Necessary Background Info

When I was a teenager, I was close to my maternal grandfather, Milton M. Brown. I was fascinated by the time he spent as a "delegate" in Herbert Hoover's WWI Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). He was one of only 185 American supervisors who ever worked for the CRB. After he died in 1979, I inherited all his diaries, correspondence and photographs from that period (1916-1917).

From 1986 through 1989, I worked full time researching the time period, WWI, the CRB, and numerous delegates. From those efforts, I wrote an 850-page historical novel, Honor Bound. I had a few nibbles -- agents and publishers who asked for the entire manuscript -- but no one offered a contract. In the late 1990s, I made a half-hearted attempt to rewrite the novel, but it didn't go far.

After my second book, Facing Your Fifties: Every Man's Reference to Mid-life Health came out in 2002 (and was included in Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2002), my agent looked at Honor Bound. He suggested the topic would do well -- and fit my writing strengths -- if it was a history book written in novel-like style.

At the end of 2012, as I turned 60 years old, I came to the conclusion that it was time to take up this incredible humanitarian story again and see if I could make it work.

After more than a year of researching and writing, and with the help of a talented book team, I published Behind the Lines: WWI's little-known story of German occupation, Belgian resistance, and the band of Yanks who helped save millions from starvation. 1914. It detailed the complex and chaotic beginnings of the CRB and CN during the critical first five months of the war (August to December, 1914). It was released in October 2014 in time for the 100-year anniversary of the start of WWI and the CRB.

Since then, I'm happy to report that Behind the Lines has garnered national recognitions and reviews that include a Kirkus Starred Review (only 750 out of 10,000 books annually reviewed by Kirkus are awarded a Starred Review) and inclusion in Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014. The last sentence of the review states: "An excellent history that should catapult Miller to the top tier of popular historians." You can read all the reviews at the book's website, which can be reached by clicking here.

Below are my blog posts about re-immersing myself in this important humanitarian topic. The posts start in Dec. 2012 and come up to the present. The posts are laid out with the most recent first. A "List of All My Posts" is on the bottom right of this page. I start each post with a quick snippet of history. I used to call this item "A Spot of History," but now it's titled "Don't-Forget-WWI Project."

My main forcus now is to finish researching and writing WWI Crusaders, which tells the riveting full story of the American CRB delegates from August, 1914 to April, 1917, when America entered the war and the CRB delegates had to leave Belgium and Northern France.

I hope you find something of interest within this blog. For more information about Behind the Lines and/or WWI Crusaders, please go to the books' website by clicking here.


#17: Who Knew Keeping The "Wrong" Time Was So Patriotic?

June 12, 2013

A Spot of History: In WWI Belgium -- where many people felt helpless against the oppressive German occupation -- small, simple things took on great power and significance. The Belgian flag (black-yellow-red) was forbidden to be displayed, so shopkeepers used tri-colored cord to wrap packages, while others trimmed their hats or shirts with the national colors.
 
Antwerp's Cathedral Clock, courtesy of
123RF website
Even the simple act of knowing, or keeping, time became a Belgian patriotic weapon of war.
It all started when the Germans took over Belgium and instituted Berlin time (European Central Time) across the country. Called “Heure Allemande” by the Germans, it was better known to the Belgians as "Heure Torenaur" or "Tower Time" because every village's clock tower or public clock had to be set to the new German time.

This was insufferable to the Belgians. Wherever and whenever they could (without obviously putting themselves in harm's way), they maintained their original Belgian time (Greenwich time). It became fashionable for meetings, events and even invitations to state "H.B." for Heure Belge, which was one hour earlier than German time.

Naturally, the Germans didn't take this sitting down. Any use of Belgian time was considered a "hostile demonstration," and Belgians caught with a watch set to H.B. were fined 20 marks.

Where did the CRB delegates stand on the issue?

Being neutral, they weren't supposed to take sides. But as E.E. Hunt related in his book, War Bread, the Americans kept Belgian time. This, however, could cause problems:
 
"If we arranged for a German to call at one and a Belgian to call at twelve, they arrived at exactly the same moment and glowered at each other in the ante-room. The cathedral clock in Antwerp furnishes time for the whole country-side. The clock was obligated to record German time, of course; but when the city fathers sent out notices of municipal meetings, they avoided the suggestion that the clock kept unpatriotic time by stating that the meeting would be, say, at two o'clock, 'hour of the Tower.'"

In German-occupied Belgium, where native resistance of any kind could be met with harsh penalties, any subtle action had the potential of taking on great patriotic symbolism.

That was especially true if...the time was right! :)
 
My Post: Speaking of time, my trip to the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford was highly successful. Thanks to Carol, David and all the others at the Archives. I found many items that should be useful when writing my book. I also met Bert Patenaude, a  Research Fellow at Hoover Institution and lecturer in history and international relations at Stanford University. His first book was The Big Show In Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. I had a great hour of coffee and conversation with Bert -- thanks for the time!

Another big thanks goes out to Branden Little (Assistant Professor of History at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah). Before I left for Stanford, Branden emailed me a list of tips and suggestions which made my trip so much easier, productive and fun. Thanks, Branden, for all your help -- and your friendship!

I also had a nice family moment when I visited the Hoover Tower. Right inside the entrance, carved on one marbled wall, are the names of all those who honorably served (not all those who participated) in the CRB. It was wonderful to look up and spot my grandfather's name, Milton M. Brown, my uncle's name, William Hallam Tuck, and all those I've become quite attached to --  Fred Eckstein, Hugh Gibson, Maurice Pate, E.E. Hunt and Joe Green. A fascinating set of diverse and talented men.

As for my research, during three full days at the archives I took more than 2,500 digital images and made a couple hundred photocopies of material I believe will be useful for my book.

When I got home, it took a full week of work to view every image and decide if I needed to print it or not. Then I had to take all the printouts and sort them into my growing filing system.

An interesting idea came to me in the archives. While studying a large portrait book of CRB delegates (in the Tuck collection), it dawned on me that there was no master list of names and photos of all the delegates. They certainly deserve at least that, and it's frankly surprising there isn't such a name/photo list. So, I started taking photos of any identified groups of delegates and any named portraits, even if I wasn't interested in those particular delegates.

I then shared my idea with the staffers of HI at Stanford and HHPL in Iowa. They felt it was a worthwhile project that they would definitely like to have if completed.

When I got home, I spent more than a week pulling head shots from group pictures, cropping portraits, sizing all images to thumbnails and setting up a basic structure. Even getting the list of names together was a challenge. Every list I've seen is slightly different. So, I created a new list using Vernon Kellogg's list at the end of his CRB book, a 1929 CRB directory and the Hoover Tower wall of names.

While I knew I could make a good start of matching names and photos, I knew I could never do it all. That's when I thought of making this a crowd sourcing project. I took what I had done and placed it on a page within my wesite. You can find it at http://www.jbmwriter.com/CRB-Delegates-Names-and-Photos.html

In only a few weeks, I've had numerous people send information and/or photos. Thanks to Erskine, John, Tammy and Branden for their great contributions. The current stats are: 182 total names, 115
names/photos matched, 41 photos unmatched and 67 names without photos.

For those who would like to help, check out the site and pass around the website address to anyone  who you think can help. In no time at all, there should be a true master list of names and photos that I'll provide free on CD to any institution or individual who wants it.

While I'm glad I started this project, I do realize it's taken that much time out of my own work. So, of course, it's time to get back to work!

End of Post

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