zondag, november 11, 2018

For my great hero, my grandfather, veteran of World War I


On this memorable day (11 November 2018) I would like to tell something about my beloved grandfather. He was born in a place near Antwerp 23 February 1899 and he died 27 February 1960. The death cause was pneumonia with complications. These were caused by the damage of his lungs during the battle of World War 1, where he had survived a gas attack in the trenches.

At the start of the war my grandfather and his parents flew to London.  He was 15 years old, but very tall for his age. Everywhere in London were posters to ask young men to fight fort their country. Because my grandfather was so tall, a lot of people asked why he did not fight for Belgium and why he let the job to the British. My grandfather felt guilty and went to a recruiting office, lied about his age and said that he was 18 years old.

So he went, 16 years old, back to Belgium as a cavalry soldier. His parents were wealthy and as a youngster, he had learned to ride horses.
In Belgium he was sent to the front.  However the very young man became very anxious at his first mission. He drove his horse the opposite way, far away from the fight.  After this action he was sent to the infantry and he had to fight in the trenches. There was no way back. He could get a bullet or had to fight.
In one of these trenches, he survived a gas attack. He had bad lungs for the rest of his life, but he survived. 

In World War II, the veterans of World War I were taken as prisoners of war to labour camps.  My grandfather was lucky; he had to work in a German hotel in Germany. There were a lot of air-raid alarms. The prisoners were not allowed to go to the shelters. My grandfather helped the old lady-owner of the hotel, because she walked badly. And she took her cash box, jewellery and papers with her.  The lady asked him to stay with her in the shelter and help her with her belongings. That is how he survived all the air-raid attacks.

After World War II he met my grandmother. She was a widow and had had a not so happy marriage with my real grandfather (de Waal), who was very depressive most of the time. He died in World War II of intestinal cancer. My grandmother, who had had a rather difficult life, fell in love with my grandfather. They married in 1947. They had a wonderful life. They made fine voyages, all over Europe and had a lovely life in Antwerp, a very swinging city in those days. A year after my grandparent’s marriage, my parents got married and I was born in 1949.
My grandfather did not have had any children. He adored children. I was the first grandchild and he spoiled me very much.  For me, he was my great hero! He played with us, bought presents, taught me a little French and English and sung English and French songs for me.

In February 1960 our family went from the Netherlands to Antwerp in the weekend.  We had a lovely weekend. We and our grandfather played hide-and-seek in the garden. They had a lovely garden, in the middle of Antwerp (Grote Kauwenberg).
On Sunday evening we went back to the Netherlands. On Tuesday (my grandfather's birthday) my parents got an alarming phone call. My grandfather was very ill. On Saturday he died of pneumonia with complications.

My grandmother moved back to the Netherlands and she never became the old one anymore. I will write about her another time, because she had a remarkable life. She was a very strong woman. In the period, just after the death of my grandfather, I stayed with her a long time, be cause she was not so very healthy then. She told me so many stories about her youth. Enough to write about!

But today, the day that the Great War ended 100 years ago, is for my grandfather, my real hero.
Mieke with her hero

Grandparents with Ella and Mieke, Christ and Kees
Grandpa with Kees, Christ, Mieke in the garden in Antwerp

Grandparents in love and my mother
Mieke with grandparents
Mieke with grandparents

Grandma, Mieke, Grandpa

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