from the book : 'My First year of the War'
'In Belgium Under the Germans'
by Frederick Palmer

An American Reporter Tours Occupied Belgium

German sentry and artillery in font of the Brussels Palace of Justice


No week at the front, where war is made, left the mind so full as this week beyond the sound of the guns with war's results. It taught the meaning of the simple words life and death, hunger and food, love and hate. One was in a house with sealed doors where a family of seven millions sat in silence and idleness, thinking of nothing but war and feeling nothing but war. He had war cold as the fragments of an exploded shell beside a dead man on a frozen road ; war analysed and docketed for exhibition, without its noise, its distraction, and its hot passion.

In Ostend I had seen the Belgian refugees in flight, and I had seen them pouring into London stations, bedraggled outcasts of every class, with the staring uncertainty of the helpless human flock flying from the storm. England, who considered that they had suffered for her sake, opened her purse and her heart to them; she opened her homes, both modest suburban homes and big country houses which are particular about their guests in time of peace. No British family without a Belgian was doing its duty. Bishop's wife and publican's wife took whatever Belgian was sent to her. The refugee packet arrived without the nature of contents on the address tag. All Belgians had become heroic and noble by grace of the defenders of Liege.

Perhaps the bishop's wife received a young woman who smoked cigarettes, and asked her hostess for rouge, and the publican's wife received a countess. Mrs. Smith, of Clapham, who had brought up her children in the strictest propriety, welcomed as play-mates for her dears, whom she had kept away from the contaminating associations of the alleys, Belgian children from the toughest quarters of Antwerp, who had a precocity that led to baffling confusion in Mrs. Smith's mind between parental responsibility and patriotic duty. Smart society gave the run of its houses sometimes to gentry who were used to getting the run of that kind of houses by lifting a window with a jemmy on a dark night. It was a refugee lottery. When two hosts met one said : "My Belgian is charming! " and the other said: "Mine isn't. Just listen------"

But the English are game ; they are loyal; they bear their burden of hospitality bravely.

The strange things that happened were not the more agreeable because of the attitude of some refugees who, when they were getting better fare than they ever had at home, thought that, as they had given their "all" for England, they should be getting still better, not to mention wine on the table in temperance families ; whilst there was a disinclination towards self-support by means of work on the part of certain heroes by proxy which promised a Belgian occupation of England that would last as long as the German occupation of Belgium. England was learning that there are Belgians and Belgians. She had received not a few of the "and Belgians."

It was only natural. When the German cruisers bombarded Scarborough and the Hartlepools, the first to the station were not the finest and sturdiest. Those with good bank accounts and a disinclination to take any bodily or gastronomic risks, the young idler who stands on the street corner ogling girls and the girls who are always in the street to be ogled, the flighty-minded, the irresponsible, the tramp, the selfish, and the cowardly, are bound to be in the van of flight from any sudden disaster and to make the most of the generous sympathy of those who succour them.

The courageous, the responsible, those with homes and property at stake, those with an inborn sense of real patriotism which means loyalty to locality and to their neighbours, are more inclined to remain with their homes and their property. Besides, a refugee hardly appears at his best. He is in a strange country, forlorn, homesick, a hostage of fate and personal misfortune. The Belgian nation had taken the Allies' side and now individual Belgians expected help from the Allies.

England did not get the worst of the refugees. They could travel no farther than Holland, where the Dutch Government appropriated money to care for them at the same time that it was under the expense of keeping its army mobilized. Looking at the refugees in the camp at Bergen-op-Zoom, an observer might share some of the contempt of the Germans for the Belgians. Crowded in temporary huts in the chill, misty weather of a Dutch winter, they seemed listless, marooned human wreckage. They would not dig ditches to drain their camp ; they were given to pilfering from one another the clothes which the world's charity supplied. The heart was out of them. They were numbed by disaster.

Are all these men and women who are living together married ?" I asked the Dutch officer in charge.

"It is not for us to inquire," he replied. " Most of them say that they have lost their marriage certificates."


German troops marching over one of the main Antwerp boulevards


They were from the slums of that polyglot seaport town Antwerp, which Belgians say is anything but real Belgium. To judge Belgium by them is like judging an American town by the worst of its back streets, where saloons and pawnshops are numerous and red lights twinkle from dark doorways.

Around a table in a Rotterdam hotel one met some generals who were organizing a different kind of campaign from that which brought glory to the generals who conquered Belgium. It was odd that Dr. Rose — that Dr. Rose who had discovered and fought the hook worm among the mountaineers of the Southern States — should be succouring Belgium, and yet only natural. Where else should he and Henry James, Jr., of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mr. Bicknell, of the American Red Cross, be, if not here directing the use of an endowment fund set aside for just such purposes ?

They had been all over Belgium and up into the Northern Departments of France occupied by the Germans, investigating conditions. For they were practical men, trained for solving the problem of charity with wisdom, who wanted to know that their money was well spent. They had nothing for the refugees in London, but they found that the people who had stayed at home in Belgium were worthy of help. The fund was allowing five hundred thousand dollars a month for the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, which was the amount that the Germans had spent in a single day in the destruction of the town of Ypres with shells. Later they were to go to Poland ; then to Serbia.

With them was Herbert C. Hoover, a celebrated mining engineer, the head of the Commission. When American tourists were stranded over Europe at the outset of the war, with letters of credit which could not be cashed, their route homeward must lie through London. They must have steamer passage. Hoover took charge. When this work was done and Belgium must be helped, he took charge of a task that could be done only by a neutral. For the adjutants and field officers of his force he turned to American business men in London, to Rhodes scholars at Oxford, and to other volunteers hastening from America.

When "Harvard, 1914," who had lent a hand in the American refugees' trials, appeared in Hoover's office to volunteer for the new campaign, Hoover said: "You are going to Rotterdam to-night."

"So I am !" said Harvard, 1914, and started accordingly. Action and not red tape must prevail in such an organization.

The Belgians whom I wished to see were those behind the line of guards on the Belgo-Dutch frontier; those who had remained at home under the Germans to face humiliation and hunger. This was possible if you had the right sort of influence and your passport the right sort of vise's to accompany a Bescheinigung, according to the form of "31 Oktober, 1914, Sect. 616, Nr. 1083," signed by the German consul at Rotterdam, which put me in the same motor-car with Harvard, 1914, that stopped one blustery, snowy day of late December before a gate, with Belgium on one side and Holland on the other side of it, on the Rosendaal-Antwerp road. "Once more !" said Harvard, 1914, who had made this journey many times as a dispatch rider.

One of the conquerors, the sentry representing the majesty of German authority in Belgium, examined the pass. The conqueror was a good deal larger around the middle than when he was young, but not so large as when he went to war. He had a scarf tied over his ears under a cracked old patent-leather helmet, which the Saxon Landsturm must have taken from their garrets when the Kaiser sent the old fellows to keep the Belgians in order so that the young men could be spared to get rheumatism in the trenches if they escaped death.

You could see that the conqueror missed his wife's cooking and Sunday afternoon in the beer garden with his family. However much he loved the Kaiser, it did not make him love home any the less. His nod admitted us into German- ruled Belgium. He looked so lonely that as our car started I sent him a smile. Surprise broke on his face. Somebody not a German in uniform had actually smiled at him in Belgium!

My last glimpse of him was of a grin spreading under the scarf toward his ears.


German troops on guard in Ostend

placing official notices in Antwerp


Belgium was webbed with these old Landsturm guards. If your Passierschein was not right, you might survive the first set of sentries and even the second, but the third, and if not the third some succeeding one of the dozens on the way to Brussels, would hale you before a Kommandatur. Then you were in trouble. In travelling about Europe I became so used to passes that when I returned to New York I could not have thought of going to Hoboken without the German consul's visa or of dining at a French restaurant without the French consul's.

"And again !" said Harvard, 1914, as we came to another sentry. There was good reason why Harvard had his pass in a leather-bound case under a celluloid face. Otherwise, it would soon have been worn out in showing. He had been warned by the Commission not to talk and he did not talk. He was neutrality personified. All he did was to show his pass. He could be silent in three languages. The only time I got anything like partisanship out of him and two sentences in succession was when I mentioned the Harvard-Yale football game.

"My! Wasn't that a smear! In their new stadium, too! Oh, my! Wish I had been there!"

When the car broke a spring half-way to Antwerp, he remarked, "Naturally !" or, rather, a more expressive monosyllable which did not sound neutral.

While he and the Belgian chauffeur, with the help of a Belgian farmer as spectator, were patching up the broken spring, I had a look at the farm. The winter crops were in ; the cabbages and Brussels sprouts in the garden were untouched. It happened that the scorching finger of war's destruction had not been laid on this little property. In the yard the wife was doing the week's washing, her hands in hot water and her arms exposed to weather so cold that I felt none too warm in a heavy overcoat. At first sight she gave me a frown, which instantly dissipated into a smile when she saw that I was not German.

If not German, I must be a friend. Yet if I were I would not dare talk — not with German sentries all about. She lifted her hand from the suds and swung it out to the west toward England and France with an eager, craving fire in her eyes, and then she swept it across in front of her as if she were sweeping a spider off a table. When it stopped at arm's length there was the triumph of hate in her eyes. I thought of the lid of a cauldron raised to let out a burst of steam as she asked "When ?" When ? When would the Allies come and turn the Germans out ?

She was a kind, hardworking woman, who would help any stranger in trouble the best she knew how. Probably that Saxon whose smile had spread under his scarf had much the same kind of wife. Yet I knew that if the Allies' guns were heard driving the Germans past her house and her husband had a rifle, he would put a shot in that Saxon's back, or she would pour boiling water on his head if she could. Then, if the Germans had time, they would burn the farmhouse and kill the husband who had shot one of their comrades.

I recollect a youth who had been in a railroad accident saying: "That was the first time I had ever seen death ; the first time I realized what death was." Exactly. You don't know death till you have seen it ; you don't know invasion till you have felt it. However wise, however able the conquerors, life under them is a living death. True, the farmer's property was untouched, but his liberty was gone. If you, a well-behaved citizen, have ever been arrested and marched through the streets of your home town by a policeman, how did you like it ? Give the policeman a rifle and a fixed bayonet and a full cartridge-box and transform him into a foreigner and the experience would not be any more pleasant.

That farmer could not go to the next town without the permission of the sentries. He could not even mail a letter to his son who was in the trenches with the Allies. The Germans had taken his horse ; theirs the power to take anything he had — the power of the bayonet. If he wanted to send his produce to a foreign market, if he wanted to buy food in a foreign market, the British naval blockade closed the sea to him. He was sitting on a chair of steel spikes, hands tied and mouth gagged, whilst his mind seethed, solacing its hate with hope through the long winter months. If you lived in Kansas and could not get your wheat to Chicago, or any groceries or newspapers from the nearest town, or learn whether your son in Wyoming were alive or dead, or whether the man who owned your mortgage in New York had foreclosed it or not — well, that is enough without the German sentry.

Only, instead of newspapers or word about the mortgage, the thing you needed past that blockade was bread to keep you from starving. America opened a window and slipped a loaf into the empty larder. Those Belgian soldiers whom I had seen at Dixmude, wounded, exhausted, mud-caked, shivering, were happy beside the people at home. They were in the fight. It is not the destruction of towns and houses that impresses you most, but the misery expressed by that peasant woman over her wash tub.

A writer can make a lot of the burst of a single shell; a photographer showing the ruins of a block of buildings or a church makes it appear that all blocks and all churches are in ruins. Running through Antwerp in a car, one saw few signs of destruction from the bombardment. You will see them if you are specially conducted. Shops were open, people were moving about in the streets, which were well lighted. No need of darkness for fear of bombs dropping here! German barracks had safe shelter from aerial raids in a city whose people were the allies of England and France. But at intervals marched the German patrols.

When our car stopped before a restaurant a knot gathered around it. Their faces were like all the other faces I saw in Belgium — unless German — with that restrained, drawn look of passive resistance, persistent even when they smiled. When? When were the Allies coming ? Their eyes asked the question which their tongues dared not. Inside the restaurant a score of German officers served by Belgian waiters were dining. Who were our little party ? What were we doing there and speaking English — English, the hateful language of the hated enemy ? Oh, yes! We were Americans connected with the relief work. But between the officers' stares at the sound of English and the appealing inquiry of the faces in the street lay an abyss of war's fierce suspicion and national policies and racial enmity, which America had to bridge.

Before we could help Belgium, England, blockading Germany to keep her from getting foodstuffs, had to consent. She would consent only if none of the food reached German mouths. Germany had to agree not to requisition any of the food. Someone not German and not British must see to its distribution. Those rigid German military authorities, holding fast to their military secrets, must consent to scores of foreigners moving about Belgium and sending messages across that Belgo-Dutch frontier which had been closed to all except official German messages. This called for men whom both the German and the British duellists would trust to succour the human beings crouched and helpless under the circling flashes of their steel.

Fortunately, our Minister to Belgium was Brand Whitlock. He is no Talleyrand or Metternich. If he were, the Belgians might not have been fed, because he might have been suspected of being too much of a diplomatist. When an Englishman, or a German, or a Hottentot, or any other kind of a human being gets to know Whitlock, he recognizes that here is an honest man with a big heart. When leading Belgians came to him and said that winter would find Belgium without bread, he turned from the land that has the least food to that which has the most — his own land.

For Belgium is a great shop in the midst of a garden. Her towns are so close together that they seem only suburbs of Brussels and Antwerp. She has the densest population in Europe. She produces only enough food to last her for two months of the year. The food for the other ten months she buys with the products of her factories. In 1914-15 Belgium could not send out her products ; so we were to help feed her without pay, and England and France were to give money to buy what food we did not give.

But with the British navy generously allowing food to pass the blockade, the problem was far from solved. Ships laden with supplies steaming to Rotterdam — this was a matter of easy organization. How get the bread to the hungry mouths when the Germans were using Belgian railroads for military purposes ? Germany was not inclined to allow a carload of wheat to keep a car-load of soldiers from reaching the front, or to let food for Belgians keep the men in the trenches from getting theirs regularly. Horse and cart transport would be cumbersome, and the Germans would not permit Belgian teamsters to move about with such freedom. As likely as not they might be spies.

Anybody who can walk or ride may be a spy. Therefore, the way to stop spying is not to let anyone walk or ride. Besides, Germany had requisitioned most of the horses that could do more than draw an empty phaeton on a level. But she had not drawn the water out of the canals ; though the Belgians, always whispering jokes at the expense of the conquerors, said that the canals might have been emptied if their contents had been beer. There were plenty of idle boats in Holland, whose canals connect with the web of canals in Belgium. You had only to seal the cargoes against requisition, the seal to be broken only by a representative of the Relief Commission, and start them to their destination.

And how make sure that those who had money should pay for their bread, while all who had not should be reached ? The solution was simple compared to the distribution of relief after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, for example, in our own land, where a sparser population makes social organization comparatively loose.

The people to be relieved were in their homes. Belgium is so old a country, her population so dense, she is so much like one big workshop, that the Government must keep a complete set of books. Every Belgian is registered and docketed. You know just how he makes his living and where he lives. Upon marriage a Belgian gets a little book, giving his name and his wife's, their ages, their occupations, and address. As children are born their names are added. A Belgian holds as fast to this book as a woman to a piece of jewellery that is an heirloom.

With few exceptions, Belgian local officials had not fled the country. They realized that this was a time when they were particularly needed on the job to protect the people from German exactions and from their own rashness. There were also any number of volunteers. The thing was to get the food to them and let them organize local distribution.

The small force of Americans required to oversee the transit must watch that the Germans did not take any of the food and retain both British and German confidence in the absolute good faith of their intentions. The volunteers were paid their expenses; the rest of their reward was experience, and it was "soom expeerience," as a Belgian said who was learning a little American slang. They talked about canal-boat cargoes as if they had been from Buffalo to Albany on the Erie Canal for years ; they spoke of "my province" and compared bread-lines and the efficiency of local officials. And the Germans took none of the food; orders from Berlin were obeyed. Berlin knew that any requisitioning of relief supplies meant that the Relief Commission would cease work and announce to the world the reason.

However many times Americans were arrested they must be patient. That exception who said, when he. was put in a cell overnight because he entered the military zone by mistake, that, he would not have been treated that way in England, needed a little more coaching in preserving his mask of neutrality. For I must say that nine out of ten of these young men, leaning over backward to be neutral, were pro-Ally, including some with German names. But publicly you could hardly get an admission out of them that there was any war. As for Harvard, 1914, hang a passport carrier around the Sphinx's neck and you have him done in stone.

Fancy any Belgian trying to get him to carry a contraband letter or a German commander trying to work him for a few sacks of flour! When I asked him what career he had chosen he said, "Business !" without any waste of words. I think that he will succeed in a way to surprise his family. It is he and all those young Americans of whom he is a type, as distinctive of America in manner, looks, and thought as a Frenchman is of France or a German of Germany, who carried the torch of Peace's kindly work into war-ridden Belgium. They made you want to tickle the eagle on the throat so he would let out a gentle, well-modulated scream ; of course, strictly in keeping with neutrality.

Red lanterns took the place of red flags swung by Landsturm sentries on the run to Brussels as darkness fell. There was no relaxation of watchfulness at night.

All the twenty-four hours the systematic conquerors held the net tight. Once when my companion repeated his " Again! " and held out the pass in the lantern's rays, I broke into a laugh, which excited his curiosity, for you soon get out of the habit of laughing in Belgium.

"It has just occurred to me that my guidebook states that passports are not required in Belgium !" I explained.

The editor of that guidebook will have a busy time before he issues the next edition. For example, he will have a lot of new information about Malines, whose ruins were revealed by the motor-lamps in shadowy broken walls on either side of the main street. Other places where less damage had been done were equally silent. In the smaller towns and villages the population must keep indoors at night; for egress and ingress are more difficult to control there than in large cities, where guards at every corner suffice — watching, watching, these disciplined pawns of remorselessly efficient militarism ; watching every human being in Belgium.

"The last time I saw that statue of Liege," I remarked, peering into the darkness as we rode into the city, "the Legion of Honour conferred by France on Liege for its brave defence was hung on its breast. I suppose it is gone now."

"I guess yes," said Harvard, 1914.


a German military band celebrating the Kaiser's birthday in Brussels


We went to the hotel at Brussels which I had left the day before the city's fall. English railway signs on the walls of the corridor had not been disturbed. More ancient relic still seemed a bulletin board with its announcement of seven passages a day to England, traversing the Channel in " fifty-five minutes via Calais " and " three hours via Ostend," with the space blank where the state of the weather for the despair or the delight of intending voyagers had been chalked up in happier days. The same men were in attendance at the office as before ; but they seemed older and their politeness that of cheerless automatons. For five months they had been serving German officers as guests with hate in their hearts and, in turn, trying to protect their property.

A story is told of how that hotel had filled with officers after the arrival of the Germanic flood and how one day, when it was learned that the proprietor was a Frenchman, guards were suddenly placed at the doors and the hall was filled with luggage as every officer, acting with characteristic official solidarity, vacated his room and bestowed his presence elsewhere. Then the proprietor was informed that his guests would return if he would agree to employ German help and buy his supplies from Germany. He refused, for practical as well as for sentimental reasons. If he had consented, think what the Belgians would have done to him after the Germans were gone! However, officers were gradually returning, for this was the best hotel in town, and even conquerors are human and German conquerors have particularly human stomachs.


CHRISTMAS in Belgium with the bayonet and the wolf at the door taught me to value Christmas at home for more than its gifts and the cheer of the fireside. It taught me what it meant to belong to a free people and how precious is that old English saying that a man's house is his castle, which was the inception of so much in our lives which we accept as a commonplace. If such a commonplace can be made secure only by fighting, then it is best to fight. At any time a foreign soldier might enter the house of a Belgian and take him away for trial before a military court.

Breakfast in the same restaurant as before the city's fall! Again the big grapes which are a luxury of the rich man's table or an extravagance for a sick friend with us! The hothouses still grew them. What else was there for he hothouses to do, though the export of their products was impossible ? A shortage of the long, white-leafed chicory that we call endive in New York restaurants ? There were piles of it in the Brussels market and on the hucksters' carts; nothing so cheap! One might have excellent steaks and roasts and delicious veal; for the heifers were being butchered as the Germans had taken all fodder. But the bread was the Commission's brown, which everyone had to eat. Belgium, growing quality on scanty acres with intensive farming, had food luxuries but not the staff of life.

I looked out of the windows on to the square which four months before I had seen crowded with people bedecked with the Allies' colours and eagerly buying the latest editions containing the communiqués of hollow optimism. No flag in sight now except a German flag flying over the station! But small revenges may be enjoyed. A German soldier tried to jump on the tail of a cart driven by a Belgian, but the Belgian whipped up his horse and the German fell off on to the pavement, whilst the cart sped around a corner.


a German military band in Zeebrugge


Out of the station came a score of German soldiers returning from the trenches, on their way to barracks to regain strength in order that they could bear the ordeal of standing in icy water again. They were not the kind exhibited on Press tours to illustrate the "vigour of our indomitable army." Eyelids drooped over hollow eye- sockets ; sore, numbed feet moved like feet which are asleep in their vain effort to keep step. Sensitiveness to surroundings, almost to existence, seemed to have been lost.

One was a corporal, young, tall, and full-bearded. He might have been handsome if he had not been so haggard. He gave the lead to the others ; he seemed to know where they were going, and they shuffled on after him in dogged painfulness. Four months ago that corporal, with the spring of the energy of youth when the war was young, was perhaps in that green column that went through the streets of Brussels in the thunderous beat of their regular tread on their way to Paris. The group was an object lesson in how much the victor must suffer in war in order to make his victim suffer.

Some officers were at breakfast, too. Mostly they were reservists ;' mostly bespectacled, with middle age swelling their girth and hollowing their chests, but sturdy enough to apply the regulations made for conduct of the conquered. Whilst stronger men were under shell-fire at the front, they were under the fire of Belgian hate as relentless as their own hate of England. You saw them always in the good restaurants, but never in the company of Belgians, these ostracized theirs. In four months they had made no friends ; at least, no friends who would appear with them in public. A few thousand guards in Belgium in the companionship of conquest and seven million Belgians in the companionship of a common helplessness! Bayonets may make a man silent, but they cannot stop his thinking.

At the breakfast table on that Christmas morning in London, Paris, or Berlin the patriot could mid the kind of news that he liked. His racial and traditional predilections and animosities were solaced. If there were good news it was "played up" ; if there were bad news, it was not published or it was explained. L'Echo Belge and L'Independance Belge and all the Brussels papers were either out of business or being issued as single sheets in Holland and England.

The Belgian, keenest of all the peoples at war for news, having less occupation to keep his mind off the war, must read the newspapers established under German auspices, which fed him with the pabulum that German chefs provided, reflective of the stumbling degeneracy of England, French weariness of the war, Russian clumsiness, and the invincibility of Germany. If an Englishman had to read German, or a German English, newspapers every morning he might have understood how the Belgian felt.

Those who had sons or fathers or husbands in the Belgian army could not send or receive letters, let alone presents. Families scattered in different parts of Belgium could not hold reunions. But at mass I saw a Belgian standard in the centre of the church. That flag was proscribed, but the priests knew it was safe in that sacred place and the worshippers might feast their eyes on it as they said their avis.


German soldiers queing for Snday mass at the Antwerp cathedral


A Bavarian soldier came in softly and stood a little apart from the worshippers, many in mourning, at the rear ; a man who was of the same faith as the Belgians and who crossed himself with the others in the house of brotherly love. He would go outside to obey orders ; and the others to nurse their hate of him and his race. This private in his faded green, bowing his head before that flag in the shadows of the nave, was war-sick, as most soldiers were ; and the Belgians were heartsick. They had the one solace in common. But if you had suggested to him to give up Belgium, his answer would have been that of the other Germans : " Not after all we have suffered to take it! " Christians have a peculiar way of applying Christianity. Yet, if it were not for Christianity and that infernal thing called the world's opinion, which did not exist in the days of Caesar and the Belgae, the Belgians might have been worse off than they were. More of them might have been dead. When they were saying, "Give us this day our daily bread" they were thinking, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," if ever their turn came.

A satirist might have repeated the apochryphal naiveté of Marie Antoinette, who asked why the people wanted bread when they could buy such nice cakes for a sou! For all the patisserie shops were open. Brussels is famous for its French pastry. With a store of preserves, why shouldn't the bakeshops go on making tarts with heavy crusts of the brown flour, when war had not robbed the bakers of their art ? It gave work to them ; it helped the shops to keep open and make a show of normality. But I noticed that they were doing little business. Stocks were small and bravely displayed. Only the rich could afford such luxuries, which in ordinary times were what ice-cream cones are to us. Even the jewellery shops were open, with diamond rings flashing in the windows.

"You must pay rent; you don't want to discharge your employees," said a jeweller. "There is no place to go except your shop. If you closed it would look as if you were afraid of the Germans. It would make you blue and the people in the street blue. One tries to go through the motions of normal existence, anyway. But, of course, you don't sell anything. This week I have repaired a locket which carried the portrait of a soldier at the front and I've put a mainspring in a watch. I'll warrant that is more than some of my competitors have done."


German sentries in Brussels


Swing around the circle in Brussels of a winter's morning and look at the only crowds that the Germans allow to gather, and any doubt that Belgium would have gone hungry if she had not received provisions from the outside was dispelled. Whenever I think of a bread-line again I shall see the faces of a Belgian bread- line. They blot out the memory of those at home, where men are free to go and come ; where war has not robbed the thrifty of food.

It was fitting that the great central soup kitchen should be established in the central express office of the city. For in Belgium these days there is no express business except in German troops to the front and wounded to the rear. The dispatch of parcels is stopped, no less than the other channels of trade, in a country where trade was so rife, a country that lived by trade. On the stone floor, where once packages were arranged for forwarding to the towns whose names are on the walls, were many great cauldrons in clusters of three, to economize space and fuel.

"We don't lack cooks," said a chef who had been in a leading hotel. "So many of us are out of work. Our society of hotel and restaurant keepers took charge. We know the practical side of the business. I suppose you have the same kind of a society in New York and would turn to it for help if the Germans occupied New York ?"

He gave me a printed report in which I read, for example, that "M. Arndt, professor of the Ecole Normale, had been good enough to take charge of accounts," and " M. Catteau had been specially appointed to look after the distribution of bread."

Most appetizing that soup prepared under direction of the best chefs in the city! The meat and green vegetables in it were Belgian and the peas American. Steaming hot in big cans it was sent to the communal centres, where lines of people with pots, pitchers, and pails waited to receive their daily allowance. A democracy was in that bread-line such as I have never seen anywhere except at San Francisco after the earthquake. Each person had a blue or a yellow ticket, with numbers to be punched, like a commuter. The blue tickets were for those who had proved to the communal authorities that they could not pay ; the yellow for those who paid five centimes for each person served. A flutter of blue and yellow tickets all over Belgium, and in return life! With each serving of soup went a loaf of the American brown bread. The faces in the line were not those of people starving — they had been saved from starvation. There was none of the emaciation which pictures of famine in the Orient have made familiar ; but they were pinched faces, bloodless faces, the faces of people on short rations.

To the Belgian bread is not only the staff of life ; it is the legs. At home we think of bread as something that goes with the rest of the meal; to the poorer classes of Belgians the rest of the meal is something that goes with bread. To you and me food has meant the payment of money to the baker and the butcher and the grocer, or the hotel-keeper. You get your money by work or from investments. What if there were no bread to be had for work or money ? Sitting on a mountain of gold in the desert of Sahara would not quench thirst. Three hundred grammes, a minimum calculation — about half what the British soldier gets — was the ration. That small boy sent by his mother got five loaves ; his ticket called for an allowance for a family of five. An old woman got one loaf, for she was alone in the world.

Each one as he hurried by had a personal story of what war had meant to him. They answered your questions frankly, gladly, with the Belgian cheerfulness which was amazing considering the circumstances. A tall, distinguished-looking man was an artist.

"No work for artists these days," he said.

No work in a community of workers where every link of the chain of economic life had been broken. No work for the next man, a chauffeur, or the next, a brass worker ; the next, a teamster ; the next, a bank clerk ; the next, a doorkeeper of a Government office ; whilst the wives of those who still had work were buying in the only market they had. But the husbands of some were not at home. Each answer about the absent one had an appeal that nothing can picture better than the simple words or the looks that accompanied the words.

"The last I heard of my husband he was fighting at Dixmude — two months ago."

"Mine is wounded, somewhere in France."

"Mine was with the army, too. I don't know whether he is alive or dead. I have not heard since Brussels was taken. He cannot get my letters and I cannot get his."

"Mine was killed at Liege, but we have a son."

So you out in Nebraska who gave a handful of wheat might know that said handful of wheat reached its destination in an empty stomach. If you sent a suit of clothes, or a cap, or a pair of socks, come along to the skating-rink, where ice- polo was played and matches and carnivals were held in better days, and look on at the boxes, packed tight with gifts of every manner of thing that men and women and children wear except silk hats, which are being opened and sorted and distributed into hastily-constructed cribs and compartments.

A Belgian woman whose father was one of Belgium's leading lawyers — her husband was at the front — was the busy head of this organization, because, as she said, the busier she was the more it “keeps my mind off------" and she did not finish the sentence. How many times I heard that "keeps my mind off------" a sentence that was the more telling for not being finished. She and some other women began sewing and patching and collecting garments ; "but our business grew so fast" — the business of relief is the one kind in Belgium that does grow these days — " that now we have hundreds of helpers. I begin to feel that I am what you would call in America a captainess of industry."

Some of the good mothers in America were a little too thoughtful in their kindness. An odour in a box that had evidently travelled across the Atlantic close to the ship's boilers was traced to the pocket of a boy's suit, which contained the hardly-distinguishable remains of a ham sandwich, meant to be ready to hand for the hungry Belgian boy who got that suit. Broken pots of jam were quite frequent. But no matter. Soap and water and Belgian industry saved the suit, if not the sandwich. Sweaters and underclothes and overcoats almost new, and shiny old morning coats and trousers with holes in seat and knees might represent equal sacrifice on the part of some American three thousand miles away, and all were welcome. Needlewomen were given work cutting up the worn-outs of grown-ups and making them over into astonishingly good suits or dresses for youngsters.

"We've really turned the rink into a kind of department store," said the lady. "Come into our boot department. We had some leather left in Belgium that the Germans did hot requisition, so we bought it and that gave more Belgians work in the shoe factories. Work, you see, is what we want to keep our minds off------"

Blue and yellow tickets here, too! Boots for children and thick-set working-women and watery-eyed old men! And each was required to leave behind the pair he was wearing.

"Sometimes we can patch up the cast-offs, which means work for the cobblers," said the captainess of industry. "And who are our clerks ? Why, the people who put on the skates for the patrons of the rink, of course !"

One could write volumes on this systematic relief work, the businesslike industry of succouring Belgium by the businesslike Belgians, with American help. Certainly one cannot leave out those old men stragglers from Louvain and Bruges and Ghent — venerable children with no offspring to give them paternal care — who took their turn in getting bread, which they soaked thoroughly in their soup for reasons that would be no military secret, not even in the military zone. On Christmas Day an American, himself a smoker, thinking what class of children he could make happiest on a limited purse, remembered the ring around the stove and bought a basket of cheap brier pipes and tobacco. By Christmas night some toothless gums were sore, but a beatific smile of satiation played in white beards.

Nor can one leave out the very young babies at home, who get their milk if grown people do not, and the older babies beyond milk but not yet old enough for bread and meat, whose mothers return from the bread-line to bring their children to another line, where they got portions of a syrupy mixture which those who know say is the right provender. On such occasions men are quite helpless. They can only look on with a frog in the throat at pale, improperly nourished mothers with bundles of potential manhood and womanhood in their arms. For this was woman's work for woman. Belgian women of every class joined in it : the competent wife of a workman, or the wife of a millionaire who had to walk like everybody else now that her motor-car was requisitioned by the army.


Pop-eyed children, ruddy-cheeked, aggressive children, pinched-faced children, kept warm by sweaters that some American or English children spared, happy | in that they did not know what their elders knew! ' Not the danger of physical starvation so much as the actual presence of mental starvation was the thing that got on your nerves in a land where the sun is seldom seen in winter and rainy days are the rule. It was bad enough in the "zone of occupation," so called, a line running from Antwerp past Brussels to Mons. One could guess what it was like in the military zone to the westward, where only an occasional American relief representative might go.

This is not saying that the Germans were stricter than necessary, if we excuse the exasperation of their militarism, in order to prevent information from passing out, when a multitude of Belgians would have risked their lives gladly to help the Allies. One spy bringing accurate information might cost the German army thousands of casualties ; perhaps decide the fate of a campaign. They saw the Belgians as enemies. They were fighting to take the lives of their enemies and save their own lives, which made it tough for them and the French and the British — tough all round, but very particularly tough for the Belgians.


tow portraits of Mr. Brand Whitlock - American minister to Belgium


It was good for a vagrant American to dine at the American Legation, where Mr. and Mrs. Whitlock were far, very far, from the days in Toledo, Ohio, where he was mayor. Some said that the place of the Minister to Belgium was at Havre, where the Belgian Government had its offices ;. but neither Whitlock nor the Belgian people thought so, nor the German Government, since they had realized his prestige with the Belgians and how they would listen to him in any crisis when their passions might break the bonds of wisdom. Hugh Gibson, being the omnipresent Secretary of Legation in four languages, naturally was also present. We recalled dining together in Honduras, when he was in the thick of vexations.

Trouble accommodatingly waits for him wherever he goes, because he has a gift for taking care of trouble, in the ascendancy of a cheerful spirit and much knowledge of international law. His present for the Minister, who daily received stacks of letters from all sources asking the impossible, as well as from Americans who wanted to be sure that the food they gave was not being purloined by the Germans, was a rubber stamp, " Blame-it-all-there's-a-state-of- war-in-Belgium! " which he suggested might save typewriting — a recommendation which the Minister refused to accept, not to Gibson's surprise.

On that Christmas afternoon and evening, the people promenaded the streets as usual. You might have thought it a characteristic Christmas afternoon or evening except for the Landsturm patrols. But there was an absence of the old gaiety, and they were moving as if from habit and moving was all there was to do.

They had heard the sound of the guns at Dixmude the night before. Didn't the sound seem a little nearer ? No. The wind from that direction was stronger. When ? When would the Allies come ?


IN former days the traveller hardly thought of Belgium as possessing patriotic homogeneity. It was a land of two languages, French and Flemish. He was puzzled to meet people who looked like well-to-do mechanics, artisans, or peasants and find that they could not answer a simple question in French. This explained why a people so close to France, though they made Brussels a little Paris, would not join the French family and enter into the spirit and body of that great civilization on their borders, whose language was that of their own literature. Belgium seemed to have no character. Its nationality was the artificial product of European politics ; a buffer divided in itself, which would be neither French, nor German, nor definitely Belgian.

In later times Belgium had prospered enormously. It had developed the resources of the Congo in a way that had aroused a storm of criticism. Old King Leopold made the most of his neutral position to gain advantages which no one of the great Powers might enjoy because of jealousies. The International Sleeping Car Company was Belgian and Belgian capitalists secured concessions here and there, wherever the small tradesman might slip into openings suitable to his size. Leopold was not above crumbs ; he made them profitable ; he liked to make money ; and Belgians liked to make money.

Her defence guaranteed by neutrality, Belgium need have no thought except of thrift. Her ideals were those of prosperity. No ambition of national expansion stirred her imagination as Germany's was stirred; there was no fire in her soul as in that of France in apprehension of the day when she would have to fight for her life against Germany ; no national cause to harden the sinews of patriotism. The immensity of her urban population contributed its effect in depriving her of the sterner stuff of which warriors are made. Success meant more comforts and luxuries. In towns like Brussels and Antwerp this doubtless had its effect on the moralities, which were hardly of the New England Puritan standard. She had a small standing army ; a militia system in the process of reform against the conviction of the majority, unlike that of the Swiss mountaineers, that Belgium would never have any need for soldiers.

If militarism means conscription as it exists in France and Germany, then militarism has improved the physique of races in an age when people are leaving the land for the factory. The prospect of battle's test unquestionably develops in a people certain sturdy qualities which can and ought to be developed in some other way than with the prospect of spending money for shells to kill people.

With the world making every Belgian man a hero and the unknowing convinced that a citizen soldiery at Liege — defended by the Belgian standing army — had rushed from their homes with rifles and beaten German infantry, it is right to repeat that the schipperke spirit was not universal, that at no time had Belgium more than a hundred thousand men under arms, and that on the Dixmude line she maintained never more than eighty thousand men out of a population of seven millions, which should yield from seven hundred thousand to a million ; while they lost a good deal of sympathy both in England and in France, from- all I heard, through the number of able-bodied refugees who were disinclined to serve. It was a mistaken idealism that swept over the world, early in the war, characterizing a whole nation with the gallantry of its young king and his little army.

The spirit of the Boers or of the Minute Men at Lexington was not in the Belgian people. It could not be from their very situation and method of life. They did not believe in war ; they did not expect to practise war ; but war came to them out of the still blue heavens as it came to the prosperous Incas of Peru.

Where one was wrong was in the expectation that her bankers and capitalists — an aristocracy of money not given to the simple life — and her manufacturers, artisans, and traders, if not her peasants, would soon make truce with Caesar for individual profit. Therein, Belgium showed that she was not lacking in the moral spirit which, with the schipperke's, became a fighting spirit. It seemed as if the metal of many Belgians, struck to a white heat in the furnace of war, had cooled under German occupation to the tempered steel of a new nationalism.

When you travelled over Belgium after it was pacified, the logic of German methods became clear. What was haphazard in their reign of terror was due to the inevitable excesses of a soldiery taking the calculated redress ordered by superiors as licence in the first red passion of war to a war-mad nation, which was sullen because Belgians had not given up the keys of the gate to France.


two views of Louvain taken from a German magazine


The extent of the ruins in Belgium east of the Yser has been exaggerated. They were the first ruins, most photographed, most advertised ; bad enough, inexcusable enough, and warrantedly causing a spell of horror throughout the civilized world. We have heard all about them, mind, while hearing nothing about those in Lorraine, where the Bavarians exceeded Prussian ruthlessness in reprisals. I mean, that to have read the newspapers in early September, 1914, one would have thought that half the towns of Belgium were debris, while the truth is that only a small percentage are — those in the path of the German army's advance. Two-thirds of Louvain itself is unharmed ; though the fact alone of its venerable library being in ashes is sufficient outrage, if not another building had been harmed.

The German army planned destruction with all the regularity that it billeted troops, or requisitioned supplies, or laid war indemnities. It did not destroy by shells exclusively. It deliberately burned homes. No matter whether the owners were innocent or not, the homes were burned as an example. The principle applied was that of punishing half a dozen or all the boys in the class in the hope of getting the real culprit.

Cold ruins mark blocks where sniping was thought to have occurred. The Germans insist that theirs was the merciful way. Krieg ist Krieg. When a hundred citizens of Louvain were gathered and shot because they were the first citizens of Louvain to hand, the purpose was the security of the mass at the expense of the individual, according to the war-is-war machine reasoning. No doubt there was firing on German troops by civilians. What did the Germans expect after the way that they had invaded Belgium ? If they had bothered with trials and investigations, the conquerors say, sniping would have kept up. They may have taken innocent lives and burned the homes of the innocent, they admit, but their defence is that thereby they saved many thousands of their soldiers and of Belgians, and prevented the feud between the rulers and the ruled from becoming more embittered.


general von Bissing, military gouvenor of Belgium


Sniping over, the next step in policy was to keep the population quiet with a minimum of soldiery, which would permit a maximum at the front. In a thickly- settled country, so easily policed, in a land with the population inured to peace, the wisdom of keeping quiet was soon evident to the people. What if Boers had been in the Belgians' place ? Would they have attempted guerrilla warfare ? Would you or I want to bring destruction on neighbours in a land without any rural fastnesses as a rendezvous for operations ? One could tell only if a section of our country were invaded.

A burned block cost less than a dead German soldier. The system was efficacious. It was mercilessness mixed with craft. When Prussian brusqueness was found to be unnecessarily irritating to the population, causing rash Belgians to turn desperate, the elders of the Saxon and Bavarian co-religionists were called in. They were amiable fathers of families, who would obey orders without taking the law into their own hands. The occupation was strictly military. It concerned itself with the business of national suffocation. All the functions of government were in German hands. But Belgian policemen guided the street traffic, arrested culprits for ordinary misdemeanours, and took them before Belgian judges. This concession, which also meant a saving in soldiers, only aggravated to the Belgian the regulations directed against his personal freedom.

"Eat, drink, and live as usual. Go to your own police courts for misdemeanours," was the German edict in a word ; " but remember that ours is the military power, and no act that aids the enemy, that helps the cause of Belgium in this war, is permitted. Observe that particular affiche about a spy, please. He was shot."

At every opportunity Belgians were told that the British and the French could never come to their rescue. The Allies were beaten. It was the British who got Belgium into trouble ; the British who were responsible for the idleness, the penury, the hunger and the suffering in Belgium. The British had used Belgium as a cat's-paw ; then they had deserted her. But Belgians remained mostly unconvinced. They were making war with mind and spirit, if not with arms.

"We know how to suffer in Belgium," said a Belgian jurist. "Our ability to suffer and to hold fast to our hearths has kept us going through the centuries. Flemish and French, we have stubbornness in common. Now a ruffian has come into our house and taken us by the throat. He can choke us to death, or he can slowly starve us to death, but he cannot make us yield. No, we shall never forgive! "

"You too hate, then ?" I asked.

"Of course I hate. For the first time in my life I know what it is to hate ; and so do my countrymen. I begin to enjoy my hate. It is one of the privileges of our present existence. We cannot stand on chairs and tables as they do in Berlin cafes and sing our hate, but no one can stop our hating in secret."

Beside the latest verboten and regulation of Belgian conduct on the city walls were posted German official news bulletins. The Belgians stopped to read ; they paused to re-read. And these were the rare occasions when they smiled, and they liked to have a German sentry see that smile.

"Pour les enfants !" they whispered, as if talking to one another about a creche. Little ones, be good! Here is a new fairy tale!

When a German wanted to buy something he got frigid politeness and attention — very frigid, telling politeness — from the clerk, which said :

"Beast! Invader! I do not ask you to buy, but as you ask, I sell ; and as I sell I hate! I hate!! I hate!!!"

An officer entering a shop and seeing a picture of King Albert on the wall, said :

"The orders are to take that down !"

"But don't you love your Kaiser ?" asked the woman who kept the shop.

"Certainly !"

"And I love my King !" was the answer. "I like to look at his picture just as much as you like to look at your Kaiser's."

' I had not thought of it in that way !'' said the officer. Indeed, it is very hard for any conqueror to think of it in that way. So the picture remained on the wall.

How many soldiers would it take to enforce the regulation that no Belgian was to wear the Belgian colours ? Imagine thousands and thousands of Landsturm men moving about and plucking King Albert's face or the black, yellow and red from Belgian buttonholes! No sooner would a buttonhole be cleared in front than the emblem would appear in a buttonhole in the rear. The Landsturm would face counter, flank, frontal, and rear attacks in a most amusing military manoeuvre, which would put those middle-aged conquerors fearfully out of breath and be rare sport for the Belgians. You could not arrest the whole population and lead them off to jail; and if you bayoneted a few — which really those phlegmatic, comfortable old Landsturms would not have the heart to do for such a little thing — why, it would get into the American Press, and the Berlin Foreign Office would say :

"There you are, you soldiers, breaking all the crockery again !"


German soldiers patroling a small snowbound Belgian town


In the smaller towns, where the Germans were billeted in Belgian houses, of course the hosts had to serve their unwelcome guests.

"Yet we managed to let them know what was in our hearts," said one woman. "Some tried to be friendly. They said they had wives and children at home ; and we said : 'How glad your wives and children would be to see you! Why don't you go home ?' "

When a report reached the commander in Ghent that an old man had concealed arms, a sergeant with a guard was sent to search the house.

" Yes, my son has a rifle."

"Where is it ? "

"In his hands on the Yser, if he is not dead, monsieur. You are welcome to search, monsieur."

Belgium was developing a new humour, a humour at the expense of the Germans. In their homes they mimicked their rulers as freely as they pleased. To carry mimickry into the streets meant arrest for the elders, but not always for the children. You have heard the story, which is true, of how some gamins put carrots in old bowler hats to represent the spikes of German helmets, and at their leader's command of "On to Paris !" did a goose-step backwards. There is another which you may not have heard of a small boy who put on grandfather's spectacles, a pillow under his coat, and a card on his cap,'' Officer of the Landsturm.'' The conquerors had enough sense not to interfere with the battalion which was taking Paris ; but the pseudo-Landsturm officer was chased into a doorway and got a cuff after his placard was taken away from him.

When a united public opinion faces bayonets it is not altogether helpless to reply. By the atmospheric force of mass it enjoys a conquest of its own. If a German officer or soldier entered a street car, women drew aside in a way to indicate that they did not want their garments contaminated. People walked by the sentries in the streets giving them room as you would give a mangy dog room, yet as if they did not see the sentries ; as if no sentries existed.

The Germans said that they wanted to be friendly. They even expressed surprise that the Belgians would not return their advances. They sent out invitations to social functions in Brussels, but no one came — not even to a ball given by the soldiers to the daughters of the poor. Belgium stared its inhospitality, its contempt, its cynical drolleries at the invader.

I kept thinking of a story I heard in Alaska of a man who had shown himself yellow by cheating his partner out of a mine. He appeared one day hungry at a cabin occupied by half a dozen men who knew him. They gave him food and a bunk that night; they gave him breakfast ; they even carried his blanket-roll out to his sled and harnessed his dogs as a hint, and saw him go without one man having spoken to him. No matter if that man believed he had done no wrong, he would have needed a rhinoceros hide not to have felt this silence. Such treatment the Belgians have given to the Germans, except that they furnished the shelter and harnessed the team under duress, as they so specifically indicate by every act. No wonder, then, that the old Landsturm guards, used at home to saying "Wie gehts ?" and getting a cheery answer from the people they passed in the streets, were lonely.

Not only stubborn, but shrewd, these Belgians. Both qualities were brought out in the officials who had to deal with the Germans, particularly in the small towns and where destruction had been worst. Take, for example, M. Nerincx, of Louvain, who has energy enough to carry him buoyantly through an American political campaign, speaking from morning to midnight. He had been in America. I insisted that he ought to give up his professorship, get naturalized, andrun for office in America. I know that he would soon be mayor of a town, or in Congress.

When the war began he was professor of international law at the ancient university whose walls alone stand, surrounding the ashes of its priceless volumes, across from the ruined cathedral. With the burgomaster a refugee from the horrors of that orgy, he turned man of action on behalf of the demoralized people of the town with a thousand homes in ruins. Very lucky the client in its lawyer. He is the kind of man who makes the best of the situation ; picks up the fragments of the pitcher, cements them together with the first material at hand, and goes for more milk. It was he who got a German commander to sign an agreement not to "kill, burn, or plunder" any more, and the signs were still up on some houses saying that "This house is not to be burned except by official order."

There in the Hotel de Ville, which is quite unharmed, he had his office, within reach of the German commander. He yielded to Caesar and protected his own people day in and day out, diplomatic, watchful, Belgian. And he was cheerful. What other people could have retained any vestige of cheer! Sometimes one wondered if it were not partly due to an absence of keen nerve-sensibilities, or to some other of the traits which are a product of the Belgian hothouse and Belgian inheritance. I might tell you about M. Nerincx's currency system ; how he issued paper promises to pay when he gave employment to the idle in repairing those houses which permitted of being repaired, and cleaned the streets of debris, till ruined Louvain looked as shipshape as ruined Pompeii; and how he got a little real money from Brussels to stop depreciation when the storekeepers came to him and said that they had stacks of his notes which no mercantile concern would cash.

M. Nerincx was practising in the life about all that he ever learned and taught at the university, "which we shall rebuild!" he declared, with cheery confidence. "You will help us in America," he said. "I'm going to America to lecture one of these days about Louvain !"

"You have the most famous ruins, unless it is Rheims," I assured him. "You will get flocks of tourists " — particularly if he fenced in the ruins of the library and burned leaves of ancient books were on sale.

"Then you will not only have fed, but have helped to rebuild Belgium," he added.

A shadow of apprehension overhung his anticipation of the day of Belgium's delivery. Many a Belgian had arms hidden from the alert eye of German espionage, and his bitterness was solaced by the thought; "I'll have a shot at the Germans when they go !" The lot of the last German soldier to leave a town, unless the garrison slips away overnight, would hardly make him a good life- insurance risk.

My last look at a Belgian bread-line was at Liege, that town which had had a blaze of fame in August, 1914, and was now almost forgotten. An industrial town, its mines and works were idle. The Germans had removed the machinery for rifle- making, which has become the most valuable kind of machinery in the world next to that for making guns and shells. If skilled Belgians here or elsewhere were called upon to serve the Germans at their craft, they suddenly became butter- fingered. So that bread-line at Liege was long, its queue stretching the breadth of the cathedral square.

As most of the regular German officers in Belgium were cavalrymen — there was nothing for cavalry to do on the Aisne line of trenches — it was quite in keeping that the aide to the commandant of Liege, who looked after my pass to leave the country, should be a young officer of Hussars. He spoke English well; he was amiable and intelligent. While I waited for the commandant to sign the pass the aide chatted of his adventures on the pursuit of the British to the Marne. The British fought like devils, he said. It was a question if their new army would be so good. He showed me a photograph of himself in a British Tommy's overcoat.

"When we took some prisoners I was interested in their overcoats," he explained. "I asked one of the Tommies to let me try on his. It fitted me perfectly, so I kept it as a souvenir and had this photograph made to show my friends."

Perhaps a shade of surprise passed over my face.

"You don't understand," he said. "That Tommy had to give me his coat! He was a prisoner."

On my way out from Liege I was to see Visé — the town of the gateway — the first town of the war to suffer from frightfulness. I had thought of it as entirely destroyed. A part of it had survived.

A delightful old Bavarian Landsturmman searched me for contraband letters when our cart stopped on the Belgian side of a barricade at Maastricht, with Dutch soldiers on the other side. His examination was a little perfunctory, almost apologetic, and he did want to be friendly. You guessed that he was thinking he would like to go around the corner and have "ein Glas Bier" rather than search me. What a hearty "Auf wieder-sehen I" he gave me when he saw that I was inclined to be friendly, too!

I was glad to be across that frontier, with a last stamp on my Passierschein ; glad to be out of the land of those ghostly Belgian millions in their living death; glad not to have to answer again their ravenously whispered "When ?" When would the Allies come ?

The next time that I was in Belgium it was in the British lines of the Ypres salient, two months later. When should I be next in Brussels ? With a victorious British army, I hoped. A long wait it was to be for a conquered people, listening each day and trying to think that the sound of gun-fire was nearer.

The stubborn, passive resistance and self-sacrifice that I have pictured was that of a moral leadership of a majority shaming the minority ; of an ostracism of all who had relations with the enemy. Of course, it was not the spirit of the whole. The American Commission, as charity usually must, had to overcome obstacles set in its path by those whom it would aid. Belgian politicians, in keeping with the weakness of their craft, could no more forego playing politics in time of distress than some that we had in San Francisco and some we have heard of only across the British Channel from Belgium.

Zealous leaders exaggerated the famine of their districts in order to get larger supplies ; communities in great need without spokesmen must be reached ; powerful towns found excuses for not forwarding food to small villages which were without influence. Natural greed got the better of men used to turning a penny any way they could. Rascally bakers who sifted the brown flour to get the white to sell to patisserie shops and the well-to-do while the bread-line got the bran, required shrewd handling, and it was found that the best punishment was to let the public know the pariah part they had played. In fact that soon put a stop to the practice. It meant that the baker's business was ruined and he had lost his friends.

A certain percentage of Belgians, as would happen in any country, saw the invasion only as a visitation of disaster, like an earthquake. A flat country of gardens limits one's horizon. They fell into line with the sentiment of the mass. But as time wore on into the summer and autumn of the second year, some of them began to think, What was the use ? German propaganda was active. All that the Allies had cared for Belgium was to use her to check the German tide to Paris and the Channel ports! Perfidious England had betrayed Belgium! German business and banking influences, which had been considerable in Belgium before the war, and the numerous German residents who had returned, formed a busy circle of appeal to Belgian business men, who were told that the British navy stood between them and a return to prosperity. Germany was only too willing that they should resume their trade with the rest of the world.

Why should not Belgium come into the German customs union ? Why should not Belgium make the best of her unfortunate situation, as became a practical and thrifty people ? But be it a customs union or an nexation that Germany plans, the steel had entered the hearts of all Belgians with red corpuscles; and King Albert and his "schipperkes" were still fighting the Germans at Dixmude. A British army appearing before Brussels would end casuistry ; and pessimism would pass, and the German residents, too, with the huzzas of all Belgium as the gallant king once more ascended the steps of his palace.

Worthy of England at her best was her consent to allow the Commission's food to pass, which she accompanied by generous giving. She might seem slow in making ready her army — though I do not think that she was — but give she could and give she did. It was a grave question if her consent was in keeping with the military policy which believes that any concession to sentiment in the grim business of war is unwise. Certainly, the Krieg ist Krieg of Germany would not have permitted it.

There is the very point of the war that ought to make any neutral take sides. If the Belgians had not received bread from the outside world, then Germany would either have had to spare enough to keep them from starving or faced the desperation of a people who would fight for food with such weapons as they had. This must have brought a holocaust of reprisals that would have made the orgy of Louvain comparatively insignificant. However much the Germans hampered the Commission with red tape and worse than red tape through the activities of German residents in Belgium, Germany did not want the Commission to withdraw. It was helping her to economize her food supplies. And England answered a human appeal at the cost of hard-and-fast military policy. She was still true to the ideals which have set their stamp on half the world.


trying to win hearts and minds - a German military Christmas concert in Antwerp

German pioneers repairing damaged infrastructure in Belgium


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