8 October 1914; Thursday

This is a guest post from the diary of Leading Seaman Arthur Hawes.

This brought us to Thursday Oct 8th. During the morning we had a final examination of our position & made one or two improvements as it was pretty certain the expected attack would come that night. All the time the Germans were continuing their bombardment of Antwerp, & our forts thoroughly shelled the woods &c. in front of us. We very interestedly watched the results of this shooting. In the evening the firing got heavier on both sides but the enemy were not close enough to let us use our rifles. At about 8.30 word was passed round that we were to retire. Accordingly we left our positions in the trenches & formed up in a road to the rear. We then moved off in strict silence & commenced a march that none of us knew was going to last as long as it did. After marching for some hours with one short rest by the way we found we were leaving Antwerp. All the time since leaving the trenches, shells had been exploding all round us & the cannonade was terrific. In many places the woods were on fire. The scenes on reaching Antwerp were terrible but grand. Shortly before arriving in the town we passed a deserted line of forts which were thrown into relief against the flames of the city. Here we saw dead bodies of Belgian soldiers and horses, and a wounded Belgian crawled out of the woods to us & begged us to take him with us. This was impossible however & we had to leave him to wait for an ambulance party to find him. How different the city now appeared to what it was when we arrived on Tuesday morning. Then, to all appearances, carrying on its everyday life. Full of a cheering population. Now absolutely deserted, many parts in flames & others in ruins. On the outskirts of the town terrific sheets of flame were rising from the oil tanks which had been fired by a shell in the afternoon. And every minute shells falling in every direction, some bursting only a few yards from us as we marched through the empty streets. We passed close to the station & in front of a large building one mass of flames, & finally we found ourselves by the river Scheldt. This we crossed by the famous pontoon bridge1 shortly after midnight. Soon after our crossing, the bridge was blown up. We continued marching all night & were before long out of range of the German fire. All of us were very pleased to see the dawn which broke just before we arrived at a small village where we stopped & had an hour’s sleep in a field.

  1. The pontoon bridge was temporarily reconstructed as part of the Antwerp 14-18 commemorative programme.