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mhurst

Passchendaele - For Belgian Liberation?

47 posts in this topic

I have heard similar criticisms of the Dutch in both wars but had not considered the language itself as being a contributing factor. 

 

As I said earlier, my stepfather, along with another man, was hidden by a Belgian family in WW2 but had been passed on by the Dutch to the Belgians. Both families had rudimentary English.

 

Hazel C

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ID: 27   Posted (edited)

Knowing diddly squat about this, one of the first things that comes to my mind is Flemish/Walloon antagonisms : did the Flemish people feel that their identity and culture had more in common with Germans than they did with French speaking people ?

 

If so, then it's hardly surprising that a sense of affinity with Teuton might be construed - or misconstrued - as hostility at best or treachery at worst. 

 

Phil

 

Edited by phil andrade

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ID: 28   Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, hazelclark said:

I have heard similar criticisms of the Dutch in both wars but had not considered the language itself as being a contributing factor. 

 

As I said earlier, my stepfather, along with another man, was hidden by a Belgian family in WW2 but had been passed on by the Dutch to the Belgians. Both families had rudimentary English.

 

Hazel C

 

I gather from what I have read that many of the Dutch were still holding a grudge about the Boer War. I also believe that the Kaiser was decidely "pro-Boer", so a degree of sympathy between the 2 nations already had "form" by 1914.

 

The Dutch army mobilised for WW1, but I'm afraid I have no idea about which mast they were thinking of nailing their colours onto if push came to shove.

 

Mike

Edited by Medaler

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6 minutes ago, Medaler said:

 

 

The Dutch army mobilised for WW1, but I'm afraid I have no idea about which mast they were thinking of nailing their colours onto if push came to shove.

 

Mike

You know I had vaguely wondered about that but never really looked into it. Might be interesting.

H.C.

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One version of the so-called Schlieffen Plan did involve at least a partial invasion of the Netherlands, IIRC - i.e. moving through the Maastricht Appendix,

 

It is hardly surprising that the Dutch mobilised in WWI. Mind you, the Germans were concerned about a possible British invasion of the NL and maintained a reasonably sized presence on the border/took precautionary measures.

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The Germans certainly kept a close eye on their 'northern front', and at one point Ludendorff opined that if the Dutch and the Danes were to attack simultaneously, Germany would be hard-pressed to contain the situation without exposing dangerous vulnerabilities on the Western Front.  So Holland and Denmark were clearly regarded as 'straws that might break the camel's back'.  In his account of the Cambrai conference in September 1916, Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria recorded the following, from a briefing by Field Marshal von Hindenburg:  'A landing by the British in Holland was not expected, but one in Jutland was possible and defensive fortifications were therefore being constructed on the Eider in Northern Schleswig, garrisoned with Landsturm troops.'

 

 

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If Belgians (or French) collaborated with the Germans it was usually due to personal motives - to get even with a neighbour, ruin a competitor, a cuckolded husband's revenge.  Sympathy for the German cause or antagonism to the Walloons or Flemish had little to do with it.

 

'Belgian liberation' was a patriotic fig-leaf for the British.  The simple fact was war was coming and GB could stay in or out.  Staying out was not an option.  If the Germans won, then GB would be faced with a rampant Germany controlling every port from Antwerp to Bordeaux, and a crushed France who would be in no mood to help GB.  On the other hand, if France and Russia won, then France would be rampant in the Med, and Russia on the NW Frontier.  Suez and India would be under threat.  And win or lose, GB would have seat at the negotiating table in the postwar settlement.

 

In 1914, Belgium and 'liberation' were uneasy bedfellows since Belgium was run by the biggest slave master in the world.  If HMG had really been interested in 'liberation' in a Belgian context, they would have sent the BEF to the Congo.

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I doubt if the average Tommy knew or cared much about Belgium. After all, "France" was used as a convenient catch-all phrase for the Western Front; people would refer to a relative being in "France," there were "postcards from France" so I suspect the average person didn't pay much heed to the difference. And we entered WW2 ostensibly to help Poland, but didn't do so. 

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ID: 34   Posted (edited)

1996100166.png.d1a6f40e8fd424e85a34de347b232a4d.png42790.jpg.145bfc9b7669ba4b71fe3f1ff3be462c.jpg

3 hours ago, sassenach said:

I doubt if the average Tommy knew or cared much about Belgium. After all, "France" was used as a convenient catch-all phrase for the Western Front; people would refer to a relative being in "France," there were "postcards from France" so I suspect the average person didn't pay much heed to the difference. And we entered WW2 ostensibly to help Poland, but didn't do so. 

 

Belgium was a big recruiting brand throughout the war.  I have a recruiting poster on my wall, 'Remember Belgium' with a steely-eyed tommy up front and a distressed Belgian mum fleeing a burning Belgian village carrying a baby.  It was very influential in Ireland, too, where the Irish volunteers were invited to draw parallels between Ireland and Belgium's political position.  See above.

Edited by Hedley Malloch
Found some interesting images.

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On 15/08/2017 at 12:56, Aurel Sercu said:

SiegeGunner Mick,

And 100 years ago, there were no marauding elephants in Flanders fields ...  :-)  

Aurel, 

 

Are you sure about that?

 

 

elephants.jpg

elephant 2.jpg

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I learn so much from this forum!

HC

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ID: 37   Posted (edited)

Hedley,

Your posting # 35 ...

If I am sure ? You really made me hesitate.... But I can assure you : certainly not Boezinge ! (I don't recignize the trees, the plough, ...- Maybe Langemark, Elverdinge ?   :-)

 

SiegeGunner,

Yes, I should try to read The Master of Belhaven. With a smile ...  :-)

 

Jan,

What you wrote about The H*ns, ... Interesting. Maybe we should discuss this in a different Topic though. And words like Jampot, Djick,Tjinks, Alleyman, Boche, Boche du Nord, Fritz,  Kraut,  Teuton, Frogs, Poilu, Kiwi, Blinkdoze, Turco, Ladies from hell, Doughboy. Interesting, at least linguistically. But no doubt this has already been discussed before.

 

Aurel

 

Edited by Aurel Sercu
Posting appeared twice. I deleted one of the two.

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7 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

 

 

 

In 1914, Belgium and 'liberation' were uneasy bedfellows since Belgium was run by the biggest slave master in the world.  If HMG had really been interested in 'liberation' in a Belgian context, they would have sent the BEF to the Congo.

Not in 1914 - by then Leopold/the Crown had lost it as a personal fiefdom. Albert of the Belgians was quite horrified by what had happened in the Congo and did his best to rectify the situation.

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SiegeGunner,

Yes, I should try to read The Master of Belhaven. With a smile ...  :-)

 

 

It really is quite outstanding - remember he was kia in 1918. His commentary was wonderful - I always recall his description when his battery was under heavy fire near Blauwpoort  Farm, shells falling all around for a lengthy period and he mentions that he decided to take his pulse. Good description of the fighting around Zonnebeke in October 1914 as well. Also a not very common memoir by a gunner (given the number of them by the end of the war). One of my top five memoirs.

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ID: 40   Posted (edited)

 

14 hours ago, Aurel Sercu said:

Hedley,

Your posting # 35 ...

If I am sure ? You really made me hesitate.... But I can assure you : certainly not Boezinge ! (I don't recignize the trees, the plough, ...- Maybe Langemark, Elverdinge ?   :-)

 

The elephant was used by the Germans in the Mormal Forest which is situated next to the Belgian border.  The Western Front was a voracious consumer of timber.  Over the course of the war, the Mormal Forest was reduced from a size of 30,000 acres to 10,000, to supply wood for the German trenches.  During the course of these operations, many Allied soldiers were flushed out of hiding.  The Forest of Nieppe served the same function for the Allies.

 

The elephant is mentioned in Louise Thuliez 'Condamnée à Mort', and in one local French history, 'Vivre Dans le Nord Envahi: Temoignages et Récits', by Jean-Paul Briastre,  Editions Sutton, 2015 p.74.  According the Briastre, the elephant who was called Jenny, was one brought to Valenciennes by Major Mehring from the Hagenbeck Circus in Hamburg. Others came from the Hamburg Zoo.   She was used to shift timber because of a lack of horses - which might account for the elephant pulling a plough in my previous post.  Jenny arrived in Avesnes in January 1915 and worked in the Mormal Forest until April 1917.  Her driver, one Matthias Walter, appears to have been conscripted into the Army to help.

 

Here she is being paraded through Avesnes with Matthias in the saddle.  She is clearly an object of curiosity - as well she might be.  I have heard a lot of the use of animals in WW1, but never of elephants on the Western Front.

 

 

jenny 2.jpg

Edited by Hedley Malloch
Found an interesting photograph.

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13 hours ago, nigelcave said:

Not in 1914 - by then Leopold/the Crown had lost it as a personal fiefdom. Albert of the Belgians was quite horrified by what had happened in the Congo and did his best to rectify the situation.

 

So it was the Belgian state who was the biggest slave master in the world?

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     Both world wars  had a trigger-  Belgium in the Great War, Poland in the second. Both were a confrontation that was on far larger issues and  had each progressed to a stage where a line was drawn by the British Government-  In 1939 this is more obviously shown by the British guarantee to Poland of March 1939 and the introduction of peacetime conscription. Belgium was slightly different.  It was "created" in 1815 as part of a ring of states  bordering on France which were expanded to form strong-ish buffer states against French aggression. Thus, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was one and  the expansion of Prussia to the Rhine (protecting the western part of Germany) was another.

     Belgium after 1830-as a separate and smaller  state - was too weak by itself to be a buffer state. The 1839 Treaty was a "stand-off" by the Great Powers that kept Belgium neutral- initially the prospect that Britain and Prussia would act against an aggressor in the form of France. Post 1870, the balance had changed-and it became  Britain and France against a united Germany.

    The real issue in both wars was German domination of Continental Europe. 

 

2)  As regards the attitudes of Flemings-  There is no reason to suppose that any population is 100% one way or the other in a war situation. Belgium is an artificial state of 2 major national groups- if members of one of them were more pro-German than the other, this should not be a surprise. Perhaps the long-term surprise is that the Belgian state has lasted so long.

 

3)  Belgium was a good rallying call in 1914- the substantial number of Belgian refugees ( Strongly from the French community) and  German mistreatment of the civil population (as in northern France)  was a good propaganda tool.

 

3)  One issue that has intrigued me is what has happened to  British records relating to potential/actual peace negotiations with Germany during the war-most notably (as it's known the records have been held back), the Lansdowne  peace offer of 1917. What we do not know is what British plans were in the event of a defeat.  That is, what Britain's position would be in the face of German territorial demands. Would bits/all of Belgium be expendable?  Belgian Congo?. There should be stuff on this in the British record- hopefully sometime it will be made public.

 

4)  States under occupation have an unpleasant time. Occupation by another alien state does not encourage the best  in human motivation. The German military government of Belgium in both world wars was deeply unpleasant-forced labour, food shortages, etc,etc. BUT the paradox is that many states that are occupied have comparatively smaller casualties than those that are fully in the fighting-eg Czechoslovakia in WW2-a deeply oppressive regime but comparatively  light casualty toll. I suspect-but have not any figures-that Flemish Belgium came out of the war better than the southern French part-which had the perils of both occupation and direct devastation from the fighting

 

 

   

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3 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

 

    The real issue in both wars was German domination of Continental Europe. 

 

4)  States under occupation have an unpleasant time. Occupation by another alien state does not encourage the best  in human motivation. The German military government of Belgium in both world wars was deeply unpleasant-forced labour, food shortages, etc,etc. BUT the paradox is that many states that are occupied have comparatively smaller casualties than those that are fully in the fighting-eg Czechoslovakia in WW2-a deeply oppressive regime but comparatively  light casualty toll. I suspect-but have not any figures-that Flemish Belgium came out of the war better than the southern French part-which had the perils of both occupation and direct devastation from the fighting

 

 

   

 

'German domination of Continental Europe' was only part of the problem for GB, which was a world power and not simply a European one.  Her global concerns included Suez and India.  GB could afford neither a rampant France in the Med, nor to encourage Russian ambitions in India.  That's one reason why GB had to enter the war.  Neutrality was simply not an option.

 

In assessing the casualties wrought by war, the human ones are only one element to be considered.  The economic destruction caused by occupation needs to be taken into account.  France suffered much more than Belgium in this respect, because France was an economic rival to Germany in a way in which Belgium was not, and never could be.  The German policy of what has been called 'absolute destruction' under which the Germans deliberately destroyed much of the industry in northern France seems to have been motivated by a desire to ensure that France, winner or loser in the war, would not be able to compete with Germany in a post-war world.

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  Thanks HM-  Belgium was going to be the loser from Mons onward- a war fought either by her territory being occupied or by physical destruction through trench fighting  meant that Belgium was on the "losing side" regardless of what the peace treaties of 1919-1923 actually said. Rather like the classic medical conundrum-the operation was a success but the patient subsequently died. 

   The Great War  in the west was the wrong war in the wrong place, with the wrong type of fighting for the wrong length of time. For both sides.

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3 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

 

So it was the Belgian state who was the biggest slave master in the world?

 

 

Well, possibly discuss (e.g. almost certainly other examples in history). On the other hand, I cannot (thankfully) think of any other colonial authority of the period with such a brutal record as Leopold's in the Belgian Congo. I have very little idea of what the Belgian government did in the Congo in any detail post Leopold; except that I do know that King Albert pushed very hard for more acceptable treatment of the local, indigenous population.

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Having been pressured by Roger Casement's report.

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ID: 47   Posted (edited)

20 hours ago, nigelcave said:

 

 

 I cannot (thankfully) think of any other colonial authority of the period with such a brutal record as Leopold's in the Belgian Congo. I have very little idea of what the Belgian government did in the Congo in any detail post Leopold; except that I do know that King Albert pushed very hard for more acceptable treatment of the local, indigenous population.

Nigel,

 

Of course you know ... Congo-Freestate was Leopold II's private property till 1908. Feeling his end near he 'gave' his private property to Belgium, who reluctantly (?) accepted the gift. I must say I don't know what happened to it from 1908 on. (Leopold II died in 1908.) I don't think the slavery continued, nor that Belgium became the new slave master. What Albert II's role was, I don't know, but I'm glad you made it clearer. However I guess in the mid 1910s Albert had other worries ?...

 

I would not have posted in here, if the Leopold II problem had not emerged again in my paper today. After what triggered the events in Charlottesville (US), the possible removal of a statue (General Lee IIRC), we too wonder again if statues like Godfried van Bouillon's or ... Leopold II's should be removed ... (Or some streetnames. Like of a WWII collaborator ... And no, the Haiglaan in Ypres was not mentioned in the article.  :-) )

 

Aurel

 

 

Edited by Aurel Sercu
replacing a word by 'property'

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