THE RELIEF OF BELGIUM AND NORTHERN FRANCE
Germany declared war on France on August 3, 1914. Their armies of 2,000,000 men smashed into Belgium in violation of their treaties guaranteeing its neutrality. By heroic sacrifice, the Belgian army of 117,000 men delayed the German march for some days, and this delay enabled the French and British time to re-form and rally on the Marne.
However, the Belgians, under the command of King Albert, managed to hold a scrap of their homeland throughout the war. They clung to the locks at Nieuport and, by this control, flooded the inland for about twenty miles of Belgian front. Although 80 per cent of their original army had been destroyed, the King and his newly recruited men held this scrap of their country for the whole war.
The Allied counterattack on the Marne drove the Germans back to a line about four hundred miles long, stretching from the Belgian front to the Swiss frontier. Here the armies remained fixed behind barbed wire and in trenches for nearly four years, until October, 1918. Except for this little fragment, all Belgium, with about 7,500,000 people, was occupied by the Germans. They also held, behind their lines under German hobnailed boots, about 2,500,000 French or a total of about 10,000,000 people.
Belgium and Northern France were highly industrialized areas and were dependent on imports for 70 per cent of their food, practically all of their textiles and clothing, and most of their leather and other industrial raw materials.