# The missions of the Germans: air defence, prisoners and refugees

Excerpt from a postcard  - All rights reserved ©

Excerpt from a postcard - All rights reserved ©

Alongside the major tasks requiring the majority of men, the battalions of the Landsturm (occupation soldiers) are often called on for missions of secondary importance, primarily related to the occupied regions, such as transporting French prisoners or, as as imposed on all, grenade and gas masks training.

In 1918, the trains head off in the direction of Switzerland, filled with French civilians displaced by the conflict.

Varying missions that make a change from the daily routine

Operating since 15 December 1914, the Beverloo training and recruiting camp opens its gates to many Landsturm soldiers who come for training. Far removed from their original battalions, many would use their time in this camp to try to desert.

The Landsturm troops are put through a considerable variety of exercises. At the very start of the war, they learn to shoot, to perform rounds and patrols, as well as military organisation, the duties of each soldier, and police services in the major cities. This helps to upgrade the skills of men for whom military service is a distant memory, or others who simply never served in the military.

As the conflict advances over time, the training programmes adapt to the new needs. In 1915, the men are sent to learn about how to operate trains, with training in order to become non-commissioned officers or company commanders. Training is also provided for legal and sanitary officers. Courses in policing continue to be organised, particularly for newcomers. In 1916, Gruppenfuhrer training continues, with the men coming to learn how to use machine guns; these lessons are primarily intended for the companies guarding the border. In 1917, in addition to training in railway guard services, attempts are made to teach the Landsturm about new combat techniques. The training now targets combat using grenades and machine guns, or confrontations with airplanes. Finally, in 1918, the training focuses on gas attacks. The men are taught how to protect themselves, but also how to remain active during this type of combat. Some men are sent to Berlin for training. Upon their return, they teach others to shoot while wearing a gas mask.

The troops stationed in Belgium regularly participate in the transportation of prisoners to Germany. Before 1917, the convoys of captured soldiers come primarily from the front, and for this purpose, each battalion must assign an officer, two NCOs and some 15 men on average each week. After 1917 and the regulation on mandatory work in Germany for the unemployed, these same trains are filled with Belgian civilian prisoners. More than once each week, convoys of 15 to 20 wagons of Belgians head off to the camp at Paderborn, in the North Rhineland. Finally, in 1918, these same trains also head off in the direction of Switzerland, filled with French civilians displaced by the conflict. Several thousand refugees are also deported to Belgium with the advance of the German troops. They are initially received warmly, but German sources report that relations with the Belgians are cooling off with the implementation of food rationing. The French have no work, except for the people employed by the Germans, they're perceived as lazy, and they regularly fall victim to swindles carried out by the local populations. Their return to France while transiting via Switzerland results in a certain degree of tension within the Belgian population. Indeed, starting in the autumn, the German army fights while retreating, while systematically deporting the populations that it encounters. The Belgians are afraid of being taken to Germany, where their situation would certainly be difficult, should the front continue to move back without peace being signed. Indeed, the Landsturm troops begin to dig entrenchments in the region, but this strategy doesn't last for long. All the hopes of the population then rest with a quick victory by the Allies.

One must also not forget the most horrible of tasks: the battalions assigned to the city centre are charged with the difficult task of shooting the people condemned to death. These executions are always carried out by different men, with the companies relaying one another.

Finally, in certain cases, the Landsturm battalions set up patrols in the woods in order to stop poachers, and to organise the felling of oak trees with a circumference of more than 35 cm, as the wood is needed at the front. Their tasks also include picking chamomile and lime blossoms, gathering wool and collecting furniture for the use of the General Headquarters at its installation in Spa, as well as organising the collection of copper and brass. Moreover, after the Belgian judicial strike, they also look after collecting complaints and ensuring their processing.