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Youngest First World War Victim

“We went on a scout camping expedition to Wetteren and I remember now that it was an old military camp,” Maité recalls very slowly. She has tiny dreadlocks that hang down her slim face and a silver ring in her nose – not the usual face of a First World War victim. “It was July 6th, 1992. I knew nothing about war. I remember we all built a fire using bricks round the outside and the other kids starting throwing logs on it. I was tired and so I went a few metres from the fire so I could sleep. Then there was a sudden explosion – I woke up and saw sparks from the explosion. Everyone was running and shouting and I tried to get up and I couldn’t. Everyone was looking at me and I looked down – and I saw that my left leg was hanging by a piece of skin.”

A million British soldiers had experienced this same terror in this same land more than 60 years earlier. But Maité could not understand. She was rushed to the local hospital at Wetteren where there were no specialist surgeons and she had to be rushed by air to Ghent University Hospital. For three hours, she wept and cried in pain before doctors could give her a sedative because the doctors were not sure which medication to administer. “I only started feeling the pain when I saw my leg – and then it never stopped,” she said.

Nor has it stopped now. The doctors took skin and muscles and arteries from thighs and back and ribs to reconstruct her left leg – and saved it after 29 operations in which Maité spent two years in hospital, all of them on morphine. For the next 10 years she was addicted, desperate to detoxicate but still finding the pain unbearable. Maité now has only one artery in each leg. The birth of her child, Damon, and the love of his father, Kurt, helped her, she says, admitting with a smile that she still needs cannabis and alcohol to survive the pain but has been without morphine for a year and five months.

She is now cared for by the Belgian Institute for Veterans’ Affairs and War Victims. The Institute, along with doctors and police officials, quickly realised that the scouts must have picked up the cylindrical RAF bomb, thinking it was a mouldy log – and thrown it on the fire. The explosion blasted the bricks into pieces, one of which almost severed Maité’s left leg. Belgian explosives officers later identified the fragments as those of an RAF bomb – typical of many found over battlefields in the decades that followed the 1918 Armistice – manufactured in 1918 and used during the German retreat. The Wetteren camp was used by the Reichswehr during this period because the town was a major rail centre for German military traffic to the front.

With one of those bitter ironies that war alone can produce, the RAF’s youngest victim – long after both the pilot and his intended targets must have died – turns out to be partly British. Maité’s grandmother, Janette Matthieson, is Scottish and now lives in Ostend, making Maité’s French-speaking mother half-British. Maité now lives on £700 a month, a stipend available to her since she was 16. When she was so grievously hurt, not a single newspaper outside Belgium mentioned her fate.

Belgian authorities are still paying monthly allowances to much older victims of First World War munitions as well as survivors of the Second World War – including Belgian Jewish survivors of the Holocaust – and newly-arrived wounded from Afghanistan. Maité wants to go on a clothes-making course and open a boutique – “I don’t want to work for a boss,” she says as cheerfully as any 1914-18 British soldier with a “Blighty” wound, though she may be more successful than the men who came home in 1918 and found that theirs was not a land fit for heroes.

“I have an ‘051’-coded card from the First World War veterans’ department and when I buy train tickets, they often question me about it,” Maité says. “They think I’ve taken it from an ancestor but it’s completely real. I’m just the youngest victim of that war.”

I ask her why she shows no interest in this terrible period of history which struck her so mercilessly – and so literally – when she was younger. She shrugs her shoulders. So much for the Somme and Verdun and Gallipoli and the nine million military dead of the Great War and the Last Post just down the road in Ypres. But I rather suspect Maité is right. Her boutique and her home-made clothes sound a far better future than an examination of the awful mud upon which her village of Bovekerke was rebuilt after the War to End All Wars.

US president and EU president

Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009
Belgian PM named as EU president

European Council leaders have elected a president under the rules of the newly-adopted Lisbon Treaty. But how does the position compare to that of other presidents, such as the President of the United States?

President of European Council President of United States of America

Flags of Eu and US

European Union:
Population: 490 million
GDP: $18.7tn
United States:
Population: 304 million
GDP: $14.9tn

Military: 3,800 troops on European military missions Military: 250,000 on deployment (Iraq/Afghanistan)

Land mass: Land mass:

Graphic showing land mass of EU and US

Elected by:
European Council leaders. Liable to select candidate by consensus. If vote held, each country has different number of votes. Winner must gain 258 out of 345 votes from at least 18 of the 27 countries.
Elected by:
Electoral College system. In general election, must win 270 out of 538 electoral college votes. President Barack Obama won 67 million votes in popular vote.

Term of two and half years – renewable once. Term of four years – renewable once.

Salary reported to be 350,000 euros ($521,374) a year President earns 268,521 euros ($400,000) a year

Position and key roles: Position and key roles:

Flow charts shwoing structure of EU and US government

Chairs European Council.Duty to “facilitate cohesion and consensus”, without national bias.

Head of state.Partisan, elected on own platform of policies, usually with support of a party, eg Republican or Democratic.

Represents EU abroad on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy.

Negotiates treaties. Directs foreign policy. Can sign executive orders without Congress approval.

No powers of veto.

Power of Veto – President must sign any bill passed by Congress before it becomes law.

Must report to European Parliament after each European Council meeting.

President must report to Congress by delivering State of Union address.

Eufor US

Military control:
No influence on military. EU Military staff receives “taskings” from EU Military Committee (which represents defence chiefs of all member states).
Military control:
Commander-in-Chief of armed forces – responsible for strategy. Congress must approve going to war but president can decide when to launch nuclear missiles.

European Union and the USA : a comparison



November 2009
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