PERSONS OF INTEREST
IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE LIFE OF MAJOR A. A. GORDON
Although King Albert I was the nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who ruled an empire ten times greater than Belgium, he didn't guarantee him a save passage through Belgium in order to pronounce war to France. For this reason, Kaiser Wilhelm II invaded Belgium on the 4th of August 1914. A mighty army was unleashed against the poorest army of Europe during this time.
The government abandoned the fatherland, the army surprised by the invader's attack couldn't prevent the loss of the great fortresses at Liége and Namur. Even the great fortress city of Antwerp couldn't hold the massive attack. To spare the soldiers from a certain death and captivity King Albert ordered the retreat of the army behind the river Yser. From here the Belgian army fought for days and nights and eventually halted the German army, which resulted in the potential aid of the French and English soldiers. King Albert never abandoned his army for one minute, he flew many times over enemy territory from the royal villas in De Panne to visit the frontlines, even went into the trenches. He earned many respects from allied and even enemy soldiers.
I like to finish this introduction with an applicable quote inspired by the tales of J.R.R. Tolkien:
"By writing this article, I truly see him know, abandoned/thwarted by our former countries representatives, founding his inexhaustible motivation with those who fought and died for our freedom, who all lost comrades beyond the count of grieves and above all learning there enemy that our Belgian blood is not so easily be conquered, as proven in history. He rallied our forces with famous and motivational speeches and defeated our enemy, and now I think to myself, there is one, that I could follow, there is one I could call king !"
PRINCE ALBERT IN THE BELGIAN ARMY
In 1890, at the age of 15, Prince Albert was sent to the Belgian Military academy and was incorporated into the '41e promote IC', were studied for two years. From there he chose to enlist in the Grenadiers Regiment where he pledged the legions to the flag on 15 December 1892 as a Non-Commissioned Officer. After his return from America in 1898 he rejoined his regiment and was appointed Lieutenant-General in 1907.
THE VISIT OF EMPORER WILHELM II DURING THE 1910 EXHIBITION
During the Universal Exhibition in the spring of 1910 held in Brussels, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany visited the Belgian Royal Family in October 1910. By this time prince Albert, was appointed to succeed his father, Leopold II, who died in 1909, and was appointed King in December 1910. It was not surprising that Emperor Wilhelm II visited Belgium just a year later because of both Royals where nephew to each other. This is clearly noted in the next letter King Albert sent to Wilhelm II on the 1st of August 1914:
Bruxelles, 1st of August 1914
Sire and best cousin,
The war that threatens to break out between the two neighbouring powers, gives me, as you will easily understand, serious preoccupations.
For more than eighty years Belgium has been independent, our country has conscientiously obeyed its international obligations, many times under the most difficult circumstances, and the Chancellor of the Empire has made a daring justice correct and impartial attitude in 1870.
Your majesty and his government have on a number of occasions given us precious proofs of friendship and sympathy, and highly authorized persons have given us the assurance that, in case of a new conflict, the neutrality of Belgium will be respected.
We have fully understood the political objections to the publication of this declaration, but we have no doubt that the sentiments and intentions of the mighty Empire, of which your Majesty directs the destiny, have not modified us in any way. The relations of kinship and friendship which unite our two families closely, have determined me to write to you and to Teprier, at this hour so grave, to wish to renew to be the expression of these sentiments towards my country. will be very grateful to you for such kindness. With this confidence, I remain
Your faithful and devoted cousin,
THE DECLARATION OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR
In August the German Emperor, Wilhelm II asked his nephew, the current king of Belgium, Albert I for a save passage through to Belgium for mobilizing the German Army to attack on France. King Albert and the Belgian Government of Charles de Broqueville refused and stated that the Treaty of 1839, which states the Belgian neutrality had to be respected. On the 4th of August 1914, King Albert I spoke the following words in parliament:
"Never since 1830 has a graver hour sounded for Belgium. The
strength of our right and the need of Europe for our autonomous
existence make us still hope that the dreaded events will not occur."
His hope that the events will not occur, was faded in the morning of 5 august 1914, when the German Army invaded Belgium. As established in the constitution, King Albert I was now the leading commander of ta Belgian army in wartime and put up his headquarter at the castle of Baron Dieudonné in Korbeek-Lo (just outside Leuven). The king stayed here from the 5th of August until the 19th of August 1914.
The Germans first objective was to conquer the fortresses around Liege and Namur. The resistance of the Belgian Army delayed the invasion of France for 4 to 5 days. On the 12th of August, a major German cavalry force was ambushed on the outskirts of Haelen. The Belgian won the battle but had to retreat to Antwerp afterwards. The consequences were severe for the Belgian civilians, because of the German headquarters were sure that the German Army was attacked by Belgian militia units, that were called 'franc-tirreurs'. The English expeditionary forced had arrived in France the same they as the battle of Haelen took place (12 August 1914). They immediately took defensive possessions around the Belgian town of Mons. By this time the allies fought the Germans over a line that went from the North Sea until the French Alsace. The Belgian Army who fought with outstanding bravery had to retreat to the West Flanders, where the General Staff put up headquarters at Furnes. By this time King Albert I had abandoned Brussel, and joined the General Staf at Furnes, while the government had moved itself to Antwerp, but left on the 13th of October to the French village of Le Havre.
THE BATTLE OF ANTWERP
The battle of Antwerp started on the 28th of September 1914 with German long rang artillery fire on the fortress around Antwerp and the actual assault came on the 1st of October. The Belgian Government immediate sent a telegram to England, that the Belgian Army could not hold the German offensive and will retreat from Antwerp within three days. This resulted that the English army, sent British reinforcements to the city to help the Belgian Army to kept the strategic city into allies hands. All hope was lost on the 7th of October 1914 and a major retreat to the west was ordered. King Albert joined the Belgian retreat in person, because there was no doubt in his mind that the Belgian Army would surrender that day. Neither was a fight to the death and the annihilation of the Belgian Army a solution to him. The only decent solution was the major retreat of the Belgian and British forces to the towns of Lokeren and Sint Niklaas. From here, Albert I thought to bring the Belgian Army to the Belgian coastline and coordinate the war from Ostend. Albert I wouldn't accept his army to be incorporated into the French army and wanted the Belgian Army to operate as an independent force. This is way he made the choose to settle the Belgian Army in the area Nieuwpoort, Veurne and Diksmuide.
THE BATTLE OF THE YZER
On the 14th of October, after some well-deserved rest of the Belgian Army, King Albert was forced to give up five infantry divisions to the French line at Eernegem-Kortemark. Later that day the king received a cancel of the order, until his great relief, by the British General Rawlinson, because he had sent his forces to Ieper and moved away from Roeselare. King Albert remained at Nieuwpoort until he moved the army behind the river Ijser. In his diary he set:
"The Belgian Army is a grief defender, but aren't great assault men".
When the Belgian line was attacked on the morning of 15 October 1914, King Albert wrote the following words to his troops:
"In the positions, I placed you in, your countenance must always be in
front of the enemy; you will stand as a traitor of the fatherland, if
you dare to speak the word "retreat", without consent of a higher
General Gallet testified the following words on his experience with King Albert I as his commander:
"I have not seen His majesty animated by colder energy. The tone of the
communication that he made to each divisional commander, in the presence of the chief
of staff who took note, did not allow the slightest doubt on the ruthless resolution that
animated him. - GENERAL GALLET
The great German offensive was launched on the 18th of October 1914 of a frontline of approximately 100km. Most of the Allied lines where overrun, just as the Belgian Army in Schore, Keiem en Mannekensvere, but at Beerse they stood their ground. It was in this moment that the Belgian forced a counter-attack at Lombardsijde and regained their positions. The next day German infantry launched many counter-attacks on Lombardsijde but the Belgians fought them off every time. It was only till the next day that the German broke the Belgian lines at Lombardsijde and the Belgian 2nd Division retreated some 600 meters.
On the 24th of October 1914, General Foch of the French army visited King Albert with the message he wanted to flood the areas around Lombardsijde, Veurne and Lo. This plan was previously rejected by the prime minister Charles de Broqueville because it will split the Belgian Army off from the French forces. King Albert also rejected the plan, because he wasn't going to destroy the last free Belgian country with saltwater. The Belgian General Staff came with an alternative solution the day after. The plan was to flooded certain parts of the region, by using the locks on the Ijzer river. The action took many engineering of digging ditches, so the water would not flood into the Belgian trenches. The first attempt in the night 26 and 27 October failed and the situation became critical for the Belgian Army. This is why King Albert went to the British General Staff of Field-Marchal French at Sint-Omaars for aide. French could not deliver any reserve troops, because his forces were fighting to the end at Ieper. The Belgian forces, exhausted and heavily outnumbered remained there ground until the 30th of October when a second attempt for flooding sections of the area was successful and the Germans had to abandon their trenches. This ended the battle for the Yser.
THE DEFENCE ON THE YZER
After the flooding of the Yser, the Belgian army began on the so-called 'Holly watch'. This meant that the Belgians should secure the left-wing of the allied army. There was also the symbolic and patriotic aspect, that the Belgians should defend the only free Belgian peace of country that was left. The line of defence began at Nieuwpoort and ended on the old fort of Knokke in the North. This means that the Belgian frontline was 40 kilometres in diameter, and situated soldiers sometimes just 20 meters from the enemy lines. Because it was impossible to dig into the ground in the area around the Yser, the Belgian engineers needed to build trenches above the ground. It was set that the Belgians shuffled their motherland into bags during the next 4 years of the war.
KING ALBERT I TAKES UP HEADQUARTERS AND RESIDENCE WITH HIS FAMILY IN THE ROYAL VILLAS IN LA PANNE
In October 1914, King Albert I and his family took up residence in the so-called 'Royal Villas' in De Panne. These villas where the Bortier, de Terschueren, Maskens and Saint-Joseph. The Royal family took the villa 'Maskens'. The villa 'de Terschueren' was incorporated with high ranking officers and served as a study for the education of Queen Elisabeth and her three children. Villa Saint Joseph was held by nuns who requested Queen Elisabeth to held an orphanage.
PRINCE LEOPOLD JOINS THE BELGIAN ARMY AT THE AGE OF 13
King Alberts oldest son, Prince Leopold joined voluntarily the 12th infantry regiment at the each of 13 in April 1915. The king spoke to the superiors of his son on the beach of De Panne the following words:
" I want no special treatment for my son, let him work in the trenches he has to know how it feels to have blisters on his hands"
Prince Leopold stayed as his father requested in the trenches and was even under enemy shell fire, but came out unharmed. Six months later the king sent Prince Leopold to Elton College in England. Prince Leopold will return to Belgium after the war ended and marched with his old unit into Brussels and Leuven on the liberation days.
THE BATTLE OF THE 'STEENSTRAAT'
On the 22nd of April 1915 the first Poison gas assault occurred just around 5.00 PM. At least 5.000 German Poison gas cylinders were opened and the poison cloud flew around the entire frontline, making the most casualties in the two French divisions. The Belgian 6th Division and the Canadian division fought the Germans of the 45th Reserve Division off, but couldn't prevent that they crossed the channel of the Yzer. The next day the German conquered Lizerne, but it was at this moment, the Belgian grenadiers ordered a bayonet charge, which resulted in the retreat of the Germans. After their actions, they were relieved by the 3rd infantry regiment and sent to Oostvleteren and Elsendame. It took more than a month until the allies had restored the old lines. King Albert I decorated some of the Grenadiers in person at Bray-Dunes on the 14th of July 1915.
THE POLITICAL AND MORAL BATTLE WITH THE FRENCH HIGH COMMAND AND THE BELGIAN GOVERNEMENT
When prime minister Charles de Broqueville moved the entire Belgian government to Le Havre after the battle of Antwerp was decided, he placed themselves in a distance of 300 km from King Albert. This meant that the cooperation between the king and the government wasn't going to be easy. It even forced de Broqueville to take up residence in Dunkirk and had to travel between the King and the government for three years. The relationship between the prime minister and King Albert I was mostly business and sometimess intense because of their different opinions. Eventually, their conflict will result in the dismissing (when the time is justified) of de Broqueville.
Another difficult diplomatic and moral conflict of Albert I was the constant arguing with the French supreme command, mostly with General Foch, who tried to incorporated divisions of the Belgian army in the reinforcement French army. Knowing that the Belgian soldiers will be used in massive meaningless offensives he rejected every idea and reminded that the Belgian army was an independent force. King Albert would only participate in a major offensive when the chance of victory is actually there. He would not risks the lives of the Belgian army for an offensive that cannot be won. It was only until the spring of 1918 when such a 'liberation offensive' was up hand.
THE BATTLE ON THE 'REIGERSVLIET'
6 MARCH 1918
The battle at the Riegersvliet was a German offensive that was needed to plan an attack on Merkem in April 1918. The Reigersvliet was a stream of one and a half till 2 meters wide which had a bridgehead off 1,6 kilometre in total. This position was situated between the 'Twee Appelaars' farm (North) and the 'Drie Gevels' farm in the south.
SPEECH KING ALBERT I 27/09/1918
you will deliver a powerful assault on the enemy positions. Side by side by the comrades of the British and French forces. It is up to you to repress the German invader. Show yourself worthy of the sacred cause of our independence, worthy of our traditions and our race. Be sure of the Victory. for the Right, for freedom, for glorious and immortal Belgium!
NOTE BY KINGALBERT IN THE DISPATCH OF THE ARMY
Officers, Nco's And Soldiers
You have made yourself meritorious to your fatherland. Your heroic resistance at Luik, Antwerp and Namen has delayed the enemy, which had to be fatal for them.
For more than four years, you have defended the last piece of the fatherland in the muddy front of the Yzer.
Finally, you compelled the general admiring and have laid a bloody defeat upon the enemy.
The tyrant, who ruled with a reign of terror against our people, who betrayed our establishment, who the best of our people enchained, who admitted randomness and oppression, is permanently defeated. The dawn of justice has razed, you will be reunited with your cities and villages, your parents and all you love.
Belgium, conquered by your bravery waits to cheer for you.
Honor to our wounded ! Honor to our deaths !
Honor to you, Officers, Nco's and Soldiers.
I am proud of you. Much I have asked from you: every time you showed me you unconditionally cooperation.
You have won the thankfulness and admiring of the country,
THE LIBERATION OFFENSIVE
28 September - 11 November 1918
The Liberation offensive was a combined offensive of Belgian, French and British soldiers that started on the 28 of September 1918. The objective was the conquer major Belgian cities as Passchendale, Stadenberg, Diksmuide and other strategic positions on the line. The following day General Jacques division fought hard at the outskirts of Zandbeke and captured 30 canons and thousands of prisoners. General Michel conquers Dixmuide in the afternoon with the 18th Infantry.
Two weeks later the battle of Torhout-Tielt was launched. This was the last major trench line of the German stronghold from Zarren till Ledegem. The first day the Belgian Army captures the towns of Handzame, Hooglede en Roeselare and many smaller villages. This success let to the following order by the Belgian High command:
" "proceed with the offensive without interruption, day and night"
On the second day (15 October) the Belgian 3rd infantry division conquered St Katelijne Kapelle and managed to go beyond Lendelede. The British Army had conquered Wervik and Meenen in the meantime.
Because of the major progress by the Belgian army, King Albert received the command of the 11th and 12th French divisions and the 7th and 91th American divisions. On the 26th of October, ordered King Albert a combined attack to drove the enemy back over the river 'Schelde'. On the first of November, the French army made massive progress when they reached the Schelde from Oudenaarde till Nazareth. The next day the Belgian Army crossed the river Leie and conquers Eekloo. On the 3th of November Evergem and Drongen were conquered after intense fighting. At this point, the Belgian Army is not far from Gent and the channel of Terneuzen.
On the 11th of November 1911, the 2nd division conquered Gent, while the British take Ath and Lessen and Mons is taken by the Canadians.
That morning the following message was sent to all high command posts:
"All enemy activities will end on the 11th of November, by 11 a clock, until further orders, the allied forces will not cross the line which they have reached by this time."