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Mata Hari

A century after her death, Mata Hari is still a household name. She is mainly remembered as a femme fatale, a dangerous double agent who used her sensuality to extract military secrets. Starting 14 October, the Museum of Friesland looks at the woman behind the stereotype. It is no coincidence that a big exhibition on her life is about to open in ...

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 ...

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 ...

Play during the occupation

Wartime was sometimes a difficult period for children but this did not discourage them from continuing to play. The war had a great appeal and offered them a great deal of inspiration for fantasy play. They marched along with passing troops, sang satirical songs and tore German ordinances from the walls. They collected souvenirs and began a trade ...

American shops

During The First World War, the Belgian population was dependent on foreign food aid. The Nationaal Hulp- en Voedingscomité played a crucial role in the distribution of the imported foodstuffs. To this end, the committee opened its own sales points, which the population could visit to buy sugar, corn, tinned meat, rice and other staple products. ...

Dogs under the occupation

Because so many horses and donkeys were requisitioned in occupied Belgium, dogs had to provide even more pulling power than before the war. They were harnessed to dogcarts and pulled the milkman's milk, the baker's bread, and the farmer's children. However, the Germans, who were not familiar with the practice, rejected dogcarts as ...

A Christmas spirit with a dark side

The first Christmas at the front, in 1914, passed in a remarkable atmosphere. At the start of hostilities, the soldiers had hoped for a short war. They had expected to be home long before Christmas and were surprised to find themselves still in the trenches. This is why there was little will to fight amongst many of the soldiers. This attitude was ...

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