The Great War, I was there - Part 5

AT ALL COSTS THE GUNS MUST DO THEIR WORK The fierce onslaught of the German army 011 Termonde to cutoff the line of retreat from Antwerp across the Scheldt, referred into this page, was met with that stubborn determina­tion to defend the Mother Country that the Belgian army had shown from the first moment that enemy soldiers crossed the frontiers. Termonde must be defended :the guns must have a clean sweep, so down comes this fine old arch. spun-sugar and melted in the flames ol burning Lierre, which I stood and watched from an hotel roof or some such eyrie. Towards midnight the Germans re-established themselves over the Nethe, crossing near the town, at Duffel, at many points. They swam over they came with machine-guns in pontoons it was the swarm o! definite occupation this time. The exhausted defenders fell tack, fell away. Yet I remember that even in that final hour Antwerp showed a brave face. Some vain few hundred reinforcements marched that night through the streets 1 met them on my way to the“ Pilotage” where headquarters were. They passed through the dark, unlit, blinded city to the sound of fites, and thousands of cheering shadows came out to greet them. I had returned before then towards Contich, to encounter wounded, strag­glers and whole sections of fugitives. Artillery were cantering within caissons and such equipment, but officerless and guniess, having lost commanders and pieces, answering enquiry about them“ Sais pas.. ils sont alles fiche.” ll was a sort of rout. The Germans were getting cavalry over the river [the river Nc the]. Another fort, Broechem fell. When its com­mander had taken it over he had found that if he were to open rapid fire, with­out intermission, there was abut quarter of an hour’s supply of ammunition for his main armament and six minutes’ supply for his flanking! The outer defence was non-existent now, and the Germans were attacking strongly at Termonde, to cutoff all retreat over the Scheldt from the forces in Antwerp. The inner forts still remained, but they could do 110 more than the outer had done, and now Termonde in its need began to outcry for reinforcements. 1/1 no Albert held a last council and gave orders for the field-army to evacuate the city while the bridges over the Scheldt were still intact at Tamise and Hoboken, before the enemy could bring up his guns. He acted in the nick of time. Termonde was taken next day. But the army already had begun to withdraw through the corridor between Termonde and the Dutch frontier, and most of it made good its with­drawal before the Germans advanced across the three roads and two railway- lines of the corridor which led to Bruges or to Ghent. That night the members of the Government took ship foi Ostend. Mr. Churchill went by motor through the corridor to the same town. Civilians left the city by the western roads or by the northern towards Holland in steady, melancholy streams The First Lord had to support, soon afterwards in England, very bitter attacks for his intervention, for his optimistic endeavour to save a hopeless situation, for his risking of British prestige. But he knew more about prestige than the whole pack of his critics. Their idea was to preserve prestige in a showcase, as though it were a museum-piece: he saw that prestige must be brought into use instantly, the moment the first great risk appears. The silk colours of regi­ments are placed in the cathedrals prestige is the one banner left to the nation that can lead its soldiers into action. T H EON LYMAN WHO TRIED It is true that Mr. Churchill told the Burgomaster of Antwerp :“We are going to save the city,” and failed to save it. But in Belgium he is remem­bered not as the man who failed but as the only man who tried to succeed. As for practical results, since the German forces did not occupy Antwerp till the 9th, six days were gained by his stand as against the earlier intended evacua- 181 t-ion 011 the 3rd, during which time the western end of Belgium was sealed, Dunkirk protected from enemy occupa­tion, and the sea was secured as the left flank of the Allied armies. \Y/e quitted Antwerp between ten and eleven, a little group of five persons in the end.... I had had to abandon my luggage, naturally, and it perished when later in the day the bombardment was resumed and my hotel was struck and set 011 fire. I had a few articles in a sort of emigrant’s roll. ...We walked past the shipping at' our slow gait as though officially inspecting all that we owned there before it passed out of our possession. It. was melancholy to seethe quantity of vessels lying so trimly at their moorings, ready filed, as it were, for insertion in the prjze-lists of the invader. Away before us a stream of fugitives stretched to the village of Eeckeren, three miles beyond. To the right, moreover bare country, flowed another great stream of mankind. Seen from afar this was so sombre and moved so little that it had the likeness of
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