Paris Peace Conf. 811.001/348

Report Covering the Visit of President Wilson to the King of the Belgians, June 18 and 19, 191951

On the morning of Monday, June 17th [16th], the Legation received an official telegram from the American Mission at Paris stating that the President, accompanied by Mrs. Wilson, Miss Wilson, his military and naval Aides, General Harts and Admiral Grayson, and by Messrs. Herbert C. Hoover, Vance McCormick, Norman Davis, Bernard J. Baruch, Ray Stannard Baker and others would visit Belgium.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 17th, the Minister, accompanied by Major Hoffman, Military Attaché, left by motor for Adinkerke to await the arrival of the Presidential party, which was due at Adinkerke the following morning at nine o’clock. The King and Queen of the Belgians flew to Adinkerke the same afternoon. There also arrived the same evening the various Aides to the King, as well as the members of the King’s household who had been attached to the President and Mrs. Wilson. Baron Moncheur, General Joostens and Count de Renesse were designated to attend the President, while Madame de Wouters-d’Oplinter was chosen to perform the same duty for Mrs. Wilson.

The train with the Presidential party arrived on time Wednesday morning and the entire party then proceeded in Belgian and American motors which had been assembled the previous day at Adinkerke to a tour of the Belgian army front. They went first to Nieuport, thence to Dixmude and so on to the Forest of Houthulst, where the party stopped for luncheon. A large tent had been pitched and servants from the Palace had brought from Brussels, food, tables, etc. After lunch they proceeded to Ypres, and thence, by way of Menin, Thourout and Ostende, went at [sic] Zeebrugge in time to take a special train to Brussels. The train left Zeebrugge at 6:45, arriving at Brussels at 9:15 at the Gare du Luxembourg. At the station, to meet the President, were Mr. Béco, the Governor of the Province of Brabant, the Burgomasters of Brussels and Ixelles, the former, Mr. Max, the distinguished Mayor who had shown such courage and determination in resisting the German dominion during the early days of the occupation. The station platform was lined with troops, and as the train [Page 594] came into the station the band played the “Star Spangled Banner”, while all stood at attention. After the reception and presentation of certain officials the party proceeded by motors through the streets, which were lined with troops and large crowds, (in spite of the lateness of the hour and the growing darkness the line to the Palace was massed with people), to the Royal Palace, where a presentation of the Palace Officials took place.

Thursday, June 19th: At nine o’clock the President and King, accompanied by their suites, proceeded on a motor trip to Charleroi and the ruined factories at “La Providence”. It should here be stated that, the previous days having been spent in Flanders, it was thought advisable that the President should visit the Walloon country, as well, before returning. Furthermore, the Belgian officials seemed anxious that the President, during his brief visit, should see as much as possible of the havoc and destruction deliberately wrought by the German army during the Occupation.

The party returned to Brussels in time for the luncheon arranged at the American Legation, officially given by the President to Their Majesties the King and Queen, which took place at 12:30. Previously to that hour, American troops had taken their places, lining both sides of the street before the Legation, and a military band from Base Section No. 9 at Antwerp was also present. At about 12:20, as the President’s car came in sight, the flourishes and ruffles were given, following Which the band broke into the “Star Spangled Banner”, while the troops stood at attention. About five minutes later, on the arrival of the King, the flourishes and ruffles were repeated, while “La Brabançonne”, the Belgian national anthem was played. As the King entered the Legation the Belgian flag was raised on a separate staff beside the American flag. (For list of the guests at the luncheon see enclosure 1.52)

Following the luncheon, after the departure of the King and Queen, Cardinal Mercier, Burgomaster Max and other Belgian officials, the President received the staffs of the Legation, Military Mission and Consulate General, after which the American colony, the Belgian-American Chamber of Commerce and various Belgian delegations, including representations from the Comité de la Politique Nationale, the Belgian League of Nations, the Maison du Peuple, etc., were presented to the President.

At 2:30 the President and Mrs. Wilson, accompanied by their Aides, together with the American Minister and Mrs. Whitlock and other officials, proceeded to the Parliament, where the President was received on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies. A speech of welcome was [Page 595] delivered by Mr. Poullet, the President of the Senate, after which M. Hymans, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, delivered an address of welcome in English. (For copies of these speeches in French see the Moniteur Belge, the official Government organ, No. 172 of June 21st forwarded to the Department under separate cover. For English text of President’s speech see enclosure 2.53)

After the reception at the Parliament the Presidential party, and the King and Queen, motored to Malines, where the President was received by Cardinal Mercier in the Archbishop’s Palace. Following the reception at Malines, the party proceeded to Louvain, where the Burgomaster of the town greeted the President in the old Hotel de Ville in the same room in which the German High Commander in 1914 had summoned the people of Louvain to unconditional surrender. (For the reply of the President to the Mayor of Louvain see enclosure 3.53) From the Hotel de Ville the party proceeded to the University of Louvain, the Library of which had been destroyed by the Germans, and here, among the ruins, the President was presented with the degree of Doctor of Laws by the Rector of the University. (For the speech of the President delivered on this occasion see enclosure 4.53)

From Louvain the party returned to Brussels, going directly to the Hotel de Ville, where the President was greeted by the Burgomaster and Echevins of the city in the Gothic room where the old Spanish flags were still hanging. The Burgomaster greeted the President on behalf of the city, after which the President rose and thanked Mr. Max. (For the President’s reply to the Burgomaster see enclosure 5.53) After the scene in the Gothic room the President and King, together with the Queen and Mrs. Wilson, appeared on the balcony, where they were acclaimed by the populace in the stately Grand Place below. Various singing societies of Brussels then rendered a song in their honour, following which trumpeters gave a fanfare from the roofs. After this very impressive and stirring ceremony the President returned to the Palace, where he received the Diplomatic corps. This was immediately followed by a state dinner at the Palace, at which the King proposed the toast of the President and the President replied by drinking a health to Their Majesties. (For the President’s greeting to the King see enclosure 6.53)

At 11:00 o’clock the Presidential party returned to Paris by special train, the route to the station again being lined with troops, and large crowds being assembled to greet the President on his departure. Again the bands played the “Star Spangled Banner” while the officials of the town bade him farewell.

  1. Transmitted to the Commission to Negotiate Peace by the Minister in Belgium in his despatch No. 22, July 18, 1919 (not printed).
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