Unless you've live under a rock, you've probably heard the saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Belgians and many citizens in northern France would have loved to have lemons, instead they received help from Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States in the form of the largest international aid organization the world had ever seen, The Commission for Relief in Belgium, established in 1914.
Although headed by Herbert Hoover and neutral diplomats, the men and women working on the ground and overseeing the handoff of foodstuffs to the for disbursement to the people were mostly young American college graduates. These were the faces the Belgian and French people saw who could act with some degree of freedom while they suffered under the German occupation.
And it was to these American delegates that many handed their words of thanks for the food they received, the clothes and blankets they had, and the knowledge that the world had not forgotten them. With so much being requisitioned by the Kaiser's Army, the Belgians and French had little to give, but the children wrote notes of thanks, the citizens doffed their hats when they saw the American flag, and the women offered handicrafts with the American flag as decorations, many stitched on the very flour sacks that fed them.
While not many examples of these gifts remain, I think they are an amazing snapshot of an extraordinary time with a message for the ages.
In my book, The Christmas Ship, the heroine receives just such a gift from a woman receiving meals in a soup kitchen and uses it to cover her earlier receipt of a forbidden letter to a Belgian soldier.
The Christmas Ship
American businessman Jacob Kerrigan works behind enemy lines to help feed seven million starving Belgians and bring Christmas to the children. The Commission for Relief in Belgium asks only one thing of its delegates: remain neutral in a war-torn country.
Roselle Perrine works in soup kitchens and her family farm by day, and spies for the Belgian resistance at night. She uses her position in society to convince Jacob to stay in her chateau, hoping the relief delegate’s presence will cover her nocturnal activities.
But the Kaiser’s Army is watching. When Roselle’s spying is discovered, will Jacob remain neutral or fight for love?