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The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: Gallant little Belgium

11 August 2014

8:00 AM

11 August 2014

8:00 AM

From ‘News of the Week’, The Spectator, 15 August 1914:

The war continues to be as amazing as ever. We have now had actual firing for over ten days and yet there has been no serious invasion of French soil. What one was always told would happen in the great war, and what undoubtedly the German meant should happen, was a steady and rapid advance of the stupendous tide of German soldiers into France. Wave was to succeed wave of men on the frontier and all of them were to have their faces turned to France and Paris. The sea, no doubt, was to break in through Belgium, but Belgium, it was confidently predicted, would make no serious opposition. It would flow over Belgium just as an incoming tide flows over and covers as isolated rock. In a word, the Germans were to turn neither to the right nor to the left for anything the Belgians might sat or do, but keep steadily on their appointed course. Now look at what has really happened. The first fighting line of the German Army, instead of facing south, has had to turn round and face practically west. The little rock, instead of being over-whelmed at once, has actually help up the tides! It is incredible, but it is true. Instead of France being invaded, and the first great battle taking place on French soil, it is Belgium that is being invaded, and the battle which is beginning as we write is not only in Belgium, but one largely against Belgian troops- a battle in which German guns will point west and the Belgian and French guns east.

No doubt, undercover of the battle on the German right flank, vast masses of German troops which are now penned up to the east of Liege and the line of the Meuse, ready to begin the business, will at once push south for the invasion of France. Possibly the German numbers are so enormous that they will be able to accomplish the double manoeuvre which ease. We certainly are not going to make the capital error of being optimistic till there is real ground for optimism, and for that we frankly confess there is none. At the same time, it would show a rather paltry superstition not to note the great difficulties of the Germans. If the accounts of the position of their forces are anything like accurate, they would seem to be dangerously thick on the ground to the east of the Meuse. Numbers are all very well, but regiments can get in each other’s way. They have also got the very formidable works of Namur before them. These may roughly be taken as the pivot of the double German advanced west and south. The Germans ought to be in Namur to-nite, and have all its outlying defences in their hands. Will they be able to do this? If not, will they dare to neglect Namur and go forwards, masking it with a large body of men, of which, of course, have plenty, but otherwise treating it as if it did not exist?

We do not believe either that they will dare to attack Namur summarily or that they have the nerve to neglect it. Namur is a very much stronger Liege, and during the last ten days the spades have been busily at work. The country round is now literally seamed with trenches and bristling with guns. But if Namur is now taken summarily it may play a very tiresome part in the Germans preliminary measures, but of course, from the German point of view, that is all we are witnessing just now. As a preliminary to invading France, Germany has had to invade Belgium. But even if all sorts of miracles were to happen to help Germany, and things went like lighting and clockwork combined, the fact would still remain that the preliminaries are a week late…

It would be useless to attempt to describe the minor vicissitudes of the campaign in North-East Belgium. It is evident, however, that the Belgians have been fighting in the open with all the dash, cleverness, and resources shown by them in and around Liege, which latter place, by the way, is now occupied by very large bodies of Germans, who, if all accounts are true, are well pleased with the shelter and the good food to be obtained in the town. Meanwhile, contrary to all expectations and all likelihoods, the forts of Liege are still intact, and have kept the Belgian flag flying. That is an absolute “record” for such little places as these but, thank Heaven! Little places and little nations are showing us that the big battalions and the big nations are not everything, and that man’s unconquerable mind is still not to be reckoned by weight but by worth.

The Belgians, of course, have the incomparable advantage of fighting in their own country and having all its resources at their disposal. The boys and women convey food to them wherever it is humanly possible to do so, whereas the Uhlans have great difficulty in feeding themselves and their horses. The Belgians do not take wrong turnings or go up impossible lanes or mistake their direction, as the Uhlans are constantly doing- and small blame to them, for the best maps are often blind guides in a country covered like Belgium with a labyrinth of paths and roads which seem to run parallel, but which in fact diverge on all converge with the most maddening in decision.

Before we leave the subject of the invasion of Belgium we must say a word as to the manner in which the Germans are using up their horses. This is for them a most serious matter, for if they have not plenty of draught-horses for the guns and transport, and plenty also for their cavalry screens, they will sooner or later be a waterlogged army. No doubt the Germans started with a splendid supply, but the wastage has obviously been unusually heavy. And remember that the Germans, who used to get great numbers of horses from Russia and America and the Argentine, cannot now get a single animal. The only extra supply is Hungary, and the Hungarian horses are not much good for draught, and are also wanted by the Austrians. No doubt the wastage for us and the French will be equally great, but we have the whole of the Transatlantic supply open to us, while the French can get thousands of useful horses from Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and even Syria.

We understand, indeed, that Canada is already sending us some twenty thousand remounts, and very soon we shall be getting walers coming to our assistance, not to mention the South African ponies.

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