World War I—Invasion of Belgium

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1914—August 4


For parishioners in 1914, the founding of the parish was a time of joy, but it was also marked by sadness and worry for loved ones back in the old country.

The Invasion of Belgium

On August 4, 1914 the Germans began an invasion of their Belgian homeland. 6,000 Belgians were killed, 25,000 homes and other buildings in 837 communities destroyed. 1,500,000 Belgians fled from the invading German army (20% of the entire Belgian population).2 Some of them eventually immigrated to the United States, and made their home in Allouez.

Support at Home

During the war, parishioners followed every detail of the Superior Telegram’s news articles and war maps depicting the fighting in Belgium, but were unable to track the whereabouts of parents and siblings in the old country, many of whom were suffering the horrors of war.

Although the wartime conditions prevented any to even consider returning to the old country, Fr. Hanssens was able to comfort them and give them the spiritual assistance they needed during this most difficult time.

The Belgian priest, who had studied English for two years while in seminary back home, was able to communicate to the Flemish speaking Belgians in Allouez what was being reported in the newspaper.

The Allouez Call to Arms

Eager to respond to the call of distress of their mother country and “fight for their King,” the August 7, 1914 edition of the Superior Telegram reported that “twenty sturdy sons of Belgium” left Allouez to take up arms against Germany. Most of these men had just been laid off at the Allouez ore docks. They were all single. It was the policy of the company to give preference to married men who had families to support.

Belgium Pride

Germany never did manage to occupy all of Belgium during World War I. After the evacuation of Antwerp and Ghent, the Belgian army retreated to the Yser River where they established an impregnable position in an area next to a tiny inland harbor.
The army’s relentless refusal to give up their homeland to the Germans, increased the national consciousness among the Belgians of Ss. Anthony and Margaret Parish.
During the war, they and other Belgian Americans gave so generously to the victims of the war, that an official delegation from Belgium was sent to the United States in 1917 to honor their efforts.

In recent years, WW-I aerial reconnaissance “before and after” photos of Belgium have surfaced showing the destruction (click on photos to enlarge). The top photo shows the town of Passchendaele in 1916. In the town’s center along a curving road is a church. Houses are strung along the roads with a lovely quilt of farmland and pasture all around. The bottom photo shows the same area in 1917.

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