THE DEFENCE OF ANTWERP

Donald Murray (37), Domhnall Brus,was at a training camp in Walworth when news came that the Germans were breaking into Antwerp in Belguim. 

 

This is a transcript of part of a Gaelic recording made by Donald Macdonald (38) of Domhnall  Brus recalling his WW1 experiences.

The translation was made by the late Annie Morrison, (Nandag), Cnoc Ard, New Tolsta.

 

Donald Murray (37) shortly after arriving in Belguim.

Domhnall:  Churchill was the Commander-In-Chief over us and he came down and we got an order that we must leave the camp (Walworth) the following day.   A vessel took us from Southampton to France.   When we reached France, Churchill was waiting for us over there!   We gathered there on the square and he put out a speech.   I still remember a lot of that speech.

He began:  "Now," said he, "I know you are Britishers and I know that you know what you are here for.   You're going out tonight to fight the Germans to save Antwerp.   And," says he, " there are three to every one of you......"   He put out this speech.

We went off to the trenches when he left.   Then we stopped in our tracks!   How did he find out where we were?   We did not know anything about air travel then and he had come over on an aeroplane.   Anyway, we went out to the trenches.   Some of the trenches were in a fair state of preparedness.   We were working on them the following day.   When evening fell, that's when we started.

Now, it's at a machine gun that I was.   I was a crew member.   The Germans came over the top.   THEY WERE MAD!   The Belgians had retired so that the Germans got the town.  We were on the outskirts of the town, between the town and the Germans and we were holding them back.   They would come and then they would retreat.

This went on for a few nights.   We were realising that they were getting reinforcements and we were getting nothing!   We did not have ammunition, you see.   We went over in such a hurry.   We had plenty of machine guns and we had rifles, but we did not have men!   Anyway, on the last night, we thought there must be a 'charge', but ...nothing happened.   Then, this night, didn't we get the order that it would be quite as well for us to retire before they would capture all we had.

There was too much opposition.   We were to take all the ammunition that was left, two boxes between three men and to dump them here and there where they could not find them.

Antwerp was now on fire.   They had shelled the oil tanks.   We were afraid that we couldn't get through.   Anyway, we retired.   There was a canal, going down from Antwerp to Holland.   We went down by that.   Now, the officer who was in charge of us thought we were the last lot - that the rest were ahead of us.

Now, there were huge 'lighters' there making a bridge over this canal so that we could get across over to the other side.   When the last lot should cross, the 'lighters ' were to be blown 'sky-high'.   We thought that we were the last lot!

 

"YOU KEEP PRAYING AND WE WILL KEEP FIRING"

Domhnall Ghabhsann and Sglaing were with me and I said to Donald - he was an elder in the 'Seceders' - " You pray Donald and I will fight for the two of us".

We had been so happy in the trench and we had great 'faith' and kept each other's spirits up.   I always said to Donald, "You keep praying and we will keep firing".

 

Anyway, we got over to the other side and we walked forty miles to Dunkirk.

The hunger came on us and we reached a farmhouse that was deserted and there were cattle there, and everything....every kind of thing....there was nothing better than to kill some of the younger beasts and to use the big boilers, which they had for feeding the animals.   Fire was put under them and the meat was put into them.   All of us had some and then we left.

The enemy were following behind us all the time.   Anyway, we got to Dunkirk then we got over to England.   Now, no one there knew where we were.   We got home.   We did not go near the barracks or anything.   We were only left at home for one night!   We had to go to Portsmouth.   When we got to Portsmouth, they were short of Naval men and we were drafted to a vessel named Crossbridge.

(Apart from that one night's leave, Donald did not have any further leave from 1914 until early in 1918.)

Click for INTERNED IN HOLLAND - October 1914 - November 1918.