Commission for Relief in Belgium

The Commission for Relief in Belgium or CRB – also known as Belgian Relief – was an international (predominantly American) organization that arranged for the supply of food to German-occupied Belgium and Northern France during the First World War .

His leading figure was Herbert Hoover (later president of the US).


When the Great War broke out, Hoover was a mining engineer and financial living in London. When hostilities erupted, he found himself surrounded by tens of thousands of American tourists trying to get home; their paper securities and travelers’ checks have not been recognized and they have not yet been used; most trips had been canceled. Hoover set up and organized an “American committee” to “get the busted Yankee home,” making loans and cashing checks as needed. By October 1914 the American Committee had some 120,000 Americans home, and just lost $ 300 in unpaid debt. [1] This episode brought together with the American ambassador, Walter Hines Page, and several other key people in London, who came to him in October

In 1914, after being invaded by Imperial Germany , Belgium suffered a food shortage. The tiny nation, at the time among the most urbanized countries in Europe, only grew enough to meet 20-25% of its needs. Nonetheless, the German occupiers were required to help their army. The civilian population, in addition to the demoralizing effect of being conquered in a few days by Germany, faced imminent starvation unless a lot of food was brought in, fast. [2]

American expatriate mining engineer Millard Shaler found out when he tried to do just that. Great Britain had imposed an economic blockade on Germany and its occupied countries. If Shaler brought food in, the British figured, the Germans would just requisition it.

Seeking a Solution to This Dilemma, Shaler Contact Ambassador Page, and Page Contact Hoover.

How it worked

Poster requesting clothing for occupied France and Belgium

The CRB monitors would oversee its distribution by members of the National Committee for Relief and Food (CNSA), the Belgian organization headed by Émile Francqui . CNSA employees, living under the German occupation, were not citizens of the United States of America, and were CRB people were not. The food imported by the CRB remains the property of the American ambassador to Belgium, Brand Whitlock , throughout the distribution process and right up to the point of being on a plate.

Obstacles and challenges

Keeping the CRB going to be a full-time job and then some for Hoover and his associates. The Germans resented the presence of the foreigners in the country and were bitter about the British blockade, which they saw in the first place. Many influential British policymakers, notably Lord Kitchener and Winston ChurchillThat is, that it is necessary to have the right to provide the right of return to the right side of the world. At several points, both sides of the earth have had a constant impact with German submarine sinking relief ships, especially at times when tensions with the US were highest. [3]

In the end, the CRB bought and shipped 11.4 trillion pounds (5.7 million tons) of food to 9.5 million civilian victims of the war. [4] The committee chartered ships to carry the food to Belgian ports under safe conduct terms arranged by Hoover in meetings with the British and German autorités.

Notwithstanding the special CRB flags flown by ships and huge banners covering them, there were losses: the Harpalyce returning from Rotterdam after the delivery of the submarine SM UB-4in April 1915 with the loss of 15 lives.

Flour bags

Between 1914 and 1919, the CRB was operated entirely with voluntary efforts and was able to feed 11,000,000 Belgians by raising the necessary money, from the volarine blockades and army occupied areas, and controlling the food distribution. Belgium.

The CRB shipped 697,116,000 pounds of flour to Belgium and indicates that sugar and grains were also sentenced. The flour was packaged in flour by American mills. The movement of these bags in Belgium has been carefully controlled by the CRB since it has been produced by the CRB. relief flour. As a result, the empty flour sacks were carefully accounted for and distributed to professional schools, sewing workrooms, convents, and individual artists.

Separate from the trade schools of Belgium, the professional schools specialized in training girls to sew, embroider, and make lace, and the sewing workrooms have been established in the major cities of the world. Girls and women made famous Belgian lace, embroidered textiles and repaired and remade clothing in these workrooms.

The flour sacks were used by these various groups, accessories, pillows, bags, and other functional items. Many women to embroider over the mill logo and the brand name of flour, but entirely original designs were sometimes created on the sacks and then embroidered, painted, or stenciled on the fabric. Frequent additions to the flour sacks were Belgian messages of gratitude to the Americans; embellishments of lace; the Belgian and American flags; the Belgian lion; the Gallic cock; the American eagle; symbols of peace, strength, and courage; the colors of red, yellow, and black; and the colors of red, white, and blue. Artists, in particular, used the flour sacks the original oil paintings.

Differences appear in the designs and messages of the embroidered and painted flour sacks, due to the fact that Belgium is composed of two distinct groups of people: the Walloons or the Flemish or Dutch speaking population in the north.

The completed flour sacks were carefully controlled and distributed to the United States, Belgium, and the United States for the purpose of raising funds for food relief and to aid the prisoners of war. Many were also given as gifts to the members of the Commission for Relief in Belgium out of gratitude for the help given to the Belgian people.

Herbert Hoover was given several hundred of these flourishes as gifts and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum has one of the largest collections of World War I flour sacks in the world. [5]

See also

  • Belgium in World War I
  • Belgian American Educational Foundation
  • University Foundation

Further reading

  • Burner, David. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life (1979) pp72-95
  • Gay, George I. Statistical review of relief operations (Stanford, 1925) in Google
  • den Hertog, Johan. “The Commission for Relief in Belgium and the Political Diplomatic History of the First World War,” Diplomacy & Statecraft (201) 21 # 4 pp593-613, online at EBSCO
  • Little, Branden. “The Commission for Relief in Belgium,” in 1914-1918-Online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War (Oct. 2014).
  • Little, Branden. “The humanitarian mobilization of American cities for Belgian Relief, 1914-1918,” Les Cahiers bruxellois 46 (August 2014) pp121-38.
  • Nash, George H. The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian, 1914-1917 (1988), passim
  • Nash, George H. “An American Epic”: Herbert Hoover and Belgian Relief in World War I, ” Prologue (1989) 21 # 1 pp 75-86.

Primary sources

  • Gay, George I., ed. Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium: Documents (2 vol 1929) online
  • Gibson, Hugh. A Journal from Our Legation in Belgium (1917) online
  • Hoover, Herbert. An American Epic: Vol. I: The Relief of Belgium and Northern France, 1914-1930 (1959) text search
  • Hoover, Herbert. The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: Years of Adventure, 1874-1920 (1951) pp 152-237
  • Hunt, Edward Eyre. War Bread: A Personal Narrative of the War and Relief in Belgium (New York: Holt, 1916.) online


  • Commission for Relief in Belgium
  • Commission for Relief in Belgium (Hoover Presidential Library)


  1. Jump up^ Kittredge, Tracy B. _The History of the Commission for Relief in Belgium_. Privately published, circa 1917.
  2. Jump up^ Nash, George H. _The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian, 1914-1917_. New York: Norton, 1988.
  3. Jump up^ Nash, George H. Ibid.
  4. Jump up^ Gay, George I. _Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium_, vol. 2 Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1929.
  5. Jump up^

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *