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    Laughing at misery

    ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, the crucified messiah Brian and his fellow-sufferers sing in the final scene of Monty Python's notorious film, ‘Life of Brian’. Brian and his companions aren't the only ones to laugh about their own fate. Gallows humour is a widespread phenomenon, especially in times of war. ...

    Education

    According to Belgian law, every child was required to attend school between the ages of six and twelve. In the first months of the school year 1914/1915, however, this proved very difficult. Mobilisation had thinned out the teaching staff and many school buildings were occupied by refugees or Allied or German soldiers. The best the pupils could ...

    Imagery in cartoons

    Today, the many political cartoons from the First World War are an interesting source of information about the war years and the general perception of this period. However, it is important to remember that an effective interpretation of the cartoons takes some background knowledge, as they are based on their own unique imagery. The cartoonists ...

    Cowardice or mental illness?

    The hardship, continuous fear and the powerlessness of the individual made life in the trenches a physically, but above all psychologically, horrifying experience. Though not visibly injured, many soldiers suffered nervous breakdowns and were no longer able to function. The British army counted 80,000 cases of shell shock by the end of the ...

    War and the Environment

    In her diary, Virgine Loveling describes the disappearance of green spaces from the occupied city of Ghent during the war. Due to local government measures to combat the food shortage, flowers, shrubs and lawns in city parks were dug up to make space for 'more useful plants' such as potatoes, cabbages and beans.   Virginie ...

    Football in times of war: the Front Wanderers

    Football was a popular pastime behind the front line. Soldiers would play a game themselves or watch matches played by former and current football stars serving in the ranks at the time. Popular football clubs of the past, such as Royal Antwerp FC and Beerschot VAC, regrouped in the unoccupied parts of Belgium, and teams from different regiments ...

    St. Nicholas in wartime

    In many Western European countries, Sinterklaas (or St. Nicholas) is celebrated around 5 - 6 December. In Belgium and the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is the ultimate children’s festive holiday, much more so than Christmas. St. Nicholas brings tasty treats and presents. This was also true on the eve of The First World War. At the time, it was ...

    Soldier newspapers: the last link with the home front?

    For most of the foreign soldiers at the Western Front, keeping in touch with friends and family was relatively easy. They wrote and received letters, and some used their leave of absence to make quick visits home. Most Belgian soldiers did not have those options, as they were cut off from their loved ones in occupied Belgium by the front line. For ...

    Pointless carnage at the Somme?

    In late June 1916, the British artillery opened fire on the German lines at the Somme. The shelling continued without interruption for seven days. It was the beginning of a massive infantry offensive. On 1 July, British soldiers climbed out of their trenches and advanced towards the German lines along a front of 30 kilometres. In order to ...

    Tourism in time of war

    Immediately before The First World War, a democratisation of tourism took place. Tourism was no longer only reserved for the very wealthiest; the well-off middle class could also afford a trip every now and then too. At the outbreak of the war, tourism in occupied Belgium initially fell completely still. Conveyances such as cars and bicycles were ...

    Wait at the Yser or major offensives?

    In contrast to the British and French armies, the Belgian army suffered much fewer losses. While approximately 3,75% of the mobilised soldiers in the Belgian army were killed, this was around 10,3% and 16,8% in the British and French armies. On the one hand, this was caused by the strategic choices of the high command, and on the other, by the ...

    Four years a refugee

    The First World War created a gigantic stream of refugees. At least 500,000 Belgian citizens, more than 7% of the Belgian population, spent four long war years abroad.    Driven out by horror stories and the advancing German army, millions of Belgians fled their town or village. Many ultimately reached the borders with The ...

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