Beleaguered Belgium

The invasion of Belgium in a newspaper report

Beleaguered Belgium

German conquest of a neighboring nation is an event usually associated with World War II. However, 25 years earlier in 1914 the German Army marched through Belgium intent on invading France.

The German invasion was part of the Schlieffen Plan, a plan aimed at quickly conquering Paris.

Timeline of Events

La Rue Carlon, Ypres
La Rue Carlon, Ypres
  • 2 August 1914: Germany requests passage through Belgium, a neutral country.
  • 3 August: Belgium refuses.
  • 4 August: Germany invades. Great Britain declares war on Germany.
  • 5-16 August: The Battle of Liege puts the Germans 11 days behind their timetable.
  • 20 August: Brussels surrenders.
  • 6-12 September: Belgium slows Germany’s advancement enough that the First Battle of the Marne is fought outside Paris. But 95 percent of Belgium is eventually occupied. A number of civilians are executed; cultural treasures and villages are destroyed.
  • More than a million Belgians flee to France and the Netherlands. Many of those who stayed were forced into unpaid labor.
  • 10 October: Antwerp surrenders. The Race to the Sea begins. The British manage to keep Ostend, a town near Dunkirk, in Allied hands.
  • Spring 1915: Germany electrifies the Belgian border with the Netherlands.
  • 1916: Liberals and Socialists are permitted in Belgium’s Catholic government as an expression of unity.
  • 1914-1918: Many battles are fought in Belgian in the Ypres and Yser areas. Battles also were held in a few parts of Belgian colonies.

Mighty Little Belgium

King Albert I
King Albert I

At the time of the invasion, Belgium had a population of 7.5 million and a standing army of 43,000 with another 115,000 in reserve.

Belgium was an independent associate power commanded in the field by King Albert I and did not officially join the Allies until 1918.

“Belgium is a nation, not a road,” he said.

Belgium suffered 267,000 military casualties during the war.

Propaganda

Multiple fundraisers were established to give relief to the beleaguered nation.

What became known as the Rape of Belgium also was used as propaganda and as a recruitment tool.

Here are a few examples:

Belgian women held captive by German soldiers
“A scene in a Belgian town”
The Rape of Belgium ad
An ad for a first person account of the rape of Belgium
A Support the Local Fund World War One poster
“They must not starve”
A World War One Liberty bonds poster
“Remember Belgium. Buy bonds.”
A British World War One recruitment poster encouraging men to remember Belgium
“Remember Belgium. Enlist to-day.”

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Updated: 19 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.

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