Transcript

Alleged German atrocities:
Bryce report
Catalogue reference: HO 45/11061/266503 pp30-2


     In the evidence before us there are cases tending to show that aggravated crimes against women were sometimes severely punished. One witness reports that a young girl who was being pursued by a drunken soldier at Louvain appealed to a German officer, and that the offender was then and there shot; another describes how an officer of the 32nd Regiment of the line was led out to execution for the violation of two young girls, but reprieved at the request or with the consent of the girls' mother. These instances are sufficient to show that the maltreatment of women was no part of the military scheme of the invaders, however much it may appear to have been the inevitable result of the system of terror deliberately adopted in certain regions. Indeed, so much is avowed; "I asked the commander why we had been spared," says a lady in Louvain, who deposes to having suffered much brutal treatment during the sack. He said, "We will not hurt you any more. Stay in Louvain. All is finished." It was Saturday, August 29th and the reign of terror was over.
     Apart from the crimes committed in special areas and belonging to a scheme of systematic reprisals for the alleged shooting by civilians, there is evidence of offences committed against women and children by individual soldiers, or by small groups of soldiers, both in the advance through Belgium and France as in the retreat from the Marne. Indeed, the discipline appears to have been loose during the retreat, and there is evidence as to the burning of villages, and the murder and violation of their female inhabitants during this episode of the war.
     In this tale of horrors hideous forms of mutilation occur with some frequency in the depositions, two of which may be connected in some instances with a perverted form of sexual instinct.
      A third form of mutilation, the cutting of one or both hands, is frequently said to have taken place. In some cases where this form of mutilation is alleged to have occurred it may be the consequence of a cavalry charge up a village street, hacking and slashing at everything in the way; in others the victim may possibly have held a weapon, in others the motive may have been the theft of rings.     
      We find many well-established cases of the slaughter (often accompanied by mutilation) of whole families, including not infrequently that of quite small children. In two cases it seems to be clear that preparations were made to burn a family alive. These crimes were committed over a period of many weeks and simultaneously in many places, and the authorities must have known or ought to have known that cruelties of this character were being perpetrated, nor can anyone doubt that they could have been stopped by swift and decisive action on the part of the heads of the Germany army.
     The use of women and even children as a screen for the protection of the German troops is referred to in a later part of this Report. From the number of troops concerned, it must have been commanded or acquiesced in by officers, and in some cases the presence and connivance of officers is proved.
     The cases of violation, sometimes under threat of death, are numerous and clearly proved. We referred here to comparatively few out of the many that have been placed in the Appendix, because the circumstances are in most instances much the same. They were often accompanied with cruelty, and the slaughter of women after violation is more than once credibly attested.
     It is quite possible that in some cases where the body of a Belgian or a French woman is reported as lying in the roadside pierced with bayonet wounds or hanging naked from a tree, or else as lying gashed and mutilated in a cottage kitchen or bedroom, the woman in question gave some provocation. She may by act or word have irritated her assailant, and in certain instances evidence has been supplied both as to the provocation offered and as to the retribution inflicted:-
     (1) "Just before we got to Melen," says a witness, who had fallen into the hands of the Germans on August 5th, "I saw a woman with a child in her arms standing on the side of the road on our left-hand side watching the soldiers go by. Her name was G . . . . ., aged about sixty-three, and a neighbour of mine. The officer asked the woman for some water in good French. She went inside her son's cottage to get some and brought it immediately he had stopped. The officer went into the cottage garden and drank the water. The woman then said, when she saw the prisoners, 'Instead of giving you water you deserve to be shot.' The officer shouted to us 'March.' We went in and immediately I saw the officer draw his revolver and shoot the woman and child. One shot killed both."
(2) Two old men and one old woman refused to bake bread for the Germans. They are butchered. (See above p. 29.)
(3) 23rd August. I went with two friends (names given) to see what we could see. About three hours out of Malines we were taken prisoners by a German patrol - an officer and six men - and marched off into a little wood of saplings, where there was a house. The officer spoke Flemish. He knocked at the door; the peasant did not come. The officer ordered the soldiers to break down the door, which two of them did. The peasant came and asked what they were doing. The officer said he did not come quickly enough, and that they had "trained up" plenty of others. His hands were tied behind his back, and he was shot at once without a moment's delay. The wife came out with a little sucking child. She put the child down and sprang at the Germans like a lioness. She clawed their faces. One of the Germans took a rifle and struck her a tremendous blow with the butt on the head. Another took his bayonet and fixed it and thrust it through the child. He then put his rifle on his shoulder with the child up it, its little arms stretched out once or twice. The officers ordered the houses to be set on fire, and straw was obtained, and it was done. The man and his wife and the child were thrown on the top of the straw. There were about 40 other peasant prisoners there also, and the officer said: "I am doing this as a lesson and example to you. When a German tells you to do something next time you must move more quickly." The regiment of Germans was a regiment of Hussars, with cross-bones and a death's head on the cap.
     Can anyone think that such acts as these, committed by women in the circumstances created by the invasion of Belgium, were deserving to the extreme form of vengeance attested by these and other depositions?
     In considering the question of provocation it is pertinent to take into account the numerous cases in which old women and very small children have been shot, bayonetted and even mutilated. Whatever excuse may be offered by the Germans for the killing, of grown-up women, there can be no possible defence for the murder of children, and if it can be shown that infants and small children were not infrequently bayonetted and shot it is a fair inference that many of the offences against women require no explanation more recondite that the unbridled violence of brutal or drunken criminals.
     It is clearly shown that many offences were committed against infants and quite young children. On one occasion children were even roped together and used as a military screen against the enemy, on another three soldiers went into action carrying small children to protect themselves from flank fire. A shocking case of the murder of a baby by a drunken soldier at Malines is thus recorded by one eye-witness and confirmed by another:-
     "One day when the Germans were not actually bombarding the town I left my house to go to my mother's house in High Street. My husband was with me. I saw eight German soldiers, and they were drunk. They were singing and making a lot of noise and dancing about. As the German soldiers came along the street I saw a small child, whether boy or girl I could not see, come out of a house. The child was about two years of age. The child came into the middle of the street so as to be in the way of the soldiers. The soldiers were walking in twos. The first line of two passed the child; one of the second line, the man on the left, stepped aside and drove his bayonet with both hands into the child's stomach, lifting the child into the air on his bayonet and carrying it away on his bayonet, he and his comrades still singing. The child screamed when the soldier struck it with his bayonet, but not afterwards."


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