Waiting for the Enemy
Stretched on straw, three Belgian soldiers are bivouacking in a Brussels church. Every day of August 1914 seemed to bring the war nearer to the capital. Since 4 August, the German troops were trying to clear a passage to Paris across the Belgian territory, in conformity with the Schlieffen plan drawn up a decade earlier. At first the battle raged around the forts of Liège. The defence of the city made worldwide impression and gave rise to the myth of ‘Gallant little Belgium’. The international indignation around the violation of Belgian neutrality was reinforced by an admiration for the armed resistance of a little country struggling for its survival. The city of Liège would nevertheless fall into German hands on 7 August, and the last surrounding strongholds on 16 August.
Subsequently, Belgian troops concentrated on the defence of Namur and the Gette, for their position guaranteed the possibility to retreat towards Antwerp. In spite of the optimist tenor of official statements, the Belgian army, ill prepared for the war, proved incapable of halting the advance of the enemy. At the same time, echoes of civilian massacres reached Brussels. At first, these accounts were received with scepticism. The concordance of the testimonies would soon force the population to face the facts: the war was sparing no one.