Of course World War 2 was all about the monumental struggle and insane carnage between the battling nations. Yet despite the huge scale of this conflict, it was still fought and endured by individuals, each with their own tales of misery, friendship and bravery. So I thought I’d share the stories I picked up with you, to keep the memories alive. I’m just a youngster, 25 yrs old so all I know about WW2 is from a book or a movie, but for my grandparents, it was very real, so I invite you to hear their stories…. My grandpops passed away in 2001 and never really spoke much about his experiences in the war. Only upon his death did I find out what he did in those fateful years. I was browsing through his impressive library packed with history books, and my eye fell on ‘The Battle of the Scheldt’ by a Canadian General whose name I unfortunately forgot. Inside a found a handwritten dedication by Eugene Colson, aka Colonel Harry, leader of the resistance in Antwerp who was instrumental in preventing the Germans to blow up the port facilities when the Allies came to liberate the city. ‘To my good friend Jean Stoop, I have witnessed these events firsthand and I am sure that this book will be of great interest to you too…’ I was stunned, why oh why didn’t I ask my pops about his experiences before he died. Luckily my grandma is still here and she helped me fill in the voids. My grandfather was in the Belgian army when war broke out, and was taken prisoner around Dunkirk in those awful days of defeat. On his way to Germany in a train, he and one of his friends managed to jump out when it pulled out of the station and managed to avoid forced labor in Germany. But what to do if your city is completely occupied? Where to go? He quickly got rid of his uniform and managed to get a job with the public works. The war years passed relatively quietly for him is all I can tell, although his friendship with ‘Col. Harry’ suggests he was involved in the resistance as well, unfortunately my grandma couldn’t tell me more. Imagine my surprise when I was reading another book on Col. Harry, when I saw a picture of my pops with the colonel, somewhere in the 1980’s. Back to the war though. The summer of 1944 came and the V-bombs started raining down on Antwerp. One very touching story my grandma told me went as follows. A V1 hit a popular cinema called Rex, and they were supposed to meet at the movies that day, but for both their plans had changed at the last minute. They were incredibly fortunate, because everyone inside the movie theatre died. They found each other in tears around the destroyed site, and couldn’t believe it at first…they were still alive! Then the battle for Antwerp raged. Unfortunately I don’t have accurate info on my pops’ actions then, all my grandma told me was that he regularly went out ‘to look around’ is what he said. She remembers the jubilation in the city when the allies came, and even though there was still some shooting, the people crowded into the streets to greet their liberators. It was the best time of her life, she said to me. My other grandparents were too young to actively participate during the war, although it still had a great impact on their lives. My grandma’s father, she was then aged about 15, was a doctor, and had his house requisitioned by some German officer. Many viewed them as collaborators for this but they didn’t really have a choice but to accept this German in their home. My grandfather who was about the same age was walking around the railroad when he saw a mass of allied planes lining up for a bombing run on the station. This image stuck in his mind and after the war, he joined the Belgian Air force, underwent training in the States and became a pilot. My girlfriend’s grandparents have some amazing stories to share as well. They lived (and still do) in a small farming village near Verviers. They were both teenagers then and not together yet, but they do hail from the same town. Her pops fled with his brothers into France when the German onslaught came to their region. After days on foot, the Germans caught up with them and when France was totally occupied, they decided to return home. As he was the fourth and youngest son of the family, he was taken by the Germans to work in a German factory, which is where he spent the remainder of the war. My girl’s grandma stayed home and endured the occupation, until that terrible battle of the Ardennes came knocking on their front door. Verviers is located some miles away from Bastogne, so they were not really on the front lines of the battle but many American soldiers came to sleep and eat at her house when they were away from the front. She still has a shoebox full of postcards, pictures and letters of the soldiers that came there, and I was lucky enough that she showed them to me once. What a treasure! She also told one very touching story. She still lives in the very same house and one day in the 1980’s, a tall man in a trench coat stood perplexed in the courtyard before her house. She went out to see who it was and suddenly this man burst into tears upon the sight of her and the house. Turns out he was one of those soldiers that had stayed there during the war, and finding the place after all those years overwhelmed him with emotions. Apparently they stood there for a long while just staring at each other, then she rushed in and gave him a big hug. They went through the shoebox together and low and behold, the man found one of the notes he jotted down thanking the family on a postcard back in 1944! Not far from her house there is a small memorial, tucked away in the forest, on the site where an allied plane crashed, killing its entire crew. They actually left the fuselage in place and the site is still beautifully maintained with flowers. It is a very humbling sight: every time I pass there, I silently thank these men for their ultimate sacrifice. These were just a few stories of regular people touched by this great war, and whose memories live on through the next generations. Let’s never forget and salute these brave young men that paid with their lives so that we can live in peace today. All we can do is make sure that they live on in our hearts. Thanks for reading….