Friday, November 11, 2005

Armistice Day - Belgium in WWI

While I ponder the great sacrifices that were made during the Great War, specifically members of my family who died on the fields of Flanders in 1914-1918, I found this disturbing article in the Brussels Journal on Belgium's role during this conflict. It is not flattering. Many people today see the Great War as a futile waste of life, quite understandedly so. However, once you read this history of Belgium's role, it will only reinforce this perspective on the matter. This is the tone of the story:
The danger now came from the south: 25 miles from De Panne, not protected by water, lay the mediaeval town of Ieper. The Belgians had fled from it on 7 October, allowing the enemy to enter the town. The British, however, recaptured it on 13 October. From 19 October to 22 November 1914, the British fought “First Ypres,” the first of the three battles around the small Flemish town that was to become a British graveyard. The British held on to the indefensible salient during the entire war. They paid, however, the heavy price of over 200,000 men. Ieper became a symbol of man’s destructive power, but also of his courage. In a sense, it was also a symbol of treachery, because while the British died like rats, Albert, whose country they were defending, looked on. He did not lift a finger because he was “neutral.”
I was somewhat aware of Belgium's duplicity in the Great War, from reading Martin Gilbert's fine history of the First World War. But this is a lot more than I knew. The Belgian government's, particularly that of King Albert, makes me respect the bravery and valour of our men went to fight and die on the fields of Flanders even more so, as the locals there did nothing. I shall never forget what was done there, and my gratitude has been raised a lot by reading this story.

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