Richard Sedlmayer was
a civilian engineer who resided in München. He was mobilized at a Leutnant der
Reserve in the 1. Reservekompagnie of the 1st Bavarian Pionier
Battalion. The Bavarian Pionier Regiment was disbanded in January 1917, the 1.
and 2. Bataillon as well as the 3 Kompagnies of the Pionier Belagerungs Train
were renumbered as independent Battalions.
bravely throughout the war fighting on the Aisne, on the Somme, in the Artois
and in Flanders. He ended the war on the staff in the 17th Bavarian
His introduction to
the war took place at Orchies, a town in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
On the 25th
of September the town of Orchies was razed to the ground by the men of the I.
bayerische Pionier Bataillon. 800 buildings including the church and Mayor’s
office were set alight with incendiary tablets and grenades on orders of Major
von Mehring, town commandant of Valenciennes. Von Mehring posted a note to the
civilian population on the 27th of September 1914
Above: Orchies after its destruction
“I have been forced
to employ the most severe measures allowed under the laws of war upon the town
of Orchies. In the town there were attacks on German Medical personnel and the
murder of approximately 20 German soldiers. The most terrible mutilation
(Including ears cut off and eyes gouged out) was carried out on the soldiers.
As a result I gave orders to destroy the town of Orchies, previously home to 5
000 inhabitants. The town no longer exists, Houses, Mayor’s office and Church
have disappeared, and there are no longer habitants in the town. The
Commandant, Major von Mehring, Valenciennes the 27th of September
Postwar authors have
described the punitive action as the French equivalent of the destruction of
Louvain. French reports claim the medical personnel were fired on as they
advanced in a vehicle devoid of Red Crosses, the mutilation of the bodies
caused by Artillery fire and not by villagers.
The destruction of
Orchies in not mentioned in the Battle Calendar of the 1st
Battalion. Most of the companies cover the period from the 23rd of
September as the “Battle on the Somme”. The 1. Reserve Company has the whole
week left blank.
Above: A postwar Postcard reminding French citizens that the German salesman knocking at their door is the same man who killed, burned and pillaged during the war. Actions like Louvain and Orchies were never to be forgotten
The History of the Bavarian pioneer Regiment writes ...As the next action of the Battalion was declared a
“War Crime” we feel it fitting to show an account of the action as recorded in
the Battalion history. On the 24th of September 1914 a train was
stopped in Valenciennes and on the orders of the Ettapenkommandant the I. bay.
Pionier Bataillon debarked. According to the Kommandant, French troops were
advancing towards Valenciennes from the town of Orchies and he needed troops to
guard the three bridges over the Escaut Canal. The responsible A.O.K. confirmed
that the Batallion should act on these orders. At 8:25am on the 25th of September the
battalion received verbal orders from the Ettapenkommandant that the town of
Orchies was to be razed to the ground. It was believed that German medical
personnel had come under fire from the village on the 23rd of
September. The battalion was also to look for about 30 soldiers missing in
action from the Landwehr Infanterie Regiment 35. The Battalion began its march to Orchies at 09:15.
During the march orders arrived from the Ettapenkommandant that if the
Battalion can under fire they should not advance but should occupy trenches on
the western edge of St. Amand. At 12:15 the Battalion reached the Western edge of St.
Amand. During a March break a bicycle patrol was sent out to determine if
French troops were approaching from Orchies or if the village was occupied by
enemy troops. At 12:45 the march continued as there was no evidence
of enemy presence. Exiting the village a windmill at Petit Prillon was
observed. It had not been turning, but as we marched into the open it began to
move. Efforts to keep the sails turning seemed suspicious and a patrol arrested
the two men operating the windmill and to prevent possible signaling they
burned it to the ground. Approaching the village part of the bicycle patrol
arrived and reported the village was empty with the exception of a number of
older citizens. The Patrol brought with them four civilian prisoners, two of
which had been caught standing over the body of a soldier from the 35th. There was no evidence that they had plundered or
interfered with the body and no reason to doubt that they were simply looking
out of curiosity. For this reason they were not executed. The prisoners were delivered
to the Ettapenkommandant.
The conditions of the bodies found were later recorded
in a medical report. Approaching the village the 1. Res. Komp. turned to
the left and advanced to secure the Southern border of the town, advancing to
the western exit to stop the local population from fleeing. The 2. Komp turned
right and did the same on the northern edge. The 1. Komp marched directly into the village.
The Houses were all boarded up, only 20 or so older or
sick men and women were found. During the search of the village ammunition was
found in some of the houses, in the Council building a few rifles and a sword. One badly wounded soldier of the 35th was
found as were 8 identity tags in the Mayor’s office. 21 bodies were found in the surrounding fields with
injuries that defy description. The villagers, including the sick were assembled at
the south east exit to the village, the wounded man taken to the hospital by
wheel barrow. The village was then torched. Two houses which had been marked as
medical aid stations, including the one where the man from the 35th
had been treated were spared. The old and sick villagers were left behind and the
(now) nine prisoners and two millers were taken with us. Also taken were 2
priests, one from Flines les Raches and one from Lille. The dead of the 35th were buried with
military honors in three graves. Its punitive expedition finished, the Battalion left
the town at 7:30pm and headed for Valenciennes, with them were any men from the
village deemed fit to bare arms. They were to be deported to Germany. It should be noted from the description of the events
above that the battalion acted with remarkable restraint considering the
evidence of mutilated comrades and the orders they had been given. It is
probable that the bulk of the villagers had left before our arrival as they
knew that they deserved a harsh German retribution. The next day the battalion continued its journey to St
French records report
5 civilians killed on the 25th of September including two 75 year
old infirm inhabitants who could not leave their house and the 21 year old
Germaine Piquet who was shot while trying to rescue her cows from the flames.
Heinrich Bessinger, a
Pionier in the 2. Komp (Killed on the 2nd of October 1914 at
Montauban) had written in his diary “25th of September. 10:00am
depart for Orchies,arrival at 4. We search the houses, all civilians arrested.
A woman is shot because she ignores an order to “Halt” but wanted to run. Then
the town is set alight. At seven we leave the burning town for Valenciennes.”
The Award Documents
Kreuz 4.Klasse mit Schwertern (Bavarian Military Service Order 4th Class with swords)
Leutnant d. Res.
Sedlmayer was awarded the Bavarian Military Service Order 4th Class with swords
on the 12th of December 1914. At the time of the award his company
was preparing positions between Lihons and Andechy.
Iron Cross 2nd Class
At the time of the
award Leutnant der Reserve Richard Sedlmayer was 1st Reserve
Company. The award was made on the 24st of October 1914 by General
von Fasbender, commander of the 1st Bavarian Reserve Korps.
At the time of the
award the company was in Combles on the Somme. The “Race for the Sea” was over
and the Allied and German armies were digging in, preparing defensive positions
that stretched from the Channel to the Swiss border.
Iron Cross 1st Class
At the time of the
award Oberleutnant der Reserve Richard Sedlmayer was in temporary command of
the 1st Reserve Company hence the title “Führer”. The award was made
on the 31st of December 1916 by General von Fasbender, commander of
the 1st Bavarian Reserve Korps. This document has a light bluish
tinge to the ink.
At the end of 1916
the 1. Reservekompagnie was engaged in mining and counter mining under the
front lines near Lens in the Artois.