We are planning an English version of my mother's blog. I will post the link as soon as it is up. Here is one more of her stories.
I like this story in particular because I heard it told so often when I grew up.
When I was old enough I was allowed to walk by myself across the market to the house of my aunt Jeanne in the Burchtstraat. Mama would pick me up there and together we walked home, which was on the Aalsterse Steenweg. Mama used to sing along the way " We are sworn friends, We will never leave each other, We are united and we will stay in touch, We will never leave each other, ...." Singing together made the walk seem so much shorter.
And one day there came an end to the singing. It turned into a sad act, that walk home. Along the Burchstraat it went relatively fine, but we barely crossed the railway in the Weggevoerdenstraat when mama started weeping. At first tears would quietly run down her cheeks, but by the time we had passed the college beside the gendarmerie, she was already audibly crying.... every day. Papa had been mobilized like so many, joining the Belgian army at the coast. WWII had begun.
It didn’t take long before word spread that the Germans were about to invade the city. Rumors went around about the atrocities to the civil population. There was fighting here and there; nobody knew where. Many people fled. But nobody seemed to know exactly well in which direction it would be safer. After some nervous chatting back and forth between mama, aunt Jeanne and Granny , the decision was made that we would flee also, rather than wait and see for events to unfold. The first part of the plan was to go to Aspelaere, where papa’s mother lived, and from there they would see what to do next.
An old fashioned baby stroller on high wheels was filled to overflow with food items. Coffee, sugar, flour, ... We could sense the anxiety of our mothers. I was five, my cousins Vivianne and Herman were eight and ten years old respectively. There was a crowd on the road. Almost everybody was preparing to flee. Neighbours gave each other advice, nobody followed it. There were no cars. Many wheelbarrows and pushcarts, filled to the brim with everything one thought they might need or deemed necessary to bring to safety. Bicycles with heavy bags on both sides, too heavy to push or keep balanced under normal conditions, but now with the fear for life people pushed and pulled.
We went through the Geraardsbergse Straat and Preulegem, until we reached The Ox. From there straight into the Outerstraat. We arrived at the convent behind the church of Outer. The street was packed with refugees there also. People said there was still fighting in Muylem. In the meantime the evening fell. We were told it was dangerous to press on to Aspelaere. Someone guided us inside the convent where we were helped by the nuns, who had more than their hands full with all these unexpected visitors. We were not the only ones there, there was not enough room.
We settled in the basement of the convent where we spent a sleepless night, sitting up on a bench against one of the walls. The next morning, our journey continued. Through the Prieelstraat we arrived at the hamlet of Muylem. The sun was shining, everything looked green and peaceful. Here we were the only ones on the road. A few more houses, a country lane, .... we could already see the steeple of the church of Aspelaere. We passed the last farm, arrived in an open field, and hell broke loose. Ratatatatatatatata!!!!!!!!!! Bullets flew across the lane. The English on one side, the Germans on the other. A few more steps and we would have landed in the middle of the firefight. We jumped back, the six of us packed upon each other hiding behind a tree, out of breath with racing hearts, panting from fear.
"Jeanne! the stroller....the stroller!!!!"
In the panic of the moment the stroller was left behind, which now began rolling backwards by the pull of gravity. Heavy with its load, it gained more and more speed. Steerless it rolled past us in front of the tree, with not one of us courageous enough to leave our cover to grab it. The stroller bumped on the uneven pavement, balanced on two wheels for a few seconds until it keeled over, dumping its entire content into the wet creek on the other side of the lane. Later, when everything sounded quiet, we saved what we could and continued the hike.
We had to cross the village because my grandmother lived on "the Droon" - the road to St. Antelincks. When we arrived, she and her two daughters, aunt Rachel and aunt Irma from Brussels, were about to climb aboard the last truck of an English Army convoy. The news was that there was still fighting in the Brodhoek and that it was unsafe to stay in Aspelaere. Of course the English soldiers were eager to take my grandmother with her two young and beautiful daughters with them. That the truck had a big machine gun mounted on it was considered an accessory for safety. And that the convoy was heading to West Flanders where the heaviest fights along the front were happening, they could not know. They returned later safe and sound.
We would have the farm all to ourselves. But if mama was a city slicker, more so were her sister and her mother. They were not comfortable there at all and while my grandmother and my two aunts disappeared behind the curve in the road, our small group concluded to return to Ninove at once.
In the Burchtstraat almost everyone was out in the street. Many houses had been broken into. At first it was blamed on the soldiers, but later it came to light that people from the area had done it.
Everything in our house had been vandalized. The beds in the bedrooms had been trampled with muddy shoes, cookie crumbs between the sheets. My little piano was smashed to pieces. Even the meager Christmas decorations were destroyed.
The back door of Café The Keyser was open. Baaske’s wife called us inside to see the damage there. All their belongings had been destroyed there also. Even the childrens’ toys.... and the war had just begun.
Copyright Jacqueline De Dier 2007