A King Of Heroes

"King" is not a word that will go out of use when the world has been

won for democracy. We shall still use it much as we do now, when we

say, "He is a prince" or "He is a king among men"; for there are still

good kings, as well as bad ones. Some countries that are really

democratic prefer to keep kings as reminders of their past and as

ornaments of their present.

England is really more democratic than the
United States and yet

England has a king; and as some one has said, he is a king and a

democrat and a king of democrats. This was well shown by his letter to

the first American soldiers who marched through London in April, 1918,

on their way to the battle line in France. Each soldier was handed an

envelope bearing the inscription, "A message to you from his majesty,

King George V." In the envelope was the letter shown on the opposite

page, from a democratic king to the American soldiers in the army of



Soldiers of the United States, the

people of the British Isles welcome

you, on your way to take your

stand beside the Armies of

many Nations now fighting in

the Old World the great battle

for human freedom.

The Allies will gain new heart

& spirit in your company

I wish that I could shake

the hand of each one of you

& big you God speed on your


George R.I.

April 1918.]

No autocratic king or kaiser desires to shake the hand of each of his

soldiers or to become in any way one of them. To an autocrat, to the

German Kaiser, to the German officers, the German privates are only

Things to be used as are swords and guns. A wounded German officer felt

insulted because he was made well again in an English hospital in the

same ward with German privates.

An interesting story is told of a Red Cross nurse, to whom a badly

wounded man was brought at a field hospital during one of the battles

in which the brave little Belgian army was trying to hold back the

invading Germans. All the surgeons were busy, and the man needed

assistance at once. The nurse knew what was needed to save his life

until he could receive surgical treatment, and she knew how to do it;

but she could not do it alone. She must have help at once, and of the

right kind.

She was about to give up in despair, when she saw a man walking through

the field hospital, cheering the sufferers and asking if he could be of

any assistance. She called to him, and when he came she said, "You can

save this man's life if you will help me and do just what I tell you,

just when I tell you to do it. Do you think you can take orders and

obey them promptly?"

"I think so," replied the man. "Let us save this poor soldier's life,

if we can."

The nurse set to work, telling the stranger just what she wanted him to

do. She wasted no words, but gave orders as if she expected them to be

obeyed quickly and intelligently. The stranger proved himself equal to

the occasion, and the delicate work which saved the man's life was soon


"Thank you," said the nurse, as she finished. "I see you are used to

taking orders and know how to obey. I shall remain with this soldier,

until he regains consciousness. He will want to know to whose

assistance he owes his life. Kindly give me your name."

The stranger hesitated. Then he said, "The soldier really owes his life

to you, but I am glad if I was able to help. If he asks, you may tell

him the people call me Albert."

And all at once the commanding little Red Cross nurse understood that

the tall, quiet man, who, she said, showed that he was used to taking

orders, was Albert, King of the Belgians.

Italy has a king and Belgium has a king; but like King George of

England they are democratic kings, exercising what authority is granted

to them by the people in accordance with a constitution. The German

Kaiser claims to hold all authority of life and death over his people,

including the right of declaring defensive war, by "divine right," by

God's choice of him and his family to rule.

When Germany, at the outbreak of the war in 1914, resolved to break the

treaty in which with other nations she had pledged herself never to

violate, but always to defend, the neutrality of Belgium; when she was

ready to declare to the world that a sacred treaty was only "a scrap of

paper" to be torn up whenever her needs seemed to require it, she sent

on Sunday night, August 2, 1914, at seven o'clock, an ultimatum to the

Belgian government--to be answered within twelve hours--in substance as


The German Government has received information, of the accuracy

of which there can be no doubt, that it may be the intention

of France to send her forces across Belgium to attack Germany.

The German Government fears that Belgium, no matter how good her

intentions, may not be able unaided to prevent such a French

advance; and therefore it is necessary for the protection of

Germany that she should act at once.

The German Government would be very sorry to have Belgium

consider her action in this matter as a hostile act, for it is

forced upon Germany by her enemies. In order to prevent any

misunderstanding, the German Government declares:

1. Germany intends no hostile act against Belgium, and if

Belgium makes no resistance, the German Government pledges the

security of the Belgian Kingdom and all its possessions.

2. Germany pledges herself to evacuate all Belgian territory at

the end of the war.

3. Germany will pay cash for all supplies needed by her troops

which Belgians are willing to sell her and will make good any

damage caused by her forces.

4. If Belgium resists the advance of the German forces, the

German Government will be compelled to consider Belgium as an

enemy and will act accordingly. If not, the friendly relations

which have long united the two nations will become stronger and

more lasting.

In twelve hours Belgium must make a decision that would change her

entire future history and, as later events proved, the history of

Europe and of the world. She made it; and by that decision she

sacrificed herself and brought death and destruction upon her people

and her possessions, but she saved her honor and her soul. Germany had

promised her everything, if she would only let the German armies march

unhindered through Belgium into France. No Belgian should be harmed or

disturbed, and anything needed by the German army would be paid for.

After the Germans had won the war, as they doubtless would have done if

Belgium had not blocked their way, Belgium would have become a

thriving, wealthy kingdom, under German protection. Antwerp would have

been perhaps the greatest port in the world, and Brussels, next to

Berlin, the world's most magnificent capital. But the Belgians did not

hesitate nor did their heroic king.

The Belgian Government replied on Monday morning, at four o'clock, in

substance as follows:

The Note from the German Government has caused the most painful

surprise to the Belgian Government. The French on August 1

assured us most emphatically that they would respect our

neutrality. If this should prove to be false, the Belgian army

will offer the greatest possible resistance to invasion by them.

The neutrality of Belgium is guaranteed by the powers, among

them Germany, and the attack which the German Government

threatens to make on Belgium would be a violation of the Law of

Nations. No military necessity can justify such a violation of


The Belgian Government, if it accepted the proposals of Germany,

would sacrifice the honor of the nation and betray its duty to

Europe; and it therefore refuses to believe that this will be

demanded in order to maintain its independence. If this

expectation proves unfounded, the Belgian Government is fully

decided to resist by all means in its power any attack against

its rights.

On Tuesday the King brought in person a message to the Belgian

Legislature, as President Wilson has often brought such messages to the

American Congress. King Albert's message was in substance as follows:

Not since 1830 has Belgium passed through such an anxious hour.

Our independence is threatened. We still have hope that what we

dread may not happen; but if we have to resist invasion and

defend our homes, that duty will find us armed, courageous, and

ready for any sacrifice. Already our young men have risen to

defend their country in danger. I send to them, in the name of

the nation, a brotherly greeting. Everywhere in the provinces of

Flanders and of Walloon alike, in city and country, one feeling

fills all minds--that our duty is to resist the enemies of our

independence with firm courage and as a united nation.

The perfect mobilization of our army, the great number of

volunteers, the devotion of the citizens, the self-denial of

families have shown beyond doubt the bravery of the Belgian

people. The moment to act has come.

No one in this nation will betray his duty. The army is ready,

and the Government has absolute trust in its leaders and its


If the foreigner violates our territory, he will find all

Belgians grouped round their King and their Government, in which

they have absolute confidence.

I have faith in our destinies. A nation which defends its rights

commands the respect of all. Such a nation cannot die. God will

be with us in a just cause. Long live independent Belgium!

Hardly had the King finished his noble message, when the Prime Minister

announced to the Legislature that Germany had declared war upon

Belgium, and that her troops were moving against Liége.

Never as long as men remember the history of these fateful days will

the decisive action of the heroic Belgian people and of their heroic

king be forgotten. The slightest hesitation between right and wrong

would have set civilization and human liberty back perhaps a thousand

years. And the decision had to be made not only by a people, but by a

young king with German blood in his veins and married to a German

princess--and between sunset and sunrise.

Did he see the horrors before him and his people? Did he see the

destruction of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the pride of

his people? Did he see the tearing down and burning of the entire city

of Louvain, with its university and its valuable library containing

some of the oldest and most nearly priceless books and manuscripts? Did

he see the children and the aged dying by the roadside of hunger and

fatigue? Did he see the Belgian men carried off as slaves to work in


Do you think he or his Queen would have hesitated if he had? No one who

really knows them thinks so. Nothing can justify choosing the wrong.

King Albert, the King of Heroes, and Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians

are honored and respected by all who love liberty and justice, for it

has been well said, "Treaties and engagements are certainly scraps of

paper, just as promises are no more than breaths. But upon such scraps

of paper and breaths the fabric of civilization has been built, and

without them its everyday activity would come to an end." They

represent truly the heroic Belgian people who by their decision on

Sunday night, August 2, 1914, saved the world. Queen Elizabeth,

although a Bavarian princess, has said of the Germans, "Between them

and me has fallen a curtain of iron which will never again be lifted."

The Belgian Minister to the United States said of King Albert after the

war had begun:

"It is when one talks with our soldiers that one perceives how he is

loved; they say, all of them, that they will die for him. He is

constantly at their side, encouraging them by his presence and his

courage. At certain moments, he adventures too far; always he is in the

very midst of combat."

The King and Queen are both of them unusually brave and daring. Not

many royal pairs would trust their lives to cross the English Channel

and return in an airplane, as they did in the summer of 1918 to attend

a celebration held by the King and Queen of England.

A Belgian soldier writing of King Albert said: "The King came and

placed himself at my side in the trench. He took the rifle of a soldier

so tired he could not stand, to give him a chance to rest, and fired,

just like the other soldiers, for an hour and a half. He himself often

carries their letters to the soldiers and distributes among them the

little bundles which their friends and parents send them from the homes

now destroyed. He shares their mess with the soldiers and he calls them

always 'my friends.' He does not want that they shall do him honor; he

wishes simply to be a soldier in all that the word soldier means. One

night he was seen, exhausted by fatigue, sleeping on the grass at the

side of the road."

Do you wonder that the Belgians love their King and that the world

honors him as the Hero King of a Nation of Heroes?