Marching Belgian Carabiniers leading their dog-drawn machine gun carts towards the front line during the German invasion of Belgium; ca. 1914
“Marching toward the camera, and shot from a low angle, these Belgian Carabiniers are given a powerful sense of purpose by the photographer. Clean uniforms and neat formation say the soldiers have not come from battle.
These are the early days of WWI and Belgium has been invaded by the Germans in a surprise move. The Germans, 600,000 strong, were confident against the small Belgian Army of around 117,000, who were ill-equipped and poorly trained.
Yet the Belgians fought bravely in and around their fortifications in the Liège area. They held up the German advance for ten days before withdrawing on 16 August, when the Liège system finally fell. This delay would prove crucial to the French forces’ ability to re-organise and oppose the German push through Belgium into France.
King Albert I had ordered his Army to retreat to the ‘National Redoubt’ at Antwerp, consisting of over 40 forts and several lines of defence. Our Carabiniers are part of the force sent forward to cover that retreat by confronting the advancing Germans.
Marching out of the foggy background, the Carabiniers, with their Tyrolean hats and dog-drawn heavy machine-gun, look as if they are striding out of the past into the light of 20th century warfare. Almost like gentlemen in top hats taking their dogs for a walk.
The traditional dress of the Carabiniers, a light-infantry unit, was a tunic and greatcoat of a green so dark that the German nickname for them was the ‘black devils’. Many new recruits, however, were given a greatcoat of the more usual Belgian Army dark blue because of the chaotic supply situation. Despite their old-fashioned uniforms, their machine-guns were effective enough, though both soldier and dog were to pay a high price.
Although the main German forces bypassed Antwerp, four divisions had to be diverted to contain the Belgian forces there, further weakening the thrust into France. Antwerp did not fall until 9 October.”
Edith Cavell (4 December 1865 – 12 October 1915) was a British nurse and patriot. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without distinction and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during World War I, for which she was arrested. She was subsequently court-martialled, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage.
According to Wikipedia: In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Cavell began sheltering British soldiers and funneling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Holland. Wounded and derelict British and French soldiers and Belgians and French of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Reginald de Croy at his château of Bellignie near Mons. From there, they were conducted by various guides to the houses of Cavell, Louis Séverin and others in Brussels, and furnished by them with money to reach the Dutch frontier and with guides obtained through Phillipe Baucq. This placed Cavell in violation of German military law.
She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harboring Allied soldiers. In her court-martial she was prosecuted for aiding British and French soldiers, in addition to young Belgian men, to cross the border and enter Britain. She admitted her guilt when she signed a statement the day before the trial, thus reaffirming the crime in the presence of all other prisoners and lawyers present in the court at the beginning of the trial. Cavell gave the German prosecution a much stronger case against her when she declared that the soldiers she had helped escape thanked her in writing when arriving safely in Britain. This admission proved hard to ignore because it not only confirmed that Cavell had helped the soldiers navigate the Dutch frontier, but it also established that she helped them escape to a country at war with Germany.
The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the Anglican chaplain who had been allowed to see her and to give her Holy Communion, “Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words are inscribed on her statue in St Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square in London. Her final words to the German Lutheran prison chaplain, Paul Le Seur, were recorded as, “Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.”
She was shot by a German firing squad at Tir National shooting range in Schaerbeek, at 6:00 am on 12 October 1915.
Cavell is one of many figures in history who have left an indelible mark on the world.