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Liveblogging World War I: August 20, 2014: The War on Belgium

From Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August:

On August 20 Brussels was occupied. Squadrons of Uhlans moving with lances at the ready appeared suddenly in the streets. They were but the heralds of a grim parade, almost unbelievable in power and grandeur, that followed. It began at one o’clock with column after column of gray-green infantry, shaved and brushed with freshly shined boots and bayonets glinting in the sun and their ranks closed to eliminate the gaps left by the missing. The cavalry appeared in the same gray-green with black and white pennants fluttering from their lances like horsemen riding out of the Middle Ages. The phalanx of their innumerable hoofs clattering in close order seemed capable of trampling to death anything in their path. Heavy guns of the artillery thundered over the cobblestones. Drums pounded. Hoarse voices in chorus roared the victory song, “Heil dir im Siegeskranz,” to the tune of “God Save the King.”

On and on, more and more, brigade after brigade, they came. Silent crowds watching the parade were stupefied by its immensity, its endlessness, its splendid perfection. The exhibition of equipment designed to awe the onlookers accomplished its object. Drawn by four horses, the kitchen wagons with fires lighted and chimneys smoking were no less astonishing than the trucks fitted out as cobblers’ shops with cobblers standing at their benches hammering at bootsoles, and soldiers whose boots were being repaired standing on the running boards. The parade kept to one side of the boulevards so that staff officers in motorcars and messengers on bicycles could dash up and down the line of march.

Cavalry officers provided a varied show, some smoking cigarettes with careless hauteur, some wearing monocles, some with rolls of fat at the back of their necks, some carrying English riding crops, all wearing expressions of studied scorn. Hour after hour the march of the conquerors continued, all through the afternoon and evening, all that night and into the next day. For three days and three nights the 320,000 men of von Kluck’s army tramped their way through Brussels. A German Governor-General took possession; the German flag was raised on the Town Hall; the clocks were put on German time; and an indemnity of 50,000,000 francs ($10,000,000) payable within ten days was imposed upon the capital and 450,000,000 francs ($90,000,000) upon the province of Brabant. In Berlin, upon news of the fall of Brussels, bells rang out, shouts of pride and gladness were heard in the streets, the people were frantic with delight, strangers embraced, and “a fierce joy” reigned.

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