The British soldiers who were arrested by the Germans in February 1915 were mainly from the Connaught Rangers and the Munster Fusiliers. They had fallen behind the BEF during the retreat from Mons and had become cut off behind enemy lines after actions at Le Grand Fayt and that at Etreux on 26th August 1914.
The young men were living and scavenging in the local forest near to Iron (which is about three miles from Etreux), sheltering in a hunter’s hut and accepting food from local French people who had reason to be in the forest. By October the men were close to starvation when they encountered Vincent Chalandre. He was a retired silk worker who still did casual work for Mme Logez who owned a mill in Iron.
In October, Mme Logez offered to house the soldiers in her mill where she organised hot food and dry accommodation for the men.
The first inclining of danger (December 15th )was a party of German Military Police arriving at the mill. Mme Logez delayed the search of the mill while her daughter Jeanne warned the soldiers who left by a safe route at the rear. This can be considered as the first betrayal. After this the soldiers moved to live with Vincent Chalandre.
There were three more actors in this drama: Clovis Chalandre, who was Vincent’s son, Blanche Maréchal, a married woman who lived in the village, and Bachelet a veteran from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Clovis and Bachelet vied for the affections of Blanche. The rivalry led to betrayal after a fight where Bachelet was badly beaten up. On February 22nd , Bachelet took his story of the English soldiers in the village to German military headquarters in Guise. There he spoke to the Rear Zone commanding officer Lt-Colonel Waechter. In the afternoon, Waechter & Bachelet left Guise in a convoy of cars and a lorry for Iron. The soldiers were arrested and went quietly in the lorry back to Guise. They had a prepared cover story, that they had been living rough since August and had only recently asked Chalandre for help.
Chalandre’s wife, daughter & Clovis were arrested the following day and interrogated. Whereas the women kept to the prepared story, Clovis, the ‘weak link’, told the full story. Mme Logez was arrested a day later (February 23rd ). While she was awaiting interrogation, German soldiers returned to Iron and burned her mill
The record of a trial or tribunal into the soldiers and Chalandre does not now exist but they were condemned to a public execution which took place on 26th February 1915. The soldiers (and Chalandre) were ordered to dig their own graves and shot. A German officer now gave them the coup de grace and the bodies were covered with soil.
Members of the Logez and Chalandre families were brought before a military tribunal, found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment in German prisons.
Was the treatment of the Iron 12 unnecessarily brutal? In the period between January 1915 and May 1916, twenty four British soldiers (not one an officer) were shot in the rear area around Guise. In other areas, discretion from the local commander led to much more tolerant punishments. The ‘pocket of cruelty’ that is most noticeable at Guise was the responsibility of the Commander Lt-General von Neiper and his legal advisor Dr Friedmann who can only be described as Francophobes. They took a hard line – Germany was at war and German law extended to the civilians and captured enemy soldiers who were accused of spying and brigandry and were, therefore, sentenced to death after capture.
Report by Peter Palmer