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World War 1 remembered

17 July 2014

World War One

On 28 June 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the killing and since Europe was linked by a series of diplomatic alliances - Austria-Hungary/Germany/Italy (Central Powers) and Britain/France/Russia (Triple Entente/Allied forces) - the affair escalated into a full-scale war which was to last until 1918.

On 4 August 1914, Germany invaded neutral Belgium. German leaders demanded  free passage through the country to carry out an attack on France. King Albert I refused by famously retorting ‘Belgium is a nation, not a road’ and German military will was imposed by force. The British government had previously promised to defend Belgium and felt that German troops directly across the Channel were too close for comfort. On 7 August, a British Expeditionary Force crossed to France to attempt to halt the German advance. With French forces, they were successful in achieving their objective at the Battle of Mons (August) and the Battle of the Marne (September). Both sides built a series of trenches which would characterise the next four years of combat. The First Battle of Ypres began on 14 October and fighting around the town continued until winter weather forced a break in hostilities, the so-called Christmas Truce. The British held Ypres and did so until the end of the war, with the Allies also controlling a small area extending into German lines, known as the salient. It was the start of a lengthy stalemate in which the line of the Western Front barely changed. Belgium was almost entirely occupied except for a sliver of land in northwest Flanders, which would become one of the most strategic areas of Belgium and the scene of further major battles in 1915 and 1917.

More than 200,000 Belgian refugees fled to the UK in 1914 and by 1917 that number had grown to over 250,000. Many British factories, particularly the war industry, employed Belgian labourers while some Belgian refugees set up their own factories such as ‘Pelabon’ in Richmond. Belgian artists, like the sculptor George Minne and the painters Valerius de Saedeleer and Gustave van de Woestijne sought refuge in Wales where they settled and worked. The symbolist poet and art critic Emile Verhaeren also found his way to Wales. Towards the end of the war, some 140,000 Belgians were still in the UK and many decided to remain in the country that had welcomed them.

Click here (www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zcn3b9q) to watch and listen to the BBC Radio 4 drama series ‘Home Front’ on Belgian refugees fleeing to the UK during WW1.

Belgian refugees

International commemorations in 2014

2014 marks 100 years since the start of the First World War. The Allies are honouring all those who served and were affected by the war and are joining in an international reflection of the profound impact the war had on their own history and that of the whole world. A centenary programme of commemoration events, activities and exhibitions has been set up throughout 2014-2018. The first major events took place in Glasgow, London, Mons and Liège on 4 August, the day on which war was declared 100 years ago. On 28 October, the 100th anniversary of the First Battle of Ypres was commemorated in Ypres and Nieuwpoort. The main themes of the events were the refusal to surrender and the flooding of the Yser plain. Soldier King Albert 1 who took part in the fighting was honoured during these commemorations.


Glasgow was selected for the World War 1 commemorations to enable Commonwealth heads of state to attend, the day after the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in the city. At 10am, the Queen attended a service at Glasgow cathedral reflecting the Commonwealth contribution to the war. It was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in George Square where a commemorative plaque was unveiled. HRH The Duke of Rothesay (as the Prince of Wales is known in Scotland) was present. The cathedral service was shown live in George Square, which was open for public access.


There was a commemoration at the Allies’ Memorial, a monument built by the Allies to honour Belgium’s sacrifice. More than 50 heads of state were invited by the King of Belgium and the Prime Minister. A sound and light spectacle in the centre of Liège followed.

 Allies’ Memorial


The British government commemorated its entry into the war with a ceremony at Mons’ St Symphorien Military Cemetry, the final resting place for British and German soldiers killed at the Battle of Mons. The first and last British Commonwealth uniformed casualties of the war are believed to be buried at this cemetery.

St Symphorien Military Cemetry



This event for around 500 guests was organised in partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was based around music, poetry and readings which reflect the history of this site.

HRH The Duke of Cambridge, accompanied by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge attended this event with HRH Prince Henry of Wales. It was screened live in Mons Town Square for members of the public wishing to be involved with the event.

St Symphorien Military Cemetry


At 10pm, Westminster Abbey hosted a candlelit vigil and an evening of prayer and reflection. This included the gradual extinguishing of candles with the final candle being extinguished at 11pm. HRH The Duchess of Cornwall attended this service.

The vigil ended with the cathedral in darkness except for a single light on the grave of the unknown warrior. Anglican churches around the UK also participated, along with other faith groups, to complement the event in London. The vigil at Westminster Abbey was by invitation only.

Embassy’s involvement

Throughout 2014-2018, the Belgian Embassy will be extensively involved in the UK commemorations. Below are some illustrations of the Embassy’s involvement.

The Embassy is committed to participate in various events honouring the British nurse Edith Cavell who was a founding figure of the nursing profession in Belgium, but also the victim of a German firing squad in 1915. Born in Norfolk in 1865, she came to Brussels in 1900 to work as a governess, before training as a nurse in London. In 1907 she was invited back by a leading Belgian surgeon as head matron of his hospital and to set up a training school for nurses. With the support of Queen Elisabeth she introduced modern nursing practice into Belgium. At the outbreak of the war, Cavell prepared the nursing school to receive the wounded. Meanwhile, she secretly gave assistance to Allied soldiers caught behind the lines. Cavell provided accommodation at the school and a number of safe houses in Brussels. Some 200 Allied servicemen regained their freedom  thanks to Cavell’s assistance. Her network was unmasked by the Germans and she was arrested. On 12 October 1915 she was sentenced to death and executed in Brussels.

After the war, her body was repatriated to Norwich for burial. Edith Cavell is widely remembered in Belgium and abroad, and a leading hospital in Brussels still bears her name. In 2015, to mark the 100th anniversary of Cavell’s death, the Royal Mint will be issuing a new commemorative £5 coin featuring the British nurse.

Edith Cavell

In July, Ambassador Trouveroy hosted a reception briefing at his residence to help launch ‘Cool Web’, a two-part performance of a reading based on the life of Edith Cavell and an oratorio for orchestra, choir and soloist, with a libretto of Robert Graves’ words. The reading was performed by the actress Sophie Ward and Cavell Nurses’ Trust patron Leonard Pearcey. The full recital of both works took place in October at Bath Abbey to mark the First World War and to raise the profile and funds of Cavell Nurses’ Trust which was set up in memory of Edith Cavell and supports nurses and midwives in need due to illness and disability.

Ambassador Trouveroy

On 17 September, HRH the Princess Royal attended a fundraising dinner at the Ambassador’s Residence in her capacity of President of the Centenary Appeal of the Cavell Nurses’ Trust.

During the weekend of 11/12 October, the Embassy was represented at commemorations honouring Edith Cavell at her statue in London’s Trafalgar Square and Norwich.

London’s Trafalgar Square


Other 2014 events in which the Embassy participated:

In May, Ambassador Trouveroy opened the Frank Brangwyn exhibition Help is better than sympathy’ at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

Ambassador Trouveroy

Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867-1956) was a versatile Anglo-Welsh artist born in Bruges. In 1936, Brangwyn presented Bruges with over 400 works which are now in the Arents House Museum. In return the King of Belgium made Brangwyn Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold II, and Bruges made him Citoyen d'Honneur de Bruges. He was knighted in 1941.

Brangwyn produced over 80 war posters and his designs became synonymous with First World War propaganda. ‘Help is better than sympathy’ presents some of Brangwyn’s best known posters.


On 26 June, the Ambassador and his deputy attended the WW1 Overseas Victoria Cross Recipients Commemoration at Lancaster House.

The commemoration was intended to show British gratitude to 175 men from 11 countries who demonstrated the utmost bravery ‘in the face of the enemy’ during the First World War. They were consequently awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valour for their actions during the War. Belgian Acting Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Carton de Wiart, born in 1880 in Brussels, was awarded the VC in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. He served with the British Army and in early 1915 was moved to the Western Front where he commanded three battalions and a brigade during the war.

Adrian Carton de Wiart

In early August, Highclere Castle, renowned as the set for the TV series 'Downton Abbey', was the site of a grand event commemorating the onset of WW1, organised by the Countess of Carnarvon and attended by some 10,000 people, among whom Mr and Mrs Trouveroy. During the First WW, Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, transformed the Castle into a hospital and patients began to arrive from Flanders in September 1914. The present Countess recreated this hospital at Highclere Castle in a spirit of reconciliation and commemoration.

As part of the event, an exhibition curated by Christie's showcasing a range of artifacts from countries affected by WW1 is available online till January 2015. The Belgian Embassy's contribution to the exhibition consists of books, a small statue of King Albert 1 and a photograph of Ambassador Trouveroy's grandfather in WW1 uniform.

Details on the exhibition: 

Highclere Castle

On 4th August, Ambassador Trouveroy attended the inauguration by HRH Prince Harry of a commemorative arch in Folkestone and the candle-lit vigil at Westminster Abbey. The following day, he was present at the inauguration of the art installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Sees of Red’ at the Tower of London in which each ceramic poppy in the Tower’s dry moat represents a dead soldier.

Tower of London

The Embassy was represented on 16th August at a commemoration ceremony in Leicester's Welford Road Cemetery to honour WW1 soldiers buried in its grounds. The wounded servicemen had been treated at the 5th Northern General Hospital where Leicester University now stands. Among the buried soldiers were 9 Belgian victims 1 of whom was later repatriated to Belgium and another has remained unknown.

Article on the event in the local press: 

Leicester's Welford Road Cemetery

On 26 September, the Embassy attended the unveiling by HRH the Countess of Wessex of a commemorative stone in honour of the medical staff and volunteers from Tunbridge Wells who treated wounded soldiers and civilians during the Great War. A large number of injured Belgian soldiers received care and expert nursing in Tunbridge Wells and the people of the town and surrounding villages welcomed Belgian refugees into their homes and communities. For a news clip of the event go to: www.itv.com/news/meridian/update/2014-09-26/countess-honours-kent-wartime-hospital-workers/.

Ambassador Trouveroy organised an event at his Residence on 9 October to help raise funds for a statue commemorating Elsie and Mairi, two British women who ran a First Aid Post at the Belgian front during WW1. The bronze statue, designed by Belgian sculptor Josiane Vanhoutte,was unveiled in Ypres on 22 November.

In October, the Ambassador attended the preview of “The Waterways on the Western Front” exhibition at the London Canal Museum (www.canalmuseum.org.uk) and later that month the Embassy was represented during a dinner in Worcester to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gheluvelt.

In November, the Embassy witnessed the unveiling of a commemorative plaque at Charlton Athletic Football Club (owned by Belgian businessman Roland Duchatelet) and participated in ceremonies in Hereford, one of the first cities to welcome and care for Belgian refugees during WW1 and in Twickenham where a large community of Belgian refugees settled at the time (the neighbourhood became known as ‘le village belge sur la Tamise’).

Charlton Athletic Football Club

On 6 November, HRH King Philippe and HRH Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden in London’s Wellington Barracks (near Buckingham Palace) for which the soil had been collected from battlefield cemeteries in Belgium. The following day, the Ambassador was present at the yearly rekindling of the Eternal Flame at Westminster Abbey.

Flanders Fields Memorial Garden

Westminster Abbey

To raise funds and the profile of the charity ‘Never Such Innocence’, Ambassador Trouveroy hosted an event at his Residence on 4 December. The charity, which takes its name from Philip Larkin’s famous poem MCMXIV reflecting on the changes caused by the First World War, aims to inform, inspire and include youngsters in the Centenary activities. It also raises funds for smaller military charities. www.neversuchinnocence.com 

Never Such Innocence