Topic: In the News
At the start of World War II, Belgium was neutral. However, the Germans, who had guaranteed Belgian neutrality in 1937, broke their word and, without warning, invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg on 10th May 1940. The Belgian Army fought very bravely for eighteen days but, all the time, they were being pushed further and further back. By the 25th May, the Allies could see that the crumbling Belgian defence was becoming hopeless and on the 26th the French army drew up plans to withdraw to the coast. By 1 p.m. on the 27th, the War Office had issued orders "to evacuate the maximum force possible". In the early hours of 28th May 1940, Leopold III, commander-in-chief of the Belgian Army, took the final decision to surrender to the German Army, despite the opposition of his cabinet. The King wished to spare his people further bloodshed and suffering - but his action provoked accusations of treason.
Retired Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Roger Keyes (1972-1945), who had been recalled to serve as liaison officer to the Belgian King Leopold in 1939, was appointed Director of Combined Operations from 1940-41. He closely observed the King's conduct at the time of the capitulation and expressed his thoughts in his diaries. Later his son, Lord Keyes, 2nd Baron, naval officer and author (14th March 1919-4th March 2005) [see TimesOnLine Obituaries] believed, as did his father, that historians had treated King Leopold III most unfairly and that he had been made a scapegoat for the defeat of France and the British Army in 1940. He wrote a book, Outrageous Fortune, published in 1984, in which he set out to exonerate Leopold, whom he regarded as having been traduced by France and Britain for having ordered the Belgian Army to lay down its arms on May 28, 1940, after it had courageously fought the Wehrmacht for 18 days.
Recently, [18th March 2005], Belgian Monarchists, urged Tony Blair to "restore the honour" of King Leopold III; see Belgian bid to restore honour of their king. Lt. Col. Louis Van Leemputhe, the president of the Royal League of Veterans of Leopold III, is asking the Prime Minister to repudiate harsh comments directed at King Leopold by Sir Winston Churchill and other British officials, both during the war and afterwards.
"We are not asking for an apology but a letter from Mr Blair, simply stating that the British Government regrets the position taken by Sir Winston Churchill, which caused internal problems in Belgium that led to the abdication of the King," he said.The league has also written to Belgium's prime minister to ask him to rehabilitate Leopold, who died in 1983, and "lift the veil of lies which covers this black page in our history".
I am not an historian but, as an outsider, my sympathies are with the late King (who died on 25th September 1983). Leopold III continued his defiance of the Germans right through the occupation. He rejected cooperation with the Nazis and refused to administer Belgium in accordance with their dictates. The King did meet with Hitler and successfully negotiated the release of thousands of Belgian prisoners-of-war - an event which resulted in some regarding him as a 'collaborator'. Although he was exonerated after the war, he was never forgiven by the Belgium people as a whole and, eventually, was forced to abdicate in 1951. The reasons for this are diverse due in part to old divisions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish people in the north and the French-speaking Walloons in the south. The reasons probably also extend to Leopold's private life - his behaviour during the war, particularly his re-marriage, incurring the violent disapproval of the Belgian people.
It is time he was forgiven.
For a brief history of Leopold from my main website, click here to view a Pop Up.