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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 ...

Through Belgium to Paris: the German invasion of Belgium

In the wake of the attack on the Austrian heir in June 1914, tensions between the European great powers escalated rapidly. However, the Belgians were not all that concerned: their country was neutral and so did not have to be afraid of becoming involved in a potential conflict. But this was without taking account of the German Schlieffen Plan, a ...

A new role for women?

In Great Britain, the army swallowed up an important part of the male workforce during The First World War. Women often took over their work in the factories, or in the fields, temporarily. However, the efforts of women had little impact on their post-war role. In Belgium, the scope of the employment of women in the war industry, and in the ...

The world at the front

The First World War was primarily fought in Europe, but soldiers and workers from all over the world came here to fight and work for the various armies.   Quite early in the war, the European great powers deployed their colonial troops to supplement their own armies. The British were able to call on Indian, Canadian, Australian and South ...

Reading historical newspapers critically

Newspapers are an accessible source for studying different aspects of The First World War. But just as with other historical sources, the information in newspapers has to be critically examined. This is true of both the texts and the photos and illustrations.   The critical examination of sources is known by historians as ...

An army of the unemployed? Forced labour

As the war lasted, the German economy grew short-handed. At the same time, the economy in occupied Belgium had all but ground to a standstill, as a result of which there was enormous unemployment. The German high command came to see the Belgian unemployed as a way of keeping the war economy running.   Initially, the Germans tried to tempt ...

The Treaty of Versailles

In January 1919, representatives of 32 countries travelled to Paris to re-draw the map of the post-war world, and to discuss what was to happen to the losers of the war. Each country brought its own agenda to the negotiating table. Belgium and Serbia were hoping for reparations, Polish and Irish nationalists sought recognition for their countries, ...

The black market

Even before the war, Belgium depended on imports for its food supply. When those dried up during the war, food shortage quickly became a serious issue. While initiatives such as the Nationaal Hulp- en Voedingscomité (National Relief and Food Committee) helped to alleviate the problem, they did not solve it completely. Food, as well as other ...

Easels At the Frontline

Ruined countryside near Nieuwpoort, a flooded air-raid shelter and a self portrait in army uniform; those are just a few of the scenes painted by artists of the Section Artistique between 1916 and 1918. La rue haute à Nieuport, by Léon Huygens (La patrie belge, 11/03/1917, p. 1) The war had already sparked plenty of creativity in the years ...

The International Congress of Women

The International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) was founded by leading feminists in 1904. The organisation was devoted to securing women's suffrage and held regular international conferences. In 1915, it was due to take place in Berlin but was cancelled because of the war. On a proposal by the Dutch feminist Dr. Aletta Jacobs, the ...

Hollow Cheeks

From 1916 onwards, an estimated 180,000 Belgians were forced to do hard labour for the Germans. The deportation of Belgian civilians to Germany especially provoked a wave of protest. The Belgian government in exile called the forced labour slavery, and speaking for the Catholic Church, Cardinal Mercier took the Germans to task for the ...

Le Traité de Versailles

Des représentants des 32 pays se rendirent en janvier 1919 à Paris pour redessiner la carte du monde d'après-guerre et discuter du sort des perdants. Chaque pays s'assit à la table avec son propre agenda. La Belgique et la Serbie espéraient des réparations de guerre, les nationalistes polonais et irlandais entendaient faire ...

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