Photo of the day: Belgian royals whisked out of Belgium

2014 marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. We will bring you pictures from 100 years ago on a regular basis - photos that were taken 100 years ago to the day on that particular day - to allow you to follow the Great War in pictures. The first landmark for Belgium was set on 4 August, the day when the Germans invaded Belgium.
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31 August 1914

King Albert is pictured here with Queen Elisabeth, a former German princess, and their children: Leopold, Karel and Marie-José. On 31 August 1914 the queen and the children and the lion's share of Belgium's gold reserves left Antwerp aboard the ferry Jan Breydel. The steamer was escorted by four Royal Navy vessels.

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29 August 1914

An English drawing of reprisal killings at Kortenberg near Leuven: local inhabitants shot at German forces the previous day attracting the ire of the advancing forces. The drawing was published in the German Illustriete Zeitung on 17 September 1914.

28 August 1914

Priest cares for Belgian soldier. Before the war people training for the priesthood and teachers were not obliged to fulfil their military service, but a First Aid course was obligatory. At the beginning of the war they were called up to serve as stretcher-bearer. Initially they didn't get proper uniforms only wearing an armband with a red cross on it. Medical aid had to be largely improvised.

27 August 1914

The German Zeppelin bombardment of Antwerp's city centre triggered the decision to move the art treasures away from the city cathedral (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkathedraal) a couple of days later in order to give them a safe place. One of the works that is being removed is Rubens' "Descent from the Cross" as can be seen in this picture. The gigantic painting is taken to the cellars of the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

26 August 1914:

Civilians, so-called francs-tireurs (from French 'franc' = free and 'tireur' = shooter), are being taken away by German soldiers, a scene that was repeated various times at different places in the first war months.

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25 August 1914

Parts of Leuven were destroyed on 25 August 1914, as dozens of houses were systematically set ablaze. German propaganda media (like this postcard) afterwards said the Belgians were to blame, claiming that "German soldiers had bended over backwards to avoid that the Leuven City Hall would be eaten by the flames", after the city had been "set ablaze by the Belgians."

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24 August 1914

During the night of 24 August a German Zeppelin aircraft dropped scores of bombs on the peace-loving people of Antwerp: 12 people were killed and two scores were injured. Indignation is great especially as the royal palace on the Meir was among the targets. The attack prompts the king to send his children to safety in England. The city of Antwerp immediately decides to introduce a black-out.

23 August 1914

On 23 August 1914 674 civilians or around 10% of the local population were murdered in the Walloon city of Dinant. Townspeople were driven together at seven places, told to stand against a wall and shot dead. The victims included men, women and children. These are bodies including that of a young boy near the Bourdon Wall near the edge of the city of Dinant.

22 August 1914

Dead French soldiers after the battle. An estimated 27,000 French soldiers perished during fights that took place along a 400 km frontline on 22 August 1914. Most soldiers were killed in the Belgian Ardennes; the village of Rossignol in the Gaume region saw over 7,000 French victims. This makes it the deadliest day in French war history. An artist from Virton, Nestor Outer, pictured that day through 70 aquarelles. German troops also suffered heavy losses, with about 14,000 soldiers being killed. All this makes 22 August the deadliest day of the Great War as a whole.

21 August 1914

Bridges over the river Meuse between Andenne and Seilles (west of Liège) have been blown up by the Belgian army. This obstruction triggers outrage among the German troops. Local people are the victim, as 262 citizens are killed with guns and axes. The German authorities inform the local population that all men are being held hostage. Each shot aimed at the Germans will result in the shooting of at least two hostages. Women are ordered to clean the streets, while the dead are being buried without any form of ceremony.

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20 August 1914

German soldiers assemble on the Brussels Central Market Square in front of the city hall. German troops march through the city coming from Leuven Road (Leuvensesteenweg) as from 9am. "It was as a natural force, a tsunami", the American journalist Richard Harding wrote. "The arrival of the first enemy troops sparked some exceitement. But we got bored after watching grey lines of soldiers marching in for 3 consecutive hours. It continued for hours, without any kind of break, without any type of opening in the ranks. It became gruesome, inhumane. One got fascinated and returned to watch it. It was something mysterious and at the same time threatening, like a thick fog coming in from the sea."

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19 August 1914

On 19 August the Brussels home guard was ordered to quit greater Brussels. In recent days the home guard had prepared to defend the city, but now it becomes clear that Brussels will be yielded to the German aggressor without a fight. The inhabitants of Brussels interpret the decision as a signal to flee the city. Only young guardsmen are ordered to leave. Older members are disarmed and told to go home.

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18 August 1914

The Belgian artillery falls back on Leuven pulling out of the eastern city of Tienen (pictured here). In this photograph we see plumes of smoke from the heavy fighting outside the town. Belgian forces suffer heavy losses at Tienen. Five hundred soldiers are killed.

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17 August 1914

Citizen guards and boy scouts at a barricade in Brussels. The citizen guard units were a kind of urban militias entrusted with the task of maintaining public order in times of peace. Their task switched to defending the country in war times. The citizen guards had a lack of training and carried the reputation of being no more than "operette- soldiers". Better trained units were scarce and were mostly found in major cities. The scouts served as go-betweens transferring messagesin the first months of the war, especially in Brussels and Antwerp.

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16 August 1914 (1)

A German postcard: "Hurray, now towards Brussels, Belgium belong to us". The two last Liège fortresses, Flémalle and Hollogne, fall on 16 August. The final obstacles on the German way to Brussels are out of the way.

16 August 1914 (2)

An execution takes place in the village of Blégny near Liège. Local dignitaries, including the priest and the mayor, are shot after they had been taken hostage by the Germans. It's a German retaliation act on charges of "continuous shootings by Belgians civilians". Over 50 citizens had been killed in the village in the days before. 

15 August 1914

Lieutenant-General Gérard Leman, commander-in-chief of the Liège Stronghold, takes a central place in the picture as he watches "the final resistance" of his troops at the Fort Loncin fortress. The ammunition room of the fortress was hit by heavy German shellfire and exploded. Some 150 soldiers died at once - dozens of them are still buried under the rubble at present. General Leman was taken prisoner by the Germans but was allowed to keep his sabre out of respect for "the brave resistance of the Belgian troops" in Liège.

14 August 1914

Belgian lancers are on the alert in the area of the Lion's Mound in Waterloo. The Belgian army had troops ready for combat in the area around Wavre and Perwez from the beginning of the war, but a confrontation with the German army would never follow. The Belgian troops retreated together with the rest of the Belgian army into the Antwerp fortresses belt.

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13 August 1914

On 13 August 1914 the infamous German super-cannon Big Bertha was used for the first time. Two Big Berthas were used in the attack on the Pontisse Fortress near Liège. The cannons were capable of firing 1,000 shells and were made in the Krupp factory in the German city of Essen.


12 August 1914

Dead soldiers and dead horses after the Battle of Halen that is better known as the Battle of the Silver Helmets. It was the last battle on the Western Front in which the Kaiser’s army used horses. The battle was celebrated as a great Belgian victory. However, there were Belgian losses too. The 180 Belgian losses were even slightly higher than the losses on the German side. There are many photographs of the battle as Belgian press photographers were allowed to operate freely among the Belgian troops.


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11 August 1914

While the Belgian forces continue to offer resistance, thousands of German troops flood into Belgium. Lines of German troops often kilometres long filled the roads in the east of the country.

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10 August 1914

Today's archive photo features a Germany Army attack on Belgian positions. The picture was taken either during the Battle of Orsmaal-Gussenhoven on 10 August or the Battle of Tienen a week later.

9 August 1914

This is a print issued to French soldiers in August 1914 to enable them to recognise colleagues from allied armies. Many civilians also didn’t recognise the various armies’ uniforms. For example, when the German Army arrived in Liège on the night of 5 August many locals at first believed that they were British troops.

8 August 1914

On 8 August 1914 the village of Herve and the nearby town of Melen are burnt down by advancing German troops. 38 civilians are killed in Herve, in Melen this figure climbs to 108, including 8 women and 4 girls under 13 years of age. A witness said that the German troops forced young children to dance and sing in front of the dead bodies.

7 August 1914

This German drawing represents the attack on the city Liège. You will notice two armed civilians shooting at the German soldiers in the left corner, the so-called francs-tireurs (from French 'franc' = free and 'tireur' = shooter). There is no hard evidence that Belgian civilians took up the arms against the German invaders, but this was nevertheless the argument used by the German to justify the hard repression acts against the civilian population. 

6 August 1914

The small village of Vottem was the scene of heavy fighting during the Battle of Liège. 33 soldiers: 22 Belgians and 11 Germans lost their lives. On 6 August the local Mayor rand the parish priest took photographs of the deceased in the local church hall to aid their later identification.

5 August 1914

At the end of the afternoon the German army starts attacking the fortifications that surround the city of Liège. However, they meet with stiff resistance. The Belgian forces launch a counter-attack at Fort Barchon.

4 August 1914

Cheered on by the crowd, King Albert I rides on horseback towards parliament, where he will ask the Belgian People to resist the German invasion with “tenacity”. The Chamber of Representatives and the Senate unanimously the war budget and a series of emergency measures.

3 August 1914

A member of the Belgian Cavalry, a "Chasseur à Cheval" - the regiment was involved in reconnaissance activities - is taking a closer look at the horizon. They are awaiting the imminent arrival of the German troops, after the Belgian government rejected the German ultimatum. The area close to the German border is being "prepared" for the German arrival, as barricades are installed, bridges and rail tunnels are blown up, road signs are covered with paint... 

2 August 1914

The Central Market square in Mechelen. Belgian Grenadiers are ready to leave, to take up their positions in the strongholds around the city of Antwerp. Among them are quite a number of older volunteers that had not been called to the front for the occasion of the general mobilization. This photo is on display in the Royal Army Museum in Brussels, where the names of 32 of the people in the picture are mentioned. 14 of them had died before the end of October, with 3 sustaining heavy injuries.

1 August 1914

People are queuing up at the National Bank in Brussels in order to trade in paper money for metal coins or gold. Some shopkeepers refuse to accept paper money due to uncertainty about its future. An increasing number of people is working on an extra stock of food as the war threat is becoming more imminent.

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