WWI: Belgian Children Thank the American People

by Margaret E. Wagner

Violating a longstanding treaty, Germany invaded France in August 1914, and the Belgian people began four trying years of harsh German occupation. As the Kaiser’s army took what it needed, food and other vital materials became scarce, placing Belgians in danger of starvation

The American people sprang into action. Businessman and future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, then living in Britain, organized and headed the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), what Hoover biographer George Nash has aptly called “a pioneering effort in global altruism.” After securing German permission, CRB, working with affiliated organizations in the United States and other neutral nations, funneled tons of food, clothing and medicine to Belgium, and occupied northern France as well, throughout the war. American flags festooned CRB distribution centers in Belgium; American ambassador Brand Whitlock and U.S. businessmen living in Belgium worked with Belgian officials to assure relief supplies reached the people most in need.

In 1915, Belgian schoolchildren and many of their teachers wrote thank-you letters to President Wilson and the American people for this constant flow of assistance. Many of the children drew pictures; some letters included photographs. In 1919, Ambassador Whitlock forwarded all 8,400 of these expressions of gratitude to the State Department, which sent them to the Library of Congress. They reside today in the Library’s Manuscript Division — testaments to kindness and mutual good will at a time of brutal conflict.

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[1] “Honor and thanks to the great American Nation! My little heart feels so happy to be able to thank you for all you have done for us in these horrible circumstances. If it weren’t for you and your help, we would have been cold and hungry. Thanks to your food and clothes we have everything our hearts desire. We admire your courage and send our sincere gratitude across the ocean.”

[2] A very young artist named Germaine created this short visual story. In the top panel, as he describes in his caption, “American children carry packages to a ship leaving for Belgium.” In the panel below, “Belgian children expecting presents from their American friends.”


Margaret E. Wagner is a senior writer-editor at the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress preserves and provides access to the most comprehensive collection of World War I holdings in the nation. Explore the Great War at loc.gov/wwi.