In the West, retreat continues; The truth emerges.

Special to The Great War Project

(25 August) The retreat from Mons continues, and the conditions are terrible.

One eye-witness, cited by historian Martin Gilbert, describes the British withdrawal south into France this way:

“The men stumbling along more like ghosts than living soldiers,”

“unconscious of everything around them, but still moving under the magic impulse of discipline and regimental pride.”

The withdrawal does not go smoothly. The narrow roads are clogged with soldiers, civilians, horses, vehicles, all making it difficult for British and French forces to maintain their ranks and plan their next moves.

It’s chaos, and chaos makes armies vulnerable.

Until now, the press leaves the public in the dark. What is taking place to the British in Belgium is not reported accurately. But today a century ago, newspapers finally tell the full story, and the stories shock the British public. “Yesterday was a day of bad news,” one newspaper reports, “and we fear that more must follow.”

The destruction of Louvain, Belgium, August 1914

The destruction of Louvain, Belgium, August 1914

Elsewhere in Belgium on this day, the German treatment of the old city of Louvain is vicious. In retaliation for alleged fire from the town, German soldiers “ran into houses, dragged men out for beating and in some cases shot them,” according to historian Max Hastings.

That night German soldiers set the university library on fire, and then Hastings reports, prevent Belgian firefighters from putting the fire out.

It is estimated that 300,000 books are destroyed.

The tragic toll in Louvain: 2000 buildings destroyed, 10,000 civilians made homeless, 1500 people deported to Germany.

Russian soldiers at Tannenberg, East Pressia, August 1914

Russian soldiers at Tannenberg, East Pressia, August 1914

On the Eastern Front, near the East Prussian village of Tannenberg, German and Russian armies clash in increasingly heavy fighting. “All day Russians and Germans ravaged each other,” writes historian Hastings, “the bloodshed seemed very terrible.”

And that is just the beginning of what will become the slaughter at Tannenberg.