Place des Martyrs, 21 July 1915. After one year of occupation, Brussels still wanted to remember national day. As a sign of protest against the occupation, people gathered around the monument erected in memory of the independence fighters of 1830. Brussels was a dead city that day: all cafés and stores were closed. Those that wanted to remain open were forced to close by popular pressure: groups of Belgian “patriots” occupied the streets, throwing stones at the windows. Since August 1914, this was the first time an organized movement openly expressed its engagement with the Belgian cause.
In the following years each national day became, for part of the population, a chance to express their rejection of German occupation. On 21 July 1916, to prevent the accidents occurred the year before, the Germans blocked the access to the Place des Martyrs. Patriotic demonstration moved to the Saints Michel-et-Gudule church. Cardinal Mercier, icon of the Belgian resistance since the issue of his pastoral letter “Patriotism and Endurance” in December 1914, preached fiercely in a church filled to the brim. At the end of the event, hustles opposed the population to the police.