Stylish

1 May

The uniform situation at the start of the war was not, um, uniform.  Infantrymen wore all sorts of things, depending on their national background; the German field grey is already well known, and the initial French uniform of blue jacket and red trousers has assumed an iconic status (though it would not last — the war saw to that).

The Belgian Garde Civique, for my money, had all of them beat:

It’s not every unit that goes boldly into battle wearing top hats.

Interestingly, as John Terraine notes in The Smoke and the Fire (1980), this almost-civilian attire may have accounted in some small manner for the ruthless treatment of the Belgian people by the invading German army.  As Ludendorff declared, “the Garde Civique, which in the days of peace had its own arms and special uniforms, were able to appear sometimes in one garb and sometimes in another.”  He said this in support of his claim that the Belgian government had been “systematically organizing civilian warfare,” and that consequently the incredibly harsh and murderous treatment of Belgian civilians by the German infantry was intended to thwart an entrenched system of francs-tireurs (that is, “free-shooting” partisans) — a system of which no modern historical inquiry has found any real evidence.  In any event, as Terraine concludes, while it may have been defensible for the German army to claim to have initially responded so harshly because of their mistaken evaluation of these soldiers, it is much less so to say that they must have kept on making the same mistake.

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