At seven o'clock on the evening of the 2d August 1914 Herr von Below handed to M. Davignon, the Belgian Foreign Minister, the German ultimatum. This momentous document, drafted by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff a week before and carried to Brussels on the 29th July by a special messenger, declared that if Belgium observed a benevolent neutrality, making no opposition to the passing of German troops across her territory, her sovereign rights and independence would be guaranteed and she would be compensated for all damages suffered. If she resisted, she would be treated as an enemy. She had twelve hours to reply. There were no differences of opinion in the Belgian Cabinet which met at nine to consider the ultimatum. The Cabinet's answer delivered at seven the next morning declared that an acceptance of the German proposals would "sacrifice the honor of the nation and at the same time betray its duty toward Europe." Belgium was determined "to repel by all the means in its power every attack upon its rights." The expected German reply came early the following day (4th August). At Six A.M. von Below announced that Germany would act "by force of arms" and two hours later German cavalry crossed the frontier. By the evening of the 4th the heads of six German columns of all arms, the advance guard of a host of over half a million men, were two or three miles beyond the frontier. The occupation of Belgium had begun.

The heroic resistance of the garrison of Liège, the gallant conduct and skillful handling of the Belgian field army gained four priceless days for the French and British forces and compelled the Germans to use before Antwerp troops designated for the seizure of the channel ports and sorely needed later at the Marne. But Belgium was engulfed in the onrushing "gray-green tide." By the end of August all of Belgium except the region about Antwerp and a narrow strip of territory in East and West Flanders had been overrun by the invader. In the middle of October the Belgian troops retired from Antwerp and took up a position along the Nieuport-Dixmude-Ypres line which the Germans never penetrated. The Belgian Government, which previously had withdrawn from Brussels to Antwerp, established its headquarters at Havre where it remained until the liberation of Belgium four years later.

As the German armies swept across Belgium, devastation and panic filled the roads with refugees and threw the nation's highly organized economic life into tangled disorder. Communications between communes were broken, business activities were suspended, and ripe grain stood unharvested in the fields. Isolated communities began to feel the lack of the most elementary necessities, and larger towns were taxed to provide food and shelter for the homeless. To meet this situation the communal authorities, under special powers granted by royal decree, requisitioned food stocks, and volunteer committees were formed to house and feed refugees and give aid to the destitute. These efforts ameliorated much suffering, but they were necessarily temporary expedients maintained with increasing difficulty as local resources disappeared.


1. Preliminaries of Organization. September 1914

Among these volunteer committees the Comité Central de Secours et d'Alimentation of Brussels was notable for the standing and influence of its members, and for the energy and resourcefulness with which it acted in the emergency. A meeting on the 1st September 1914, under the chairmanship of M. Emile Francqui, was a preliminary step in the organization of the Comité Central under the presidency of M. Solvay and under the patronage of the Ministers of the United States and of Spain, Mr. Brand Whitlock and the Marquis de Villalobar.(1) This committee promoted and coordinated the measures of relief in Brussels and its suburbs, but for the time being did not extend its activities into other parts of the country. By the latter part of September the Comité Central of Brussels and the volunteer committees in Liège, Charleroi, and Namur realized that famine was but a few weeks off. The normal food deficit of the country was greatly increased by requisition and destruction, and the volunteer committees had, therefore, to find ways of providing food not only for the destitute, but for the entire population of the towns. Since there was no hope of getting the needed supplies from German sources, the committees sent emissaries abroad to make known the desperate state of affairs in Belgium, to buy provisions, and to arrange for their shipment into the occupied territories. The representative of the Comité Central, Mr. Millard K. Shaler, an American engineer residing in Brussels, reached London on the 26th September after various adventures, including arrest by Germans at Liège and imprisonment for two days as a spy, despite his possession of a Passierschein furnished by the German authorities in Brussels. Shaler found that he could buy supplies, but when he attempted through the Belgian Legation to get an official permit to ship 2,500 tons of wheat, rice, beans, etc., to Brussels, he encountered difficulties. The British authorities feared that despite the written guarantee of the German command against requisition, these commodities might directly or indirectly benefit the army of occupation. Shaler described the situation to an American friend, Mr. Edgar Rickard, by whom he was taken to Mr. Herbert Hoover, who, with Rickard and Messrs. John Beaver White, Clarence Graff, Colonel Millard Hunsiker, and other Americans, was directing the American Relief Committee in London under the patronage of Ambassador Walter Hines Page. This Committee had about completed the repatriation of 100,000 Americans stranded in Europe at the outbreak of the war, and the members were themselves expecting to return home as soon as their services were no longer required in the repatriation of their fellow-citizens. Hoover was immediately impressed by the seriousness of the Belgian situation. He suggested that perhaps official objections could be met if these foodstuffs were consigned to the American Minister in Brussels and distributed under his guardianship. Hoover then took Shaler to Ambassador Page who promptly agreed to use his good offices with the British Government in negotiation along this line.

On the 1st October Mr. Hugh Gibson, Secretary of the American Legation in Brussels, reached London joining Shaler in pressing his case through Belgian and American diplomatic channels;(2) five days later the British Government consented to the exportation on condition that the supplies be shipped by the American Ambassador in London to the American Minister in Brussels. On the same day Ambassador Page in consultation with Hoover drafted a message to the Department of State asking for authority to undertake the protection of the relief supplies required by the British Government as a condition of its export permit. During the two anxious weeks that passed before the Ambassador received this authorization from Washington,(3) the complexities and magnitude of the relief problem became disturbingly apparent. Hoover had expected that the completion of the negotiation for export permits would be the end of his connection with the enterprise; it was, on the contrary, the beginning. The arrangement with the British imposed on the overworked Ambassador new responsibilities which grew from day to day, and he promptly called on Hoover to arrange for the first shipments and to act for him in other matters pertaining to relief. Representatives of the Belgian cities of Charleroi and Liège had, in the meantime, come to London seeking aid, and on application to the British Government were referred to Ambassador Page and by him in turn to Hoover.

The course of events already described, the mounting evidence of the desperate straits of the Belgian people, and the clear indication of the need of neutral intervention persuaded members of the American Relief Committee to give their services in the interests of Belgian relief. Hoover suggested that efforts being made in America for refugees be directed to relief in Belgium, and at a conference on the 12th October it was agreed that an American Committee should be formed under diplomatic patronage to centralize American efforts and to carry out the conditions imposed by the belligerents on the relief work. Immediately this decision was taken, Hoover sent out an appeal to America through the press on the 13th,(4) and sent a message to Minister Whitlock requesting him to reinforce his appeal by a direct statement of the situation to President Wilson.

Minister Whitlock's appeal to President Wilson(5) came through the American Embassy on the 16th October. Two days later M. Francqui and Baron Lambert of the Brussels Comité Central, accompanied by Gibson, who had meantime returned to Brussels, reached London, and engaged in a series of conferences with Page and Hoover at the American Embassy. In the course of these conferences Hoover prepared a memorandum for Ambassador Page(6) suggesting a method of procedure and a form of organization, and proposing that relief should be undertaken not for Brussels alone but for the whole of the occupied territory. He recommended the erection of an organization under American leadership with Belgian participation in order to protect the Belgians from interference and to secure the co-ordination of the efforts of the Belgians themselves. This memorandum proved with experience of actual administration to be the real "constitution" of the organization. He also proposed that the local assurance given by the German authorities to Whitlock on the 17th September should be extended to the whole population of Belgium,(7) and that direct guarantees should be obtained from the German and British Governments, since the work of the Commission could not rest upon the assurance of military officers. In line with these recommendations the Commission for Relief in Belgium was organized formally at a meeting on the 22d October.(8) Upon the return of Francqui and Lambert to Brussels, the Comité Central (early in November) constituted itself the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation, making the necessary changes in its organization to conform to its new character and responsibilities.


2. The Diplomatic Background. September-October 1914:


agreeing that his Government will not requisition supplies destined for the civil population

BRUSSELS, 17 September 1914

To the Minister of the United States of America
Mr. Brand Whitlock, Brussels

In reply to the communication which Your Excellency in behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium addressed to the Head of the Imperial Administration, I have the honor to confirm to you:

1. That the Imperial Government agrees not to levy any impost for the needs of the German Army, nor to requisition the shipments of wheat and flour destined for the alimentation of the Belgian civil population.

2. That, if contraband of war should be found in a shipment, the entire shipment would be confiscated to the profit of the Imperial Government.

3. That the civil administration of the Imperial Government reserves to itself alone the right of decision as to the distribution of the wheat and flour in the different portions of the occupied territory, according to local needs, and to supervise this distribution.

I should be glad to receive new communications from Your Excellency on this subject.

(Signed) VON DER GOLTZ, Field Marshal




asking the Minister to intervene to secure export permits for relief supplies to Belgium

LONDON, 1 October 1914

With a view to preventing a shortage of provisions in Belgium and consequent suffering of the civil population, a committee has been organized in Brussels under the name of Comité Central de Secours et d'Alimentation, under the patronage of. the Spanish and American Ministers. The Committee is composed of prominent Belginas and has raised considerable funds to buy foodstuffs.

The German military authorities have given assurances in writing that any food supplies purchased by the committee will not be requisitioned for the troops, but will be reserved for the feeding of the civil population. The original letters on the subject from General von Lüttwitz are attached hereto, as well as a form to be signed by the General and fastened to each car transporting the provisions, stating their character and their exemption from requisition.

Mr. Millard K. Shaler, an American citizen, has volunteered to come to England to purchase supplies and ship them to Brussels. The supplies have been purchased and all that is now required is a permit from the British Government allowing the exportation of these food supplies and the sacks containing them from England to the Continent.

The food supply in Brussels is getting very low. There is practically no more flour nor salt and there is great scarcity of other supplies. It is to be hoped that the permit for exporting the supplies purchased by the Brussels Committee will be granted immediately in order that Mr. Shaler may get them to Brussels without delay. It is felt in Belgium that anything approaching a famine will lead to grave disorders the consequences of which cannot now be foreseen.

Mr. Shaler is well known to the Legation at Brussels and is vouched for in every respect.



requesting the Belgian Foreign Minister to instruct his representative in London to support the relief enterprise

LONDON, 1 October 1914


Gibson, Secretary of Legation, sends you following message. Quote. Millard K. Shaler sent here by Comité Central de Secours et d'Alimentation to buy food supplies for the civil population of Brussels. Supplies are bought and will be shipped as soon as permit can be secured from British Government to export them via Holland. Written assurances have been given by German military authorities that these supplies will not be requisitioned for the military forces, but will be used exclusively for the civil population. Please see the Minister for Foreign Affairs and ask that instructions be sent Belgian Minister here to take matter up immediately with British Foreign Office. Food supplies in Brussels are practically exhausted and immediate action is imperative. End quote. Please telegraph reply.




asking authorization to ship relief supplies to the American Minister in Belgium in accordance with the conditions imposed by the British Government on the export of relief purchases

LONDON, 6 October 1914


783. A Belgian Committee has been formed at Brussels under the patronage of the American and Spanish Ministers there for the purpose of importing foodstuffs for the poor of Brussels who I am informed are faced with famine. The German authorities in occupation have consented and the Belgian Minister here informs me that under instructions from his Government he has obtained permission of the British authorities for the export of supplies, on condition that they be despatched by this Embassy and consigned to our Legation at Brussels. If you authorize me to take this step I believe it would be well to obtain a definite assurance from the German Government of their approval of this humanitarian project, the execution of which is in charge of an American citizen Millard King Shaler, who is now in London purchasing supplies and is strongly vouched for by Mr. Whitlock.




Extract from letter,
describing the activities of the American Relief Committee in the summer of 1914 and relating the manner in which this committee became interested in the Belgian problem

LONDON, 10 May 1916

.... To give a few more particulars: the American Relief Committee, under the financial patronage of the American Government, the sponsorship of the American Ambassadors, and the chairmanship of yourself, was instituted at the outbreak of the war to undertake, in the first instance, the relief of American refugees in Europe. This service was practically completed by the end of September 1914. At this time Mr. Millard Shaler came to London representing the Comité Central of Brussels. He made application to the British Government, through the Belgian Minister, for permission to ship some foodstuffs to the city of Brussels. He had little success until upon my introduction of him to you and from you to Ambassador Page the idea was advanced by you of shipment under the guardianship of the American officials. As a result of Mr. Page's intervention the British Foreign Office replied to the request of the Belgian Minister on the 6th October that authorization could only be given if the American Ambassador would undertake to ship the goods to the American Minister in Brussels, to be distributed by Americans under his responsibility. At the same time representatives of other committees in Belgium(9) came to London seeking foodstuffs and the representatives of the Belgian Refugees' Committee appealed to the American Relief Committee and to the American people for help. In consequence of all these points of impact, the American Ambassador called upon you as chairman of the American Relief Committee to organize the whole business on his behalf. As a result it was agreed among the principal representatives of the American Relief Committee that the Committee should take up the Belgian problem, and at our suggestion the American Ambassador on October 6th cabled to Washington asking the Government's approval of intervention on behalf of the Committee in Belgian matters and suggesting that the assent of the German Government should be obtained direct, as we had no confidence in local military guarantees. On October 21st this approval was received from the American Government after they had consulted and had assurances from the German Government in Berlin, through Ambassador Gerard.

Meantime, in the confidence that this assent would be obtained, you formulated an appeal to the American people recommending that they should devote their interest in Belgian refugees and in other Belgian funds to the exclusive support of the Belgian Relief Committee for use in the occupied area. This appeal was sent out with the approval of the American Ambassador on October 13th and you instituted proposals for co-operating with several other Belgian committees. As a reinforcement to your appeal you asked Mr. Whitlock to send a message, and on October 16th an appeal came through Mr. Page's hands from Mr. Brand Whitlock, addressed to the President of the United States, and at the same time advice came from Brussels that a delegation of prominent Belgians representing the Brussels Comité Central were coming to London to further Mr. Shaler's efforts on behalf of that city. Messrs. Francqui and Lambert arrived in London on October 18th and a meeting was brought about at the American Ambassador's of the parties interested; and as a result of the conference extending over two days, it was determined that relief would have to be undertaken of the whole occupied area and not of Brussels alone and that in order to effect this it was desirable to create in Belgium a general organization embodying the whole Belgian community and to maintain it as a separate entity of the neutral commission. There were many important reasons for this decision, and the subsequent ability of the relief organization to withstand shocks has been largely due to this separation.



Statement ,(10)
urging immediate action for the rescue the Belgian people

LONDON, 13 October 1914

Three weeks ago I left Brussels with a credit of $100,000 for the purpose of purchasing foodstuffs for needy Brussels. The situation was then serious. It has since then grown positively desperate. Immediately after my arrival in London I arranged for the purchase and transport of provisions, but I am still awaiting authorization to make shipments.

The British Government will permit exportation to Holland, and the Dutch Government in turn has promised to permit exportation to Brussels, but we are held up by lack of authorization from Washington to make shipments in the name of the American Ambassador here to the American Minister at Brussels, this being required by the British Government, which desires a guarantee that the food will not be diverted to German military uses.

I hold a written guarantee from the German General commanding at Brussels that no seizure will be made, but that the food will be devoted entirely to the civil population of Brussels.

Nearly a week ago the Embassy here presented the matter to the State Department, which thus far has been unable to furnish a definite answer about permitting shipments to be made through American channels.

It has been reported that Washington awaits an answer from Germany, to whom the matter was referred.

Either the State Department should take action on its own initiative or should insist on Germany giving a speedy, definite answer. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of lives actually depend on immediate action. I have personally received and have seen reports received by others that the situation in Brussels regarding food is positively dangerous.

It is not only a matter of feeding a certain number of hungry people running into scores of thousands, but it is also a question of keeping the population from consequences which usually accompany starvation, for it is quite possible that the hunger-mad people will commit some overt act which will cause the German authorities to take severe action.

Since the German occupation it has been the constant endeavor of the civil officials and also of Minister Whitlock to keep the populace quiet. Thus far they have been successful, but if the food supply ceases it is probable that wise counsels will be unavailing.

Fully 200,000 persons were receiving rations three weeks ago; the number is far greater now. Normally Brussels uses 300 tons of cereals daily. Importations have now virtually ceased and the stocks are practically used up.

I have authority to ship fifteen hundred tons, but there is no way of getting the food there until the diplomatic red tape is cut.

The American Government should, from reasons of pure humanity, insist that Germany take favorable action, or make shipments through American diplomats, whether Germany agrees or not. I am certain that Germany will agree if pressed, for the local military commanders have already guaranteed the immunity of the food from seizure.



stating the German approval of their undertaking and guaranteeing the relief supplies from requisition

BRUSSELS, 16 October 1914

In answer to your courteous letter of today I have the honor to reply with all respect that I welcome with lively satisfaction the undertaking of the Comité Central de Secours et d'Alimentation and do not hesitate formally and distinctly to give assurances that foodstuffs of all kinds imported by the Committee under Your Excellency's patronage for the provisioning of the civil populace of Belgium shall be kept exclusively for the use of the Belgian populace; that these foodstuffs shall hereafter be exempt from requisition by the military authorities; and, finally, that they shall remain entirely at the disposal of the Committee.

Field Marshal



explaining the relief organization and requesting official approval

16 October 1914


As I have already reported to the Department, a committee of notable citizens of Brussels was appointed several weeks ago under the patronage of the Spanish Minister and myself to give food to the poor of this city. This work, which had the approval of the Belgian Government and of the German military authorities, has been carried on with excellent results. But now a grave situation confronts the land. In normal times Belgium produces only one-sixth of the foodstuffs she consumes. Within two weeks there will be no more food in Belgium. Winter is coming on and there are thousands who are without home and without hope; therefore it is necessary to extend this relief work to the whole of Belgium. My Spanish colleague and I have been requested by the local Belgian authorities and by the German military authorities to permit the organization, under our patronage, of a committee that will undertake to revictual all of Belgium, and we have secured from the German military authorities formal official assurance that all foodstuffs shipped into Belgium in the care of the committee and intended for the feeding of the impoverished civil population will be respected by the soldiery and not made the object of military requisition. It is now necessary to obtain permission from the English Government that foodstuffs may be shipped into Belgium. In view of this fact Gibson goes to London tomorrow with messages from the Spanish Minister and me to the respective ambassadors of our countries to lay the subject before them. Baron Lambert and M. Francqui, representing the Belgian Belief Committee, will accompany him to acquaint the Belgian Minister in London with the situation and ask him to present the matter to the British Government. Our hope is that the Belgian Minister can arrange, and if there be no impropriety in their so doing, that the American and Spanish Ambassadors may assist him in arranging for the passage of the provisions which the Committee is ready to buy.

I trust the Department will approve this course and further it by instructions to London. It is not money but food that is needed. If some appropriate means can be found to call the attention of our generous people at home to the plight of the poor in Belgium, I am sure that they will send succor and relief for the winter that is drawing near. It seems to me to be a work of mercy that will touch the hearts of those who are brought to understand it and give our people in America an opportunity to serve nobly in a high cause.




WHITLOCK TO PRESIDENT WILSON, urging American support of Belgian relief

16 October 1914

To American Ambassador, Berlin
Please forward to Washington


In two weeks the civil population of Belgium, already in misery, will face starvation. In view of this fact, and at the request of the Relief Committee, I venture to call your attention to my telegram to the Department dated 16 October in the conviction that your great heart will find some way by which America may help to provide food for these hungry ones in the dark days of the terrible winter that is coming on.

WHITLOCK, American Minister



"Note Verbale,"
GERMAN FOREIGN OFFICE TO AMBASSADOR GERARD, stating the German Government's approval of Belgian relief

16 October 1914

To the Ambassador of the United States of America, Berlin

In reply to your verbal note of the ninth of October, F.O. No. 759, the Foreign Office has the honor to inform you that the furnishing of foodstuffs for the poor of Belgium has the approval of the German Government.




LANSING TO PAGE FOR WHITLOCK, giving official approval to their actions in connection with relief of Belgium

WASHINGTON, 20 October 1914


359. Twentieth. For American Minister, Brussels, as Number 40. Twentieth. Your telegram October sixteenth, ten A.M., transmitted via London, regarding relief of Belgium. Department approves your action and has given instructions to the Ambassador at London to render you and your Spanish colleague every assistance.

Acting Secretary of State

[Telegram received 21st October 1914]



BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE TO PAGE, confirming that British Government are not stopping food supplies going to Rotterdam for civil population of Belgium

20 October 1914


Since our conversation this afternoon Sir Edward Grey has written to Baron Lambert telling him that we are not stopping any food supplies going to Rotterdam---from neutral countries in neutral ships---which we are satisfied are not for the use of the German Government or Army, and that we shall not therefore interfere with the food supplies for the civil population of Belgium unless we have reason to suppose that the assurance given by Marshal von der Goltz to the American and Spanish Ministers is not being carried out.

Baron Lambert thought that Rotterdam would be the most convenient port.

Yours sincerely

(Signed) A. NICOLSON


3. Progress in Relief Organization. October-November 1914



HOOVER TO PAGE, analyzing the problem of Belgian relief

LONDON, 20 October 1914


1.---It appears from our discussions that the problem in Belgium falls under the following heads:

(A) That the whole population of Belgium is normally dependent on imports for from 75 per cent to 80 per cent of its breadstuffs and for large proportions of other commodities, while the destruction and requisition of the last harvest by the army has rendered the situation even more acute.

(B) A considerable proportion of the population have resources with which to pay for their food, if some economic rehabilitation can be effected.

(C) That through the entire stagnation of industry, the stoppage of communications and the moratorium, there has been an enormous augmentation in unemployment, which, together with the displacement of the people, has produced unparalleled destitution, with the result that a large section of the population is unable to procure food and clothing without charitable help, even if such food exists in the country.

2.---The present position of attempts to ameliorate this situation is as follows:

(A) There have sprung up in Belgium a number of committees in various centers, engaged in local relief work, each one acting independently and in competition, mostly intent on solution of local cases, regardless of the whole problem.

(B) Some of these committees, including the Brussels Committee, have obtained undertakings from the German military authorities that they will not requisition food supplies imported for the service of these committees.

(C) Of the various committees which have sent representatives to England, the Brussels Committee has secured a permit to export 2,500 tons of foodstuffs from England.

(D) There are in the United States, the British Empire, and in various parts of the world a number of committees which have sprung up, interested in Belgian relief.

3.---The organization and solution of this problem necessitates:

(A) The expansion of undertakings by the military authorities not to requisition foodstuffs imported for any portion of Belgium and further to cease the requisition of native foodstuffs.

(B) The permit of the English authorities, conditional on importing foodstuffs in neutral ships from neutral ports, needs extension, so as to include the use of English ships.

(C) In order to provide for the proper distribution of foodstuffs and relief there must be a consolidation of organization in Belgium on national lines with sub-committees in the provinces and communes, under strong centralized control. The Brussels Committee embraces the strongest financial and administrative element in the country, and had already on the 15th inst. considered the question of expansion to the leadership in the creation of this national organization. To assist in the extension of an organization, and to provide an element of cohesion, additional American membership to that of Messrs. Heineman, Hulse, and Gibson must be recruited at once.

(D) In order to provide for the purchase and shipment of foodstuffs abroad, for the mobilization of charity throughout the world, and for the guardianship of the supplies in Belgium and the supply of American members to Belgian committees, an American Committee will be set up under the patronage of the American Ambassadors and Ministers, with a head office in London and branches in New York, Rotterdam, and elsewhere, as may become necessary.

(E) These two organizations, to co-operate intimately in the solution of the financial and charitable and administrative problems, should interlock by membership and support. Furthermore, it is impossible to handle the situation except with the strongest centralization and effective monopoly, and therefore the two organizations will refuse to recognize any element except themselves alone.

4.---It is absolutely necessary, in order to solve the financial situation outside of charity, to obtain from the belligerent governments permits for exchange transactions in and out of Belgium, and that in the first instance the organization should obtain possession of Belgian bank balances abroad, making counter-payments to the Belgian owners, from the sale of foodstuffs in Belgium, thus avoiding the actual transfer of money over the frontier. Furthermore, the organizations will require a large amount of working capital with which to buy foodstuff and put it in transit, and therefore an endeavor should be made to effect a loan in England, guaranteed by the Belgian banks, for this purpose.

In the matter of the care of the destitute, we have in hand £100,000 contributed by the Belgian Relief Fund at Le Havre, and have an assurance of a contribution of £100,000 from the British Government. These sums, however, will be wholly inadequate, and as the flow of public charity, no matter how great, will be irregular and of uncertain quantity, it is absolutely necessary to secure positive subventions from the Allied Governments in some form or other.

5.---The English Government has already given Mr. Shaler permission to purchase and export a small amount of foodstuffs to the city of Brussels. As this permission was for a very small quantity, it would be insufficient for the entire situation until we could get imports from overseas, and therefore we must seek further permits for emergency purposes.

6.---The present small permits for Brussels, granted by the British Government, stipulate that the food shall be shipped through the American Ambassador in London to the American Minister in Brussels. Such an arrangement is impracticable for the provision of the entire country, and it is therefore necessary to seek an arrangement with the Allied Governments whereby this guarantee can be carried out by the American Committee and its delegates in various centers in substitution of the Minister.

7.---It appears that there was a great deal of antagonism on the Part of the Allies to the introduction of foodstuffs into Belgium, as in their view it was the duty of the occupying army to feed the civil Population. On the other hand, it was certain that the occupying army would do nothing of the kind and that in order to maintain open a gateway into Belgium and at the same time protect the native food supply from further absorption by the occupying army, it would be necessary to create the widest possible feeling, both in the belligerent and in neutral countries, as to the rights of the Belgian population in this unparalleled case of an entire country, under practical siege, which was dependent normally upon importation for its food supply, that, therefore, one of the first duties of the American organization would be to create such public opinion as widely as possible, through the Press.

8.---As it is yet uncertain what absolute minimum monthly importation of food supplies would maintain the population alive, this matter must be investigated and reported upon at once.

(Signed) H. C. HOOVER



HOOVER TO WHITLOCK, describing the proposed organization and asking Whitlock's views

LONDON, 20 October 1914


As result of conference here between myself representing Americans in Brussels, Messrs. Baron Lambert and Francqui representing Comité together with Mr. Page we suggest that a purely American relief committee for Belgium be set up comprising Mr. Whitlock and Mr. Page and leading Americans in Brussels and London which committee would undertake systematic work of facilitating import of supplies under American Government Protection and especially to undertake proper and systematic expenditure of funds for Belgian relief now being raised in America. Such committee being properly recognized by the various governments concerned would put matters on permanent systematic neutral basis. Would be glad if Mr. Whitlock would communicate his views to Mr. Page.




Minutes of a meeting held at No. 1 London Wall Buildings, London, when the C.R.B. was organized

LONDON, 22 October 1914


Messrs. H. C. Hoover
Millard Hunsiker
John B. White
Clarence Graff
Edgar Rickard
Hugh S. Gibson
Millard Shaler
Captain J. F. Lucey

Mr. Hoover stated that the American Ambassador has asked him to set up an organization to carry into execution the engagements undertaken by the American Ambassadors in London and Brussels with regard to the importation of foodstuffs and relief generally for Belgium.

It was resolved:

1. That this body should constitute itself: "The American Commission for Relief in Belgium."

2. That the American Ambassadors in England, Belgium, and Holland should be Honorary Chairmen.

3. That Herbert Hoover should be Chairman.

4. That Daniel Heineman should be Vice-Chairman.

5. That Clarence Graff should be Treasurer.

6. That Millard Shaler and W. Hulse should be Honorary Secretaries.

7. That Mr. John B. White should take charge of the purchase and transportation of foodstuffs in England, Mr. Edgar Rickard should take charge of publicity, and Captain Lucey take charge of the Rotterdam office.

8. It was resolved that the members of the Committee should comprise the American Consuls in Rotterdam, Ghent, Brussels, Liège, Ostend, and London, and that offices should be opened in each of these Consulates for the Commission.

9. The Chairman reported that arrangements had been made for complete co-operation with the Comité Central de Secours et d'Alimentation Belge; that Messrs. Heineman and Hulse were already members of this Committee, and that it was the purpose of the American Commission to purchase and forward food supplies under their guardianship to the various branches of the Belgian Committee, and that the Belgian Committee has already placed at its disposal £120,000, and that foodstuffs had been purchased and charters entered into for its transport to Rotterdam.

10. A telegram was drafted to Mr. Thomas J. Ryan of New York and ordered to be dispatched.

11. The Chairman was requested to formulate a letter to the American Ambassador as to the organization of the Commission.



HOOVER TO THE AMERICAN PRESS, describing the organization of the C.R.B., its co-operation with the Belgian committee, and the immediate need of emergency relief

LONDON, 22 October 1914

At a meeting at the American Embassy today of all who are concerned in Belgian relief, including Emile Francqui and Baron Lambert of the Belgian committee,(12) the organization of the American commission was completed. In addition to Ambassador Page and the American Ambassadors at Brussels and The Hague the Spanish Ambassadors at Brussels and London joined the commission as honorary chairmen.

The commission consists of Herbert C. Hoover, who was head of the American refugees' committee in London, chairman; Daniel Heineman of Brussels, vice-chairman; Mr. Graff of the American relief committee, treasurer; Millard K. Shaler, who came to London as representative of Minister Brand Whitlock, and Mr. Hulse of Brussels, secretaries. J. B. White is to have charge of the purchase and exportation of foodstuffs. Captain Lucey will have charge of the Rotterdam office.

Other members of the committee are Messrs. Hunsiker [of London] and Gibson of the American Legation at Brussels, Mr. Rickard, and the American Consuls at London, Antwerp, Brussels, Ostend, Liège, and Ghent. The commission will have an office in each of these cities, as it is intended to assist in provisioning all Belgium. It will co-operate fully with the Belgian committee.

Food to the value of $250,000 already has been bought in the name of Ambassador Page and Minister Whitlock, and arrangements have been made to begin its distribution to the local Belgian branches on October 26. The commission has received considerable sums in addition to the various Belgian funds.

Operations in the market today revealed that owing to Great Britain's demands the food stocks here may not be depleted. Because of the restrictions on the exportation of food it is extremely difficult to find even emergency provisions here, and supplies from America are even more imperatively needed than was originally expected. The difficulties become more embarrassing in view of the insistent requests received by the commission today for the expeditious despatch of the supplies already obtained.

The supplies available at the relief stations in Brussels Monday were believed to be sufficient to last until Saturday, and these were available only because a certain quantity of wheat was received from Antwerp. That source is now exhausted. The commission learns that the food supply at Charleroi is exhausted and that the people are subsisting entirely on potato soup.

A representative of the relief committee at Liège arrived here today to make representations of the urgency there in consequence of the non-arrival of supplies. It is obvious that with the scarcity of foodstuffs in Holland it is impossible to get supplies on that side for more than emergency service. A stream of supplies must be started from America if the Belgians are to be saved from famine.

The commission emphasizes that it is essential that supplies be sent by neutral ships, arrangements having been made with Great Britain that such shipments will not be interfered with in entering the ports designated by the commission. Germany has given ample assurance to the American Legation at Brussels that the importation and distribution of food to the civilians in Belgium will not be interrupted.


Fig. 1. Letter, 25 February 1916, Ambassador Page to Hoover.



WHITLOCK TO PAGE, approving the organization and suggesting the. inclusion of the Spanish Minister at Brussels in the membership

BRUSSELS, 25 October 1914


October twenty-fifth. I am quite in accord with the proposal contained in Mr. Hoover's telegram October twentieth to organize an American relief committee to supply food to the civil population in Belgium. The name of the Spanish Minister here however should not be omitted from the organization. He has worked earnestly and efficiently and because of our friendship it would be embarrassing to me if he were to be made to suffer in his feelings by anything that might be interpreted as a slight. Thank you all for your cordial sympathetic and intelligent assistance.

WHITLOCK, American Minister



PAGE TO WALTER RUNCIMAN, introducing Hoover as acting under his direction in relief matters

LONDON, 26 October 1914

The Rt. Hon. Walter Runciman, M.P.
Board of Trade


In a conversation I had today with Sir E. Grey regarding relief supplies for Belgium he consented to my communicating with you direct on the subject. I accordingly venture to do so and ask permission to introduce to you Mr. H. C. Hoover of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, who is acting under my direction.

I understand that Mr. Hoover has today made application to the Board of Trade for permits for the exportation of supplies to Belgium* and I should be greatly obliged if their issue could be expedited.

Believe me, dear Mr. Runciman,

Yours sincerely


*Only the £30,000 worth that you kindly consent shall be allowed to go.



PAGE TO SECRETARY OF STATE, on formation of the Commission and advising that American committees should confer with Hoover

26 October 1914


The Commission of Belgian Relief working under diplomatic guidance of Spanish Ambassador here and myself has written assurance of the German military commander of Belgian territory held by the Germans that food sent them by this Commission will not be confiscated. So far as I know this assurance has not been given to any one else who may send food. No food can be exported from England or Holland, but the Netherlands Government has given this Commission permission to distribute food landed at Rotterdam through our agents to people in Belgian territory. Since food cannot be bought on this side the world, American committees should not send money but should confer with Hoover, Chairman of this Commission, care of this Embassy, regarding what kind of food to send and how to ship it. Commission has agents in every neighborhood in Belgium. It has in fact taken charge of practically all grocery stores. Money sent will be of no use. Food sent except through Commission may never reach Belgium or be confiscated.




HOOVER TO THE DIPLOMATIC PATRONS OF THE C.R.B., reporting on the progress made during the first week of the C.R.B.'s existence

LONDON, 3 November 1914

To Their Excellencies:


Honorary Chairmen, The Commission for Relief in Belgium

Your Excellencies:

This Commission, appointed by your good selves has on the 31st ultimo, completed its first week of organized effort and we therefore take this occasion to report to you the results so far attained and to set out the pressing necessities in this work.

We have now been, as you are aware, advised by our members in Belgium, who are co-operating with the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation, which has branches all over the country, that to all intents and purposes the food supply of Belgium is exhausted and that the problem now confronting us is of wider import than was originally expected, as it now amounts to the provisioning of the whole nation, rich as well as poor. They estimate that the absolute minimum of foodstuffs which will be required as from the 1st of November is 80,000 tons of cereals per month together with some amount of bacon or lard, this being calculated upon the provision of a ration per them of 10 oz. per capitum, or considerably less than one-half of a soldier's ration. This, as we informed you, is in contrast to the normal imports and products of Belgium of something over 250,000 tons of cereals per month.

We are also informed that the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation have, in co-operation with the various local authorities in Belgium, arranged to take possession of all private stores of foodstuffs in excess of three months' requirements in the hands of any one individual. There are probably not many of such stores, however, but the Comité wishes to be in a position to equitably distribute whatever there may be over the entire population.

We are able to furnish your good selves with a large amount of data as to the position of various communities in Belgium some of whose foodstuffs have already been exhausted for some days. We are however assuming that there will be secured a certain amount of supplementary food from these sources which will assist in getting over the temporary emergency until the provisioning efforts as a whole can be put on a more definite footing than at present, and the problem is so large that we are compelled in any event to risk this. We are therefore assuming that if we can deliver 40,000 tons during the month of November the situation could probably be kept going and violence can probably be prevented. We are convinced, however, that we must be prepared to deliver 80,000 tons monthly from the 1st December and that this will have to be maintained until the next harvest. The cost of this supply will be somewhere about £800,000 to £1,000,000 per month and while a great number of people in Belgium are believed to be able to pay for the food delivered we have yet to devise some method by which a country devoid of credit documents can translate some form of obligation into the purchase of goods. In any event it is not likely that more than one-half of the total sum involved can be paid in this form, even if we can find a method.

The positive food which we now have in sight under various arrangements which we have made is as follows:




Anticipated Arrival in Belgium Approximate Cost to This Commission Delivered in Belgium
Bought in London "Koblentz"
"Jan Blocks"
4,200 Nov. 3-7th £50,000
Bought in London Not yet secured 4,500 Nov. 12th 53,000
Rockefeller Foundation gift "Massapequa" 4,000 Nov. 20th 4,000
Bought in New York "Terschelling" 4,000 Nov. 24th 55,000
Novia Scotia gift "Tremorvah" 2,100 Nov. 18th 2,000
Joint purchase with DeForest Committee Unknown 4,000 Nov. 25th 35,000
Totals for November   22,800   £199,000
San Francisco ship   4,000 Dec. 25th £ 10,000
Chicago ship   4,000 Dec. 15th 10,000
Northwestern Miller ship   4,000 Dec. 30th 10,000
Probable for December   12,000   £30,000
Possible Australian meat ships  ?    

The total funds which we have available are as follows:

In hand

Contribution from the Comité National £ 20,000
Contribution through His Excellency Count de Lalaing 100,000


Subsidy from British Government 100,000
Total £220,000


You will see therefore that we have more than consumed our entire resources in the provision of the above and yet we show a deficiency of 17,200 tons for November delivery and 68,000 tons for December delivery. It has now become necessary and positively critical for us to have some sort of definite financial backing.

It appears to us that this emergency of provisioning a whole nation is of such an order that we cannot depend upon the efforts of private philanthropy for its positive solution and that the brunt of this must fall upon the three Governments which are so critically involved in this situation, viz.: Belgium, England, and France. Whilst every possible device to secure private philanthropy will be used by this Commission and no doubt will result, there still remains the fact that such a supply is not dependable and that if the situation is to be handled properly and systematically we have got to have a substratum of government subvention. It is useless to tell us that when we have expended some allotment of money that we can apply for more because if this problem is to be handled we have got to make arrangements now for future supplies for three or more months and we cannot depend on the "gifts of the gods" to meet such eventualities. For transportation purposes we must charter ships extending over months and we must be assured of eventual money to make up by purchase in the best markets of the world deliveries to supplement such deficiencies as may arise amongst our voluntary offerings, and furthermore in the securing of such voluntary offerings if we had behind us a solid substratum of income we could stimulate this quarter to very much greater advantage.

As you are aware we have forwarded an appeal to the American people by His Majesty King Albert. We have followed this with strong statements as to the position from ourselves. We have asked the Belgian Government to place at our disposal the money secured for Belgian Relief in the United States, and in order to organize the various efforts being made in America we have asked the governors of each of the large agricultural states to appoint a commission to collect and receive food in each of these territories. It would most materially assist this collection of food if we could say to these good people throughout the United States that this Commission will at its own cost undertake the entire transport of foodstuffs which may be secured. The value of cereal foodstuffs taken in bulk delivered into Belgium is between £10 and £12 per ton, of which something like £2 per ton may be taken as transport costs. Therefore, practically £5 of food will be secured for every pound of expenditure made in this manner. If it can be arranged that we have guaranteed subvention of this kind from the three Governments concerned assuring us a minimum of £400,000 per month we are confident that we can handle the situation, or by means of the differences on gifts of goods and the recovery on resale we should be able to make up the margin. This may be a tight squeeze but on the other hand it might be found that during the first flow of philanthropy we might not require the whole of this sum but as you will be well aware, it is almost impossible to keep such a flow stimulated for a period of eight months.

Yours faithfully

For the Commission

(Signed) H. C. HOOVER, Chairman



F. D. ACLAND IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, explaining the attitude of the British Government toward Belgian relief

HOUSE OF COMMONS, 18 November 1914

Earl of Ronaldshay asked the Prime Minister whether the British Government has given its consent to large shipments of flour and food being sent to Belgium by an American Committee; whether some of these foodstuffs are being shipped from the Port of London; and whether, seeing that Belgium is in German occupation and requisitions of food and money are constantly levied upon the inhabitants, he will say what steps are being taken to secure that these shipments shall not benefit the enemy?

Mr. Acland:(14) On the 16th October Marshal von der Goltz gave to the United States and Spanish Ministers at Brussels a written guarantee that foodstuffs imported into Belgium by the Relief Committee acting under their joint patronage for the maintenance of the civil population would not be requisitioned by the military, but would remain at the sole disposal of the committee. In consideration of this guarantee, and at the request of the United States, Spanish, and Belgian Governments, His Majesty's Government have undertaken not to interfere with shipments of foodstuffs from neutral countries in neutral bottoms consigned to the United States and Spanish Ministers at Brussels, or to the United States Consul at Rotterdam. I understand from the United States Ambassador that consignments shipped to the United States Consul at Rotterdam will be warehoused at that port and will be forwarded as need arises to the United States and Spanish Ministers at Brussels. His Majesty's Government have made a Grant of £100,000 to the Belgian Government for the purchase of foodstuffs towards the cost of these supplies. This undertaking does not apply to general shipments of foodstuffs from this country. Any application for permission to export foodstuffs to Belgium from the United Kingdom is, therefore, considered by the Board of Trade in each individual case in the same way and on the same principles as are held to govern other applications for permission to export articles the export of which is restricted or prohibited. Permits have, I believe, been given in certain cases to export foodstuffs to Belgium, consigned to the United States and Spanish Ministers at Brussels. Where a permit is so granted, the foodstuffs exported are, of course, protected by the guarantees which I have mentioned. I believe a great part of these food supplies are purchased by money subscribed in the United States to relieve distress of Belgians, and the greatest care is taken that it should go to that and to no other object.



GERMAN FOREIGN OFFICE TO GERARD, giving official approval to the C.R.B., and guaranteeing freedom from seizure to non-neutral vessels carrying supplies of the C.R.B. to Dutch ports

23 November 1914


The Foreign Office has the honor to inform the Embassy of the United States of America in answer to the verbal note of November 14, F.O. 1105, that the Imperial Government is in complete sympathy with the meritorious efforts of the American Commission in Belgium to provide the population of that country with foodstuffs. The imperial Government therefore---until further notice and with reservation of any recall which may become necessary at any time---gladly consents that the transportation of the said foodstuffs to Dutch harbors take place also in other than neutral vessels, and will grant in this case also the same guarantee for the disposition of the foodstuffs, according to agreement, as if the transportation had been made in neutral vessels. In order to obviate seizure by German war vessels at sea, it is advisable that such non-neutral vessels be provided with a certificate of a competent American authority, in which it is stated that the vessel carries foodstuffs which are to be brought through the agency of the American Commission for Relief with the consent of the German Government by way of Dutch harbors into Belgium for the supplying of the population there; and it is furthermore advisable that the non-neutral vessels also carry with them a pass from the Imperial German Ambassador in Washington to be issued on the basis of the aforesaid certificate.




Extract from
"Rapport du Comité Executif pour le mois de Novembre
1914," pp. 3-4, Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation

.... On the receipt of this letter(15) it was decided to send to London a delegation composed of Baron Lambert and Mr. Francqui. These gentlemen, accompanied by Mr. Gibson, Secretary of the United States Legation, were requested to lay before the British Government the desperate situation in which the country was as regards reserves of foodstuffs.

The object of this mission was principally to obtain the consent of the British Government, in view of the guarantees of the German Government, to authorize the importation into Belgium of all the products coming from neutral countries destined to the Belgian civil population. The English Government kindly gave the necessary authority on condition that the products which should be imported with the above mentioned object should be conveyed to the Belgian frontier under the protection of the representatives of Spain and the United States in London and The Hague and that from the frontier to the distribution warehouses in Belgium, the transport of these products should be made under the protection of the Ministers of Spain and the United States of America in Brussels.

Under these conditions there was no further obstacle to the formation of the Committee.

In consequence Baron Lambert and Mr. Francqui immediately consulted Mr. Page, United States Ambassador in London, on the measures to be taken to assure the feeding of Belgium.

The conclusion was quickly arrived at that the Comité National, in order to be in a position to accomplish its task, should be seconded by an organization abroad which, working under the patronage of the representatives of Spain and the United States in London, Berlin, Brussels, and The Hague, should purchase the food and assure its transport to the centers of distribution in Belgium.

This organization should also undertake a propaganda campaign to bring foreign nations to the aid of the Belgian population by means of gifts.

There existed in London at that time a committee under the presidency of Mr. Herbert Hoover which, at the commencement of the war, had been constituted at the instance of the United States Government to facilitate the repatriation of all the American subjects in Europe.

This committee, which had just accomplished its task, was about to dissolve. Ambassador Page, considering that it could render service to the new undertaking which had been projected, put Mr. Francqui in touch with Mr. Hoover, proposing to the latter to maintain the assembly which he had formed and to make it act for the revictualment of Belgium.

Mr. Hoover was good enough to accept this proposition. In the course of several interviews which they had together, Messrs. Hoover and Francqui laid the foundation of the new organization of which details will be found later on.

Baron Lambert and Mr. Francqui having achieved their mission returned to Brussels and reported to the Comité Central the result of their efforts.

The Comité Central immediately decided that nothing further prevented their assuming the task of aiding and feeding the country and constituted itself the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation.

The organization abandoned in consequence the direct administration of the organization created for the Brussels District and decided to consider in the future the said District of Brussels as one of the branches of the Comité National.


Chapter 2

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