Humanitaire hulp voor België

Humanitaire hulp voor België kwam onmiddelijk op gang, na de Duitse inval in het land in augustus 1914. Omringende landen vingen Belgische vluchtelingen op.

Belgian Relief Bulletin, New York, 25 november 1914

Duizenden gemeenschappen in Canada, gevolgd door de VS, richtten een Belgian Relief Fund op, waarbij de Belgische consuls initiatieven tot het bijeenbrengen van geld en hulpgoederen mede coördineerden, teneinde de ‘war relief donations’ naar bezet België te versturen. Nationale en lokale kranten in de donorlanden vormden de motor achter de communicatie. De donaties werden accuraat bijgehouden, de kranten publiceerden lange lijsten met namen van de donors, bedragen en goederen, en riepen op tot méér donaties.

De Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) ontstond eind oktober 1914 temidden van deze spontane en gedreven hulpacties en groeide uit tot de centrale -particuliere- organisatie voor humanitaire hulp aan bezet België. Orde scheppen en acties coördineren vanuit het hoofdkantoor in Londen zag de CRB als eerste taak. Ze had de medewerking van Groot-Brittannië ontvangen tot doorlaten van de hulpgoederen en Duitsland had verklaard geen door de CRB geïmporteerde producten in België te zullen opeisen. In België bereidde het Nationaal Komiteit voor Hulp en Voeding (NKHV) zich voor op de ontvangst van de goederen en de provinciale en lokale distributietaken. De tekorten waren inmiddels door het hele land voelbaar.

Collectie Keym, Stadsarchief Brussel, 1915

“Stuur ons tarwemeel in handzame zakken volgens instructie bedrukt of gestempeld, wij nemen het transport naar België voor onze rekening”, propageerde de CRB in de VS vanuit het kantoor in New York. En het verzocht de leiders van de Amerikaanse staten per staat de hulp te verzamelen, zodat de goederen op een ‘State Ship’ de oversteek van de Atlantische Oceaan konden maken. Met alle publiciteit vandien.

In vier maanden tijd, november 1914-februari 1915, slaagden de diverse organisaties in en buiten België erin hun taken zodanig op te pakken dat in het algemeen gesproken de Belgische bevolking in de minimale, primaire behoefte aan eten en kleding was voorzien.

Waar het geld vandaan kwam
Welke ontwikkeling kende de financiering van de humanitaire hulp?
Het NKHV en de CRB startten de inkoop van goederen met leningen van particulieren, zoals Ernest Solvay, van banken via Emile Francqui, buitenlandse tegoeden van de Belgische overheid; Herbert Hoover verkreeg een lening van de Britse regering.
Vandaar groeide de financiering door tot een complex systeem van leningen, schuldvereffeningen, garanties en subsidies tussen de geallieerde landen België, Frankrijk en Engeland.
Het was ondenkbaar dat de overheid van een neutraal land, zoals de VS, mee financierde aan de voedselhulp voor bezet België, een land in oorlog. Zelfs was er kritiek op de oproepen van de CRB aan de Amerikaanse Staten om mee te werken en het publiek in de VS om geld in te zamelen voor Belgian Relief.
Toen de VS in april 1917 de oorlog verklaarde aan Duitsland veranderde de situatie. Vanaf toen financierde de Amerikaanse overheid met subsidies de humanitaire hulp voor België.

De importen van de CRB waren totaal:

Totaal bedrag importen 1914-1919, zoals gepubliceerd door Gay, Fisher in Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, 1929

De overheidssubsidies van de VS, Groot-Brittannië en Frankrijk waren:

Totaal bedrag overheidssubsidies 1914-1919, zoals gepubliceerd door Gay, Fisher in Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, 1929

Internationale liefdadigheid
Door de inleiding van dit blog zou je de indruk kunnen hebben dat de hulp voor bezet België gefinancierd is door liefdadigheid. Dat is een misverstand. Meer dan 90% van de humanitaire hulp is gefinancierd door overheden. Er zijn wel altijd liefdadige accenten gelegd: de medewerkers van de CRB ontvingen geen salaris, de Amerikaanse spoorwegen vervoerden de zakken meel voor de ‘State Ships’ enige tijd gratis, de Rotterdamse haven stelde de CRB-schepen vrij van havengelden, het CRB-kantoor in Rotterdam mocht vrij gebruik maken van telefoon en telegraaf verbindingen, enz., enz.

Ik citeer Vernon Kellogg, CRB-medewerker en hoogleraar aan Stanford University, Palo Alto, Ca.:
A glimpse of the great commercial activities involved in de buying and sending of the food: Although much of it, especially in the beginning months of the work, was bought directly by the givers in their various States and regions, some of it in large quantities by committees, as in the case of the special relief ships, and some of it in small quantities by the individual givers, the greater part of the food sent to Belgium has been bought by the New York and London offices by the Commission, which have an elaborate purchasing and shipping machinery.”[1]

Het liefdadige accent van de donaties van het publiek aan de CRB is maximaal 10% geweest van de inkomsten die de CRB nodig heeft gehad om haar taken van 1914-1919 uit te voeren.
“The Commission has not, as too widely believed in America, obtained all of the $300,000,000 worth (amounting in quantity to 3 million tons) of food and clothing it has sent into Belgium and North France, by charitable donation from the United States, nor even from the United States plus the rest of the world. Nor has it delivered all this food directly to the 9 1-2 million unfortunate inhabitants of Belgium and Northern France by the immediate hands of its American volunteer members. The total private charity of the world for the relief of Belgium and North France, put into the hands of the Commission as money or direct donations of food and clothing, has amounted to but $30,000,000, of which ten millions have come from the United States, and there have never been more than forty American Commission workers at one time in Belgium and Northern France.”[2]

Versierde Meelzak ‘The Rockefeller Foundation’, geborduurd en naaldkant; collectie War Heritage Institute, Brussel

Dus: $10 miljoen aan donaties uit de VS met substantiële bijdragen van filantropische instellingen en particulieren als The Rockefeller Foundation (enkele miljoenen dollars), the ‘Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement’ (een half miljoen dollar).

Versierde Meelzak ‘Belgian Relief Flour from Red Wing Milling Co., Red Wing, Minn.’; onderdeel van de Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement, geborduurd en teruggestuurd naar Red Wing Milling Co.; Collectie Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, West-Branch, Iowa (foto HHPLM)
Begeleidende brief bij de geborduurde meelzak van Northwestern Miller editor W. Edgar aan Red Wing Milling Co., 24 november 1916. Collectie HHPLM

De overige $20 miljoen aan donaties kwam voornamelijk uit de Gemenebest landen: Groot-Brittannië, Canada, Australië, Nieuw-Zeeland: “The great sum received by private gifts from British sources has been chiefly raised by the admirably organized and energetically directed campaign of the British National Committee for Belgian Relief” schrijft Vernon Kellogg.
De motor achter het Britse comité was de secretaries Sir William Goode: “This committee has conducted an impressive campaign of propaganda and solicitations of funds, collecting $12,500,000 with which to purchase foodstuffs and clothing for the Belgian destitute.”

“Propaganda” en “nuisance value”
Ik breng in herinnering de CRB-oproep aan het Amerikaanse publiek in najaar 1914, die ik vanwege mijn focus op de meelzakken beperkt heb geformuleerd tot “Stuur ons tarwemeel in handzame zakken volgens instructie bedrukt of gestempeld, wij nemen het transport naar België voor onze rekening”. De oproep was echter veel breder: “zamel in en stuur ons voedingsmiddelen, kleding en geld voor België”, waarbij het ingezamelde geld lokaal diende te worden omgezet in hulpgoederen, om plaatselijke ondernemers en werkgelegenheid te ondersteunen.

“Cash Contributions Only”: Belgian Relief Bulletin, New York, 5 januari 1915

De CRB was een Amerikaans geleide inkoop- en logistieke organisatie en erop gebrand zo efficiënt mogelijk te werken.
Binnen enkele weken hinderden de kleine zendingen met hulpgoederen van het publiek de efficiëntie. Publieke donaties in natura kregen ‘nuisance value’. Vernon Kellogg: “As a matter of fact, the purchase and sending to us of food in small quantities gave us much trouble, and was necessarily a very uneconomical way of handling the matter.”

Branden Little: “The CRB understandably desired to systematize donations and eventually preferred cash gifts rather than randomly donated items, so that it could procure bulk cargoes of grains and other foods, thereby optimizing its shipping capacity and achieving economies of scales with its expenditures.”[3]

Waarom had de CRB dan toch in die beginmaanden ingezet op publieke hulp in natura?
Het antwoord heb ik gevonden in een telegram gedateerd 31 augustus 1915 van Herbert Hoover vanuit Londen, aan Lindon W. Bates, CRB-directeur in New York. Voor mij een relevatie, daarom druk ik het in vette letters af: De oproep aan het publiek, overgenomen door journalisten en breed uitgemeten in de kranten, was propaganda. De CRB had een drukmiddel nodig om de politiek en de strijdende partijen bereid te vinden hulpgoederen voor bezet België toe te laten.

Herbert Hoover op de foto met zakken ‘relief flour’ ten gunste van een van de vele door hem geleide humanitaire hulpacties; foto van inmiddels inactieve website ‘Hoover Legacy’

Hoover in zijn telegram: “It appears to me, from the considerable experience which we have now had in all phases of this work, that certain features have developed. We initially appealed foodstuffs for a starving nation, but we have since built up an economic machine by which this is no longer a legitimate undercurrent of appeal and we long since abandoned it everywhere…. The only legitimate, honest appeal which we have the right to make to the public now is for food, money, or clothing for the destitute in Belgium….

Collectie Keym, Stadsarchief Brussel

In the initial stages in order to bring vividly before the world the right of the Belgians to import foodstuffs, we engaged in a wide propaganda of newspaper publicity. This material had great news value and was freely used and in the main served to create a public opinion in support of the Commission’s objects. This phase is now firmly established, and the material no longer has news value and is no longer received by the press.”[4]

Branden Little zag het tegenstrijdige in het handelen van de CRB als het zoeken naar de balans om de Amerikaanse burgers achter zich te hebben staan: “Fully aware of the insufficiency of private donations to purchase food for millions dwelling in occupied lands, Hoover nevertheless thrived on the volume of small contributions, which he understood were an indication of America’s heart for Belgium.”

September 1915 reorganiseerde de CRB zijn Amerikaanse organisatie en beperkte zich in de oproepen aan het publiek: kleding en geld was nodig ten behoeve van de ‘destitute’ in België. De inzameling van voedingsmiddelen in natura was voorbij.

In een volgend blog zal ik de relatie leggen met de versierde meelzakken.

[1] Kellogg, Vernon, Fighting Starvation in Belgium. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, 1918 p. 111

[2] Williams, Jefferson and ‘Mayfair’, The Voluntary Aid of America. New York, London: 1918. Het citaat geef ik vanwege het relatieve beeld tussen subsidies en donaties; men baseerde zich op andere totaalcijfers van de CRB-hulp dan Gay en Fisher.

[3] Little, Branden, De humanitaire mobilisatie in de Amerikaanse steden voor de steun aan België, 1914-18. Brussel: Musée et Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles, Cahiers Bruxellois – Brussels Cahiers 2014/1N (XLVI), (p. 127-145)

[4] Gay, George I., Fisher, H.H. Public Relations of The Commission for Relief in Belgium. Documents. Volume II. Stanford University Press, Stanford University, California, 1929. Doc. No. 577, p. 268

Reusing Flour Bags as Clothing

Decorated flour sack from flour factory in Buffalo, NY, with embroidery and needlework “Merci aux Américains” by “École Morichar de Saint-Gilles”, 1915; Fig. “From Aid to Art”, San Francisco Folk Art Museum, 1987, Hoover Institution Library & Archives Collection, Stanford University, USA.

One of the goals of my research is to unravel the mythical history of the origins of the decorated Flour Bags in WWI. Decorated Flour Bags in WWI can be both embroidered, decorated with needlework and with lace, as well as painted on by artists. Flour Bags have been transformed into clothing.

Who had the idea of reusing these bags and where and when did that start? Was it a Belgian initiative or did it happen due to American suggestion?

Belgian newspapers and magazines
To find answers to my questions, I systematically went through a number of Belgian newspapers and illustrated magazines from the end of 1914, beginning of 1915; these have been digitized and are online.

I had already found some American publications before and combined them with the information from Belgium.

Color photo in “1914 ILLUSTRÉ, no. 22, February 1915”: Flour arrives in Brussels

I have split my analysis and findings into four parts:

  1. Reuse of Flour Bags into clothing.
  2. Transformation of Flour Bags with embroidery, needlework and lace into decorated Flour Bags, Belgian primary sources.
  3. Transformation of Flour Bags into painted decorated Flour Bags, Belgian primary sources.
  4. Transformation of Flour Bags into decorated Flour Bags, American primary sources.

Reusing Flour Bags as clothing
In this blog I will discuss the origin of the reuse of Flour Bags as clothing. Two primary sources, one Belgian from early 1915 and one American from late 1914, bear witness to this.

1) January 1915: Madame Vandervelde

Madame Vandervelde; Fig. gw.geneanet.org

The earliest Belgian source with information that I have found so far is an article about Madame Vandervelde. Her maiden name was Charlotte ‘Lalla’ Speyer, British by birth but from German parents, she was married in 1901 to her second husband, the Belgian Minister of State, Emile Vandervelde. The couple divorced immediately after WWI. [1]

Article in “Le XXe siècle: journal d’union et d’action catholique” of January 16, 1915

Since October 1914, Madame Vandervelde had been in the United States to ask for help for the Belgian population in need. In Buffalo, New York, she gave a lecture and received 10,000 bags of flour as a gift. The bags were made of fine cotton and intended for reuse.

La propagande pro-belge aux États-Unis.
‘Madame Vandervelde, la femme du Ministre d’Etat, est aux
États-Unis depuis plus de trois mois. Elle y a donné et y donne sur la Belgique et les horreurs, dont elle a été victime, une série de conférences qui ont le plus grand succès et dans lesquelles on acclame la Belgique et les Belges. …..
A Buffalo, des industriels lui ont offert un bâteau chargé de 10.000 sacs de farine, – sacs confectionnés en fine toile et en étoffe, afin qu’ils puissent servir par la suite et être transformés en vêtements et en linges pour les habitants. …

Translation: “In Buffalo, manufacturers have donated to her a ship with 10,000 bags of flour – bags made of fine canvas and cloth, so that these can afterwards be used and transformed into clothing and towels for the inhabitants…. “

Madame Vandervelde had apparently set up her own relief fund, the ‘Madame Vandervelde Fund’, to house all the donations she received in the United States. I have deduced this from:

Unprocessed flour sack Madame Vandervelde Fund.  Image: Imprimerie Société Anonyme Belge de Phototypie (Collection IFFM)

a) the unprocessed Flour Bag on a photo of a Flour Bags-collage, provided to me by the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM), Ypres, with the text: “War Relief Donation Flour from Madame Vandervelde Fund – Belgian Relief Fund, Buffalo, N.Y. U.S.A. 49 Lbs.”[2]

Decorated flour sack “Madame Vandervelde Fund”, collection IFFM, Ypres

 

 

b) the decorated Flour Bag, which I see online at the ‘Ieperse Collecties’ (Ypres Collections). Object number IFF 003008 is an “Embroidered and painted Flour Bag attached on a stretcher with the text “War Relief Donation – Flour 1914-1915 – from Madame Vandervelde Fund “. At the top the portrait of Emile Vandervelde, Minister of State of Belgium.”

 

2) November 1914: Mr. William C. Edgar

The earliest American source on the reuse of Flour Bags as clothing comes from Mr. William C. Edgar, editor-in-chief of the American newspaper “The Northwestern Miller” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On November 4, 1914, he started the aid campaign “The Miller’s Relief Movement”. [3] The newspaper, a trade magazine for grain millers, made a request to subscribers and advertisers, in particular the flour mills, to donate flour for Belgium’s aid. The quality of the flour was specified in detail and the packaging had to meet the following conditions: cotton bags, sturdy for transport, dimensions suitable for handling by one person and last but not least “suitable for reuse“:

Instructions were issued at the same time for packing the flour. These stipulated that a strong forty-nine pound cotton sack be used. This was for three reasons: the size of the package would be convenient for individual handling in the ultimate distribution; the use of cotton would, to a certain extent, help the then depressed cotton market, and finally and most important, after the flour was eaten, the empty cotton sack could be used by the housewife for an undergarment, the package thus providing both food and clothing. ‘(Final Report: The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement 1914-1915, p. 9). [4]

Tradition

Undergarment made from Flour Bag. Fig.: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, Iowa, USA

The motive for reuse was widely used among the American female population. Reuse of cotton bags had already been established for decades and earlier. Cotton was a product of the country, bags were usable pieces of cotton. It provided the sparing housewife with simple items of clothing for free or for a low price. After good washing, the seamstresses cut the pattern of the clothes out of the bags and mainly made undergarments for their own family. After the First World War, the reuse of cotton bags developed further in the US from the 1920s.

Lou Hoover poses in a cotton evening gown to encourage women to wear cotton clothing, in particular evening gowns (around 1930); Fig. firstladies.org

During the depression in the 1930s, the Americans protected their distressed cotton industry, reusing cotton bags was a sign of frugality and also a patriotic duty. Product development and marketing efforts by bag suppliers resulted in washable prints, washable labels and finally colorful, fashionable and hip prints on the bags. In the 40s and 50s it was particularly fashionable to wear garments made from bags. A true “Feedsack” cult prevailed among rural women to sew clothes from used cotton bags that had served as packages of chicken feed, flour, sugar and rice for the entire family. [5]

Photo in ‘L’ événement Illustré: L’Ouvroir des Dames Namuroises’, April 1915, no. 9
Jacket made from Flour Bag. Fig.: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, Iowa, USA

The reuse of flour bags into clothing would have been taken up by Belgian women’s organizations under the protection of the Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation, as soon as the relief work had properly started in January 1915.

It was typical of Belgian women that they not only made undergarments from the flour bags, but also cute, happy dresses for their children. In Heverlee, 80 children, mostly girls from around 4 to 6 years old, were photographed, dressed in Flour Sacks with the “American Commission” logo.

Image in Europeana Collections (estimated 1915)

Mr. Robert Bruyninckx shared this black and white photo of 14 × 9 cm in the Europeana Collections under the title: “Group photo with children dressed in clothes made from bags of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium.”

Description: “Group photo with Jeanne Caterine Charleer (born in Heverlee on August 17, 1910), top row, 7th from the right. Children dressed in clothes made from bags of the American Commission for Relief, with the American flag in the background. The photo is a family piece. Jeanne Caterine Charleer was the mother of Robert Bruyninckx.”[6]

Girl in Flour Bag dress from California. Fig.: Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University, V.S.

A girl in New York was photographed in a “Belgian” dress with the “Sperry Flour” logo from California.

Conclusion

Although I have only found two primary sources to date, I nevertheless come to a provisional conclusion about the origin of the reuse of Flour Bags as clothing: this practice was taken up in Belgium at the suggestion of American relief workers. The Belgian women found the Flour Bags so special, they made, apart from undergarments, also nice dresses for their children.

 

[1] Gubin, Eliane, Dictionnaire des femmes belges: XIXe et XXe siècle, p. 510-512; gw.geneanet.org: “Charlotte Hélène Frédérique Marie Speyer”

[2] Delmarcel, Guy, Pride of Niagara. Best Winter Wheat. Amerikaanse Meelzakken als textiele getuigen van Wereldoorlog I. Brussel, Jubelpark: Bulletin van de Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis (‘American flour sacks as textile witnesses of World War I’. Brussels, Cinquantenaire: Bulletin of the Royal Museums of Art and History), deel 84, 2013, p. 97-126

[3] See also my blog: “A Celebrity Flemish Flour Bag in The Land of Nevele” of October 25, 2018

[4] The Millers ’Belgian Relief Movement 1914-15 conducted by The Northwestern Miller. Final Report of its Director William C. Edgar, Editor of the Northwestern Miller, MCMXV

[5] Three sources to continue reading about ‘Feed Sacks’:
Linzee Kull McCray, Feed Sacks, The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, 2016/2019;
– Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 
For a few sacks more, online exhibition Textile Research Centre, Leiden, 2018
– Marian Ann J. Montgomery, 
Cotton and Thrift. Feed Sacks and the Fabric of American Households, 2019

[6] The group photo with the children in Heverlee in clothing from bags with the logo ‘American Commission’ is printed in the article by Ina Ruckebusch: ‘Belgische voedselschaarste en Amerikaanse voedselhulp tijdens WOI’ in: Patakon, tijdschrift voor bakerfgoed, (Belgian food scarcity and American food aid during WWI’ in: Patakon, Magazine about bakery heritage) 5 nr. 1 (2014) , p. 29.

 

From Lewis Richards via Berthe Smedt to Antoine Springael

A glimpse into my day of research on Thursday, March 13, 2019.
I am looking for connections in Brussels of Lewis Richards, member of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).

Lewis Richards, CRB member from 1915-1919. Image: MSU Archives website

Richards came from Michigan, USA, I read on the website of the Michigan State University Archives, he was a musician, pianist, an American who studied at the conservatory in Brussels. He graduated cum laude and also found the love of his life.

In Brussels, he met Berthe Smedt, daughter of Charles Smedt, the restaurant owner of Grand Restaurant de la Monnaie in 13 Rue Leopold, just behind La Monnaie.

Berthe Smedt and Lewis Richards on their wedding day. Image: MSU Archives website

In 1908, Lewis (Lewis Loomis Richards, born in Saint Johns, Clinton County, Michigan, on April 11, 1881, died in Michigan in 1940) and Berthe (Berthée Emilie Smedt, born in Brussels on June 19, 1884) were married in Brussels.
It so happens that my grandparents Van Kempen were also married in 1908. A funny coincidence that makes history come alive for me.
The wedding photo of Berthe shows a “cloud” of a wedding dress. Imagine it would have been preserved, the photo displays such!

Berthe’s mother, Emilie Marie Jeanne Schamps, was born in Brussels on September 25, 1856. Charles Smedt (born in Brussels, December 24, 1852, died January 30, 1911, butcher by profession, then restaurant owner) ran a restaurant during the World Fair in Brussels from his Grand Restaurant de la Monnaie, a “succursale” called: “Chien Vert” (Green Dog).
The phenomenon of the 1910 World Exhibition amazes me because of its scale; it is worth a deeper dive. The exhibition area was 88 hectares in size, 26 countries had a pavillion there and it attracted 13 million visitors. No wonder that Restaurant du Chien Vert is located in a monumental building; even it only lasted for six months.
I imagine that Lewis Richards would have performed in atmospheric concerts in his father-in-law’s restaurant.

The Pavilion of restaurant “Chien Vert” (“Green Dog”) during the World Exhibition 1910 in Brussels

Photographs of the World Exhibition were printed on postcards and were collector’s items. Through the website “La Belgique des Quatre Vents” I get a good impression of the “Exposition Universelle de 1910 à Bruxelles et Tervueren“.

Poster for the “Procession of the Seasons”, design by Antoine Springael, 1910

My gaze is held by this poster. I recognize the lady in the middle … She is depicted on a flour sack!
I dive into my photo archive and find the painted flour sack by Antoine Springael in the “Moulckers Collection“.

Painted flour sack, Antoine Springael, 1915; Moulckers Collection, St. Edwards University, Tx, USA

What a find. Antoine Springael has drawn the poster for the “Cortège des Saisons” in July 1910 and later, in 1915, he depicted the same Goddess of Summer on the American Commission’s flour sack!
Quite funny to compare the warm colors of the inviting poster with the somewhat messy black-and-white photo on the postcard of the actual Cortège des Saisons.

“Procession of the Seasons” during the 1910 World Exhibition in Brussels
Excerpt from the Report of the Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement by M. Edgar, 1915

Back to Berthe Smedt and Lewis Richards.
In his work for the CRB (officially from January 1915) in Brussels, Lewis played a role in the sale of decorated flour sacks to Americans who came to Belgium accompanying the delivery of relief supplies.

Mr. Edgar from “The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement” placed an order in March 1915, 105 years ago this month, for embroidered flour sacks. I wrote about it in my blog “A Celebrity Flemish Flour Bag in the Land of Nevele”.

Letter of thanks on behalf of the British Queen, 1917

In 1917 Richards worked for the CRB in London and sold two Belgian lace cushions to the British Queen.

In short, Lewis Richards was a man of standing, lived in Brussels in 1914-1915, ran with the wealthy circles in Brussels from the inside, spoke the language of both Belgians and Americans. He would have known what it was like, the history of the decorated flour sacks …

I find information about Richards’ work for the CRB in various sources:

1) Hugh Gibson, secretary of the United States Embassy in Brussels, writes in “A Journal from our Legation in Belgium“, 1917 (pp. 342-344):
“Christmas 1914.- Immediately after lunch we climbed into the big car and went out to Lewis Richards’ Christmas tree. He has a big house at the edge of town, with grounds which were fairy-like in the heavy white frost. He had undertaken to look after 600 children, and he did it to the Queen’s taste. They were brought in by mothers in bunches of one hundred, and marched around the house, collecting things as they went. In one room each youngster was given a complete outfit of warm clothes. In another, some sort of toy which he was allowed to choose. In another, a big bag of cakes and candies, and, finally, they were herded into the big dining-room, where they were filled with all sorts of Xmas food. There was a big tree in the hall, so that the children in their triumphal progress, merely walked around the tree. Stevens had painted all the figures and the background of an exquisite creche, with an electric light behind it, to make the stars shine. The children were speechless with happiness, and many of the mothers were crying as they came by.
Since the question of food for children became acute here, Richards has been supplying rations to the babies in this neighbourhood. The number has been steadily increasing, and for some time he has been feeding over two hundred youngsters a day. He has been very quiet about it, and hardly anyone has known what he was doing.
It is cheering to see a man who does so much to comfort others; not so much because he weighs the responsability of his position and fortune, but because he has great-hearted sympathy and instinctively reaches out to help those in distress. Otherwise the day was pretty black, but it did warm the cockles of my heart to find this simple American putting some real meaning into Christmas for these hundreds of wretched people. He also gave a deeper meaning for the rest of us.”

2) Tracy B. Kittredge has described Lewis Richards as one of the CRB’s most valuable employees. Quote of page 283 from “The History of The Commission for Relief in Belgium 1914-1917“:
“…in January 1916… was succeeded as general secretary by Mr. Lewis Richards, who had organised the Commission’s work in Greater Brussels. It was Mr. Richards who had devised and put into operation the card catalogue of the population of Brussels which had made possible the checking of the bread distribution and the combing out of some 150,000 extra rations of flour which had been distributed to bakers who had fraudulently padded their lists. Mr. Richards, after performing this service in Greater Brussels, had gone to Northern France in April 1915 as chief representative for the most important French district, that of the north, with headquarters at Valenciennes. After a few months there he went to Holland, where he helped in the Rotterdam office until Hoover asked him to return to Brussels to become general secretary. He remained at this post until July 1916, when he went out to Rotterdam again, this time to become assistant director of the Commission’s office there. Almost a year later he was called to London as assistant director of the central office of the Commission, in which capacity he is still serving. Mr. Richards, because of his experience and personal qualities, proved throughout his whole service to be one of the most valuable of the Commission’s representatives.”

3) In July 1919, a laudation about Richards’ CRB work appeared in The San Francisco Call and Post.

If a personal archive of his were to exist, it would have to be found in the archives of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

A long time ago, in 1981, I was on holidays in Michigan to visit some college friends I had made in the “American Law” course during my law studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam. If only I could have known then that I would later wish to be in East Lansing in my search for decorated flour sacks.
That is why I am starting a new research day today, closer to home, in search of the history of the Smedt family, daughter Berthe and son-in-law Lewis Richards in Brussels!

Van Lewis Richards via Berthe Smedt naar Antoine Springael

Een inkijkje in mijn onderzoeksdag van donderdag 13 maart 2019.
Ik ben op zoek naar de connecties in Brussel van Lewis L. Richards, medewerker van de Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).
Lewis Richards, medewerker CRB van 1915-1919. Foto: MSU Archives website

Richards kwam uit Michigan, VS,  lees ik op de website van de Michigan State University Archives, hij was musicus, pianist, een Amerikaan die studeerde aan het conservatorium in Brussel. Hij studeerde cum laude af en vond er ook de liefde van zijn leven.

In Brussel ontmoette hij Berthe Smedt, dochter van Emilie Schamps en Charles Smedt, de restauranthouder van Grand Restaurant de la Monnaie in Rue Léopold 7-13, net achter de Munt.
Berthe Smedt en Lewis Richards op hun huwelijksdag. Foto: MSU Archives website
In 1908 zijn Lewis (Lewis Loomis Richards, geboren in Sint Johns, Clinton County, Michigan, op 11 april 1881, overleden in Michigan in 1940) en Berthe (Berthée Emilie Smedt, geboren in Brussel op  19 juni 1884 ) in Brussel getrouwd.
Trouwens, mijn grootouders Van Kempen zijn ook getrouwd in 1908. Een grappige overeenkomst die de geschiedenis voor mij levend maakt.
De bruidsfoto van Berthe toont een ‘wolk’ van een huwelijksjapon. Stel dat die bewaard is gebleven, wat een weelde spreekt er uit de foto!
De moeder van Berthe, Emilie Marie Jeanne Schamps, was geboren in Brussel op 25 september 1856. Charles Smedt (geboren in Brussel, 24 december 1852, overleden op 30 januari 1911, van beroep slager, daarna restauranthouder) runde vanuit Grand Restaurant de la Monnaie tijdens de Wereldtentoonstelling van 1910 in Brussel ook daar een restaurant, een ‘succursale’ onder de naam ‘Chien Vert’.
Het fenomeen Wereldtentoonstelling 1910 verbaast me door de schaal en is enige verdieping waard. Het tentoonstellingsterrein was 88 hectare groot, 26 landen hadden er een paviljoen en het trok 13 miljoen bezoekers. Geen wonder dat Restaurant du Chien Vert gevestigd is in een monumentaal pand. Toch heeft dat maar voor zes maanden dienst gedaan.
Ik stel me zo voor dat Lewis Richards in het restaurant van zijn schoonvader zal zijn opgetreden in sfeervolle concerten.
Het Paviljoen van restaurant ‘Chien-Vert’ (‘Groene Hond) tijdens de Wereldtentoonstelling 1910 in Brussel
Foto’s van de Wereldtentoonstelling zijn op ansichtkaarten gezet en waren verzamelobject. Via de website ‘La Belgique des Quatre Vents’  krijg ik een goede sfeerimpressie van de ‘Exposition Universelle de 1910 a Bruxelles et Tervueren’.
Affiche voor de ‘Optocht der Seizoenen’, ontwerp van Antoine Springael, 1910

Bij deze affiche  blijft mijn blik hangen. Die dame in het midden herken ik…

Zij staat op een Meelzak!
Ik duik in mijn foto-archief en vind de beschilderde Meelzak van Antoine Springael in de ‘Moulckers Collection’.
Beschilderde Meelzak, Antoine Springael, 1915
Wat een vondst. Antoine Springael tekende het affiche voor de ‘Cortège des Saisons’ in juli 1910 en later, in 1915, zette hij deze Godin van de Zomer op de Meelzak van de American Commission!
Wel grappig om de warme kleuren van de uitnodigende affiche af te zetten tegen de wat rommelige  zwart-wit foto op de ansichtkaart van het daadwerkelijke Cortège des Saisons.
‘Optocht der Seizoenen’ tijdens de Wereldtentoonstelling 1910 in Brussel
Nu verder met Berthe Smedt en Lewis Richards.
Lewis speelde in zijn werk voor de CRB (officieel vanaf januari 1915) in Brussel een rol bij de verkoop van Versierde Meelzakken aan Amerikanen die hulpgoederen kwamen brengen.
Fragment uit het Report van de Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement door M. Edgar, 1915

Mr Edgar van ‘The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement’ heeft in maart 1915, deze maand 104 jaar geleden, een bestelling gedaan van geborduurde Meelzakken. Ik schreef er over in mijn blog ‘Een Bekende Vlaamse Meelzak in het Land van Nevele’.

Bedankbrief namens de Britse vorstin, 1917

In 1917 werkte hij voor CRB in London en verkocht twee Belgische kanten kussens aan de Britse Koningin.

 

Kortom, Lewis Richards was een man van standing, leefde in 1914-1915 in Brussel, kende de gegoede kringen in Brussel van binnenuit, sprak de taal van zowel Belgen als Amerikanen. Hij heeft geweten hoe het zat, de ontstaansgeschiedenis van de Versierde Meelzakken…

Informatie over het werk van Richards voor de CRB vind ik in diverse bronnen:
1) Hugh Gibson, secretaris van de Amerikaanse ambassade in Brussel schrijft in ‘A Journal from our Legation in Belgium‘, 1917 (blz. 342-344):
“Christmas 1914.- Immediately after lunch we climbed into the big car and went out to Lewis Richards’ Christmas tree. He has a big house at the edge of town, with grounds which were fairy-like in the heavy white frost. He had undertaken to look after 600 children, and he did it to the Queen’s taste. They were brought in by mothers in bunches of one hundred, and marched around the house, collecting things as they went. In one room each youngster was given a complete outfit of warm clothes. In another, some sort of toy which he was allowed to choose. In another, a big bag of cakes and candies, and, finally, they were herded into the big dining-room, where they were filled with all sorts of Xmas food. There was a big tree in the hall, so that the children in their triumphal progress, merely walked around the tree. Stevens had painted all the figures and the background of an exquisite creche, with an electric light behind it, to make the stars shine. The children were speechless with happiness, and many of the mothers were crying as they came by.
Since the question of food for children became acute here, Richards has been supplying rations to the babies in this neighbourhood. The number has been steadily increasing, and for some time he has been feeding over two hundred youngsters a day. He has been very quiet about it, and hardly anyone has known what he was doing.
It is cheering to see a man who does so much to comfort others; not so much because he weighs the responsability of his position and fortune, but because he has great-hearted sympathy and instinctively reaches out to help those in distress. Otherwise the day was pretty black, but it did warm the cockles of my heart to find this simple American putting some real meaning into Christmas for these hundreds of wretched people. He also gave a deeper meaning for the rest of us.”
2) Tracy B. Kittredge beschrijft  Lewis Richards als een van de meest waardevolle medewerkers van de CRB.  Citaat van blz 283 uit ‘The History of The Commission for Relief in Belgium 1914-1917‘:
“…in January 1916… was succeeded as general secretary by Mr. Lewis Richards, who had organised the Commission’s work in Greater Brussels. It was Mr. Richards who had devised and put into operation the card catalogue of the population of Brussels which had made possible the checking of the bread distribution and the combing out of some 150,000 extra rations of flour which had been distributed to bakers who had fraudulently padded their lists. Mr. Richards, after performing this service in Greater Brussels, had gone to Northern France in April 1915 as chief representative for the most important French district, that of the north, with headquarters at Valenciennes. After a few months there he went to Holland, where he helped in the Rotterdam office until Hoover asked him to return to Brussels to become general secretary. He remained at this post until July 1916, when he went out to Rotterdam again, this time to become assistant director of the Commission’s office there. Almost a year later he was called to London as assistant director of the central office of the Commission, in which capacity he is still serving. Mr. Richards, because of his experience and personal qualities, proved throughout his whole service to be one of the most valuable of the Commission’s representatives.”
3) In juli 1919 verschijnt er een lovend artikel over het CRB-werk van Richards in The San Francisco Call and Post.
Voorzover er een persoonlijk archief van Lewis Richards is,  is die te vinden in de archieven van Michigan State University in East Lansing, VS.
Lang geleden, in 1981, was ik daar op vakantie om studievrienden te bezoeken die ik had leren kennen bij het vak ‘Amerikaans Recht’ tijdens mijn rechtenstudie aan de Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. Weinig kon ik toen bevroeden dat ik later zou wensen in East Lansing te zijn in mijn zoektocht naar Versierde Meelzakken.
Daarom begin ik vandaag een nieuwe onderzoeksdag, dichterbij, op zoek naar de geschiedenis van de familie Smedt, dochter Berthe en schoonzoon Lewis Richards in Brussel!

Beschilderde Meelzakken in de ‘Moulckers Collection’ 1

Kunstenaars beschilderden meelzakken, ontvangen via de internationale voedselhulp. Een prachtige verzameling foto’s in een Flickr album getuigt hiervan. Deze foto’s zijn uit Amerikaanse bron: de St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, bewaart de ‘Captain and Mrs. Albert Moulckers Collection’, een collectie van 32 beschilderde meelzakken. 

Meelzakken met schilderingen blijken een aparte categorie binnen de ‘Versierde Meelzakken in WOI’. Ze staan op naam, de makers zijn te identificeren via hun handtekeningen en het jaartal, ook de ongesigneerde schilderingen dragen onmiskenbaar het handschrift van de kunstenaar.

U kunt het artikel hier lezen.

Afbeelding: Versierde Meelzak in WOI’ in de Moulckers Collection met schildering van Gaston Haustraete, 1915 (afb. St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas).

Een Bekende Vlaamse Meelzak in Het Land van Nevele

‘Versierde Meelzak in WOI’, detail, collectie heemkundige kring Het Land van Nevele, Hansbeke (afb. auteur)

Dit is mijn tweede artikel over een versierde meelzak in WOI.

De hoofdpunten in het artikel zijn:

  • De Versierde Meelzak van de heemkundige kring Het Land van Nevele is in uitstekende staat, is veel in de publiciteit gebracht en krijgt van mij de titel ‘Bekende Vlaamse Meelzak’.
  • De identiteit van de Meelzak is bekend en dat is bijzonder: de bewoners van Caldwell, Kansas, schonken meel, de zak kwam in maart 1915 naar België via de hulpactie van het vakblad ‘The Northwestern Miller’ in Minneapolis.
  • De geschiedenis van de bewerking van onbewerkte meelzak tot Versierde Meelzak blijft onderwerp van verdere studie.

U kunt het artikel  hier lezen.