Belgian soldiers who died abroad and were buried in the Netherlands
After the flight from Antwerpen of the main body of our army at the beginning of October 1914, the pontoon bridge towards the left bank of the river Scheldt was destroyed and some 40,000 Belgian soldiers were left behind on the right bank of the river, surrounded in a stranglehold of the German army. Their mission was to keep Antwerpen as long as possible out of the hands of the Germans whilst slowing down the German advance as much as possible.
That mission was a suicide mission. It made absolutely no sense. The city would be destroyed and 40,000 good troops would end up death, injured or in a German prison camp. Their officers believed that an outbreak towards The Netherlands would give them the opportunity to join the main body of our army via England.
On October 9, 1914, a delegation of citizens, together with the Spanish consul in Antwerpen, Sebra Y Saiz, was headed by mayor Devos, senator Ryckmans and deputy Franck, to Kontich to discuss with the German general Von Beseler the terms of surrender of the city. On the night of October 9 to 10, the Belgian troops left the city with their commanding general Deguise, accompanied by four other generals and 400 officers, despite the fact that they were charged to defend the city to the last man.
Generaal Von Beseler Generaal Deguise
On October 10, 1914, German shelling had already destroyed or damaged 2,400 homes in the Antwerp agglomeration.
Lieutenant-general Robert Werbrouck, the chief of staff of general Desguise, had remained in Antwerpen, and on October 10 at 7.30 a.m. the representative of general Deguise, gave the military approval with the agreement to surrender the city, that the citizens had signed with general von Beseler.
Afterwards he also went to the Netherlands, so there were 6 generals on their way to the Netherlands. But the Dutch, neutral in this war, were obliged to apply the The Hague Convention and to disarm all Belgian troops and place them all in internment.
For a long time the thesis that in fact the flight was a form of mass desertion, was stubbornly maintained. That thesis proved untenable because all officers, including the commanding officer, had fled with the troops. None of these soldiers or their survivors, however, has ever received any compensation for their stay in internment or for their participation in the first two months of the war.
It is estimated that some 7,000 interned soldiers managed to escape from internment and via England joined the main body of our army in Flanders Fields.
A census on September 1, 1918, counted 31,256 Belgian troops present in different camps all over The Netherlands. They were housed in barracks, and in encampments in 8 cities spread over the entire country, but with a significant concentration in Harderwijk at about 30 miles north-east of Utrecht. There they stayed until the end of the war.
During the years of internment and hardship at least 377 soldiers died of various diseases and accidents, but mainly due to a Spanish influenza epidemic in the summer of 1918. Because of the contagiousness of the Spanish flu, the remains of the deceased soldiers were never repatriated. They remained in The Netherlands and were buried in civil cemeteries in the cities where they were interned. Such as in Belgium, in many cases they were also cleared out, in the course of the years. But not in Harderwijk, where there is still the largest concentration of graves.
In 1960, the Belgian and Dutch governments agreed to collect the remains of the deceased soldiers as much as possible in the cemetery of Harderwijk and give them there their own honorary park. 224 individual graves and a monument with another 124 names are the result of this agreement.
However, the monument is not a mass grave. The bodies of the soldiers listed on the monument are not buried here, their graves had been cleared from municipal cemeteries before 1960.
On the following Dutch cemeteries Belgian soldiers that died in internment are still buried today:
Lindenhof Cemetery, Metslawiersterweg in Dokkum: 1 soldier.
Oosteinde Cemetery, Harderwijk 224 individual graves, monument with the names of 124 soldiers.
Municipal cemetery, Akerstraat in Heerlen: Monument/mass grave with 14 soldiers.
Municipal cemetery, Tongerseweg 210 in Maastricht: Monument/mass grave 5 soldiers.
Municipal cemetery, Wylre Hofweg 17 in Venlo: Monument/mass grave 4 soldiers.
Municipal cemetery, President Roosevelt Avenue 731 in Vlissingen: 5 graves.
Dokkum, old cemetery, Damw‚lsterreedtsje: 1 grave.