Civilians were apparently used as a screen at Erpe, but they were prisoners taken from Alost and not dwellers in that village.
This disregard for the lives of civilians is strikingly shown in extracts from German soldiers’ diaries, of which the following are representative examples.
Barthel, who was a Sergeant and standard bearer of the Second Company of the First Guards Regiment of Foot, and who during the campaign received the Iron Cross, says, under date Aug. 10, 1914:
“A transport of
300 Belgians came through Duisburg in the
morning. Of these, eighty, including the Oberburgomaster, were
shot according to martial law.”
Matbern of the Fourth Company of Jaegers, No. 11, from Marburg, states that at a village between Birnal and Dinant on Sunday, Aug. 23, the Pioneers and Infantry Regiment One Hundred and Seventy-eight were fired upon by the inhabitants. He gives no particulars beyond this. He continues:
“About 220 inhabitants were shot, and the village was burned. Artillery is continuously shooting—the village lies in a large ravine. Just now, 6 o’clock in the afternoon, the crossing of the Meuse begins near Dinant. All villages, chateaux and houses are burned down during the night. It is a beautiful sight to see the fires all around us in the distance.”
Bombardier Wetzel of the Second Mounted Battery, First Kurhessian Field Artillery Regiment, No. 11, records an incident which happened in French territory near Lille on Oct. 11: “We had no fight, but we caught about twenty men and shot them.” By this time killing not in a fight would seem to have passed into a habit.
Diary No. 32 gives an accurate picture of what took place in Louvain:
“What a sad scene—all the houses surrounding the railway station completely destroyed—only some foundation walls still standing. On the station square captured guns. At the end of a main street there is the Council Hall which has been completely preserved with all its beautiful turrets; a sharp contrast: 180 inhabitants are stated to have been shot after they had dug their own graves.”
The last and most important entry is that contained in Diary No. 19. This is a blue book interleaved with blotting paper, and contains no name and address; there is, however, one circumstance which makes it possible to speak with certainty as to the regiment of the writer. He gives the names of First Lieutenant von Oppen, Count Eulenburg, Captain von Roeder, First Lieutenant von Bock und Polach, Second Lieutenant Count Hardenberg, and Lieutenant Engelbrecht. A perusal of the Prussian Army list of June, 1914, shows that all these officers, with the exception of Lieutenant Engelbrecht, belonged to the First Regiment of Foot Guards. On Aug. 24, 1914, the writer was in Ermeton. The exact translation of the extract, grim in its brevity, is as follows: