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Visiting Place du Général Leman, Liège, Belgium: remembering a distinguished Belgian WW1 general who never surrendered

Updated on February 5, 2013
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
General Leman arriving by railroad in Paris following his release
General Leman arriving by railroad in Paris following his release | Source
Intersection of place du Général Leman with rue du Vieux-Mayeur, Liège
Intersection of place du Général Leman with rue du Vieux-Mayeur, Liège | Source
Place du Général Leman, Liège, Belgium
Place du Général Leman, Liège, Belgium | Source
Belgian General Gérard Leman
Belgian General Gérard Leman | Source

Recalling years of international turmoil, a century ago

Among the various public squares in Belgium's city of Liège, in the Walloon region (French: Région wallonne ), is place du général Leman , which is named for one of Belgium's distinguished military leaders.

General Gérard Leman (1851-1920) served in a number of prominent functions (1), the most famous of which being his defence of the city of Liège in 1914. Prior to World War One, he was responsible for building up the city's defensive fortifications, in the face of some opposition by neutralist political leaders who imagined that Imperial Germany would respect Belgium's official neutrality (events strongly proved otherwise). At one point, 18,000 troops were mobilized at Liège's defences. After the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, General Leman refused calls to surrender Liège, and only after huge bombardment by German guns and aerial raiding by Zeppelin did his leadership of the resistance cease upon being rendered unconscious, after which General Leman was taken into captivity on August 15, 1914.

The General would indeed later maintain that he had never formally surrendered, but that his captivity was effected only after enemy action had caused him to lose consciousness; and it is this version of events which has gone down in official Belgian military history. In 1920, the city authorities in Liège decided to name a square, formerly known as place de Fragnée (2) in his honour.

Several of the houses in place du Général Leman , and its intersecting roads avenue Emile Digneffe and rue du Vieux-Mayeur date from the early 20th century and display familiar red brick frontages; some of these surviving properties display ornate elements which recall Art Nouveau , at its zenith in Belgium in the opening years of the 20th century.

The neighbourhood therefore recalls first of all an optimistic period of the country's when many Belgians relished a neutral Belgium and an image of manufacturing distinction, as presented at the Universal Exhibition. It also causes the discerning citizen or visitor to remember the large dose of military realism which replaced the former optimism, when first the threat of invasion, then the actual invasion itself, occurred in 1914, and the undoubted bravery of Belgian military defenders of the country's violated sovereignty, led in no small measure by General Gérard Leman. It also recalls a now vanished era of international tensions, prior to the decision of Belgian leaders, and of many European countries at the end of World War Two, to pursue a future of collective security in cooperation with the United States and other allies.

December 13, 2012


(1) General Leman at various times also headed the Royal Military School (French: Ecole royale militaire ; Dutch: Koninklijke Militaire School ), Brussels, achieved distinction as a mathematician, and served as military tutor to the future King Albert I of the Belgians, who later ennobled the General with the title of Count.

(2) Interestingly, a nearby bridge, known as Pont de Fragnée , is linked to what is now place du Général Leman by the currently named avenue Emile Digneffe , but which was formerly called allée de l'Exposition. This latter name recalls the Universal Exhibition of 1905 (French: Exposition Universelle de 1905 ), held at Liège in the close neighbourhood.

Also worth seeing

In Liège itself, other visitor attractions include: the Zénobe Gramme Monument close to the Fragnée Bridge; the Fine Arts Palace (French: Palais des Beaux-Arts ), also associated with the Universal Exhibition of 1905; the Perron; the Bueren Mountain; the Cointe Basilica and other, fine ecclesiastical architecture; the equestrian statue of Charlemagne, and many others.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Liège : 94 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB maintains a service from Brussels to Liège . Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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