THE capture of Antwerp is the culminating point of the Belgian tragedy. But the end has not come yet, nor the beginning of the end. The Belgian Government retired to Le Havre, and maintained the continuity of the machinery of government with the fiction of exterioriality. The main Belgian army retired to the coast and to the extreme corner of West Flanders under the leadership of the ” Hero-King.” The Belgian army, which after two months of ceaseless fighting had earned the right to take a rest, instead claimed the right of marching into the line of
battle. Ever since the Belgian troops have borne the brunt of the fighting on the Yser, helping the Allies in holding back the German advance and barring the way to Calais. In the words of Mr. Gibbs : ” The Belgian resistance During all those deadly days the Germans continued their work of vandalism. One after another the beautiful coast towns, once the favourite resorts of the German middle classesMiddelkorke, Westende, Nieuport fell a prey to the flames. The inland Flemish cities, Dixmude and Roulers, were totally wiped out. In Roulers alone a thousand civilians were killed in the streets or whilst taking refuge in underground cellars.
THE appalling destruction achieved within the last few days is only an indication of what is certain to follow in the near future. In this connexion let us be under no delusion. In proportion as the Belgian resistance is more heroic, in proportion as the Allies succeed in driving back the Germans, the Belgian people themselves are bound to suffer more. The worst is still before us. Each victory of the Allies will have to be paid for by additional sufferings on the part of the Belgians. Before the end of November the whole of Belgium will probably be transformed into one huge military camp occupied in the north and east by 2,000,000 of Germans and in the south and west by 2,000,000 of Allied armies. The Germans will make a desperate stand. They know too much of the horrors of war not to strive their utmost to keep their own country clear of the enemy. They will be entrenched behind a formidable ring of fortresses. They will have to be bombarded out of Antwerp, Namur, and Liége. They will even have to be bombarded out of Brussels, for even Brussels has become a fortified city. Guns will be mounted upon the Cathedral of Sainte Gudule. The most beautiful church of Belgium, the most perfect town hall of Europe, will share the fate of the Cathedral of Reims and of the belfry of Arras, and the fate of Brussels is most probably to be the fate of all the remaining cities of Belgium.
Once again I recall the words of King Albert to me in Antwerp : “When victory comes to our armies, what will remain of hapless Belgium ? ”
BELGIUM will have lost everything; The material drama and the destruction of thousands of cities and villages, the total collapse of industry and trade, are incalculable. The damage to the monuments, sacred to Art and Religion, is not only incalculable, but irreparable. The sufferings inflicted upon millions of people baffles imagination, but the moral and spiritual gain is equally inestimable. Belgium will have proved to all the world her determination and her right to exist as a free nation. She will have earned the sympathy and admiration of the whole world. She will have left an inspiring example to posterity. She has lost everything, but she has saved her own soul, and she has saved the liberties of Europe.
AND, therefore, from the crumbling ruins, from the ruins and the ashes of the Belgium of today, a new and nobler Belgium will arise. The new Belgium will not be greater in territory, it is unlikely that Belgium will receive much accession of territory. There may be some rectification of boundaries in the Belgian Congo. The African colony may be made secure against any future encroachments of the German enemy. The mouth of the Scheldt may be declared either neutral or Belgian water, with due compensation to Holland, but Belgium will remain a small country ; but if she remains a small country she will become by unanimous consent a great nation, great from the conscience of her duty, nobly performed, of sufferings heroically borne, from an unshaken confidence in the future, strong with the strength tested in a score of battlefields, with unshaken confidence in the future.
And, therefore, Belgium can look forward with every confidence to the work of reconstruction. Thousands of villages are to be rebuilt. Thousands of farms have to be reconstructed and restocked. Tens of thousands of crofters will have to be assisted. But more difficult than the rebuilding of burning villages and cities will be the rebuilding of the complex fabric of trade and industry. And that fabric will have to be built mainly with British material, whereas in the past it was built mainly with German material. It is mainly with the assistance of British capital that Belgian industries will have to be reconstructed. Belgium will afford a splendid field for British enterprise. The economic motive will combine with the patriotic motive, to send British capital to Flanders. But stronger even than the bond of commercial interest will be the strength of the intellectual and moral bond. The study of the English language will become a compulsory subject for every Belgian school, and a new generation of Belgian schoolboys will arise taught to appreciate the literary achievements of the British race. The indelible memory of common sufferings in a sacred cause, of a chivalrous brotherhood in arms, the conscience of common political ideals, the same indomitable love of freedom, will weld the two nations together, and the British-Belgian Alliance will become a powerful factor in the future destiny of Europe.