In 1914, when World War I broke out, king Albert I appealed to the pride of the Flemish population to defend the country.
‘People of Flanders,’ he said ‘remember the Battle of the Golden Spurs’. But because he was well aware that Flanders was considered after the French speaking part, he promised Flanders ‘equality in right and fact’… after the war.
Many thousands of Flemish boys were drafted or volunteered. For four long years, they lived, like all soldiers in the misery of mud and danger. In the Westhoek more people fell in battle than there had ever lived before…
In the army, the majority of the soldiers was Flemish, while almost all officers were French speaking. On top of that, the Flemish had to face humiliation and oppression, exactly because they were Flemish.
The protest following this treatment lead to the Front Movement. Its immediate goals were the protection and the stimulation of Flemish consciousness. The movement was prohibited and had to go underground. Then, the Flemish soldiers opened their threefold plan: self-government for Flanders, no more war and peace among all people, no matter their conviction. Nowadays this is translated: freedom, peace, tolerance.
All Belgian soldiers who fell, including the numerous Flemish boys, were given an official tombstone with the French inscription ‘Mort pour la Patrie’. To give the Flemish a Flemish tombstone, in 1916, the ‘Comité voor Heldenhulde’ (committee for hero’s tribute) was founded. With the money they collected among the Flemish soldiers, they created the famous ‘Heldenhuldezerkjes’: a cross with the inscription AVV-VVK (Alles voor Vlaanderen – Vlaanderen voor Kristus: All for Flanders – Flanders for Christ).
This proved to be a thorn in the eyes of some enemies of the Flemish Movement. Even before armistice, a number of tombstones were painted over, and in 1925 more than 500 ‘Heldenhuldezerkjes = Flemish tombstones’ were smashed.