Horrors in Antwerp and German spy system

"We call that getting out of hell, and we consider we shall get out of anything after that," remarked Private A. G. Haynes, of the Royal Marines, to a representative of The Luton News.Willy Stöwer - Antwerpen 1914

Pte Haynes was with the Royal Marines at Antwerp and, having come through the ordeal uninjured, he is staying for a few days with his brother-in-law, Mr B. Hayes, at 81 Reginald Street, Luton. He was in a very cheerful mood, despite the awful times he had experienced.

"We relieved the Belgians in the trenches at Lierre on Sunday week," he said. "The Belgians had not gone more than an hour when the Germans opened fire on us with shrapnel shell. They found our positions by means of aeroplanes and captive balloons. They fired on us all day, and they started again first thing on Monday morning. We stayed in the trenches as long as we could."

He proceeded to say that the Marines were at a great disadvantage in having no heavy artillery to cover them.

"We were really like rats in a trap," he continued. "We should have been happier if we only had a chance to get at them had we had heavier guns behind us. It was really an artillery battle. The German artillery fire was very heavy, and this was answered from the Belgian forts. We could only lay in the trenches and have a snap shot if we saw a German come out of the wood.

"The German artillery eventually blew our trenches in and we had to leave our wounded there. Our maxim guns were left. Everything was left, but we smashed the maxims before we retired. Capt --- was our first officer to be killed. He blew up the bridge across the River Nethe with gun cotton. After that he took out a reconnoitring party and, whilst he was looking down the road through his glasses, he was shot in the chest and died. He was buried within half an hour.

"We could see the Germans on the other side of the river. They had their long-range guns - Jack Johnsons we call them - but it seemed they could not compress them to reach us. It was the smaller guns that reached us. They had something like 145,000 men against us. We counted some of the rounds fired at us, and we counted 81 rounds in less than a quarter of an hour. The shells generally passed over, and the trenches were blown in.

"As we retired out of the trenches, one poor fellow next to me was hit in the back by a shell and blown to pieces. We covered over the remains with a blanket and left. In the retirement, shells flew all around us, and we had to dodge from one side of the road to the other.

"We retreated on to Brouchant, but were not able to stop there more than two hours. We went on Mosten, and put up at a beautiful house that had been left by a wealthy German at the outbreak of war. Some people had been left at the house, apparently as caretakers, and they left as soon as we arrived.

"Before these people went away, they staked a white goat out on the middle of the lawn. Soon afterwards an aeroplane came over, and a little later shells began to fall on the lawn near the goat. A number of us were sitting under the trees, and the shrapnel fire killed three men and wounded about seven others. That was about ten o'clock in the morning. We believe that goat was placed there as a sign. There was so much treachery.

"Another incident of this signalling occurred at Lierre. A woman sat knitting. Occasionally she moved, and every time she moved shrapnel shell was driven over us. Presently she disappeared altogether, and five minutes afterwards the top of a house opposite was completely blown away. The temporary hospital here was shelled.

"At the German's house I have mentioned there were some beautiful things - all left as they were used in ordinary life. Silk curtains and beautiful pictures hung everywhere. We stayed there all night. The next day we retired on to Antwerp under the direction of Col ---. He made a fine retirement. If it had not been for him we should not have got through.

"We went right through Antwerp, which looked very bad. Fire were raging everywhere. There were miles and miles of flames from petroleum works on the river banks. The roads were awful. They were packed with refugees, and we could not get along very fast. We met all manner of vehicles, even an M.E.T. bus.

"It was enough to break your heart to the women and children trudging along the road, mixing with cavalry and other soldiers. They had left everything beyond what they could carry. It was a cruel sight.

"As we passed a big building in Antwerp, a row of lights lit up on the bottom floor. Then followed a second row and next at the top of the building. When the top row blazed out all the lights were extinguished. My mate turned to me and said: "That's another signal." And sure enough, projectiles came screaming round us a few minutes later and crashed through the building next to where the lights had been. How we got through, I don't know. One fort, called Kassel fort, was still firing as we marched past.

"We got on to St Gilles and from there to Bruges, where we entrained to Ostend, and from there we came over in a cattle boat to England, landing last Saturday. But we are merry and bright," he concluded.

There were 2,500 Royal Marines and some Naval Brigade men out there, and the casualties so far as are known at present are: 72 killed (2 officers and 70 men), 352 wounded and 182 missing. It is believed, however, that a number have been interned.

Pte Haynes, who is a Reservist, was called up whilst on his holidays and was among the marines to land at Ostend in the early stages of the war. This was his "second trip out there".

[The Luton News, October 15th, 1914]