First August Thiry lecture “The deployment of the Belgian Armoured Car Corps (ACM) to West-Ukraine and their subsequent odyssey”


IMG_4668On the April 22, 2016 the Embassy of Belgium in Ukraine with the support of the National Museum of Military History of Ukraine (Kyiv, 30/1,  Mykhaila Grushevskogo Str.) held a lecture by August Thiry (BE), ACM-expert and author of the book “King Albert’s Heroes”  – The deployment of the Belgian Armoured Car Corps (ACM) to West-Ukraine and their subsequent odyssey. In this way the Embassy of Belgium in Ukraine honor memory of  First World War  in Ukraine and Belgium by recalling the Belgian Corps of Armoured Cars (АСМ – auto-canons-mitrailleurs) which were engaged in fighting at Western Ukraine (Ternopil region) and maintain their base in Kyiv between 1916 and 1918, before returning home tracing their way through Siberia and the USA.

The Ambassador of Belgium to Ukraine, Mr. Luc Jacobs, Attaché of Embassy Mr. Jean de Lannoy, Jan Bultheel, maker of the film “Cafard”, a fictional account based on the ACM campaign in Great War, Director of the National Museum of Military History of Ukraine, Mr. Vladyslav Taranets visited the lecture.

In 2014-2018, Belgium organises across the world events commemorating the centenary of the First World War. Belgium diplomatic mission abroad has been encouraged to organize their own commemoration events. This year a lot of events will be held in Ukraine.

Supported by Ukrainian partners, Embassy of Belgium in Ukraine is conducting a series of commemorative events, conferences, concerts, photo exhibitions, theater performances, student competitions in literary translation, lectures and discussions.

Until recently, the history of the Belgian division was unknown for most Ukrainian. Such books as the “Pilgrims of the Great War. Belgian Armored Division Odyssey in 1915 – 1918 years” and “On the periphery of War. Belgian Armored Division in Ukraine” by August Thiry gave us the opportunity to open this unknown page in our shared past. Thus the lecture aims to foster intercultural dialogue between Ukraine and Belgium by studying history.

Special attention should be given to Marcel Thiry novel “Passing through Kiev”. Ukrainian translation of the novel were presented recently in Kiev. His first novel Thiry devoted to the events in Kiev in 1917-1918 years, during which the writer a soldier of Belgium unit was in the barracks at St. Michael’s Monastery. The novel described Murav’eva offensive and Bolshevik terror in 1918 in Kiev. Marcel Thiry vision of Ukraine and the role of war in the Ukraine in his work one of the important sources for writers and historians both from Ukraine and Belgium.

When Germany invaded neutral Belgium they were confident that Belgians will not create serious obstacles to they plans. But Belgians did not surrender. They fight for independence to the end of the war.

Battle of Liège, defence of Antwerp and Namur, Battle of the Yser – clear evidence of Belgians fighting spirit in their struggle against the aggressor.   Flanders will be one of the bloodiest battlefields. Allies and German troops converge in three bloody battles of Ypres.

The August Thiry book “King Albert’s Heroes” is an fascinating story of ordinary young soldier in the extraordinary and breathtaking events. A Belgian elite army unit – the Belgian Armoured Car Corps (‘ACM’, standing for ‘auto-canons-mitrailleuses’) is an example of faithful service to King and Country and the extraordinary story of their journey around the world confirm this. Four hundred soldiers go to war and part of them never return home. They will be buried in foreign lands but not forgotten.

The book synopsis by August Thiry :

A non-fiction book about the 1915-1918 odyssee of a Belgian armoured car corps.

End 1914, the first year of the Great War.  Belgium is almost completely occupied by the German army. Four hundred young Belgians, all of them volunteers of war, are determined to continue the fighting, among them the poet and novelist Marcel Thiry and the world champion wrestling Constant Le Marin.  They assemble in Paris and get organized as an elite corps, the ACM or Autos-Canons-Mitrailleuses, their armoured cars being equipped with canons and machine guns.  The Belgian king Albert decides to send this special unit to Russia to assist the tsarist armed forces.

After their arrival by boat over the Atlantic Ocean in Saint-Petersburg, the ACM-Belgians parade in the imperial residence of Tsarskoje Selo and are received by Tsar Nicholas II.  They spend the first months of 1916 in the Galician town of Zbaraz in western Ukraine and take part in the Russian summer offensive of that year.  During these attacks in the Ternopil region several ACM-men are killed in action.  The Belgians spend the winter of 1916-17 in the small village of Ozerna, west of Ternopil, and it is there that they witness the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution.  The Russian army is falling apart, the general retreat follows soon and at the end of 1917 the Belgians get stuck in Kiev.  Having found shelter in the Saint Michael’s monastery, the ACM-men are caught in the middle of a civil war.

When Red Army troops conquer Kiev in February 1918, the Belgians have to give up their armoured cars, but they manage to get a train for the journey back home.  And a very long and adventurous journey it will be! The Belgians travel by train to Moscow, over the Ural and all the way through Siberia.  Anarchy rules along the Trans-Siberian Railway and the ACM-men have to negotiate with local Reds and force free passage for themselves.  At last they reach the Russian-Chinese border and after a last tough confrontation with Red Guards, they enter northern China and spend some weeks on leave in Harbin.

End of April 1918 they board in Vladivostok an American ship that brings them over the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco.  It is the start of their five weeks’ tour of triumph through the United States.  They are welcomed by the America public as Belgian veterans of war and they show themselves as King Albert’s heroes on military parades from California to New York.

Finally they cross the Atlantic Ocean to France.  This means coming home in the summer of 1918 and realizing that the long journey has come to an end.  All that is left is looking back and remembering their three great years wandering all over the world in times of war and revolution.  Four hundred amazing Belgians, four hundred pages of worldwide adventure and hundred extra pages with original photos.  The ACM Story is a forgotten episode of the Great War, now fully re-created and visualized in the book King Albert’s Heroes.

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