100 years ago: The Netherlands during WWI

The start of August marked 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War in Europe.

The Netherlands remained neutral throughout the war. Despite this, the conflict still had a powerful impact on the country as it was surrounded by nations at war.

Effects of the war manifested themselves within the Netherlands in the form of the mass arrival of Belgian refugees, food shortages and espionage.

Dutch neutrality

Throughout the four years of the war the Netherlands conducted a delicate diplomatic balancing act, convincing both Germany and England of its neutrality.

The Netherlands managed to remain neutral thanks to its raw material production and control of the mouths of the Scheldt, Rhine (Rijn) and Meuse (Maas) rivers, which were used by both sides of the conflict.

The Netherlands at the start of WWI

Here are some key moments involving the Netherlands during the outbreak of the First World War, based on coverage from historical portal Geschiedenis24:

 28th July 1914: War!

War is declared when Austria-Hungary invades Serbia.

 31st July 1914: The Netherlands mobilises

Queen Wilhelmina announces a general mobilisation to defend Dutch territory. Troops are posted along borders and around the nation to be ready in the event of an invasion.

 4th August 1914: German invasion of Belgium

Germany invades neutral Belgium. A flood of Belgian refugees begins to sweeps into the Netherlands, many via Limburg. Britain declares war on Germany in response to the invasion.

 6th August 1914: First Dutch war correspondent reports

Lambertus Mokveld, sent by Catholic newspaper de Tijd, reported from the battle front near Liège, becoming the first Dutch war correspondent and probably the first correspondent on the Western Front.

Food shortages

During the war the Netherlands supplied food to Belgium, who had had its supply chains cut off after the invasion, and to England. Many Dutch traders profited from the rise in demand from neighbouring countries, although demand began to far outweigh supply as the war progressed.

The years of 1917-1918 were difficult. Food shortages and rationing led to famine in the larger cities and in July 1918 a potato riot in Amsterdam led to nine deaths and hundreds injured.

Netherlands a spying centre

As often happens in times of war, neutral, unobtrusive territory evolves into a hotspot for espionage and security services.

Rotterdam became a hub for the international information network where both sides of the conflict would recruit adventurers in harbour cafes to spy on the enemy.

Dutch passport-holders were still allowed to travel freely through Europe, a valuable privilege highly desirable to the intelligence services. One such recruit was an exotic dancer named Mata Hari.

Mata Hari: wartime double agent

In May 1916 the famous Dutch dancer Mata Hari, was recruited by German consul Karl Cramer to spy in France for the German intelligence service. Mata Hari travelled from The Hague to Paris, there falling in love with Russian officer Vadime de Massloff.

When Massloff was posted to Vittel, Mata Hari requested a permit to visit him and by chance wound up in the French intelligence agency, where she was also recruited as a French spy.

Mata Hari was more involved in her romance and famous Parisian nightlife than espionage, and ignored the risks of her role. Despite not completing any apparent spy activities of consequence, when the French authorities discovered Mata Hari had been acting as a double agent she was tried and sentenced to death in October 1917. A grisly end to a flamboyant and bohemian life.

Remembrance in 2014

On August 4th a ceremony was held where the first battle of WWI was fought, near Liège in Belgium, to commemorate the millions who died or suffered during the war. European leaders were in attendance.

Source: Geschiedenis24

Beatrice Clarke


Beatrice Clarke

Beatrice is a native Melbournian who moved to the Netherlands in 2009. With a background in independent publishing and fashion, Beatrice honed her understanding of Dutch language and culture working...

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