The Leopold Judgment: Object Lesson in War Hysteria
By a Special Correspondent
THREE years ago, in the early summer of 1940, I fled from Belgium, leaving La Panne in a
small trawler to cross the Channel to Folkestone. I had remained in Ypres until May 25, where three days earlier King LeopOld, Lord Gort and General Billotte were engaged in what was destined. to be a final conference. Consequently, I am in a position to know what transpired at that fateful gathering.
It should be explained that General Billotte commanded the first group of French Armies, but he also had "power of co-ordination " of the French, British and Belgian Armies.
At this meeting he unfolded General Weygand's plan, which was for an attack from the south by the French in the direction of Roye, to join an attack by the B.E.F. and the first French Army from the north, with the aim of closing the gap which at that time extended as far as the Somme, its northern end lying between Douai and Valenciennes. The Weygand plan was confirmed by telegraphic orders from London.
French Commander Killed
Unhappily, General Billotte was accidentafirkilled that same night in a car crash on his way back to headquarters after the Ypres • meeting, and the whole plan was thrown into hopeless confusion. The French attack from the South never materialised, and had Lord Gort proceeded with his share of the arrangements and reached say Cambrai, we would inevitably have lost the 51h and 50th Divisions.
Not only was the Belgian Army outnumbered and out-manoeuvred, but every strategic movement was thwarted by the thousands of refugees—men, women and children—who, refusing to quit proximity to the soldiers, were fleeing in confusion and without any definite destination westwards before the German forces.
King Leopold forthwith decided to capitulate, and tohe taken prisoner himself along with his fellow soldiers, Indeed, there was nothing else to do in order to prevent the complete annihilation of his army. By so doing he acted within his rights and he acted rightly; while his decision to share the fate of his soldiers had a great moral and sentimental value—far greater than if he had fled for personal safety to some free country.
A Cruel Misjudgment A fcw days afterwards, Paul Reynaud, the head of the French Government, raved and railed over the radio, attacking with unprecedented violence the &Wan Army and its commander-in-! chic!. King Leopold. Throughout the world the Reynaud speech worked incalculable wrong to the Belgian cause. For days the newspaper headlines told of nothing but the treachery a Belgium, its army and its King. The truth was that the Belgian capitulation, far from being a shameful action, was simply the logical outcome of the French defeat at Sedan.
It was not long, however, before Paul Reynaud handed over his power to Marshal Main, who immediately offered Germany, not merely the surrender of an army that had already been surrounded. but a full armistice with all its consequences.
• Then thinking people began to make comparisons, with the result that they completely absolved the Belgian Army a the Reynaud accusations. The army had fought for eighteen days, clinging to every knoll and knot of Belgian ground from the Albert Canal to the River Lys. Its retreat was effected on direct orders from the French High Command Moreover, its desperate resistance in Flanders was the main factor in enabling the British troops in Belgium to escape from the wheeling movement of the Germans and thus to embark at Dunkirk. Let it be remembered that when the Belgian Army surrendered it was without munitions, food
or drink. and that its capitulation was strictly military and in no sense an armistice.
Sir Roger Keyes—now Lord Keyes—. said at the time: " It is apparent that a very grave injustice has been done to the King of the Belgians, who acted throughout in accordance with the highest traditions of honour and justice "; while Lord Gort added: " The capitulation of King Leopold was the only possible solution. Those who say the contrary' witnessed neither the battle nor German aviation. I saw both."
Since May 28, 1940, the King had been a prisoner of war in his château at Laeken, a suburb of Brussels—the scene of so many happy and historic gatherings. Incidentally, it was in its grounds that our own King Edward VII proposed to and was accepted by the dearly loved Queen Alexandra precisely 80 years ago.
It should be noted that Leopold signed neither pact nor treaty, even of a military nature, with the enemy, and committed no act of a political character. Thus he in no way infringed the constitution of the Belgian people nor in any respect changed the status and authority of the Government, which is still the country's only legal Government. No Government established in Brussels under foreign occupation can possess such authority. The real Government of Belgium is to-day that of the Cabinet sitting in exile in London. 'The dominant feeling, and the one that unites in complete fraternity 95 per cent. of the Belgians, is a fixed and implacable hatred of the Germans. The people are waiting for the Nazi downfall, preparing for it,,elated at the prospect. All eyes—and all ears—are turned towards Britain whence victims,
must come. H. B.