The German Fury in Belgium
Experiences of a Netherland Journalist During Four Months with the German Army in Belgium
Library of Alexandria
When De Tijd sent me to Belgium as its correspondent, I had not the faintest notion practically how to perform my duties, for the simple reason that I could not apprehend at all how a modern war might be conducted. But I was destined to receive my first impressions when still on Netherland territory and after my arrival at Maastricht. On the hot afternoon of August 7th, 1914, the much-delayed train rumbled into the station at Maastricht. A dense mass stood in front of the building. Men, women, and children were crowded there and pushed each other weeping, shouting, and questioning. Families and friends tried to find each other, and many of the folk of Maastricht assisted the poor creatures, who, nervously excited, wept and wailed for a father, for wife and children lost in the crowd. It was painful, pitiful, this sight of hundreds of fugitives, who, although now safe, constantly feared that death was near, and anxiously clutched small parcels, which for the most part contained worthless trifles hurriedly snatched up when they fled. And over these nervous and terrified thousands at Maastricht rolled from afar the dull roar of the guns, thunder-like bursts from which had frightened them so terribly. The streets leading to the bridge over the Meuse and into the town were also densely thronged with refugees. Here and there large groups listened to the stories told, with profusion of tears, of sufferings inflicted, depicted in far harsher colours than could have been possible. But the wretched creatures exaggerated unconsciously; in their affrighted state they had seen things that had never occurred. Suddenly every one in the Vrijthof ran in the same direction. I waited calmly, and saw pass by a tragically long train of hooded carts and other peasants' conveyances. The drivers walked by the side of the horses, the Red Cross flag flew from the carriages, fresh clean straw covered their floor, on which wounded soldiers writhed in excruciating pain. The crowd did not press nearer, but, standing silently in long rows, let the sad procession pass by. Such were the first impressions of the war got in these days; nobody uttered a sound, but many stealthily brushed a tear away. Thus it went on all day long: motors and other conveyances travelled to and fro between the battle-fields and hospitals at Maastricht; fugitives moved about in streets and squares, upsetting each other more and more by fantastic stories. As dusk came on nearly the whole population of Maastricht, with all their temporary guests, formed an endless procession and went to invoke God's mercy by the Virgin Mary's intercession. They went to Our Lady's Church, in which stands the miraculous statue of Sancta Maria Stella Maris. The procession filled all the principal streets and squares of the town. I took my stand at the corner of the Vrijthof, where all marched past me, men, women, and children, all praying aloud, with loud voices beseeching: "Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for us ... pray for us ... pray for us ...!"