The Monarchist Initiative has an article on the visit of the Belgian Crown Prince and Princess to Indonesia in November, 2008.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
On May 28, 1940, after 18 days of courageous fighting in collaboration with the Allies, the Belgian army, under the command of King Leopold III, was compelled to surrender to the invading Germans. The King, under desperate circumstances, as the British fled through Dunkirk, had judged further resistance futile and, after making every effort to warn the Allies of his army's imminent collapse, had ordered a cease-fire. He would, nonetheless, be violently attacked in Britain and France; his surrender would be portrayed, extremely unfairly, as a betrayal of the Allied cause, and, even, as a betrayal of his own country. Leopold would, effectively, become the scapegoat for the Allied defeat in 1940; and the charges of treachery would prove to be the beginning of a long political campaign waged against the King, leading, eventually, to his abdication in 1951.
One of the public figures who defended King Leopold against the slanderous charges was Sir Roger Keyes, a British military hero of World War I and a liaison officer in Belgium during the 18 day campaign. The King also defended his actions in the following letter, dated May 28, 1940. One copy of the letter was sent to Pope Pius XII; a second copy, to US President Roosevelt. It is important to note that King Leopold was known for his truthfulness, and that, since his youth, he had been a loyal and courageous patriot (even volunteering at age 13 for the Belgian army during World War I and insisting on being taken to the front lines). His expressions of his concern to behave honorably and of his love of Belgium, therefore, cannot be dismissed as hypocritical rhetoric. Here is the letter:
Au milieu de la confusion générale provoquée par les événements prodigieusement rapides que nous vivons, et dont la portée est incalculable, je tiens à affirmer que la Belgique et son armée ont accompli tout leur devoir. La Belgique a tenu ses engagements internationaux, d'abord en maintenant scrupuleusement sa neutralité, ensuite en défendant pied à pied toute l'étendue de son territoire.Attaquée par des forces énormes, notre armée parvint en bon ordre sur une ligne de défense puissament organisée, en liaison avec les armées des garants auxquels nous avions fait appel. Mais des évenements militaires, déroulés hors de notre territoire, ont contraint à évacuer ce champ de bataille et imposé une série de mouvements de repli qui nous acculèrent à la mer. Notre armée se dépensa alors sans compter dans une bataille de quatre jours, menée d'un commun accord avec les armées alliées. Nous nous trouvâmes finalement encerclés sur un territoire extrêmement exigu, habité par une population très dense, envahi déjà par plusieurs centaines de milliers de réfugiés civils sans abri, sans nourriture, sans eau potable, et refluant d'un endroit à l'autre, selon les bombardements aériens.Hier, nos derniers moyens de résistance furent brisés sous le poids d'une superiorité écrasante d'effectifs et d'aviation. Dans ces conditions, j'ai cherché à éviter un combat qui, aujourd'hui, aurait conduit à notre extermination sans profit pour les Alliés: personne n'a le droit de sacrifier inutilement des vies humaines.J'entends continuer, quoi qu'il advienne, à partager le sort de mon armée et de mon peuple. Sollicité depuis plusieurs jours de quitter mes soldats, j'ai repoussé cette suggestion qui eût été pour le chef de l'armée une désertion. De plus, en restant sur le sol national, je désire soutenir mon peuple dans l'épreuve qu'il traverse.In the midst of the general confusion, caused by the prodigiously rapid events which we are living through, and of which the results are incalculable, I wish to affirm that Belgium and her army have accomplished their duty to the full. Belgium has honored her international engagements; first, by scrupulously maintaining her neutrality, and later, by defending, foot by foot, the entire extent of her territory.Attacked by enormous forces, our army reached, in good order, a line of defense, which was powerfully organized, in cooperation with the armies of our garantors, to whom we had appealed. But military events, which occurred outside of our territory, compelled us to evacuate this field of battle, and imposed upon us a series of retreats which drove us to the sea. Our army expended itself, without holding back, in a four-day battle, waged in collaboration with the Allied armies. We finally found ourselves encircled in an extremely small area, very densely populated, already crowded with several hundred thousand civilian refugees without shelter, without food, without drinking water, who were fleeing from one area to another, driven by the bombardments.Yesterday, our last means of resistance were shattered under the weight of a crushing superiority of effectives and aviation. In these conditions, I sought to avoid a battle which, today, would have led to our extermination, without benefiting the Allies: no one has the right to sacrifice human lives in vain.I intend to continue, whatever may happen, to share the fate of my army and people. I have been asked, for several days, to leave my soldiers, but I have rejected this suggestion, which would be, for the head of an army, a desertion. In addition, by remaining on national soil, I wish to support my people in the ordeal through which they are passing.
I cannot understand why a certain commentator, referring to this letter, while acknowledging it showed Leopold's nobility, wrote that it also illustrated his "somewhat morbid and monkish" character. In my opinion, quite the opposite is true. The King, despite the adverse circumstances, seems calm, courageous, even hopeful.
Pius XII sent King Leopold a sympathetic reply. The King answered:
J'ai toujours eu la certitude que, dans Sa clairvoyance et Sa juste bonté, Votre Sainteté ne pourrait attribuer ma décision qu'à l'inspiration de mes sentiments chrétiens, comme au souci du bien du Pays dont j'ai le garde et pour lequel je souffrirais mille morts, car subir n'est pas accepter, se taire n'est pas approuver; attendre n'est pas renoncer.I was always sure that, in Your clear-sightedness and Your just kindness, Your Holiness could not attribute my decision to anything other than the inspiration of my Christian sentiments, and to my concern for the good of the Country that is in my charge and for which I would suffer a thousand deaths, for to endure is not to accept, to be silent is not to approve; to wait is not to give up.(Quoted by Rémy in Le 18e jour: la tragédie de Léopold III, roi des Belges, 1976)
I emphasized the last phrases of the letter because they became very important for Leopold III. Following his abdication, caused by a long series of political attacks and slanders, the King had to withdraw completely from the public scene, into enforced silence and self-effacement. To preserve national unity, he had to avoid any action which might rekindle the divisive conflict surrounding his person and reign. Thus, from 1951 until his death in 1983, he could not defend himself publicly against the continual repetition of old charges. It was not until the posthumous publication of his memoirs, in 2001, that the King's account of his reign, and of the vicissitudes that led to his abdication, would emerge.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
A lovely country chateau, the Royal Castle of Ciergnon, near the village of the same name. The castle is a residence and summer retreat of the Belgian royal family.
Photo credits here.
There are touching stories associated with Ciergnon. One illustrates the piety and simplicity of Albert I. When he visited Ciergnon, he would go to Confession in the village church, taking his place in line, and declining to go before his turn.
Queen Astrid loved Ciergnon; after all, she had been raised, to a great extent, in the countryside herself, in Sweden.
Princess Marie-Esmeralda of Belgium, daughter of Leopold III and his second wife, Princess Lilian, recalls, in her book, Léopold III, mon père, visiting Ciergnon with her family and playing on the grounds of the chateau, with great enjoyment.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Marie-José, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, once wrote that the Belgian kings would never have succeeded in their work of nation-building, without the collaboration of their people:
Évidemment, ces souverains n'auraient guère réussi leur oeuvre s'ils n'avaient trouvé dans leur patrie un peuple travailleur, ingénieux, courageux devant l'avenir, loyal et plein de bon sens, fier de son grand passé communal, de ses villes, de ses provinces, mais avant tout farouchement indépendant.
Gabriele d'Annunzio avait raison lorsque, sur la photographie qu'il me dédicaça en 1932, il écrivit:
'Un admirateur dévoué du grand peuple belge constructeur en temps de paix et indomptable en temps de guerre.'
Of course, these sovereigns would never have succeeded in their task if they had not found, in their country, a people that was hard-working, clever, courageous in the face of the future, loyal, full of good sense, proud of its great common past, of its cities, of its provinces, but, above all, fiercely independent.
Gabriele D'Annunzio was right, when, on the photograph he dedicated to me in 1932, he wrote:
'A devoted admirer of the great Belgian people, constructive in time of peace and indomitable in time of war.'
A wonderful website, which illustrates the traditional virtues of the Belgian people is Médecins de la Grande Guerre, by Dr. Patrick Loodts and Francis de Look. The site is dedicated to war heroes (mostly Belgian, but including some British, French, and others) of World War I, with a special emphasis on the medical personnel. Many of the people discussed in the articles were not only very patriotic, in an intelligent and balanced fashion, but also very religious, in a splendid and touching way. It is only a pity that Belgium and the rest of Europe no longer uphold these moral and religious ideals.
The numerous stories of patriotic devotion, public service and self-sacrifice on the part of a broad spectrum of Belgians, both Flemings and Walloons, disprove the claim, incessantly repeated in certain quarters, that Belgium is merely an artificial state without a real identity. Rather, with its three languages - Dutch, French, and German - it is, in many ways, a crossroads of Catholic Europe.
Dividing Belgium would be a cruel betrayal of the many heroic individuals who have suffered and died to preserve it.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
In the preface to her memoirs, Queen Marie-José of Italy sets out her purpose in describing the life of her parents, King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, in touching and thoughtful terms:
Émile Verhaeren a écrit:
"La legende transfigure. Elle est plus humaine que l'histoire. Celle-ci se fixe en un texte, celle-là se propage par la parole, se multiplie, s'augment indéfiniment. Elle continue à vivre...
"Il est rare qu'on occupe la légende. Pour y parvenir il faut qu'une atmosphère spéciale enveloppe les héros. Il faut que la poésie s'empare d'eux, il faut qu'il y ait matière non seulement à exaltation, mais aussi à la tendresse. En un mot, il faut qu'il y ait amour.
"Ce sont les couples qui peuplent les fables immortelles."
La legende evoquée en ces termes par Verhaeren fut pour nous, les enfants d'Albert et d'Élisabeth, réalité. Cette réalité, nous aimerions la faire mieux connaître. Tant d'écrivains de talent ont consacré des pages admirables à la vie et à l'oeuvre de mes parents. Mais le témoignage de leur fille et la transmission directe de leur exemple peuvent ajouter un éclairage nouveau aux ouvrages qui leur sont consacrés.
L'atmosphère familiale de notre enfance, le climat épique des quatres années de guerre, l'ambiance plus "officielle" de l'après-guerre, tout cela reste illuminé dans ma mémoire par l'aura qui émane de ce couple exceptionnel.
Emile Verhaeren wrote:
"Legend transfigures. It is more human than history, which takes the form of a fixed text; it spreads by the spoken word, develops, spreads indefinitely. It continues to live...
"Legend is rare. To attain it, there must be a special atmosphere which envelops the heroes. Poetry must take hold of them, there must be material not only for exaltation, but also for tenderness. In a word, there must be love.
"These are the couples which people immortal tales."
The legend evoked in these terms by Verhaeren, was, for us, the children of Albert and Elisabeth, reality. This reality, we would like to make better known. Many talented writers have described admirably the life and work of my parents. But the testimony of their daughter and the direct transmission of their example may shed new light on the works which are devoted to them.
The familial atmosphere of our childhood, the epic climate of the four years of war, the more "official" ambiance of the post-war period, all this remains in my mind, illumined by the aura of this exceptional couple.
Marie-José's introduction reveals not only her deep love and admiration for her parents, but also her interesting combination of realism and idealism; it shows that truth and legend do not, necessarily, have to be in conflict.
Monday, January 26, 2009
After the tragic loss of his wife, Queen Astrid, King Leopold III of the Belgians had to try to be both father and mother to his children... despite his many public obligations.
His eldest daughter, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, also attempted, courageously, to take care of her younger siblings, Baudouin and Albert. But she was only a child herself.
Queen Elisabeth did her best, lavishing affection on her grand-children, but it would take Leopold's remarriage with Lilian Baels, who proved to be a devoted step-mother to the royal children, to restore the family circle.
Yet, Leopold is reproached for marrying during the war, when the Belgians were suffering. He is accused of selfishly valuing his own happiness more than that of his people. Were there no other wartime weddings in Belgium? How did the marriage harm the people? Leopold and Lilian were married with great discretion, as befitted the somber and tragic times. It is not as though they indulged in feasting and revelry.
There is no doubt that the royal children would have suffered profound psychological damage, in the atmosphere of anxiety and insecurity during the Nazi occupation, and, particularly, in the traumatic period of captivity in Germany, without maternal care and affection. Lilian's vigilance, in fact, protected the family from many dangers, during their deportation by the SS and subsequent imprisonment under harsh conditions in an insalubrious German fortress. Belgium owes her a great deal, since she played an essential role in safeguarding the lives and mental equilibrium of the King and the heirs to the throne.
The King's remarriage was not a selfish act, but a necessary one for the good of his family and country. He was a tender father and a responsible ruler.
Elena Maria Vidal has been posting articles on traditional fairy tales, and somehow this has inspired me to share my love of riddles. Here are a few, taken from Monika Beisner's illustrated book of riddles:
As long as I live, I eat,
But when I drink, I die.
The beginning of eternity,
The end of time and space,
The beginning of every end,
And the end of every place.
What has a mouth and does not eat?
What has a bed and does not sleep?
Above, we see a painting, by Theo van Rysselberghe, of Emile Verhaeren reciting his poetry. Born in 1855 into a Flemish, but French-speaking family, in Sint Amands, Belgium, Verhaeren trained as a lawyer at the University of Louvain but, after a short period in legal practice, decided to devote his life to literature. One of the founders of Symbolism, Verhaeren became one of the most prominent figures in Belgian literature. Always radical and flamboyant, he was a revolutionary firebrand in his youth, but, nonetheless, developed a close friendship with King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. World War I profoundly shocked Verhaeren's pacifist sensibilities, but his country's brave resistance to German invasion inspired a series of magnificent war poems. Verhaeren had a deep admiration and regard for the Belgian royal couple. When the King and Queen were holding out at La Panne, near the North Sea, in the last strip of Belgian territory free of German occupation, the poet wrote:
Ce n'est qu'un bout de sol étroit
Mais qui renferme et sa Reine et son Roi
Et l'amour condensé d'un peuple qui les aime
Le nord a beau y déchainer le froid qui gerce et qui mord
Il est brûlant ce sol suprême
Sadly, Verhaeren did not live to see the return of peace and his country's liberation. He died tragically, by falling under a train, in 1916.
A collection of poems by Emile Verhaeren may be found here.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, her daughter Marie-José, and her grand-daughter Maria Pia.
An excellent biography of Marie-José may be found, in limited preview, here.
A biography of her husband, King Umberto II of Italy, may be found, in limited preview, here.
Marie-José, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, was briefly Queen Consort of Italy as the wife of King Umberto II. Marie-José's short reign, from May 9, 1946, (the date of the abdication of her father-in-law, King Victor III Emmanuel), to June 2, 1946, (the date of the abolition by plebiscite of the Italian monarchy), earned her the affectionate nickname "The May Queen." Marie-José was rather touched by this title; as she said: "I was called the 'May Queen.' It is a name which does not displease me... For May is certainly a beautiful season, in our Italy."
During World War II, despite her father-in-law's compliance with Mussolini's regime, Princess Marie-José, an opponent of fascism, maintained secret contacts with the Allies. Through connections at the Vatican, she attempted to prepare the way for Italy to detach itself from Hitler's Germany and conclude a separate peace with the Allies. Italy did, of course, following the fall of Mussolini, eventually join the Allies, and suffered severely from Hitler's vengeance.
Marie-José was a woman of great intelligence, courage, vivacity, and patriotism; she deeply loved both her native country, Belgium, and her adopted country, Italy. Upon becoming Queen Consort of Italy, Marie-José and her husband, Umberto, prepared an address to the Italian women, who were emerging, like the rest of the nation, from the terrible sufferings and devastation of World War II. The Queen hoped to deliver the address, but, for political reasons, was prevented from doing so. Only weeks later, the monarchy would be abolished, and Marie-José and her family would be on the road to exile...
The address, however, is very touching. Here it is:
Nelle difficili e tragiche circonstanze nelle quali la corona d'Italia viene a cingere il mio capo, l'animo mio si volge a voi tutte, donne e madri italiane, nel sentimento di solidarietà coi vostri destini, partecipe di tutti i vostri lutti e di tutte le vostre più acute sofferenze. Commossa, sento crescere nel mio cuore le fierezza e l'amore per questa mia seconda Patria, così ammirevole e forte nella sventura.Alle donne di ogni regione d'Italia voglio che giunga l'espressione della mia passione di donna italiana e dell'augurio perché i sacrifici, le ferite dei vostri cuori straziati, le durezze della vita vostra e dei vostri figli siano garanzia e pegno di un domani migliore per la nostra Italia. A voi, donne italiane, simbolo di bontà et di gentilezza, spetta una parte nobilissima nell'opera di ricostruzione morale, di pacificazione degli animi, nella salvezza della civiltà cristiana.Per questa carissima patria, che è la terra benedetta nella quale sono nati ed educati i miei dilettissimi figli, io innalzo la mia preghiera fervida alla Vergine et Madre divina, preghiera che si fonde con la vostra, perché tutti Iddio ci benedica et perché salvi l'Italia.
Some of the rhetorical style of the period does not, perhaps, fit easily into English, but here is a translation; I have tried to convey Marie-José's sincere and tender devotion to her people:
In the difficult and tragic circumstances, in which the Crown of Italy has come to be placed on my brow, my spirit turns to you all, women and mothers of Italy, in solidarity with your destinies, participating in all your struggles and your most acute sufferings. Deeply moved, I feel growing in my heart pride and love of this country, my second homeland, so admirable and courageous in misfortune.To the women of every region of Italy, I wish to join the expression of my passion as an Italian woman, and of my wish that the sacrifices, the wounds of your anguished hearts, the hardships of your lives and of those of your children, will be the guarantee and the pledge of a better future for our Italy. To you, Italian women, symbol of goodness and kindness, there remains a very noble part in the work of moral reconstruction, of the pacification of spirits, in the salvation of Christian civilization.For this beloved country, which is the blessed land in which my dearest children were born and educated, I make an ardent prayer, to the Virgin Mother of God, a prayer which mingles with yours, so that God may bless us all and so that He may save Italy.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Sir Roger Keyes, a former British liaison officer in Belgium, was one of those public figures who defended King Leopold III of the Belgians against the slanderous accusations of treason leveled against him by French Premier Paul Reynaud (and later, by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill). Following the Belgian capitulation in extremis to the invading Germans on May 28, 1940,King Leopold had been accused of surrendering unnecessarily to the Nazis, of failing to give the Allies due warning of his imminent capitulation, and of thereby causing the disastrous Allied defeat which necessitated the evacuations from Dunkirk. Keyes, however, who, in his capacity as liaison officer, had remained with the King throughout the 18-day Belgian campaign, was in a position to know the true facts surrounding Leopold's surrender, and to disprove the allegations of treachery.
In the preface to Belgian historian Emile Cammaerts' book, The Prisoner at Laeken: King Leopold, legend and fact (1941), Roger Keyes wrote:
The flood of poisonous abuse which was directed against King Leopold after the capitulation of the Belgian Army last May, of course, was inspired by certain Frenchmen seeking a scapegoat to cover their own failures and shortcomings.
It is difficult to overtake a lie, and, although this calumny, which was widely believed at that time, has to a great extent died down in the light of the truth, unfair and ungenerous statements reappear from time to time.
Monsieur Cammaerts is to be congratulated on having produced, in these pages, a wealth of evidence which should establish the truth and vindicate the honour of this King beyond all doubt.
As I was with King Leopold at the Headquarters of his army throughout the brief campaign in Belgium, and at the same time in close touch with the Headquarters of the British Army and Government, I had unrivaled opportunities of observing the course of events. I am glad to have this opportunity of declaring that King Leopold was steadfast in his loyalty to the Allies and did everything in his power to help their Armies.
I first met King Leopold in 1918, when his parents, King Albert and Queen Elisabeth, lived at La Panne, within range of the enemy, under cover of the guns of the Dover Patrol, which I commanded.
King Leopold was then a schoolboy, and he spent his holidays as a private in the 9th regiment, which was often in action in the front-line trenches.
A few hours after the Germans invaded Belgium on the 10th May, 1940, at the request of the Government, I left by airplane to join King Leopold as a special liaison officer.
I remained with him until 10 p.m. on the night of the 27th May.
The King's bearing was always calm and courageous under the heavy blows he and his people suffered, through the treachery of Germany and the failure of the French to prevent the German armoured columns from forcing the Meuse at Sedan, and threatening the right flank of the allied French-British-Belgian Army in the northward.
King Leopold had placed himself and his Army under the French High Command.
In accordance with the orders he received, and conforming to the movements of the French Northern Army and the British Army, the Belgian Army had to retire from day to day until it reached the Scheldt, where it was hoped that a final stand would be made. The Belgian GHQ was established at St. André, outside Bruges, and I stayed with King Leopold at Lophem nearby, later at Wynendael.
On the 20th of May, the French High Command ordered the British and French Armies to prepare to fight to the south-westward, to regain contact with the main French Army to the southward.
I was at the British GHQ at Wahagnies when these orders were received, and it was generally recognised that the abandonment of the Belgian Army was inevitable, unless it could conform to this movement.
On my return to the Belgian GHQ, I told King Leopold of the instructions Lord Gort had received, and said that it was hoped by my government that the Belgian Army would conform and keep contact with the left flank of the British Army.
The King of the Belgians asked me to inform the British Government and Lord Gort, that the Belgian Army existed solely for defence, and possessed neither tanks nor aircraft, nor the equipment for offensive warfare. Owing to the influx of refugees, not more than fourteen day's food remained in the small part of Belgium left to him. He did not feel that he had any right to expect the British Government to consider jeopardising, perhaps, the very existence of the British Army in order to keep contact with the Belgian Army.
He asked me to make it clear that he did not wish to do anything to interfere with any action which the British Government might consider desirable for the British Army to undertake towards the southward.
He asked me to say, however, that he fully realized that such an action would finally lead to the separation of the two Armies and that, in that event, the capitulation of the Belgian Army would be inevitable.
I sent a telegram to this effect to the Prime Minister and to Lord Gort, and gave a copy to Lord Gort, personally, the next day.
On the 21st May, I was with King Leopold at Ypres, when we met General Weygand, the new Generalissimo of the Allied Armies. General Weygand confirmed the orders which had been given to the French and British Armies on the 20th May, and requested King Leopold to withdraw from the Scheldt to the Lys, in order to allow the British Army to retire behind the strong defensive position on the frontier ... preparatory to attacking to the southward with the French Army.
On our return to Bruges, King Leopold told me that he had agreed to take over the line of the Lys as far as the frontier, in order to release British divisions to carry out the offensive contemplated by General Weygand, although this necessitated his placing practically the whole Belgian Army along a front of 90 km., opposite which a number of German divisions had been identified. He felt, however, that the projected French-British offensive had been delayed too long and that, at this late hour, the only hope of extricating the French and British Armies, which had been cut off by the German thrust, was to establish a cover to the Belgian ports and Dunkirk, by strengthening contact with the Belgian Army and occupying the Lys-Gravelines line. He pointed out that the well-prepared frontier line, to be held by the British troops on his flank, was very strong and was unlikely to be seriously attacked, but that that to be held by the Belgian troops was weak and would be comparatively lightly held and thus invited attack. He feared that if it were seriously assaulted with strong air support, the Germans would break through, sever the connection between the two Armies and overwhelm the Belgian Army.
The King asked me to tell my Government that he felt the difficulty of keeping touch with the British Army, if it operated to the southward, was not fully appreciated. He would like above all... to cooperate with us, but it was a physical impossibility under the existing geographical conditions. His Government had been urging him to leave Belgium, before the Belgian Army found it necessary to capitulate. Of course he had no intention of deserting his Army. If the British Government understood his motives, he did not care what others might think. I sent a telegram in this sense at once.
Late that night we heard that General Billotte- the French General in Command- had been fatally injured in a motor accident. The coordination of the efforts of the three Armies had not been very effective in his hands. In those of his successor it was non-existent.
The difficulty of reorganizing the British divisions for the offensive ordered, along roads crowded with vehicles and refugees, was apparently not taken into account by the French High Command, and before the attack could be mounted, the communications of the British Army with its bases at the Channel Ports had been cut.
I visited our GHQ, which had withdrawn to Premesque on the 22nd, and was told by Lord Gort that our army was already on half rations and short of ammunition- not very favourable conditions for an army to launch an attack, in cooperation with unites of the French Army which seemed to be thoroughly disheartened by the reverses it had suffered.
On the night of the 23rd May, with grave misgivings, King Leopold fell back, as desired, from his strong position on the Scheldt to a very much weaker one behind the Lys. At the same time he sent the 68th French Division - one of two French Divisions which were in reserve on the Belgian left flank and under his orders - across the Yser in Belgian buses and lorries to Gravelines. The only Allied troops left in Belgium were the 60th French Division.
On the 24th May General Weygand told the Commanders of the British Army and French Northern Army that the advance of the French Army from the southwards was going well, and he ordered them to attack vigorously to the southwards in order to close the gap behind the German Panzer divisions which had broken through to the coast.
By this time, the Belgian Army was heavily engaged and it was evident to the Belgian GHQ that they were faced with an attack by eight or nine German divisions with the object of driving the Belgian Army to the northwards and severing its contact with the British Army, which was now lying behind its winter line on the frontier.
It was clear to us on the spot that the dangers and difficulties of the situation were not realized by the French High Command, and, in response to an urgent request, General Dill, British CIGS, came over on the evening of the 24th. After staying the night with the British Mission he visited Lord Gort's Headquarters at Premesque the following morning.
On our return to Bruges, he told King Leopold that the attack to the southward, as ordered by General Weygand, would be carried out.
King Leopold showed General Dill on the map the weak spot on the Belgian right flank, the weakness of their defence line generally, and the impossibility of holding it and also keeping contact, unless strong help could be provided by the British Army. General Dill promised to ask Lord Gort to do what he could...
As the British Army was about to attack to the southward, the King felt that he could best help by keeping touch as long as possible with its left flank. He had already withdrawn his mechanized cavalry division from the left flank on the coast to reinforce the right flank, and he now gave orders for the 15th Division (infantry with not artillery or machine guns) from the Yser to reinforce that flank further. This exhausted all his reserves.
I learned later that the British 5th Division was then ordered to move to the northward to occupy the line from Halluin to Zillebeke, and the 12th Lancers to support the Allied flanks. This helped to cover the British left flank, but did not effectively ease the situation of the Belgian Army, which, in the King's great effort to help the BEF, was strung out from Halluin to the sea on a front of 90 km., and was threatened by German attacks at several points...
On the morning of the 26th, on learning of the heavy attacks towards Ypres, and the imminence of a break in the Belgian line, I went to our GHQ at Premesque to ask Lord Gort if there was anything I could do to help. He asked me to urge King Leopold to withdraw the Belgian Army towards the Yser.
I gave this message to the King, who said they would do their best, but the only way of averting an imminent and complete disaster was for an immediate British counterattack between the Lys and the Scheldt. I telegraphed this to Lord Gort and found that similar appeals had been conveyed by the British Mission from the Belgian GHQ... since an early hour that morning.
The question of the Belgian Army retiring to the Yser, if it were forced to fall back from the Lys, had been considered at the conference at Ypres on the 21st May. At that time, King Leopold thought this might be the only alternative line, but the recent German thrust, the whole brunt of which had fallen on the Belgians, had, he feared, made a withdrawal to the Yser impracticable.
The King told me later in the day, 26th May, that he had discussed the matter with his General Staff, who considered that a withdrawal to the Yser was a physical impossibility under the pressure the enemy were exerting. A withdrawal over roads thronged with refugees, without adequate fighter cover, would be costly and would only end in disaster, moreover, it would mean the abandonment of all their ammunition, stores, and food.
On the other hand, his GHQ declared that a British counter-attack on the vulnerable flank of the enemy must be undertaken, if a disaster was to be averted, and that the opportunity might only last a few hours.
They were insistent that the British Army ... was well placed, on the flank of the enemy, to strike at his communications and bridge-heads on the Scheldt and the Lys, with every prospect of inflicting a considerable defeat on him, and relieving the pressure on the Belgian Army.
An officer from the British Mission was sent to GHQ... to explain the Belgian views.
Having no reserves of his own, King Leopold gave orders for the remaining French 60th Division to be taken in Belgian vehicles to a prepared position across the Yser, which had by now been flooded... and its bridges mined.
The King remarked to me that if the British Army had been preparing to attack to the south-westward, as he had been informed, it would be difficult for it to mount an attack to the eastward, in time to prevent the Belgian right flank from being crushed and its line overwhelmed.
But the British Army was in no better condition to deliver the counter-attack for which the GHQ pleaded, than the Belgian Army was to disengage and withdraw to the Yser as demanded by Lord Gort.
Although King Leopold did not know at the time, and no message to this effect ever reached him, Lord Gort had already received orders to withdraw to the coast and was preparing to do so.
Meanwhile the fighting on the Belgian front had been continuous for four days and the Belgian Army, short of food and ammunition, had withstood a tremendous onslaught from eight German divisions, including several armoured units supported by wave after wave of dive bombers. Fighting with great gallantry, the Belgians had delivered several counter-attacks, slain some thousands of Germans and taken several hundred prisoners, but they were nearing the end of their resistance.
On the morning of the 27th May, King Leopold asked me to tell Lord Gort that he feared a moment was rapidly approaching when he could no longer rely on his troops to fight or to be of further use to the British Army. He would be obliged to surrender before a debacle.
He fully appreciated that the British Army had done everything in its power to help Belgium, and he asked Lord Gort to believe that he had done everything in his power to avert this catastrophe.
I sent this message by wire to Lord Gort, as all telephone communications had been cut, but I understand he did not receive it.
At the time King Leopold hoped to be able to hold out for another day, but by the afternoon, the German Army had driven a wedge between the Belgian and British Armies, and pierced the line in two or three places.
Every road, village, and town in the small part (of Belgium) in Belgian hands was thronged with...thousands of refugees, and they and the troops were being mercilessly bombed by low-flying aircrafts.
Knowing that he could do nothing further to help his Allies, King Leopold to me and the British and French Missions at his GHQ that he intended to ask for an armistice at midnight in order to avoid further slaughter of his sorely-tried people.
The British Mission informed the War Office by wireless, and the message was received in London at 5.54 pm., but all efforts to get in touch with our GHQ failed.
King Leopold had been asked by his Government, and ours, to leave his country and to carry on the war from outside, but he told me that, as Commander-in-Chief of his Army, which was fighting a desperate battle, he must share the fate of his troops. His mother, Queen Elisabeth, was with him throughout these last days and elected to share his captivity.
The King told me that he realized his position would be very difficult, but he would make every endeavour to prevent his country from being compelled to associate themselves with any action against the countries which had attempted to help Belgium in her plight.
As the King and Queen refused to accompany me to England, and the enemy were close to Bruges, I took my leave of Their Majesties at 10 p.m. on the 27th, and made my way to Nieuport, where I was picked up by a motor torpedo boat just before dawn on the 28th May.
As is now well known, King Leopold made no separate peace, and is a prisoner of war.
Misfortune has overwhelmed his country for a second time in his life, but the Belgians may well be proud of their King, for he has proved himself to be a gallant soldier, a loyal ally, and a true son of his splendid parents.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Tradition in Action has some interesting reflections on nobility, accessibility, and charity, illustrated by photos of the current Crown Princess Mathilde of Belgium visiting children suffering from AIDS in Tanzania.
On May 10, 1940, as he took command of the Belgian army, after Hitler's attack on his country the same day, King Leopold III addressed his people as follows:
Belges! pour la seconde fois en un quart de siècle, la Belgique, loyale et neutre, est attaquée par l'Empire allemand, au mépris des engagements les plus solennels contractés à la face du monde. Le peuple belge, foncièrement pacifique, a tout fait pour l'éviter, mais, entre le sacrifice et le déshonneur, le Belge de 1940 n'hésite pas plus que celui de 1914.En attendant la violation même du territoire pour appeler nos deux garants restés fidèles à leurs promesses, nous avons, jusqu'à la dernière minute, rempli de la façon la plus loyale les devoirs de la neutralité.A notre vaillante armée, à nos courageux soldats, j'adresse la salut de la Patrie. En eux repose toute notre confiance. Dignes heritiers des héros de 1914, ils luttent pied à pied pour arrêter l'ennemi dans sa ruée à travers nos provinces, et pour limiter l'étendue du territoire nationale violé par l'envahisseur...La France et l'Angleterre nous ont promis leur concours. Déjà, leurs premières troupes s'ébranlent pour rejoindre les nôtres. La lutte sera dure. Les sacrifices et les privations seront considérables, mais nul ne peut douter du succès final. J'entends demeurer fidèle à mon serment constitutionnel de maintenir l'indépendance et l'intégrité du territoire. Comme mon père le fit en 1914, je me suis mis à la tête de notre armée, avec la même foi, avec la même conscience. La cause de la Belgique est pure. Avec l'aide de Dieu, elle triomphera.Belgians, for the second time within a quarter of a century, Belgium- a loyal and neutral country, has been attacked by the German Empire, in spite of the most solemn undertakings contracted before the whole world. The Belgian people, fundamentally peaceful, have done everything possible to prevent this, but, between sacrifice and dishonor, the Belgian of 1940 will hesitate no more than the Belgian of 1914.By waiting until the actual violation of our territory before appealing to the two guarantors of our neutrality who have remained faithful to their promises, we have, to the last moment, discharged, in the most loyal fashion, the duties of neutrality.To our valiant army, to our courageous soldiers, I entrust the safety of our country. All our confidence rests upon them. Worthy heirs of the heroes of 1914, they are fighting, step by step, to halt the enemy in his advance across our provinces, and to limit the extent of the territory violated by the invader...France and England have promised us their aid. Their advance troops are already hastening to join ours. The fight will be hard. Great sacrifices and privations will be asked of you, but there can be no doubt of final victory. I intend to remain faithful to my constitutional oath to maintain the independence and the integrity of the territory. Like my father in 1914, I have put myself at the head of the Army with the same faith, with the same clear conscience. The cause of Belgium is pure. With God's help, it will triumph.
On May 28, 1940, after the Belgians, despite their brave resistance, were finally forced to surrender to the Germans, Leopold issued the following Order of the Day to his army:
Officiers, Sous-Officiers, Soldats,Précipités à l'improviste dans une guerre d'une violence inouïe, vous vous êtes battus courageusement pour défendre, pied à pied, le territoire national.Epuisés par une lutte ininterrompue contre un ennemi très supérieur en nombre et en matériel, nous nous trouvons acculés à la reddition.L'Histoire dira que l'armée a fait tout son devoir. Notre honneur est sauf.Les rudes combats et les nuits sans sommeil ne peuvent pas avoir été vains. Je vous recommande de ne pas vous décourager, mais de vous comporter avec dignité. Que votre attitude et votre discipline continuent à mériter l'estime de l'étranger.Je ne vous quitte pas dans l'infortune qui nous accable et je tiens à veiller sur votre sort et celui de vos familles.Demain, nous nous mettrons au travail avec la ferme volonté de relever la Patrie de ses ruines.Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Men,Plunged unexpectedly into a war of unparalleled violence, you have fought to defend your country, step by step.Exhausted by an uninterrupted struggle against an enemy far superior in numbers and resources, we have been forced to surrender.History will relate that the Army did its duty to the full. Our Honor is safe.This violent fighting, these sleepless nights, cannot have been in vain. I enjoin you not to be discouraged, but to conduct yourselves with dignity. May your attitude and your discipline continue to win the esteem of the foreigner.I shall not leave you in our misfortune, and I shall take care to watch over you and your families.Tomorrow, we will set to work, with the firm intention of raising our country from its ruins.(Quotes included in Remy, Le 18e jour: la tragédie de Léopold III, roi des Belges; translations based on those of Roger Keyes in Outrageous Fortune)
Monday, January 19, 2009
Albert Einstein was an intimate of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. He shared with the Queen a passion for classical music, and enjoyed discussing political and philosophical issues with the King. Many fascinating and touching letters exist between Einstein and the royal couple which testify to the depth of their friendship. I would like to cite one, in particular, written by Einstein to the grieving Queen, shortly after the King's tragic death in a mountaineering accident in 1934. The letter is included (in French translation) by Queen Marie-José of Italy in her memoirs, Albert et Elisabeth de Belgique, mes parents.
Venerée Reine,Il semblerait que dans ces années chargées de mal, le sort s'acharne à pulveriser tout ce qui reste de grande valeur humaine et de serviteurs soucieux du bonheur de l'humanité. Il ne m'est pas arrivé souvent, dans la vie, d'être bouleversé comme je le fus après la nouvelle du coup si lourd qui a subitement ruiné votre harmonieuse existence et qui a fait une brêche, impossible à combler, dans ce petit groupe de lutteurs dévoués qui s'efforcent d'arrêter la chute lugubre de l'Europe. Le Roi a abandonné la vie d'une façon merveilleuse, en pleine force 'imbrisée,' et s'est plongé dans l'inconsciente nature qu'il aimait avec une telle passion. Mais pour la nation belge, et au-delà d'elle pour l'Europe, sa main qui savait aplanir avec douceur, son oeil clair et net de tout préjugé sont irremplaçables. Je sais ce qu'éprouvent ceux qui voient l'objet de leur amour appartenir irrévocablement au passé. Mais je sais aussi que pour les êtres forts, dont vous êtes, se mettre au service des choses immatérielles et en particulier se consacrer aux arts, remplit leur vie d'une douceur qui échappe, dans une certaine mesure, à la brutalité des coups que porte l'aveugle destin. En vous disant la part que je prends de tout coeur à votre peine, je vous serre les mains.Votre Albert Einstein,le 20 février 1934.Revered Queen,It would seem that in these years, filled with evil, fate is determined to destroy all that remains of great human worth and all those who serve humanity and are concerned for its welfare. It has rarely happened, in my life, that I have been as overwhelmed as I was by the news of the heavy blow which suddenly destroyed your harmonious life and which made a breach, impossible to repair, in the small group of those who are fighting, devotedly, to ward off the dismal fall of Europe. The King departed this life in a marvelous fashion, in his prime, and plunged into the unconscious nature which he loved with such a passion. But for the Belgian nation, and beyond it, for Europe, his even hand, his clear and unprejudiced vision are irreplaceable. I know what people feel who see the object of their love belonging irrevocably to the past. But I also know that for strong individuals (such as yourself), to put oneself at the service of immaterial things, and, in particular, to devote oneself to the arts, fills life with a sweetness which escapes, to a certain extent, the brutality of the blows inflicted by blind fate. As I tell you that I share your grief with all my heart, I shake your hands.Your Albert Einstein,20 February, 1934.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
(Adapted from the Wikipedia article on Princess Lilian)
Princess Lilian of Belgium, sometimes known as the Princesse de Réthy, was the second wife of King Leopold III of the Belgians. The future royal consort was born Mary Lilian Baels, on November 28, 1916, in England, where her family was living at the time. She was one of the eight children of Henri Baels, a Flemish lawyer (later to become a prominent Belgian politician), and his wife, Anne Marie de Visscher. Lilian was initially educated in English, but upon her parents' return to Belgium, she attended a school in Ostend, where she learned Flemish. She would later continue her studies in French in Brussels. In addition to academic work, Lilian participated extensively in sports, including skiing, swimming, golfing, and horseback riding. Above all, however, she enjoyed, as did her father, literature and the arts. She completed her education by attending a finishing school, the Holy Child, in London. Mary Lilian grew up into a young woman of great beauty, charm, intelligence, and accomplishment. At the age of 20, she was presented to King George V and Queen Mary of England at Buckingham Palace.
In 1933, Lilian saw her future husband, then Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium, for the first time. The students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart in Brussels, where Lilian was enrolled at the time, had been allowed to attend a military review conducted by King Albert, close to the school. On this occasion, Lilian, together with her classmates, saw Prince Leopold riding at the head of his regiment, saluting his father, the King. Soon afterwards, when the students in Lilian's class were given the task of writing an essay on a topic of their choice, Lilian decided to write on Prince Leopold. Some years later, after Leopold's accession to the throne, and tragic loss of his wife, Queen Astrid, Lilian would have the occasion to meet the King, and his mother, Queen Elisabeth, at public ceremonies and social events.
Following the Nazi invasion of Belgium, on May 10, 1940, Lilian's mother entered the service of the Red Cross, during the Belgian and Allied campaign against the invaders. Lilian aided her in her task, transporting Belgian and French wounded by car to the hospital of St. John in Bruges. Lilian also helped to evacuate the elderly from an asylum in Alost, which was inside the combat zone, and threatened by enemy fire. Meanwhile, Lilian's father, the Governor of West Flanders, worked hard to alleviate the plight of war victims and refugees.
On May 18, Henri Baels went in search of the Belgian Minister of the Interior, mistakenly thinking he had left for France, in order to obtain his signature for an important relief measure. Unfortunately, the journey was made in vain, as the Minister in question had not, in fact, entered France. Moreover, Baels was seriously injured along the way in a car accident. He was admitted to a hospital in Le Havre. Meanwhile, Mme. Baels decided to bring her daughters to safety in France (especially as two of Lilian's sisters were ill at the time, one with tuberculosis). Lilian drove the family car. By pure chance, Lilian, her mother, and sisters, were reunited with Governor Baels in a hospital in Poitiers! Baels was subsequently, and unfairly, accused of deserting his post as governor by fleeing to France. Although he was vindicated, once the circumstances of his departure from Belgium were revealed to King Leopold, he and his family would suffer from slanderous (and politically motivated) accusations of cowardice for years to come.
In 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, Queen Mother Elisabeth sent a letter to Lilian, who had been living with her family in France, inviting her to visit her at Laeken Castle. Here Lilian met Leopold, now a prisoner of war, held under house arrest, yet again. This meeting was followed by several other visits, with the result that Leopold and Lilian fell in love. Nonetheless, when Leopold proposed marriage to Lilian in July, 1941, the young woman, aged 24, declined his offer. "Kings only marry princesses," she said. Queen Elisabeth, however, prevailed upon Lilian to accept the King's offer. Leopold and Lilian were married on September 11, 1941, in a secret religious ceremony in the chapel of Laeken, and later, on December 6, 1941, in a civil marriage. The reason for the initial extreme discretion was the spouses' original intention to keep their marriage a secret until after the war. Lilian, however, was soon expecting her first child, necessitating a civil marriage. Leopold assigned his new bride, who declined to be Queen, the titles of Princess of Réthy and Princess of Belgium.
Lilian proved to be a devoted wife to Leopold and an affectionate step-mother to his children by Queen Astrid. The royal children were very fond of her, immediately beginning to call her maman. Lilian showed great courage and abnegation during the royal family's deportation to Germany by the SS in 1944 and prolonged imprisonment under harsh conditions. During this period, Leopold and Lilian homeschooled the royal children, and remained calm and composed, despite the constant fear that they would be massacred by their jailers as a vindictive measure on Hitler's part.
Tragically, however, Lilian would later become the victim of a series of cruel and vulgar personal attacks. The aim of these attacks was to discredit Leopold, by association with Lilian. Accordingly, throughout the post-war "Royal Question," when Leopold was falsely accused of collaboration with the Nazis, and, eventually (despite his vindication by a commission of eminent jurists), forced to abdicate by political agitation, Lilian was viciously attacked by politicians and the press. She was presented as an unscrupulous social-climber, who had seduced the King to place herself on the throne. Her family were also slandered; her father, for instance, was persistently (and despite all proofs to the contrary) accused of cowardice, Nazi sympathies, and collaboration with the enemy. Such attacks would continue, after Leopold's abdication, in 1951, and his eventual retirement with his wife, and second family, to Argenteuil, a Belgian country estate, in 1960, and even after Lilian's death in 2002. As a result, she continues to suffer from a bad reputation in Belgium.
Nonetheless, Lilian was known, and loved, by her circle of close friends as a woman of great beauty, charm, elegance, intelligence, brilliance, courage, kindness, and humor. She was especially admired for the steadfast courage and dignity with which she faced decades of personal attacks. She was a great intellectual; together with her husband, King Leopold, she cultivated the friendship of prominent individuals from the fields of literature, philosophy, science, and medicine. Strict and demanding towards herself, she could also be excessively severe with her intimates. Yet, she was a loyal, upright, and devout woman. In the words of one of Queen Elisabeth's ladies-in-waiting, Lilian was "a true princess in the full sense of the term." Following her son Alexander's successfully heart surgery in the 1950's in the United States, Lilian founded a Cardiological Foundation, which has saved the lives of several thousand people.
Lilian died peacefully at Argenteuil, in 2002, and was buried, contrary to her wish, in the royal crypt at Laeken. In her will, she had expressed the desire to be buried at Argenteuil, and to maintain the estate as a memorial to Leopold III. None of Lilian's last wishes, however, were respected by the Belgian government, which was determined to efface the memory of Leopold's years at Argenteuil.
Following Princess Lilian's death, a cardiological reunion was organized in her honor. On this occasion, distinguished doctors and surgeons, such as Michael DeBakey, a close friend of Leopold and Lilian, paid tribute to the Princess, her extraordinary personality, and her contributions to medicine.
Jean Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation.
Jean Cleeremans, Jean. Un royaume pour un amour: Léopold III, de l'éxil a l'abdication.
Jacques Franck, Jacques. "Souvenirs de la Princesse Lilian," published in La Libre Belgique, 29 October 2003
Dujardin, Vincent, et al. Léopold III.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi: Léopold III, 1940-1951.
Claude Désiré and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête.
Michel Verwilghen. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal.
Patrick Weber. Amours royales et princières.
Jean Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation.
Jean Cleeremans, Jean. Un royaume pour un amour: Léopold III, de l'éxil a l'abdication.
Jacques Franck, Jacques. "Souvenirs de la Princesse Lilian," published in La Libre Belgique, 29 October 2003
Dujardin, Vincent, et al. Léopold III.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi: Léopold III, 1940-1951.
Claude Désiré and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête.
Michel Verwilghen. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal.
Patrick Weber. Amours royales et princières.
In June, 1938, Joseph E. Davies became American Ambassador to Belgium. During his tenure of office, which lasted until January, 1940, he had many long talks, covering both national and international issues, with King Leopold III of the Belgians, from which, Davies wrote: "I always came away with the moral intensity of his character." He has left us this impressive description of Leopold:
In the King of the Belgians, I found a man whose marked characteristics were a magnificent and athletic physique, great seriousness of demeanor, unusual modesty, and a personality which indicated a quiet, resolute strength, and serious moral purpose. He was a hard worker, took all of his duties with the greatest of earnestness; was a clean-living man, whose reputation was above suspicion. His government was his all-absorbing business. He was not only the titular head, he was the actual leader of his government. Outside of his work and his family, his absorbing interest was mountain-climbing. He kept himself physically fit and always looked in the pink of condition. In my judgment he was an exceptionally able, serious, and strong man...(Quoted by Roger Keyes in Outrageous Fortune: The Tragedy of Leopold III of the Belgians, 1984, p.74)
Friday, January 16, 2009
In 1975, the centenary of the birth of King Albert I, his son, the former King Leopold III, granted an interview to the Belgian journal, La Revue Générale, in which he discussed Albert's life and character, and recalled the deep affection between himself and his father. It is a moving tribute, very much to the credit of both Albert and Leopold. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Je me sentais très proche de mon père; une grande affection nous unissait et j'avais pour lui beaucoup d'admiration. Je vous dirai ce que j'aimais le plus en lui: sa bonté, sa modération, sons sens de l'honneur, son respect de la personne humaine, sa liberté de pensée, sa tolérance, ou encore son exigence morale, sa simplicité, son merveilleux équilibre, équilibre qui lui permettait de surmonter avec aisance et sérénité les difficultés de la vie.
On a souvent évoqué ses gouts simples. C'est vrai qu'il était la simplicité même. Il n'appréciait ni les honneurs ni le cérémonial auquel il était souvent astreint; il les subissait comme un devoir inhérent à sa charge. Il vivait sans apparat à Laeken, et il vécut plus simplement encore avec sa famille à La Panne, pendant la Première Guerre mondiale.
Il était authentique et vrai, et tous les faux semblants l'irritaient. Il avait horreur de la vantardise ou la vanité, détestait... les flatteurs. Le vrai contact humain lui était toujours précieux. C'est pour cela qu'il aimait s'entretenir avec son peuple, et lorsqu'on ne le reconnaissait pas, il n'en était que plus heureux. C'est pour cela qu'il aimait les guides qui l'accompagnaient dans ses ascensions en montagne. Avec eux, il était un alpiniste et rien d'autre. Ses heures de montagne auront été les plus heureuses de sa vie, après celles qu'il passait avec les siens.
Nous étions vraiment une famille. Mon père et ma mère ont été unis par un amour merveilleux... et cet amour n'a jamais faibli: un amour qui se passait de paroles ou de démonstrations, mais qui était la substance et le bonheur de leur vie. C'est une grande richesse pour des enfants de grandir auprès d'un couple qui n'a jamais cessé de donner l'image de l'union parfaite...
Mon affection pour mon père a éclairé ma jeunesse. Il s'occupait de nous, de nos jeux, de nos problèmes, de notre formation. Que de fois plus tard, lui et moi, n'avons-nous pas marché dans ce parc de Laeken que nous aimions tant! Nous parlions de mille choses. Cette heure, si attendue, était une de mes joies. Nous étions proches, et seuls...
Malgré les circonstances tragiques, mon père et ma mère ont été heureux pendant la guerre. Elle leur a en effet permis de donner le meilleur d'eux-même, lui dans les tranchées au milieu de ses soldats, elle auprès des blessés.
Mon père était essentiellement un homme de paix, qui fut acculé à la guerre. Il a toujours été convaincu qu'un pays doit être prêt à se défendre quand sa cause est juste. Je n'oublierai jamais une phrase qu'il m'a dite, surtout dans les circonstances où il me l'a dite. C'était en 1914, à Anvers, au moment où nous embarquions pour l'Angleterre. Il était grave, car la situation était tragique. Il pensait sans doute que nous nous quittions pour longtemps, peut-être pour toujours.
Il me dit alors: "Tu veilleras sur l'armée. Il faut que la Belgique ait toujours une bonne armée." C'était son ultime recommandation. J'avais douze ans, et je m'en suis toujours souvenu ...
Il est resté, durant toute la guerre, inébranlablement attaché à un principe: épargner le sang du soldat; c'est pourqui il a tenu à conserver le commandement intégral de l'armée belge et a condamné les folles et meurtrières offensives sur certains fronts...
La suite des événements prouva qu'il avait raison. Il rendit à la cause alliée d'immenses services, mais il le fit en respectant la vie et l'honneur de ses soldats, et en veillant à ce qu'aucun sacrifice inutile ne soit consenti.
Peut-être est-ce pour cela que mon père, devenu pour la Belgique et le monde, 'le Roi-Chevalier', a pu réassumer si normalement les tâches de la paix. La paix était son univers retrouvé. On sait avec quels scrupules et quelle ténacité il s'y consacra. Il réalisait combien est grande l'action d'un souverain attentif, aussi voyait-il fréquemment ses ministres et présidait-il leur Conseil chaque fois que des décisions importantes étaient en jeu; il y tenait beaucoup...
Il s'informait beaucoup. Très matinal, il trouvait le temps de lire journaux et revues, y compris la presse étrangère. Il annotait ses lectures. Il répondait aux lettres dont il estimait qu'elles méritaient une réponse personnelle. Il lisait et parlait plusieurs langues. Ses lectures ne se limitaient pas à la presse: il aimait se qualifier de 'grand lecturier', avec des curiosités diverses, de la littérature à la technique et aux sciences. Mon père était d'ailleurs un homme appliqué; il tenait à l'exactitude et à la précision...
Je voudrais parler encore de tant de choses! Son respect d'autrui était si fort qu'il redoutait influencer jusqu'à ses enfants. Chaque être humain devait être lui-même: c'est pourquoi il acceptait si mal les empressements de commande, et c'est pourquoi il avait peine à pardonner à ceux qui l'avaient trompé ou qui s'étaient servis de lui. C'est pourquoi aussi la loyauté a toujours eu tant de prix pour cet homme, qui avait fait d'elle la règle de sa vie...
Tel était mon père, dont le souvenir habite ma vie: un homme de foi profonde et qui détestait l'intolérance, un homme célèbre dans le monde entier et merveilleusement simple; un homme de devoir qui, jamais un instant, n'a oublié ceux qui lui étaient confiés, un grand timide et un grand courageux, un homme vrai qui n'a pas besoin de sa légende pour rester un souvenir fécond et un admirable exemple, un homme qui était aussi pour moi-et avant tout-mon père.
Here is my effort at a translation of this beautiful text (I apologize, it is not nearly as good as the original).
I felt very close to my father; a great affection united us and I admired him greatly. I will tell you what I loved most in him: his kindness, his moderation, his sense of honor, his respect of the human person, his freedom of thought, his tolerance; as well as his moral rigor, his simplicity, his wonderful balance, a balance which enabled him to overcome, with ease and serenity, the difficulties of life.
His simple tastes have often been mentioned. It is true that he was simplicity itself. He enjoyed neither the honors nor the ceremonies to which he was bound; he endured them as a duty of his charge. He lived simply at Laeken, and even more so, with his family at La Panne, during the First World War.
He was authentic and genuine, and all frauds irritated him. He had a horror of boasting and vanity, and detested... flatterers. True human contact was always precious to him. That is why he loved to talk with his people, and, when he went unrecognized, he was all the happier for it. It is also why he loved the guides who accompanied him on his climbs in the mountains. With them, he was an alpinist and no more. His hours in the mountains would be the happiest of his life, after those he spent with his family.
We really were a family. My father and my mother were united by a wonderful love... and this love never weakened: a love which needed no words and demonstrations, but which was the substance and the happiness of their life. It is a great privilege for children to grow up with a couple who never ceased to project the image of a perfect union...
My affection for my father was the light of my youth. He concerned himself with us, our games, our problems, our formation. How often did we walk together in the park at Laeken, which we loved so much! We used to talk of so many things. This moment, which I looked forward to so much, was one of my joys. We were close, and alone...
Despite the tragic circumstances, my father and my mother were happy during the war. It actually gave them the opportunity to give the best of themselves; my father, in the trenches with his soldiers, my mother, with the wounded.
My father was fundamentally a man of peace, who was forced into war. He was always convinced that a country must be ready to defend itself, if its cause were just. I will never forget something he said to me, and, above all, the circumstances under which he said it to me. It was in 1914, in Antwerp, when we were boarding the ship for England. He was serious, for the situation was tragic. He was thinking, no doubt, that we were parting for a long time, perhaps forever.
He said to me, then: "You will look after the army. Belgium must always have a good army." It was his last piece of advice. I was twelve years old, and I have always remembered it...
Throughout the war, he remained unshakably attached to a principle: that of sparing the blood of his soldiers. That is why he insisted on retaining the unique command of the Belgian army and why he condemned the mad and murderous offensives on certain fronts...
Events proved him right. He rendered immense services to the Allied cause, but he did it while respecting the life and honor of his soldiers, and while taking care that no futile sacrifice be permitted.
Perhaps, it is for this reason, that my father, who had become, for Belgium and the world, the "Knight-King," was able to return, so normally, to the tasks of peace. Peace was his world, restored to him. We know, with what scrupulousness, and with what tenacity, he consecrated himself to his task. He realized how great is the action of an attentive sovereign, and he saw his ministers frequently, and presided at their Council every time important decisions were at stake: he insisted on this...
He took tremendous care to keep himself informed. Early in the morning, he found the time to read journals and reviews, including the foreign press. He made notes as he read. He answered letters which, he considered, merited a personal reply. He read and spoke several languages. His readings were not limited to the press: he liked to categorize himself as a 'great reader', with many different interests, from literature to technology to the sciences. My father was also very painstaking; he insisted on accuracy and precision...
I would like to say so much more! His respect for others was so great that he hesitated to influence even his own children. Every human being must be himself: that is why he disliked servility to orders, and that is why he found it difficult to forgive those who had deceived him or who had taken advantage of him. That is also why loyalty was so important to this man, who made it the rule of his life...
Such was my father, whose memory dwells in my life: a man of deep faith, yet who hated intolerance; a man who was famous throughout the world, yet wonderfully simple; a man of duty who never, for a moment, forgot those who had been entrusted to him; very timid, yet very courageous; a man who was genuine, and who needs no legend in order to remain a fruitful memory and an admirable example, a man who was also, for me - and above all- my father.
(Taken from the transcription of the interview recorded by Rémy in Le 18e jour: la tragédie de Léopold III, roi des Belges, 1976, pp. 28-35)