The civil cemetery in Willebroek is situated along the N183, the motorway from Willebroek to Sint-Niklaas, a stone's throw away from the Fortress of Breendonk. When I first came here for a photoshoot in the summer of 2012, the honorary park of the military section of the cemetery looked like this:
Meanwhile, a lot has changed. During a visit in April 2014, I found that the grass was cut, and even better, the gravestones had been sandblasted. So I was forced to make a new photoshoot.
As you can see, timing is essential, and 2012 was bad timing for Willebroek.
In Willebroek we have an military honorary park, with 195 heroes of World War I, buried under the classic Belgian tombstones. However, 65 of them are known to God only. All but one died in the first two months of the war, in the defense of the cities of Antwerpen and Dendermonde, and of every place on the right river bank of the Scheldt between these two cities.
There is also an civil honorary park with the tombstones of 14 local heroes, again three unknown soldiers, but this time because the information on the headstones has become totally illegible.
And in Willebroek we need to tell the story of soldier Henri-Joseph Boey. Henri-Joseph is buried here because he was born here and surely a very special hero from this First World War.
Henri was actually the first Belgian victim of the First World War. And not only simply the first victim. He died on August 3, 1914, while the war only started on August 4!
Henri-Joseph Boey was born in Willebroek on August 12, 1890 and was a soldier in the first regiment of carabineers-cyclists.
His story is told by Louis Jacqmain, president of the brotherhood of carabineers 1914-1918. In 1953 he wrote the book "The Black Devils" or the history of the carabineers-cyclists during WWI.
The carabineers-cyclists were the main force of our soldiers who won the Battle of Halen, the only battle that our army ended victorious in the war of withdrawal of 1914. The Battle of Halen (August 12, 1914) was also called the Battle of the Silver Helmets. Later, the carabineers-cyclists were feared by the Germans. From then on, the German soldiers called them "die schwarze teufel", also because of the color of their black uniform. Therefore the title of the book "The Black Devils".
In his book Jacqmain writes:
"Upon arrival in Gembloux, at the end of the morning of August 3, 1914, the carabineers-cyclists were ordered to supervise the unloading of the troops of the cavalry division.
That same evening, lieutenant Botman, accompanied by five men, leaves with a mission in the region of Aubel-Gemmenich and the German border.
It is during that reconnaissance that the first carabineer-cyclist of the campaign meets an accidental death: Soldier Boey Joseph, on August 3, 1914 at Boirs sur Geer, when he tried to climb a haystack in order to better observe, was killed by a bullet from his own gun.
Boey opened the long line of those that payed with their lives for the defence of our territory. "
I knew of this story before I saw his grave, but finding the last resting place of this famous hero touched me very emotionaly.
Here you are at the grave of someone special.