Garde Civique

Painting of the Garde Civique at the end of the Belgian Revolution of 1831 by Jean-Baptiste Madou

The Garde Civique or Burgerwacht (French and Dutch; "Civic Guard") was a Belgian paramilitary militia created in October 1830 shortly after the Belgian Revolution. The Garde was founded through the amalgamation of various militia groups created by the middle classes during the anarchy following the revolution. It acted as a quasi-military "gendarmerie", with the primary role of maintaining social order within Belgium, until its disestablishment in 1920.


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. The Garde Civique was, in peacetime, the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior rather than the Ministry of War.[1] It was distinct from the Belgian Gendarmerie (Rijkswacht) which formed part of the military.

1912 caricature of the Garde Civique on patrol in city of Ghent by the artist Jules De Bruycker

Most of the Garde units were infantry but there were some artillery and mounted detachments. On the eve of World War I the Garde Civique included 33 companies of chasseurs-à-pied (light infantry), 17 batteries of artillery, 4 squadrons of chasseurs-à-cheval (light horse) and 3 companies of sapeurs-pompiers (armed firemen). About half of these special corps were concentrated in the urban areas of Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Liège, reflecting the historic role of the Garde as a force to maintain civil order.[2]

Purpose and dress

The stated purpose of the Garde was to maintain order and preserve the independence and integrity of Belgium.[3]

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.[4] Infantry wore a wide brimmed hat with plume, cavalry a fur busby and artillery a shako.[5] The 40,700 civil guardsmen serving in the active portion ("1st Ban") of the force were required to provide their own uniforms.[6]

Role in World War I

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 13 October 1914 King Albert I decreed the dissolution of the Garde.[7] Most of its younger members transferred to the regular Belgian Army.

Final disbandment

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. 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


  1. Courcelle, Pawly R. & Lierneux P. (2009). The Belgian Army in World War I (1. publ. ed.). Oxford: Osprey. p. 7. ISBN 9781846034480.
  2. Page 52 "Handbook of the Belgian Army", British War Office 1914, ISBN 978-1-78331-094-4
  3. Page 51 "Handbook of the Belgian Army", British War Office 1914, ISBN 978-1-78331-094-4
  4. Aug. Bernard, La Garde Civique belge et ses origins, Liege 1905
  5. Colour plates by Louis Geens, published in Issues 65 and 66 of "Tradition - the Journal of the International Society of Military Collectors"
  6. Page 51 "Handbook of the Belgian Army", British War Office 1914, ISBN 978-1-78331-094-4
  7. Pawly, R; Lierneux, P. (2009). The Belgian Army in World War I (1st ed.). Oxford: Osprey. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-84603-448-0.
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