Focus on Fostoria - May_5_04

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Fostoria Focus - May 5, 2004

Fostoria Foreign Aid and the Belgian,
Home and Miners' Relief Committee

Fostorians have been ever generous toward those in need. That was just as true 90 years ago as it is today.

At the bottom of a box at the Fostoria Area Historical Museum, I found a framed letter, perhaps once white, now gray. It said: "Christmas mcmxiv, Belgian Ubar Soubenir, with the cordial thanks of the poor children of Antwerp to their kind-hearted comrades of the United States for their nice Christmas presents."

The children of Antwerp, Belgium, were poor indeed in 1914 and Fostorians, in concert with many others, tried to help.

Belgium was caught in the grip of World War I. The Belgian government had declared its neutrality, but on Aug. 4, 1914, Germany invaded anyway.

The Belgians resisted, but were defeated. Through the late summer and fall of 1914, the suffering of the Belgian people, especially the children, was widely reported. By Sept. 5, people were actually dying of starvation.

Relief efforts were organized across the U.S., including Fostoria. The wife of the Belgian minister of state fled to America to appeal for aid to her country's refugees.

A Dutch seaman named Peter Verhage visited Fostoria. Verhage's ship had been docked in Antwerp and he had seen German soldiers throw women and children from second story windows.

A Tiffin family named Lemaire visiting relatives in Belgium was caught in the outbreak of the war. They endured German bombardment in the cellar of a house and helped bury Belgian dead afterwards.

Meetings were held at the YMCA to start a local relief effort. Organizations contributed money to buy flour for the Belgians. On Nov. 25, the Loyal Daughters Sunday School of the Methodist Church voted $5 toward the effort.

In December, the Harter (Mennel) Mill shipped 1,300 barrels of four to Belgium, part of 90,000 barrels promised by American miller.s

On Jan. 2, 1915, Fostoria Mayor George Cunningham made a personal appeal to all residents to give to the relief committee "in behalf of the unfortunate children and women made homeless and destitute by the ravages of the European War."

On Jan. 7, 1915, the committee was known as the Belgian, Home and Miners' relief committee. It's chairman was W. G. Klinepeter. It aided the Belgians, local needy persons and coal miners in southeast Ohio.

The committee solicited money, food and clothing. Contributions were collected at the Fair Store where they were organized by the Circle of Mercy and King's Daughters.

On Jan. 11, the first shipment to miners in Belmont County was sent. On the 13th, O. Shimansky, field secretary of the Ohio State Board of Commerce, visited Fostoria to incorporate the local effort into a state-wide campaign.

Fostoria had another connection with America's relief effort, a curious one. On Feb. 9, 1915, on the heels of the relief campaign, Frank Whitlock died in Urbana of tuberculosis.

Whitlock lived in Fostoria for six years in the early 1900s. He was the water works superintendent for two years and served on city council. He left Fostoria to study medicine.

Whitlock was a talented musician and singer, a baritone in the Methodist Church choir. He belonged to Fostoria's Elks and participated in its talent shows.

Most interestingly, he was the brother of Brand Whitlock, an important figure in American politics and international affairs.

Brand Whitlock was born in Urbana in 1869. He was a reporter for the Chicago Herald and an attorney. Hew wrote several books including political novels.

He moved to Toledo and was an associate of Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones, Toledo's famous reform mayor. Whitlock served four terms as Toledo mayor himself.

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Brand Whitlock ambassador to Belgium. In that position in World War I, Whitlock became an international figure.

Whitlock was a tireless thorn in the side of the German occupation forces. He made unceasing appeals to the Germans for help to the impoverished Belgians.

He pleaded for humane treatment of Allied prisoners of war. He became famous worldwide for his efforts to save the life of British nurse Edith Cavell.

Cavell was unjustly accused of helping Allied POWs escape from the prison camp where she worked. Whitlock failed to save Cavell from a German firing squad.

But Whitlock's efforts on behalf of Cavell and others helped turn international opinion against the Germans. Whitlock also was known for his effective and efficient handling of the relief work in Belgium.

The Belgians called him "Le Ministre Protecteur."a

Whitlock once drove to the front in order to see the fighting for himself. He got a taste of the war when sells exploded 50 years from where he stood.

The thank-you letter was addressed to the Fostoria Belgian Committee. The committee gave it, in turn, to the Presbyterian Church Primary Sunday School, the only children's organization that contributed to the relief effort.

In 1916, the Presbyterian Church decided the letter should be displayed in a more public place so it was presented to the Fostoria Public Library on Oct. 8.

The letter was sent from Antwerp and dated Christmas Day 1914. It was signed by a half dozen individuals who aren't identified with a title or office.

However, some of the signatures look sufficiently scrawled that they could belong to elementary school children. There are three lines of text in Belgian below the signatures.

Loosely translated they read: "The students from Elementary School number 12 thank you for your friendship and wonderful gifts."


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