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.

Post #30: Belgian Refugees and a Leap of Faith

July 25, 2015 

An excerpt from Behind the Lines, chapter 14, “The Refugees”:

Refugees fleeing Antwerp, Oct. 1914. (Public domain)
For days they simply walked. Bundles in hand, cold, exhausted, frightened. Pushing carts, leading children, helping the elderly. The Antwerp refugees had little idea of where they were going, other than toward Holland, and no idea of what they would do when they got there. They only knew they had to get out of the way of the inhuman creatures who, they had heard, wanted to burn, loot, rape, and murder. This massive flight northward had started in earnest on Wednesday, October 7, and continued unchecked through Saturday, October 10.

Edouard Bunge got an unasked-for front-row seat to the refugees’ flight. Just after the bombardment stopped and the Germans entered Antwerp, they demanded that the city council choose six prominent men for a critical task. These men would each be accompanied by two German officers to the forts in their assigned area to make sure the forts had surrendered. If the forts hadn’t, or refused to, the Germans would retire from the city, and the bombardment would begin again. Bunge was one of the six who volunteered.

On Saturday at 6 a.m. Bunge and two German officers, Major von Stresow and Lieutenant Stockhausen, took off for their assigned area. “Chance, or perhaps the Germans’ information, willed that the sector which they assigned to me should be ground on which I was at home: Merxem, Schooten, Brasschaet and Cappellen.”

As they drove out through the city, Bunge wrote later: “Shortly before and during the bombardment of the city an enormous wave of [refugees] made its way steadily towards the Dutch border. Thousands and thousands of people fleeing from the city as well as from the surrounding communes had saved themselves as best they might. . . . The great majority
were poor people without any resources, wanting food, blankets and shelter. There were women at the point of childbirth, little children who were sick and old men who could scarcely stand alone. All this pitiable crowd walked and walked some 10, some 14 hours until their strength deserted them and they stopped completely exhausted. Some stayed in the fields, others were more fortunate, in the pine groves.”

As the refugees trudged north through the countryside, German soldiers were seen in the act of confirming the rumors. “Pillage had already commenced,” Bunge stated. “The scoundrels could be seen coming out of the houses loaded down with objects of all kinds, and others were in the act of forcing doors, not in the least disturbed by our passage. The inhabitants had fled and we saw no policemen in these outlying districts. A desolate picture of war.”
Belgian refugees in Holland. (Public domain.)
End of excerpt.

My post: Once again a lot has happened since I last wrote.. A few highlights (and lowlights):

1. My beloved sister, Claire Zimmerman, died after a nearly five-year battle against a spinal tumor that took nearly everything from her but her smile and her sharp wit.
Claire Zimmerman
Thanks to her saint-of-a- husband, Gene; two children, Chloe and Eric; my other sisters, Tina and Leslie; and Claire’s incredible friends, neighbors and community – all of whom helped Claire’s last years be the best possible.

2. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (HHPL) presentation in Iowa by myself and three other scholars (see Post #29) went off very well on June 20. It was only five days after I spoke at Claire’s memorial service, and my voice was starting to break up. Happily, it held together through the speech, then it totally crapped out for the next three or four days (much to the delight of my wife, Susan, who appreciated the little-known silence around the house!).

3. In June, Blue Ink Reviews, which produces objective, professional reviews of independently published books, gave Behind the Lines a coveted Starred Review. You can read the review by clicking here. 

4. I’ve taken a BIG financial step. For those who have been following this very infrequent blog, you know that I’ve been struggling with the financial issue – I can’t afford to pay for Book Two like I did Behind the Lines out of my dwindling retirement funds, but I can’t afford NOT to continue this incredible American story. So, in a desperate move, I’ve filed for early Social Security (I’m 62 and a half). It’s  not going to get me much (only a $1,000 a month), but that will be something to stem the outgoing tide of savings until, I hope, a white knight comes along. He or she could take the form of translation rights, movie rights, reprint rights, or traditional rights for Book Two, etc. I know all that’s far fetched, but I’ve decided to take that huge Leap of Faith that Soren Kiergeaard talked about, or better still, I’m following Joseph Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss and doors will open up where you never thought they existed.” Keep your fingers crossed for me, please! A year from now I might be working at Walmart. . .

Moving on, I’m honored to report that the HHPL presentation was filmed by C-SPAN and will be seen on C-SPAN3 American History TV tomorrow, Sunday, July 26, at 2 p.m. EDT. Because I don’t have cable TV, I’ll have to wait and see the video once it’s put on the website. I know my three other speakers did GREAT jobs; I’m just hoping my presentation holds up to their level of professionalism. I think I did pretty well, but I’m nervous to see the actual footage. I hear TV makes you look and sound at least 10 points lower down the IQ scale! :)  Let’s hope that’s not the case – I don’t have that much wiggle room when it comes to IQ (especially as I get older!).

Since returning from Iowa, I have waded back into the treacherous waters of  my Book Two research in preparation for launching fully into writing. I hope I don’t drown!

Author Appearances

Lastly, I want to mention a couple of author appearances I’ll be making in the next few months. I am so grateful to each group for wanting to have me participate.

August 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Poudre River Loves Reading Local Authors Book Fair
Fort Collins, CO, Old Town Public Library
Authors will be at tables to talk about their
books and sign copies; More info:

October 17, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Rocky Mountain Literary Festival
Mount Vernon Country Club
Golden, CO  
I’ll be the last speaker of the day

End of Post

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