Tag Archives: Belgium

Map of the trenches

Map showing extent of WW1 trench movement, Aug 1914-Nov 1918

This fabulous map comes from the Harvard University Map Collection.

Map of the trenches

The end of Germany’s strike in the Ruhr

On the 26th September 1923, German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann ended passive resistance in the Ruhr and resumed the payment of First World War reparations.

Causes of the First World War – The July Crisis

Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, this video explores the 6-week period known as the July Crisis.  It explains the concept of Germany’s ‘Blank Cheque’ and how the alliance system caused the nations of Europe to become embroiled in what was now a ‘world’ war.  Reference is made to the Schlieffen Plan and how this led to Britain’s declaration of war.

Treaty of London 1839

The Treaty of London: Belgium independence and the First World War

The Treaty of London recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium.

In 1813 Napoleon’s rule of the Netherlands was ended by the combined armies of Russia and Prussia, and control was given to William Frederik of Orange-Nassau. Two years later, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, modern Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

These southern provinces were predominantly Catholic, and a sizeable number of the inhabitants spoke French. However, William clearly favoured Protestantism and had tried to impose Dutch as the official language. This led to tensions which were exacerbated by economic problems that included high unemployment and arguments over the effect of free trade on the less developed south. A revolution erupted in 1830 that led to the states declaring independence on 4 October, although William refused to recognise the independent Belgium for over nine years.

In signing the treaty that formally recognised the existence of the independent Kingdom of Belgium, the Netherlands were joined by Britain, Austria, France, Russia, and the German Confederation. Furthermore, Britain insisted that the signatories also recognise Belgium’s perpetual neutrality.

The neutrality clause was of central importance in the outbreak of the First World War, since Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality when its forces crossed the border in the Schlieffen Plan. Britain thus claimed to be upholding the Treaty of London when it declared war on 4 August 1914 – much to the anger of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg who couldn’t believe Britain would go to war over a ‘mere a scrap of paper’.

Causes of the First World War

An explanation of the causes of the First World War…sheer brilliance.

The outbreak of the First World War

The failure of the Schlieffen Plan

What if the Schlieffen Plan had worked?

This documentary examines the counter-factual debate of what would have happened if the Schlieffen Plan had worked.  It opens with a review of the ‘real’ events, and then speaks to various experts to find out their opinion on how things could have been different.

John McCrae

‘In Flanders Fields’ – the historical background to the poem

On 3 May 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, which inspired the symbol of the poppy to commemorate members of the military killed in war.

McCrae had published his first poems while studying medicine at the University of Toronto, after which he served in the Canadian Field Artillery during the Boer War. Returning to Canada after the war, he embarked on a successful career as a pathologist and was made a member of the Royal College of Physicians prior to the outbreak of the First World War.

McCrae was appointed to the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery) where he assumed the position of Medical Officer and Major. While serving in Belgium he fought at the Second Battle of Ypres that began on 22 April 1915, an experience he described in a letter to his mother as a ‘nightmare’. During this battle his close friend Alexis Helmer was killed, and McCrae himself performed the burial service on 2 May.

The next day, while apparently sitting in the back of an ambulance, McCrae composed ‘In Flanders Fields’. Cyril Allinson, a Sergeant Major in McCrae’s unit, later recounted watching McCrae write the poem. He was apparently unhappy with the final piece and threw it away, but it was retrieved by another member of the unit.

McCrae edited the poem and submitted it to The Spectator for publication, but following that paper’s rejection succeeded in getting it published in Punch on 8 December 1915. It was met with universal acclaim at the time, and its imagery of red poppies led to the flower’s associated with remembrance in the years following the war.

McCrae continued to serve in the army, but died of a pneumonia-related illness on 28 January 1918. He is buried in France.