As America takes the opportunity to honor her military veterans throughout history, we’ve come upon a great milestone. Veterans Day 2018 marks a full century since the end of World War I. World War I remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, with casualties reaching almost 40 million. While the destruction and hardship faced by both the soldiers on the frontline and the civilians across Europe whose lives were changed forever deservedly receive the majority of the attention, there were also signs of humanity and generosity in the face of such violence and hardship.
One of those lesser-known stories is that of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, an American-led humanitarian effort in both Belgium and northern France, a region that faced some of the deadliest carnage during the war. With the help of some young and idealistic Americans, almost 10 million people, facing the prospect of starvation behind German lines, were saved. Starting from nothing, the CRB initiated, organized, and supervised a food relief plan so large that it had never been seen before in the world.
The story of the CRB and the brave souls behind hit will be told with the release of WWI Crusaders, which is available starting today. The book includes some never-before-seen photographs from the relief effort, showing not only the destruction caused by the war but the survival of humanity in a place that had seen so much pain.
Take a look at some of the powerful, previously-unseen images discussed in the book, pictures of those who committed themselves to helping others and photos of those who were saved by this heretofore unseen relief effort, with captions provided by the author of WWI Crusaders, historian Jeffrey B. Miller.
Belgians stand outside one of the shops of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) where one-off items brought in by the relief program were sold to those who could afford them. Prices were set so that each item brought a small profit that was used to provide food for those who could not afford anything (Public domain; War Bread, E. E. Hunt, Henry Holt & Co., 1916).
Each CRB food relief ship was outfitted with large signs on both sides to alert German U-boats that it was not an enemy vessel. Even with the promised protection from the German government, the CRB were not immune from attack. Numerous vessels were sent to the bottom with their electric CRB signs blazing and their large banners prominently displayed (Public domain; A Journal from Our Legation in Belgium, Hugh Gibson, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1917).
Belgian children were the most affected by the war and the relief program did them the most good. They were usually fed in the schools they attended and were provided with at least one meal a day that consisted of a hearty vegetable soup, one thick slice of bread, and one glass of milk if available (Public domain; Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Archives, West Branch, Iowa).