Primary Documents - General Leman's Letter to King Albert I, August 1914
During 5-16 August 1914 the first land battle of World War One saw the German Second Army's attempts to demolish and then capture the vital Belgian fortress city of Liege. Click here for details of the battle that ran during those dates, and the reasons for its significance.
With the fall of Liege its Belgian commander, General Gerard Leman, was carried wounded and unconscious out of the forts by its successful German raiders. Leman was taken as a prisoner of war to Germany where he remained until after the 1918 Armistice.
While en route to Germany Leman wrote the following letter to King Albert I, King of the Belgians, detailing the final defence of the forts. Click here to read extracts from General Leman's diary for August 1914; click here to read a German officer's account of the fall.
General Leman to King Albert I
After honourable engagements on August 4th, 5th and 6th, I considered that the forts of Liege could only play the role of forts d'arret. I nevertheless maintained military government in order to coordinate the defence as much as possible, and to exercise moral influence upon the garrison.
Your Majesty is not ignorant that I was at Fort Loncin on August 6th at noon. You will learn with grief that the fort was blown up yesterday at 5.20 p.m., the greater part of the garrison being buried under the ruins.
That I did not lose my life in that catastrophe is due to the fact that my escort, Commandant Collard, a sub-officer of infantry who unfortunately perished, the gendarme Thevenim and my two orderlies, Vanden Bossche and Jos Lecocq, drew me from a position of danger, where I was being asphyxiated by gas from the exploded powder.
I was carried into a trench, where a German captain named Guson gave me a drink, after which I was made prisoner and taken to Liege in an ambulance. I am convinced that the honour of our arms has been sustained. I have not surrendered either the fortress or the forts.
Deign, Sire, to pardon my defects in this letter. I am physically shattered by the explosion of Loncin. In Germany, whither I am proceeding, my thoughts will be, as they have ever been, of Belgium and the King. I would willingly have given my life the better to serve them, but death was denied me.
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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