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A Neutral Army Prepares for the Great War

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A Dutch mobile artillery unit crosses a brook

(Picture made in 1914 in the province of Noord-Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands, bordering Belgium)

Only ten countries managed to stay neutral during World War I

Defending An Unstable Peace

By Rob Ruggenberg

( Click on the thumbnails below to get a full view )

Crossing the
brook with guns
and horses

Argentina, Chile, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Venezuela, Sweden and Switzerland.

Only these countries were neutral during the Great War 1914-1918. The rest of the world conducted war with each other.

Following the adage that he who wants peace prepares for war, the small Dutch army exercised continuously. In the East Holland bordered to Germany and in the south to German-occupied Belgium. The heavy gunfire in Flanders was heard in Holland every day. The Belgian battlefields were no more than 40 km's away (about 26 miles).

German soldiers
deliver up their
arm when interned
in the Netherlands

When the war broke out more than one million Belgian refugees fled to Holland. Thousands of soldiers, from both sides, followed them. They crossed the border because the enemy had them encircled, like it happened to 2,000 British marines at Antwerp.

All foreign soldiers arriving in The Netherlands were disarmed and interned in camps where they were to stay during rest of the war. The picture on the left (click on it to see it larger) shows the disarmament of German infantry-troops who had fled across the Dutch border. The German soldiers called this place the graveyard, because of the bayonets that were put into the ground.

A Dutch Mobile
Pigeon Station

The Dutch government had mobilized 500.000 man to reinforce the regular army. They guarded the borders and filled their days with exercising and polishing...

There were many incidents in which war-countries were involved. England for instance, bombed - by accident - the Dutch port of Zierikzee.

And German U-boats torpedoed and sank many Dutch ships - even one that transported German prisoners-of-war from England to the Netherlands.

In spring 1915 the Germans erected an dreadful electric fence between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands. The 2,000 Volts wire ran almost 200 Km (125 Miles) long through villages, orchards, meadows, woodland, over brooks - even over the river Meuse. The height of the construction was over 3 meters. How many people the fence killed is unknown. Estimates vary from 2,000 to 3,000.

Dutch Queen
on horseback

The word neutral comes from ne uter (=none of both), but in the Netherlands making a choice was a near thing: commander-in-chief General C.J. Snijders had a strong liking for the 'invincible' Germany.

Because of his attitude the government several times tried to get rid of the general, but Queen Wilhelmina kept on backing her CIC. The queen was fond of the army and often visited the troops and observed exercises.

On the picture on the left the 35 years old queen is accompanied by some high-ranking officers and a lady of the court.

Dutch mines
had to protect
neutrality in
coast waters

To maintain neutrality the Netherlands laid mines in coastal waters, to prevent hostile landings.

Three times (in 1916, 1917 and 1918) Germany considered occupying the Netherlands. In that case the allied countries without doubt would have invaded the country from the seaside.

Germany eventually refrained from invading Holland, also because of the foodsupplies that continuously flowed from this country. This trade made some merchants in Holland very rich. They were called OW'ers, meaning 'oorlogswinst-makers': war-profiteers. Until this very day OW'er is considered a harsh term of abuse in Holland.

Innumerable mines
washed ashore

In the Netherlands there are some cemeteries where victims of the Great War are buried. Many were sailors who fell at sea. Others are civilians or navy-personnel who died at the beaches where countless mines washed ashore.

The picture shows two men of the Dutch Royal Navy on a beach in the province of Zeeland dismantling a seamine.

A telephone-post
of the
of the 4th Division

Maintaining neutrality caused discord among the inhabitants of the Netherlands. The population was divided, as were the politicians.

Many people still bore a grudge to England because of the Boer War, fifteen years earlier, when thousands of Boers (Dutch descendants) in South-Africa had been killed by British soldiers.

preaching to
officers, men
and civilians

There was also a lot of discontent among the soldiers. Only at the end of the war they were brought into real action. They had to strike down hunger revolts in some of the larger cities...

The picture left shows an Dutch army-chaplain delivering a sermon to officers and men of the Second Division. The place is a farm-yard somewhere in the southern province of Noord-Brabant.

Pay attention to the somewhat reserved interest of the farmer in the door-way and the other no-doubt catholic countrymen right back. The visible throng suggests that there is much more public than the picture shows.

Almost every prayer in that time begged for peace. It took four long years and 37,000,000 casualties before these humble prayers came true.

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