The third year of the C.R.B. was an even more desperately troubled one. To see the events of this narrative more clearly, the reader will need a brief background of the atmosphere and events in which we worked.
In November and December, 1916, the Germans had started the hideous deportations of men from Belgium and Northern France to work in their factories.
On February 1, 1917, they declared their unlimited submarine war. They torpedoed some of our ships, and others, en route, fled into British ports for refuge. We had to stop shipments until we could restore the guarantees.
These actions blew up our imminent loan of $150,000,000, the completion of which I had arranged in New York the week before.
We secured a restoration of the Relief, the British, on February 9, having agreed to the German demands that our ships proceed direct to Rotterdam without calling at English ports of inspection. The Germans reaffirmed their guarantees a little later, but they continued to torpedo our ships, and it was not until February 24 that we were able to start loading ships again. In the meantime, a total of 200,000 tons of food, for which the Germans would give no guarantees of immunity of attack, was marooned in British ports. The loss of this food and that on torpedoed ships brought a period of extreme suffering to Belgium and Northern France.
On April 6, the United States declared war. We substituted Dutch and Spanish personnel for our American staff in the occupied territory but continued supplies up to the Belgian frontier.