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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Day 4 - Mistaken Identity, 10th May, 1940

"Before the evening fell I decided to venture a bit around while my Dad went to the shops to get bread and other supplies.  Suddenly, my daydreaming was interrupted, drawn upward by fighter planes battling each other in full view.

The dog-fight was between one coastal British patrol and an overbearing pompous Messherschmidt, cocksure of itself meeting the British plane.  It didn't take long before the Spitfire or whatever is was got the better of him and to our utter enjoyment shot him down.  A billowing white object released itself from which dangled a small black dot as the stricken plane plummeted to earth some distance away, drifting to towards the inward open countryside.

His landing could not have been contemplated to be anywhere near our spot as the wind took him further inland.  Nevertheless, as I was looking up some directions on old German maps found in my Grandmother's cupboard before departure was considered.  I now decided to check our position on these excellent maps.  All of a sudden, appearing from nowhere, a rubicond lady, French speaking came near me, all excited gesticulating towards another group like herself: in no time they surrounded my innocent person and now pointing at me as I held the German map.

Actually, the Germans had repaid us with them after having so irresponsibly destroyed our old towns, cities and lands so fiercely defended by the Belgian soldiers, mostly Flemish judging by the names on gravestones of the fallen.

Anyhow, those panicky citizens, accusing me in my own region, and in my own country with much ado are the biggest let down of the lot sowing the seeds of discord.  To take me for a German parachutist who was blown a couple of miles away was an act of complete stupidity and no decent excuse can be found for citizens who do not recognise their own inhabitants in a bilingual country.

After hearing all the noise, luckily, my mother and grandmother arrived simultaneously on the scene and could prove my identity and innocence and later my dad arrived to verify that.  It had to be seen!  My grandmother, a real fighter, soon put this group to shame for their ignorance and they scattered like cackling hens.

They were lucky that we had no time for them.  Later, we had a good laugh about it all while sitting around the campfire during supper - never mind the planes and war now.  We settled down for a healthy nights sleep.  My first one to remember under a starry sky.  This was the 10th of May, 1940, my birthday. 

We proceeded on the road which divided the dunes and polder? ground following in the footsteps of a miserable multitude, head and backs bent, noses burning in the sun, trudging along.  We could have sung the boatsong but instead the sighing was stronger than the Volga flowing gently to the Black Sea.

Suddenly, a low flying plane of unrecognisable marking appeared over our heads and although it made a small stir in the masses nobody moved towards the ditches.  Possibly most of them had seen the tricolour - I had not from where I was.  I was the only one jumping for the ditch, to the laughing concern of the nearest crowd, who turned out to be our accusers of the day before - the French planes had become one of the rarest sights we had seen for a long time.  My father called me back and made me feel ashamed of myself - I could have crawled back into my skin."

To be continued ...

Day 3 - First Baptism of Fire in Ostend - Circa 1940

"Around us the big bullets were flying and ricocheting making a hellish noise ...I was just helping a neighbour's wife with her pram and baby in it to get them quickly downstairs.  We just reached the little cellar in time.  That was our first baptism of fire.

The quickness of events suddenly gave me the wish to be in Canada with my youngest Uncle Gerrard...How nice for them they would miss the fireworks, maybe some day I would tell them about it. Similar stories, maybe like my Father and Uncle Louis, both veterans of the last war who both won their laurels and Yzer-Cross decorations.  What the hell, all over again!  In retrospect it was like a picture in slow motion of the same power continuing the last war.

Our studies in High school had abruptly ended, welcomed by most students like a vacation and some even sung patriotic songs to the announcement of the ultimatum, so moving it always is that it brought tears to our eyes.  I also felt sorry for all people especially the mothers, when I jumped on my bike that memorable day and sped homeward.

I was disappointed by the sight of some of our weapons passing by and moving towards the front.  It looked more like old museum pieces than anything else, actually it was! That with our bi-planes dropping out of the sky just before, or flying into the target practice bags because of lack of manouverability was just enough to give us the worst hopes of what was in store to tackle the fast and agile Messerschmit.

My mother was of the same thought and had a foreboding of pending disaster So, when the witan or gathering of elders came together she had a plan in mind.  At the gathering, my mother convinced them all that it was better to take the way along to Dunkirk, if possible, to the Panne and then to London, the safer road by a long shot.

One of the reasons for her suggestion was the recent broadcast on the Belgian Radio, announced by this hour of emergency, that all young men of army age should keep themselves ready and proceed to the nearest point at Dunkirk to be able to make a last ditch stand.  So they would stay with me as my mother meant.

When we were ready, the picture we made was a bit theatrical, our best clothes and those bright woollen blankets around our shoulders, big cases with our belongings, I started to hate carrying baggage ever since for holidays: saying goodbye to the old friendly house and giving the key to our neighbours who were better know for actual piracy than anything else.  I saw them just smiling behind that mask of delightful sincerity but on the other hand knowing, very well, the fierce temper of my grandmother if and when she would come back...and sooner or later they would have that to contend with, so that made for a reasonable balance in this barter, ...

Arriving early morning at the quay to take the coastal train we were amazed at the devastation caused by mines and explosions from the evening before.  The train was like a long electrical tram with carriages taking us as far as De Panne, La Panne as the French call it, near the border.  The Ostend fleet had mostly left loaded to the brim with their own crews and families.

Melancholy descended over us as we said goodbye to most people we knew.

Covered by those big yellow blankets, the planes were busy following us -   coming from miles beyond the eastern horizon.

To be continued ...

Friday, 30 December 2011

Day 2 - Credit Where Credit is Due

I would like to acknowledge my cousin, the one with the big feet who works in  London, for pointing me in the right direction in relation to starting a blog about my Dad.  As my Dad would say : "Credit where Credit is Due".  I  hope that you solve the Higgs Bosun mystery soon!  You are an inspiration to me and I am sure to many others!

Excerpt from my Dad's book (in his own words not professionally edited).

Foreword: "My birth soon after the First World War, 1923, at the beginning of the depression was more a necessity than an accident ....  It took place in an attic with the sunrays forcing themselves through the tiny roof window within the vicinity of the dockland yards.  It was ideally placed for any creature of future adventures to have a window on  the world for which I would be gratefully and thankfully hereafter installed, especially as the time would speed away and make the freedoms we would so much like to uphold roll away like a hoop leisurely proceeding at it's own pace pushed by it's own impetus.

Luckily, my youth was completely taken in by the coming change of  wind - I don't know the reason: comes to the point that you have just got to be a survivor.  One's poor presence is just enough sometimes to fill the contribution to the general influence of events on this planet.

My personal participation in things well done gives absolute satisfaction and contentment as having taking part in such events towards further constructive development.

The eternal strife of good and evil encountered continued to be a part of it all..."

"I am very lucky that my Dad had such a positive attitude as otherwise I would not be sitting here today!
I  resisted the urge to correct most of  my Dad's spelling and grammar.   He was Belgian by birth and leaving it in his own thoughts and words makes it more powerful for me and I hope for you too!
As my Dad would say, "Keep Good"!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Day 1 - Louis E. Fynaut - A tribute to a very brave Flemish man from Belgium!

Story about a Belgian survivor of Buchenwald concentration camp during WWII.  The Gestapo suspected Louis of being in The Resistance and dangerous so he was designated N.N.,or Nacht und Nebel (the night of the mist) - it seems that the literal translation may be somewhat different?????I have read a variety of explanations about Nacht und Nebel and what it means or meant!  

The comments on this page are all written by Paula Fynaut, Louis' daughter!

It is said that the oak tree stump in Buchenwald concentration camp is considered to be Goethe's Tree. (Goethe the great German philosopher who lived in Weimer, Germany).   I found this out yesterday while researching Buchenwald as I was thinking of visiting the site of my father's incarceration!  After reading about Goethe and Buchenwald and the Oak Tree that once stood in Buchenwald I felt compelled to tell my Dad's story! 

So, here I am blogging!  When I was a young girl in England in the 60's I remember being fascinated by the number tattooed on my Dad's arm,which I thought was #188590????. (when discussing the number with my brother he had remembered a number slightly different to the one I was recalling and we disagreed - it turned out later, as the blog evolved, that the number my brother had recollected from his memory was indeed the right one and the number I had put on this blog was incorrect - I have decided not to change it now, as at this moment, I can't remember the proper number .

After receiving my Dad's records ,it was confirmed that the number put on his arm was indeed an Auschwitz tattoo- to me the number is symbolic more than anything else - so I have left the number as I typed it originally as I am not sure how to change it on the blog but eventually I will get round to changing it to prevent any more confusion!!!I guess my memory is not quite as good as my brothers!!!

Loo E as Flemish people often pronounce his name was a Belgian political prisoner at Buchenwald during WWII and this was the number he was branded with when he entered Auschwitz  His arm and that number will be etched in my heart forever as symbolic of my Dad's great courage and integrity!

My Dad wrote a book about his life called "To Each his Own", which I considered publishing recently but found it was too expensive so blogging seems another way of honouring my Dad's story!

Hopefully, this story will help someone be strong in their life! Today, I realized that the blog will probably continue for quite a while longer as at this point in February 2012, I am only about a third of the way through my Dad's memoirs. 

Since doing this blog I have heard a variety of different opinions about WWII;  such as; "I don't believe that so many people got burnt in those ovens" and "it is good that people remember Buchenwald as supremist type thinking seems to be on the rise!!!!!!These comments and others I have heard make me reflect on many things!" Thank you to all my friends and relatives who have encouraged me and continue to encourage me in typing up my Dad's words on this blog!

In addition, I have found that there is a great deal of conflicting information out there in cyber space - so the good side is I have learned to be a much more critical thinker about what I read on the web and I really have tried to check out my sources well before quoting them:  it has been a great learning experience for me!From now on I will be extra vigilant about what I quote from other sources!!!!

I have had much input about this blog from a variety of people and my sincere thanks goes out to all those people who have been giving me constructive criticism and have helped me make this blog as accurate as possible as it has evolved. .

PLEASE NOTE: My Dad was born in 1920's and so it is important to remember that these were the thoughts of someone from a conflict 70 odd years ago.  Some of my Dad's comments may not be appropriate or politically correct today!