Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Saving Belgium


Learning more about my Belgian ancestry has led to greater interest in Belgium’s history. I knew Belgium had been overrun by Germany at the beginning of World War I, but I hadn’t known how bad the war was for Belgium until reading a new book about the Americans who went to Belgium to provide relief for the starving nation.


Belgium became a country in 1830. It was a divided country of French-speaking Flemings and Dutch-speaking Walloons. By the time of World War I, Belgium was the most industrialized country in Europe, and the most densely populated. It imported 75% of its food.
The Germans kicked off their war by marching through Belgium to get into France and capture Paris. They didn’t expect the Belgians to display nationalistic feeling when they were already divided ethnically. The Germans were shocked when the Belgians resisted their advance. They felt swindled by the Belgian endeavor to maintain independence, and their timetable for winning the war by Christmas was obliterated.
Their occupation of Belgium turned brutal. Men, women, and children were executed for resisting. Belgian industries were dismantled and transported to Germany, leaving massive unemployment in Belgium. Forty million francs per month was demanded as a contribution to the war. Thousands of men were deported for slave labor in Germany. Movement outside of one’s town or village was forbidden without difficult-to-obtain passes. Imports and exports were stopped, which meant starvation.
Belgian representatives traveled to London, looking for a way to avert the starvation of the country. Herbert Hoover, a wealthy American industrialist who was helping Americans stranded in Europe by the war, volunteered to lead the effort of getting food to Belgium.
The British were against the neutral effort to feed the ten millions people of Belgium and northern France cut off by the German occupation. They believed the Germans were obligated to feed the conquered people. By allowing the Belgians to starve, more German troops would be required to stay in Belgium to subdue the inevitable revolts. By relieving the Germans of that duty, the Commission for Relief of Belgium prolonged the war.

Little girl eating bread supplied by the Commission For Relief In Belgium.

The Germans allowed the relief because they saw it as serving their interests. Belgium would remain peaceful if fed, making their occupation easier. As the war dragged on, they, too, put up resistance. The British blockaded the North Sea to starve the Germans. They would have to relax the blockade to save Belgium, but the CRB weakened the pressure to do so.
They also came to resent the hero image the American delegates acquired for the Belgians. Belgium was their country now. It was the people’s duty to be submissive to them. Besides, the Americans were probably spying. (Yes, they did report on what they saw of Germany’s ability to carry on the war.)
Both sides allowed the relief to continue because Herbert Hoover masterfully orchestrated a worldwide PR campaign to highlight the plight of the Belgians and gain universal sympathy that the belligerents couldn’t ignore.
When the American relief delegates had to leave Belgium in 1917 upon the US entry into the war, the still-neutral Netherlands and Spain kept the relief going to feed Belgium.
Further Reading: World War I Crusaders: A Band of Yanks in German-occupied Belgium Help Save Millions From Starvation as Civilians Resist the Harsh German Rule. By Jeffrey B. Miller

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

My Belgian Roots


For the longest time, I’ve known who all my great-great-grandparents were. For most of them, I knew their parents and beyond. One brick wall was my great-great-grandmother, Josephine Denis. She was born in 1848 in Belgium; her parents were Francis and Florence. In the 1860 census, she lived with a 48-year-old Belgian man and a 17-year-old Dutchman. That’s all I knew.


Until this summer. I discovered a Belgian genealogical site and made contact with Ron, a knowledgeable genealogist who thrives on tearing down brick walls.
Josephine’s mother died in 1854. Her father took her and her four surviving brothers to Wisconsin, where he sent away his children to four different homes. The two youngest brothers were placed with two elderly seamstresses. Why didn’t Josephine go there instead of ending up as a maid by the tender age of twelve? The women may have been much better at raising a young girl and taught her sewing.
I don’t know anything else about Josephine until she married. Did she have contact with her father and brothers?


Why did Francois Denis leave Belgium? Probably for economic improvement, but at the cost of breaking up his family. The young children had already lost their mother; now they were separated in a strange country. Apparently, Francois didn’t have family who would help him with his youngsters. In Wisconsin, he moved to another county, remarried, and had a second family.
Ron says it was common for parents to put their children in what was basically foster care when they were in economic hardship. Being a single parent, mother or father, was very difficult for parent and children at that time. Still, I would like to know about Francois’ continued involvement with his first family.
I didn’t know much about Belgium’s history other than its brutal occupation of the Congo. As I’ve learned more about the country’s experience in the twentieth century, I take more pride in my Belgian heritage. More on that later.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Saboteurs Who Wanted to Escape Germany


Seventy-six years ago, on August 8, 1942, six German “spies” were executed in Washington.


               Eight German saboteurs were put ashore in Florida and New York during World War II. They were to destroy aspects of America’s war production, but most, apparently, had no intention of doing so.
               Herbert Haupt was a na├»ve young man interested in good times and ran away to Mexico to avoid responsibilities. He and his friend Wolfgang Wergin spent three weeks in Mexico until they ran out of money. They couldn’t return to the US unless they paid a duty on the car Wolfgang sold when they were broke. Since they were both naturalized Americans of German birth, the German consulate got them passage on a ship going to Japan. From there, they went to Germany. Herbie jumped at the chance to return to the US with the saboteurs; Wolfgang declined, believing the G-men would get them. He ended up fighting in the German army on the Russian front. Not until 1956 was Wergin able to return to the United States.
               Among the seven other saboteurs, one was a survivor of Gestapo torture and imprisonment; another was badly wounded in the Wehrmacht. George Dasch intended all along to turn them all in as his way of fighting the Nazi regime.
               The actions of Herbert Hoover and the FBI are disgusting. The saboteurs’ treatment and trial were never about justice, but about appearances and a moral victory over Germany. Six were executed. Dasch and Burger were repatriated to Germany in 1948, but their lives were ruined.
And Hoover wanted glory. He was more guilty than the saboteurs, lying to them, trying to hide the fact that Dasch went to the FBI rather than the FBI discovering a nefarious plot afoot. Hoover should have been executed.
            
A new book, Enemies: A War Story by Kenneth Rosenberg, is a fictionalized account of the saboteurs. I recommend it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Who Could Save the Czar?


One hundred years ago, the Russian imperial family was murdered.

Not being a Russophile, I was unaware of the blame game going on as to whose fault it was that the Romanov family was killed. With all of the royal families in Europe being related, one of them should have whisked the family to safety.
England’s King George gets the biggest rap, but Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm seems to have been in a better position, since Germany was dictating terms in the war with Russia. Plus, most of the Romanov women had been German princesses.
Many factors made escape difficult, if not impossible: the war, the political alliances, personal antipathies, logistics, geography, and the weather. The Soviets wanted the tsar to pay for centuries of despotism; they weren’t going to let him go.
When one throne toppled, the others felt shockwaves. The kings had to protect their own thrones rather than assist the disposed. In any case, there was really only one window of opportunity for the Romanovs to leave, and that was before Nicholas abdicated.
The Romanovs didn’t want to leave Russia, in any case. They would have preferred death to being rescued by Germany. Brutal as it was, that’s what they got.
Recommended reading: The Race to Save the Romanovs  by Helen Rappaport

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On the Arizona


In the local library’s semi-annual book sale, I found a prize: All the Gallant Men: Theh First Memoir by a USS Arizona Survivor. Everyone knows what happened at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. How much do you know about the sailors who manned the ships and what they experienced?


The Arizona shouldn’t have been at Pearl. It was scheduled to leave for the Bremerton, Washington, shipyard for an overhaul in late November. In late October, however, the ships were out on maneuvers and, on a very foggy October 22nd, the USS Oklahoma got out of sync and collided with the Arizona. The result was a hole “big enough to drive a hay truck through.” Time in drydock to patch the hole delayed the trip to Bremerton and on December 7th, the Arizona was still at Pearl.
Several bombs that hit the Arizona proved to be duds. But one bomb pierced four steel decks and exploded in an ammunition magazine. With a whoosh, the ship blew up in a series of explosions. Among the 1,177 sailors killed were all twenty-one members of the Arizona’s band.
The band members had attended the U.S. Navy School of Music where they studied ear training, harmony, and music theory, and had private instruction on their instruments. Eight bands had been assembled, graduated in May of 1941, and assigned to ships. Band #22 drew the Arizona. Three of the other bands also headed to battleships at Pearl: the California, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Band #22 caught up with the Arizona on June 17 in San Pedro, California. Even before checking out their quarters, the band went topside and played a concert, stunning the ship’s crew. The previous band had been older and hadn’t trained to play jazz or modern dance music. The crew loved having a band that played music like the big bands back home.


Up and down Battleship Row on December 7, bands assembled on their fantails to play the national anthem during the raising of the flag at eight o’clock. The band on the Nevada jumped the gun and was already playing when the attack began. After a slight hesitation when the bandmaster noticed enemy planes strafing them, the band completed the anthem, then ran for their battle stations.
Battle station for the bandsmen was the ammunition hold. They manned the hoists to take ammunition to gun turret number two. Seamen placed cloth powder bags on the hoists and the bandsmen, standing in rows on each side of the hoists, made sure the 75-pound bags did not become dislodged or snagged. A spill of black powder would create a hazard if a spark ignited it.


At 8:06, the bomb penetrated the magazine. The bandsmen and over a thousand other sailors never had a chance.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Sound From the Past


While stopped on a bike ride to admire bleeding hearts, I heard a long-familiar sound. A brisk breeze caused waves to slap against a pontoon boat moored nearby. That tinny, hollow knock of water against boats is unmistakable.


My grandparents had a summer home in a trailer park. Located on the shore of Green Lake in Wisconsin, the little community had a long boathouse divided into individual stalls. My grandfather rented one slip for his boat.
One light bulb provided inadequate lighting. A narrow ledge across the front and along one side required nibble footing. The water was always black. Scary black. What was down there?
And, of course, spiders inhabited the closed space.
One year, the hoists didn’t let the boat down evenly and the back end of the boat sank into that dark water. The gas tank was undoubtedly contaminated. The way to empty the tank was to insert a hose and suck on it to siphon out the watered-down gas. The task left my dad with the taste of gasoline in his mouth. His remedy? Drink beer. Alcohol was never found in our home, so that made a lasting impression.
All these thoughts come back to me when I hear waves beat against boats. What sounds from your past do you remember?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Linda Matchett's Story Sparks



Welcome to the Story Sparks Multi-author Blog Tour. May 21-26, 2018 readers get a chance to enter and win ebooks from six different authors. Linda Shenton Matchett is today’s featured author. One lucky winner will receive a copy Love’s Harvest. Today, Linda will be talking about History, Mystery, and Faith. Read on to discover what sparks Linda’s creativity and to enter the rafflecopter to win her heartwarming retelling of the biblical book of Ruth.



I’ve been making up stories since I was young. In fact, I recently found my notebooks from back then and had quite a laugh reading my childish scrawl and teenaged angst. Even then, my fertile imagination was apparent.

During interviews and speaking engagements I’m often asked where I get my ideas. The short answer is: I find them everywhere. But that’s not very informative, so I’ll let you in on my secret. I’m constantly on the lookout for “what-if” kernels-sparks, if you will.

For example, if I’m in a public location I people-watch. Not in a creepy, stalker kind of way, but rather “I wonder what those two people are talking about because one of them looks happy-sad-stressed-angry-insert-other-emotion.” In fact, I can usually lasso my husband into the game when he’s with me.

Other things that spark my imagination are newspaper or magazine articles, books or movies I think should have ended or been written differently, historical events, and incidents that happen to me, my family, or friends.

Here are the sparks for each of my books:

Love’s Harvest: I got the idea to write a modern retelling of Ruth from Francine Rivers’ book Redeeming Love which is based on the book of Hosea.

Love Found in Sherwood Forest: The Love Inspired line was open for submissions. They provided myriad locations and trios of objects from which authors could select. (e.g., England, arrows, flowers, and a secret passage or Virginia, a winery, an antique car, and a stolen painting). LI didn’t pick up my story, but another publisher did.

On the Rails: We visited the Grand Canyon about ten years ago where I learned about the Harvey Girls-young women who traveled from the East to be waitresses for the Fred Harvey Restaurant Company during the late 1800s and early 1900s. I was intrigued and did a bunch of research which led me to some of the women’s memoirs.

A Love Not Forgotten: I was asked by a publisher to write a story that culminated with a Spring wedding. While brainstorming, I saw a sitcom on which one of the characters was hit on the head resulting in amnesia.

A Doctor in the House: I read a book about the English country homes that were requisitioned by the government for use as barracks, hospitals, evacuee centers, etc. Combined with learning about Dr. Margaret Craighill, the first female Army doctor during WWII and reading accounts where the Americans were criticized for “being late to the last war, and late to this one,” I knew I had my story.

Under Fire: This is one of the first manuscripts I wrote, and it came about as a result of my coursework with Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers’ Guild and attendance at the Crimebake Mystery Writers’ Conference. Classes about brainstorming and panel discussions ignited several ideas that culminated in the eventual plot.

See how easy it is? Take a look around today, and make a list of how many sparks you find.





Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, and history geek. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places all her life. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and Sisters in Crime. Linda is also a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a trustee for her local public library.

Love’s Harvest:
Noreen Hirsch loses everything including her husband and two sons. Then her adopted country goes to war with her homeland. Has God abandoned her?

Rosa Hirsch barely adjusts to being a bride before she is widowed. She gives up her citizenship to accompany her mother-in-law to her home country. Can Rosa find acceptance among strangers who hate her belligerent nation?

Basil Quincey is rich beyond his wildest dreams, but loneliness stalks him. Can he find a woman who loves him and not his money?

Three people. One God who can raise hope from the ashes of despair.

Purchase Link: www.amazon.com/dp/B01DMB3ZX2