As I write a series about the Great War, set in Europe, I keep being reminded of one of the hardships that goes hand-in-hand with total war: hunger. Within months of the German invasion of France and Belgium in 1914, lack of food became an issue. First in Belgium, where citizens were accustomed to buying nearly all their everyday food from abroad, and then in occupied France, where the locally grown produce was being requisitioned by the German army.

In A Song Unheard, my hero is from Belgium, though he’s currently in Wales with an orchestra made up of other Belgian refugees. But his sister and mother are still in Brussels, and through the eyes of his little sister, Margot, we get a glimpse of wartime in an occupied country. The anxiety of realizing that there’s only a few weeks’ supply of food in the country. The reality of bread lines. The question of whether aid will come.

Something I found interesting as I was researching A Song Unheard–and which came up again in my research for the final book in the Shadows Over England Series, An Hour Unspent (due to my editor on Friday, eeep!)–is that the British were not happy with the idea of other countries sending food aid to Belgium and France.

Seems kind of strange, right? These were their allies. They obviously didn’t want the people to starve. But they held an American ship filled with food for Belgium for months in a British port. Why?

Because they didn’t want it to help the German army. And even if the rescue workers could guarantee all the food went to civilians, they still argued it would indirectly aid the German army, since it would mean less competition for what food was in the country. They’d blockaded German ports and wanted them to feel the pressure.

Eventually, the British government had to grant their approval to the aid. Hence began the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), which took much-needed supplies into Belgium and Northern France throughout the war. Crossing front lines in both directions, allowed past blockades, and permitted to move freely through the war zones, the CRB was called, by one British diplomat, “a piratical state organized for benevolence.”

So naturally, they’re going to have to play a small role in my stories. 😉

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