Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Baron Jules Jacques

Jules Marie Alphonese Jacques was born in Stavelot on 24 February 1858. He entered the Military Academy on 1 May 1876 and graduated as a second lieutenant on 4 May 1878. His military career was solid and he advanced regularly. He had become commanding captain when he was first sent to the Congo Free State by the by the Belgian Anti-Slavery Society. He would serve four consecutive tours of service in the Congo until 1905. This service would not be without some controversy, as is to be expected. In 1892 he founded the town of Albertville (now known as Kalemie) and from 1895 to 1898 he directed the harvesting of the rubber in the Inongo region. He also helped extent state control and eradicate the slave trade in the eastern Congo in the campaign against the Arab-Swahili slavers. The Church supported this and Jacques was given an audience with Pope Leo XIII when he was on his way to Africa.

The controversy involved his inclusion in the infamous “Casement Report” of 1904, written by the British consul, which aroused foreign opposition to the activities in the Congo Free State. Captain Jules Jacques was soon sent back to Belgium anyway and was promoted to colonel. His greatest service was to come during the Great War when he was mobilized and later took command of the Twelfth Line Regiment. His led his soldiers with great skill and extreme bravery, becoming a hero of the Belgian army in the first days of the harsh attacks from the powerful German forces. He encouraged his men and they were so devoted to him that his presence alone would raise their spirits. It was said that his name was like a flag to his brave soldiers especially at the battle of Sart-Tilmant. In the early days of the invasion his troops successfully repelled two heavy German attacks near Antwerp that was crucial in giving the Belgian forces time to withdraw to the Yser.

Colonel Jacques was then put in command of the defense of Diksmuide with only his few soldiers and some French marines. He vowed that the Germans would not pass so long as he lived and he led his soldiers in fierce resistance, enduring terrible enemy bombardment and heavy attacks. When their commander, General Meiser, was evacuated to hospital it was Colonel Jacques who took command of the brigade of the 11th and 12th line. His glorious defense of Diksmuide, longer than anyone on both sides of the war thought was humanly possible, earned Jacques great fame in the Allied armies and of course Belgium particularly. In 1915 he was promoted major general and then in 1916 to lieutenant general commanding the famous Third “Iron Division” that was so tough on the Germans at Liege. He commanded various sectors of the Yser front during the hard years of trench warfare.

Every one of his soldiers knew him and respected him because of how close he was to them all the time, sharing danger and privations. He encouraged his men to use the difficult circumstances to toughen themselves and resolve their wills to prepare for the great counteroffensive they were determined to make that would drive out the Germans and liberate Belgium. His men were so proud of him that they referred to their unit as the “Jacques Division”. In 1918 when the Germans launched their last major, massive offensive of the war General Jacques and his men were hit hard in a crushing blow. Their front lines were broken through and they were almost overwhelmed but the preparations Jacques had made proved worthy and the they held on tenaciously. General Jacques organized special attack battalions to drive the Germans back and after hours of heavy fighting the Belgian army was victorious and had driven out all of the Germans from their sector.

Properly honored for his great achievement King Albert I entrusted to General Jacques the center group of his armies for the counter-attack on 28 September 1918 including the No. 3 and No. 9 divisions as well as a French division. With his typical courage and skill, leading his bold and fearless troops with reckless abandon General Jacques captured Flanders Ridge and the Stadenberg et de Westroosebeke. It was costly and hard fighting but General Jacques had promised the King he would conquer and he accomplished the task given to him. The next month, in the joy of victory, his troops paraded for King Albert I. Belgium was liberated, independence restored, the country secured and for his great, strong defense at Diksmuide the King gave him the title of Baron Jules Jacques de Diksmuide. He died in 1928 but memorials in his honor stand in several battlefields to remember him.

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