Germans Destroy Belgium–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

Behind them, the retreating Germans left a trail of destruction with hardly a house spared the torch.  A fully functioning home was therefore a rarity and attracted the attention of British troops. One had two German words – ‘Gute Leute’ - written boldly on the door.  When the Tommies inquired of the owner what this meant he was happy to tell them that he had chalked the message himself and that it simply said ‘Good People’.   He spoke German as well as French and his quick thinking, had ensured that his home had been spared!


German Troops Spare 'Good People'


The naked torso of a five year old girl was displayed in the window of a Belgian butcher’s shop.  There was no head, no limbs, but there were multiple stab wounds.  Reports from Belgium also contained accounts of German soldiers marching with babies skewered on their bayonets.  These filled the British public with revulsion but how true were these stories?

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 17th August 1914

'The Rape of Belgium' is Underway

German Brutality–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

“Our advance in Belgium is certainly brutal”. These were the words of Helmuth von Moltke,  Chief of the Imperial German army.    His troops had been ordered to deal ruthlessly with any sign of resistance and tens of thousands of hostages were transported to camps in Belgium to ensure compliance.  These were usually local dignatories such as the town mayors.  The advice to civilians was to do as instructed or the hostages will be shot!  For Germany to win the war they had to defeat the forces of France (and now Britain) in 6 weeks and almost 3 weeks had gone by.  Troops could not be spared to control the occupied areas and so homes were burned, women were raped and men were executed in front of their families. Over 5,500 civilians were executed and the town of Leuven was razed.

German Military Chief Makes Astonishing Admission!

German Invasion of Belgium Poster–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 22nd September 1914


‘Don’t shoot, we are the French’ came a shout through the dark.  On the outskirts of Landrecies (30 miles south west of Mons), the British sentries relaxed their grip on their rifles.  Tension then eased further when the approaching soldiers began to sing ‘La Marseillaise’.  It was a trick.


Straining their eyes in the dark, it is claimed that the guards could identify the distinctive red and blue uniforms of French soldiers.  The spiked ‘pickelhaube’ helmets worn by the soldiers who followed were spotted too late, and several sentries were shot.  However the alarm was raised and, in the fighting that followed, the Germans were driven back. 


Image:  An artist’s impression of the hand to hand fighting at Landrecies.

German Dirty Tricks

Landrecies Hand to Hand Fighting–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

Image: The London Scottish in action on the Messines Ridge, Halloween 1914. They were the first Territorial soldiers to see action on the Western Front.


On the morning of 31st October, the 1/14 London Regiment (the London Scottish) arrived in the front line south of Ypres.  Within an hour of arriving, they were under attack and found to their horror that their newly issued rifles were defective.  Some relied on their bayonets while others picked up Mausers from the German dead or S.M.L.E. rifles from dead British regular army soldiers.  This helped them fight off the foe but there was still considerable relief when kilted soldiers  appeared  behind  them.  The immediate reaction was to welcome these

Trick or Treat

London Scottish Messines Ridge–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1


On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 20th August 1914

Image :  Cartoon entitled ‘German Army – Soldier of the regiment of the Crown Prince (in battledress).’


On 7th October 1914, when soldiers of the German army first arrived in Ypres, they committed a number of crimes including the theft of scores of pairs of ladies knickers.  Uhlans (cavalry), who were scouting ahead of the advancing infantry columns, trotted into the town.  Their mood was not good and one of their first acts was to rebuke the town mayor for the lack of a proper welcome.  They felt that - at the very least - church bells should have been rung and so they imposed a fine of 75,000 gold francs on the town and held the official hostage until it was paid.  Looting was widespread and as well as the lingerie shop, a jeweller’s and various food shops were targeted.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 7th October 1914

Knicker Nickers

Cartoon of German Theft–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

Image:  British army Gurkhas showing off their famous knives.


In November 1914 a terrified German prisoner fainted when he was patted by an Indian soldier. The gesture by the British soldier was meant to show sympathy and give reassurance but it later transpired that the German thought his captor was planning to eat him!  Apparantly blood-curdling stories  abounded in the German trenches about the barbarism of some colonial troops.  While no soldier was actually eaten, the Germans had cause to be fearful.   Ears were collected and worn as trophies by some Gurkhas who proudly swished their Kukris to demonstrate how quickly and easily these were removed.  There was also an incident when French soldiers from Senegal had to be restrained when they sought to sever the ears from a group of German prisoners.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 17th November 1914

Germans Fear British Cannibals

British Army Gurkhas–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 25th August 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 31st October 1914

Image :  Not all German regiments dressed alike with some wearing kit dating from 1870. The soldier shown is from the Landsturm, an organisation that bore some similarities to the British Home Guard in WW2.


On 1st November 1914, fighting on the Messines ridge was both critical and confused.  On the previous day (Halloween) German troops wearing kilts failed to trick the ‘jocks’ of the London Scottish.  Their attempted deception may have had the unforeseen consequence of causing German troops to mistrust any soldier not dressed ‘properly’. On this day two German units wearing different kit fought each other in the streets of Messines. 


The Bavarian Reserve Regiment 17 was reorganising when it came under fire from soldiers of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 21 who had mistaken them for British soldiers.  Like many other German units, Regiment 17 wore outdated uniforms that included Landsturm caps which unfortunately were similar in style to those worn by the British. The dried Flanders mud that clung to them made it seem that they were wearing British khaki. The upshot was that by nightfall, the British were back in possession of Messines.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 1st November 1914

Germans Fight Each Other!

German Soldier Dressed Like British Soldier–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

On 19th January 1915, Britain was subjected to its first ever air raid.  Three Zeppelins were sent from Germany to bomb targets on Humberside. However bad weather forced one to turn back, and the others to change course.  Their target became East Anglia and bombs were dropped on Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn, killing five civilians. The Germans were proud of their airships and considered the Zeppelin to be a quintessentially ‘German’ weapon and vastly superior to the French airplane.  Their opinion soon changed.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 19th January 1915

Bombers Attack Britain

German Zeppelin Bomber–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1



Image: This painting hung on the wall of Hitler’s Bergof.  It is based on an actual incident from the First Battle of Ypres, 1914 and features Henry Tandey carrying a wounded comrade.


In late autumn 1914, Private Henry Tandey had an exhausted and wounded enemy soldier in his sights.  The German did not raise his rifle and when Tandey opted not to fire, he received a nod of thanks.  Four years later, with the war over, Hitler saw a newspaper report on a British soldier who had won a Victoria Cross in the final phase of the conflict.  The soldier was Henry Tandey and Hitler recognised him as the man who had spared his life.  He  kept the clipping and some years later the German Fuhrer bought a copy of a painting that featured Tandey.  In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler in Munich, spotted the painting on the wall and they chatted about it.  Hitler allegedly pointed to Tandey and commented, "That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again.”

The Man Who Didn't Shoot Hitler

Hitlers Painting of Henry Tandey–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

Image: Lance corporal Adolf Hitler in 1914 (marked with X)


On 15th November 1914, Adolf Hitler was serving with the List Regiment in the Ypres area and earned the first of two Iron Crosses.  While relaying a message, Hitler spotted a wounded officer, and with the help of a comrade, they brought him in.  According to one account,  while carrying out this brave action the future Fuhrer was under fire for around 15 minutes.  Hitler asserts that his Iron Cross (second class) was personally presented by the Kaiser but this is not supported by fact.   In 1918, Hitler was awarded the much less common Iron Cross (first class) having been nominated by an officer called Hugo Gutmann – who was Jewish. 

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 15th November 1914

Hitler Earns Iron Cross

Adolf Hitler in WW1–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

 much needed reinforcements but as they drew closer it became clear that the advancing ‘Jocks’ were wearing pickelhaube helmets – standard German head gear.  A British officer quickly realised what was happening and ordered the ‘London Jocks’ to open fire and the disguised Germans were driven back.

On 18th February 1915 Germany announced what it called a ‘commerce war’ against nations trading with Britain.  This was in response to the blockade of German ports by British warships that was strangling the German economy.  Commercial vessels – from any country -were viable targets for U-boats but ominously, passenger ships could also be in the firing line.  By mid March only 21 ships had been attacked out of 5,000 that docked in British ports.  This prompted those who were discouraged by the announcement on 18th February to resume trading.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 18th February 1915

Germany Launches U-Boat Offensive

German U-Boat Offensive–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

In 1915, German soldiers went into battle wearing uniforms and accessories made from stinging nettles!  With Britannia ruling the waves it was very difficult for Germany to import essential war materials – such as cotton.  As a consequence they turned to a solution that was used a century before by Napoleon Bonaparte, and resorted to nettle fibres.  Archaeologists have discovered that fibres from the stem of stinging nettles have been used to make fishing nets, ropes and even bed sheets for over 2,000 years.  It has been estimated that the Germans harvested over 1,300 tonnes of nettles in 1915 and double that amount the following year.  However no ‘full nettle jacket’ has been found as the Germans preferred to mix nettle fibres with a small amount of cotton in a blend of around 85/15.

Full Nettle Jacket?

German Nettle Uniform–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1
Nettle Shift Dress–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1

becoming common as Italian and British designers bring this cloth back into fashion.  The plant’s hollow fibres hold air and so provide excellent insulation in winter styles and for a cooler cloth, the fibres are twisted and flattened.  In Britain longer strains (with stronger fibres) are being developed with the help of funding from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).  As most gardeners know, nettles are ideally suited to our climate and unlike cotton, can grow without chemical inputs such as pesticides. 

In World War 1, German soldier used haversacks and belts that were made from the fibres of stinging nettles.  Their uniforms were also made from nettles and research into uses for this remarkable plant continued through the years of peace.  In World War 2, the German military made parachutes from nettle fibres and the leaves and roots were a source of green and yellow dyes.  Clothes made  from  nettles  (such  as  the  shift  dress shown) are

On 12th April when interviewed by his captors, Private August Jaeger displayed a masterful knowledge of an unfamiliar weapon – chlorine gas.  Less than two weeks after other prisoners had talked of a forthcoming gas attack, Jaeger poured out detail after detail with little prompting.  He gave exact details of the size and number of containers to be used, the respirators that had been issued and the area to be attacked.  As far as  the  British  and  French were  concerned this

On 26th March 1915, a German prisoner disclosed to his French captors that preparations were being made to launch a gas attack in the Ypres sector. The anxious soldier was keen to win favour and freely gave details of the forthcoming offensive, mentioning cylinders that were being put in place and describing protective pads that were being issued to all troops.  The French interrogators suspected that the man was too loose tongued and his story smacked of German subterfuge.  They concluded that the man had been sent across to spread panic and that his story should be ignored. 

You've Been Warned!

Gassed German Soldier–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1
German Soldier with Gas Mask–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 26th March 1915

was too  good to be true and smacked of a German ruse.  Jaeger’s story was ignored by the Allies but not by the Germans.  In 1932 a Nazi tribunal found him guilty of both desertion and betraying the fatherland and sent him to prison for 10 years.

In April 1915, a Canadian soldier was crucified by his German captors – nailed to a barn door with bayonets through his hands, feet, neck and testicles.   In 1919 the German government claimed that this was a malicious, unsubstantiated rumour but recent research suggests that the story is probably true and the alleged victim has been named. 

Good Friday - Crucifiction

Crucified Canadian Soldier–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 18th April 1915

On 18th April 1915, the German press launched a concerted, vitriolic attack against the barbarism of the British army.  They claimed that the British had launched a poison gas attack in a flagrant breach of the Hague Convention.  Earlier in the war, both Britain and Germany used poison gas intermixed with high explosives but this did not breach international rules on warfare.  What was going on?  It seems that German accusations were to create ‘a smoke screen’ to cover their own dastardly plans.  In 7 days time, poison gas would roll across the Western Front for the first time – and from the German lines. The German High Command then claimed that this attack was merely retaliation!

British Use of Poison Gas Condemned

British Walk Through Gas Cloud–Western Front Witness–German Army WW1-German Soldiers WW1-Adolf Hitler WW1