Rescue Of The Starving
( Originally Published 1918 )
THE man occupation were terrible, and attracted the attention and the sympathy of the whole world. To understand conditions it is necessary to know something of the economic situation. Since it had come under the protection of the Great Powers, Belgium had developed into one of the greatest manufacturing countries in the world. Nearly two million of her citizens were employed in the great industries, and one million two hundred thousand on the farms. She was peaceful, industrious and happy. But on account of the fact that more than one-half of her citizenship earned their living by daily labor she found it impossible to produce foodstuff enough for her own needs. Seventy-eight per cent of her breadstuffs had to be imported. From her own fields she could hardly supply her population for more than four months.
The war, and the German occupation, almost destroyed business. Mines, workshops, factories and mills were closed. Labor found itself without employment and consequently without wages. The banks would extend no credit. But even if there had been money enough it soon became apparent that the food supply was rapidly going. The German invasion had come when the crops were standing ripe upon the field. Those crops had not been reaped, but had been trampled under foot by the hated German.
One feature of Belgian industrial life should be understood. Hundreds of thousands of her workmen were employed each day in work-shops at considerable distances from their own homes. In times of peace the morning and evening trains were always crowded with la-borers going to and returning from their daily toil. One of the first things seized upon by the German officials was the railroads, and it was with great difficulty that anyone, not belonging to the German army, could obtain an opportunity to travel at all, and it was with still greater difficulty that supplies of food of any kind could be transported from place to place. Every village was cut off from its neighbor, every town from the next town. People were unable even to obtain news of the great political events which were occurring from day to day, and the food supply was automatically cut off.
But this was not the worst. One of the first moves of the German occupation was to quarter hundreds of thousands of troops upon their Belgian victims, and these troops must be fed even though the Belgian and his family were near starvation. Then followed the German seizure of what they called materials for war. General von Beseler in a despatch to the Kaiser, after the fall of Antwerp, speaks very plainly:
The war booty taken at Antwerp is enormous—at least five hundred cannon and huge quantities of ammunition, sanitation materials, high-power motor cars, loco-motives, wagons, four million kilograms of wheat, large quantities of flour, coal and flax wool, the value of which is estimated at ten million marks, copper, silver, one armored train, several hospital trains, and quantities of fish.
The Germans proceeded to commandeer foodstuffs and raw materials of industry. Linseed oil, oil cakes, nitrates, animal and vegetable oils, petroleum and mineral oils, wool, copper, rubber, ivory, cocoa, rice, wine, beer, all were seized and sent home to the Fatherland. Moreover, cities and provinces were burdened with formidable war contributions. Brussels was obliged to pay ten million dollars, Antwerp ten million dollars, the province of Brabant, ninety millions of dollars, Namur and seventeen surrounding communes six million four hundred thousand dollars. Finally Governor von Bissing, on the 10th of December, 1914, issued the following decree:
A war contribution of the amount of eight million dollars to be paid monthly for one year is imposed upon the population of Belgium. The payment of these amounts is imposed upon the nine provinces which are regarded as joint debtors. The two first monthly payments are to be made by the 15th of January, 1915, at latest, and the following monthly payments by the tenth of each following month to the military chest of the Field Army
of the General Imperial Government in Brussels. If the provinces are obliged to resort to the issue of stock with a view to procuring the necessary funds, the form and terms of these shares will be determined by the Commissary General for the banks in Belgium.
At a meeting of the Provincial Councils the vice-president declared: "The Germans demand these $96,000,000 of the country without right and without reason. Are we to sanction this enormous war tax? If we listened only to our hearts, we should reply `No! ninety-six million times no!' because our hearts would tell us we were a small, honest nation living happily by its free labor; we were a small, honest nation having faith in treaties and believing in honor; we were a nation unarmed, but full of confidence, when Germany suddenly hurled two million men upon our frontiers, the most brutal army that the world has ever seen, and said to us, `Betray the promise you have given. Let my armies go by, that I may crush France, and I will give you gold.' Belgium replied, `Keep your gold. I prefer to die, rather than live without honor.' The German army has, therefore, crushed our country in contempt of solemn treaties. It is an injustice,' said the Chancellor of the German Empire. `The position of Germany has forced us to commit it, but we will repair the wrong we have done to Belgium by the passage of our armies.' They want to repair the injustice as follows : Belgium will pay Germany $96,000,000 ! Give this proposal your vote. When Galileo had discovered the fact that the earth moved around the sun, he was forced at the foot of the stake to abjure his error, but he murmured, `Nevertheless it moves.' Well, gentlemen, as I fear a still greater misfortune for my country I consent to the payment of the $96,000,000 and I cry `Nevertheless it moves.' Long live our country in spite of all."
At the end of a year von Bissing renewed this assessment, inserting in his decree the statement that the decree was based upon article forty-nine of The Hague Convention, relating to the laws and usages of war on land. This article reads as follows: "If in addition to the taxes mentioned in the above article the occupant levies other moneyed contributions in the occupied territory, they shall only be applied to the needs of the army, or of the administration, of the territory in question." In the preceding article it says : "If in the territory occupied the occupant collects the taxes, dues and tolls payable to the state, he shall do so as far as possible in accordance with the legal basis and assessment in force at the time, and shall in consequence be bound to defray the expenses of the administration of the occupied territories to the same extent as the National Government had been so bound."
The $96,000,000 per annum was more than six times the amount of the direct taxes formerly collected by the Belgian state, taxes which the German administration, moreover, collected in addition to the war assessment. It was five times as great as the ordinary expenditure of the Belgian War Department.
But this was not all. In addition to the more or less legitimate German methods of plunder the whole country had been pillaged. In many towns systematic pillage began as soon as the Germans took possession. At Louvain the pillage began on the 27th of Au-gust, 1914, and lasted a week. In small bands the soldiers went from house to house, ransacked drawers and cupboards, broke open safes, and stole money, pictures, curios, silver, linen, clothing, wines, and food. Great loads of such plunder were packed on military baggage wagons and sent to Germany. The same conditions were reported from town after town. In many cases the houses were burnt to destroy the proof of extensive thefts.
Nor were these offenses committed only by the common soldiers. In many cases the officers themselves sent home great collections of plunder. Even the Royal Family were concerned in this disgraceful performance. After staying for a week in a château in the Liége District, His Imperial Highness, Prince Eitel Fritz, and the Duke of Brunswick, had all the dresses which were found in a wardrobe sent back to Germany. This is said to be susceptible of absolute proof.
In addition to this form of plunder special pretexts were made use of to obtain money. At Arlon a telephone wire was broken, where-upon the town was given four hours to pay a fine of $20,000 in gold, in default of which one hundred houses would be sacked. When the payment was made forty-seven houses had already been plundered. Instance after in stance could be given of similar unjustifiable and exorbitant fines.
Under treatment like this Belgium was brought in a short time into immediate sight of starvation. They made frantic appeals for help. First they appealed to the Germans, but the German authorities did nothing, though in individual cases German soldiers shared their army rations with the people. Then an appeal was made to Holland, but Holland was a nation much like Belgium. It did not raise food enough for itself, and was not sure that it could import enough for its own needs.
From all over Belgium appeals were sent from the various towns and villages to Brussels. But Brussels, too, was face to face with famine. To cope with famine there were many relief organizations in Belgium. Every little town had its relief committee, and in the larger cities strong branches of the Red Cross did what they could. Besides such secular organizations, there were many religious organizations, generally under the direction of the Roman Catholic Church.
In Brussels a strong volunteer relief organization was formed on September 5th under the patronage of the American and Spanish Ministers, Mr. Brand Whitlock and the Marquis of Villalobar. This committee, known as the Central Relief Committee, or more exactly La Comité Central de Secours et d'Alimentation pour I'Agglom6ration bruxelloise, did wonderful work until the end of the war. But though there was plenty of organization there were great difficulties ahead.
In order to import food, credit had to be established abroad, permission had to be obtained to transport food stuffs into Belgium through the British blockade. Permission to use the railroads and canals of Belgium had to be obtained from Germany, and, most import-ant of all, it had to be made certain that no food thus imported should be seized by the German troops.
Through the American and Spanish ministers permission was obtained from Governor-General Kolmar von der Goltz to import food, and the Governor-General also gave assurance that, "Food-stuffs ,of all sorts imported by the committee to assist the civil population shall be reserved exclusively for the nourishment of the civil population of Belgium, and that consequently these foodstuffs shall be exempt from requisition on the part of the military authorities, and shall rest exclusively at the disposition of the committee."
With this assurance the Central Relief Committee sent Emil Francqui and Baron Lambert, members of their committee, together with Mr. Hugh Gibson, secretary of the American Legation, whose activities in behalf of Belgium attracted much favorable notice, to the city of London, to explain to the British Government the suffering that existed in Belgium, and to obtain permission to transport food through the British blockade. In the course of this work they appealed to the American Ambassador in England, Mr. Walter Hines Page, and were introduced by him to an American mining engineer named Herbert Clark Hoover, who had just become prominent as the chairman of a committee to assist Americans who had found themselves in Europe when the war broke out, and had been unable to secure funds.
Mr. Hoover took up the matter with great vigor, and organized an American committee under the patronage of the ministers of the United States and of Spain in London, Berlin, The Hague and Brussels, which committee obtained permission from the British Government to purchase and transport through the British blockade, to Rotterdam, Holland, car-goes of foodstuffs, to be ultimately transferred into Belgium and distributed by the Belgian Central Relief Committee under the direction of American citizens headed by Mr. Brand Whitlock.
The following brief notices, in connection with this committee appeared in the London Times:
October 24, 1914.-A commission has been set up in London, under the title of The American Commission for Relief in Belgium. The Brussels committee reports feeding 300,000 daily.
November 4.-The Commission for Relief in Belgium yesterday issued their first weekly report, London Wall Buildings. A cargo was received yesterday at Brussels just in time. Estimated monthly requirements, 60,000 tons grain, 15,000 tons maize, 3,000 tons rice and peas. Approved by the Spanish and American ministers, Brussels.
The personality of the various gentlemen who devoted themselves to Belgian relief is interesting, not only because of what they did, but because they are unusual men. The Spanish Minister, who bore the peculiar name of Marquis of Villalobar y O'Neill, had the appearance of an Irishman, as he was on the maternal side, and was a trained diplomat, with delightful manners and extraordinary strength of character. Another important aid in the Belgian relief work was the Mexican Chargé d'Affaires Senor don German Bullé. Hugh Gibson, secretary of the American Legation, wittily described this gentleman as the "representative of a country without a government to a government without a country." The businessman in the American Legation was this secretary. Mr. Gibson had the appearance of a typical Yankee, though he came from Indiana. He was about thirty years old, with dark eyes, crisp hair, and a keen face. He was noted for his wit as well as his courage. Many interesting stories are told of him. He had been often under fire, and he was full of stories of his exploits told in a witty end modest way.
The following incident shows something of his humor. Like most of the Americans in Belgium he was followed by spies. With one of these Gibson became on the most familiar terms, much to the spy's disgust. One very rainy day, when Gibson was at the Legation, he discovered his pet spy standing under the dripping eaves of a neighboring house. Gib-son picked up a raincoat and hurried over to the man.
"Look here, old fellow," said he, "I'm going to be in the Legation for three hours. You put on this coat and go home. Come back in three hours and I'll let you watch me for the rest of the day."
Mr. Brand Whitlock, the American Minister, was a remarkable man. Before coming to Belgium he had become a distinguished man of letters. Beginning as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, he had studied law and been admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1894, and to the Bar of the State of Ohio in 1897. He had entered into politics, and been elected mayor of Toledo, Ohio, in 1905, again in 1907, 1909 and 1911. Meanwhile he had been writing novels, "The Thirteenth District," "The Turn of the Balance," "The Fall Guy," and "Forty Years of It." He had accepted the appointment of American Minister to Belgium with the idea that he would find leisure for other literary work, but the outbreak of the war affected him deeply. A man of a sympathetic character who had lived all his life in an amiable atmosphere, had been a member of prison reform associations and charitable societies, he now found himself surrounded by a storm of horrors. Day by day he had to see the distress and suffering of thousands of people. He threw himself at once into the work of relief. His health was not strong and he always looked tired and worn. He was the scholarly type of man, the kind who would be happy in a library, or in the atmosphere of a college, but he rose to the emergency.
The American Legation became the one staple point around which the starving and suffering population could rally. Belgians will never forget what he did in those days. On Washington's Birthday they filed before the door of the American Legation at Number 74 Rue de Trèves, men, women and children of all classes; some in furs, some in the garments of the poor noblemen, scholars, workmen, artists, shopkeepers and peasants to leave their visiting cards, some engraved, some printed and some written on pieces of paper, in tribute to Mr. Whitlock and the nation which he rep-resented.
But the man whose name stands out above all others as one of the biggest figures in connection with the work of relief was Mr. Herbert C. Hoover. Mr. Hoover came of Quaker stock. He was born at West Branch, Iowa, in 1874, graduated from Leland Stanford University in 1895, specialized in mining engineering, and spent several years in mining in the United States and in Australia. He married Miss Lou Henry, of Monterey, California, in 1899, and with his bride went to China as chief engineer of the Chinese Imperial Bureau of Mines. He aided in the defense of Tientsin during the Boxer Rebellion. After that he continued engineering work in China until 1902, when he became a partner of the firm of Bewick, Moreing & Co., mine operators, of London, and was consulting engineer for more than fifty mining companies. He looked extremely youthful; smooth shaven, with a straight nose, and a strong mouth and chin. To him, more than any one else, was due the creation and the success of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The splendid organization which saved from so much suffering more than seven million non-combatants in Belgium and two million in Northern France, was his achievement.
A good story is told in the Outlook of September 8, 1915, which illustrates his methods.
It seems that before the commission was fairly on its feet, there came a day when it was a case of snarling things in red tape and letting Belgium starve, or getting food shipped and letting governments howl. Hoover naturally chose the latter.
When the last bag had been stowed and the hatches were battened down (writes Mr. Lewis R. Freeman, who tells the story), Hoover went in person to the one Cabinet Minister able to arrange for the only things he could not provide for himself—clearance papers.
"If I do not get four cargoes of food to Belgium by the end of the week," he said bluntly, "thousands are going to die from starvation, and many more may be shot in food riots."
"Out of the question," said the distinguished Minister; "there is no time, in the first place, and if there was, there are no good wagons to be spared by the railways, no dock hands, and no steamers. Moreover, the Channel is closed for a week to merchant vessels, while troops are being transferred to the Continent."
"I have managed to get all these things,"
Hoover replied quietly, "and am now through with them all, except the steamers.. This wire tells me that these are now loaded and ready to sail, and I have come to have you arrange for their clearance."
The great man gasped. "There have been —there are even now—men in the Tower for less than you have done!" he ejaculated. "If it was for anything but Belgian Relief—if it was anybody but you, young man-I should hate to think of what might happen. As it is —er—I suppose there is nothing to do but congratulate you on a jolly clever coup. I'll see about the clearance at once."
Mr. Lloyd George tells the following story: It seems that the Commission on Belgian Re-lief was attempting to simplify its work by arranging for an extension of exchange facilities on Brussels. Mr. Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, sent for Hoover. What happened is told in Mr. George's words.
" Mr. Hoover,' I said, `I find I am quite unable to grant your request in the matter of Belgian exchange, and I have asked you to come here that I might explain why.'
"Without waiting for me to go on, my boyish-looking caller began speaking. For fifteen minutes he spoke without a break—just about the clearest expository utterance I have ever heard on any subject. He used not a word too much, nor yet a word too few. By the time he had finished I had come to realize, not only the importance of his contentions, but, what was more to the point, the practicability of granting his request. So I did the only thing possible under the circumstance, told him I had never understood the question before, thanked him for helping me to understand, and saw to it that things were arranged as he wanted them."
On April 10, 1915, a submarine torpedoed one of the food ships chartered by the commission. A week later a German hydro-airplane tried to drop bombs on the deck of another commission ship. So Hoover paid a flying visit to Berlin. He was at once assured that no more incidents of the sort would occur.
"Thanks," said Hoover. "Your Excellency, have you heard the story of the man who was nipped by a bad-tempered dog? He went to the owner to have the dog muzzled. `But the dog won't bite you,' insisted the owner. `You know he won't bite me, and I know he won't bite me,' said the injured party doubt-fully, `but the question is, does the dog know?' "
"Herr Hoover," said the high official, "pardon me if I leave you for a moment. I am going at once to `let the dog know.' "
This story, which is told by Mr. Edward Eyre Hunt in his delightful book about Belgium, "War Bread," may be apocryphal, but it illustrates well Hoover's habit of getting exactly what he wants.
When Mr. Hoover accepted the chairman-ship of the Commission for Relief in Belgium he established his headquarters at 3 London Wall Buildings, London, England, and marshaled a small legion of fellow Americans, business men, sanitary experts, doctors and social workers, who, as unpaid volunteers, set about the great task of feeding the people of Belgium and Northern France. The commission soon became a great institution, recognized by all governments, receiving contributions from all parts of the earth, with its own ships in every big port, and in the eyes of the Belgians and French, who received their daily bread through its agency, a monument of what Americans could do in social organization and business efficiency, for Americans furnished the entire personnel of the commission from the beginning.
The commission was a distinct organization from the Belgian National Committee, through and with which it worked in Belgium itself. Its functions were those of direction, and supervision of all matters that had to be dealt with outside Belgium. In the occupied territories it had the help of thousands of Belgian and French workers, many of them women.
The commission did not depend, according to Mr. Hoover, on any one of its American members for leadership. Any one of them could at any time take charge and carry on the work. "Honold, Poland, Gregory, Brown, Kellogg, Lucey, White, Hunsiker, Cannet, and many others who, at various periods, have given of their great ability and experience in administration could do it." At the same time it was admitted that the commission would never have been so successful if Belgium had not already had in existence a well-developed communal system. The base of the commission's organization was a committee in every commune or municipality.
"You can have no idea what a great blessing it was in Belgium and Northern France to have the small and intimate divisions which exist under the communal system," said Mr. Hoover. "It is the whole unit of life, and a political entity much more developed than in America. It has been not only the basis of our relief organization, but the salvation of the people."
Altogether there were four thousand communal committees, linked up in larger groups under district and provincial committees, which in turn came under the Belgian National Committee. Contributions were received from all over the world, but the greater part from the British and French governments.
When Mr. Hoover began his work he appealed to the people of the United States, but the American response to the appeal was sadly disappointing. During his stay in America, in the early part of 1917, Mr. Hoover ex-pressed himself on the subject of his own country's niggardliness, pointing out at the same time that the chief profits made out of providing food for Belgium had gone into American pockets. Out of the two hundred and fifty millions of dollars spent by the commission at that time, one hundred and fifty millions had been used in the United States to purchase sup-plies and on these orders America had made a war profit of at least thirty million dollars. Yet in those two years the American people had contributed only nine million dollars !
Mr. Hoover declared : "Thousands of contributions have come to us from devoted people all over the United States, but the truth is that, with the exception of a few large gifts, American contributions have been little rills of charity of the poor toward the poor. Everywhere abroad America has been getting the credit for keeping alight the lamp of humanity, but what are the facts? America's contributions have been pitifully inadequate and, do not forget it, other peoples have begun to take stock of us. We have been getting all the credit. Have we deserved it? We lay claim to idealism, to devotion to duty and to great benevolence, but now the acid test is being applied to us. This has a wider import than mere figures. Time and time again, when the door to Belgium threatened to close, we have defended its portals by the assertion that this was an American enterprise; that the sensibilities of the American people would be wounded beyond measure, would be outraged, if this work were interfered with. Our moral strength has been based upon this assertion. I believe it is true, but it is difficult in the face of the figures to carry conviction. And in the last six or eight months time and again we have felt our influence slip from under us."
The statement that Germans had taken food intended for the Belgians was disposed of by Mr. Hoover in a speech in New York City. "We are satisfied," he said, "that the German army has never eaten one-tenth of one per cent of the food provided. The Allied governments never would have supplied us with two hundred million dollars if we were supplying the German army. If the Germans had absorbed any considerable quantity of this food the population of Belgium would not be alive today."
The plan of operation of the Belgian Commission needs some description. Besides the headquarters in London there was an office in Brussels, and, as Rotterdam was the port of entry for all Belgian supplies, a transshipping office for commission goods was opened in that city. The office building was at 98 Haringvliet, formerly the residence of a Dutch merchant prince.
Captain J. F. Lucey, the first Rotterdam di rector, sat in a roomy office on the second floor overlooking the Meuse. From his windows he could see the commission barges as they left for Belgium, their huge canvas flags bearing the inscription "Belgian Relief Committee." He was a nervous, big, beardless American, a volunteer who had left his business to organize and direct a great transshipping office in an alien land for an alien people.
Out of nothing he created a large staff of clerks, wrung from the Dutch Government special permits, loaded the immense cargoes received from England into canal boats, obtained passports for cargoes and crews, and shipped the foodstuffs consigned personally to Mr. Brand Whitlock.
Something of what was done at this point may be understood from a reference in the first annual report of the commission published October 31, 1915:
The chartering and management of an entire fleet of vessels, together with agency control practically throughout the world, has been carried out for the commission quite free of the usual charges by large transportation firms who offered these concessions in the cause of humanity. Banks generally have given their exchange services and have paid the full rate of interest on deposits. Insurance has been facilitated by the British Government Insurance Commissioners, and the firms who fixed the insurance have subscribed the equivalent of their fees. Harbor dues and port charges have been remitted at many points and stevedoring firms have made important concessions in rates and have afforded other generous services. In Holland, exemption from harbor dues and telegraph tolls has been granted and rail transport into Belgium provided free of charge. The total value of these Dutch concessions is estimated at 147,824 guilders. The German military authorities in Belgium have abolished custom and canal duties on all commission imports, have reduced railway rates one half and on canals and railways they give right of way to commission foodstuffs wherever there is need.
By mid-November gift ships from the United States were on their way to Rotterdam, but the Canadian province of Nova Scotia was first in the transatlantic race.
One of the most thrilling experiences of the first year's work was the coming of the Christmas ship, a steamer full of Christmas gifts presented by the children of America to the children of war-ridden Belgium. The children knew all about it long before the ship arrived in Rotterdam. St. Nicholas' day had brought them few presents. They were hungry for friendliness, and the thought of getting gifts from children across the sea filled them with joy.
Many difficulties arose, which delayed the distribution of these gifts. The Germans insisted that every package should be opened and every scrap of writing taken out before the gifts were sent into Belgium. This was a tremendous task, for notes written by American children were tucked away into all sorts of places.
Three motor boats made an attempt to carry these gifts into Belgium by Christmas day. They carried boxes of clothing, outfits for babies, blankets, caps, bonnets, cloaks, shoes of every description, babies' boots, candy, fish, striped candy canes, chocolates and mountains of nuts, nuts such as the Belgians had never seen in their lives before: pecans, hickory nuts, American walnuts, and peanuts galore. There were scores of dolls, French bisques, smiling pleasantly, pop-eyed rag dolls, old darky mammy dolls, and Santa Clauses, picture books, fairy books and story books.
One child had written on the cover of her book: "Father says I ought to send you my best picture book, but I think that this one will do."
These gifts made the American aid to Belgium a thousand times more intimate and real, and never after that was American help thought of in other terms than those of burning gratitude. Among these gifts were hundreds of American flags, which soon became familiar to all Belgium.
The commission automobiles bore the flag, and the children would recognize the Stars and Stripes and wave and cheer as it went by. Thousands upon thousands of gifts to the Belgian people followed the Christmas ship. All, or a great part, of the cargoes of one hundred and two ships consisted of gift goods from America and indeed from all parts of the world, and the Belgians sent back a flood of acknowledgments and thousands of beautiful souvenirs. Some of the most touching remembrances came from the children. Every child in the town of Tamise, for example, wrote a letter to America.
One addressed to the President of the United States reads as follows :
Highly Honored Mr. President: Although I am still very young I feel already that feeling of thankfulness which we, as Belgians, owe to you, Highly Honored Mr. President, because you have come to our help in these dreary times. Without your help there would certainly have been thousands of war victims, and so, Noble Sir, I pray that God will bless you and all the noble American people. That is the wish of all the Belgian folk.
On New Year's day Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, issued his famous pastoral:
Belgium gave her word of honor to defend her independence. She has kept her word. The other powers had agreed to protect and to respect Belgium's neutrality. Germany has broken her word, England has been faithful to it. These are the facts. I consider it an obligation of my pastoral charge to define to you your conscientious duties toward the power which has invaded our soil, and which for the moment occupies the greater part of it. This power has no authority, and therefore, in the depth of your heart, you should render it neither esteem, nor attachment, nor respect. The only legitimate power in Belgium is that which belongs to our King, to his government, to the representatives of the nation; that alone is authority for us; that alone has a right to our heart's affection and to our submission.
Cardinal Mercier was called the bravest man in Belgium. Six feet five in height, a thin, scholarly face, with grayish white hair, and a forehead so white that one feels one looks on the naked bone, he presented the appearance of some medieval ascetic. But there was a humorous look about his mouth, and an expression of sympathy and comprehension which gave the effect of a keenly intelligent, as well as gentle, leader of the nation.
At the beginning of the war the Roman Catholic party was divided. Some of its leaders were opposed to resistance to the invaders. Many priests fled before the German armies. But the pastoral letter of Cardinal Mercier restored to the Church its old leadership. In him conquered Belgium had found a voice.
On New Year's Sunday, 1915, every priest at the Mass read out the Cardinal's ringing challenge. There were German soldiers in the churches, but no word of the letter had been allowed to reach the ears of the authorities, and the Germans were taken completely by surprise. Immediately orders came from headquarters prohibiting further circulation of the letter, and ordering that every copy should be surrendered to the authorities. Soldiers at the bayonet's point extorted the letter from the priests, and those who had read it were put under arrest. Yet, somehow, copies of the letter were circulated throughout Belgium, and every Belgian took new heart.
As far as the Cardinal was concerned German action was a very delicate matter. They could not arrest and imprison so great a dignitary of the Church for fear of the effect, not only upon the Catholics of the outer world, but on the Catholics in their own Empire. An officer was sent to the Cardinal to demand that the letter be recalled. The Cardinal re-fused. He was then notified that it was desired that he remain in his palace for the present. His confinement lasted only for a day.
The Americans who were in Belgium as representatives of the Relief Commission had two duties. First, to see that the Germans did not seize any of the food supplies, and second, to see that every Belgian who was in need should receive his daily bread. The ration assigned to each Belgian was 250 grams of bread per day. This seems rather small, but the figure was established by Horace Fletcher, the American food expert, who was one of the members of the commission.
Mr. Fletcher also prepared a pamphlet on food values, which gave recipes for American dishes which were up to that time unknown to the Belgians. He soon got not only the American but the Belgian committeemen talking of calories with great familiarity.
Some of the foods sent from America were at first almost useless to the Belgians. They did not know how to cook cornmeal and oatmeal, and some of the famished peasants used them as feed for chickens. Teachers had to be sent out through the villages to give instructions.
A great deal of difficulty developed in connection with the bread. The supply of white flour was limited ; wheat had to be imported, and milled in Belgium. It was milled so as to contain all the bran except ten per cent, but in some places ten or fifteen per cent of cornmeal was added to the flour, not only to enable the commission to provide the necessary ration, but also to keep down the price. As a result the price of bread was always lower in Belgium than in London, Paris or New York.
Much less trouble occurred in connection with the distribution of bread and soup from the soup kitchens. In Antwerp thirty-five thousand men were fed daily at these places. At first it often occurred that soup could be had, but no bread. The ration of soup and bread given in the kitchens cost about ten cents a day. There were four varieties of soup, pea, bean, vegetable and bouillon, and it was of excellent quality. Every person carried a card with blank spaces for the date of the de-liveries of soup. There were several milk kitchens maintained for the children, and several restaurants where persons with money might obtain their food.
It was necessary not only to fight starvation in Belgium but also disease. There were epidemics of typhoid and black measles. The Rockefeller Foundation established a station in Rotterdam called the Rockefeller Foundation War Relief Commission, and some of the women among its workers acted as volunteer health officers. People were inoculated against typhoid, and the sources of infection traced and destroyed. Another form of relief work was providing labor for the unemployed. A plan of relief was drawn up and it was arranged that a large portion of them should be employed by, the communal organizations, in public works, such as draining, ditching, constructing bridges and embankments and building sewers.
The National Committee paid nine-tenths of the wages, the commune paying the other tenth. The first enrolment of unemployed amounted to more than 760,000 names, and nearly as many persons were dependent upon these workers.
Providing employment for these led to certain complications. The Germans had been able up to this time to secure a certain amount of labor from the Belgians. Now the Belgian could refuse to work for the German, and a great deal of tact was necessary to prevent trouble. As time went on the relief work of the commission was extended into the north of France, where a population of more than 2,000,000 was within the German zone. The work was handled in the same way, with the same guarantees from Germany.
In conclusion a word may be said of the effect of all this suffering upon the Belgian people, and let a Belgian speak, who knew his country well and had traveled it over, going on foot, as he says, or by tram, from town to town, from village to village:
"I have seen and spoken with hundreds of men of all classes and all parts of the country, and all these people, taken singly or united in groups, display a very definite frame of mind. To describe this new psychology we must record the incontestably closer union which has been formed between the political sections of the country. There are no longer any paical parties, there are Belgians in Belgium, and that is all; Belgians better acquainted with their country, feeling for it an impulse of passionate tenderness such as a child might feel who saw his mother suffering for the first time, and on his account. Walloons and Flemings, Catholics and Liberals or Socialists, all are more and more frankly united in all that concerns the national life and decisions for the future.
" By uniting the whole nation and its army, by shedding the blood of all our Belgians in every corner of the country, by forcing all hearts, all families, to follow with anguish the movement of those soldiers who fought from Liége to Namur, from Wavre to Antwerp or the Oise, the war has suddenly imposed wider horizons upon all, has inspired all minds with noble and ardent passions, has compelled the good will of all to combine and act in concert in order to defend the common interests.
"Of these profoundly tried minds, of these wonderful energies now employed for the first time, of these atrocious sufferings which have brought all hearts into closer contact, a new Belgium is born, a greater, more generous, more ideal Belgium."