The Destruction of Louvain
Leon van der Essen
Apart from requisitions and constant vexations, the Germans had committed no excesses in Louvain after their entry on August 19th. They continued to take hostages, who took it in turn to live at the town-hall and were responsible for the behavior of their fellow-citizens. Every day, in all the churches of the place, an urgent warning was given at the instance of the German authorities, telling the inhabitants to remain calm and promising them, in that case, not to take any more hostages.
The troops which reached the town the following week, however, seemed to be animated by a violently anti-clerical spirit. They followed the priests who showed themselves in public with buffoonery, insults, and even threats. They were also very excitable. One day, when a municipal official was taken through the town, preceded by soldiers with drums, and forced to read a proclamation, the Germans hurried up at once from all sides in the hopes of seeing a civilian executed.
The attack by the Belgian 2nd and cavalry divisions on the German positions between Malines and Louvain on the day of August 25th produced considerable excitement in the town. The gun-firing was distinctly heard, and became more violent in the course of the afternoon. It drew closer.
On this day Louvain was crammed with troops. Some 10,000 men had just arrived from Liège and were beginning to take up quarters in the town. A few hundred hussars were coming along the Malines road, covered with dust and leading their horses by the bridles. It was plain that the struggle was not going well for the Germans and that re-enforcements were necessary. At the town-hall dispatch-bearers followed one another quickly, bringing messages which made the members of the Kommandantur anxious. At 5 p.m. firing was heard of particular violence, and seemed to be extremely close to the town. At this moment some horsemen galloped through the streets, giving the alarm. At once officers and soldiers ran together and formed up in a disordered column. Motor-cars were coming and going every way, and ranging themselves up confusedly on the borders of the boulevards. Artillery and commissariat wagons were mixed up with them. Along the roads the horses, lashed till they bled, stiffened themselves and rattled along in a mad dash the guns which were going to re-enforce the German troops on the Malines road. As if to raise the confusion to its height, carts were coming back full-tilt and in the greatest disorder from the field of battle, their drivers all excitement, with revolvers in their hands. After the departure of the hastily formed battalions a great silence fell upon the town. In view of the gravity of affairs,