Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Dinant, Belgium—A Breathtaking Battlefield: A Roads Classic

Dinant Today: The Citadel, Church, and Tribute to Adolphe Sax on Charles de Gaulle Bridge

Dinant, Belgium, on the River Meuse is a strikingly beautiful town, most famous before the war for it's dramatic Notre Dame collegiate church and as the birthplace of saxophone inventor,  Adolphe Sax. The town is dominated by a huge, imposing hilltop citadel built in 1815 on the site of a 9th century fort of the  Holy Roman Empire.  In 1914, between 15 and 24 August, it became the place where French and German forces first fought each other on Belgium soil in the Great War. 

Aerial View of the Citadel
(If You Visit, Take the Cable Car to the Top, the Views Are Wonderful)

Riverside De Gaulle Monument
French scouts approaching from the south earlier had entered Dinant and discovered to their surprise that the town and fortress had been abandoned by the Belgian Army. Meanwhile, the German Army was sweeping down from the northeast. One of the first French units to arrive was the 33rd Regiment of Infantry, once commanded by future marshal Philippe Pétain, and that day the unit of future president of France, Lt. Charles de Gaulle.

On 15 August, the same day that Fort Loncin was destroyed at Liège, a contingent of French soldiers was sent up to the citadel to prepare to defend the city and Meuse Valley below, down which they expected the enemy to be advancing.  Supporting these forces was Lt. de Gaulle, who was quickly shot in the leg crossing the bridge across the Meuse.

Bridge Plaque at the Location of de Gaulle's Wounding

Afterward the detail assigned to the citadel received an unpleasant and fatal surprise.  A battalion of German troops approached along the adjacent cliffs and, undetected, entered the fortifications from the undefended rear. Badly outnumbered, the French soldiers chose to retreat and, unfortunately for them, fled down a dead end gallery. All 80 of those  men  were killed, along with 12 Germans. A monument marks where those first soldiers were cremated.

The Town After the 1914 Fighting

After an artillery duel followed,  the 8th Regiment of Infantry was ordered to take the town and citadel. The attack succeeded, and the French regained control of the town and citadel. This was merely temporary, however, since the French Army was soon to engage in a broad retreat out of Belgium and northern France.

L'Assaut by Alexandre Daoust,
Memorial to 1,200 French Who Fell Fighting Around Dinant

Dinant  also became part of the heritage of German atrocities later in the month when 674 civilians were killed in the fighting, including 112 executed for resisting or firing on the German forces.

Memorial to  the Fallen Civilians of Dinant, 116 Belgians Executed at This Location, 
23 August 1914 (Top Photo)

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