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Category Archives: Belgium

So, this page has scans of old diagrams featuring the different rifles used.

This is a history of the machine gun in 1914.

Lets say, for a moment, that you’re writing a piece of fiction set in Belgium. Lets also say that you don’t have a great facility with the French language, and that you want to come up with names that don’t sound like “French Cliche’s” like “Jean” or “Pierre.” (My other go-to names would be “Marcel” or “Alain”). Never fear, because a random generator is available for use. One click brought me these results:

Achille Prevost
Alfred Fleury
Arsène Dechesne
Barthelemy Bayol
Bellamy Chenevier
Bertin Paquet
Bruce Lacroix
Denis Bellec
Donatien Lessard
Edouard-Jean Chevrier
Etienne Dupuis
Fabien Gaudet
Jean Pelletier
Jean-Jacques Lafontaine
Jean-Jacques Tissot
Jean-Jacques-Antoine Courtois
Jean-Louis-Chretien LaBranche
Joseph Lejeune
Joseph-Abel Thibodeau

When my brother was younger, he and my parents used to fight quite a bit about t-shirts and back patches.  My brother had been into heavy metal, thrash, and punk rock.  So was I, eventually too, but I never had the shirt collection like his.  However, one particular back patch sticks out in my memory at present, and I still recall the reasoning.

When it came to SOD, which was basically Anthrax with a different singer,  my parents found a number of things objectionable.  First, “Speak English or Die” would be insulting to the host nationals — especially since we lived, at the time, in the French speaking part of Belgium (Wallonia).   Belgium has a history of hypersensitivity when it comes to language, but that was mostly between French and Flemish speakers.  For the most part, “Speak English or Die” suggested “Ugly American,” which is even more inconsiderate when you’re living in Europe and your connected with American military in some fashion.  Nevermind, however, that the SOD backpatch and t-shirt, with the offending slogan, could be bought rather easily in Brussels, from Belgian shop keepers.

For my parents, however, there was something even more offensive, and that was the whole “SOD: Stormtroopers of Death.” For my brother and I, “Stormtrooper” meant “Star Wars” and the evil infantry men in white body armor.  For my parents, however, “Stormtroopers” mean Nazi soldiers.  Belgium, in two world wars, suffered at the hands of the German military.  My parents were afraid of inflaming old wounds, on the part of the locals.

In the end, my brother hardly gave in.  The neighbors hardly seemed to care, really.  We were invited over a few times, and their kids, while watching me ride my skateboard, eventually bought their own in an attempt to make friends.  Still, all these years later, I still understand my parent’s consternation, even though I didn’t back then.

In Europe, it’s really hard to travel around and not see the lingering effects of the War and Nazi Occupation, even many, many decades later.  There’s a sensitivity to fascisim that runs deep — whether it’s the Nazi Party being outlawed in Germany, or much, much smaller things.  To some conservatives, the following might seem a little too “politically correct.”  On the other hand, one must remember that soccer hooliganism is one of the last bastions of white supremacy in Europe.  Care of the Brussels Journal:

Patrick Dewael, the Belgian minister of the Interior, has forbidden the wearing of football shirts displaying the numbers 18 and 88. According to the Liberal minister the number 18 stands for “Adolf Hitler” and the number 88 for “Heil Hitler.” A is the 1st letter of the alphabet, H the 8th.

The numbers 37 (Che Guevara) or 13 (Mao) are not forbidden. Neither are the popular T-shirts with Che Guevara’s portrait.

One reader in a Brussels paper wondered whether citizens living in houses with the numbers 18 and 88 will be blacklisted as Nazis by the authorities. Young people born in 1988, who have email addresses containing their year of birth, are worried too.

The last couple of points could be taken as sarcasm.

For the two years my family lived in Belgium, we lived in Le Roeulx, which is just east of Charleroi. My neigborhood was mostly Belgian, but due to the close proximity to SHAPE and Mons, a number of Americans also lived in the area. Mostly, they were either DODDS teachers or personell (my mom and dad, for example), or officer’s families. Since I, as well as the other American kids in the area, went to High School (Grades 8 & 9) on SHAPE, a chartered bus made it’s route through here.

At anyrate, googling Le Roeulx has lead me to discover that it has it’s own flag:

As well as a very long history, care of flagspot.net:

Le Rœulx, known in the past as Rues (1166-1188), Ruz (1188-1191), Rueth, Ruels, Roelx and Reux, was probably named after the Latin word rhodus (or Germanic röde), “a cleared charcoal forest”. The village developed around the St. Feuillien abbey, built around 1125. Born as Faelan in Western Ireland around 600, Feuillien left Ireland as a missionary with his two brothers. After seven years spent in England and France, Feuillien met St. Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles in 645. The abbess granted him land in Fosses, where he founded a monastery in 651. In 655, on their way from Nivelles to France, Feuillien and his fellows were killed and beheaded by rascals. The murderers hid the saint’s body in a pigpen, where it was found only two months later, and brought back with great pump to Fosses via Nivelles. The place where Feuillien’s body had been found became a place of pilgrimage, marked by a cross later replaced by the Sénophe chapel. The lower maxillary of the saint is kept in a shrine shown in the St. Niccolas church of Le Rœulx.

Around 1125, monks from the Norbertine order set up the St. Feuillien abbey around the chapel. The abbey, with an estate spreading over 15 ha, was the origin of the town of Le Rœulx. The abbey only housed 20-40 monks but also a doctor, a surgeon, a chemist, cooks, a brewer, a gardener… The abbey flourished but its power was more and more challenged by the lords of Le Rœulx. The last monks were expelled in 1797, following the French Revolution. The abbey was purchased by Papin, Mayor of Le Rœulx, and in the early XIXth century by the Croÿ family. Most buildings were suppressed in order to set up the northern part of the park of the castle. The only remains of the abbey are the gate (1770), the gatekeeper’s house, a part of the wall of the vegetable garden and cellars. Paintings and stalls, preserved by Norbert Durieu, last Abbot and later Canon in Tournai, were transferred into the cathedral of Tournai. A monstrance made in 1543, maybe by Estiévin de Bussy, is kept in the Museum of the St. Vincent Collegiate Chapter of Soignies; it is decorated with the three statues of God, Apostle St. Peter bearing a key and St. Paul, and surmonted by the Dove of the Holy Spirit and Jesus on the Cross; the monstrance is brought back to Le Rœulx once a year, on the Adoration’s Sunday.
Saint-Feuillin had given his name to the local beer, a top-fermenting ale brewed by four generations of the Friart family since 1873.

At the outbreak of World War One, the British were among the first to accuse the Germans of war crimes in Belgium. The Bryce Report, which, like the preceding post, can be found at firstworldwar.com, details such claims. The following is but one example:

In Tamines, a large village on the Meuse between Namur and Charleroi, the advance guard of the German army appeared in the first fortnight in August, and in this as well as in other villages in the district, it is proved that a large number of civilians, among them aged people, women and children, were deliberately killed by the soldiers. One witness describes how she saw a Belgian boy of fifteen shot on the village green at Tamines, and a day or two later on the same green a little girl and her two brothers (name given) who were looking at the German soldiers, were killed before her eyes for no apparent reason.

The principal massacre at Tamines took place about August the 23rd. A witness describes how he saw the public square littered with corpses and after a search found those of his wife and child, a little girl of seven.

Another witness, who lived near Tamines, went there on August 27th, and says: “It is absolutely destroyed and a mass of ruins.”

Hyped up propaganda not withstanding, the Germans did commit war crimes in World War One, as has been noted elsewhere on this blog.   Firstworldwar.com has a condensed report, as issued by the US Ambassador, Brand Whitlock, regarding the conduct of Germans in Belgium:

Towns were sacked and burned, homes were pillaged; in many places portions of the population, men, women, and children, were massed in public squares and mowed down by mitrailleuses, and there were countless individual instances of an amazing and shameless brutality.

The stories of these deeds gradually filtered into Brussels in ever increasing numbers as the days went by, brought by the refugees, who, in crowds, fled the stricken region in terror.  It was difficult at first to believe them; but the stories persisted, and were told with such detail and on such authority that one could no longer doubt their essential truth.  They became a matter of common knowledge and public notoriety; and they saturated the general mind with their horror.

The report goes on to detail a number of incidents.  The descriptions are graphic.  Not sensationalistic, as the prose is spare and precise:

In the seven small villages surrounding Aerschot, forty-two persons were killed, four hundred and sixty-two were sent to Germany, one hundred and fifteen houses were burned and eight hundred and twenty-three were pillaged.

One of the most sorely tried communities was that of the little village of Tamines, down in what is known as the Borinage, the coal fields near Charleroi.  Tamines is a mining village in the Sambre; it is a collection of small cottages sheltering about 5,000 inhabitants, mostly all poor labourers.

The little graveyard in which the church stands bears its mute testimony to the horror of the event.  There are hundreds of new-made graves, each with its small wooden cross and its bit of flowers; the crosses are so closely huddled that there is scarcely room to walk between them.  The crosses are alike and all bear the same date, the sinister date of August 22, 1914.

My memories of Belgium consist of a lot of images like the below photo. Open farm land, but kind of empty. I remember my father telling me that the Nazis burned a lot of Belgian forest down, and it’s the reason why, around Cheivers Air Force Base, for example, most of the trees had to be replanted, and ended up perfectly aligned into rows. Still, there’s some thing surreal about the photo below — it’s slightly surreal and perfectly Belgian to my mind.

Creative commons licensed photo uploaded to flikr by Isaac Viel.

Statement of creative commons rights can be found here.

The following comes from a report issued by the European commission:

Difficulties within agriculture include surplus production, the small size
of cattle farms (hardly competitive in comparison to Flanders or abroad), and the ageing
of farmers who are on average more than 50 years old. Several agri-food businesses are
also disadvantaged by their size or by varying employment levels between the provinces;
in a national context, the economic position of this sector is fragile and investments are
decreasing. One of the problems affecting forestry is the impact of mechanisation on
jobs. On the whole, the rural environment is disadvantaged by remoteness, inadequate
public transport, the weakened role of the primary sector and the effects of intensive
agriculture on the environment and the landscape.

It’s hard to really describe how thick the fog can get in the low countries, and Belgium in particular.  Plus, it also amazed me, given an confronting wall of what, how insanely people can drive over there.  Good Advice , when driving in Belgium, can be found from AngloInfo:

As fog can alter the perception of speed and distance, it is important to slow down and drive more defensively.

  • Drive with lights on, and if visibility is very poor, use fog lights.
  • Use the windshield wipers to clear accumulated mist off of the windscreen.
  • Check the speedometer occasionally as fog can distort the perception of speed and the vehicle could be going much faster than it seems.