Monday, February 27, 2012

Bullying in Schools

Just today, in the land of my educational exile, there was news on TV of another school shooting. This in the province of Ohio which, the report said, killed one student and wounded four others. The young shooter surrendered to the police. Such a tragedy! Of course, in Belgium we are thankful this sort of thing does not happen like in the U.S. probably because, unlike in America, in Belgium not everyone has guns. However, this was another case of a student being bullied by his classmates until finally he snapped and started shooting up the lunchroom. Bullying is not unique to America certainly and I was reminded because of this today that two weeks ago Friday Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde visited Sint Pietersinstituut in Turnhout to see the children and inspect the program there to suppress bullying in school. Tragedies like this one in America today shows how important this issue is. If the other children had not bullied the little boy (I don't know the age) this disaster probably would not have happened. It is important, as Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde did, to start with the very young children to impress on them to get along with each other and not join in when someone is singled out to be cruel to. The children, you can see, were very excited to see the Prince and Princess, wearing patriotic-decorated hats, some with the royal couple picture on them, and parents gathered outside to seem them as they came and went (for security reasons they were not allowed in the school at the same time, showing today everyone everywhere has to be extra careful). Hopefully there will be more and better programs to stop bullying and I am happy Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde took care to make this issue one of their priorities. We do not want the same thing to happen in Belgium that happened in Ohio, America today. God bless those unfortunate people.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Leopold III Becomes King

Today in 1934 Leopold III became King of the Belgians. I don't say he or any other king was best because Belgium has had only a few kings and been fortunate that all have done very well. I do say that King Leopold III is one of the most misunderstood and wrongly criticized kings, really of any country in his era. He was a very good person, had best intentions, was very faithful to his duty and obligations and wanted the best for his  people. It was a gross injustice that he was obliged to abdicate but he did that to spare his people and more division and possible suffering because the radicals against him threatened violence. He was a great man.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Italo-Belgian Friendship

King Albert I and King Victor Emmanuel III

The Belgian and Italian Royal Families

The Belgian and Italian Royal Families

Crown Princess Marie Jose and Crown Prince Umberto

Queen Marie Jose and King Umberto II (photo maybe from later?)

Queen Paola and King Albert II

Queen Paola and King Albert II

Monday, February 13, 2012

British-Belgian Friendship

King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth meet British Admiral Beatty

King George V and King Albert I meet early in the war

King Albert I and King George V review Belgian troops

British General Allenby and King Albert I at the front

King Albert and British General Haig

Allied Sovereigns

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Franco-Belgian Friendship

King Albert I and Marshal of France Joffre

Marshal of France Joffre and King Albert I

Monday, February 6, 2012

General Gerard Matheiu Leman

Gerard Matheiu Leman was a man defending his home town (Liège), the city he was born in and he was also the first big Allied hero of the Great War. He was a great soldier and one of my favorite heroes. Leman came from a military background, his father was an artillery captain who was an instructor at the École Militaire. When Gerard Leman began his training there he was a great cadet and was praised by his professors for his abilities. When he graduated in 1869 everyone expected him to become one of top military commanders of the Belgian army. In 1870 he served with the Belgian observation corps during the Franco-German War in which Belgian neutrality was expected. In 1882 he became an instructor at the military academy and later the head of the school and was known for shaping the minds of his students toward modern methods of warfare and for being a brilliant mathematician. His reputation was so great that he was chosen to be the tutor to the future King Albert I on military matters since the King would have to take command of the army if there was ever a war.

But, most people in Belgium, most especially in the government, did not believe there would ever be a war because they trusted in the treaties guaranteeing Belgian neutrality. General Gerard Leman was not one of those. I think because he had seen so closely the Franco-German War of 1870 and he knew that the two nations of France and Germany would eventually go to war again, it would be more vicious than the last time and Belgium, being between the two, could not hope to escape unscathed simply because France and Prussia had pledged to respect Belgian neutrality. In 1914 General Leman was given command of the fortress complex guarding the city of Liège (the city he was born in) along with command of the Belgian Third Army Division. General Leman was convinced that there would be a war and he would have to defend Liège against the German army. Some would have considered that a hopeless idea but General Leman worked hard and put his men to work to put up the best defense possible of his city. Over 18,000 workers were employed to build and improve defensive fortifications around the city. When one Belgian minister came to visit and said that he was worried these improvements would endanger Belgian neutrality. General Leman said that when war came Belgium would thank him for his efforts and that he no war came he would give up his rank.

General Leman was certainly right and only a few months later the German forces invaded and the German army under General Otto von Emmich arrived at Liège and demanded the city surrender. Taking the forts guarding the rivers in Belgium quickly was a critical part of the overall German strategy to race through the country, sweeping around by the coast to take Paris from the north and then come in behind the main French army on the Alsace-Lorraine border to surround and destroy them. Everything depending on Belgium being subdued as quickly as possible and the Germans had not really expected Belgium to resist at all. Naturally, General Leman resisted magnificently. He refused to surrender and the Germans began attacking. The new fortifications Leman had constructed proved useful and the German attacks were successfully repelled by the Belgians. Their invasion was stopped completely and they had to wait for the arrival of special super-heavy artillery (siege howitzers) to arrive to demolish the Belgian force from a great distance away.

Finally these massive guns arrived and they began shelling the Belgian forts, demolishing them one by one. Still, General Leman remained defiant and he and his men continued to repel German attacks on the forts but these forts were being reduced methodically by the special siege artillery. A German force even got through to Liège and expected Leman to surrender but he was not in the city, he was in one of the forts fighting alongside his men. He was in Fort Loncin and when the big German guns began shelling this fort things became very serious. Debris was falling everywhere, the air becoming too thick to breath and many men were being killed but General Leman was determined not to surrender. His orders were to hold his position and defend his country as long as possible and he was fully prepared to die in the performance of his duty. However, a German shell hit caused a collapse in the area General Leman was in and he was knocked unconscious and buried under a pile of rubble. The Germans came in and recovered him, taking him prisoner but treating him with great respect because of how impressed they were with his courage and military abilities. When he recovered General Leman was most concerned that the world know he had been knocked out when he was captured and had NOT surrendered. He was kept as a prisoner of war for most of the rest of the conflict until the Germans released him because of his poor health. He had been applauded as the first Allied hero of the Great War and Belgium greatly honored him when the war was finally won and he was able to go home. He died in 1920 at the age of 69.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Le prince Louis-Philippe de Belgique

The sadly short life of the first Prince, Louis-Philippe of Belgium

Something Funny

I thought this was funny. I found this photo with the title "Belgian postal workers". Never have I seen any like that! If I did I would want to ask one out but I don't want to get a sword through my insides. These girls look like they would get your mail to you on time regardless of the circumstances!