By Graham Healy

Whilst war raged throughout much of Europe from 1914 to 1918, the Netherlands managed to stay neutral during World War One and it would become a destination for many refugees from elsewhere on the continent.

An estimated one million people would flee from Belgium to France, Britain and the Netherlands and refugee camps were set up across the border in various Dutch towns with locals also offering to house the fleeing Belgians.

One of the most audacious escapes by a group of Belgian refugees was in 1915 and it involved setting up a fake bike race. The incident took place in the summer of that year at the town of Mouland (Moelingen) in the province of Limburg on the Dutch border.

This was how the story was described in press around the world in the days and weeks following the escapade.

Belgians Run Race Right Across Line
112 Cyclists Secure Permission for Contest But Don’t Stop When Border Is Reached.

AMSTERDAM, July 25—How 112 Belgians escaped into Holland through a cleverly faked bicycle race, is told in dispatches from the frontier.

A number of Liege sportsmen called on the German commandant of that district a fortnight ago and asked permission to organize a bicycle race for the benefit of local war victims.

The race was to be from Liege to Mouland, on the Dutch frontier. The commandant fell in with the plan, only stipulating that each contestant must wear an arm badge with the German colors and affix a small German flag to his bicycle.

After some demur the promoters of the race consented to the conditions. The commandant supplied the badges and flags himself, and agreed to send a military band to the starting place.

The race took place some days later, with 112 contestants. The entire countryside turned out to watch the event, and the German sentries all along the road saluted the racers as they pedaled by. But the cyclists did not stop when they reached Mouland. They continued straight across the Dutch border and failed to return.

Sacramento Union, 9 August 1915
Sacramento Union, 9 August 1915

It’s not known what became of the cyclists after they raced into the Netherlands. However, many of those who had fled Belgium at that time would return to their homeland in the next few years as the front stabilised in Flanders.

Most of the remaining refugees would return when the war finished with the various governments of the countries they had escaped eager to ensure they left as soon as possible.


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