Saturday, August 4, 2012

Queen of Children

Today is the anniversary of the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. Here is information about Queen Elisabeth's establishment of a children's refuge in the little corner of Belgium never conquered, from the memoirs of a representative of the American Red Cross:
But early she faced what we faced later- the fact that the parents of many of the children would not let them go. She looked about to see if there was any place in Flanders where she herself could establish a colony, and make it a model of its kind. Queen though she was, she encountered the strongest kind of opposition, even from some of the officers of the King's household. They knew the range of artillery and uncertainties of war, and they did not want the Queen put into a position where a shell on a barrack could cause a slaughter of children for which she would be held responsible. Her Majesty, for all her soft voice and gentle ways, has very positive views and a way of holding on to them. And as for shirking a duty because the thing might go badly and react on her, this is a thing unlikely to ever happen in her life. She is too true a woman. She held fast to the necessity of the action she proposed, and she raised the money. When it came to the almost awful question of just where to put it, of deciding  where shells would not fall, she got the best advice she could and then acted. The site was in the open country, close to the frontier, and near Vinckem where Dr. Depage later built his big hospital. One of the barracks was contributed by citizens of Paterson, N.J., a thing the Queen always pointed out with pride.
In two little villages of wooden barracks, the Queen provided for 600 children- one group of children from 6 to 10, and the other from 11 to 16. 
The barracks were placed, on soil well drained, flat thought it was, and around them bloomed the most beautiful flowers from early spring until late autumn. Between the two groups of barracks was a large vegetable garden which the older boys helped to work. 
The barracks were light, well but simply furnished, and everything about them showed that somebody of taste and culture was at the head. 
The Queen was fortunate in having the pick of available personnel and this made other authorities growl occasionally, but the growls were low and not very deep. Certain it is that whether we ascribe it to her brains or luck, Her Majesty made there a real school. A beautiful little chapel stood among the other buildings. The instruction was modern. The children really learned something. And the whole atmosphere of the place unquestionably lifted most of them up to a plane they never would have reached had there been no war and no school of the Queen. Twice during the war, we tried to get over from America the most modern books on education for a present to the Queen out of other than relief funds, as we knew her great desire to have them, but the shipments had not come through when the war ended. (John van Schaik, The little corner never conquered: the story of the American Red Cross work for Belgium, 1922, pp. 136-137)

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