COERCION OF BELGIANS TO WORK FOR THE GERMANS
On a trip to Belgium in June, 1915, I learned, from our C.R.B. Director, William B. Poland, and our inspection staff, of an "underground" activity of an Allied military department through the Belgian exiled Government at Le Havre. One of its purposes was to subsidize the Belgian railway employees and other skilled mechanics with monetary allowances so that they would not work for the Germans. The Belgians had every moral and patriotic right to embarrass the Germans by any device they could invent, and it was none of the C.R.B.'s business. But there were phases of it which bothered us and which could endanger our whole service to the Belgian people.
In our view, this activity was foolish and would invite reprisals. These men and their families would be fed under our rationing system whether they worked or not, and the Germans had ample manpower of their own to conduct any critical railway operation needed for military purposes. Our fear was that if the Germans believed the C.R.B. was connected with it, they might raise serious questions about our fidelity to our undertakings to preserve rigid neutrality. At once we made a record of protest in Belgium, and later at Le Havre, which might clear our skirts if any such charge arose. However, the Germans never mentioned it to us.
But von Bissing quickly began a series of measures--to coerce the Belgians to work for the Germans--which did concern us. On June 26, he addressed a letter to Minister Whitlock, one paragraph of which was: