To help you get a feel for the book, the opening of Section One: August 1914, is available below or in a downloadable PDF.
Behind the Lines
WWI’s little-known story of German occupation, Belgian resistance,
and the band of Yanks who Help Save Millions from Starvation.
A story few have heard
“There once was a nice little town in that place”
On a cold evening in late November 1914, a German officer was drinking with a boisterous group of fellow officers in the luxurious Hotel Astoria. Situated in Brussels, Belgium, on Rue Royale near the city’s major park, the hotel was in the fashionable upper part of town and had been commandeered by the German occupation forces for their officers, staffs, and privileged guests.
Nearly four months before, on Tuesday, August 4, the German Army had started World War I by invading neutral Belgium on its way to its real objective, France. The German officer had been a part of that invading force. A “fine-looking man” with “agreeable manners,” he was in his mid-thirties and had lived in England for years before returning to Germany to become a cavalry officer in the kaiser’s army.
Even though it was late—past midnight—and all the other Germans had stumbled off to bed, this cavalry officer stayed at the table and spoke in perfect English to two Americans, war correspondent E. E. Hunt and neutral observer Lieutenant Victor Daniel Herbster of the U.S. Navy, both of whom were visiting the German-occupied city.
Referring to the August days of the invasion, the German calmly stated that the Belgians “do not understand war, and they do not understand the rules of war. I remember once riding into a little town down here in the South of Belgium and finding my four scouts lying dead in the streets. Civilians had butchered horses and men—shot them from behind.
“I ordered my men to go into the houses and kill every one they found. Then I ordered them to burn the town.”
The man sat back a moment, raised his glass, then took a drink.
“There once was a nice little town in that place. There is no such town
Hunt would never forget the German’s calm, brutal words, and they would follow him when less than a month later, in December, he joined a small group of Americans who would try to save more than 9 million Belgian and French civilians from starving to death.
The interlacing stories of German brutality, Belgian resistance, the struggles against starvation, and the American men Hunt joined in the burgeoning Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), all began back in those chaotic days of August 1914, when the Germans attacked the little country. Few could have guessed it then, but the invasion acted like a toppling domino that would cause a tumbling together of extraordinary people into a chain reaction of life-and-death situations far from the trenches and killing fields of World War I.
And hanging in the balance were millions of civilian lives.
It is a story that few have heard.
Read more of the first 25 pages:
Behind the Lines — Sample of Section One
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