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Belgian Boy

 

        Dear Chris,

          Please find below a civilian’s story during the WWI1

         The man who writes the story is a friend of me and also a CR1BA’s member.

         It is a 10 year old Belgian boy’s recollection of WW II.

         I thought that you may be interested. They describe the experiences of a 10

         year old boy living in Belgian during WW II.

        

        From: Philippe Watelet,

        Date: Thu, Aug 4,1994,

        Subject:   WW11 recollections/part 1

         In the following days, I would like to contribute to this Forum by sharing a

         few recollections of a typical Belgian family relating events of WWI I.

         While there may be little historical value in these recollections, they do

         represent experiences of many Belgian families in occupied Belgium as seen

         through the eyes of a boy who was only 10 years old when our city was

         liberated by the US Army.

         The subjects of these recollections will be:

         [1] The War begins, we flee but then return home,

         [2] The resistance in our city,

         [3] Food, gas and coal: the Belgian “Home Front”

         [4] Local arrests,

         [5] My father taken hostage,

         [6] the Air War reaches our city: we are bombed

         [7] Liberation at last.

         I start to day with the first subject: the War begins, we flee and then

         return home.

         My first recollection goes back to early 1940 before the nazi invasion of

         Belgium. My father was a doctor in ophtalmology and he was ordered to rejoin

         a medical military Unit in Gent. I was sitting in the staircase and he was

         there in the hall in uniform. My mother was crying softly. I remember the

         feeling that something serious was happening but I could not really

         understand.

         For me, in his military uniform, it seemed that my father was great! And

         then he said good bye to all of us and left. At that time, I had 3 brothers

         and I was 5 years old.

         He has instructed my mother to leave our home with her sons for France if

         the war really started. This advice was based on their experience of the

         previous war WWI , some 25 years before. At that time. my father had just

         started his medical studies but he went as a simple volunteer soldier in the

         belgian infantry for 4 years. The germans in WWI were brutal with the

         civilians.

         They had put cities and villages on fire in several place in Belgium. Since

         now it was again the germans who were threatening our country, many people

         were thinking that the nazis would most probably behave according to the

         same pattern. Therefore the best way to avoid the brutality and the possible

         killing was to flee away, if possible.

         So, one day, we left La Louviere in our car: my mother, her 4 sons and some

         luggages on the top of the car attached with belts and strings. I do not

         remember how many Kms she drove but, still in Belgium, some iuggages failed

         down from the top of the car on the road. Some repair work done, we continued.

         The road was rather crowded with civilians in some parts of it. But once

         again some luggages failed down and then my mother said I think we stop

         here and we are going back home”. So we did, she drove us back home. She

         certainly took the right decision. We learnt later from people who went to

         France that enemy aircrafts were sometimes gunning the roads full of

         military convoys mixed with civilians. Some or many were wounded or killed.

         It was really a confused situation for me and for my brothers. We could not

         understand this whole situation, we were too young.

         When I talked recently to my mother, I asked her why she took that

         decision.

         She said that she had the real feeling that she left La Louviere too late

         and that she heard friends saying that the german tanks were quite fast in

         ther offensive and she was afraid to be in a combat area. She also said that

         an german aicraft has been flying very low above the road (I have no memory

         of that but I trust her) and she was sure to be safer in our home than

         somewhere on the roads to France. So we were back in our house and my

         brothers and were quite happy to see and play with our toys left behind.

         Then the Germans arrived and our city of La Louviere was occupied by the

         werhmacht. No school any more for a few weeks. For us it was fun. But we had

         no news from our father. Several weeks later he came back. His Unit went to

         Gent, Ostende, Dunkerque and finally the orders were to go to Nantes in

         France but it never made it. The nazis first line troops were indeed quite

         fast and one day his Unit was found almost surrounded in the north of

         France. The germans were victorious and since a medical Unit did not have

         arms they could not care less about prisonners. They simply wanted to go on

         and on. A german officer ordered the belgian major in charge of the medical

         Unit to wait there for the second line troops which would then organise the

         transfer into a POW camp. Then several members of the Unit including my

         father decided wait until dark late in the evening and to run away through

         the fields, sleeping during the day and walking during the night. By doing

         so and avoiding any concentration of enemy troops, he came back home

         exhausted but alive.

         Our family was re-united. The local administration was in a sort of chaos

         and it was never asked how and why my father was back, the belgiam city

         employees were not ready to inform the nazis about the names of persons who

         did escaped from their hands.

         Life would continue in the occupied Belgium. I will continue about that in

         another message.

        From: Philippe Watelet,

        Date: Fri, Aug 6,1994,

        Subject:   WWII recollections/2: the resistance in our city.

         In this second story on some recollections of a belgian family during the

         WWII, I will say a few word on the local resistance in our city. As I said

         in the 1st story, there is no historical value in these recollections of

         WWII.

         They simply are memories of a belgian family in occupied Belgium as seen

         through the eyes of a boy of 5/10 years old during that war.

         There was local resistance in the area of La Louviere, building up from 1942

         to 1944-45. There were two organizations. One called “secret Army” recruited

         its members mainly from former reserve Officers and soldiers who did escape

         in the early days of the war from being POW’s. They had no political

         ambition.

         They wanted to fight the enemy and were in contact with London for

         instructions on sabotages to be made. The other organization called Fl for

         Front de l’lndependance if I do remember correctly was more of a political

         nature. They wanted also to fight the nazi’s with the same courage and, in

         addition, had the ambition of preparing the new public administration if the

         war was eventually won.

         I remember that my father although he was not a regular resistant himself

        was sometimes in contact with friends in the Secret Army. One day he was

         asked if he would help them in a coup. They got the information that there

          was an important Gestapo meeting in Mons (+1- 25 Kms from La Louviere). The

         Gestapo Officer (the Nazis’secret police) reponsible of the La Louviere area

         would be attending the meeting. In particular, they thought that the Officer

         would most probably be accompanied by a belgian collaborator who was a

         traitor hated by the local population. His name was Duquesne. He and the

         Gestapo Officer would come back late in the evening or at night from Mons to

         La Louviere and would use an official german car. On his way back to La

         Louviere, they would have to cross a bridge above a canal (Canal du Centre)

         where a party of resistants would fire at the car in order to kill both men.

         Since he was a doctor, they asked my father if he could take care of any

         member of the resistance team if the fight would result with wounded men.

         They also thought that the car would be followed by another car with SS

         soldiers for protection and were prepared for a small but serious fight.

         So he went that evening to a small house just near the bridge according to

         the intructions and with what was needed for such circumstances. He then

         organized a room for possible casualties. A resistant and my father were

         waiting there for several hours in a tense atmosphere listening for the

         expected noise of the fight. But nothing happened until 4/5 in the morning.

         The resistants then decided to leave the bridge while it was still dark.

         They thought that the Gestapo’s car took probably another but longer road

         to La Louviere or worst that the Gestapo might have been informed in advance

         about the danger of an attack near the bridge. They were not sure. But my

         father learnt later that both men remained that night in Mons and came back

         to La Louviere the day after.

         In the next message, in a few days, I will say a few words on how was the

         every day life during that period ,in particular, on the difficulty, to find

         the food. This could be called the “belgian home front”.

         From: Philippe Watelet,

         Date: Sun, Aug 14,1994,

         WWll recollections/part 3

         In this third message, I say a few words on some recollections of the

         occupation period during WWII.We might call it “The belgian home front”.

         During the occupation of Belgium ,to find food has been a very serious

         problem, in particular for my parents. In 1942, my youngest brother was born

         in June and my oldest brother was 12 year old. So there were 5 boys around

         the table to be feeded every day... The nazis have organized their own

         economy. They were simply seizing a large part of the local production for

         their needs: wheat, meat, potatoes, fruits, coal, steel, etc. I read

         recently that there was even competition between the german army branches

         such as Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine, the SS and the like ,each

         imposing their own requirements on the belgian Administration in order to

         provide so many tons of this or of that per month.

         We had a system of stamps for the food. At the beginning of each month, each

         family, according to its size, was to receive so many stamps for bread, so

         many stamps for butter, so many stamps for meat, for soap etc.

         Each monthly stamp gave the right to buy exactly a fixed quantity of a

         specific food item. Say, 1 stamp for butter gave the right to buy 100 gramms

         of butter. So ,in a shop, you would only get that quantity indicated on the

         stamps and the shop-keeper was requested to keep for the Food Administration

         the exact accounting of all the stamps he received from his clientele each

         month and to give back all the outdated stamps.

         By doing so, the nazi control of the food market was complete: i.e. small

         amount of meat available on the market, limited and fixed number of stamps

         distributed to each family, small quantity to be delivered in exchange of

         each stamp. Without stamps, no possibility to buy anything.

         I do not remember having been very hungry for days. But I do remember though

         the bad quality of some food: the bread was almost black with a bad taste,

         sometimes the potatoes were awfull, the fruits were quite rare and so were

         sugar, milk and eggs.

         Gardening was not a hobby; many if not all gardens were used for planting

         vegetables. Our grand parents did help us. They were living in a village

         named Bois du Luc not far from La Louviere and they were friends of a

         farmer. Almost on each sunday the farmer sold them a large piece of white

         bread made by himself, without asking for stamps. And our grand parents gave

         that bread to my parents. I remember how good it was. We ate it with much

         pleasure and appetite, almost religiously. There was also a “black market’

         without stamps. My mother told me the other day when we were recalling

         events of this period that she had sometimes bought butter or white bread

         for the family. The prices were quite high. Taking into account roughly the

         rate of that time, 1 kilo of butter was around $US 150/170 at today value

         and a bread was about 30 $US.

         Coal was also a problem . Belgium at that time had many excellent coal mines

         with high production capacity. But again the nazis were seizing a large part

         of the coal production to be sent to Germany. The winter of 1942 was quite

         severe and several rooms of our house were definitively closed for several

         months because it was not possible to heat them due to the lack of coal.

         Again my grand father did help us. He was the general manager of a coal mine

         near Bois du Luc and he could manage to spare some small part of the coal

         production from the control of the Nazi’s. And at night only, he managed to

         deliver some coal to us and to some of his friends at his own risk of being

         caught by a german patrol, the Feldwebels, as they were called. Fortunately,

         this never happened.

         Another thing that happened: in 1942 or 1943, the nazi’s decided to seize

         all the bells from the churches and use them as raw materials, mainly

         bronze, for their production of military equipment. They took away 2 bells,

         one of them quite large 1 .5 ton, from the church of La Louviere. I remember

         that the local population was present on the grand place in front of the

         church attending in silence when the bells were put down on a large german

         truck. There were soldiers all around and despite of that close surveillance

         my mother managed to take a picture of the scene. I think she might still

         have that picture today.

         Gasoline was also a problem. Its use was strictly controlled as the use of

         cars. In fact, very early in the war, our car was put in a garage at the

         house of my grand parents. Some vital pieces of the engine, including 2

         wheels with the tires, were taken away and hidden in the soil of the garden

         during the complete duration of the war. So if the nazi’s wanted to take the

         car for their own use, it would have been impossible. But they never checked

         where that car was. Moreover, since Bois du Luc was a village, the

         probability for them to find out was really small. It did not happened.

         The use of private cars was submitted to a written authorization from the

         nazI’s administration, the famous Kommandantur.

         Overall we certainly managed to survive during that period but for sure the

         main difficulties and problems were not for my brothers and me but for my

         parents who were in charge of the 5 of us. I must say that they did

         everything they could to make our life as supportable as it could be under

         difficult conditions.

         It should be noted also that the situation in Belgium indeed very difficult

         was better than in the Netherlands (Holland). From the very beginning of the

         war, Holland was militarly administrated and controlled by the Gestapo/SS

         troops which were brutal. As a consequence, the high Officer in charge there

         was a 55 officer reporting directly to Himmler. In Belgium, it was the

         Wehrmacht, the normal german troops, which was in charge of the military

         administration of our country. The responsible german Officer was a General

         named von Falkenhausen.

         He was from an old aristocratic and well educated prussian family. He was

         reporting to the Army Headquarters in Berlin.

         Of course, he occupied Belgium with his troops and took measures against any

         attempt of resistance. But he has authority on the Gestapo/SS troops and

         could limit their actions to some extent. He tried for instance to limit the

         seizing of foods for the Nazi’s in order to leave a minimum of food for the

         belgian citizens. He also tried to limit the number of arrests of men to be

         sent as forced workers in the german factories. This was known only after

         the war when some german documents were examined by the Allied forces and

         the belgian justice Departement. But in July 1944, he was arrested under the

         order of Himmler himself and send to a military jail in Berlin. He was

         replaced by a SS General who make our life probably more difficult. But at

         that time, the D-Day was already a success and there was much hope

         everywhere of being free again some day.

         In 1945 or 1946, von Falkenhausen was judged in Belgium and sentenced to 10

         years of jail. When the full story of his human behavior was completely

         acknowledged, the sentence was diminished to less than the 10 years.

         In my next message I will say a few words on the arrests made by the

         occupying forces in our local area. Philippe.

         From: Philippe Watelet,

         Date: Mon, Aug 8,1994,

         Subject:WWII recollections/part 4: Some arrests by the Nazis in La Louviere,

         Belgium.

         In the 3 previous posted WWII recollections, I proposed to share 3 “stories”

         about my family remembering the following events: the evacuation before the

         enemy’s invasion, the local resistance and the belgian “home front” in

         occupied Belgium.

         This is another recollection about some arrests made in La Louviere of which

         I have some memories.

         About the Jews, there were probably a very small number in the city. I don’t

         remember anything about them in our area although I know that elsewhere in

         Belgium, many of them were arrested. On the other hand there were sometimes

         sorts of massive arrest. The objective of the nazi’s was to arrest men and

         send them as forced workers in the german factories.

         My parents had a girl called Martha at home. She was around 20 years old

         and was helping my mother in taking care of the 5 children. On a Sunday

         afternoon in autumn 1942, Martha and I went to see a football (soccer) game

         in La Louviere. Her fiance was one of the team players. At the end of the

         game, the stadium was completely surrounded by german soldiers and there

         were military trucks in the streets nearby. All the men between 20 and 35

         years old were obliged to go into the trucks and were taken away to Germany.

         During the screening of the men on one side and women and children on the

         other side, the SS were not kind at all. They shouted orders which we could

         not understand. I was hit in the back with the butt of a rifle and went

         quickly away with Martha to our home. On the next monday, I was kind of

         proud to tell the story to my school friends on the playground: I was a

         brave boy (7 years old at that time) who did escape!!! Fortunately her

         fiance was well aware of the facilities, rooms, offices, etc inside the

         building where the players put their equipments and took the showers. He

         managed to hide himself somewhere in that building and was saved but from

         then on he had to hide for several weeks and never played soccer until the

         end of the war. I don’t remember what was the outcome for the other players.

         Another arrest happened to our neighbourg, Mr Pirson. His house was just

         close to our’s. He was an engineer and was General Manager of a factory

         producing spare parts for steam locomotives, freight car and wagons. The

         factory was under the control of the nazis and a very large part of the

         production was taken away for the german railways. A Captain of the

         Wehrmacht was working fulltime in that factory controlling the quality and

         the production. One night, the Gestapo came at the home of Mr Pirson and

         arrested him on the spot.

         He was immediately taken away.

         The next morning, the Captain called Mrs Pirson on the phone to check why

         her husband was not at the factory as usual. She explained the situation and

         the arrest of her husband. He then intervened vis a vis the Gestapo

         explaining that that engineer was needed by all means. A few days later the

         Captain met Mrs Pirson and said that he was very sorry but he could not

         understand the decision and he was not in a position to modify it.

         Mr Pirson never came back from Germany. Several months after the end of the

         war, Mrs Pirson received a letter from the Red Cross saying that the name of

         her husband was recorded on a listing of the Dachau concentration camp in

        1944. He probably died there. Nobody never understood that very sad arrest.

         In the next message lthe 5th one] I will say some words about the arrest of

          my father as hostage in 1943.

        From: Philippe Watelet,

        Date: Wed, Aug 10, 1994,

         Subject: WWII recollections/5: an arrest as hostage, at La Louviere, Belgium.

         I will send now a few words about the arrests of my father.

         One day in 1943 while my father was taking care of a patient in his medical

         office at home, the Gestapo (Nazi’s secret police) came in and arrested him.

         My mother was not there, she was shopping. He was taken away on the spot and

         Martha, the girl who was helping my mother, gave him quickly a small bag

         with some food in it.

         Later in that day he came back with a Gestapo written order requesting him

         to go to the railway station of Haine-Saint-Pierre (about 5 Kms from La

         Louviere) at 18.00 h. twice a week during a period of 3 or 4 months, I don’t

         remember the exact duration. Some 20 men from our area received the same

         instruction from the Gestapo. They were to be locked up in a freight car

         placed just in front of the steam locomotive of a regular military train

         going to Roubaix in the North of France with soldiers, equipments,

         ammunitions, etc. From Roubaix the train was going back to Germany through

         Belgium during the night with pieces of equipments produced in France

         probably for assembly somewhere in Germany and then back to Mons, in

         Belgium.

         The nazi’s were taking these men as hostages claiming publicly that if the

         resistants would continue blow up the railways, they would at the same time

         kill belgian people who were in that very first car. Off course my father

         could decide not to obey to the Gestapo order. But if so he should then

         leave our home and hide himself somewhere. It was almost certain that the

         Gestapo would retaliate against his wife or his children. He really had no

         choice but to comply with the order.

         So twice a week he went to the station at 18.00 h. and it was hoped that he

         would be back home about 24 hours later. We were all quite anxious each time

         he left asking ourselves whether we would see him again after each departure

         since, in fact, the resistants were sometimes destroying the railways and

         the rail switches with explosives. It lasted several weeks with some

         incidents. The train was stopped in the open country or in the woods or in a

         tunnel but the hostages could only guess the reason : it could be because of

         a derailment ahead on the line or a bombing underway on a station through

         which the train had to go or anything else like an obstruction on the

         railway.

         After some weeks the health of my father deteriorated dramatically because

         of the stress, the difficulty to sleep and the like. But he had to continue,

         he was weak and subject to sudden dizziness. Then by friendship and

         solidarity, his doctor colleagues proposed to my mother to replace my father

         each in turn. My mother went to the Kommandantur office in Mons explaining

         to the Gestapo that her husband was too weak to continue and that a few

         other men were ready to replace him. That proposition was rejected by the

         Gestapo officer because he could not trust the promise made by the friends

         of my father. Then my mother in despair said that she would replace him,

         that she would be at the station at 18.00 h. as requested and that since she

         was his wife the name Watelet on the list would be the same anyway.

         The Officer also refused saying that he did not want any woman in that

         freight car. Eventually she could convince him that the other doctors would

         be present each in turn at the departure of the train.

         During that difficult period, the colleagues of my father took regularly

         their burden respecting their word. My father could take some needed rest at

         home. Another ophtalmologist, Mrs Toussaint, was working part time in the

         office of my father taking kindly care of his patients. Fortunately, no

         accident happened to any friend of my father. There was only a serious

         alert. One day, Dr Paul Roger, a surgeon whose wife was a close friend of my

         mother, did not came back the day he was expected to be back home.

         His wife (she had 4 children) in true despair was thinking that her husband

         was killed or wounded following a derailment. But no such a think happened.

         The train was stopped somewhere because of air attacks but was not badly

          hit. Mr Roger finally arrived safely at home but with delay.

         Regularly a german military doctor came at home for checking the health of

         my father and at the end of the 3 or 4 months the hostages were released and

         our anguish was over. My mother (she is 87 years old) told me recently that

         she was in deep difficulty at that time. She was alone with her 5 sons,

         always scared that something could happen to her husband. And she is still

         today as we are full of admiration and respect for the solidarity shown by

         her husband’colleagues risking to some extent their own life to help him

         under difficult and dangerous circumstances.

         After some rest my father could resume his medical practice. But about that

         issue the worst was still to come. In the spring of 1944, the railway

         station of Haine Saint Pierre, close to La Louviere, was subject to 2 heavy

         bomber attacks, one during the day and one during the night one week or so

         later. The second attack was a success and the station was seriously

         destroyed.

         My father was arrested again together with several men of our local area and

         they were obliged to work at that station to clear up the ground and to

         repair the rails under the supervision of the Reichbahn. That was hard

         manual work moving debris in wheelbarrows for hours or taking away pieces of

         destroyed rails. After 1 or 2 weeks of such work, he was more or less

         exhausted. By chance, one day, a belgian employee of that station recognized

         him. He was a former patient of my father and he managed to explain to his

         Reichbahn superior that he needed clerical help and succeded to take my

         father on board as a kind of helping hand in the offices.

         When this period of manual work was over, probably 3 or 4 weeks, the station

         was operational again and he was released. But due to the physical efforts

         and the use of his hands for heavy manual work, his fingers were damaged and

         trembling. So he could not resume his medical work and in particular any eye

         surgery. He had not enough confidence on the control of his hands and

         fingers for that kind of delicate work. This situation lasted 2 or 3 months.

         When a surgical operation had to be done, he asked a colleague

         ophtalmologist, Dr Mairiaux or Dr Toussaint, to take over the patient and he

         was acting as a simple assistant. This was done in true friendship until

         when he was again sure enough that he could do the work himself. But I

         remember that for a period of time he asked one of these colleagues to

         assist him anyway, should he lose confidence in himself during an difficult

         operation.

         All these months were difficult for my parents. The health of my father was

         a concern as well as the insecurity, the arrests, the finding of food etc.

         not to say, although they were quite discreet about that, the financial

         situation for supporting a large family when he was absent or unable to

         work. I did ask recently to my mother if they knew why our father was

         arrested twice. She said that they were not sure at that time. According to

         her memory, she thinks that my father was probably talking to openly to some

         people about the Allied and the hope that the Nazi’s would be defeated.

         He had also some links with friends in the resistance. May be this or that

         was reported to the Gestapo in some way, who knows?

         I hope that this “story” is not too personal. As I said before there is no

         historical value in all this. It is simply the story of a belgian family

         during WWII.

         In a next (6th) message, I think that I will to say something on the bombing

         of La Louviere which happened in April 1944.

        

        From: Philippe Watelet,

        Date: Thu, Aug 11, 1994,

         Subject: WWll recollections/6: The air war reaches our city in April 1944.

         Another recollection I have of the war period is the bombing of the railway

         station of Haine-Saint- Pierre, very close to our city of La Louviere. This

         station was mainly a large freight station under the control of the german

         army and organized by the Reichbahn officers. The trains were formed to go

         to France, Germany or Italy with military equipments, goods and military

         Units.

         They transported sometimes trucks,large guns and tanks. I remember having

         seen some of them , camouflaged, with at the end of the train, a flat car

         with an AAAIFIak gun and its team of soldiers on it.

         it was a sunny Thursday afternoon in April 1944. At that time , we had a

         half day off at school on Thursdays and I was playing with my boy-scouts

         friends in the park of La Louviere. We heard the air-raid sirens as usual

         when large groups of bombers were flying to Germany and we saw the bombers

         coming. They were flying not as high as we used to see them. All of a sudden

         bombs were falling and exploding around us. I remember seeing a large tree

         falling down on the ground in the park. We all were running away. Some of my

         friends ran into a concrete shelter built for the protection of civilians

         just near the entrance of the park. I don’t know for which reason but I ran

         into the opposite direction in a street and I entered into a house searching

         protection. A lady was there in the entrance hail and she took my hand

         saying that the best place was in the corner of the kitchen, just behind a

         hat/coat stand. The bombs were exploding, the house was trembling and it

         seemed to me that a sort of immense giant was smashing everything around us

         with a big hammer. I was leaning against that lady who prayed aloud.

         Then the noise and the explosions stopped. We were alive. I looked at the

         lady to say thank you and she gave me a kiss. I told her that I was going

         home. She asked if I knew how to get there. I said yes and I left the lady

         in her house. In the street, I realized that it was impossible for me to go

         home by the usual way because of the fires, the smoke, the dust and all the

         debris of some destroyed houses. I went by a different way but after a few

         minutes an unexpected second wave of bombers arrived and the bombs were

         exploding again.

         At that time, I laid down in the gutter with my arms above my head because

         debris and pieces of glasses were falling all around. When it was over I

         remember staying there, sitting in the gutter for a while. I then tried to

         go home by a street somewhat on the outside of the city, you would say today

         the ring. On my way I met our chief scout and her assistant. She was a girl

         of 18/20 year old named lsabelle who was trying to find and regroup the

         boys. Since some were still missing, she took us in a sort of ditch in a

         field and we stayed there for a while.

         At one point in time, I saw at some distance my father riding on his bicycle

         in the direction of the city hospital. I said to lsabelle that I wished to

         see him and she let me go because she had also recognized my father.

         I went to the hospital but when I arrived there were already many streches

         on the grass in front of the main door and I could not see my father

         anywhere. Another doctor, Dr Toussaint, saw me alone, took me in his arms

         and said “Oh, Philippe, you are alive, your daddy thinks that you are

         dead!”

         He said that my father was aware that the scouts were in the park area which

         was badly hit. My father was already in the operation room but he would tell

         him that I was in good shape. And he kissed me like he never did before and

         adviced me to go home via a save way, what I did.

         One could still heard the explosions of some bombs either not exploded after

         the impact but maybe in a house on fire or exploding by a delayed timing

         device. My mother was at home with my brothers. Our house was still there

         with only some broken glasses. That was nothing compared to the houses in

         the park area and in the streets close to the park. A few hours later we

         learnt that the concrete shelter has been almost directly hit. One of the

         scout was dead and two other were wounded but eventually recovered.

         Strange things happened: i.e. in a house of a friend of my parents, Dr

         Pourtois a dentist, a bomb went through the roof, then through the second

         floor down into the bathtub without explosion. On the next Sunday I went

         with my mother to see the lady who took me in her home to say thank you to

         her for her kindness.

         Unfortunately, the station was not hit at all, It was difficult to

         understand. A few days later a special funeral office took place on the

         grand place in front of the church, 72 people being killed during that

         attack.

          From that time on, I was really scared each time I heard the engine of any

         aircraft. I was always thinking that the nightmare would start again.

         My parents tried kindly to reassure me but deep down inside of myself I was

         alone with my fears. I was also somewhat confused when my parents were

         talking about the allied airmen, our “friends”, they said. My brothers and I

         learnt also from snatches of conversations that my parents were secretly

         helping a couple living not far from our home who were hiding 2/3 US airmen

         whose bomber was hit by the Flak and had to use their parachutes for saving

         their lives.

         The schools were closed for some days. My parents sent me to my grand

         parents’ home at Bois du Luc. They probably felt that I was somewhat shaken

         by the bombing and told me that I would be in complete security with my

         grand parents. Bois du Luc was like a village not far from La Louviere. One

         night while I was still there, there was a new alert with the air-raid

         sirens. We went into the cellar organized as a shelter. The

         Haine-Saint-Pierre station was attacked this time by the RAF bombers with

         very good results. Houses were destroyed around the station but the railyard

         was seriously damaged. We heard the explosions but it was several Kms away.

         I was later told by my oldest brother Jean-Pierre that after he was woken by

         the sirens he saw through the window of his room many parachutes with

         special lights going down dropped by an advanced group of planes. He waked

         up my parents just to show the scenery. Most probably they understood that

         something serious was going to happen and took immediately the whole family

         in the cellar. The bombers then arrived, the bombing took place. As said

         before, this second bombing was rather accurate and the railway station was

         put out of operation for some weeks.

         At that time, I confess that I could not really understand as a too young

         boy why the airmen had to destroy so many houses and to kill or wound my

         friends. When I recall all this I think it is factual but probably partly

         emotional. I must say also that still today when I hear a plane with a

         propeller engine former images come sometimes to my mind. And I also think

         that my personal interest in reading many books on the WWII finds its very

         origin in the fact that I was too young at the time to understand the tense

         situations we experienced and that additional information would probably

         help me to answer to a sort of basic question remaining in my mind : “why

         all this did happen?”

         In the next message, the last one, I will post my recollection of the

         liberation of La Louviere in early September 1944, when the US troops

         arrived.

        

        From: Philippe Watelet,

        Date: Sun, Aug 14, 1994,

        Subject:   WWII recollections/part 7 : the liberation at last.

         In this last installment, I recall some memories about the event known in

         Belgium as the “Liberation” which took place in La Louviere during the first

         days of September 1944.

         For 2 or 3 days before, several groups of nazi’s troops were going through

         the city, retreating. Some of these troops seemed still disciplined and

         organized but others were in a bad shape: the soldiers were exhausted and

         rather dirty. One could see a tank or a halftrack having one or 2 trucks in

         tow due to the lack of gasoline. Some soldiers were using bicycles. All

         trucks and guns were covered with branches of trees to avoid allied air

         attacks.

         People were looking at them with caution, sometimes just behind the curtains

         of a window or at the corner of the street. Various rumors circulated about

         these retreating troops saying that sometimes they fired at civilians

         smiling too openly or they could take hostages and put them on the hood of

         the first trucks of a column to avoid the possible fire from resistants. It

         was a poor army, quite different from what we have seen in 1940-41.

         Then we were left alone for 24 hours, not knowing if nazi’s troops would

         still come. But again all kinds of rumors were going on: “The US troops are

         in Mons, they are already near Le Roeulx (some 10 kms from La Louviere)” or

          “The nazis are concentrating forces in the woods outside of La Louviere,

         they plan to come back...” And THEN , in the early afternoon of September

         4th (or 5th), the US troops arrived. First it was a very long column of

         Sherman tanks coming and driving slowly in the main street, followed by many

         halftracks, trucks, jeeps and Dodge cars. Everyone was in that street and it

         was like an immense explosion of joy in the city. We were all looking and

         cheerfully waving to these men in kaki uniform unknown to us, young and

         smiling. They were greeted the best we could with flowers, bottles of wine,

         flags, and kisses. It was really great.

         There was no fighting in our city except in the woods of Houdeng near La

         Louviere. There a group of resistants was in difficulty fighting since one

         or 2 days against nazi’s troops which were trying to surround them before a

         final assault. A belgian resistant aware of that situation did talk in

         english to the US Officer of a tank, explaining to him the need for help.

         He could convince him and 2 or 3 Shermans left the column under the

         indications of the resistant. When in the woods of Houdeng, the fighting

         ended quickly: the nazi’s troops surrended as soon as they realized that

         they were being attacked by US tanks. The son of friends of my parents,

         Louis Branquart, 20 year old, was killed in that fight. This was told a few

         days later to my father in front of me by a resistant who had joined the

         tanks in the approach of the nazis. I remember he gave his rifle to me and

         my brothers for 5 minutes just to play with in the garden.

         I learnt recently that the US soldiers were from the 3rd Armored Division of

         General Maurice Rose. The US troops in La Louviere were most probably from

         the Combat Command A of that Division under the orders of Brigadier General

         Hickey , going into the direction of Charleroi.

         The B and C Combat Commands were following a parallel direction but more on

         the south. The 3rd Armoured Division belonged to the VII Army Corps together

         with the 1st Infantry Division under the orders of General Lawton Collins.

         A week or 2 later, the US infantry occupied the schools and a hospital was

         organized in a large school named Saint Joseph. One day, an US Officer came

         at our home. He was a doctor, a first Lieutenant. He asked my father if he

         could help his medical team with some difficult cases of soldiers wounded at

         their eyes because there was no ophtalmologist available at that moment.

         This Lieutenant was very kind with my brothers and me. I remember his

         christian name, William. Later, a Captain, an ophtamologist, came also at

         home. My father was assisting him also on some occasions.

         Then the hospital left probably for another city closer to the front toward

         Germany. The school remained a sort of convalescence Unit for wounded

         soldiers already in better shape for going home or back to their normal

         Units. When the Captain came to say good bye to my father, he asked my

         mother if she could send a perfume or a scarf to his wife, which she did as

         soon as this type of item was again on the market.

         He also asked my father what he could do for thanking him for his help.

         My father was just helping him the best he could but he asked the Captain if

         he could find in his medical Unit a special very small lamp for a device

         that ophtalmologists use to examine the eyes of a patient. His lamp was not

         functionning anymore. In fact it turned out that my father was using a

         device made by Zeiss-lkon, a german brand bought before the war started and

         the Captain was using an US brand and there was no such special lamp

         available in the medical Unit.

         Some months later, a US service man delivered a small box to my father:

         a Zeiss-lkon lamp was in it, thanks to the Captain who found one in Germany

         for my father. Neither me nor my mother nor my brothers remember the name of

         that kind Officer. It seems to us that he was either from New York or

         Chicago.

         Then for many months, La Louviere became an important logistics centre for

         the US Army. I remember that a large gasoline station was operating at the

         grand place in front of the City Hall. During the nights, trucks were coming

         in numbers for refueling. I could see the traffic from the window of my room

         and the fresh air was smelling gasoline. Also in several fields around La

         Louviere, there were large military camps where numbers of wooden boxes were

          pilling up as walls of 6/7 meter high. Some german POW were working there.

         They wore the POW letters painted in white color on the back of their

         uniforms. Along a canal, the Canal du Centre, a large washing station was

         set up for cleaning and washing the military trucks. The concrete

         foundations of that station are still there today but, strangely enough, it

         is known locally as the “Canadian docks”, although there were no Canadian

         troops at all at any time in the area!

         It must be said also that the food and the situation in general in Belgium

         improved rather quickly, more easily than in other European countries like

         France and Netherlands. This resulted from special arrangements between the

         US Government and the belgian Authorities. At that time, the belgian Congo

         (today, the Zaire, in Africa) was still a belgian colony. It was not

         directly involved in the war but the local belgian Authorities in Congo were

         participating in the war effort and were delivering large quantities of

         steel, copper and other materials to the US and, in particular, uranium

         which served to the US research for the atomic bombs. In return, the belgian

         Authorities got the promise that the US would help the belgian citizens in a

         special way as soon as the country would be free.

         As a final comment, I think all Belgians who were living during that period

         did never forget the liberation and remain deeply grateful to the so many US

         Officers and soldiers who came here to fight the enemy. And a number of them

         lost their life or were wounded to make us free of the nazi’s occupation.

         Our King and the Prime Minister were present at the commemoration ceremony

         of the D-Day in Normandy, France, and several ceremonies will be organized

         in Belgium in September 1994 to remember the liberation and the courage of

         the US troops, as well as the UK troops who took part in the liberation of

         the north of Belgium. In particular, a special ceremony will be organized in

         the city of Bastogne which was in the center of the “battle of the Bulge”

         around Chritmas 1944. President Clinton is officially invited.

         This will be my last “story” on some memories of a belgian family about the

         WWll. I hope that some of them were of interest to you.

        Subject:   WWll recollections/part 8

        From: Philippe Watelet

         In this additional recollection, I propose to say just a few words on what I

         remember about the “Market Garden” operation and the battle of the Bulge.

         May I say that in the previous recollections, my family was involved in some

         events which took place in La Louviere. But we were not directly part of the

         2 operations mentioned above. Market garden was an airborne operation with

         the objective of taking several important bridges in Holland at Eindhoven,

         Grave, Nimegue and Arnhem. It was involving 3 airborne divisions and started

         during the second part of September 1944. At that time, the city of La

         Louviere where I was living was already liberated by the US Army. I remember

         that, with 2 of my brothers, I was playing in our garden and we saw many

         DC3s towing gliders.

         To get a better view on what we had never seen before, we went quickly

         upstair to look through the open windows. These planes were flying very low

         by comparison with the heavy bombers we were used to see. This spectacle

         lasted quite a long time, new planes were always coming.

         At one point in time, we could see a glider which either broke its towing

         cable or was in difficulty. It left the main stream and had to land alone

         somewhere in the fields at about 5 Kms from La Louviere. For my parents, all

         these planes and gliders were an additional indication of the powerful

         military means that the allied forces were using against the Nazis. It gave

         to all of us a feeling of security, we were sure that the Nazis finally

         would be defeated.

         Later, in December (16th or 17th) 1944, the Nazis started an unexpected

         offensive in the south of Belgium and in Luxembourg. The weather was very

         cold and it was snowing. We leanrt that the Nazis were attacking very

         strongly in the Ardennes region. Locally in our city, we were astonished.

         Everyone was talking about the von Rundstedt offensive. We were all fearing

         that “they” would come back after only 3 months of freedom. Rumors were

         circulating. In fact, during months before the liberation, the Nazi’s

          propaganda has been spreading news that they had developed new types of

         arms.

         Even those who did not believe that kind of publicity had to modify their

         opinion when the new rockets Vi’s and V2’s were falling on Liege and

         Antwerpen. One of these Vi’s, probably out of its normal direction, failed

         on an empty house in Houdeng, a village close to La Louviere.

         So many unanswered questions were deaply worrying the people: “what if...?,

         what if...?” A sort of panic was taking place and Chritmas 1944 was

         miserable.

         I also remember a serious rumor which lasted several weeks about the “fifth

         column” made of SS soldiers wearing US uniforms, speaking English, driving

         stolen jeeps and which were disrupting US military supply convoys. At

         school, my teacher was talking to us about all that.

         Then, around December 25th and 26th, the weather conditions improved

         seriously. We could see lots of US fighters (Thunderbolts and Lightnings) as

         well as DC3’s and 2 engine bombers in the sky. During the courses, our

         teacher was taking us out of the class room as soon as we heard the noise of

         the aircraft. And he was telling us “with all this, the Americans wiil stop

         “them” right away!”

         Later the offensive was finally stopped. We were better informed about the

         miseries of the belgian citizens who were living in the Ardennes region. We

         also learnt that the US divisions in that sector had enormously suffered in

         this terrible battle in which they have been courageous and determinated.

         In addition, crimes have been committed by SS Units against civilians in the

         village of Bande and against US prisoners in Malmedy where 81 US soldiers

         and Officers were killed.

         At the end of January 1945, the Nazis were stopped and were already

         retreating with heavy losses. I think that the battle of the Bulge was much

         more difficult for the US Army than the D-Day and the Normandy battle. It is

         somewhat strange to me that Omaha Beach is a very well known name in the

         western European countries but who knows and still remember the names of

         Saint-Vith, Houffalize, La Gleize , Ciney and Bastogne except those who were

         there and where some 75.000 US Officers and soldiers were killed, wounded or

         missing in less than 8 weeks?

         END TEXT

         + ++ + +++++++++ ++++ ++ + +++++ +++ ++

         Henri Rogister

         Liege

         Belgium

         web: http://users.skynet. befbulgecriba

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