Sunday, May 24, 2009

War Stories of Albert I

Many anecdotes illustrate the noble and endearing personality of King Albert I. Here are a few, from 1914-1918.

In 1917, the heroic Flemish army chaplain, Father de Groote, wounded many times during World War I, was eagerly returning (without authorization) to the front after a period in the hospital. On his way, he met the King. Later, in 1934, the priest told the story: 

Après plusieurs mois passés à l'hôpital, nous nous en étions evadés pour rejoindre nos régiments. On nous porta en déserteurs pour avoir quitté sans permission! En passant devant le Quartier Général de la Division Jacques, nous y entrâmes tous joyeux. "Mon Général, me voilà rendu à la liberté!" quand nous aperçûmes le Roi dans un coin de la chambre. Confondus nous nous excusâmes et bien vite nous nous rendîmes dans le parc. Le Roi avec le Général nous y rejoignit et nous prenant familièrement par le bras fit avec nous quelques tours du jardin. "Mon Père, je vous défend d'être encore blessé, vous l'avez été cinq fois, cela suffit. Du reste, la reine doit vous l'avoir déja dit. Mais je voudrais vous demander quelque chose, me promettez-vous de me l'accorder?

Comme le Roi venait de parler de prudence nous nous disions interieurement: "si on me demandait de passer à l'arrière, de quitter le front... serais obligé de refuser."

"Cela dépend Sire, de ce que Sa Majesté me demandera. Si elle parlait d'abandonner le front..."

"Oh! Soyez tranquille, mon Père, vous pouvez m'accorder ce que je vous demande. Je suis du reste certain que déjà vous le faites. Je voudrais vous demander de dire tous les jours une prière spéciale pour moi, pour la reine, et pour les enfants.""Evidemment Sire, c'est accordé." 
After several months spent at the hospital, we escaped to rejoin our regiments. We were taken for deserters, for leaving without permission! As we passed by the General Headquarters of the Jacques Division, we went in, full of joy. "General, here I am, restored to liberty!" Suddenly we caught sight of the King in a corner of the room. Embarrassed, we excused ourselves and quickly withdrew into the park. The King, with the General, rejoined us there, and, taking us familiarly by the arm, took several turns with us about the garden."Father, I forbid you to be wounded again, you have been injured five times, that is enough. In any case, the Queen must have already told you so. But I would like to ask you for a favor, do you promise you will grant it to me?"

As the King had just been speaking of prudence, we thought to ourselves: "if I were asked to retreat, to leave the front...then... then... I would be obliged to refuse." 

"That depends, Sire, on what the King may ask. If he spoke of abandoning the front..."

"Oh! Rest assured, Father, you may grant me what I ask. In fact, I am sure you already do it. I would like to ask you to say, every day, a special prayer for me, for the Queen, and for the children." "Of course, Sire, that is agreed." 

In her diary, the Belgian nurse Jeanne de Launoy described a fire at the Ocean military hospital. A number of officers, including the King, arrived to aid in the evacuation of the facility. A comic incident occurred when a stretcher-carrier, his hands full, caught sight of Albert. In the rush and the darkness (the fire broke out during the night), he did not recognize the King, and, with the words: "You have nothing to do - take these," handed him a pile of plates! Albert kindly performed his task. 

Jeanne also told of a tragic Mass at La Panne, at a chapel near the Ocean hospital. A bombardment started during the liturgy. As people fled in panic, officers tried to maintain order. Jeanne turned instinctively to the King, who was present. Although pale, he remained immobile. 127 people were killed or injured in the bombardment; the ambulances and the hospital were filled to overflowing. I am always impressed by Albert's courage on this tragic occasion. 

Just a few stories illustrating his character...


MadMonarchist said...

Great stories. I can't think of any monarch of WW1 who was as actively involved right amongst the troops as King Albert was. I'm sure it was difficult but I imagine it also gave him a much clearer understanding of what was going on than the others.

May said...

I am sure seeing all the tragedy up close contributed towards his desire for a negotiated peace.

He was certainly very brave, and kind-hearted as well.