The Great War Part 195, May 11th 1918

BELGIAN' TRENCH MORTAR SQUAD. I .-LIFE IN BELGIUM IN THE FOURTH YEAR OF THE WAR. By Emile Cammaerts. I t is with more than common satisfaction that the Editors of The Great War present to their readers the following vivid description, b M.y Emile Cam maerts of the conditions of life in Belgium during the German occupation. Although not written in the past tense according to the strict convention of modern history the chapter rightly finds' a place in this standard history of the war as a contemporary document produced under the stress of intense feeling b any ardent patriot who is also a great poet. In his use of the present tense the distinguished author has adopted the modern idiomatic equivalent of the historic infinitive so often employed by Tacitus and the dcvice serves to em phasise the poignant actuality of the description of the fortitude and endurance of the heroic Belgian people during the period of their great affliction. that I am bound togo wrong here and there but whatever mistakes I may indulge in concerning other things the rum­bling of the guns the tramp of ”the“ field-grey and the long queues standing for hours in the rain must remain as the background of the picture. This at least is true. It is the obsession of everyone the fundamental groundwork of every life the source from which every Belgian draws his hope of deliverance his hatred of oppression and his dread of starvation. The Rumbling of the Guns. The guns sound quite near in the army zones of L u xem ­burgH ainault and Flanders but when the wind blows from the west or when some im­portant action is taking place, the drum-fire is heard distinctly as far as Brussels. The years of war have not yet dulled the peoples attention to it. They stop in the street to listen to the low murmur. They wonder what is taking place. During the autumn of 1917 when the guns roared for weeks round the Ypres salient they guessed the truth —that their masters were getting the worst of it. They even believed in spite of the German communiques that the Allies had broken through, and the rum ours of a German defeat spread like wild-fire through Brussels. I t must always be remem­bered that Belgium from the hour of its occupation has been practically-isolated from the allied countries. The only sj^F w e try to imagine the life of the civilians in some big town of the occupied part of Belgium— Brussels for instance— we must never forget that the far-away rumbling of the guns can often be heard that at regular intervals the tramping of German patrols resounds in the streets and that there is scarcely an hour in the day when expectant food queues do not line the pavement in the populous quarters of the city. These constant features of Belgian life will at once give us the atmosphere of the picture which we are trying to sketch. A s we have only fragmentary and incomplete evidence to gob y w e may exaggerate the proportions of certain figures or miss the right colouring again and again. Sympathy, however burning imagination however alert cannot entirely supplement the lack of per­sonal experience of individual memories. I have had the opportunity of talking to many who have witnessed these scenes and lived this life. It has become tome a vivid reality especially at night when apparently disconnected dreams carry me right into the middle of dear and familiar surroundings. B u tin such matters we ought to trust neither the visions ol our heart nor the suggestions of our brain. The merest scrap of personal evidence is more valuable than the most elaborate description. In attempting to speak of life in occupied Belgium w itli the material mat y disposal I feel ISpeatghl. THE KING OF THE BELGIANS. King Alberts steadfast courage in the face of Germanys invasion of Belgium and during the subsequent years of the struggle in which the greater part of his kingdom was occupied by'the enemy, assured him an honoured place among the heroes of the Great War. CC
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