Primary Documents - Germany's Renewed Request for Free Passage through Belgium, and the Belgian Response, August 1914

German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg Reproduced below is the text of the letter sent by the German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, to the Belgian government (led by King Albert I) in the wake of the fall of Liege in August 1914.  In the message the German Chancellor re-iterated the German government's regret at the 'necessity' of invading Belgium as a means of attacking France.

Bethmann-Hollweg also praised the Belgian army's 'heroic' stance at Liege and went on to re-iterate Germany's request for free passage through Belgium and the desirability for the two government's to reach an accommodation.

Inevitably, the Belgian government's response to the Chancellor's request was to restate its own firm opposition to Germany's invasion of Belgium.

The Assault on Liege - Official Address to the Belgian Government
by German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

The Fortress of Liege has been taken by assault after a gallant defence.  The Government deeply regrets that the attitude of the Belgian Government towards Germany has led to sanguinary encounters.

Germany does not come to Belgium as an enemy.  It was only when it had been forced by circumstances and in presence of military dispositions made by France that the German Government was obliged to take the grave step of penetrating into Belgium and of occupying Liege as a point d'appui for further military operations.

The Belgian Army having preserved in the most brilliant fashion the honour of its armies by its heroic resistance against a greatly superior force, the German Government now asks H.M. the King and the Belgian Government to spare Belgium the continuation of the horrors of war.

The German Government is ready to enter into any kind of convention with Belgium which can in any way be made compatible with the differences between itself and France.

Germany reaffirms in the most solemn manner that she has not been actuated by any intention to appropriate Belgian territory; such an intention is entirely foreign to her.  Germany is still always ready immediately to evacuate the kingdom of Belgium as soon as the situation in the theatre of war permits her to do so.

The Belgian Government's Reply

The proposition which has been submitted to us repeats the demand formulated in the ultimatum of August 2nd.

Faithful to her international obligations, Belgium can only repeat her answer to that ultimatum, especially seeing that since August 3rd her neutrality has been violated, a lamentable war has been waged on her soil, and the guaranteeing Powers have immediately and loyally responded to her appeal for help.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

Britain introduced conscription for the first time on 2 February 1916.

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