Belgian National Day

It's Belgian National Day (or Nationale feestdag van België, Fête nationale de Belge or maybe even Belgischer Nationalfeiertag) - Belgium's celebration of the day in 1831 when Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution, and thus became the nation's first monarch.

Given the 'number of our English dead' who lie beneath Flanders fields, it's appropriate to acknowledge the day 'gallant little Belgium' celebrates its independence - an independence British and Empire troops fought so fiercely to maintain.

When war was declared in 1914 it was ostensibly over the 'scrap of paper' (as the German's disdainfully referred to it) Britain had signed supporting Belgian neutrality. It was that neutrality Belgium had sought to uphold when the Germans demanded free access through the country to invade France.

The British press went into overdrive, identifying Belgium as a peaceful land of campaniles and culture while referring to German war crimes a-plenty (bayoneting babies, priests hung from their own bell towers) and conveniently overlooking some of the atrocities committed by Belgium in its African colonies. But then, Britain had its own less-than-glorious colonial record to overlook, too.

Father stares at the hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, severed as a punishment for failing to make the daily rubber quota - Belgian Congo, 1904. (Read more about this here).

There's some truth in the idea that the invading German army hit the civilian population hard. Belgium was never going to defend itself against the might of Germany on the battlefield so when its tactics of resistance - guerrilla warfare - threatened to slow German progress it hit back with brutal force.

On only the second day of the invasion the German army had been stalled at Liege by a tiny Belgian defence force and had suffered huge losses. When the town fell, German reprisals were swift and indiscriminate.

But in remaining occupied for the remainder of the war, at least Liege didn't suffer the fate of its famous (or infamous) sister, Ieper - or Ypres, or 'Wipers' as the Tommies called it. This was all that was left of that once proud Belgian city in 1919.

And in spite of plans to leave the place in ruins as a memorial to the many men who died - a plan supported by Churchill, among others - the city was rebuilt, remaining a focus of Belgian commemorations of the sacrifice made by so many in the cause of Belgian independence.


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