Garde Civique

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Caricature of a Garde Civique officer

The Garde Civique (English: Civic Guard) was a Belgian militia created in October 1830 shortly after the Belgian revolution. It was founded through the amalgamation of various militia groups created by the middle classes during the anarchy following the revolution. The Garde acted as a quasi-military "Gendarmarie", with the prime purpose of maintaining social order within Belgium, until its disestablishment in 1920.

Organisation[edit]

The Garde was organized at a local level, originally in all communes with more than 30,000 inhabitants. It was composed of citizens aged between 21 and 50, who did not already have military obligations as serving soldiers or reservists. Those aged between 21 and 32 were required to undertake training ten times annually, while the second class (aged 33–50) were obliged only to register their addresses at regular intervals. A third class was composed of older volunteers, who were not equipped, uniformed or armed and were expected only to provide support functions in their local regions. As a voluntary body the Garde Civique was, in peacetime, the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior rather than the Ministry of War.[1] Most of the Garde units were infantry but there were some artillery and mounted detachments.

Purpose and dress[edit]

Soldiers of the Garde fire on rioters during the 1893 General Strike

The expressed aim of the Garde was to "Maintain obedience to the laws, conserve or restablish order and the peace, assure the independence of Belgium and her territorial integrity."[this quote needs a citation]

Each regional unit of the Garde had its own dark blue or green uniform, generally following the pattern of those worn by the regular army but with a number of variations.[2] Infantry wore a wide brimmed hat with plume, cavalry a fur busby and artillery a shako.[3]

Role in World War I[edit]

Motorised personnel of the Garde, 1904

The Garde Civique were mobilised following the German invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914. Their intended functions were to secure lines of communication, guard bridges and other installations, escort prisoners and maintain order outside the actual areas of combat. The German military authorities however chose to regard members of the Garde as franc-tireurs (irregulars) and, as such, not under the protection of international law if taken prisoner. Demands were made that they be disarmed and disbanded. In view of the German shooting of Belgian civilian hostages during the early stages of the invasion such threats were taken seriously and on 31 October 1914 King Albert I decreed the dissolution of the Garde. Most of its younger members transferred to the regular Belgian Army.

Final disbandment[edit]

Upon entering liberated Belgium territory in October 1918, King Albert was reportedly met by a saluting veteran of the Garde Civique in full-dress uniform who had kept his equipment and rifle hidden during the four years of German occupation.[citation needed] Such incidents could not however avoid the reality that the Garde had proven to be of limited military use and was no longer required for the role of ensuring social order that had been its prime purpose during the 19th century. The force was accordingly formally disbanded in 1920.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Courcelle, Pawly R. & Lierneux P. (2009). The Belgian Army in World War I (1. publ. ed.). Oxford: Osprey. p. 7. ISBN 9781846034480. 
  2. ^ Aug. Bernard, La Garde Civique belge et ses origins, Liege 1905[page needed]
  3. ^ Colour plates by Louis Geens, published in Issues 65 and 66 of "Tradition - the Journal of the International Society of Military Collectors"

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