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Great War centenary: a bit of history

On 2 August 1914, Germany gave a neutral Belgium an ultimatum requesting free passage of its troops to attack France, quoting the Schlieffen Plan directives.

The reply from the Belgian government and Belgian King Albert I was negative, in the name of the laws and respect of international treaties.

On 4 August, without official declaration of war, 800.000 German soldiers crossed over the Belgian border, bringing about the start of the First World War, as Britain, a guarantor of Belgian independance, immediately declared war on Germany. Against all the odds, the Belgian army was about to put up a fierce resistance.

And so the first casualty of the First World War fell in Wallonia, and it was Wallonia who inaugurated the brutality of the 20th century, suffering the death of over 5500 civilians, systematic destruction, rapes and pillaging. Hundreds of thousands of Belgians became exiled.

Fierce battles

The great battles for territory took place in August 1914: the battles rage simultaneously around the forts of Liège, Dinant, Namur, Charleroi, Mons and in the province of Luxembourg in what became known as the "battle of the frontiers".

It was during these battles that British and French troops fought bravely in an attempt to halt the German advance. The battles on Walloon soil undoubtedly contributed to the victory at the battle of the Marne and helped to break the Schlieffen Plan.

The Belgian army fought fiercely wherever it could, before regrouping in Antwerp and positioning itself behind the Yser river.

Belgium then experience a brutal military occupation for four long years. Daily life was very tough, hunger, requisitions, deportation and repression reigned during a total war which saw Belgian soldiers fighting on the frontline, seperated from their occupied homes and loved ones.

In this sombre context, a civil resistance became to form in the shadows, through networks and individuals. It was a clandestine firght for freedom.



Philippe Raxhon, Historian and Professor at the University of Liège