Not how to win a modern war

“After a hasty lunch we made off to Dinant, still following the Meuse. The thin line of houses down the course of the river were thinner than they were a few months ago, and there were signs of suffering and distress everywhere. I had never been to Dinant before, but had seen pictures of it and thought I had an idea of what we were going to see. But the pictures did not give a hint of the horror of the place. The little town, which must have been a gem, nestled at the foot of a huge gray cliff, crowned with the obsolete fort, which was not used or attacked. The town is gone. Part of the church is standing, and the walls of a number of buildings, but for the most part, there is nothing but a mess of scattered bricks to show where the houses had stood. And why it was done, we were not able to learn, for everybody there says that there was no fighting in the town itself. We heard stories, too, and such stories that they can hardly be put on paper. Our three guests were more and more impressed as we went on. The bridge was blown up and had fallen into the river, and as we had little time to make the rest of our day’s journey, we did not wait to cross by the emergency bridge farther up the river. While we were standing talking to a schoolmaster and his father by the destroyed bridge, seven big huskies with rifles and fixed bayonets came through, leading an old man and a woman who had been found with a camera in their possession. At first there was no objection raised to the taking of photographs, but now our friends are getting a little touchy about it, and lock up anybody silly enough to get caught with kodaks or cameras.

“According to what we were told, the Germans entered the town from the direction of Ciney, on the evening of August 21st, and began firing into the windows of the houses. The Germans admit this, but say that there were French troops in the town and this was the only way they could get them out. A few people were killed, but there was nothing that evening in the nature of a general massacre. Although the next day was comparatively quiet, a good part of the population took refuge in the surrounding hills.

“On Sunday morning, the 23rd, the German troops set out to pillage and shoot. They drove the people into the street, and set fire to their houses. Those who tried to run away were shot down in their tracks. The congregation was taken from the church, and fifty of the men were shot. All the civilians who could be rounded up were driven into the big square and kept there until evening. About six o’clock the women were lined up on one side of the square and kept in line by soldiers. On the other side, the men were lined up along a wall, in two rows, the first kneeling. Then, under command of an officer, two volleys were fired into them. The dead and wounded were left together until the Germans got round to burying them, when practically all were dead. This was only one of several wholesale executions. The Germans do not seem to contradict the essential facts, but merely put forward the plea that most of the damage was incidental to the fighting which took place between the armed forces. Altogether more than eight hundred people were killed. Six hundred and twelve have been identified and given burial. Others were not recognisable. I have one of the lists which are still to be had, although the Germans have ordered all copies returned to them. Those killed ranged in age from Félix Fivet, aged three weeks, to an old woman named Jadot, who was eighty. But then Félix probably fired on the German troops.”

– Hugh Gibson, December 6, 1914, A Journal from Our Legation in Belgium (emphasis in original)

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