Flour sacks. The art of charity

My article ” Flour sacks. The art of charity” has been published in the 2020 Yearbook of the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres!

English translation in the Yearbook 2020 In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

In the summer of 2019, I conducted research into the decorated WWI flour sacks in the museum’s collection*). The museum possesses 23 original flour sacks, eight of those have been included in Flanders’ List of Masterpieces as unique heritage items.

In my article, I report in word and image on my discoveries and give historical context to the Ypres collection of flour sacks. The following topics are discussed: the supply of food to Belgium; the US charities with a graph of contributions by state; Madame Lalla Vandervelde, her journey through America and successful appeal for aid to the Belgians; examples of the Belgian charities with an infographic showing dozens of sales exhibitions of flour sacks held between 1915-1925; girls’ education in vocational schools with unique photos of their lessons; German censorship on decorated flour sacks.

My conclusion is: decorated flour sacks are the symbol of the many charities run and supported by Belgian women and girls during the occupation, besides the symbol of food aid and gratitude.

The IFFM Yearbook 2020 is beautifully designed by Manu Veracx. The original Dutch article with 17 color and 7 black and white illustrations, is fully translated in English by Marc Hutsebaut; it covers 9 pages.

You can order the IFFM Yearbook 2020 here.

Collection flour sacks In Flanders Fields Museum. Artistic photo collage: Annelien van Kempen, April 2020. IFFM Yearbook 2020

*) Marc Dejonckheere interviewed me for VIFF Magazine, magazine of The Friends of the In Flanders Fields Museum; “The emotions of the flour sack” was published in September 2019.

One million bags of flour from Canada

I spent this past May reading and browsing the archive of The British Newspaper Archive. In collaboration with The British Library, this platform provides access to the largest online collection of British and Irish historical newspapers. The archive also contains some Canadian newspapers.

“Million bags of flour from Canada”
You can imagine my surprise when I came across a collection of English and Irish articles in August 1914 with the headline: “MILLION BAGS OF FLOUR FROM CANADA”.
A million bags of flour from Canada?!

The Scotsman, August 10th, 1914

The newspapers reported on the Canadian government’s donation to the people of the United Kingdom during the first weeks of the war.

“The Board of Trade announces that the following telegraph communicatons have passed between the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada, and the Secretary for the Colonies: “I am desired by my Government to inform you that the people of Canada, through their Government desire to offer one million bags of flour of ninety-eight pounds each as a gift to the people of the United Kingdom, to be placed at the disposal of His Majesty’s Government, and to be used for such purposes as they may deem expedient. This size is most convenient for transportation. The first shipment will be sent in about ten days, and the balance as soon as possible afterwards. – ARTHUR.”
Received 6.40 A.M., 7th August.
Reply sent:
12.45 P.M. 7th August.
Your telegram, 6th August. His Majesty’s Government accept on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom with deep gratitude the splendid and welcome gift of flour from Canada, which will be of the greatest use in this country for the steadying of prices and the relief of distress. We can never forget the promptitude and generosity of this gift and the patriotism from which it springs. – HARCOURT[i]

The first bags of flour were readied in the Canadian mills on August 20th. On September 9th, 1914, 50,000 bags of flour had already arrived in Liverpool. Each bag was printed in color with large letters “FLOUR. CANADA’S GIFTʼ.

The first load of 50,000 bags of flour has arrived in Liverpool on an “Allan Liner” and is stored in a warehouse. The Daily Citizen, September 14th, 1914

The background of the impressive donation turned out to be considerations of financial nature. “In the work of financing the exports of grain and flour from Canada, the arrangement completed by the Bank of England, under which the Canadian Minister of Finance has become the depository of important gold reserves which otherwise would have been shipped across to England, is of high importance, as the large sums paid into the Treasury at the Canadian capital can be paid out to exporters of produce from the Dominion. The effect of this will be to relieve the financial tension considerably.” [ii] 

Another message explained, in my words, the dual purpose of controlling bread prices and the ability to come to the aid of the poor.
What use is to be made of Canada’s Gift is under the consideration of the Government, but it is thought it will be used for the dual purpose of easing the market and relieving distress.”[iii]

Steamer Riversdale arrived in Cardiff loaded with “Canada’s Gift of Flour” on October 5th, 1914. Still from film clip “Riversdale”, Ireland’s share in Canada’s Gift of Flour. Archive: Reuters, October 19th, 1914

The bags of flour were mainly stored in the ports of London and Liverpool.

Steamer Riversdale arrived in Cardiff loaded with a portion of the Canadian gift of flour to Great Britian. Dublin Daily Express, October 6th, 1914

But the ports of Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast also had flour from the Canadian donation in storage. The Port Authorities had undertaken to warehouse the gift of flour as long as necessary without charge. The Food supply management was entrusted to the Local Government Board, which was to establish a method for distributing flour to the population; it turned out to be an issue that had not yet been decided. The total value of the donation was estimated at half a million pounds sterling.

Film footage of the unloading of bags of flour in the British port of Cardiff has been preserved in the historical Reuters collection and is available online at “British Pathé”. The steamship Riversdale from Sunderland came from Montreal, Canada, and docked in Cardiff in October 1914. The title of the 30-seconds film clip is “Ireland’s share in Canada’s Gift of Flour.”

Unloading of flour bags from steamer Riversdale in Cardiff. Still from film clip ‘Riversdale’, Ireland’s share in Canada’s Gift of Flour. Archive: Reuters, October 19th, 1914

“Canada’s magnificent gift to this country of 1,000,000 bags of flour will come in the main to London and Liverpool. Its care will be taken over by the Relief Committee of the Local Government Board and the Regulation of Food Prices Committee of the Board of Trade. At present no decision has been reached as to the exact method by which the gift is to be utilized. The approximate value of the flour at wholesale prices is £ 500,000. The Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board have undertaken to warehouse it as long as necessary without charge.”[iv]

Unloading of flour bags from steamer Riversdale, Cardiff. Still from film clip ‘Riversdale’, Ireland’s share in Canada’s Gift of Flour. Archive: Reuters, October 19th, 1914

Donations from the Canadian provinces
Canada provided more gifts. The Canadian provinces donated food and fuel. Alberta donated 500,000 bushels of oats, Quebec, the French-speaking province, 4,000,000 lbs of locally made cheese. Nova Scotia donated 100,000 tons of coal. British Columbia contributed with 25,000 cases of canned salmon and New Brunswick 100,000 bushels of potatoes. Ontario’s gift was £ 100,000 to be spent with them by the British government as needed.[v]

Manitoba’s Gift

Souvenir Flour Sack “Manitoba’s War Gift”. Archives of Manitoba, Ethel Hart Collection, Winnipeg, Canada

The province of Manitoba donated flour to the Motherland: “MANITOBA’S GIFT. The War Press Bureau announce that the Colonial Office has accepted an offer of flour from Manitoba.“[vi]

“The Government of Manitoba has awarded the contracts for its gift of flour to all the principal mills at a cost of 2 dollars 90 cents and lower. The flour is the finest the province produces and will be rigidly inspected. It will be ready by October 20th. – Press Association War Special[vii]


“Bags are sold for 5 shillings each”
My surprise at the one million bags of flour from Canada increased as I read a letter from a housewife in Dundee, Scotland. Immediately after the first report of the donation of one million bags of flour to the United Kingdom, she had an idea for the use of the empty flour bags. She wrote a letter to the local newspaper on August 25th.

“Flour Bag Souvenirs”, suggestion of a Dundee Housewife, Scotland. The Courier, August 28th, 1914

“Every housewife knows what a great many useful things can be made out of flour bags, and one of the gift bags would be a lasting souvenir of this great war…” DUNDEE HOUSEWIFE
August 25, 1914”[viii]

The suggestion has to have been embraced with enthusiasm and broad support, because from mid-September on, the newspapers published a stream of calls to subscribe to the sale of flour bags. The proceeds went to charity.

The sacks are all marked ‘FLOUR. CANADA’S GIFT’. Photo: The Manchester Guardian History of the War Vol. III-1915. London, John Heywood Ltd., 1915 

Sacks to be Sold at 5/- Each.
Canada is making a splendid gift of flour to the Mother Country. It has been decided that the sacks, when empty, shall be sold as souvenirs at 5s. each. Two-thirds of this sum will be devoted to the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund (N.R.F.) and one-third to the Belgian Refugees Fund (B.R.F.). The sacks are all marked ‘Canada’s Gift.’
Applications for the sacks as souvenirs, accompanied by a remittance of 5s. should be sent to the National Relief Fund. Applications will be dealt with in strict rotation.[ix]

Sales offer and suggestions how to use the emptied Canadian flour sacks. Evening Despatch, October 31st, 1914

Next an informative article appeared about the sale of the empty flour sacks. Its headline was “CANADA’S GIFT SACKS. HOW TO BUY THEM AND HOW TO USE THEM.“[x]
For interested parties, 10,000 empty flour sacks became available starting December 9th, 1914. The specification of the sacks was as follows: 98 lbs sacks, made of gray calico (sturdy fabric of unbleached cotton). Dimensions were 36 inches high and 18 inches wide, or cut open, 36 inches wide. One side of the sack read in colored large print letters “FLOUR. CANADA’S GIFT.”

Lovers of the flour bags made suggestions for use. The material could be embroidered and cushion covers could be made. In particular, it was mentioned that Red Cross hospitals could use it to make their cushion covers, and even mattress covers for cots. Some wanted to hang a flour sack at their political club, another club or in schools. The suggestion was to make a copy available to all museums. With the approaching Christmas season, the idea arose to designate the bags as “Christmas gift bags”. And a very ingenious housewife planned to cut up her flour sack to prepare her Christmas puddings.

In December, a Canadian newspaper concluded with the headline “Selling the Sacks. How Canada Achieved a Double Purpose.”: “Thus, Canada has benefited the Motherland two-fold by her generous contribution. Not only has she helped to feed England, but she has also, by this gift, helped to swell those two very deserving funds (the National Relief Fund and the Belgian Relief Fund) now so prominently before the public.”[xi]


Chester Chronicle, December 26th,  1914

On December 26th, 1914, the shipment of empty flour bags to the buyers had started. The marking of each bag was: “N.R.F., B.R.F., 1914” as proof that the proceeds from the sale were destined for the National Relief Fund and the Belgian Relief Fund.[xii]

Within a month, two photos of a decorated Canadian flour sack appeared in Sheffield newspapers.

Decorated Canadian flour sack transformed into a cushion by a lady in Sheffield. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, January 23rd, 1915

The first picture showed a flour sack transformed into a cushion with a pen drawing of a dog, a bulldog, with a British flag in its mouth. The dog is sitting on a piece of paper, next to it is written “Scrap of Paper”. The canvas bears the stamp “NRF, BRF, 1914”. A lady from Sheffield made the pillow.[xiii]

Decorated Canadian flour sack transformed into a cushion by a lady in Sheffield. The Sheffield Daily Independent, January 23rd, 1915

The second photo showed a pillow that read “FLOUR. CANADAʼS GIFT.” It was also decorated with a pen drawing, now with flowers.[xiv]
Both photos may have been of one and the same cushion, front and back, respectively. The same corded edge and the two tassels on the corners would suggest this to be the case.

Sheffield Independent, January 16, 1915

January 25th, 1915 an auction was held for the benefit of the Belgian Refugees Fund during the Bohemian Concert at the Royal Victoria Hotel. The decorated flour sack was to be sold there and the proceeds benefited the local Belgian refugees.


Canada’s Gift to Belgium: More Sack Souvenirs
The British newspapers provided me with a third surprise.
I kept reading the Sheffield newspapers and saw an article about aid from Canada for the Belgian refugees in England.
Canada’s Gift for Belgians.
Sheffield’s share of the gift of flour, potatoes, and cheese which Canada has sent for the Belgian refugees who have settled in England, is being distributed to the various areas and bases at which the refugees are residing, and will from these different centres be divided among the individual recipients.”[xv]

Immediately afterwards, empty Canadian flour sacks were once again in the spotlight, in particular the specimens that had been donated filled with flour to the Belgian refugees.

Canadese Sack Souvenirs. Manchester Evening News, January 25th, 1915

“The sacks containing the flour sent by Canada as a gift to the Belgians are attracting considerable notice, and like those which contained the Dominion’s gift to England, are being sold as souvenirs. The colours used on the bags are those of Belgium – red, yellow and black -and the words printed thereon are “To the Belgian people, God bless them. Canada’s gift.” In years to come these will not be readily parted with.”[xvi]

Canadian flour sacks decorated in Great Britain
Hardly recovered from my surprise, I draw a remarkable conclusion from all these newspaper reports: Canadian flour sacks in the skilled hands of enthusiasts in Great Britain will have provided the example and inspiration for selling empty flour sacks and decorating the sacks in Belgium. Through the charity and work for Belgian refugees, ideas must have crossed the Channel well before any food aid reached occupied Belgium.


[i] The Scotsman, Augustus 10th, 1914, South Wales Gazette, August 14th, 1914

[ii] Newcastle Journal, September 9th, 1914

[iii] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, September 9th, 1914

[iv] Millom Gazette, September 11th, 1914

[v] The Cornish Telegraph, September 3th, 1914

[vi] Western Chronicle, September 11th, 1914

[vii] Sheffield Evening Telegraph, October 6th, 1914

[viii] The Courier, August 28th, 1914

[ix] Sheffield Evening Telegraph, September 24th, 1914

[x] Evening Despatch, October 31st, 1914

[xi] Whitby Gazette, December 18th, 1914

[xii] Chester Chronicle, December 26th, 1914

[xiii] Sheffield Daily Telegraph, January 23rd, 1915

[xiv] The Sheffield Daily Independent, January 23rd, 1915

[xv] Sheffield Daily Telegraph, January 11th, 1915

[xvi] Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter, January 15th, 1915

“Fröbelen” with a Mons’ diptych

In Mons in the Belgian province of Hainaut, the Mons Memorial Museum (MMM) has a collection of nine decorated WWI flour sacks. The curator, Corentin Rousman, sent me the photo of a special diptych of decorated flour sacks in the museum’s depot.

Diptych of decorated flour sacks: “Portland, The Jobes Milling Co., St. Johns, Oregon” and “Coeur d’Alene, Shoshone County, Idaho” at the Mons Memorial Museum. Collection MMM

The decorated flour sacks in the Mons’ diptych are:
Left: “PORTLAND, The Jobes Milling Co., St. Johns, Portland, Oregon”;
Right: “Belgium Relief donated by Coeur d’Alene Mining District, Shoshone County, Idaho, U.S.A.

The diptych was due for restoration and according to information from the museum (autumn 2019) it would be restored in the restoration studio of TAMAT in Tournai.

View of St. Johns across the Willamette River. The Jobes Milling Co. is the lighter building on the left front of the river. Photo: Pdx.History.com website

The left panel of the Mons’ diptych: “Portland, The Jobes Milling Co.” 

Diptych, left panel. Decorated flour sack “PORTLAND, The Jobes Milling Co., St. Johns, Portland, Oregon”, embroidered. Coll. MMM

The flour sack from St. Johns, a place located next to the port city of Portland, Oregon, bears a powerful image of a steamship surrounded by knotted ship rope. The printing is carefully embroidered. The patriotic element in the embroidery is the color combination red, yellow, black.

Grain Vessels from all parts of the world in Portland Harbor, circa 1910. Photo: City of Portland Archives Image 002.2042 from George Kramer’s report, p. 15

Portland was known as an important port in the western US, from where grain was shipped to destinations around the world. The Panama Canal, which opened in August 1914, shortened the distance to Europe by 8,000 nautical miles. The history of the significance of grain for this port city is described in the report ‘Grain, Flour and Ships. The Wheat Trade in Portland, Oregon’ by George Kramer,  April 2019.

The “The Jobes Milling Co.” mill in St. Johns, Portland, Ore. Photo: Pdx.History.com website

The Jobes Milling Co. was founded in 1904 by William Van Zant Jobes, he died in 1907, after which two sons continued the company. Allan R. Jobes was the owner in the period 1914-1918, he must have been the one to have contributed to food aid for Belgium. The mill’s building was demolished in 1930.

Jersey Street in St. Johns, early 1900. Photo: website Pdx.History.com

The right panel of the Mons’ diptych: “Coeur d’Alene Mining District, Shoshone County”

Diptych panel on the right. Decorated flour sack “Belgium Relief donated by Coeur d’Alene Mining District, Shoshone County, Idaho, U.S.A.”, embroidered. Coll. MMM

Shoshone County, located in Wallace, was the governing body of the mining district “Coeur d” Alene” in the state of Idaho. The area had a modest start as a goldmining district in the early 1880s. However, it was not long before the enormous potential of silver mines was discovered; the district quickly developed into “Silver Valley”.

Miners of the silver mine in Kellogg, Shoshone County, Idaho. Photo: Idaho Mines, website miningartifacts.org

In 1914, a collection effort for Belgian Relief took place, after which flour in sacks with this printing was sent to Belgium.

Crowned Belgian lion in cross stitches embroidered on the flour sack “Coeur d’Alene Mining District”. Coll. MMM

The crowned Belgian lion in cross stitches
The flour sack “Coeur d’Alene” has its lettered print emphasized by decorative embroidery. The embroiderer has added two designs of her own: the year 1917 decorated with ribbon and the patriotic addition of the Belgian lion.

The Belgian lion wears a golden yellow crown, the embroidery is executed in cross stitches. This is remarkable and refers to a young embroiderer who made the embroidery at school.

Decorated flour sack “American Commission”, embroidered: “Thanks Anderlecht Brussels”. Coll. HHPLM

Similar crowned Belgian lions in cross stitches are found on embroidered flour sacks in other collections with reference to embroiderers and schools. Marcus Eckhardt, curator of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, drew my attention to this phenomenon.

Three fine examples of embroidered flour sacks in their collection are:

Decorated flour sack “American Commission”, embroidered: “Hommage et remerciements d’ Anderlecht 14-15”. Coll. HHPLM. Photo: A. Bollaert

American Commission” with the embroidery “Thanks Anderlecht Brussel“;

“American Commission” with the embroidery “Hommage et remerciements d’Anderlecht” with a coat of arms bearing the years 14-15, flanked by two Belgian lions [1];

Decorated flour sack “American Commission”, embroidered with Belgian coat of arms. Signature S. Dufour. Coll. HHPLM

American Commission” with the embroidery of the Belgian coat of arms, black with yellow, crowned Belgian lion, signed “S. Dufour, Ecole moyenne de St. Gilles, Brussels”.



A private collection in Belgium contains the cardboard embroidery book of “Maria Louis”, she was a student at the Ecole Normale de la Ville de Liège in the ‘Cours normal Fröbel 2e année pour le diplôme d’institutrice gardienne’.

Cross stitched embroidery on cardboard in the album of Maria Louis, “Cours normal Fröbel”, second year, teacher training for pre-school education in Liège, 1920

Apparently one of the exercises in the book was a cross stitched pattern of the Belgian lion. Thanks to Frieda Sorber, former curator of MoMu-Fashion Museum Antwerp, who sent me the photo. She saw this educational embroidery on cardboard in an album, created during the teacher training for pre-school education in Liège, 1920.

Cours normal Fröbel” was a title that required further investigation. Until now, I only knew the Dutch expression “fröbelen” or “froebelen” as a verb in the sense of “non-committal work, taking part in silliness“. I have considered my interest and working on “sacks”, especially in the early days, as a passion in “froebelen“, in this somewhat derogatory meaning.

Friedrich Froebel. Photo: Friedrich-Froebel-Museum website

But here’s what the Liège embroidery in the cardboard book has taught me: Friedrich Froebel (1782-1853) was a German pedagogue of Romanticism, famous as a nursery teacher, theoretician behind “playful learning” [2]. Parents and educators were extremely enthusiastic about the braiding, folding, modeling, cutting, singing and weaving. In 1925, for example, the city of Amsterdam already had fifteen Froebel schools!

Playful learning. “Fröbelen” with a Mons diptych. Again, this blog was created in the spirit of Friedrich Froebel!


[1] The decorated flour sacks from Anderlecht, Brussels, come from the ‘Ecole Libre des Sœurs de Notre Dame Anderlecht’, still an educational institute.

[2] According to Bakker, Noordman et al., “Vijf eeuwen opvoeden in Nederland. Idee en praktijk 1500-2000. (Five centuries of parenting in the Netherlands. Idea and practice 1500-2000)“. Assen, Van Gorcum, 2010.
See also “Fröbelen“, meaning and definition (in Dutch) by Ewoud Sanders, language historian and journalist.

The Friedrich-Froebel-Museum is located in Bad Blankenburg, Germany.


“Sacks are full of memories. Every sack cherishes a precious and fragile story.”


Belgian embroiderers in Mons

My search for one specific image: women who are actually embroidering flour sacks has been successful! This is the photo: two Belgian embroiderers holding embroidery needles and the flour sacks they were working on.

Decorated flour sacks from WWI: Belgian embroiderers in Mons

The ladies were posing for the photographer with a series of original printed, unprocessed flour sacks in the background, probably in 1915. The location was Mons, the capital of the province of Hainaut. The women were committed to the charity work for prisoners of war, the “Mallette du Prisonnier”.

May 4, 2020, Monday afternoon, the long-sought photo ended up in my mailbox, sent spontaneously by Rob Troubleyn. What a gift! Rob Troubleyn is a specialist in the history of the Belgian Army during WWI at the In Flanders Fields’ Knowledge Center in Ypres. Rob is one of the leaders of the “100 years of the First World War” project of VRT NWS, the news service of the Flemish Radio and Television broadcaster. During my research in the Knowledge Center, June 2019, we had met and exchanged contact details. It resulted in this great surprise.

This book contains the photo on p. 109

The photo is printed in the book “La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 1914-1918” by Mélanie Bost & Alain Colignon (CEGESOMA), published in the series “Ville en Guerre” at Renaissance du Livre in 2016.
The photo itself is solidly archived in the Musée de la Vie Wallonne in Liège, so it was not hidden in a dusty archive or stored in a box in the attic!

“Mallette du Prisonnier”
In Mons, the prisoners of war relief had been organized by the “Committee de la Mallette du Soldat Belge Prisonnier en Allemagne“, abbreviated <mallette du prisonnier> (literally translated “prisoner’s suitcase”). Several local newspaper reports referred to this in the fall of 1915.

The atmosphere of a game of bounce (jeu de balle) in Charleroi. Photo: Catawiki, Postcards 1900-1940

Sports competitions were organized, such as football, cycling, athletics and bounce (“jeu de balle”), the proceeds of which were for this good cause. [1]

Selling unprocessed and decorated flour sacks would also have been part of the money collection as is shown in the photo.

The photo with caption on p. 109 in the book “La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 14-18”

The caption to the photo reads: “Jeunes femmes au service de l’œuvre <La mallette du prisonnier> composant des caisses de vivres à destination des prisonniers de guerre, Mons, 1915. La <mallette du prisonnier> est une émanation de l’ Agence belge de renseignement.
(Young women employed in the work <La mallette du prisonnier> assemble crates of food intended for prisoners of war, Mons, 1915. “La mallette du prisonnier” is part of the Belgian “Information Agency”).

The “Work of the Prisoners of War” was organized locally throughout Belgium. The aim was to raise money and donations in kind to help Belgian prisoners of war in Germany. It took care of shipments of clothing and food. The organization consisted of a group of dedicated (young) ladies and gentlemen who came together to compile and send packages. Thousands of packages of clothing and foodstuffs were shipped to Germany every year. All towns and villages took care of the prisoners from their own community. (See my blog “Een geborduurde Paaszak in Gent: hulp aan krijgsgevangenen“)


Belgian embroiderers in Mons. Photo: La Wallonie dans la Grande Guerre 14-18

The caption of the photo doesn’t properly describe what is actually visible in the photo, namely four young women, two of whom have flour sack embroidery in hand, decorated with empty, unprocessed flour sacks. On the table is a box, “the suitcase”, which the standing woman is filling. The seated woman, on the right, is holding a book, probably the notebook in which orders were written. At the “Caisse de Vivres” the benefactors could buy or donate their packages weighing two kilograms for three francs and five kilos for six francs, it says on the “Mallette du Prisonnier” placard.

Four small flags, of which I recognize the Belgian and American, confirm the patriotic background of the activity.

Photo collage of flour sacks identical to the ones on the photo of “Belgian embroiderers in Mons”

The flour sack prints are very recognizable. Processed and unprocessed flour sacks with these prints can be found in public and private collections, both in Belgium and the US. [2]

On the left, the lady on the chair has a backrest, a “Sperry Mills American Indian” flour sack, very popular amongst collectors, as much in 1915 as now in 2020. A sack “Aux Héroiques Belges de la part de leurs Amis Vancouver Canada, Hard Wheat Flour British Columbia Patent 98 LBS” is hanging from the table. On the left wall are two flour sacks “CASCADIA Portland Roller Mills, Portland, Oregon” and “American Consul The Rockefeller Foundation Belgium Relief War Relief Donation FLOUR 49 LBS net“. In the center above the table we see the flour sack “Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana USA through The Louisville Herald“. To the right of that I distinguish the flour sack “Contributed by the People of Indiana USA“, collected by the Indianapolis Star newspaper for the Belgian Relief Fund. On the top right wall a flour sack “Hanford Roller Mills, HG Lacey Company, Hanford, California” has been hung. Underneath is a flour sack “Donated by Belgian Food Relief Committee, Chicago, U.S.A.” Finally, I see behind the standing young woman a “Chicago’s Flour Gift” sack, collected by the “Chicago Evening Post“.

The two flour sacks in the hands of the embroiderers are currently not identifiable to me.

Exhibition “Sacs américains brodés”: decorated flour sacks
In early 1916, embroidered flour sacks were exhibited in Mons in a shop window.

Le Quotidien, January 8, 1916

In Mons. The “prisoner exhibition”. – Since a few days we can admire a shiny decor of fine woodwork and scarlet fabrics in the Mali windows in the Rue de la Chaussée in Mons, in which artworks are presented, paintings, watercolors, photography, pyrography, tin, brass and relief leather, embroidered flour sacks, various kinds of lace, embroidery, etc. All this together is the ‘Exhibition of the Mons prisoner’; everyone contributed to the constitution. Men and women, children and old people, rich and poor, they all turned out to be artists!” [3]

Mons Memorial Museum
The Mons Memorial Museum has a collection of nine decorated WWI flour sacks. Curator Corentin Rousman previously sent me an overview photo of the museum’s permanent exhibition, which contains some WWI flour sacks.

Permanent display in Mons Memorial Museum. On the right side of the wall some decorated flour sacks in WWI. Mons Memorial Museum collection

Now that I take a closer look at this photo, I am delighted to see two flour sacks that are the same as the ones in the photo of the embroiderers: “Sperry Mills” and “Rockefeller Foundation“!

Coincidence or not, the decorated flour sacks in WWI continue to fascinate me!

My sincere thanks to Rob Troubleyn for sending the pictures!


[1] Le Bruxellois: August 13 and December 6, 1915; La Belgique: journal publié pendant l’occupation sous la censure ennemie: September 9 and 16; October 14 and 20; November 5; December 5, 1915; January 25, 1916

[2] The photo collage contains eight flour sacks from the following collections:
CASCADIA Portland Roller Mills, Portland, Oregon: St. Edward’s University, Austin, Tx
Chicago’s Flour Gift, Chicago Evening Post, Illinois: Coll. Frankie van Rossem
Hanford Roller Mills, H. G. Lacey Company, Hanford, California: HHPLM
American Consul The Rockefeller Foundation: MRAH, Brussels
Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana: HHPLM
Sperry Mills American Indian, California: IFFM, Ypres
Aux Héroiques Belges de la part de leurs Amis Vancouver Canada: MRAH, Brussels
Contributed by the People of Indiana: WHI, Brussels

[3] Le Quotidien, January 8, 1916

Madame Vandervelde Fund 3: Home on the Lusitania (ENG)

To me, the WWI decorated flour sacks of the Madame Vandervelde Fund stand out. It makes me happy to know that there was a woman who came to the rescue of the Belgian people with conviction. That woman was Lalla Vandervelde-Speyer (Camberwell, England, April 4, 1870 – Putney, England, November 8, 1965). She is one of the many women who worked determinedly towards her goal: care for destitute Belgian compatriots. Her decorated flour sacks also tell the story of charity, gratitude and food aid.
This is part 3 of a series of three blogs.
(See my blogs: Madame Vandervelde Fund 1 and Madame Vandervelde Fund 2)

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, embroidered and machine-made lace. Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. Photo: E. McMillan

The decorated flour sacks are surprisingly featured in Lalla Vandervelde’s biography “Monarchs and Millionaires”.[1]
She reflects on her relationship with American men during her stay, which leads to the sacks of flour she sent to Belgium and her name on these sacks. She was in fear about added print, because the Germans did not accept that there would be names of senders on the relief goods. It turned out fine and later Lalla saw decorated flour sacks: they had been sent to her by schoolgirls, who had embroidered the stamped letters of her name “Madame Vandervelde” on the sacks.

In a few paragraphs, Lalla summarized it in her book: “Men did not try to make love to me. I suppose they realized that being in mourning, very much upset about what was going on in Europe, and very hard worked with speaking all over the country, any advances would have been discountenanced immediately. But some of them were distinctly sentimental. One, who was also very energetic and helpful, wrote me almost passionate letters about my work. He compared me to Joan of Arc and Diana of Ephesus: a curious mixture. Knowing that my chief interest in peace time had lain in questions pertaining to art, he used to send me long disquisitions on Berenson’s latest book, at the same time quoting prices, in the most business-like way, of commodities that I might buy and send to Europe.’

Marthe Robinet, Ecole Moyenne St. Gilles, Brussels, embroidered this flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”. Collection Hoover Institution Archives. Image taken by HILA Staff. Photo: E. McMillan

About the choice of cotton flour sacks: ‘It was this kind and generous friend who helped me to send off the first lot of sacks filled with flour to Belgium, the country that needed bread most at the time. It was his idea to choose linen of which the sacks were made in such fine quality that when washed and bleached it could be used for men’s shirts or for little frocks or overalls for children.’

About stamping the name Madame Vandervelde on the flour sacks: ‘My name was stamped on each one of the sacks, and I remember my anguish when, shortly after they had been shipped, the news came that the Germans would not allow any object marked with a name to enter a country they were occupying. I spent a sleepless night wondering what would happen to the flour that was wanted so badly. Much to my relief, the German Embassy in Washington, to whom my kind friend had wired, answered that permission would be given for the sacks to be landed.

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, embroidery and open stitching. Collection Hoover Institution Archives. Image taken by HILA Staff. Photo: E. McMillan

About the embroidered flour sacks that she sees later: “Later I had the great joy to see some of them again. They were sent to me by school children who had embroidered the letters of my name on them surrounded by pretty designs of their own making.’ 

Contrary to the impression that arises from these paragraphs about the contributions to food aid, Madame Vandervelde herself preferred to use the money she collected mainly for the real heroes: the Belgian soldiers, who fought in the trenches on the small piece of Belgian land that was still in their occupation. However, this was impossible. America’s neutrality only allowed the collection of money for aid to the civilian population of the war countries. Nevertheless, in private conversations, she managed to acquire some donations for the help of soldiers. She bought and shipped the following goods to them: 10,284 pairs of socks, 2,160 sets of underwear and 400 blankets.

Manhattan, New York, 1914. Photo: Wolfgang Wiggers online Flickr album

Despite her mission’s success, Lalla experienced her six-month stay in the US as a major burden on her nerves. She didn’t know what it was like to be unhappy for so long, she couldn’t forget the horrible war for a moment, she was tired and depressed. ‘The mere fact of being so very far away from my own people, from my compatriots and friends, on another continent, in another world, where, however kindly received, the whole point of view, the whole outlook on life, was different, seemed more than I could bear sometimes. Almost every time I opened a European paper I saw news of the death of a friend, and I used to leave my letters from Europe unopened for days, so terrified was I of finding bad news.

Bad news from home, continual speaking in public, equally important private engagements, when I tried to enlist the sympathies of influential individuals for the cause of the Allies, long railway journeys by night, at the end of which there were always crowds of reporters anxious to interview me before I even had a bath or breakfast; such conditions were not destined to improve an already uncertain nervous system.”

At Yale College in New Haven, she was the first woman to speak to the students: “they attended my meeting en masse”. She also visited Harvard. Then she went to Canada where she spoke in Ottawa in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and Princess Patricia. At her farewell, the Duke pressed a $ 600 check in her hands.

Manhattan, New York, 1914. Photo: Wolfgang Wiggers online Flickr album

Back in New York in December 1914, she tried to express her sense of art, attended several concerts, and went to museums and galleries to view paintings. During her visits to millionaires, she was usually given the opportunity to see these people’s private art collections.

American praise
In mid-March 1915, Lalla Vandervelde was in Carnegie Hall, New York, where she delivered the last speech of her mission. Mr. Choate, one of the foremost lawyers in the US, praised her. The speech is fully printed in her book.

The illustrated Sunday edition of The New York Times posted this photo of Lalla Vandervelde after her departure from America to Europe on April 11, 1915. Photo: “Photo by Mathilde Weil, from Paul Thompson”

On the eve of your departure for your home in Belgium it seems fitting that there should be some expression, inadequate though it must be, of the great regard in which you are held by hosts of men and women in this country.
During the five months since you came to us, shortly after the outbreak of the War, you have presented all over the United States the dire need of your unhappy countrymen. More than any other person you have made us realize the urgency of this need, its appaling extent and its heartrending appeal. You have been inspired by an eloquence born of your noble mission and you have won the response which could not fail to come.
There are forms of patriotic service which demand courage of a higher order even than that of the soldier in battle, a courage which has not the spur of excitement or impulse, a courage in the face of suspense, of heart-sickness far from home, family and friends, of utter weariness of body and spirit. Such courage, dear lady, since first you came to these shores to this present moment, has been yours.
We honor you as a brave souled woman; we thank you for making so clear our privilege of such human helpfulness as we can give, and we bid you farewell with feelings of deepest sympathy and the most earnest hope that brighter days will soon return to the country you love so truly and serve so devotedly.
New York, March 17, 1915”

The Lusitania of the British Cunard Line. Photo: internet

Home on the Lusitania
On April 3, 1915 she left for Europe on the ship “Lusitania” of the British Cunard Line. In Lalla’s words, the ship made “the last journey to Europe before the ever memorable one”, the second to last trip before it would be torpedoed by a German submarine and perished. This voyage of the passenger ship was also full of tension for the passengers, there was danger during the crossing.

The New York Evening World headlined, “Lusitania sails to-day with 838 pale passengers – Fear of German Submarines Makes All on Board Nervous – Some Cancel Passage. – Fast Trip is Planned- Liner’s Speed Expected to Protect Greatest Number to Sail Since War Began.” The security measures were strict, all passengers were carefully examined and their luggage checked.

Manhattan, New York, 1914. Photo: Wolfgang Wiggers online Flickr album

At the last minute, a messenger brought a package with $ 500 for Madame Vandervelde on board. Three war correspondents, including Mr. E. Alexander Powell of the “New York World”, were also on board.[2]

All this has not been mentioned in Lalla’s biography. She did talk about a luxury problem. Her cabin on the ship was loaded with gifts from American friends and supporters, and she shared them as much as she could with staff and fellow passengers. She kept the fruits for her family in England. 

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, embroidery and applications. Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. Photo: E. McMillan

Back in Europe

The Sun, October 3, 1914

In New York Lalla had prepared for the possible suspicion about her work from people back in Europe. She had the finances and administration of the Madame Vandervelde Fund, punctually maintained by her secretary Miss Conklin, verified by a leading accounting firm. After returning to England, she was visited by a journalist who asked her which cities she had visited on her mission. The American place names were so unknown to him that she had to spell them for him. Then he asked how much money she had collected. Her answer “about $ 300,000, equivalent to 60,000 British pounds or one and a half million francs” led to his response “That is quite impossible for a woman”. Whereupon the auditor’s report emerged and she urged him to publish the detailed justification of the funds in his article.

Belgian newspapers reported in April on the results of Mrs. Emile Vandervelde’s mission[3]:
“With the thought of coming to the aid of the Belgian refugees, Madame Vandervelde, wife of the Minister of State, went to America to give a series of lectures about Belgium and about the German invasion of our country. These lectures yielded one and a half million francs.”

De Legerbode (The Army Messenger), September 2, 1915

Five months later, another article appeared in De Legerbode[4] (The “Army Messenger”), showing the destination of the funds raised in America:
“The courageous traveler traveled through the United States from September 18, 1914 to April 2, 1915. She managed to collect the good sum of 1,437,135.75 fr., which was spent as follows:
For return to the homeland 388,479.45 fr.
For food purchases for Belgium: 995,426.30 fr.
For the special fund: 53,230 fr.
Madame Vandervelde continued her apostolate in England, where her brilliant readings yielded the sum of 30,000 francs. Here is a vigorous woman, and a brave propagandist of noble thoughts, who deserves general gratitude.”

Further research
In the past three blogs I have tried to tell part of the life story of Lalla Vandervelde-Speyer. She was a striking, yes, legendary woman. Especially when I consider her role towards the decorated flour sacks from WWI.
Yet surprisingly little has been written about her. Where she has been mentioned, sometimes blatant inaccuracies have been debited. After her divorce from Emile Vandervelde, living in England again, she apparently disappeared from publicity. She died in Putney at the age of 95.
For twenty years Lalla Speyer and Emile Vandervelde were partners with a great mutual influence on each other’s work and life. They both played a role, together and separately, on the world stage in the turbulent time of 1900-1920.
I would heartily recommend further research into the life of Lalla Vandervelde-Speyer.


Sincere thanks to Evelyn McMillan, Stanford University. She sent me pictures of decorated flour sacks in the collections of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum and the Hoover Institution Archives.

Sacks are full of memories. Each sack cherishes a precious and fragile story.


[1] Vandervelde, Lalla, Monarchs and Millionaires. London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1925

[2] New York Evening World, April 3, 1915

[3] De Legerbode (The Army Messenger), April 24, 1915; also: De Gentenaar. De landwacht. De kleine patriot, April 28, 1915

[4] De Legerbode (The Army Messenger), September 2, 1915

Madame Vandervelde Fund 2: 300,000 dollar donations (ENG)

To me, the WWI decorated flour sacks of the Madame Vandervelde Fund stand out. It makes me happy to know that there was a woman who came to the rescue of the Belgian people with conviction. That woman was Lalla Vandervelde-Speyer (Camberwell, England, April 4, 1870 – Putney, England, November 8, 1965). She is one of the many women who worked determinedly towards her goal: care for destitute Belgian compatriots. Her decorated flour sacks also tell the story of charity, gratitude and food aid.
This is part 2 of a series of three blogs.
(See my blogs: Madame Vandervelde Fund 1 and Madame Vandervelde Fund 3)

In her biography “Monarchs and Millionaires”, published in 1925, Lalla Vandervelde gave her personal impressions of her six-month stay in America in four chapters, totaling 60 pages. I provide an anthology of stories from the book.[1]

The “Madame Vandervelde Fund” stamp on the unprocessed flour sack “Gold Dust”, Thornton & Chester, Buffalo, NY. (see also photos below) Collection RAHM Tx 2630

To America
In Antwerp, fleeing from the advancing German army, Lalla stayed with her husband at Hotel St. Antoine and experienced an air raid of German Zeppelins for the first time in her life. She was terrified by the sound of falling and detonating bombs.

The following evening she stood in the hotel hallway and met with Mr. E. Alexander Powell, correspondent of the American newspaper “New York World”, who said to her “Why don’t you go over to the States and enlist the sympathy of American women and children for the poor Belgians? ” The suggestion opened her eyes to what she could do, and she immediately took action to realize it. She did not want to embark on the adventure without the consent of the Belgian government, or at least that of Prime Minister Baron de Broqueville, so she visited him and presented her plan. His response was negative: “he liked the idea, but did not approve of a woman going alone on such a hazardous expedition, and so on and so forth”. Disillusioned, she left him, but met King Albert’s private secretary and told him about her plan.

The letter from the lady-in-waiting to Madame Vandervelde on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. From: “Monarchs and Millionaires”. Coll. International Institute of Social History

He promised to discuss it with the King and a few hours later he said that King Albert fully agreed with the plan: “He knew what influence women have in America, and sent 4,000 francs towards my traveling expenses.”

Queen Elizabeth in turn instructed a lady-in-waiting to send Madame Vandervelde a letter approving the project, wishing her the best of luck and indicating that she could take the letter with her to read it out in America.

The Belgian Mission: Messrs De Sadeleer, Vandervelde, Henri Carton de Wiart and Hymans. The Sun, September 12, 1914

The Belgian Mission appointed by King Albert, including her husband Emile Vandervelde, left on September 3 with the White Star Liner “Celtic” and arrived in New York on September 12. I have read this in American newspapers. In her biography, Lalla has not written a single word about the mission, not even about her husband.

Liverpool harbour in 1914. Image: online

Because Lalla was not allowed to travel on the same ship – “no women ever, or could, in any circumstances, accompany a diplomatic mission” – it was not easy to book a cabin on the next ship. With the help of British former ambassador to Japan, Sir Claude MacDonald, she managed to leave Liverpool for New York on September 8, 1914 on the White Liner “Cretic”.

Port of Liverpool Building, around 1914. Image: online

The war had raged for over four weeks now and 75 percent of the Belgian territory was in the hands of the Germans. During the ten days at sea, there would be no news reports for the passengers. For Lalla, that felt unbearable, and she got a radio operator to promise to inform her in secret should there be any news to report. On September 14th she received a signal and heard that the Germans had been stopped in their advance in France.

On board she prepared her mission: to evoke sympathy from the Americans by telling them as an eyewitness about the horrors that had taken place in Belgium. She hoped to influence the public opinion and appeal to the well-known generosity of Americans to ease the fate of Belgian refugees. At that time, she did not know that within three months the catastrophe would be much greater and the question was how to feed all the Belgians who lived in occupied territory, this number would grow to 7.5 million people…

Lalla Vandervelde, “Monarchs and Millionaires”. title page of her biography. Coll. International Institute of Social History

She spoke to two fellow travelers, Mr. Augustus Gardner, a member of the United States Congress, and Mr. McEnerney, a highly skilled lawyer from San Francisco, and took their valuable advice on how to frame her propaganda. She realized that she should tell her story in simple terms and without emotion. Only then could she count on support from the people of the US, where many pro-German sentiments were present. The evening before arriving in New York, the captain gave her the opportunity to tell her story on board the ship. She raised an initial amount of $ 360.

In New York City
September 18, 1914, upon arriving from the “Cretic” in New York on a sunny, warm day, she dressed in a colorful summer outfit without thinking about her role. The reaction of a fellow traveler made her realize that her choice of clothing should support her message, so she had her wardrobe dyed black in New York.

Once disembarked, reporters and photographers swarmed around her, but she did not give interviews or comments. She first wanted to speak to the Belgian Relief Committee*) to find out what she could and could not say. The Belgian Consul General, Mr. Mali, picked her up at the port and brought her to her place to stay. The next day, she received a secretary, Miss Conklin, who assisted her for six months.

The Evening World, New York, September 18, 1914

On September 18th, in the Evening World, the evening edition of the New York World, correspondent Alexander Powell’s newspaper, an article with photo appeared under the headline “Mme. Vandervelde brings note from Queen Elizabeth. Wife of Belgian Minister of State Here to Appeal to Americans. Woman envoy here to appeal for aid for destitute Belgians.

Manhattan, New York, 1910. Image: online

Travelling in America
Lalla Vandervelde began her adventure, she humorously reports on her visits to millionaires and dignitaries in her book. Her hostesses and hosts have mostly remained anonymous, so she could poke fun at their boredom, their lack of knowledge about culture, their lack of knowledge of international politics, their dependence on staff. In general, she was “full of pity for this poor millionaire”. She also met a young super millionaire who couldn’t give her money. “the money he devoted to charities was managed and distributed by a committee of specialists in economics, in social hygiene or in some other form of benevolence. This struck me as being a logical, if unpleasant, way of distributing riches.”

Another anecdote: “I spoke on that day to a room full of very expensive looking people. The women …, wore the most outrageous clothes. But they were interested, in their own way in the War, and had made it the fashion to knit very brightly-coloured silk scarves to send to the British and French boys at the front. It was maddening to have to speak about the horrors of the War to the clicking of knitting needles…” Then a pug entered the room as it could no longer live without its owner, but it squeaked, barked and ran around, so she had to stop talking until the dog was removed, along with his mistress. Conclusion: “I did not get anything like the money I expected from that rich audience.”

People with small incomes, drivers and servants in restaurants, clothing workers, went out of their way and collected money, which they handed over with a few kind, encouraging words.

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, embroidered. Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. Photo: E. McMillan

Lalla was very pleased with the American female and male journalists and had a good working relationship with them. She recalled a New York dinner party with six female journalists as one of the most interesting experiences during her American stay. “They were eager, tired looking women. Most of them had been married young and badly treated by their husbands, whom they had divorced. This meant poverty, and not infrequently one or two children to bring up. They were very naturally proud at having made a success of life and told me details of the terrible struggles they had gone through. Most of them hated men with an extraordinary active and vital hatred. Only one of them said she was still in love with her husband, but as he was exploiting her, she felt she ought to leave him. She spoke as if she were ashamed of her love and reluctance to be free.

I had never met so many women in the same circumstances. They were not soured or embittered, but proud and happy, especially when they spoke about their children, who were mostly grown up and prepared, through their mothers’ struggles for the battle of life”.

With Lalla’s interest in the role of women, she portrayed American society in late 1914, early 1915: “There is no stigma attached to certain kinds of work, as there was in Europe before the War, and a woman’s scope is infinitely wider than at home.”

Le XXsiecle: journal d’union et d’action catholique, January 16, 1915

Messages in Belgian newspapers
After three months, some Belgian newspapers reported on Madame Vandervelde’s mission. [2]

“In America – The charitable movement in favor of suffering Belgium is growing daily. This is how Mrs. Lalla Vandervelde, returning to New York from a three-month trip through the United States, brought in donations in kind and in cash for the sum of $ 213,000. She continues her fruitful journey.”

The Mill Thornton & Chester in Buffalo, NY. Image: online

Another article featured the news of a large donation of Buffalo sacks of flour, saying that the sacks were intended for reuse: “Madame Vandervelde, the wife of the Secretary of State, has been in the United States for more than three months. There she gave and gives a series of lectures about Belgium and the horrors of which the country has fallen victim, that have been overwhelmingly successful and in which Belgium and the Belgians have been praised. … After these meetings, donations for families of Belgian victims pour in. Madame Vandervelde has already collected almost 1,400,000 francs!

Unprocessed flour sack “Gold Dust” from Thornton & Chester, Buffalo, NY. The back of the flour sack is stamped with “Madame Vandervelde Fund”. (see photo above) Coll. RAHM Tx 2630

In Buffalo, industrialists have loaded her with a ship with 10,000 sacks of flour – sacks made of fine cloth and fine fabric, so that they can then be used and transformed into clothes and towels for the Belgians.
Madame Vandervelde was in Boston last week where her lectures were attended by 5,000 people.[3]]




Madame Vandervelde Fund
I became aware of the fund thanks to the WWI decorated flour sacks in museum collections in Belgium and the US, decorated with her name. I therefore asked myself: how large was the organization, who formed the board?

Decorated flour sack “Gold Dust”, Thornton & Chester, Buffalo, NY, embroidered. The back of this flour sack may have been stamped “Madame Vandervelde Fund”. The flour sack is exhibited in the permanent display of the Royal Military Museum, Brussels. Coll. War Heritage Institute

According to Lalla Vandervelde’s biography, she founded the Madame Vandervelde Fund to house the large amounts of collected dollars. However, the structure of the fund was very simple: it consisted of the two-woman organization of Madame herself and her secretary Miss Conklin! Lalla Vandervelde: “I have always been proud to think that we two women, without any committee to back us, organized my campaign, which produced in material things alone 300,000 dollars or, what was at that time, a million and a half francs.”

To be continued.
Read here my blog Madame Vandervelde Fund 3

*) The Belgian Relief Committee: Jeffrey B. Miller mentioned Madame Vandervelde in relation to the Belgian Relief Committee in his first book “Behind the Lines“, Millbrown Press, 2014, at p. 226 en 227:

“The Belgian Relief Committee had been founded in the late summer by a “few modest Belgians and their sympathizers,” according to one magazine article. At its head was Rev. J. F. Stillemans, a Catholic priest of Belgian birth …
Stillemans got involved in trying to
help the Belgian refugees and became the president of the Belgian Relief Committee. The chairman of the executive committee, and the real power behind the group, was Robert W. de Forest, the vice president of the American Red Cross. During a vacation in Europe that was interrupted by the start of the war, he had seen the Belgian devastation. When he returned home he started the group outside the confines of the Red Cross.  The Belgian members of de Forest’s organization included the Belgian consul in New York, the Belgian minister to the United States, and a well-to-do patron, Madame Vandervelde. …
She had become a darling of New York City, and the country, when she announced she would not go home until she had collected $1 million to aid her country.”


“Sacks are full of memories. Every sack cherishes a precious and vulnerable story.”

My sincere thanks to Dr. Ingrid De Meûter and Ria Cooreman of the Royal Art & History Museum in Brussels. They gave me the opportunity to study the museum’s WWI collection of flour sacks, the so-called “Errera Collection”, which includes two unprocessed flour sacks from the Madame Vandervelde Fund, on February 21, 2020.

[1] Vandervelde, Lalla, Monarchs and Millionaires. London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1925

[2] L’écho belge- journal quotidien du matin paraissant à Amsterdam, December 16, 1914

[3] Le XXsiecle: journal d’union et d’action catholique, January 16, 1915; translated from French

Madame Vandervelde Fund 1: Appeal to American Women (ENG)

To me, the WWI decorated flour sacks of the Madame Vandervelde Fund stand out. It makes me happy to know that there was a woman who came to the rescue of the Belgian people with conviction. That woman was Lalla Vandervelde-Speyer (Camberwell, England, April 4, 1870 – Putney, England, November 8, 1965). She is one of the many women who worked determinedly towards her goal: care for destitute Belgian compatriots. Her decorated flour sacks also tell the story of charity, gratitude and food aid.
This is part 1 of a series of three blogs.
(See my blogs: Madame Vandervelde Fund 2 and Madame Vandervelde Fund 3)

Lalla Vandervelde-Speyer, portrait in ‘The Spell of Belgium’ by Isabel Anderson. Photo: Mathilde Weil, Philadelphia

Lalla Vandervelde was an active socialist, British-born, from an affluent Jewish family. Her parents were German by birth and settled in England after their marriage in 1869, where father Edward Antoine Speyer had previously joined his older brother Carl in 1859 in a very successful haberdashery importing business. Lalla came to Brussels as a 16-year-old teenager to continue her education and would live in Belgium until the war broke out in August 1914 and the German occupier forced her to leave her new homeland.

In Brussels

Lalla and Emile Vandervelde in England, around 1902-1910. Photographer: William Coles. Coll. Institut Emile Vandervelde

Lalla was 44 years old and in the prime of her life. Her name, Madame Emile Vandervelde, -this was the Minister of State, who was her husband- appeared in ‘L’Œuvre des femmes bruxelloises’ as one of the presidents, next to ladies Henry Carton de Wiart and Paul Hymans, to whom Queen Elizabeth requested that they take care of children of military personnel who went to battle with the army. The vice-presidents were Messrs. Brassine, Leroy, Prosper, Poullet, Paul Vandervelde and Philippson-Wiener. The Queen was the patroness of the organization.[1]

Photo-collage unprocessed flour sacks, Phototypie Belge. Collection In Flanders Fields Museum

Lalla’s work experience for the socialist movement, her women’s suffrage activities and her completely autonomous nature led to immediate decisive action in the crisis situation of the first weeks of the war.

She published this advice in the newspaper Le Soir to women who wanted to make themselves useful.[2]

“For those who want to help
An excellent letter from Ms. Vandervelde:
Many women and girls have been writing to me for the past few days asking for advice on how to be helpful in these scary days. The ambulances are full of women of goodwill, but there are many who are just waiting to be of service to their country. I would like, as it is impossible for me to answer each of them individually, advise them to sew a lot of men’s shirts, children’s dresses, knit socks, etc.
The blue smocks of civic guards, too, which are urgently needed, are cut out, all ready to be sewn, 3 Rue de Louvain, at one of the ministry’s offices. By going there on my part, they will gladly give it to all those who request it.
Let friends’ groups form: let one of them take a book and read it to their friends. Not light reading. We are in a phase of heroism and women, mothers and expectant mothers must not let their emotions take over. By their calm and cold blood, they can do precious services right now. What to read? The History of France by Michelet; The History of Belgium, of Pirenne; The Legend of the Centuries, The Turbulent Forces, by Emile Verhaeren, etc. I note these few titles in a hurry, but in each one you will find beautiful pages which have already allowed them to endure the consequences of existence.


P.S. – I beg the merchants of cigars and cigarettes and the individuals of good will to send me something to smoke for our soldiers, soldiers and wounded. If they could get an idea of the joy of our brave people when they are given something to smoke, I am sure that my house would be too small to contain everything that would be sent to me.”

To America
Lalla Vandervelde was still in Brussels when she wrote the quoted advice. Two weeks later she had to leave to stay out of the hands of the advancing German troops and she moved to Antwerp. On the spot, the plan arose to travel to America to ask for help from the women there. On September 1, 1914, she sent a telegram to New York calling on American women to come to the aid of the Belgian people.

The New York Times posted the “Appeal” in the Sept. 2 edition on p. 3 under the heading:

Mme. Vandervelde Coming Here to Tell of Belgian War Victims’ Sufferings.
Wife of Socialist Leader Will Sail for New York in a Few Days- Says the Need is Terrible.”

The article read:
“LONDON, Sept. 1.-Mme Vandervelde, the brilliant wife of the famous Socialist leader who is now Minister of State in the Belgian Government of National Defense, sends the following appeal to the women of America through the columns of The New York Times:
Women and Friends in America: I am coming to ask your sympathy on behalf of my fellow-countrymen in Belgium. It is not a political mission. It is an appeal for help for devastated homes, the fatherless families of those whom this terrible war has left houseless, who, when the war is over, will be left without rooftrees, without money to rebuild them, and-and all too often-without sons or husbands to work for them.

I am the bearer of a letter from our well-loved Queen. I only ask you to give me an opportunity of reading it to you and telling you in person of our tragic conditions and of asking your help. I am leaving Antwerp only for this purpose, and as soon as I have accomplished it am returning to share the fate of my countrymen in our besieged city.

The Belgian Women’s Dollar Fund, page 38 from the book “The Voluntary Aid of America”

That is why, women of America, I am coming to you, leaving for a few weeks the country for which my heart is bleeding. I want you, I count on you, to make life worth living again for these poor people, make them by degrees forget the sorrows they have passed through.
Belgium is ruined. You are enjoying all the blessings of peace. I implore you to help my country, to make it by your generosity once more a happy home for its sons and daughters.
Mme Vandervelde purposes to sail for New York in a few days, by which time she hopes to hear that the American women to whom she appeals have taken steps to obtain for her a hearing when she arrives.”

In Londen
Lalla Vandervelde travelled to America via London, together with “La Mission Belge aux Etats-Unis”, the Belgian mission of four ministers, who had been ordered by King Albert to explain the Belgian position on the condemnable and brutal invasion of the Germans to US President Wilson. One of the ministers was her husband Emile Vandervelde.

L’Indépendance Belge, September 5, 1914

“The Belgian Mission in the United States.
The Belgian mission to the President of the United States arrived in London Monday evening, and before his departure from this city, set for the following day, was received by the King of England at Buckingham Palace.
Mr. Vandervelde is accompanied by Mrs. Vandervelde, who will give lectures to women, in the cities of the United States.”[3]

Lalla and her husband assumed she could make the trip to the US on the same ship as the official Belgian delegation, but this was a miscalculation. They were formally told that: “no women ever had, or could, in any circumstances, accompany a diplomatic mission”.[4]

Rectification”, La Métropole-journal quotidien, September 5, 1914

That they were not the only ones who had expected otherwise is evident from the rectification, “because of transmission and translation” in La Métropole of September 5, 1914:
“Correcting our comments, we add that it is also incorrect that Madame Vandervelde will accompany her husband during his mission to the United States.”
The words “also incorrect” referred to an earlier newspaper report that Lalla Vandervelde was going to make the journey with a letter from Queen Elizabeth.
No, the letter was not from the “head of the court of H.M. the Queen”, but “This is a letter written by a lady from the Queen’s service to the wife of our new Minister of State, in response to her offer to make known in England, during a series of conferences, the situation in Belgium.”

It made me curious about the contents of the letter from Queen Elizabeth’s court, which Madame Vandervelde had read at the Eighty Club at the Cecil Hotel in London. Curiously, that letter left nothing to be desired for positivity and clarity:
“Sa Majesté la Reine me prie de vous dire qu’elle approuve pleinement votre intention de porter à la connaissance de l’opinion publique en Angleterre et en Amérique, les misères infligées à notre paisible population, par l’invasion allemande. Cinq de nos provinces sont dévastés, des milliers de famille chassées de leur demeure et actuellement sans domicile, et c’est une œuvre qui mérite la reconnaissance du pays et de l’humanité, que de chercher à les secourir. Les meilleurs souhaits de la Reine vous accompagnent dans ces deux pays, qui auront à coeur de donner assistance à ceux en détresse”.

(“Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to tell you that she fully approves of your intention to bring to the attention of public opinion in England and America the miseries inflicted on our peaceful people by the German invasion. Five of our provinces are devastated, thousands of families driven from their homes and currently homeless, and it is a work that deserves the recognition of the country and of humanity, to seek to rescue them. The Queen’s best wishes are with you in these two countries, which would be keen to give assistance to those in distress”.)

Was this a way for some gentlemen on the side of the Belgian government to show a woman, in particular a representative of the socialist movement, her place at the start of the mission to America? Was it protecting women against their desire for autonomy? In any case, it took patience and resilience to walk the line, even under war conditions…


Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, embroidered. Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum. Photo: E. McMillan

Lalla Vandervelde was in no way restrained. She traveled to New York, where “The Belgian Women’s Dollar Fund” was founded the day her “Appeal” was published in the New York Times. ‘It received its first subscriptions before noon of the same day’.[5]

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, embroidered, phototypie. Collection In Flanders Fields Museum, inv.nr. IFF 003008

Her own “Madame Vandervelde Fund” would emerge during her impressive six-month tour in the US and Canada. She was welcomed with open arms and enthusiasm. She traveled from Syracuse to Chicago, then to St. Paul and Minneapolis. She gave speeches in the major cities of Canada. [6] She was particularly successful in collecting money in Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, allowing her to formally found her fund. A friend helped her to send food aid to Belgium: flour packed in cotton sacks, which could be used to make clothes after washing and bleaching. The friend also made sure that the name “Madame Vandervelde Fund” was printed on the flour sacks.

Flour sacks that testify today to the determination of a wartime woman.

To be continued.
(See my blogs: Madame Vandervelde Fund 2 and Madame Vandervelde Fund 3)

My sincere thanks to Evelyn McMillan, Stanford University, for the information and photos she provided to me. She mentioned Isabel Anderson’s book The Spell of Belgium and sent the New York Times article of September 2, 1914. She also sent pictures of decorated flour sacks in the collections of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum and the Hoover Institution Archives.

“Sacks are full of memories. Every sack houses a fragile and precious story.”


[1] L’étoile belge, August 6, 1914

[2] Le Soir, August 16, 1914; Le Peuple, August 15, 1914

[3] L’Indépendance, September 5, 1914

[4] Vandervelde, Lalla, Monarchs and Millionaires. London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1925

[5] Williams, Jefferson and ‘Mayfair’, The Voluntary Aid of America. New York, London: 1918

[6] Anderson-Weld Perkins, Isabel, The Spell of Belgium. Boston: The Page Company, The Colonial Press, C.H. Simonds Co., 1915


Trotting on a flour sack

Ball games have always been around in history. How nice would it be if balls were to appear on decorated flour sacks from WWI: printed on the original flour sack in North America or embroidered/painted in Belgium?
I would like to write a blog about it.
The thought came to my mind because of Matthew Schaefer’s blog, “Opening Day, Baseball and Tough Times,” about Herbert Hoover’s involvement in baseball. It recently appeared on the blog of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, USA. Archivist Matthew Schaefer regularly publishes on “Hoover Heads”, blogs covering a wide variety of topics related to the life and work of the man who was director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and later became the 31st President of the United States of America, Herbert Hoover, and his wife Lou Henry Hoover.
But since I have not yet found a ball on any flour sack, I would like to present another sport on a flour sack, namely the equestrian sport.

“Roller Mills IXL”, one of eight panels with decorated flour sacks in the folding screen. Coll. IFFM inv.no. IFF 002733


Trotter and driver on a sulky, detail folding screen. Coll. IFFM
‘Roller Mills’ in backstitch. Coll. IFFM

Trotting on a flour sack
The first “equestrian sack” I got to know was in the collection of the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM) in Ypres. It is part of a folding screen which consists of 8 panels with decorated flour sacks. One of the panels is the flour sack “Roller Mills IXL” with the image of harness racing: a fast trotting horse in front of a sulky with large wheels and a concentrated driver on it.
During my flour sack research at IFFM in June 2019, I was able to study the horse and driver on the folding screen in the Depotyze depot at Zonnebeekseweg.

The driver on the sulky in green tunic with double row of golden buttons. Coll. IFFM

The flour sack was first painted and colored. Then the embroidery was done: the contours of the horse along the neckline and some accents on the green uniform of the driver. The jacket has a double row of golden buttons, the crease of the pants and the headgear are accentuated. The details of his face are entertaining: black stitches form the eyes and a proud mustache!

Kepi of the Belgian ‘chasseurs à pied 1837, 1845, 1850

The headgear most resembles the kepi of the Belgian ‘chasseur à pied’ or the ‘karabanier’.[1] Even a regimental number has been added with some black stitches.


The X of “IXL” in backstitch with French buttons

The contours of the letters “Roller Mills” are embroidered in backstitch. The letters IXL are filled with stitches and “French buttons”. Underneath that is the word “FANCY”, also embroidered, but the letters have been cut in half because the panel’s nails are punched into the fabric at that location.

A beautiful flour sack, unfortunately without an indication of the origin of the mill, which has donated the sack filled with flour to Belgium.
Which mill sent this sack, where did the flour come from? After hours of unsuccessful online research and days thinking about a way to find out the name of the mill, I got an idea. Equestrian sport.

The unprocessed flour sack IXL, Central Milling Co., Logan, Utah. Coll. RMAH Tx 2650

Horse racing
I remembered the Bulletin of the Art & History Museum (RMAH) in Brussels. In it, Professor Guy Delmarcel of UCLouvain published an interesting article about the museum’s collection of decorated flour sacks in 2013. [2] He described a flour sack depicting “horse racing” with inventory number Tx 2650. Appendix 1 to the article, the “List of American Flour Sacks in the RMAH” listed the state of Utah, brand name IXL, miller Central Milling Co. in the town of Logan.
Even without seeing a picture of the RMAH flour sack, I thought: “IXL in combination with horse racing: YES! that may well be the right combination, also for the flour sack in the IFFM folding screen!”

In February 2020 I was able to study the RMAH collection in Brussels for a day. I have indeed found the second equestrian sack, my assumption was correct.

Trotter and driver on sulky. Unprocessed flour sack IXL, Central Milling Co. Coll. RMAH Tx 2650
Trotter at full speed. Coll. RMAH

It is intriguing to compare the two harness racing sacks with my photos from Brussels and Ypres: the American print of the unprocessed flour sack next to the processed flour sack with Belgian painting and embroidery.
The horse races just as intense, the driver is just as concentrated. But there are differences: the large wheels of the sulky have gossamer spokes, the driver wears a jacket with a single row of ordinary buttons, the pants are without fold, on the head there is a cap with visor. The eyes look straight ahead and the mustache is a little less pleasing on the upper lip.
All in all, the Belgian adaptation has made a colorful spectacle of the trotting.

Logan, Utah
I have tried to study the history of Central Milling Co. in Logan, Utah, starting from the question: why is harness racing depicted on the flour sack of this mill?

The old mill of Central Mills in Logan. On the right the Deseret Mills. Left the Logan Utah Temple. Photo: Central Milling Co. website

The city of Logan is the largest city in Utah after the capital Salt Lake City. Utah is known for half the population being Mormons affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The large Logan Utah Temple defines Logan’s cityscape. “A History of Cache County” [3] gives an impression of the arrival of the settlers in this part of the US, life in Logan and the County Cache in the early 20th century.

Photo: ‘A History of Cache County’

Founded in 1867, Central Milling is one of the oldest companies in Utah still operating today. Central Milling will have emerged as a cooperative of farmers who had their grain milled together. The society of Mormon settlers tackled many businesses together, leading to successful businesses. Railways were also constructed, accelerating transportation of goods to other states and accelerating the economic development of the Cache County agricultural area. Central Milling became a leading producer of flour using the industrial roller mill system for grinding grain. The mill was located on the Logan River, which supplied hydropower to power the machines. During WWI, the company was owned by 50 shareholders, the founders of the company. In 1917, Herbert R. Weston of Idaho bought out all 50 shareholders and the Weston family then ran the company for 80 years. The current mill has merged with Gilt Edge Mills and focuses on the production of organic flour products based on the philosophy of cooperation between farmers, millers and bakeries.

Photo: ‘A History of Cache County’

Harness racing
Baseball and horse racing were the primary outdoor sports for the people who settled in Utah.[4] They paid a lot of attention to the breeding and training of racehorses. A good half mile racetrack was laid out in Logan at the “Church Farm” in 1881, the public came from many areas around Logan and had a great time during horseraces and harness races, especially on Sundays and public holidays. The MendonUtah.net website mentions by name the successful stallions, geldings and mares and their owners from that era.
Through this information the link between harness racing and the flour sacks of Central Milling Co. is clearly established. But we will have to stay in the dark with regards to the names of the horse and the owner.

Lou Henry Hoover on horseback, circa 1931. Photo: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Lou Henry Hoover
Matthew Schaefer informed me that Herbert Hoover was not a fan of horses, he rode infrequently. On the other hand, his wife Lou Henry Hoover loved horses and was a good rider.

Matthew added that he had recently attended the opening of the exhibit “The Pull of Horses” at the University of Iowa Library in Iowa City.

Trotter in Logan, Utah. Detail flour sack folding screen. Coll. IFFM

To him it was enlightening to be reminded of the ubiquity of horses 100 years ago.
I myself received this feeling of enlightenment through the study of trotting horses on the decorated flour sacks of WWI in the collections of IFFM in Ypres and RMAH in Brussels.


Featured image:
Part of a digital photo collage of the collection of decorated flour sacks from WWI in the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres. Photo collage: Tamara Raats, 2020.


Many thanks to:
– Els de Roo of the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres. She received me as the first visiting researcher in Depotyze to research the folding screen with eight panels of decorated flour sacks, including panel ‘IXL’;
– Dr. Ingrid De Meûter and Ria Cooreman of the Royal Art & History Museum in Brussels. They gave me the opportunity to study the museum’s collection of flour sacks from WWI, the so-called ‘Errera Collection’, which includes the unprocessed flour sack ‘IXL, Central Milling Co.’.

[1] My sincere thanks to Rob Troubleyn for the information about the kepi of the Belgian “chasseurs à pied” and the “karabaniers”.

Kepi of the Belgian “karabaniers”

He corrected my earlier interpretation, the kepi of the French “chasseur forestier”, 1884 model, see the Dossiers/Files In Flanders Fields Museum 9, From Tradition to Protection. French military headgear in the First World War. Exhibition prepared by Philippe Oosterlinck i.c.w. Dominiek Dendooven

[2] Delmarcel, Guy, Pride of Niagara. Best Winter Wheat. Amerikaanse Meelzakken als textiele getuigen van Wereldoorlog I (American Flour Sacks as textile witnesses of World War I). Brussels, Parc Cinquantenaire: Bulletin of the Art and History Museum, volume 84, 2013, p. 97-126.

[3] F. Ross Peterson, A History of Cache County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, Cache County Council, 1997

[4] An Early History of Cache County… compiled by M.R. Hovey, Logan Chamber of Commerce, 1923. At website MendonUtah.Net


Rotterdam – blog in English

The outbreak of the war and the German occupation of Belgium made a big impression on the Dutch. The tension caused by the war in the surrounding countries cast its shadow over the country; maintaining neutrality required an enormous effort. The years of mobilization and army readiness were a battle of attrition for the Dutch soldiers.

Queen Wilhelmina visits reinforcements of the Dutch army. Fig. L’Evénement Illustré, October 16, 1915

Thousands of Belgian refugees came across the border and asked for help from the Dutch population. A message in the

The Rockefeller Foundation also made extensive donations of flour to occupied Belgium. It resulted in this Decorated Flour Sack in the collection of the War Heritage Institute, Brussels

Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant tells about the provision of humanitarian aid by a Rotterdam women’s committee, with support from the American Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic institution with a clear vision: they are willing to help on condition that benefactors are willing to work. And so, 80 Belgian women have started sewing and knitting shirts and underpants:

In response to the great demand for underwear, some of the ladies in this field have initiated a small-scale trial to get Belgian women to sew for their unfortunate fellow countrymen. That this initial test promises to be a great success is due to the unexpected and incredibly appreciated help of three American gentlemen sent by the “Rockefeller Foundation for War Relief.” Mr. Jenkinson, Dr. Rose and Mr. Bicknell have been commissioned to travel throughout Europe to see where help is most needed. Having arrived in our country, they also found great need here, especially among the Belgian refugees due to the forced inactivity. They are willing to help them if there is a desire to work, and they want to start a test in Rotterdam which, if it succeeds, will be continued throughout the country. If this test fails, they will withdraw their promise.
A committee has been formed, consisting of the aforementioned ladies and Mr. Jenkinson; In a few days, this committee set over 80 Belgian women in the Uranium hotel to sew and knit. With great willingness and gratitude, these women now work for their countrymen; 75 pieces of men’s clothes are delivered per day. 1/3 of this goes to refugees in Rotterdam; 2/3 mainly to the interned Belgian soldiers. All costs of sewing machines, fabric, etc. are borne by the Americans, who thereby indirectly do a great service to the country, and are entitled to great gratitude. The committee sincerely hopes that our city will not lose the high opinion that America has of Rotterdam and that it will show with dignity the confidence it has placed in it.


SS Lynorta, moored in the Maashaven in Rotterdam, has crossed the Atlantic with 5600 tons of relief supplies, both donations from the state of Virginia and purchases by the CRB. January 1915. Fig. La Belgique and la Guerre [1]
Transshipment of flour sacks from the state of Virginia into a barge. Fig. Literary Digest, May 8, 1915

The city of Rotterdam played a unique role in the success of international aid to the Belgian population through the hospitality provided to the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).
The port of Rotterdam was the place where the CRB brought all relief supplies with ocean steamers and then transshipped them on inland vessels for transport to Belgium.

The CRB headquarters were located in London and the CRB set up an office in Rotterdam to coordinate transport.


Copy of letter of January 19, 1915 from CRB Rotterdam to CRB Brussels with the announcement that all telegram costs from Rotterdam to Belgium or London are borne by the Dutch government. State Archives of Belgium

In “A History of the C.R.B.” Tracy B. Kittredge [2] described the history of the CRB in Rotterdam. The CRB representative, the American Captain Lucey and some employees, first moved into the office of Furness & Co. On November 21, 1914, the office moved to its own location at Haringvliet 98.

The CRB office at Haringvliet 98, Rotterdam. Fig. La Belgique and la Guerre [1]
Mr. J.M. Haak was manager of the office, Mr. Van der Sluis was head of the shipping department and was responsible for the organization of the inland vessels that sailed to Belgium and the handling of the goods in the port of Rotterdam, the Maashaven, to be precise. A transshipment that was usually carried out at record speed. Mr Van den Branden was the Belgian representative of the NKHV / CNSA and was mainly concerned with financial operations. In December 1914 the American C.A. Young followed Captain Lucey as director of CRB Rotterdam.

The employees of the CRB in Rotterdam in 1915/1916. Eight ladies, seven of them with hats, are in the second row. Bottom row, third from the right is Mr. Joseph Jean De Pooter (Antwerp, 8/3 / 1875-16 / 12/1940) **, next to him, on the left in the photo, is Lewis Richards. Fig. La Belgique and la Guerre [1]
The office was well organized and efficient and worked at low costs; over the years it grew into an organization of dozens of employees. Mistakes were not made, it formed a strong contrast to the CRB office in Brussels, which sometimes managed to blunder in the execution of business, according to Tracy Kittredge in his historiography.

The Rotterdam Yearbook from 1915-1919 contained a daily chronicle of important events in the city and provides insight into the state of affairs in Rotterdam during WWI. Read here about the arrival of food products for Belgians, noted in the Rotterdam Yearbook:

Transshipment of relief supplies for occupied Belgium in the Maashaven, Rotterdam. Fig. La Belgique and la Guerre [1]
November 1914:
24 Today, the J. Blockx steamship has arrived from London, carrying a load of food for the Belgians

December 1914:
3 The Thelma steamship arrives from New York with 1740 tons of food for the Belgians.
8 The Denewell steamship from Kurrachee (Karachi, Pakistan) arrived here last night with 6,000 tonnes of food for the Belgians.
18 The steamship Orn arrives from Philadelphia with around 1900 tons of food for the Belgians
20 The steamships Memento from London and Dorie from Halifax arrive here with food for the Belgians
27 Steamship Agamemnon from New York arrives here with food for the Belgians
28 The Neches steamship from New York arrives here with food for the Belgians
29 This afternoon the Maskinonge steamship from New York arrived here with food for the Belgians
30 The Batiscan steamship from Philadelphia arrives here with about 6700 tonnes of wheat for the Belgians.
31 Since 1 January, the Nieuwen Waterweg has welcomed, destined for Rotterdam 7547 ships against 10527 in 1913, thus a reduction of 2980 ships, measuring 3,595,744 tons.

January 1915:
2. The London steamship Lincluden arrives here with food for the Belgians.
8. The Calcutta steamship has arrived here from Halifax with wheat and other food for the Belgians
11. Arriving here with wheat for the Belgians are the steamships: Kentigern from New York, Rio Lages from New Orleans and Ferrona from Philadelphia.

December 1915
31. Since January 1, the Nieuwen Waterweg, has welcomed 3760 ships, destined for Rotterdam, measuring 4,224,805 net register tons, i.e. compared to the clearance before the war. The number of incoming inland vessels was 161,604 with a volume of 24,836,418 tons.


Inland vessels are waiting for their cargo for occupied Belgium in the Maashaven. Fg. La Belgique et la Guerre [1]
Kittredge has provided figures of CRB relief supplies that have been brought to the port of Rotterdam during the first year 1914-1915:
– On November 15, 1914, the first ship with relief supplies arrived: the SS “Tremorvah” with 5,000 tons of foodstuffs, a gift from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
– From mid-November 1914 to mid-November 1915, 186 full shiploads and 308 partial shiploads arrived.
– In the first operational year, CRB Rotterdam received a total of 988,852 tons of goods.

Transfer of wheat with the “Stadsgraanzuiger I”, a floating grain elevator in the Maashaven. Fig. La Belgique et la Guerre [1]
If I compare these CRB figures with the figures from in the Rotterdam Yearbook, I conclude that the port of Rotterdam owed several tens of percent of its activity to the transit of goods to Belgium.

The unique role of the city of Rotterdam is personally meaningful to me with regard to my WWI flour sacks research.
I have lived in Rotterdam for 10 years, not far from the port. From the Erasmus University where I studied, we had a view of the Maas and saw ships passing by.
There appears to be little knowledge about the history of the CRB and the decorated flour sacks in WWI. It feels useful to be able to record a forgotten history of the city and the port.

Flour sacks destined for occupied Belgium in the hold of an inland vessel. The logos and prints on the flour sacks will later serve as embroidery patterns for Belgian embroiderers. Fig. La Belgique and la Guerre [1]
My research shows that the port of Rotterdam is the only location in the world where all flour sacks from WWI have to have been!

Rotterdam was the transport center:
– The sacks of flour were supplied from various North American locations: ports, both on the east and west coast;
– The transit of flour sacks with inland vessels went to different Belgian ports, such as Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels, Liège.

So: every flour sack in WWI traveled through Rotterdam between 1914-1919!


Rotterdam on the Maas, 2019

However, the unique place that Rotterdam has occupied as a port in providing assistance to occupied Belgium did unfortunately not result in a collection of any decorated flour sacks in Rotterdam.

Glass sack on the blowing pipe. Photo: Selma Hamstra
Blowing glass in Rotterdam. Photo: Selma Hamstra









Fortunately I was inspired to write this blog about Rotterdam thanks to the start-up of “Glass Blowing Studio Keilestraat” in the Nieuw Mathenesse harbor area between Keilehaven and Lekhaven.

Glass sack, full of memory. Photo: Selma Hamstra

For years I had hoped to be able to blow glass in Rotterdam.
Last week was the day: A big “Thank you” to Selma Hamstra, she offered me together with my colleague Yvon Trossèl a pleasant and warm hospitality in her studio. It was a great opportunity to breathe new life into a sack full of memories!


**) Joseph Jean de Pooter is Paul Bekkers’ maternal grandfather, who responded to this blog. De Pooter lived at Nieuwe Binnenweg 274b. In his collection is a list of CRB employees signatures, dated 9/16/1918


[1] Rency, Georges (Stassart, Albert), La Belgique et la Guerre. I. La Vie Matérielle de la Belgique durant la Guerre Mondiale. Bruxelles: Henri Bertels, Editeur, 1922

[2] Kittredge, Tracy B., A History of the C.R.B., The History of The Commission for Relief in Belgium 1914-1917. London: Crowther & Goodman Limited, Printers, 1918

“Thanks from Oppuers”

The Europeana Collections website 1914-1918 put me on the trail of this unique photograph of two young, Belgian embroiderers, plus two decorated flour sacks in a private collection [1].

In the online contribution “Oscar De Keersmaecker from Oppuurs”, his son Jozef talks about his father’s experiences as a soldier in WWI and the burning down of his father-in-law’s mill in 1914. Jozef De keersmaecker is Honorary Alderman of Oppuurs, he is also a writer of historical books, including the “History of Oppuurs 1311-2003”.

This story “Thanks from Oppuers” (“Oppuers” is the old spelling of “Oppuurs”) brings together a Belgian and an American mill.

View of Oppuurs, November 2019

Oppuurs, part of the municipality Puurs-Sint-Amands, is located in the province of Antwerp. I traveled there in November, Mr. and Mrs. De keersmaecker-Verbruggen were so kind to welcome me in their home to study the decorated flour sacks and shared with me the accompanying family stories.

Memory of the mill of Oppuurs, painted by M. Depaep, 1950. De keersmaecker-Verbruggen collection

The mill of Oppuurs was originally a wooden grain windmill, which was founded before 1508. In 1887, miller Petrus Edmond Verbruggen inherited the mill from his deceased wife. Verbruggen remarried Maria Rosalia Van Der Linden; when he died in 1907, he left the mill to his wife and children.

Photo of the mill of Oppuurs, early 1900. Image: History of Oppuurs 1311-2003

In the meantime, during a storm in 1898, the standard mill had been toppled, but had been rebuilt in 1901 as a “belt mill” with a fairly high base, grounded on a slope. After the outbreak of the First World War, fate struck again. The Belgian army set fire to the mill: the mill would obstruct the view from the Bornem fort of the advancing German troops; and if they would advance, the mill could not serve as a lookout post for them.

The mill was never rebuilt on the spot, the only thing that reminds us today is the mill well. [2]

The miller’s family Verbruggen went with the times, in 1917-1918 they founded a new steam mill at Oppuurs station. After years of back and forth, the Belgian state eventually paid compensation for the destruction of the mill.

Family photo Verbruggen, 1915. Image: History of Oppuurs 1311-2003

A lot of needlework has been done in the family of Rosalie Verbruggen-Van Der Linden. The girls went to school in Oppuurs and were educated by the nuns of Annonciaden from Veltem; by far the majority of people in the village owe part of their upbringing to these nuns.

L: Irène Verbruggen, R. Antoinette Verbruggen, sisters, aunts of Jeanneke Verbruggen. Image: History of Oppuurs 1311-2003

Antoinette and Irena Verbruggen made a diptych on flour sacks with the image of the family mill in operational and destroyed condition: “Praise and Thanks Oppuers 1914” and “America Relief in Need 1915”. It was hemmed with a wide strip of bobbin lace and decorated with band and brushes. It must have been a colorful needlework.

The girls proudly showed their work in the photo. On the back of the photo is written: ”L. Irène Verbruggen, R. Antoinette Verbruggen, sisters, aunts of Jeanneke Verbruggen. These sacks were a memento as a thank you for the American help. They are flour sacks and are owned by the Verbruggen family.”

Unfortunately, it is not known whether the decorated flour sacks on the photograph have been preserved.

The entire Verbruggen-Van Der Linden family was portrayed during the photo session, nine children were still alive. The two boys, Modest and Frans, are on the left and right of their mother Rosalie; they would continue the business. Irena and Antoinette would later enter the monastery as nuns.

Decorated flour sack “Koene Held” (Valiant Hero), 1914-1916

There are two well-preserved flour sacks in the family. After the death of Frans Verbruggen, his eldest daughter Jeanne and her husband Jozef De keersmaecker dicovered the sacks at his home.

I have written about one of these decorated flour sacks before, in my blog “Verwondering over een Koene Held” (“Marvel of a Valiant Hero”).

Flour sack “Belgian Relief Flour, Wheatland, WYO, with embroidery “Thanks from Oppuers “, hemmed with a wide bobbin lace border
Flour sack ‘Belgian Relief Flour, Wheatland Roller Mill Co., Wheatland, Wyoming, VS

“Dank van Oppuers” (Thanks from Oppuers) is written in capital letters on the flour sack from Wheatland Roller Mill Co. in Wheatland, Wyoming, USA. The sack “Belgian Relief Flour” arrived in Belgium in March 1915 through the relief campaign “The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement 1914-15” from the Northwestern Miller, the magazine of American millers in Minneapolis [3].

Wheatland Roller Mill Co. early 1900. Image source: internet
Wall painting in downtown Wheatland, Wyoming, executed by “Platte County Art Guild” in 2017. Image source: internet

In the fall of 1914, the people of the state of Wyoming raised money for the needy Belgian population. To contribute to the Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement flour was purchased from the Wheatland Roller Mill Co., as reported in the relief effort Report.

The flour mill existed from 1897 to 1931 [4]. The town of Wheatland commemorates the history of the mill to this day with a mural in the city center, applied in 2017 by the “Platte County Art Guild”.

The steamer “South Point” transported a load of 6200 tons of relief goods for a value of $ 500,000 from Philadelphia to Rotterdam. The ship arrived safely in the port of Rotterdam on 27 February 1915, where the sacks of flour were immediately loaded on inland vessels and shipped to Belgian ports. A number of barges sailed to Antwerp; hence the flour would be distributed to Oppuurs.

“Cooking soup with Oppuers stoker for aid and food for school children and refugees during WWI.” History of Oppuurs 1311-2003
The flour sack “Thanks from Oppuers” is rimmed with a wide hem

Empty sacks will have been handed over to the Annonciaden Sisters’ Monastery School in Oppuurs, where the schoolgirls processed the flour sacks in class as part of their needle training.

Detail embroidery: the coat of arms of Oppuers flanked by two lions, below a buttonhole






On the unprinted side of the flour sack, first a design would have been made and the pattern drawn, in some places you can still see blue lines on the canvas. The embroidery is meticulously executed, as well as the wide lace border, see the appendix with the complete inventory of the flour sack.


Remarkable are:

Detail embroidery “België 1915” (Belgium 1915)
  • The three buttonholes
  • The year “1915” as the year of decoration, instead of a timeline 1914-1915
  • Europeana Collections 1914-1918 mentions the contribution of Henri Vertongen including the image of a correspondingly decorated flour sack with “Thanks from Puers”. See my blog of January 23, 2020.
Jeanne and Jozef De keersmaecker-Verbruggen

My warm thanks go to Jozef De keersmaecker and his wife Jeanne Verbruggen. She is the granddaughter of Rosalie Verbruggen-Van Der Linden and has always known her grandmother as an independent, decisive woman. Jeanne’s aunts, who became nuns as adults, embroidered the dyptich of flour sacks with the mills when they were schoolgirls.
Who knows they and the other sisters Verbruggen may also have worked on the two flour sacks preserved by their brother Frans.


[1] The decorated flour sacks “Dank van Oppuers” and “Koene Held” have been on display to the public at Heemkundige Verzamelkring (“Historical Collecting Circle”) St-Amands HeverStam during the exhibition “The face of the Great War” in 2018

[2] The history of the mill of Oppuurs is described in the Molendatabase.EU: see the collection “Lost Belgian Mills”

[3] See also my blog / article “A Famous Flemish Flour Sack in The Land of Nevele” of 25 October 2018

[4] More about the history of Wheatland Roller Mill Co. in the book by Starley Talbott, Platte County. Images of America. Charleston SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2009