Limburg 1914-1918, Small stories from a Great War

How to commemorate the First World War appropriately?
A lot of organisations answered this question by just organising many events such as concerts, solemn ceremonies, art exhibitions and such on. But the Province of Limburg chose for a totally different approach by intensively telling about the war! For the province the answer on the question above lies not in the merely organisation of several happenings, but in first instance in telling and showing people how life really was during the Great War. The Province of Limburg encouraged and helped the public to truly understand and even feel how our ancestors experienced this war. What if you could feel what people experienced 100 years ago!

Therefore the Province of Limburg launched a huge campaign based on storytelling (online, short movie, exhibition film, …) on different platforms and participation. During this remarkable campaign the Province of Limburg told about the Great War and how it affected the environment of people 100 years ago. Besides just telling stories about this period they used several platforms to reach a broad audience.

The province not only told about the facts, but especially made clear how people experienced this harsh period. 100 years ago people with loves, passions and interests were surprised, caught up in a four-year war. In the approach of the Province of Limburg they come back to testify together how it was, what they experienced and how they lived: in Belgium and at the front. Many people followed the story of our characters Mathilde, Baptist and Isidore about their lives 100 years ago.

Based on true stories these and different other fictitious characters testify about what happened! With their stories they moved people and transferred them to the world during the first World War.

WWI was not only a trench war, but for Belgium mainly a war of occupation! The German occupation, which lasted for years, had an enormous impact on occupied Belgium and thus also the Province of Limburg, and on its daily life. Many “small stories” have been preserved, which give interesting information. They each answer many questions, together they tell the story of Limburg. The remembrance is a good moment for the Province of Limburg to shine a light on those “small stories”, and to preserve them for later generations. With a view to expanding the platform all projects were bundled under one name: “Limburg 1914-1918: Small Stories from a Great War” and one historical logo, the daisy.

The Province of Limburg translated stories from 100 years ago into innovative public projects, all with the focus to tell about how it was. It looked out for new and different ways to handle our heritage and our past, by using modern media and film.

1. The lead up
The entire project was worked out step by step:
As start of the campaign the province launched the community historical logo, the daisy, and the project name, Small Stories from a Great War. The logo was based on a small story, the story of JeanD’Hulst (see DVD or https://youtu.be/IAlPvAW00xE). As a soldier he wrote a letter to his beloved Madeleine. Very special is the little flower which, still untainted, sticks to the pages. This flower, a daisy, was also the symbol of the Belgian soldiers during this World War. Therefore the province used this flower as the appropriate logo for the remembrance campaign.

Key element for the launch was the short re-enactment video about how Jean D’Hulst collected the daisy to send this flower to his Madeleine. This video that was played not only on several websites, but also on television channels and in movie theaters in Limburg, also asked people of Limburg to send in the stories they may have about the First World War.

First the Province of Limburg actively searched for information, opened up the war heritage in Limburg, and tried to communicate this to the heritage organisations and the public. For instance, an inspiration guide (2000 ex.) was published, on the inspiration day, attended by 250 participants, a resource book (1000 ex.) was presented, which listed for all 44 municipalities the archives, publications, banners and monuments concerning WWI which were presented, and more than 60 local projects were supported. Furthermore, on collection day, over 2000 objects were described and registered in the Europeana1914-1918-databank.

Apart from that the province also started some umbrella-projects:

  • Substantive support for local projects: in 2013 and 2014 more than 60 projects were supported and substantively guided during the implementation of their local WWI project.
  • Educational projects: All information researched was also translated into various educational products: an interactive lessons package for primary schools (October 2014), an educational performance by singer and television personality Stijn Meuris, including lessons package for secondary schools (March 2014, try-out in the provincial council hall, August 2014 première) and roll-up exhibitions for lending out (May 2014). The content and degree of difficulty were adapted to the various target groups.

2. Intensive preparations
2.1 Research
We undertook an intensive public and historic research preliminary to the project. What was there to know and tell about Limburg during the First World War? During the project, research and information gathering remained a key component. For example, a public collection day was held in 2013. The collected information, 2000 objects, formed a good knowledge base for other activities (the exhibition, a booklet composed in 2014 with war stories about each of the 44 Limburg municipalities, the educational activities, etc.).

As mentioned above the Province of Limburg gathered many stories from different sources. These stories where analysed and stored. More than that they were also screened by researchers with the goal to understand how life was during the Great War and which stories are exemplary for various aspects of life then. In combination with key elements during this war. The researches extremely focussed on learning to comprehend how people lived 100 years ago and what their point of view was, trying to understand the environment and transfer themselves into the characters. During the whole process of research, creation and production our researches were constantly in consultation with leading experts who supported them during the whole campaign.

With the help of many partners our researches collected also a huge amount of unique video and photographs about the Great War. Many of them were never publicised before and now integrated in the exhibition movie or storytelling (Flickr page Mathilde Paukens). By doing that these video and photographs were not only shown but also broadly explained.

2.2 Selection and scriptwriting
Important in the creation of the stories, exhibition movie and short movie is first of all the emphasis on how people experienced this harsh period and a broad view on different perspectives. We offered a view on the war but through the eyes of different actors, such as the point of view of german soldiers, how woman had to survive during the occupation, the point of view of Belgian gendarmes who had to stay behind during the first weeks of the war or the thoughts of Belgian soldiers in the trenches and so on.

Unique aspect of the storytelling, the short movie and several stories in the exhibition film is that what happens is based on the stories we have. This means that the stories that are incorporated are not purely creations of a creative mind. They are based on historical research and material gathered by the province and researchers. This makes the short movie, storytelling and exhibition film to be exceptionally strong educational and historical agents.

Despite the fact that the stories are all historically based, they are not perceived as a history lesson. On the contrary, followers and viewers felt themselves immersed in strong and touching stories.

That’s because we have paid extensive attention to strong and dedicated scriptwriting. In close and continuous consultation with the research.

2.3 Location hunting and film production
Not only the research was important for a historically correct concept, but also the locations had to be in line with the historical accuracy needed to give the public a good understanding about the daily life 100 years ago. With the help of partners and good location hunting we were able to shoot video and photographs on appropriate locations. This in combination with a well-studied and controlled set-dressing, costumes, make-up, hairdo and props.

3. A strong short movie as part of a remarkable storytelling
3.1 Personal and small stories gathered and told
The Province of Limburg chose not to make WWI objects the centre of their own provincial projects, but to use the personal stories. The Province of Limburg decided to the multimedia way for one hundred percent. Built up and supported by social media.

Of course WWI is now a long time in the past, very few of us have known people who lived through that war. In order to get that war into the living room in as authentic a way as possible, and in order to approach the feeling of that war and the occupation, we also had to depict the landscape, the view and the society of those days in movies and photographs. For us this was the only way in which we could present those personal stories, and honour them. The only way in which today’s people could identify with the people of those days long gone.

3.2 Cross media storytelling with fiction series
With a storytelling project running from August to the end of September 2014, we worked towards both the launch of our short movie and the exhibition film. We started with an original invitation to the press in the form of a conscription letter, and as happened one hundred years ago, we arranged a unique launch by ringing all the church bells all across Limburg on July 30th.

What if social media already existed 100 years ago?
With this in mind we created an exceptional story based on true facts told by fictitious characters on a Facebook page and Twitter. Combined with unique archive material we really brought World War 1 in Limburg back to life. During a period of 3 months we highlighted stories from the 4 years of war and really got people engaged. To amplify this even more we used fiction series (excerpts of our short movie), based on true stories to visualise key moments of the Facebook story.

The online storytelling-project Mathilde Paukens (www.facebook.com/mathildepaukens), a young lady from Limburg, gathered our aims to reach a broad audience and to give them a unique insight and experience of how it was to live in Belgium during World War I. Just like many people today share their life with others through social media and short movies, she and other fictional characters shared her life from the eve of WWI. On the Facebook page of “Mathilde Paukens” we told different stories as if they were happening today. We used fictitious and historical characters, true stories, elements of our short movie and a lot of archive material.

Apart from that an answer was given to each (historical) question that was asked, also for negative and incorrect questions about for instance the Holocaust, about the fact that the Germans had no choices during WWII… This resulted in a real dialogue during which, after a few weeks, the public started to help each other, for instance by searching within the family for the military file of grandfather X, for the tombstone of aunt Y, etc.

The storytelling project was the ultimate example of the community shaping, during which various generations were assembled, from young to old and from total novices to specialists about the theme.

For the first time in Belgium was history so told through online channels. This content based campaign touched people, generated great positive comments and media coverage. And most importantly got everybody involved in the World War 1 story.

3.3 The short movie: Personal stories told by the adventures of Mathilde, Baptist, Isidore and many others
An incredibly large public daily followed the story of Mathilde Paukens on Facebook and Twitter, in the newspaper and via the short fiction series on local television and in cinema.

At the end of the online storytelling campaign we surprised audience and press with the outcome that the short fiction series broadcasted online, in movie theaters and on local television became a remarkable fiction movie giving a unique insight in the daily life in Limburg during World War 1.

The short movie follows the life of our fictional protagonist Mathilde Paukens. Through her we could depict the view of daily life in Limburg through the eyes of a young woman in occupied Belgium, and address various themes such as smuggling, espionage, German ordinances, the absence of a loved one, difficult choices etc. Not a history lesson, but an accessible story based on many personal stories.

What if you could feel what people experienced 100 years ago. That was the point of departure.

The short movie tells the adventures of our three fictitious main characters.

  • Mathilde Paukens: Born in a simple family as the eldest daughter of a cobbler. She attended elementary school until the age of 14 when she went to work as a house maid for several wealthier families. To her younger brother Isidore she has always been somehow of a guardian angel.
  • Isidore Paukens: When the war breaks out he wants to fight but he is to young. Still he can’t stand idly by when his country needs him and he joins the resistant.
  • And then there is Baptist: Mathildes’ great love. He is the second son of a rather prosperous farmer and a true hedonist. Unfortunately the long war and his unexpected parenthood will change him.

It’s more than simple facts. Via short movie, storytelling and exhibition film people truly experience what it must have been like for people at the time. They get to share their prospects, and despairs, their doubts and their fears. But their personal stories also strike a nerve.

The fictional story, based on true facts, and which saw the cooperation of well-known Belgian actors and actresses, could be followed online, seen on our exhibition and on a local television.

By means of this film the story of life in Limburg was told, and additionally a view was given of the people of Limburg at the front. Worries, fears, joys and future perspectives all had their place, apart from typical Limburg themes such as smuggling, the border wire, etc. For this Mathilde contacted other persons and historical characters. The various messages were combined with short movies which where integrated in one short movie (http://youtu.be/Wh-krWj1CBs).

Many of the characters of the Facebook storytelling come back in the short movie and parts of the online storytelling can be seen in this film. The movie is as such an overview of the major story-lines in the online storytelling. But more than that the enormous audience that followed the storytelling had to watch the movie to know the outcome. What happened with our main characters at the end of the war was first revealed there.

Because the public was confronted with people from flesh and blood, who they often knew from other series and movies on TV, they were able to identify with them, and really empathise with them. The decors and landscapes used also reinforced this.

As mentioned above the historical research and script writing are key-elements for the value and the goal of this fiction movie. The attention for historical accuracy was also extended in the production of the film.

3.4 The exhibition film: our fictitious and main characters come back alive to tell about the War
The multimedia exhibition “Small Stories from a Great War” constitutes the concluding piece of the project.

On 19 September 2014, Mathildes’ story resulted in a historically correct multimedia exhibition, where Mathilde, together with Baptist and Isidore – whom the public had gotten to know during the storytelling and the short movie – talked about how daily life was for them during WWI, what they went through, and how they experienced it, in Limburg and at the front. They embody what such a great war means for a “small” person, and in doing so also enter into dialogue with historical characters.

In the exhibition fictitious and historical characters come back to life to tell the public directly what happened and how they experienced the war. The movie framework within which they do so is stripped of all embellishments and has been reduced to the essence, in order to let the human experience and the unique historical documents become the focus of the three projections.

Through this video projections in a black box and on a large screen fictitious and historical characters tell a story directly to the audience.

Because the characters are played by actors and they directly talk to the public or interact with each other, they immerse the audience into their world.

In this way people really get more insight in the 4 years of war and what it meant for Limburg and people touched by this war.

This unique video exhibition is based on true stories that happened during WW 1. The story is also supplemented with unique archive material, parts of the short movie and discussions with and between other historical characters.

Through our characters we could depict the view of daily life in Limburg through the eyes of people 100 years ago, and address various themes such as the atmosphere at the eve of the war, smuggling, espionage, German ordinances, the absence of a loved one, difficult choices etc.

The characters tell their stories from the eve of the war till the end. During this voyage the stories are bundled by themes such as the arrival of the Germans, the first resistance, life during the occupation, espionage, Limburg soldiers at the frontline, etc.

With the help of many partners our researches collected a huge amount of unique video and photographs about the Great War. Many of them were never publicized before and now integrated in the exhibition movie and/or storytelling. By doing so these video and photographs were not only shown but also explained and clarified within a broader context.

4. Results
Through the project “Limburg 1914-1918: Small Stories from a Great War” a small part of European history has been brought to light again. The history is commemorated and the community remembers that the First World War in Belgium not only took place at the infamous front in the South-West, in ‘Flanders Fields’, but also in the remainder of occupied Belgium. Even in the most easterly part of the country, in Limburg. The impression is already being created that this theme will no longer be forgotten by the collective memory of Limburg, Belgium and Europe. The provincial and local projects have opened up a heritage which will continue to exist through the self-shaped Limburg heritage community.

By telling personal stories of people 100 years ago in a modern and catchy way, we have been able to appeal to a large and varied audience. Our online storytelling, the fiction and the exhibition films appeals and appealed to a large audience.

Saying that this project touched people in Limburg and far beyond is an understatement. This is proven by the numbers and the fact that the public participated in various activities.

The storytelling project gathered more than 12,000 loyal Facebook followers in 8 weeks. This means 1500 new likes per week and an average of about 215 per day. More than 32,000 exclusive clicks were counted per week on the posted messages, and various messages and movies were shared multiple times on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. In the course of the entire story more than 2,500,000 persons were reached! About 860,000 people live in the province of Limburg, which means that the number of people reached is an unexpected success, and well surpassed the borders of the province.

The entire story was supported by the fiction series which turned out to be one short movie at the end. Apart from Facebook the various movies on YouTube and in the Kinepolis cinema in Hasselt gathered more than 40,000 views.

In cooperation with the regional TV channel TV Limburg the fictional series and at the end the entire fiction movie was also broadcast weekly, on the Friday evening. The series was a great success, and was followed by on average 127,000 viewers per week. Certainly a success in view of the TV offering in Flanders, and in view of the fact that the local broadcaster had no experience or tradition in the airing of a fiction series.

The exhibition has already attracted a large number of visitors, including many school groups, disabled and socio-cultural associations. We also already welcomed foreign groups from Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Between February 2013 and October 2014 the project was also often a subject in the national and regional media (newspapers, TV, radio). For instance, about 100 press articles appeared about the project. This means that the project was put in the spotlight on average almost weekly. A selection of this can be found here:http://www.limburg1914-1918.be/in-de-pers

Thanks to the great response and the unexpected but strong demand of schools, organisations and public to show short movie and/or exhibition film, the Province of Limburg had to decide to release both on DVD. Firstly for educational purposes where the DVD is free available to schools. In addition, the DVD was offered via partners and shops in Limburg.

Due to the success of our storytelling, the short movie and exhibition film we also offered both films with French and English subtitles on the DVD.

Executive producer: General Coordination by the Province of Limburg - PCCE (Sandro Claes, executive producer Dirk Bouve) Project coordinator MojoMedia (Guy Serdobbel, and project producer Annouchka Szapinszky) Project Management Exhibition Film: theWizard (Quentin D’haeye, Lien Treunen)

Director(s): Short movie: Ray Leemans, Exhibition Film: Raf Verbeemen

Cameraman/woman: Short movie: DOP/camera: Sven Joukes, Camera: Jorn Daems, Camera assistant: Vincent-Aaron Segers Stijn Beckers Jurn Van Herck, Pilot drone: Jan Crommelinck, Kadreur drone :Wout Dhondt / Exhibition Film: Sven Joukes, Jan Mestdagh, Patrick Tilkens

Editor: Montage: Joris Brouwers; Graphics effects: Philip De Wandeleir; Colour grading: Veerle Zeelmaekers; Audio edit Foley: Wouter Beckers Bram Braem, Audio mix: Bart Vanvoorden / Exhibition Film: Montage: Joris Brouwers, Philip De Wandeleir; Art director: Bram Van Rompaey; Graphics effects: Philip De Wandeleir; Audio edit mix: Bart Vanvoorden

Script: Dirk Chauvaux
Musique composer: Jan Swerts; Title song short movie: Stijn Meuris

Cast short movie:
Laura Verlinden: Mathilde
David Cantens: Baptist
Jelle Florizoone: Isidore
In orde of appearence:
Jan Swerts: Pianist pub
Stefaan Van Brabandt: Gendarm pub
Christine Verheyden: Jeanne
Kyan Steverlynck: Boy
Helder Houben: Boy 2
Maarten Schuermans: Belgian lieutenant fort
Maurice Cassiers: German soldier market
Robert de la Haye: German officer market
Sven De Ridder: Priest
Mathias Van Mieghem: Son market
Dirk Mortelmans: Old man market
Steven Boen: Jean D’Hulst
Kobe Serdobbel: Baby Kamiel
Arne Lenk Dieter: Hohenhoffer
Dries Vanhegen: Notary Dreesen
Jan Van Hecke: German soldier tram
Veronique Leysen: Madeleine D’Hulst
Tom De Hoog: Jefke Peeters
Roger Baum: German sentinel 1
Stefan Sattler: German sentinel 2
Mano Claus: Kamiel 2,5 year
Brent Simons: Kamiel 5 year
Anaïs Devedžić: Sister Kamiel
Cast Exhibition Film:
In order of appearance:
Laura Verlinden: Mathilde
David Cantens: Baptist
Jelle Florizoone: Isidore
Arne Lenk: Dieter Hohenhoffer
Lucas Tavernier: Lieutenant Martin
Johan van Assche: General Deschepper
Jan Van Hecke: German soldier tram
Christine Verheyden: Jeanne
Veronique Leysen: Madeleine D’Hulst
Tom De Hoog: Jefke Peeters
Dorien De Clippel: Jeanneke van den Bosch
Peter Van den Eede: Fritz Haber
Steven Boen: Jean D’Hulst
Brent Simons: Kamiel
Crew short movie:
1st Assistant director Samir Devedžić
Location manager: Luc De Cloedt
Assistant location manager: Maxim Guèrin
Runners: Anna Van Hoof, Sam Tosyali
Sound: Marco Bernaerts, Thomas Verbruggen
Gaffer: Patrick Haegeman
Best boy: Steven Soete
Electro: Jean Gonzales
Crane operator: Jelle Ector
Costume/Styling: Lien Degol, Lieve Gerrits
Assistant costume: Barbara Platteeuw
Make up: Luna Vidal Bea
Intern make up: Jelle Jacques
Set dresser: Sofie Vos
Decor – Requisites: Pieter Van de Putte
Handy men: Jelle Becquevort, Dries Roland
Post-production facilities: Option Media
Grip material: Eurogrip
Aerials: Aeroplayfilms
Illumination: material k-Light
Special effects: Wiessenhaan
Re-enactment group: Salient Remembrance Detachment
Costumes: Huis Baeyens
Armyuniforms: Uniformverhuur.be
Juridical consultancy :Upwards
Casting Isidore: De Vriesvinck casting
Stuntman Baptist: Jordy Beijersbergen
Stunt horses: Dietrich Verzele
German language coach: Rudi Klinkenberg
Dance historian: Chris Degheldere
Historical support: Provinciaal Centrum voor Cultureel Erfgoed, Luc Vandeweyer, Joost Vaesen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Kristof Blieck, Joost Provoost

Crew Exhibition Film:
Location manager: Luc De Cloedt
Sound: Marco Bernaerts, Thomas Verbruggen
Gaffer: Patrick Haegeman
Best boy: Steven Soete
Costume/Styling: Lien Degol, Lieve Gerrits
Assistant costume: Barbara Platteeuw
Make up: Luna Vidal Bea
Requisites: Joshua De Vilder, Tim Dobbelaere, Pieter Van de Putte
Decor: Jelle Becquevort, Dries Roland
Post-production facilities: Option Media
Grip material: Eurogrip
Aerials: Aeroplayfilms
Illumination: material k-Light
Special effects: Wiessenhaan
Re-enactment group: Salient Remembrance Detachment
Costumes: Huis Baeyens
Armyuniforms: Uniformverhuur.be
Extra props: Kristof Blieck
Juridical consultancy :Upwards
Casting Isidore: De Vriesvinck casting
Stunt horses: Dietrich Verzele
German language coach: Rudi Klinkenberg
Responsable documentation: Provincie Limburg –PCCE (Peter Bloemen)
Historical support: Provinciaal Centrum voor Cultureel Erfgoed, Luc Vandeweyer, Joost Vaesen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Kristof Blieck, Joost Provoost.