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A deadly cloud: the first big gas attack in Belgium

On 22 April 1915, French and British troops were surprised by a yellow cloud drifting towards their lines between Steenstrate and Langemark. When the cloud reached the soldiers, they suffered violent and painful coughing fits and burning eyes. This first large-scale gas attack using deadly gas sent a wave of panic through the soldiers. On that ...

Antwerp: from National Redoubt to occupied city

An impregnable city   From the middle of the 19th century, Antwerp had occupied an exceptional position in the military defensive plans. The government and the army command had decided to transform the port into a National Redoubt; a fortified stronghold into which the army, the king and the government could withdraw when threatened by ...

A tangle of regulations? – German ordinances in occupied territory

The German occupier ruled in occupied territory by means of countless Verordnungen and Bekanntmachungen. Public life was regulated by thousands of big and small regulations that changed continually. Many of these regulations were felt to be harassment by the population, but from the standpoint of German, military logic they were mostly very ...

Overstepping the mark: the border with the Netherlands

From the beginning of the war, the border with the neutral Netherlands had bustled with activity. Almost immediately after the occupation, the German authorities sealed off the border to the Netherlands with barbed wire. The Germans wanted to prevent Belgian war volunteers from reaching the front via the Netherlands, and at the same time to call a ...

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 ...

War enthusiasm

For a long time, it was generally believed that the 1914 declarations of war were made in a spirit of enthusiasm, and that Europe went to war whistling. Today's historiography qualifies this view somewhat. It is true that on the eve of the First World War, a large part of the intelligentsia did think that a conflict could be beneficial: war ...

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, ...

Wilson and the Politics of Neutrality

The news of the German invasion of Belgium did not leave Americans indifferent. As early as 1914, they organised large-scale campaigns to provide ‘poor little Belgium’ with food and clothes. Actual participation in the war, however, was not on the cards yet. Having been in office for only a year and a half, President Woodrow Wilson ...

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 ...

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 ...

The February Revolution in Russia

On the eve of the First World War, Russia was in a state of turmoil. More and more Russians openly declared their dissatisfaction with Tsar Nicolas II and his authoritarian regime. With the outbreak of war, that dissatisfaction was temporarily washed away by a wave of patriotism. A strong anti-German sentiment fuelled a rapid and massive ...

The Americans arrive

At the outbreak of the First World War, the American president Woodrow Wilson decided that the United States should stay neutral. A series of diplomatic and military incidents gradually made this neutral stance untenable, and on 6 April 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. From that moment on, the US were officially at war, ...

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