« Great'ma - Part Nine | Main | Use It Or Lose It »

U3A Writing: Brussels In Wartime

...At night you could hear aeroplanes flying towards England and back to Germany. The Germans used to stop the trams and ask for people's identity cards. They were looking for people born in my year and the following year to take to Germany for hard labour. My younger brother was going to be taken away but got a stomach ulcer and did not pass the medical...

Françoise Taylor recalls wartime days.

As I lived in Brussels and Belgium was a neutral country, the Second World War only started for me on the 10th of May, 1940, when the German troops invaded.

It was a beautiful morning when the German planes came over Brussels and dropped bombs here and there. My family was lucky to live on one of Brussels' main boulevards and could witness everything that took place.

First the British arrived, but their stay was brief as the German army was advancing. It was a sad sight seeing the British soldiers sitting on the pavement looking tired and dispirited. My mother was working for the Red Cross and I went with her to distribute bread to the departing soldiers.

Then the whole of the civilian population appeared to be on the move to avoid the arrival of the German army. Not many people had cars then and people used everything suitable for fleeing, all kinds of carts. I even saw a hearse - an old-fashioned one.

Even the pets were taken away. My mother had enough chloroform if needed for our own cats and dogs.

I don't know where people intended to get to. Their only idea was to flee from the Germans towards France. My sister and parents decided to stay, but my five brothers had to go in order not to be taken as prisoners.

My elder brother was an officer in the Belgian army and he was taken prisoner to a camp in Germany. The second one, who was on leave from the Congo, disappeared. We did not hear what had happened to him for a few months. He had managed to get onto the French coast near Spain at San Sebastien where he had contacted my third brother who helped him to find a way back to the Congo.

My two younger brothers, who had gone on bicycles, were not away so long having, spent some time in France.

Belgium held out for eighteen days, which was not bad for a neutral country. When the Germans marched into the capital, the city was empty. Later most people came back, and the country settled down to several years of occupation, waiting to be liberated.

The German soldiers were marching in step and singing military songs in front of our house, going from one barracks to another. The curfew was strictly enforced. If you could not get home for eleven o'clock you had to stay where you were till five o'clock in the morning.

There was no food in the shops. We had ration books, but the shops did not have your rations, just empty cardboard boxes. So everybody lived on the black market, which was very well organized but expensive. It cost a lot to have enough to live.

At night you could hear aeroplanes flying towards England and back to Germany. The Germans used to stop the trams and ask for people's identity cards. They were looking for people born in my year and the following year to take to Germany for hard labour. My younger brother was going to be taken away but got a stomach ulcer and did not pass the medical.

There was hardly any interval between the planes at night going not to England, but to Germany.

When the VIs started, you could see them like little motor bikes in the sky going to England and you knew you were alright. But if the engine stopped, it meant that they were going to fall and it was better to go quickly underneath a table because of flying glass.

We still waited for the liberation that nobody ever doubted would come. I was in Antwerp when the first V2 fell on the town. It first broke the windows of the conservatory of the house where I was staying and the rumbling came, after as it was faster than sound, but nobody knew what it was.

The landing took place on 6th June, 1944, but did not change anything for a long time in Brussels until early September when it became obvious that the Germans were leaving in all directions - the important officers in big black cars which you see now in films, the rest of the men using all the means they could get. The weather was nice and we watched the departure, not knowing what was happening.

We could not get any news as the wireless was silent and we did not know where the allied army was. We supposed they were still in Normandy. But one night, at about 10.30, tanks appeared on the boulevard. We did not know what they were but discovered that they were British. Then people went mad with happiness and some people jumped on the tanks, which was a silly thing to do as the Germans were still fighting in the parks and some streets.

Some people started dancing and playing the trumpet. Everybody who had flags put them out. It was a wild night and the end of the war for Brussels but not the end of the hostilities. There was still a lot to come like the fighting at the Canal Albert and in Nijmegen in Holland.

It is strange to think that through the dark hours nobody I ever met doubted for one moment that the allies would eventually win!

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.