Featured Articles - Louvain: A Personal Experience
The following contemporary account was published in 1914 in pamphlet format by Knapp, Drewett & Sons Ltd of Kingston-On-Thames. A copy of the original material is available through the Internet Archive. The pamphlet is now in the public domain. It gives a valuable description of the chaos caused by the German invasion of Belgium and some of the hardships experienced. There is no reason to believe any of the events described have been exaggerated in any way. I have illustrated the text with some examples of propaganda posters of the time.
LOUVAIN: A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
BY ENGLEBERT CAPPUYNS,
Avocat et Membre du Conseil Provincial de Brabant.
KNAPP, DREWETT & SONS LTD.,
20 CLARENCE STREET.
The air is thick with suggestions of what civilians should do, or should not do, in case of invasion; it is of equal interest to know what is likely to be done to the inoffensive civilian by the invader. Professor Hamelius has given us in “The Siege of Liege” the experiences of a quiet citizen in a beleaguered town, and, though the full history of Louvain remains to be written, Mr. Englebert Cappuyns, a refugee now resident in Kingston-on-Thames, has told his friends what have been his experiences before and since he left that unfortunate city. Mr. Cappuyns is a barrister in a busy practice, a man of affairs, and a member of the Provincial Assembly of Brabant. Mrs. Goodman has translated his narrative in the simple, straightforward style in which it is written. Its truth cannot fail to impress the unprejudiced reader.
The narrative has been submitted to the Press Bureau and passed for publication.
Copies of this pamphlet may be obtained from Dr. Roger N. Goodman, Thursley, Kingston-on-Thames, post free, 4d.
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
BY ENGLEBERT CAPPUYNS.
It was the end of the month of July, 1914, when Germany, who, with other Powers, had guaranteed our neutrality, declared war on us. Germany – that great nation which, for more than ten years, had spent all its energies in preparing for a struggle – perhaps the most terrible, the most horrible that humanity has ever seen – had the baseness to declare war on a small country which, strong in its neutrality, had not thought it necessary to prepare to repulse anyone who infringed it.
Immediately after that declaration measures were taken to mobilise our army – horses, carriages, automobiles and bicycles were requisitioned. In five days the mobilisation was, in a way, completed, and on Tuesday, August 4th, the first battle took place between the formidable German Army and the little Belgian one. The first result of the fighting was a brilliant victory for our valiant army, and the withdrawal of the German army to the German frontier.
The losses of the German army were considerable, and our army fought with such bravery and heroism that the whole world showed its admiration.
For then days the Germans left us quiet, and took advantage of that time to reinforce their army considerably. The German officers who were my guests during the occupation of Louvain by the German army, told me that about 800,000 men had been mobilised at the Belgian frontier to cross Belgium towards France.
From the time when the German army began to march across our country to the invasion of Louvain, which occupied several days, there were frequent engagements, in which the Germans lost several thousands of men.
On Wednesday, August 19th, the morning papers reported that our situation was excellent, that the capital and the middle of the country had nothing to fear, and that the enemy seemed to be on the defensive. This news was most misleading, as I had reliable information that the enemy had advanced as far as Tirlemont, that is to say nine miles from Louvain. Indeed, at the very time when I was reading the paper I could hear the guns for the first time since the beginning of hostilities. This attitude of the press was quite inexcusable and blameworthy, for I think that the collapse produced by the hideous reality, which suddenly confronted us in all its horror, was far worse than any panic which the announcement of bad news could have produced.
That same day, about 2.30 p.m., two shots, fired at an interval of a few seconds, echoing above my house from the direction of the canal, announced that the enemy was about to make his entry into the town. Immediately the streets of Louvain were deserted, shutters were closed, blinds drawn down, and the advance guard of the enemy’s army appeared. With bitterness in my soul, I saw pass my house on their way towards the canal, twenty Uhlans with fixed bayonets, led by an officer on horseback. The advance guard was thus scattered about in all the chief arteries of Louvain.
About five five o’clock, I decided to go and see what was going on in the Square and in the street where the railway station was. I had barely reached the Station Road, when I saw coming from the Station Square the beginning (or head) of that formidable German army which was to pass through my beloved country, sowing in its march Death, Ruin, and the most frightful horrors of war. I saw pass in about an hour thousands of Germans, headed by bands of music; some of them were singing, some were whistling, others were still doing their “goose step.”
What I suffered in seeing these hordes passing as conquerors through our beautiful town is indescribable. Oh! I could never have believed how powerful at such times is the love of a Belgian for his country.
The march past of the troops went on for a fortnight, day and night, not only by the Rue de la Station, but by the Rue de Tirlemont, du Canal and du Boulevard, from the Tirlemont gate as far as the gate of Tervueren.
The Belgian General Staff, which had been at Louvain since the beginning of hostilities, had now left the town to go to Antwerp. A large number of Louvainists had taken flight at the arrival of the Germans.
II. MY LIFE AT LOUVAIN UNDER GERMAN RULE.
The 20th, 21st, and 22nd of August passed without incident. No work was possible for me, as no Government Offices were open. My principal occupation was to go and watch, sometimes alone, sometimes with my wife and children, the passing of those barbarous hordes, who, before their arrival at Louvain, had distinguished themselves by their cruelties at Aerschot, Rillaer, Haelen, etc. The idea of leaving our beloved home, where we had lived for more than twenty years, and which was so endeared to us, had not yet entered our minds – our only feeling was the ardent wish to get rid of the Germans. Each day we cherished the hope of seeing the Allies at Louvain, and of their turning the Germans out. Unhappily that hope was only an illusion.
The Germans took care to circulate posters announcing their victories over the Allies, and their march on Paris. Since their invasion, we received no Belgian of French newspapers by which we could know the real situation, and that absence of news was an added trial.
We were obliged frequently to give hospitality to German officers with their orderlies. We had to submit to their presence, and we felt, to some extent, protected by them.
On Sunday morning, August 23rd, we heard the rumbling of cannon in the direction of Trivelles. Again we hoped, but again we were disappointed, as the sounds died away in the distance. Towards noon our door-bell rang, and a policeman entered. He asked me to present myself at the Hotel de Ville at 3 o’clock, adding that, if I failed to do so, I should be requisitioned by a squad of Uhlans. He apologised for speaking like this to me. I told him I guessed why I was wanted – I was to be a hostage for twenty-four hours. This mission was far from being a pleasant one, but, at that time, I was still simple enough to believe that I had this duty to fulfil in the interests of my fellow citizens, and I went unhesitatingly, not, however, before making my will, for I knew that the life of a hostage hung by a thread, as I had read the evening before a German military proclamation which was posted up in several places in the town.
This proclamation said, among other things, that the inhabitants of Louvain were informed that hostages would be taken from the most important men in the town, and that these hostages would be immediately shot:-
At 2.45 I said farewell to my dear wife and children, who were all in tears, and set out for the Hotel de Ville, accompanied by my son Edward. On the way I was greeted by many friends and acquaintances, who, with much emotion, wished me good luck, and good courage.
Arrived at the Hotel de Ville, I was shown into the salon des Patriciens, where I met my companions in misfortune, M. de Becker, Judge of the Court of First Instance, and M. Crean, Member of the House of Representatives. We three took the places of Monseigneur Laveuze, Principal of the University of Louvain, M. de Beugir, Vice-President of the aforesaid Court, and M. Van der Eyuda, notary and provincial councillor.
In the hall, besides the ordinary furniture, were three camp beds, rather hard ones. Our meals were served to us at our own expense by the Hotel Royale; they were quite good and we did justice to them.
Till 8 o’clock in the evening we received several visits from the Burgomaster and Aldermen and the Crown Attorney – I am still profoundly grateful to them. At 7 o’clock I had a cheering visit from my son Edward, who told me that my dear wife and children were bearing themselves bravely in this time of trial. This news comforted me inexpressibly, and the first part of my imprisonment passed comparatively quickly and in no great distress of mind.
From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. we received no visitors. The night was a long one and full of fears. Any noise out of doors made our blood run cold. Once we heard three shots fired, but we were told the next morning that those were fired by German sentinels. To kill time we played cards, looking at our watches very often, as the hours seemed to pass so slowly. We also tried to keep up our spirits by discussing politics, history, philanthropy – anything.
Towards midnight we went to bed – but not to sleep. We all three feared that our door would open only to admit German soldiers, with fixed bayonets, ready to conduct us to the courtyard of the Hotel de Ville, and there to shoot us. In fact, it only needed some fool or tipsy man who might commit an offence forbidden by the proclamation. How dreadful it seemed!
The next day, besides visits of the friends I have already mentioned, I had all my children to see me. My wife could not bear to come; it would have been too much for her. At last the long-looked-for hour came, and I was set at liberty. It seemed to me that, although so much had happened, I had never in my life been so happy. I was wild with joy when I kissed my dear wife and children, who were waiting for me outside. On my way home I seemed to smile at everyone, and everyone appeared to share my happiness.
The next day, Tuesday, the 25th, about 6 p.m., the German officers who were my guests, and who had advised us to take flight, left saying that they would return for supper at 8 o’clock, and asked if they might spend the evening with us and enjoy some music. They had only left us about half an hour, when they hurriedly returned saying that they had had orders to leave the town immediately with all their men. In leaving us they said, one of them with tears in his eyes: “We shall not meet again, so it is good-bye.”
About 8.15 my wife and I were just going upstairs to spend the evening in the drawing room on the first floor when we heard a tremendous fusillade in several streets of the town. It was simultaneous, which showed that this had been a preconcerted arrangement by the Germans. Moreover, out of curiosity, and with infinite care, I gad looked out into the street and could not see a living soul. I must add that the German regulations forbade any person to be in the streets again after 7 o’clock in the evening. Scarcely had we reached the landing, when we heard the galloping of horses.
We went to the three windows, which looked out on the Potato Market, and we saw three riderless horses, coming from the centre of the town and galloping towards the canal, and five or six others coming from the Rue Decoster – none of the horses were wounded. At the same time we saw about fifteen Uhlans appear, some on one side of the street, some on the other, carrying rifles. When those in front had reached the corner house on the other side of the market, they turned round and fired in our direction. They must have seen us in the windows, as we had a light in the room. One bullet had gone two inches over my head and lodged in the ceiling, and another had taken away a portion of the window frame by which I and my son, Gaston, and my little daughter, Solange, were standing. If the bullet had struck and inch higher I should have been hit full in the chest. My wife and the other children were in front of the other windows looking out on the market-place.
The next day we found the marks of a score of bullets which had been fired in our direction. Decidedly the Germans aimed badly, or else we were saved by a miracle, for nothing in the world would tempt us to go again through such an experience. One can well imagine our state of terror as we laid down, and then tremblingly made our way towards the cellar. On the way down I called out all my children by name, and found that they were all safe and sound. What happiness! What a miracle! We all settled ourselves in the cellar for the night.
At such times as these one cannot keep still, and one feels one must know what is going on. It might be of great importance, and even absolutely necessary to decide now on what we ought to do. A few minutes after I went upstairs, and saw the dead body of an Uhlan before my door on the rue de Canal, and another before the door of M. Looghe; these bodies were taken away by a German patrol soon after.
My son Edward joined me, and as the fusillade still went on in the town we wanted to see what was going on there. From the windows on the second floor, we saw the blaze of fires in several places in the town. The flames already were very high, and lighted up our rooms. All this showed that this had been organised and arranged by the Germans.
My wife and other children had come up to look at these fires, whilst shots were being fired nearly everywhere. What a terrible night it was! We all feared lest our house should be set fire to, for there was a terrible report of guns, and the noise of doors being forced open in order to set houses on fire. Above all this one heard the loud and resounding voices of the German officers who directed this terrible work.
We took down into the cellar with us some armchairs and some valuable pictures and furniture. We passed the night in the most dreadful anxiety, listening to the footsteps of the German patrols. One stayed more than an hour before our house, and we could hear their conversation. From time to time we went upstairs with great caution to see the progress of the fires, and towards midnight we saw a motor car filled with Germans pass. They pointed their rifles at the windows on both sides of the street, and they fired at any persons who were at the windows. Evidently they wished to do away with the witnesses of their dreadful deeds.
About 1 a.m. the door-bell rang. We all trembled. Had the Germans come to set fire to my house, or come to look for me? Suddenly we heard a cry: “Monsieur l’avocat, open the door please; our house is on fire!” I ordered the door to be opened, and ten of our neighbours came in and spent the rest of the night with us in the cellar.
At 4 a.m., as day dawned, I said to my wife that perhaps it would be wise for me to leave the house, to stay in it would be to expose myself to grave danger, because I had been a hostage, because a dead soldier had been found at my door, and because the façade of my house showed the marks of many bullets. I went to hide myself at a friend’s house in the rue Charles de Lorraine, where my daughter, Maria, came to me about 11 a.m., to tell me we ought to leave the town.
All the inhabitants made ready for flight, and the Rue du Canal was full of fugitives. At the head of a thousand people I set out with my wife and six children towards the Canal, to go from there to one of the villages. We had scarcely gone three hundred yards from our house when we saw fugitives coming back. They said that a German patrol had just killed a man and his wife who had gone to their door to look out, and who lived a hundred yards further on.
We immediately decided to try to get out of the town by the Porte de Tervueren, and we went in that direction. When we reached the Place St. Jacques the fugitives came back from that gate saying the Germans were stopping men and shooting them. What were we to do?
Without making up our minds, we returned towards the middle of town. Arrived at the Hospital in the Rue de Bruxelles, I saw a German policeman, whom I asked if there were to be more conflagrations, and if it were true that the town was to be bombarded at 2 o’clock. He replied that he could guarantee that the town would be quiet for the remainder of the day, but he could not say anything about the next day. I gave that information to the crowd who followed us, and we all decided to go back for the next twenty-four hours.
On account of the serious danger I, personally, was in, I thought it wiser for me not to go back. Near my house I was accosted by a neighbour, who told me I must hide myself, as he had just learned that the Germans were looking for me to shoot me. He offered me at the same time a hiding place in the cellar of an old building, open to all the four winds of heaven, and situated at the bottom of a garden by the side of the river Dylr.
I accepted this offer, and with my wife and children I went to his house, and was given the ladders which enabled us to climb the walls of the gardens which separated us from the hiding place. As it was very dark in this cellar, we lighted a candle, by the light of which we saw that there were about twenty people in it. Our heads touched the roof, and, though it was midsummer, we were obliged to wrap ourselves up in blankets. I learned that my neighbour, the Burgomaster of Louvain, had fled through his garden at the very moment when a patrol of Uhlans had come to look for him.
About 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I left my hiding place to have a look at my house. I dared not, however, risk myself in the street, for when I reached the garden gate, I was alarmed to see that the Rue du Canal and that of Vital Decoster were quite deserted. How dismal it was! The night was so terrifying, lighted as it was by a thousand burning houses, that none of us could get any sleep.
The next day, about 9 a.m., a lady came to warn me that the Germans were knocking repeatedly at a house close by. I felt instinctively that it must be at my door they were knocking, and I went out into the street, and saw six Uhlans under the command of a very tall officer breaking in my front door with a beam. At the same time, I saw a whole crowd of people, coming from the middle of the town, who were taking flight. My wife and I made up our minds to do likewise, and, with our children, we mixed with the fugitives, not, however, without casting a farewell look at our dear home, to which, no doubt, the Germans were going to set fire, for they carried cans of benzene, etc.
III. OUR FLIGHT FROM LOUVAIN.
Our flight was a sad one. We were joined everywhere by other fugitives. Where could we fly to? Where find refuge? And for how long should we be homeless? It was impossible to answer these questions. I thought it would be imprudent to leave by train, as the railway was in the hands of the enemy, and I proposed to set out along the Canal for Antwerp. They all agreed to this, and we started for Wygmael. We were searched at the railway bridge over the Canal by the German sentries before they would let us pass.
When we reached the factory at Wygmael, some fugitives told us that the Germans were seizing all the men. We turned back towards Louvain, hearing all the time the sound of guns in the distance. Where could we go now? It was impossible to stay by the Canal, for it would have been a very dangerous place in case there was a battle around Louvain, and I was told that all the exits of the town were guarded.
We decided to go along the Wesemael road, but there again they told us that all the men were being arrested by the Germans, and that several had been killed. I then suggested we should go across the fields towards Holsbeck, which we reached about noon.
I went with some friends to the house of the Burgomaster, a friend of mine, who put his orangery at our disposal as a shelter. There were fourteen of us, and our meals were given to us at the gardener’s cottage. About three o’clock in the afternoon, two young people came to tell us that there were German soldiers in the village. Immediately all the men in our party said good-bye to their weeping families, and we went to hide in some woods near by. We were obliged to do this several times, even in the night, for we kept a watch of six men every night round the house.
We stayed at Holsbeck a fortnight, leaving there on September 10th. During the whole time we were there we heard incessantly the roar of cannon and the mitrailleuses, and even rifle firing. Sometimes in the daytime we were bold enough to climb to high ground and watch the battle which was taking place round Villvorde, Malines, Campenhout, etc., etc. Aeroplanes hovered in the sky day and night.
I need hardly say that during this fortnight we slept very little, particularly as our bed was only a little straw spread on the paving stones of the orangery. What a life! At the beginning of our stay we often went to see, before settling ourselves for the night, the terrible splendour of the sky produced by the burning houses of Louvain – a sight always very painful to us. As to news of the war, we received none, except occasionally that which we knew to be false.
On Tuesday, September 8th, our servant, Anna, came to tell us that our house had not been burned, but had been completely sacked, and that the Germans, who had been in the house eight days, had just left it in the most deplorable condition. In spite of the news, we were overjoyed at the thought that our house was still standing.
The next day my daughters, Maria and Yvonne, were so anxious to go and see our home that I, with much hesitation, finally gave my consent to their doing so. They went disguised as peasants. They wept at the state our once beautiful home was in. Some of our best furniture and valuable articles had disappeared altogether, some were smashed to pieces; wine and jam had been split all over our carpets, and stained our walls – the wine cellar was quite empty.
In returning from our house, they were met by about a dozen German soldiers. They had no time to hide, so, trembling with fright, they held up their hands. Fortunately, there was one of the party who was kindly disposed, so he smilingly signed to them that they might pass.
The next day, September 10th, we heard the roar of the guns more distinctly. What joy! Could it be that our Allies were coming to save us?
During dinner, a Belgian soldier, a scout, the first we had seen since the invasion, came towards us. We received him with open arms. He was hungry and thirsty, and hurriedly partook of the food we could give him. He was a native of Ghent, and a brave man, for the day before he had planted the Belgian flag on the Town Hall of the reconquered town of Aerschot, and to-morrow he hoped to plant it on our Town Hall in Louvain.
Alas! We were doomed to disappointment. The next day the German army was strongly reinforced, and our army was obliged to retreat. The disappointment was all the more severe, as a part of our advance guard had already penetrated into the town on one side.
I must tell you that the same day, about three o’clock in the afternoon, about 180 Belgian soldiers of a line regiment and some artillerymen with twenty guns passed by my friend’s property. They had been ordered to attack the Uhlans, who were only a few minutes’ walk from us in the valley called “De Leemingen.”
My children and I and our friends had the pleasure of distributing wine and fruit to our brave soldiers, even during the hottest fire, and at only a few yards from their guns. Bullets whistled over our heads and fell about five or six yards from us. At one time we were in such danger that the soldiers advised us to hide ourselves in the cellars, which we accordingly did. There were about thirty of us in my friend’s cellar, and the noise of the guns was so incessant and so near to us that we all prayed to God to save us; we spent an hour of deadly fear in that cellar.
At the end of an hour, the shots were fired in another direction, and we took advantage of that to come out of the cellar. Scarcely had we done so when the remnant of the soldiers, whom we had greeted two hours ago (only about eighty of them) came towards us and urged us to fly, saying that the Germans were pursuing them. We decided to leave Holsbeck, and to take flight in the direction of Cortrijh-Dutzel.
We arrived about 7 o’clock in the evening at the outskirts of the village, and, as we had walked a long way and it would soon be dark, we thought it would be wise to look for a lodging in the village. Farmer V--- had the kindness to give up part of his house to us, and also the supper which had been got ready for the family. Most of us spent the night on the straw on the floor. I spent it in a wooden chair, which was so hard that I was unable to sleep; besides, the roaring of the guns went on all night long round Louvain.
The next day, about 11 o’clock, a patrol of Uhlans was seen. This had its usual effect – that of sending all the men in our party to hide. We learned shortly afterwards that this patrol was met a little further on the road by Belgian soldiers, and were all killed by them. This news relieved a little our anxiety.
Our army was still retreating. We left the farm towards the evening to go to the other end of the village, and spent the night with my friend the Burgomaster of that neighbourhood, who offered us good cheer, the like of which we had not partaken since we left our house. I particularly am grateful to him, for I was fortunate enough to spend the night in a bed, the first time for more than a fortnight. How one appreciates the ordinary comforts of life when one is denied them for some time!
The next morning, about 5 o’clock, we were awakened by the noise of gun-firing, which came nearer and nearer to us, and by cavalry who passed our house. It behoved us then to fly still further, and scarcely had we gone outside the house, when we saw in the direction where we wanted to go a line of Belgian guns, which were firing across towards Louvain, Holsbeck and Hessel-Loo. To escape from the bullets we had to turn to the right in the direction of Rhodes St. Pierre. The booming of the guns went on incessantly, and it was an enormous relief after half an hour’s walk to find ourselves behind the guns, and on high ground, whence we could see all the country round Louvain. We felt a little reassured, or, at least, not in such terrible anxiety.
We stayed there until mid-day, finding our position a very interesting one, as a portion of the field of battle was unrolled before our eyes. Unfortunately, we could not stay longer; we must get further away, and hundreds of people were fleeing along every road.
We reached Houwaery about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when we saw a Belgian ambulance, which contained some of our poor soldiers who had just been mortally wounded. We saluted these heroes with feelings of the deepest emotion. We stayed in that neighbourhood until 5 p.m. During the time we were there we continually received news of the most contradictory character, but there seemed to be little hope for us. We were taking part in the flight of the Belgian army.
Where could we flee now? One thing was certain. We must get as far as possible from Louvain. We started for Thielt, and from there we went to Pillaer, arriving about 8 o’clock in the evening. Where could we spend the night? Half of the houses had been burned, and there was no room for us in those houses left standing, for we were a party of twenty-six people. I ventured to ask for shelter at a convent, and my request was kindly granted. We had barely settled ourselves, when a Belgian ambulance arrived with more wounded. The weather, which had been fine since the day after our arrival at Holsbeck, now became very bad, and there was a tempest of wind and rain.
At midnight there was a sound of hurrying to and from in the room which had been turned into a hospital. I was asked to go and find out what was going on, and when I slipped quietly into the room, I learned that an order had just been received to leave the convent immediately, and to escape towards Antwerp. I concluded from this order that the enemy was not far off, and that once more we must flee – our lives were at stake.
I told my friends what I had heard, and some of them objected strongly to leave their present quarters. “What,” they said, “Go out into the night in such weather as this! And with little children, too!” I replied that in these terrible times my one idea was to save the lives of my family, and without a moment’s hesitation I ordered my wife and children to start. It was now a little past midnight; the weather was dreadful – heavy rain and such a strong wind that it was impossible to open an umbrella. Bravely the little caravan set out; no one stayed behind. We were to make our way to Aerschot, and from there towards Holland. We were to be pitied certainly, on foot in such a night as that. The remembrance of it will never fade from our minds.
All along our route we could see the destruction the Germans had caused; from Pillaer to Aerschot, about five miles, not a single house was standing, only broken-down walls remained. In two places we saw a wall fall down owing to the violence of the wind, almost at our very feet. Think how dangerous it was to go through the town of Aerschot, where only these burned-out houses were standing! We had no sooner left Aerschot than we heard two gunshots fired about a mile away. Great was our dismay! It was to be hoped that there would be no answering volleys, or we would be obliged to walk across the line of fire. Our walk through Aerschot was most miserable, and it was with a great sigh of relief that we reached the other end of the town. There we met a portion of the Belgiam army, and were obliged for about an hour to find a passage for ourselves in a night of unusual darkness through soldiers and horses, guns and motor-cars. Of the rain and mud we thought nothing. How could we?
When we had lived a life like ours for weeks, we asked ourselves sometimes if it was worth the pains we were taking to preserve it.
At last, when we were about a mile out of Aerschot, we saw a house with a light in it. As the weather was still very bad, and we were tired, we were pleased at the thought that we might find shelter there, although the house had been pillaged, and the windows broken. We found it was occupied by Belgian soldiers, and we stayed there an hour, listening with interest to the stories told us by our brave men.
The wind raged with redoubled violence; we feared that the house might fall about our heads, and so, in spite of the weather, we thought it prudent to set forth again on our way. Daybreak found us utterly exhausted. We must have a little food if we wished to continue our flight, and as we heard that the German advance guard was not far off, we could not stay where we were. We found at last a house where we could get a little milk and dry bread, and as soon as we had had it we set off again with renewed courage.
We had walked about four hours when we reached Heyst op den berg, where Monsieur H---, with his well-known kindness, offered us a very good breakfast. We owe him many grateful thanks. Some of our party were glad of the opportunity of changing their boots and shoes – those which they had been wearing were so worn out that they scarcely held together. At 9.30 we took the train to Lierre, for the trains were still running from Heyst. At Lierre we took the connection for Holland. When we got to Hessel, five miles beyond Lierre, they made us get out of the train, as the Germans were a little further on. How narrowly we escaped them!
We returned to Lierre, where we took luncheon. We met there fugitives from Pillaer, who told us that the German army had returned to Pillaer shortly after we had left it. How fortunate for us that we had decided to leave the town when we did, even in the middle of the night! We also met Monsier von V---, who advised us to go to Antwerp, and there make further inquiries. Arriving at Antwerp at 5 o’clock we hastened to see Monsieur Schollaert, President of the Chambre des Represntants, who advised us to go to England. His advice decided us to come to the country whose hospitality we are still enjoying at the time I write. We went on board the steamer “Amsterdam” about 7 o’clock in the vening, but it was not due to leave until early the next morning.
IV. LEAVING BELGIUM.
On Monday, September 14th, at 5 o’clock in the morning, we left Antwerp in very bad weather; about 9 a.m. we reached Flushing, and in another hour we were on the open sea. Most of our party went below to the cabins, hoping to escape from the miseries of sea-sickness. I stayed on deck for some time, but the sea was very rough, and I felt so ill that I was hardly able to reach the saloon and lie down on the sofa. For three hours I was dreadfully ill. I must have been delirious, for I was heard to say: “My God, why did you not leave me to be killed by the Germans?”
Sleep mercifully came to me at last, and when I awoke I found we were just coming into the Thames. We reached Tilbury Docks about 8 p.m., and, taking the train from there, we arrived at the Alexandra Palace about 10.30 p.m.
We left this famous “Palace” after about two days without the least regret, for we were very uncomfortable there. When we got to Surbiton, we were taken to the Southampton Hotel, where we had the luck to have a good meal and an excellent bed. On the 18th we were told that a committee of ladies and gentlemen on Kingston Hill were arranging a house for us called “Westcroft,” where we could all be together until the war was over. In the afternoon we went to Kingston Hill, and our party was distributed in different private houses until our own home, “Westcroft,” was ready for us. My dear wife and I, with our little daughter, Solange, were received by Mr. and Mrs. C---, who were exceedingly kind to us; my daughters Maria and Yvonne, stayed with Dr. and Mrs. G---, and my three sons with Mr. and Mrs. S---. We were very happy with our kind friends, who gave us such a warm welcome.
On the following Thursday, September 24th, we were installed in our new home, where we are quietly living our life of exile, hoping that the terrible events now taking place in our poor Belgium will end in the victory of the Allies, and the utter destruction of that hateful and abominable nation which calls itself Germany.
And until this glorious day breaks on our sorely-tried country, my thoughts will continually go out to her in deep and passionate sympathy, in respectful admiration also for the magnificent courage and noble heroism which her children never cease to show on the field of honour. From the depths of my heart I cry: “Ma chere Belgique, au revoir.”