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mhurst

The ABC Murders

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mhurst

I daresay many Pals will have seen the Agatha Christie three-part series, “The ABC Murders” on BBC One over Christmas. While it was an intriguing mystery, with a (mostly) satisfying conclusion, there was one aspect of the story that bothered me slightly, and I wonder if it bothered others, too. This was the depiction of the slaughter of innocent civilians at the start of the invasion of Belgium in 1914. Hercules Poirot is shown to have been a priest at that time (although not in the original novel), and is confronted by a young German soldier while his congregation shelter inside his church. A nearby officer urges the soldier to shoot Poirot in cold blood, which he cannot bring himself to do, and instead is himself shot by the officer. Poirot is knocked unconscious, and when he awakes he sees his church ablaze, and the implication is that his congregation is still inside.

 

Now I’m aware that atrocities happened in occupied Belgium, especially at the start of the war, when the Germans were keen to stamp out all resistance by so-called francs-tireurs; many German soldiers would still have had memories of such resistance during the Franco-Prussian War, and there was a genuine fear of being attacked from the rear. Captured francs-tireurs were executed by firing squad, and hostages taken and executed in response to attacks, while Louvain was almost totally destroyed by fire.

 

But is there any indisputable evidence of the killing of civilians without provocation, as implied in the TV series, or were the killings always carried out in retaliation to threats, whether real or perceived, to the German army?

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Robin Garrett

I thought the scene described by mhurst above was totally implausible. I could believe in instances of a soldier losing his cool and shooting an obstructive civilian but not one of his own men. The others would surely have reacted against that and the shooting of a priest. Then firing the church - very unlikely.

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Alan24

This is a Belgian postcard dated 1936 which has been in my collection for some years. 

The gist is 116 civilians killed by Saxons on 23rd Aug 1914. 

 

I'm sure someone will come up with a proper translation.

 

Alan.

bel 1.JPG

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mebu

Then firing the church - very unlikely.

 

Didn't see the programme, and can't comment on the authenticity of the story, but don't forget that the Germans killed a lot of civilians in Dinant, then went on to kill more in Louvain whilst burning religious buildings and the university.

 

Peter 

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Esdorn
3 hours ago, mhurst said:

But is there any indisputable evidence of the killing of civilians without provocation, as implied in the TV series, or were the killings always carried out in retaliation to threats, whether real or perceived, to the German army? 

Frankly it's not difficult to find. By chance visited Leuven recently where indeed the university library, church and much of the city were set ablaze and c. 250 civilians executed. Likewise the example of Dinant that others provided is the most infamous atrocity. But there are others. Oftentimes involving priests.

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healdav
1 hour ago, Esdorn said:

Frankly it's not difficult to find. By chance visited Leuven recently where indeed the university library, church and much of the city were set ablaze and c. 250 civilians executed. Likewise the example of Dinant that others provided is the most infamous atrocity. But there are others. Oftentimes involving priests.

"At about 0630 on 26 August, some German soldiers knocked on his door and when he answered they said that some civilians had fired at them, so they shot and killed him. His death was commemorated by articles in the Belgian newspapers because at that time he was well known for his work on town planning. He is buried in the cemetery Abdij van Park."

An extract from the entry in my book "Luxembourgers in the First World War", relating to Vincent Lenertz.

Go to Rossignol where a lot of locals were arrested when the Germans arrived (on 21 August 1914). They were led away to captivity in Germany for no apparent reason. When they got to Arlon, the escort seems to have been utterly fed up with the job; so they shot the prisoners! and reported back to their unit. Memorials to be found near the station in Arlon and also at Rossignol where they are buried in a mass mausoleum.

Plenty of evidence that they did these things. Some say it was for fear of francs tireurs, but equally they classed pretty much everyone the saw as being a spy, and somewhere else (I forget the name of the village, and I'm away from my documents), the mayor was ordered to collect up all the local guns (shotguns mostly), which he did. Not long after the Germans heard firing in a nearby wood. They said it was francs tireurs, so the shot a hundred or so, despite protests that the noise was neither shotguns not hunting rifles.

In fact, it was the Belgian army which had had the temerity to actually fire at the Germans when all they were doing was peacefully invading and taking over the country.

Lots of evidence for these things.

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cdr

Hello, 

 

First of all I have not seen the ABC murders (as a Belgian I always wonder what a Belgian accent is supposed to sound like)

 

There are some very good works on the atrocities in Belgium in 1914. (eg Kramer and Horne German atrocities in 1914) In total about 6000 civilians were killed

Major incidents took place in Dinant (674 civilians killed this is about 1 in 10 of the population of the town) Andenne (400 killed), Aarschot (196 killed),Leuven (218 killed)

 

Members of the catholic clergy were specifically targeted (this can probably to the 19 th century "kulturkampf' in Germany)

the picture is of the Tschoffen wall in Dinant (the wall was part of Mr Tschoffen's garden)( incidentally he was one of the people killed here on 23 Augustus 1914 ) German units here were part of Saxon XII corps commanded by General der infanterie d'Elsa. Civilians killed in Dinant varied in age, some were babies less than a month old (Mariette Fievet) others were octogenarians; 2/3 of the town was put to the flame

 

There is no evidence that ANY franc tireurs attacks took place in Belgium in 1914

 

Churches were frequently torched (eg Esen in West Flanders on 20 October 1914)

 

I do not know of any incidents were civilians were locked in a church before it was torched

 

Carl  

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Marilyne

I did not see it... but seriously??? What producer comes up with the story that Hercule Poirot has been a PRIEST??? He was a policeman in Belgium !! 

More specifically, he worked for the Brussels police force, was even their chief for a moment. 

 

as to the Mur Tschoffen in Dinant, this is what the place looks like today; 

image.png.5299b435b0c93f5d9ef3b6a31c250d9b.png

 

The text translates: "pious honor of the Dinant remembrance. To the 674 innocent victims of the Teutonic fury, of which 116 found their death here, on the 23rd August 1914"

I worked in Dinant for three years and it was in this time (2004 or 5) that for the FIRST TIME in nearly a century, the German flag was flown from the bridge. 

 

The Dinantais are not a forgiving people... 

 

M.

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David Filsell

It's fiction guys!

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EastSurrey

The subtext of this adaptation was, as so often with contemporary drama/television- an attempt to find contemporary resonance. In this case, it's hostility to immigrants (including Poirot)  fleeing violence, with much made of support for Mosleyite views in the early 30s. Those who have read the original will have to advise to what extent this is the screenwriter's invention.

German atrocities in Belgium in August 1914 were much exaggerated at the time, but as one who has visited Dinant, the truth was quite bad enough.

Michael

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mhurst

Many thanks for all the replies.

 

With many such adaptations, the screenwriters take liberties, often huge ones - in one recent notorious case even changing the identity of the murderer! In this case, it is easy to determine online that, although much of the plot has been kept, more or less, the back history of Poirot as a priest is a completely new story line. From the contributions received, it does seem as though many innocent civilians were killed in Belgium. However, the deliberate burning of a church with the congregation still inside is a bit over the top, to say the least!

 

Melvin Hurst

Edited by mhurst

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nigelcave
43 minutes ago, mhurst said:

However, the deliberate burning of a church with the congregation still inside is a bit over the top, to say the least!

 

Melvin Hurst

 

Well .. there is the case of Esen (or Eessen), in Flanders, a few kilometres east of Diksmuide (Dixmude). There a group of people in a locked church on the night of 20 October were burnt to death when the building was set on fire; forty-five locals appear to have been shot or burnt to death and 250 were deported. There is a memorial window in the church and, certainly a few years ago, an interesting exhibition of the affair in one of the transepts. The matter is referred to (without details)  by the adjutant of RIR 201, who seems to suggest that Reserve Jager Battalion 15 were responsible, although it was his regimental commander who ordered houses to be burnt down. The reason for all of this excitement was the alleged presence of franctireurs (altho' just as likely to be retreating Belgian troops).

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lostinspace
On 29/12/2018 at 04:44, mhurst said:

 

Now I’m aware that atrocities happened in occupied Belgium, especially at the start of the war, when the Germans were keen to stamp out all resistance by so-called francs-tireurs; many German soldiers would still have had memories of such resistance during the Franco-Prussian War, and there was a genuine fear of being attacked from the rear. Captured francs-tireurs were executed by firing squad, and hostages taken and executed in response to attacks, while Louvain was almost totally destroyed by fire.

 

But is there any indisputable evidence of the killing of civilians without provocation, as implied in the TV series, or were the killings always carried out in retaliation to threats, whether real or perceived, to the German army?


Hi Melvin,
Good to see you back on the Forum. Can't add much to what other folks have said, except to relate a curious incident with a tour guide in Dinant. We were there in 2011 and took a tour through the Citadel, afterwards we asked the guide where the (above) monument was located, he replied that it didn't exist and that the "massacre" was fiction.
I don't think there is any doubt that the Germans were "trigger happy". Here is an account from Zuber's book "Ten Days in August" (page 70) about Infantry Regiment 90's first night in Belgium, north of Berneau: "Towards midnight a guard called out 'Halt - who's there' followed by firing. Bullets flew through the bivouac. hitting trees and ricocheting between the tents. Excited IR 90 men fired into the night, as did the IR 89 MG. The officers commanded ceasefire, fell the companies into formation at order arms. Finally it was quiet. Hardly had the troops returned to their tents than the firing began once again, stronger than before. A company of I/90 began to assault II/90, and was stopped by the personal intervention of the II/90 commander. Order was re-established again and so far as possible the rifles unloaded and ammunition counted to prevent further firing. As after the first incident, patrols were sent out and at dawn the entire area was thoroughly searched. A half-dozen residents of Berneau were caught wandering through the bushes without good reason, but there were no grounds to connect them with the night's events and they were released. Weapons and ammunition from IR twenty-five were found, and someone had shot horses through the windows of the stalls, two NCOs, seven men and eleven horses were dead, the regimental adjutant, thirty-one men and two horses wounded.".  It's unclear to me whether Zuber is implying that the civilians actually had attacked the bivouac (with IR 25's rifles?) or merely indicating that the threat of being fired on by civilians had the troops on edge.

Dave

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healdav
18 hours ago, lostinspace said:


Hi Melvin,
Good to see you back on the Forum. Can't add much to what other folks have said, except to relate a curious incident with a tour guide in Dinant. We were there in 2011 and took a tour through the Citadel, afterwards we asked the guide where the (above) monument was located, he replied that it didn't exist and that the "massacre" was fiction.
I don't think there is any doubt that the Germans were "trigger happy". Here is an account from Zuber's book "Ten Days in August" (page 70) about Infantry Regiment 90's first night in Belgium, north of Berneau: "Towards midnight a guard called out 'Halt - who's there' followed by firing. Bullets flew through the bivouac. hitting trees and ricocheting between the tents. Excited IR 90 men fired into the night, as did the IR 89 MG. The officers commanded ceasefire, fell the companies into formation at order arms. Finally it was quiet. Hardly had the troops returned to their tents than the firing began once again, stronger than before. A company of I/90 began to assault II/90, and was stopped by the personal intervention of the II/90 commander. Order was re-established again and so far as possible the rifles unloaded and ammunition counted to prevent further firing. As after the first incident, patrols were sent out and at dawn the entire area was thoroughly searched. A half-dozen residents of Berneau were caught wandering through the bushes without good reason, but there were no grounds to connect them with the night's events and they were released. Weapons and ammunition from IR twenty-five were found, and someone had shot horses through the windows of the stalls, two NCOs, seven men and eleven horses were dead, the regimental adjutant, thirty-one men and two horses wounded.".  It's unclear to me whether Zuber is implying that the civilians actually had attacked the bivouac (with IR 25's rifles?) or merely indicating that the threat of being fired on by civilians had the troops on edge.

Dave

I don' know who your guide was, but he seems a bit strange.

I organised a tour there some years ago - having seen the bloke who was out guide doing a long piece on Belgian TV.

He produced a map of the town showing all the massacre sites (there wasn't just one), and took us there to see the bullet holes in the wall where they were all lined up against the wall and shot. Men, women and even babies.

It very definitely happened, and there is no doubt that it was a part of the German policy of Schecklichkeit - frightfulness. It was intended to terrify the population into submission.

I'm not surprised about random shooting taking place. The Germans just didn't seem to grasp that the Belgian had the right to fight back. They saw spies and franc tireurs everywhere. One dragoon officer near Arlon on patrol said that as they rode down the road they saw lots of civilians running down the road away from them. He interpreted this as them being spies running back to report. That they might well be civilians who didn't want to get shot by these dragoons doesn't occur to him. Equally, there are a lot of well attested incidents of the Germans being furious that the Belgian army was firing at them! They, naturally blamed the civilians in the district, and started shooting hostages.

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lostinspace
11 hours ago, healdav said:

I don' know who your guide was, but he seems a bit strange.

It very definitely happened, and there is no doubt that it was a part of the German policy of Schecklichkeit - frightfulness. It was intended to terrify the population into submission.

I'm not surprised about random shooting taking place. The Germans just didn't seem to grasp that the Belgian had the right to fight back.


Yes, it was strange. Here is an old thread from 2014 that has more info (and a photo or two).  https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/216785-dinant-23-august-1914/?tab=comments#comment-2143990

 

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