Tag Archives: Antwerp

Diary entries referring to the siege of Antwerp in 1914 written by Arthur Linfoot and by Arthur Hawes, a guest diarist.

12 October 1914; Monday

At work. Fairly busy. Stayed in at night except to go to the post with a parcel for the negro1 with picture papers in it and a letter to the insurance people confirming the interview. Father went to see Mr Wanless and showed him his hand.

Full news of Antwerp. Various opinions – certain amount of depression.

  1. If ‘the negro’ is a correct transcription, which it may not be, it would refer to one Isaac Abadu, somewhere in West Africa, who had written out of the blue to Charlie, possibly at the Post Office, and was his pen-­pal for a considerable time. Picture papers might well have been sent to him. Isaac remained a topic of conversation for many years. See also entry on 1 February 1915

11 October 1914; Sunday

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

At daybreak we found ourselves in very pretty & interesting country, but after some time this changed to a very different sort of scenery. We found ourselves passing through the most dreary expanse of waste land we had ever seen. For miles & miles on both sides of the train we saw nothing but an ugly flat stretch of dank grass with irrigation canals cut through it from time to time. Passing through this caused our spirits to droop considerably as it seemed as if we were getting out of all trace of civilisation. This lasted for some hours until we finally stopped at Groningen. On leaving the train we found the streets were lined by large crowds so our arrival had evidently been well advertised. During our short march from the station to the Infantry Barracks where we were to stay we were favourably impressed with the town. We arrived at the Barracks at about 1 o/c, & were then told that this was to be our home until the end of the war. The first thing that happened was that we were shown our rooms & then had our breakfast of bread & butter & coffee. The afternoon we spent settling down, & at 6 o/c we were given a good feed of pea soup & then we turned in for the night.

Thus ended our expedition to Antwerp. There are about 1200 of us here as far as we can judge, & for some time we knew nothing of the fate of all the others of our comrades in the Royal Naval Division who were at Antwerp with us. We have since learnt however that the ‘Second Brigade’ who were our reinforcements left Antwerp some time before we retired, & they safely returned to England. A good number also of the First Brigade got through all right, but there are about 1000 who are on the ‘Missing List’ so what happened to them we cannot say.

We are now living a healthy life here with a fair amount of drill & exercise, so that if by any chance we shall be able to get away from here1 before the war is over, and see active service again we shall be ready to answer the call.

Groningen, 23-11-14

  1. However, the interned personnel did not “get away from here”, and they spent the rest of the War interned in Holland.  

11 October 1914; Sunday

Felt unwell first thing. Stayed in bed until dinner time. Had walk out in the afternoon. Went to Lily & Willie’s to tea with all the rest of the family but Joe and Marmie. Went to chapel at night. Mr Mathews preaching again and was awful. We talked to Willie Peake until late and didn’t get home until late.

Hear of fall of Antwerp. 2000 Naval men interned in Holland & some Belgian soldiers. Great excitement in town.

10 October 1914; Saturday

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

Woke up about 4 o/c, & started off for a march of four miles to Holst. Here we got in a train & went to Terneuzen. Marched from the station through the town to the quay. Here we were fed with bread & butter & coffee. After this breakfast, we took steamer down the river to Flushing. Here we found a large railway shed ready for us, & after each of us had received a loaf & some straw to lie on, we turned in. This was about 4 o/c & at 10 o/c we were roused & told we were to go on a railway journey but where to we did not know. We boarded the train & started a fourteen hour journey which finally landed us at Groningen in the North of Holland. As we reached the large stations on our way, the train stopped & we received coffee & bread from willing officials on the platform. We were especially glad of the coffee as it warmed us up.

9 October 1914; Friday

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

It was now Friday Oct 9th and after our hour’s rest we started off once more feeling somewhat refreshed, but getting rather hungry. Our next stop was about two hours later at a rather large village. Here we rested by the side of the road & received water & apples from the inhabitants. All this day we were marching side by side with hundreds of Belgian refugees. It was a sad sight to see all these people turned out of their homes. They had their belongings on carts but their furniture had to be left behind. The richer folk had horses or cows to pull their carts, but the majority had to pull them themselves. And so it was for miles & miles, little children patiently trudging along with their parents, & sometimes aged & infirm women & babies cramped up on the carts amongst the bundles of clothes &c. About mid-day we stopped at a butcher’s shop & each man received a small piece of meat. Most of us (including myself) ate half of it straight away raw & the other half we kept & presently when we stopped in a field for rest we made fires of twigs & leaves we roasted the meat by holding it on our bayonets in the flames. Our meal over we once more proceeded but had not gone more than two miles before we had to come to a sudden halt as our scouts met us with the news that a body of German cavalry were waiting to cut us off about half a mile further. We accordingly had to retrace our steps back to where we had last rested & from there take a new & longer way. After this we increased our pace considerably until we reached the town of St Gillies. We went to the station here and enquiries were made as to the train service. The Belgian authorities however refused to allow any trains to be run as they did not know but what they would be attacked & also there was the probability of the line being cut. Our Commander told us this & said that there was nothing for it now but to march five miles to the Dutch Frontier. So off we started and as it was now getting dark & it was pretty certain that there parties of Germans & Uhlans about on the look-out for us, it had to be a forced march. We none of us felt very fit for one then but once we started it seemed to put new life into us & we went along at a fine pace, & arrived safely on the borders of Holland. As there were then a lot of formalities to be gone through we all promptly lay down in the road & rested. There were several little inns & shops just here so we were able to buy some refreshments in the form of biscuits &c & drinks. We rested here until about 12 o/c & then we were told we could cross over into Holland but should have to give up our arms. This we did, crossed over the boundary & once more lay down in the road, this time however managing to get some straw to lie on. It was not long before we were all sound asleep.

9 October 1914; Friday

Got up early and went to baths. Still slack at work. Went down to Wanless’s at night and talked to Willie a bit and then Joe arranged with Mr Wanless to go to the dock with Father on Friday to try if he can work his machine. Walked round by chapel and went into Mission meeting last thing. Charlie had been there earlier and then arranged to give his testimony.

Germans occupy Antwerp.

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. 

8 October 1914; Thursday

At work but not much to do. Played a bit at night and read a bit. Received letter from Insurance Co. asking Father to go down for a trial at his machine on Thursday next. We worried that the notice was too short and wrote at night stating that we would try to arrange for next Thursday.

Exodus of Antwerp population. Petrol tanks ablaze. Part of the City in flames. British & Belgian force retires through the night. Boer Commando under Maritz rebelled 1.

  1. “Boer Commando…”: This was the Maritz Rebellion, an organised rebellion against the Union of South Africa. See also 2 December 1914. 

7 October 1914; Wednesday

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

We were aroused from our bed of straw at 2 o/c am & moved off at the double in order to get a bit warm. After the first mile we slowed down a bit & proceeded steadily on for the next four hours. Soon after dawn we came up to the Belgian artillery & here we halted for an hour. The Belgians gave us some hot coffee of which we were very glad. The kindness shown us by the Belgian soldiers all the time we were with them was remarkable; they seemed willing to put up with everything rather than let us go without. About 7.30 we arrived in our trenches (just outside Borsbeek) & we straightway fell to strengthening our positions. This took us all day & half the night. All the time firing was going on over our heads, on both sides. We worked in relays & by about 11 o/c we all felt we had done enough. On the average each of us had had about two hours of sleep since arriving in the trenches. This was how we spent that day. At 11 o/c the order was given “Man the trenches” & so the rest of the night we spent on the alert. Our position was this: – Immediately in front of the trenches were a few yards of open ground; then about 25 yards of barbed wire entanglements; then another stretch of cleared ground. About 1200 yards from us was a line of woods, farm houses &c. Behind these were the enemy. All night our forts fired into their position & several times we let off with our rifles as it was very likely they would try a night attack. They did not however, & dawn relieved the tension & we were able to have a short rest. Of course everyone did not go to sleep together but we worked in watches.