Behind the scenes of the Great War

Starting point : Church, Place Gendebien 1, 6120 MARBAIX-LA-TOUR
On 23 August, the château de La Pasture was transformed into a temporary hospital. During the occupation,

6.2 or 10.2 km (links with Gozée)

The forgotten battles of the Sambre

On 4 August 1914, the German staff launches more than 700,000 men on the assault of Belgium. The 2nd German army, commended by General Karl von Bülow, reached Maubeuge passing through Belgium. The aim was to invade France and to topple Paris. The 5th French army was commended by General Charles Lanrezac. The meeting of these two armies occurred from 21 to 24 August at various locations on either side of the Sambre.

Ham-sur-Heure-Nalinnes area

Since no major route passed through the area, the villages were relatively spared during the battles of 22 and 23 August 1914. These occurred on the northern edge of Marbaix-la-Tour-Gozée, and on the southern edge of Nalinnes. As in many places, the majority of residents evacuated the villages, with the population making their way to Beaumont and France. The church of Nalinnes-Centre preserves traces of this conflict. It is said that at one point in the battle, the French troops noticed the presence of a German observer in the church’s clock tower, and artillery fire was requested. Fortunately, the shelling only reached a ridge of the tower, and the firing apparently did not proceed. You can still nowadays still see the traces of the repaired masonry.

In 1916, a cemetery was built at the exit of Nalinnes-Haies toward Marcinelle. It contains 113 graves of which 34 are French, 78 German and one is Belgian. Nothing currently remains of this cemetery. As with the cemetery in Gozée, in 1922 the bodies of the French soldiers were moved to Belle-Motte. The bodies of the German soldiers were transferred to Vladslo.

Temporary hospital

La Pasture Castle was turned into a temporary hospital because of the characteristics required by the regulation of 1912 regarding emergency medical posts in times of war:
“[…] generally set up in a village, on a large farm, in castle, or, failing that, in groups of dwellings where one shall choose houses protected by other buildings […]”. The medical corps carried out only operations of absolute urgency, i.e., arterial bleeding in the limbs, threats of suffocation, realignment of bone segments, etc., along with dressing superficial wounds. The soldiers who sustained superficial wounds were sent back to the barracks for a few days. The seriously injured were transported to the closest hospitals.

Lieutenant Charles Cécile was killed by a violent German artillery attack near La Pasture Castle. A tombstone was set in the castle grounds at the place where he lost his life. He was commended in the regimental order of 25 August with the following words: “Through his marvellous moral ascendancy over his men, he kept his machine gun section together to the bitter end under the most violent of enemy shelling and infantry fire. This officer of rare valour was, unfortunately, fatally wounded.” His body was repatriated to France around 1970.

The importance of trains

The occupying army was split into two categories: the Landwehr (defence of the country) and Landsturm (military reserve troops). The Landwehr comprised men who were more than 27 years old. Unlike the other infantry regiments, the Landwehr had no machine gun company and consisted of only two battalions. The Landwehr participated actively in the fighting during the Great War. The Landsturm was composed of men between the ages of 17 and 45 who were not deemed fit for service on the front but nevertheless not exempted from the army. The Landsturm’s troops were incorporated in the defence units of the occupied territory or territories. As of the age of 39 they were transferred to the Landsturm 2nd Ban.

Ham-sur-Heure-Nalinnes is crossed by the “Charleroi-Vireux” (town south of Givet) railway line and has several railway stations: Cour-sur-Heure, Ham-sur-Heure, and Jamioulx. During the occupation the Landsturm was thus heavily deployed in the area. After the armistice of 11 November 1918, the German troops had to leave the occupied territories quickly. A munitions train was stopped in Jamioulx’s marshalling yard during the night of 14-15 November. Being unable to switch the tracks toward Charleroi, the Germans decided to destroy the train and blew it up. The station was completely wrecked and buried in a heap of twisted iron. Three-quarters of the town’s dwellings were destroyed and windows were shattered in the neighbouring villages.

Military tactics

The combat tactics on the French side in 1914 were fairly simple: charge the enemy en masse and win at bayonet point. The German side’s tactics were different. The troops took up positions in front of the objective. Making maximum use of the terrain, the Germans launched their final charge at the last moment only. What is more, from time to time they placed hostages in front of the troops to serve as human shields. They reasoned – rightly so – that the French soldiers would not fire on civilians.

After losing a large proportion of his troops (in Roselies, Tamines, etc.), General Charles Lanrezac took up his position and girded for an attack along the entire Sambre River. The fighting took place on 22 and 23 August, following the forward march of Germany’s Second Army. The French lost all their battles along the Sambre. Lanrezac ordered the general retreat of his Fifth Army the evening of the 23rd, without the consent of his superior, Généralissime (Commander-in-Chief) Joseph Joffre. This action enabled his men to escape encirclement at Charleroi; it also saved the Belgian division manning Namur’s fortifications. The same tactic was used during the battles of Guise and the Marne. Despite his military brilliance, Lanrezac was sacked by Joffre for insubordination. The affair came up again later on and General Lanrezac was given full honours. However, he refused the decorations and retired.

The Australians arrive
After the armistice, four of the five Australian divisions that had come to fight in Europe were stationed in the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse region starting in mid-December, prior to commencing their homeward journey at Charleroi’s railway station. In practice, these troops set up their winter quarters throughout the region, and the General Headquarters moved into Count d’Oultremont’s castle at Ham-sur-Heure. A few days later, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VIII of Great Britain (1894-1972) came to visit and decorated the most deserving of the soldiers. He also lodged in the Ham-sur-Heure castle.

The soldiers were housed by the locals and received warmly everywhere, as a wealth of writings attests. Friendships and sometimes even love relationships developed quickly, and their departure starting in mid-January 1919 triggered great sadness. For example, the Australian soldiers who arrived at Nalinnes Haies on 20 December 1918 were taken in people’s homes, as was the case everywhere in the region. Five of them lodged with Nestor Pourigneaux in Rue des Haies.

Battle of Gozée

Starting point: Monument aux Morts Place des Combattants à 6534 Gozée

4 km ou 10,2km si liaison avec Marbaix-la-Tour

The forgotten battles of the Sambre

On 4 August 1914, the German staff launches more than 700,000 men on the assault of Belgium. The 2nd German army, commended by General Karl von Bülow, reached Maubeuge passing through Belgium. The aim was to invade France and to topple Paris. The 5th French army was commended by General Charles Lanrezac. The meeting of these two armies occurred from 21 to 24 August at various locations on either side of the Sambre.

Battle of 23 August 1914 – Gozée

On the morning of 23 August, German troops advanced toward Gozée emerging from the woods of Grattière, Aulne and Prince. The north of the village fell into enemy hands at midday. The Germans approached on all sides. The French then received the order to withdraw in order to prepare a counter attack. Once the battle was raging and success appeared jeopardised, the French resume the offensive. The French shelling caused numerous German losses. The German supply convoys fell back to Marchienne-au-Pont et Marcinelle. German reinforcements did not stop arriving. At 6 pm, the Germans’ encirclement movement was accentuated by the farm of Baudribus et Marbaix-la-Tour. The French moved back toward Thuillies. Given the superior number of the 2nd army, the village fell into German hands.

The monument to the dead in the square of Gozée was inaugurated at the end of a solemn mass in memory of the soldiers, on 10 August 1924. It is the work of Hector Brognon. In 1964, and due to works at the school, elements of the moment were removed and placed in the current municipal cemetery.

The scars of battle

At Gozée-Marbaix-la-Tour, the outcome of the battle was a drain for the armed forces present. Out of 12,000 German soldiers and 4,200 French soldiers, 360 French and 546 Germans were identified as dead. Others were cared for in the church transformed into a provisional hospital, but the majority were lying in a meadow, on the route between Bomerée and Beignée.

At the crossroads of la Couronne, Emile Farcy, owner of the Estaminet de la Couronne, was suspected of providing information to French soldiers. He was shot by German soldiers in the telephone cabin in his establishment. Four civilians were also killed: Urbain Davelois and Pierre Sabaut in the hamlet of Bois Leratz; Léopold Tilmant was hit by a stray bullet on his home on the road of Thuin; Gaston Hiernaux was killed by a bullet in his doorway.

“Fire started after the pillaging: 36 houses were devoured by the flames, in particular the town hall, that of the mayor (absent), a magnificent farm called “Baudribus”, five medium-sized farms… all to the value of 500,000 francs, not to mention the furniture and the crops harvested. ” – Account of the priest Guérin

Burial – census of the dead and construction of the cemeteries

The day after the fighting, the bodies of French and German soldiers were buried were they fell. Sometimes with the help of locals, temporary graves – individual or communal – were created. A cross bearing the names of the soldiers was erected. The German services established a map situating the placement of the numbered graves.

In the summer of 1915, at the request of Germany, the town of Gozée made land available for creating a Franco-German cemetery. In November, with the exception of a few German officers reclaimed by their families and sent back to Germany, the bodies of soldiers buried in the fields were transferred to the new cemetery. Inaugurated on 23 August 1916, it brings together 464 French soldiers and 13 officers, and 543 German soldiers and 28 officers. In 1922, the bodies of French soldiers were exhumed by the French graves service. The remains were placed into new coffins, and transported to Aiseau to the Belle-Motte military cemetery. The four bodies between them, reclaimed by their families, were sent to France. In 1929, the space that had become free received the bodies of 235 German soldiers killed in the battles of Lobbes and Nalinnes. Thereafter, the soldiers identified were transferred to the military cemetery of Vladslo, near to Dixmuide, between 4 September and 4 October 1956. The Germans not identified were sent to the military cemetery of Langemark.


The number of requisitions was to set the pace for the daily lives of the civilian population: oats and hay needed for the German troops’ horses; sheep’s wool; smooth or barbed wire for fencing; objects in leather or tin; inside door handles; name plates; walnut trees of more than 40 cm for fashioning rifle butts; farmers horses for transporting tree, etc.

The abbot of Guérin testifies: “Nothing special to say on the subject of subsequent violence apart form that the soldiers seized the horses they lacked in order to complete their crew (61 disappeared this way without requisition orders). Furthermore, they appropriated flour, pigs, sheep, cattle, potatoes, etc. for their food without any regard for the owners’ protests. They even obliged certain farmers to drive cartages to France themselves with their own horses, and even sending them back home without their animals.”

Sites of combat

The destruction caused by the conflict left deep marks in the landscape. The material damage was considerable. The harvests were destroyed, and the young fruit trees were felled to facilitate the firing. The wheat and oat fields were cut up by the numerous ruts carved out by the wheels. In certain places, trenches were made for marksmen kneeling to protect themselves from the enemy. The aim being to shelter oneself while maintaining full movement. The fields were covered with broken weapons, pierced bullet ball helmets, sacks burst open, empty cartridges, clothing and shoes soaked in blood.

The locals requisitioned to bury the bodies were confronted with the dead, with death in its raw, brutal and shocking form: the remains of mutilated bodies, personal objects bearing witness to a life, to a family. Certain inhabitants kept a trace of these lives cut short, or sought to notify the families of the fallen soldiers. Packages, post cards and letters were sent, or sometimes even the soldiers’ reproduced pocket books.

Provisional hospital

Through the violence of the battles inflicted onto the soldiers and civilians, the First World Ware saw an overall toll of more than 9 million deaths out of 73 million combatants, and around 20 million injured. Over the four years of the conflict, this carnage gave rise to a major requirement for doctors, nurses, as well as organising space for care.

In Gozée, the figure reached more than 3000 killed, injured and disappeared. During the night of 23 and 24 August following the battle, the pews were emptied out of the church, and in their place was placed straw, hay and mattresses. The top of the Prie-Dieu served as splints for the broken limbs. German officers were to be buried in the small cemetery by the church. To the north of the village, the injured were evacuated to the edge of the wood and in the meadows next to Café de la Belle Vue where the doctors operated. The order was given to those who could walk to go to the hospitals of Charleroi and in the region. The others were transported using ambulances, trams and around 20 cars made available by the people of Charleroi. In Thuillies, the steam tram took eight carriages to the hospitals of Charleroi.

Battle of Lobbes

Starting point : Monument aux morts, rue de l’église 6540 Lobbes

4,6 kms

The forgotten battles of the Sambre

On 4 August 1914, the German staff launches more than 700,000 men on the assault of Belgium. The 2nd German army, commended by General Karl von Bülow, reached Maubeuge passing through Belgium. The aim was to invade France and to topple Paris. The 5th French army was commended by General Charles Lanrezac. The meeting of these two armies occurred from 21 to 24 August at various locations on either side of the Sambre.

Battle of Lobbes – 23 August 1914

On 22 and 23 August 1914, soldiers from the 18th French corps defended the bridges on the river Sambre. On 23 August 1914, at dawn, French soldiers halted the approach of the German army on the left bank of the Sambre. In the afternoon, the French brigade surged back to the south of Biercée while the Germans infiltrated the right bank. Despite the greater number of the Germans, the French army inflicted heavy losses on the enemy camp. In the evening, General Sordet’s cavalry corps retreated toward the south. With the village in flames, the inhabitants attended to the injured and buried the dead.

The importance of bridges

World War I led to great destruction in agriculture and industry, as well as huge losses of human life. The considerable physical damage that occurred during the war hit housing, factories, and transport infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and railways very hard. To counter the advancing German army the French soldiers used all the civil engineering works at their disposal to best advantage. Bridges in particular were often used to slow the German advance down.

Lobbes has four bridges. On Saturday, 22 August 1914, a French officer, Lieutenant Cotinaud, was given the mission of defending the right bank of the Sambre. The mayor was asked to leave the streets on the left bank lit up. The inhabitants were warned that the drawbridge would be raised and anyone who had crossed over to the right bank would have to remain there. The stationmaster was told to stop all train traffic. The two metal railway bridges were barricaded with overturned wagons and the metal roadways were unbolted. The German army was sighted on the outskirts Sunday morning. By midday, the generals ordered the line of defence to fall back to the plateau.

The human consequences

The local Red Cross officers had to grapple with various difficulties in evacuating the wounded. The situation called for the cooperation of the local residents, who took in several wounded soldiers. After the war, great friendships grew up between the inhabitants of Lobbes and the families of the wounded soldiers, most of whom came from south-western France.

As Paul Jaquenaud, a soldier in the 144th French Infantry Regiment, tells it,
“They let us start without firing a shot. We advanced by bounds. We were no more than 40 metres from them when they began firing with unimaginable violence. We were decimated. I fell, unconscious. A bullet had gone through my hand and my right wrist was a shapeless mass. I had miraculously escaped death. I regained consciousness a few minutes later… I joined the wounded, who were wandering like ghosts in the darkness of the night… A few soldiers directed me to a house that was already full of wounded soldiers. By the time I got there, there was no room for any more soldiers; the wounded were laid out shoulder to shoulder on the ground floor and upstairs… Around 2 in the morning I heard shouts: The ambulances had arrived.”

The mayor of Lobbes, L. Duquesne, confided:
“Cartloads of wounded followed: poor, pale soldiers with blood streaming from their wounds were laid out on the wagon beds. I stopped a major and told him that we had forty beds. In short, I offered him our Red Cross’s services. He appeared worried; he barely answered. Misinterpreting his silence, I assured him that his wounded soldiers would be well cared for, that we had experienced, formally trained nursing sisters…”

The French and German soldiers’ equipment and kit in 1914
The Feldgrau (grey-green) German uniform faded nicely into the background of the countryside. The French uniform with its red pants could spot more easily by enemy. Both uniforms changed constantly throughout the war.

The German Gewehr 98 was a quick-loading breech loader (5 cartridges at the same time). Whilst the French Lebel – an 1893 revision of the Lebel 1886 – was very accurate, it was slow to reload (cartridge by cartridge).

The German haversack weighed about 15 kilos. It contained a tent canvas and stakes, a blanket, mess tins, a flask, cutlery, and survival rations. The French haversack weighed twice as much, that is, nearly 30 kilos. It contained clothing, spare shoes, a toiletry kit, a tent canvas and stakes, survival rations, and so on.

Cemeteries and monuments

During the occupation, the German authorities set up a military cemetery of which only the surrounding wall and urn decorating the entrance gate remain. The corpses of the soldiers who died during the fighting in Lobbes were buried in this cemetery. Before it opened, the bodies had been stored in temporary mass graves.
The current military cemetery contains the remains of 226 French soldiers. In addition, it boasts a magnificent beacon monument symbolizing the great esteem in which France’s soldiers are held. Many of the soldiers buried there came from the regions around Bordeaux and Paris, Brittany, and Vendée. In parallel, a few families built memorials for their brothers, sons, and/or husbands fallen in combat. On 17 June 1920, Eugène Thomire bought a 75 square metre plot from Fernand Copée to build this monument, which still stands, in memory of his brother, who was killed on the battlefield at Lobbes.

Means of transport – the railway

In the valley, a railway crosses over many of the loops of the Upper Sambre River. In 1914 the Paris-Cologne express plied its tracks. After the battle of Lobbes the German trains waited for the bridges to be cleared. That was done with due diligence to enable the Germany heavy artillery to be positioned for a siege on the fortress of Maubeuge. The German Chiefs-of-Staff, who lodged in the mayor of Lobbes’s home, foresaw a two- to three-day stay.

In actual fact, General Fournier, who commanded the fortress of Maubeuge, defended his position staunchly for two weeks. As a result of this unforeseen resistance, the German reinforcement trains were stopped in the station at Lobbes before heading south via Chimay. Wilhelm II’s army was detailed to keep the tracks and engineering works along the railways intact everywhere they went. Sometimes long trains of more than fifty closed railway cars of wounded soldiers or prisoners rolled past in the opposite direction. One such train went by on 30 August.


On the battlefield

Starting point : Maison de la Laïcité Place Degauque, 6142 Leernes

4,4 kms

The forgotten battles of the Sambre

On 4 August 1914, the German staff launches more than 700,000 men on the assault of Belgium. The 2nd German army, commended by General Karl von Bülow, reached Maubeuge passing through Belgium. The aim was to invade France and to topple Paris. The 5th French army was commended by General Charles Lanrezac. The meeting of these two armies occurred from 21 to 24 August at various locations on either side of the Sambre.

The Battle of Leernes – 22 August 1914

The 3rd battalion of French soldiers of the 28th Regiment, nearly all the members of which were from the Evreux region of Normandy, occupied the Espinette plateau. On 22 August, sustained by a powerful artillery, the Germans made their way to Goutroux and Monceau-sur-Sambre. The confrontation was brief yet bloody. Two civilians lost their lives: Evariste Bellot watching the firing behind his hedge, and Léon Gandibleu who was hit taking aid to the injured French with his cart. The civilian population organised care for the injured, creating provisional hospitals.

During the war, this location served as the meeting room for the aid committees, the provisions room, etc. It was also the office of the doctor Emile Hautain as Medical Inspector of the municipal schools in 1917, and as president of the local aid committee in 1918.

Doctor Emile Hautain

Doctor Emile HAUTAIN, born in 1873, moved to Leernes in 1908. As of August 1914 he set up Belgian Red Cross post No. 1284 in Fontaine-l’Evêque. The facility was housed in the building of the municipal girls’ school (rue de l’Enseignement today). The doctor’s wife, Rose Demesse, and their daughter Marguerite were both Red Cross nurses and took in a large number of wounded in their own home. The most critical cases were sent to Fontaine’s city hospital. Donations poured in: “The cupboards were filled with reserves of all kinds, from dishes to the most trivial of toiletries. Our cellar filled with food and drink (beer and wine) and our till filled with silver”. (Testimony of Doctor Emile Hautain).

Through his devotion and medical expertise, Doctor Hautain helped to save many lives. In recognition of his work, Doctor Hautain received the Medal of King Albert in 1920. This medal was awarded to citizens for their great charity and humility. He was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold and published his account of the battles and conditions in which the wounded survived in 1932.

The temporary hospital in the Sisters’ School (École des Soeurs)

Acceding to a French officer’s request, the nuns set up a dozen beds in their old school. In practice, this temporary hospital was staffed by three Red Cross nursing graduates, namely, Raoul Michot, Marie Wegehenkel, and Yvonne Golière. The first wounded soldier was brought in on a stretcher less than thirty minutes after the fighting began. The next wounded soldiers were brought in by the people of Leernes, who carried them on their backs or dragged them in on makeshift stretchers.

Beds started to become scarce. Down comforters and thick layers of straw were used instead. “As soon as an apparently more severely wounded soldier entered, we would see the others get up, or at least try to do so, to cede their places generously to the unluckier man. It was moving to see them encourage each other, to try to buck up those in greatest pain with comforting words, even with a bit of humour” (testimony of Doctor Emile Hautain). The evening after the fighting had ended, the most critically wounded who could be transported were sent to Fontaine-l’Evêque’s hospital.

At the same time, and in concert with Doctor Hautain, the Wespes neighbourhood set up an additional Red Cross post in the building that housed the girls’ school.

Memorial: Gozée Cross

After the war, a vast commemorative movement took hold of Belgium’s towns, as was the case everywhere in Europe. Monuments would ‘make something’ of this war, would help the nation rediscover an identity and a future, so that people had not died for nothing. Memorial steles and monuments were raised, plaques affixed to walls, and obelisks erected. They depicted the soldier, death, or the dead, showing the various facets of the war as its contemporaries saw them. In practice, these monuments and memorials were placed on former battlefields or in the middle of community life: places of battle or death, near churches, in public squares, in cemeteries, etc.

Families also raised monuments in memory of the deceased. Mrs Champetier de Ribes, who lost two sons for France, had a cross made by a local stonecutter. This cross, which was cut from a solid block from Fontaine-l’Evêque’s Stenuick quarries, was initially placed (in 1916) in the Franco-German cemetery of Gozée, known as ‘La Pépinière’ (the nursery), to mark the mass grave of soldiers in Leernes. In 1922 the French soldiers were transferred to Belle-Motte Cemetery in Aiseau-Presles. With Mrs Champetier de Ribes’s consent, Doctor Hautain had the Gozée Cross moved to the entrance of Leernes’s cemetery.

The battlefields

Plateau de l’Espinette
The two armies engaged on this plateau at around 2 p.m. on 22 August. Belgian civilians were requisitioned on 24 August to bury the bodies of 72 French and 12 German soldiers in a mass grave. The soldiers’ remains were transferred to the military cemetery of Gozée, and then Aiseau-Presles, later on. However, monuments were built in Leernes and throughout Wallonia in the aftermath of the war to attest to the will not to let the memory of the war fade. A subscription was launched on 20 March 1920, under Doctor Emile Hautain’s aegis, to erect a ‘memorial to the French soldiers who died in the Leernes countryside’. This memorial was unveiled on 22 August 1921.

Temporary POW camps

The number of prisoners of war taken during World War I was enormous. Slightly more than 6.6 million soldiers were taken prisoner during the war, 2,250,000 of them by Germany. Once they fell into the enemy’s hands, the French soldiers were forced to do heavy labour and lived under harsh conditions. Most of the prisoners were soldiers, but some were also civilians who were taken hostage and kept in detention in Belgium or sent to Germany.

Following the battles of the Sambre and Mons, this farm was used as a POW camp, mainly for British prisoners but also for a few Frenchmen, for several months. Once the entrance was closed, the building was very easy for the German authorities to guard. With its three storeys for storing grain and hay, it housed some fifty prisoners, who worked the fields during the day, guarded by German soldiers.

Interestingly, the Germans also requisitioned this farm’s barn from 1940 to 1944 as a hangar for their supply trains. The farm is known as the “Fourmeau Farm” because the Fourmeau family acquired it between the two world wars.

Battle of Collarmont

Starting point : Cimetière d’Anderlues (rue des Combattants – 6150 Anderlues) 4,6 kms

The forgotten battles of the Sambre

On 4 August 1914, the German staff launches more than 700,000 men on the assault of Belgium. The 2nd German army, commended by General Karl von Bülow, reached Maubeuge passing through Belgium. The aim was to invade France and to topple Paris. The 5th French army was commended by General Charles Lanrezac. The meeting of these two armies occurred from 21 to 24 August at various locations on either side of the Sambre.
Battle of 22 August 1914 – Collarmont
On 6 August, the Sordet cavalry corps entered Belgium coming from Sedan. A long ride toward Liège, back toward Wellin, up to Fosses-la-Ville, Hottomont, Gembloux, led the French cavalry to the Charleroi-Brussels canal in Luttre on 21 August. Threatened with encirclement, the cavalry corps fell back to the south, and arrived at Anderlues – Carnières in the evening. The 24th Regiment arrived at the locations during the night, in order to protect the retreat. At 8 am on the 22, the battles took place at Bois des Vallées, around the farm of Viernoy and the wood of Chèvremont-Warimez. These harsh confrontations resulted in between 2,500 and 3,000 dead, injured or disappeared. After the fighting, as a first step the German nurses took charge of the injured from the two fields. The Red Cross was only authorised to go to the sites 48 hours afterwards.

Organization of the French military cemeteries

There are five French military cemeteries in the region covered by the battles of the Sambre: Belle-Motte at Aiseau-Presles, Auvelais at Tamines, Heuleu at Lobbes, Collarmont-Carnières, and Tarcienne. A French law of December 1915 regulated the creation of ‘national necropolises’ (burial grounds) for the bodies of those who died fighting for France. The tombs are set out in rows, with red roses adding the only touches of bright colour. Four types of emblem mark the graves: a Latin cross, a Muslim tombstone, a Jewish tombstone, and a tombstone for other faiths and free-thinkers.
A military cemetery was created on the territory of Carnières, on the edge of Anderlues, following a Red Cross general assembly on 8 November 1917. The mayor of Carnières and two French delegates selected the site and the municipality of Carnières paid for the land and work. The Red Cross bore the expense of the exhumations and coffins. A request concerning the cemetery’s site was submitted to the German Civil Commissioner of Thuin. The principle of a cemetery at its present location was approved on 15 March 1918, and the Governor-General of Belgium handed over the cemetery’s management to the municipality of Carnières on 23 August 1918. After the transfers of German, British, and French graves, the tombs of 247 French soldiers currently remain in the French national necropolis of Collarmont.

Weaponry present

The machine gun was one of the most decisive weapons during the First World War. At the start of 1915, military techniques and tactics were adapted to the weapons. The modernisation of weaponry and fighting techniques led to trench warfare. At the same time, the population was called on to contribute to the war effort, in particular women who replaced the roles of the men who had left to fight.

On Saturday 22 August 1914, at 3 in the morning, the 24th French infantry regiment set up camp near to Bois de Vallées. Moreover, farmers were requisitioned by the French officers to dig out the trenches. Strategically positioned at the tip of the slag heap no. 4 of Anderlues, and the mine pit no. 6 of Piéton, the French soldiers attacked the enemy with machine guns. The Germans circumvented he French positions through Bois de Vallées, through the wood of Chèvremont, through Mont-Sainte-Aldegonde and through the district of Lalues. The men engaged in hand to hand combat with bayonets.

The field after the battle –

The president of the local section of the Red Criss, Arthur Hecq, described the appearance of the battle field as follows: “Here, on a sunken path at the edge of the towns of Anderlues and Carnières, there lies a heap of inanimate bodies, a German shell felled the unfortunate ones in a single blast. Further along, scattered all over the place are French and Germans, bleeding, stomachs open, faces all shredded by the bayonet strikes. In the corner of an orchard, the sight is terrible: several officers lying with soldiers, clinging to the bushes, skulls open. They’ve been finished off. However, you can still hear the moans and the groans in the countryside; it’s the injured who’ve been forgotten, unnoticed.”

Faced with the number of dead and injured, the German logistics were overwhelmed. Farmers’ carts were even requisitioned to take the dead bodies to the station in Piéton. At the same time that the staff of the Red Cross provided care, the civilian population was also to undergo an ordeal. The active or reserve regiments, often assisted by the pioneer battalion companies, were ordered to destroy the homes using incendiary grenades. Around 70 homes were burned in the district of Lalue. The residents had no choice but to flee, leaving everything behind. Four civilians were killed and several citizens were deported to Germany.

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