The Bryce Report (excerpts)
Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages
Appointed by His Britannic Majesty's Government and Presided Over by the Right Hon.
Viscount Bryce, O.M.&c., &c.,
Formerly British Ambassador at Washington


I hereby appoint--


to be a Committee to consider and advise on the evidence collected on behalf of His Majesty's Government as to outrages alleged to have been committed by German troops during the present War, cases of alleged maltreatment of civilians in the invaded territories, and breaches of the laws and established usages of war; and to prepare a report for His Majesty's Government allowing the conclusion at which they arrive on the evidence now available.

And I appoint Viscount Bryce to be Chairman, and Mr. E. Grimwood Mears and Mr. W.J.H. Brodrick, barristers-at-law, to be Joint Secretaries to the Committee.

(Signed) H. H. ASQUITH 15th December 1914.

To the Right Honourable H. H. ASQUITH, &c., &c., First Lord of H.M. Treasury.

The Committee have the honour to present and transmit to you a report upon the evidence which has been submitted to them regarding outrages alleged to have been committed by the German troops in the present war.

In the month of September 1914 a Minute was, at the instance of the Prime Minister, drawn up and signed by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General. It stated the need that had arisen for investigating the accusations of inhumanity and outrage that had been brought against the German soldiers, and indicated the precautions to be taken in collecting evidence that would be needed to ensure its accuracy. Pursuant to this Minute steps were taken under the direction of the Home Office to collect evidence, and a great many persons who could give it were seen and examined.

For some three or four months before the appointment of the Committee, the Home Office had been collecting a large body of evidence. [Taken from Belgian witnesses, some soldiers, but most of them civilians from those towns and villages through which the German Army passed, and from British officers and soldiers.] More than 1,200 depositions made by these witnesses have been submitted to and considered by the Committee. Nearly all of these were obtained under the supervision of Sir Charles Mathews, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and of Mr. E. Grimwood Mears, barrister of the Inner Temple, whilst in addition Professor J. H. Morgan has collected a number of statements mainly from British soldiers, :which have also been submitted to the Committee.

The depositions printed in the Appendix themselves show that the stories were tested in detail, and in none of these have we been able to detect the trace of any desire to "make a case" against the German army. Care was taken to impress upon the witness that the giving of evidence was a grave and serious matter, and every deposition submitted to us was signed by the witness in the presence of the examiner

A noteworthy feature of many of the depositions is that though taken at different places and on different dates, and by different lawyers from different witnesses, they often corroborate each other in a striking manner.

The Committee have also had before them a number of diaries taken from the German dead.

It appears to be the custom in the German army for soldiers to be encouraged to keep diaries and record in them the chief events of each day. A good many of these diaries were collected on the field when British troops were advancing over ground which had been held by the enemy, were sent to Head Quarters in France, and dispatched thence to the War Office in England. They passed into the possession of the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, and were handed by it to our secretaries. They have been translated with great care. We have inspected them and are absolutely satisfied of their authenticity. They have thrown important light upon the methods followed in the conduct of the war. In one respect indeed, they are the most weighty part of the evidence, because they proceed from a hostile source and are not open to any such criticism on the ground of bias as might be applied to Belgian testimony. From time to time references to these diaries will be found in the text of the Report. In Appendix B. they are set out at greater length both in the German original and in an English translation, together with a few photographs of the more important entries

Notwithstanding these precautions, we began the inquiry with doubts whether a positive result would be attained. But the further we went and the more evidence we examined so much the more was our scepticism reduced. There might be some exaggeration in one witness, possible delusion in another. inaccuracies in a third. When, however, we found that things which had at first seemed improbable were testified to by many witnesses coming from different places, having had no communication with one another, and knowing nothing of one another's statements the points in which they all agreed became more and more evidently true. And when this concurrence of testimony, this convergence up on what were substantially the same broad facts, showed itself in hundreds of depositions, the truth of those broad facts stood out beyond question. The force of the evidence is cumulative. Its worth can be estimated only by perusing the testimony as a whole. If any further confirmation had been needed, we found it in the diaries in which German officers and private soldiers have recorded incidents just such as those to which the Belgian witnesses depose.



On August 4th the roads converging upon Liège from northeast, east, and south were covered with German Death's Head Hussars and Uhlans pressing forward to seize the passage over the Meuse, From the very beginning of the operations the civilian population of the villages lying upon the line of the German advance were made to experience the extreme horrors of war. "On the 4th of August," says one witness, "at Herve" (a village not far from the frontier), "I saw at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, near the station, five Uhlans; these were " the first German troops I had seen. They were followed by a German officer and some soldiers in a motor car. The men in the car called out to a couple of young fellows who were standing about 30 yards away. The young men, being afraid, ran off and then the Germans fired and killed one of them named D ..." The murder of this innocent fugitive civilian was a prelude to the burning and pillage of Herve and of other villages in the neighbourhood, to the indiscriminate shooting of civilians of both sexes, and to the organised military execution of batches of selected males. Thus at Herve some 50 men escaping from the burning houses were seized, taken outside the town and shot. At Melen, a hamlet west of Herve, 40 men were shot. In one household alone the father and mother (names given) were shot, the daughter died after being repeatedly outraged, and the son was wounded. Nor were children exempt. "About August 4," says one witness, "near-Vottern, we were pursuing some Uhlans. I saw a man, woman, and a girl about nine, who had been killed. They were on the threshold of a house, one on the top of the other, as if they had been shot down, one after the other, as they tried to escape."

In the meantime house burners were at work. On the 6th Battice was destroyed in part. From the 8th to the 10th over 300 houses were burnt at Herve, while mounted men shot into doors and windows to prevent the escape of the inhabitants.

The outrages on the civilian population were not confined to the villages mentioned above, but appear to have been general throughout this district from the very outbreak of the war.

An entry in one of the diaries says: "We crossed the Belgian frontier on 15th August 1914 at 11.50 in the forenoon, and then we went steadily along the main road till we got into Belgium. Hardly were we there when we had a horrible sight. Houses were burnt down, the inhabitants chased away and some of them shot. Not one of the hundreds of houses were spared. Everything was plundered and burnt. Hardly had we passed through this large village before the next village was burnt, and so it went on continuously. On the 16th August 1914 the large village of Barchon was burnt down. On the same day we crossed the bridge over the Meuse at 11.50 in the morning. We then arrived at the town of Wandre. Here the houses were spared, but everything was examined. At last we were out of the town and everything went in ruins. In one house a whole collection of weapons was found. The inhabitants without exception were brought out and shot. This shooting was heart-breaking as they all knelt down and prayed, but that was no ground for mercy. A few shots rang out and they fell back into the green grass and slept for ever." ["Die Einwohner wurden samt und sonders herausgeholt Imd erschossen: aber diese Erschiessen war direkt herzzerreisend wie sie alle knieben und beteten, aber dies half kein Erbarmen. Ein " paar Schafsse krackten lmd die fielen racklings in das grufne Gras und verschliefen frummer."]


At 6 o'clock on the following morning, the 21st, the Germans began to drag the inhabitants from their houses. Men, women and children were driven into the square where the sexes were separated. Three men were then shot, and a fourth was bayoneted. A German colonel was present whose intention in the first place appeared to be to shoot all the men. A young German girl who had been staying in the neighbourhood interceded with him, and after some parleying, some of the prisoners were picked out, taken to the banks of the Meuse and there shot. The colonel accused the population of firing on the soldiers, but there is no reason to think that any of them had done so, and no inquiry appears to have been made.

About 400 people lost their lives in this massacre, some on the banks of the Meuse, where they were shot according to orders given, and some in the cellars of the houses where they had taken refuge. Eight men belonging to one family were murdered. Another man was placed close to a machine gun which was fired through him. His wife brought his body home on a wheel-barrow. The Germans broke into her house and ransacked it, and piled up all the eatables in a heap on the foot and relieved themselves upon it.


In Malines itself many bodies were seen. One witness saw a German soldier cut a woman's breasts after he had murdered her, and saw many other dead bodies of women in the streets.


In Hofstade a number of houses had been set on fire and many corpses were seen, some in houses, some in back yards, and some in the streets.

Several examples are given below.

Two witnesses speak to having seen the body of a young man pierced by bayonet thrusts with the wrists cut also.

On a side road the corpse of a civilian was seen on his doorstep with a bayonet wound in his stomach, and by his side the dead body of a boy of five or six with his hands nearly severed.

The corpses of a woman and boy were seen at the blacksmith's. They had been killed with the bayonet.

In a cafe a young man, also killed with the bayonet was holding his hands together as if in the attitude of supplication.

Two young women were lying in the back yard of the house. One had her breasts cut off, the other had been stabbed.

A young man had been hacked with the bayonet until his entrails protruded. He also had his hands joined in the attitude of prayer.

In the garden of a house in the main street, bodies of two women were observed, and in another house the body of a boy of 16 with two bayonet wounds in the chest.


Period III. (September.)

It is unnecessary to describe with much particularity the events of the period beginning about September 10th. The Belgian soldiers who had recaptured the place found corpses of civilians, who must have been murdered in Aerschot itself, just as they found them in Sempst and the other villages on August 25th. Some of these bodies were found in wells, and some had been burnt alive in their houses.

The prisoners released by the Belgian army from the church were almost starved.

At HAECHT several children had been murdered, one of two or three years old was found nailed to the door of a farmhouse by its hands and feet, a crime which seems almost incredible, but the evidence for which we feel bound to accept. In the garden of this house was the body of a girl, who had been shot in the forehead.

CAPELLE-AU-BOIS.--At Capelle-au-Bois two children were murdered in a cart, and their corpses were seen by many witnesses at different stages of the cart's journey.

EPPEGHEM.--At Eppeghem the dead body of a child of two was seen pinned to the ground with a German lance. Same witness saw a mutilated woman alive near Weerde on the same day.

TREMELOO.---Belgian soldiers on patrol duty found a young girl naked on the ground, covered with scratches. She complained of having been violated. On the same day an old woman was seen kneeling by the body of her husband and she told them that the Germans had shot him as he was trying to escape from the house.


We may now sum up and endeavour to explain the character and significance of the wrongful acts done by the German army in Belgium.

If a line is drawn on a map from the Belgian frontier to Liege and continued to Charleroi, and a second line drawn from Liege to Malines, a sort of figure resembling an irregular Y will be formed. It is along this Y that most of the systematic (as opposed to isolated) outrages were committed. If the period from August 4th to August 30th is taken it will be found to cover most of these organised outrages. Termonde and Alost extend, it is true beyond the Y lines, and they belong to the month of September. Murder, rape, arson, and pillage began from the moment when the German army crossed the frontier. For the first fortnight of the war the towns and villages near Liege were the chief sufferers. From the 19th of August to the end of the month, outrages spread in the directions of Charleroi and Malines and reach their period of greatest intensity. There is a certain significance in the fact that the outrages round Liege coincide with the unexpected resistance of the Belgian army in that district, and that the slaughter which reigned from the 19th August to the end of the month is contemporaneous with the period when the German army's need for a quick passage through Belgium at all costs was deemed imperative.

Here let a distinction be drawn between two classes of outrages.

Individual acts of brutality treatment of civilians, rape, plunder, and the like--were very widely committed. These are more numerous and more shocking than would be expected in warfare between civilised Powers, but they differ rather in extent than in kind from what has happened in previous though not recent wars.

In all wars many shocking and outrageous acts must be expected, for in every large army there must be a proportion of men of criminal instincts whose worst passions are unloosed by the immunity which the conditions of warfare afford. Drunkenness, moreover, may turn even a soldier who has no criminal habits into a brute, who may commit outrages at which he would himself be shocked in hi sober moments, and there is evidence that intoxication was extremely prevalent among the German army, both in Belgium and in France, for plenty of wine was to be found in the villages and country houses which were pillaged. Many of the worst outrages appear to have been perpetrated by men under the influence of drink. Unfortunately little seems to have been done to repress this source of danger.

In the present war, however--and this is the gravest charge against the German army--the evidence shows that the killing of non-combatants was carried out to an extent for which no previous war between nations claiming to be civilised (for such cases as the atrocities perpetrated by the Turks on the Bulgarian Christians in 1876, and on the Armenian Christians in 1895 and 1896, do not belong to that category) furnishes any precedent. That this killing was done as part of a deliberate plan is clear from the facts herein before set forth regarding Louvain, Aerschot, Dinant, and other towns. The killing was done under orders in each place. It began at a certain fixed date, and stopped (with some few exceptions) at another fixed date. Some of the officers who carried out the work did it reluctantly, and said they were obeying directions from their chiefs. The same remarks app ly to the destruction of property. House burning was part of the programme; and villages, even large parts of a city, were given to the flames as part of the terrorising policy.

Citizens of neutral states who visited Belgium in December and January report that the German authorities do not deny that non-combatants were systematically killed in large numbers during the first weeks of the invasion, and this, so far as we know, has never been officially denied. If it were denied, the flight and continued voluntary exile of thousands of Belgian refugees would go far to contradict a denial, for there is no historical parallel in modern times for the flight of a large part of a nation before an invader.

The German Government have, however, sought to justify their severities on the grounds of military necessity, and have excused them as retaliation for cases in which civilians fired on German troops. There may have been cases in which such firing occurred, but no proof has ever been given, or, to our knowledge, attempted to be given, of such cases, nor of the stories of shocking outrages perpetrated by Belgian men and women on German soldiers.

The inherent improbability of the German contention is shown by the fact that after the first few days of the invasion every possible precaution had been taken by the Belgian authorities, by way of placards and hand-bills, to warn the civilian population not to intervene in hostilities. Throughout Belgian steps had been taken to secure the handing over of all firearms in the possession of civilians before the German army arrived. These steps were sometimes taken by the police and sometimes by the military authorities.

That these acts should have been perpetrated on the peaceful population of an unoffending country which was not at war with invaders but merely defending its own neutrality, guaranteed by the invading Power, may excite amazement and even incredulity. It was with amazement and almost with incredulity that the Committee first read the depositions relating to such acts. But when the evidence regarding Liege was followed by at regarding Aerschot, Louvain, Andenne, Dinant, and the other towns and villages, the cumulative effect of such a mass of concurrent testimony became irresistible, and we were driven to the conclusion that the things described had really happened. The question then arose how they could have happened. Not from mere military licence, for the discipline of the German army is proverbially stringent, and its obedience implicit. Not from any special ferocity of the troops, for whoever has travelled among the German peasantry knows that they are as kindly and good-natured as any people in Europe, and those who can recall the war of 1870 will remember that no charges resembling those proved by these depositions were then established. The excesses recently committed in Belgium were, moreover, too widespread and too uniform in their character to be mere sporadic outbursts of passion or rapacity.

The explanation seems to be that these excesses were committed--in some cases ordered, in others allowed--on a system and in pursuance of a set purpose. That purpose was to strike terror into the civil population and dishearten the Belgian troops, so as to crush down resistance and extinguish the very spirit of self-defence. The pretext that civilians had fired upon the invading troops was used to justify not merely the shooting of individual francs-tireurs, but the murder of large numbers of innocent civilians, an act absolutely forbidden by the rules of civilised warfare. [As to this, see, in Appendix, the Rules of the Hague Convention of 1907 to which Germany was a signatory.]

In the minds of Prussian officers War seems to have become a sort of sacred mission, one of the highest functions of the omnipotent State, which is itself as much an Army as a State. Ordinary morality and the ordinary sentiment of pity vanish in its presence, superseded by a new standard which justifies to the soldier every means that can conduce to success, however shocking to a natural sense of justice and humanity, however revolting to his own feelings. The Spirit of War is deified. Obedience to the State and its War Lord leaves no room for any other duty or feeling. Cruelty becomes legitimate when it promises victory. Proclaimed by the heads of the army, this doctrine would seem to have permeated the officers and affected even the private soldiers, leading them to justify the killing of non-combatants as an act of war, and so accustoming them to slaughter that even women and children become at last the victims. It cannot be supposed to be a national doctrine for it neither springs from nor reflects the mind and feeling of the German people as they have heretofore been known to other nations. It is a specifically military doctrine, the outcome of theory held by a ruling caste who have brooded and thought written and talked and dreamed about War until they have fallen under its obsession and been hypnotised by its spirit.

The doctrine is plainly set forth in the German Official Monograph on the usages of War on land, issued under the direction of the German staff. This book is pervaded throughout by the view that whatever military needs suggest becomes thereby lawful, and upon this principle, as the diaries show, the German officers acted.[Kriegsbrauch im Landkriege, Berlin, 1902, in Vol. VI., in the series entitled Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften, published in 1905. A translation of this monograph, by Professor J. H. Morgan has recently been published.]

If this explanation be the true one, the mystery is solved, and that which seemed scarcely credible becomes more intelligible though not less pernicious. This is not the only case that history records in which a false theory, disguising itself as loyalty to a State or to a Church, has perverted the conception of Duty, and become a source of danger to the world.


From the foregoing pages it will be seen that the Committee have come to a definite conclusion upon each of the heads under which the evidence has been classified.

It is proved--

(i) That there were in many parts of Belgium deliberate and systematically organised massacres of the civil population, accompanied by many isolated murders and other outrages.

(ii) That in the conduct of the war generally innocent civilians, both men and women, were murdered in large numbers, women violated, and children murdered.

(iii) That looting, house burning, and the wanton destruction of property were ordered and countenanced by the officers of the German Army, that elaborate provisions had been made for systematic incendiarism at the very outbreak of the war, and that t he burnings and destruction were frequent where no military necessity could be alleged, being indeed part of a system of general terrorisation.

(iv) That the rules and usages of war were frequently broken, particularly by the using of civilians, including women and children, as a shield for advancing forces exposed to fire, to a less degree by killing the wounded and prisoners, and in the frequent abuse of the Red Cross and the White Flag.

Sensible as they are of the gravity of these conclusions, the Committee conceive that they would be doing less than their duty if they failed to record them as fully established by the evidence. Murder, lust, and pillage prevailed over many parts of Belgium on a scale unparalleled in any war between civilised nations during the last three centuries.

Our function is ended when we have stated what the evidence establishes, but we may be permitted to express our belief that these disclosures will not have been made in vain if they touch and rouse the conscience of mankind, and we venture to hope that as soon as the present war is over, the nations of the world in council will consider what means can be provided and sanctions devised to prevent the recurrence of such horrors as our generation is now witnessing.

Source:  The Bryce Report