otherwise I only am able to speculate and to find out logical explanations.

Fritz

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Yes thank you I know the malices of such regimental histories, but it will be interesting to know their description. Otherwise I only am able to speculate and to find out logical explanations.

Fritz

I have been reading an almost parallel discussion on a French language forum. They tend to hold with the explanation been largely a fear of "franc-tireurs" going back to the Franco-Prussian war, re-inforced by German media fervour at the outbreak of war in 1914. What I didn't appreciate was that in 1870-71 the majority of "franc-tireur" activity was carried out by actual French soldiers operating in a guerilla fashion, sometimes behind enemy lines but often in uniform, which was perhaps contrary to the normal way of waging war (at the time). One such unit is pictured (about a 100 uniformed men) under the title: Les francs tireurs des Deux-Sevres (Corps Poinsignon)

(Unfortunately I can't seem to be able to attach the photo !?!)

I also include a (separate) extract from an account.

"En août et septembre 1870 se forme "un nombre incalculable de corps-francs et de francs-tireurs. Une loi impériale de 1868 avait donné un statut légal à ces corps de volontaires qui étaient tenus de s'habiller, de s'armer et de s'équiper à leurs frais...Après les premiers combats au moment de l'invasion comme à Dannemois, dans la zone qui n'est pas occupée mais seulement parcourue par des groupes de cavaliers prussiens et bavarois à la recherche de ravitaillement de l'armée assiégeante, de nombreux groupes...se livrent à une guerre d'embuscades contre les groupes d'ennemis isolés.

Ce n'est pas facile car les maires et les habitants craignent les représailles ennemies. En effet.. l'apparition de ces francs-tireurs sans uniforme qui montent eux-même des opérations, attaquent les soldats allemands isolés puis se retirent, inquiète l'état-major allemand...« Tout franc-tireur sera assimilé à un malfaiteur ; il sera passible du conseil de guerre immédiat qui peut prononcer la peine de mort. S'il est établi que dans un village un tireur non-identifié a attaqué des soldats, celui-ci sera déclaré responsible et subira des représailles"

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Postcard is mildly interesting from a postal point of view. The card is to a major town in Schleichwig (sp?) - Holstein, nominally a new part of Prussia, I think (from 1864), so probably Flieger=Abteilung Nr. 38 is a Prussian unit. But the card does not follow Prussian military mail regulations, and most surprisingly does not have "Feldpost" written on it. I possess or have looked at thousands of these war-time cards, and cannot recall a single instance in which I saw a card from the front to Germany without "Feldpost" written on it. (Two possibilities - it was so early in the war that the postal regulations were not being enforced or understood, or it was actually sent in an envelope-see below.) Also, there is no "Absender Block", which was called for by Prussian military mail regulations, although the Bavarians, for example, did not call for it. This was a bit of text on the address/text side that gave the sender's name, rank, unit in some detail (e.g., company, battalion, regiment, etc.). Often the most useful part of the writing on the card.

Possibly the writer turned in the card for censorship, was stamped with the unit stamp (these cards usually have two or three unit stamps at different unit levels), perhaps signifying that it had been censored, and then the sender enclosed it in an envelope, thereby some of the stuff you would expect would be on the envelope, and later discarded.

Flyer stuff sometimes has a premium value to collectors.

Bob Lembke

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Als ich nach Lüttich kam, sah ich deutsche soldaten unter einem Baum schlafen auf dem drei Franctireurs hingen...

When I came to Liège I saw German soldiers sleeping under a tree from which 3 franc tireurs were hanging

1914 drawing by Otto Th.W. Stein (Kriegsbilderbogen) Munich

If Germany was so concerned by the rules of war

did they actually bother to declare war on Belgium ?

Carl

post-36833-1251214765.jpg

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Hi Bob,

the postcard was sent in an envelop, but that is not the case

it was about 'Neu Deutschand'

and for Cdr, no they didn't bother to declare war on Belgium

Cnock

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.....I have never heard claims that "civilian resistance was planned by the Belgian government.........

Hallo Bob

Just one thing about this statement.

A telegram of Kaiser Wilhelm II to president Wilson dating 07/09/1914 says .... Not only have they employed these atrocious weapons but the Belgian Governement has openly encouraged and , since long, carefully prepared the participation of the Belgian civilian population in the fighting. The atrocities commited even by women and priests in this guerilla warfare, also on wounded soldiers, medical staff and nurses, doctors killed, hospitals attacked by rifle fire, were such that my generals finally were compelled to take the most drastic measures in order to punish the guilty and to frighten the bloodthirsty population from continuing their work of vile murder and horror.....

There also is a statement by von Jagow

Carl

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