Belgium was severely affected by World War One. The main reason for this lies in its geographical location and its position of neutrality, which also affected the country during World War Two (for further information, see: 3.2. WORLD WAR TWO: German Occupation).
Belgium is situated, along with Luxembourg, between France and Germany, two States of great relevance during World War One. Belgium had declared itself as a neutral State the previous century, through the ratification of the Treaty of London in 1839, where it established that it would remain a neutral State perpetually.
Germany needed to pass through Belgium in order to get to France. Leopold II, at the time King of Belgium, did not accept the petition made by Germany (a petition of passage), in order to safeguard Belgium’s interests and its principle of neutrality.
After this, Germany decided to occupy the territory of Belgium given that they could not pass otherwise. This was a rejection to the neutrality of Belgium and was viewed very negatively after the war.
They started the invasion of Belgium with the siege of Liège. Belgium, unaccustomed to war, was very shocked by the invasion and quite unprepared. They formed an army in order to prevent Germany’s advances, which was not able to manage to stop the siege, given Germany’s modern warfare abilities.
After this, Germany continued to occupy the territory but at a pace slower than the expected. This occupation was not homogeneous, and some regions of Belgium were occupied by different German regimes, with different degrees of repression.
Out of the many events that surrounded Belgium’s occupation, we can highlight the Yser army. The army of Belgium mainly concentrated on protecting the territory sheltered by the River Yser. This area of North-West Belgium was not occupied by Germany, and it was where Leopold II settled during the years of The Great War.
Germany tried to take advantage of social differences through the Flamenpolitik, which wanted to heighten Flemish discontent and fracture society. Most Flemish, however, did not fall for this strategy, given their distrust of Germany.
Belgium was a victim of warfare throughout this period, and was very deteriorated by the end of the war. Considering that Belgium was one of the most densely populated countries in the world and with a very strong economic structure, it was a very
harsh period for the country.
The Armistice of 1918 symbolized the end of World War One and allowed Belgium to restore itself; Leopold II tried to regain control of the State along with the Belgian Government, visiting several cities before the Armistice was even signed; society tried to get back to normality, since during the War it had been very repressed and fractured.
- Murphy, A. B., Van der Wee, H. F., Doucy, A. J., Lamberts, E. L., Materné, J. M., Van Molle, L., & Britannica, T. E. (2018, December 10). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from Belgium: https://www.britannica.com/place/Belgium/Belgium-and-World-War-I
- Schaepdrijver, S. D. (2018, July 18). Belgium. Retrieved from International Encyclopedia of the First World War: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/belgium
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2018, December 10). Belgium in World War I. Retrieved from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgium_in_World_War_I