In the late afternoon of April 22, 1915, near a small hamlet in the western part of Belgium not far from the town of Ypres, a blueish-green cloud of chlorine gas was pushed along by a northerly breeze over French, Algerian and Moroccan troops prepared to fight from their rows of trenches.
The chlorine gas had been released from 5,730 gas cylinders by German troops, some of whom suffered the ill effects of exposure to the gas providing often deadly harm to lungs and causing blindness. Once the gas spread over the French troops, however, thousands more were blinded and many died.
Somewhat surprisingly, Genevieve Verbeek, Belgium’s consul general in Atlanta, evoked this scene at a Belgium National Day celebration at the offices of the Burr Forman LLP law firm on July 21 to highlight the role that the peach, Georgia’s official state fruit, played in World War I to protect the Allies from poisonous gas attacks.
The American chemist James Bert Garner, who learned of the gas attack from a hometown newspaper in Pittsburgh, developed a process for activating charcoal from peach pits and walnut shells that was used in the filter of crude gas masks. The state of Georgia was one of the main suppliers of the peach pits that were used to make the charcoal and protect the troops.
“Past wars invite us to reflect on peace and understanding,” Ms. Verbeek said, adding that President Obama had sent a message to Belgium’s King Philippe extolling the values Belgium and the U.S. share including “free speech, free press and a vibrant civil society.”
In addition to the battle near Ypres, Ms. Verbeek mentioned the enormous loss of life during the World War I battle on Flanders Field, which Mr. Obama visited last year as hostilities between Russia and the Ukraine flared.
Other wars have bound the U.S. and Belgium together, she added, citing the World War II Battle of Bulge, which took place in the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium as well as France and Luxembourg.
“We do know the contribution of Georgia to the war efforts,” she said listing pilot training at Souther Field, northeast of Americus and renamed the Jimmy Carter Regional Airport; an officer training program at Fort Oglethorpe, near the Tennessee border and Army bases at Camp Wheeler in Macon and Fort Benning in Columbus.
Aside from evoking the close military attachments, Ms. Verbeek also cited cultural events that have taken place in Georgia during her posting including the disc jockey festival Tomorrow World, which is expected to draw 150,000 fans again this year in the fall, and the upcoming concert of the new Belgian star, Stormae.
Georgia is one of 10 states under Ms. Verbeek’s consular jurisdiction. Florida is another and she introduced, Michael Spector, Belgian’s recently appointed honorary consul in Jacksonville, Fla., to the more than 100 attendees at the event.
The National Day of Belgium commemorates an event on July 21,1831, in which Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution, thus becoming the first King of the Belgians and marking the start of the independent state of Belgium under a constitutional monarchy and parliament.
It also has provided local pubs to promote their Belgian beers such as the Brick Store in Decatur, which boasts having 29 different Belgian selections on tap for the next few days.
Prior to 2004 when the General Assembly allowed higher alcohol content beer and ale to be sold, Belgium beers were mostly kept out of Georgia.
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Belgium is a leading investor nation in Georgia, ranking 9th among Georgia’s European investors based on total employment and 10th based on total number of facilities. There are approximately 44 Belgian facilities operating in Georgia, of which 14 (32 percent) are manufacturing locations. These Belgian affiliated companies employ more than 2,800 Georgians.
A list can be found online by clicking here.