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Grandparent's Tales of the War

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by Piron, Feb 6, 2008.

  1. Piron

    Piron Member

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    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….
     
  2. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    Piron. It has been a privilege and an honor to read this great story. Thank you for posting this. You may be proud of your grandparents. Also, the next time I will drive to Verviers I will stop at the air crew memorial and say a prayer for these brave men. How far is it from the Namur Highway?
     
  3. Piron

    Piron Member

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    Thanks skipper.
    The memorial is in a little town called Foyr (sometimes written as Fuir as well), in the county of Jalhay, which is in the Liege province.
    It's not really close to Namur, head for Liege on the E40 highway, take the exit verviers (not the centre though, i think it's verviers sud), follow Jalhay and after 15 mins turn left where u see the sign Foyr, and then well u'll have to ask around cuz it's really a tiny place with country roads :). I believe they call it 'le memorial canadien' cuz the crew was mainly canadian if i remember correctly. Just ask for a crashed plane and most of them will know
     
  4. Sloniksp

    Sloniksp Ставка

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    Great story Piron thanks!
     
  5. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    Thanks Piron. I know someone on the forum who will have a look too the next time he goes to Spa Francorchamps. I will let you guess who this fine gentleman is.
     
  6. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

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    History is made of little people.
     
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  7. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Piron,
    THAT is what I like to read in this forum!!! Magnifico! Anything else you have to offer, please post it. Do you have pics of your grandfather?

    Now, the next time you go home to see your family, carry a video recorder and sit down and video tape them talking about the war. I did it with my grandfather and I treasure the tapes. I need to get them put on a DVD, maybe this year.
     
  8. ghost_of_war

    ghost_of_war Member

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    It's always great to hear these stories. It's also sad to know that this great generation is quickly disappearing before our eyes....
     
  9. White Flight

    White Flight Member

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    I agree with the rest of you, thanks for sharing Piron. Another sticky is perhaps in order, "Sharing the stories of those who experienced WWII."
     
  10. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    okay, it will be done.
     
  11. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter of a Canadian WWII Veteran

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    Piron,

    Thank you for sharing the stories. Sometimes the military facts and figures and technical data becomes overwhelming and it is too easy to miss the stories of the people who were there - not just the soldiers, but the people who lived day by day having to co-exist with the enemy, resisting when they could, and living through the liberation.

    There is a book by W. Denis Whitaker and Shelagh Whitaker called "Tug of War: The Canadian Victory that Opened Antwerp". It has many details that may interest you and Col. Whitaker did extensive interviews. There is also quite a bit about Antwerp and the White Army and other Belgian Resistance and help in keeping the canals secure in a book by George Blackburn called "The Guns of Victory" which also tells the story about the Canadians. In the sticky sharing documents, there is a copy of the letter my Dad wrote in early September from a ditch in Belgium.

    Please share any more stories you may learn. Well Done.

    Michelle
     
  12. GrossBorn

    GrossBorn Member

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    My mother was 18 when the blitz started and she lived in the middle of Manchester, a frequent target of the German bombers. She related stories to me about being a member of the volunteer fire brigades and assisting in the rescue of victims of the bombings. Some of her stories were heart-wrenching, including one sad story of her finding body parts of a young child and baby in one destroyed flat.
    Her first love and fiancee was a pilot in the RAF who was shot down and killed during the Battle of Britain, but she never talked much about him or what happened. Soon afterwards, her family decided she and her sister needed to get out of England and she was put on a troop ship that departed Scotland and made it's way to NYC. It was all very secretive and they had no idea of the route when she boarded the train and headed north. It was a round-a-bout trip with several stops and disembarkations before they finally arrived at the port. Her stories of having to go out on the deck in the freezing North Atlantic because of U-boat drills frightened me as a child and stay with me to this day. She married a GI and ended up in Oklahoma...I'm sure it was a marriage of convenience to help her get out of England and ended after only two years.
     
  13. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    Thank you for sharing such personnal thoughts Grossborn. It mustn't have been easy for your mum.
     
  14. tikilal

    tikilal Ace

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    Here is my Grandfathers story.

    My Grandfather was going to college in 1939, he and his brother heard that if you signed up with the Arizona National Guard that they gave you a free meal and pay for one weekend a month. The both signed up that night with the 158th Regiment. In 1940 he was activated and sent for training at Fort Sill and then to Fort Barkley. He was there when he met his future wife at a dance in town, he asked her if he could give her a rid home and she said sure, she had them drop her and her friend off at a false address thinking that they would never see these soldiers again. My grandfather sent her a letter to the fake address but her friend who worked at the post office saw it and put the correct address on it and the words “Shame on you.” Her father had told her to stay away from the soldiers. Needless to say she was quite surprised when a litter later she came home to find him talking to her father.

    On December the 8th 1941 His regiment was sent to Panama to protect the canal. While there they patrolled the Atlantic coast looking for hidden German fuel dumps, they found lots of them but no Germans. Here he received notice that he had been accepted for Officer Candidate School (OCS). Several days before his departure his company was sent out on a patrol, they were supposed to be back with time to spare, however the unit leader was an officer who couldn’t use a compass to save his life. When the officer couldn’t find his way back and refused to let others help my Grandfather told him that he was going back to camp and that anyone was welcome to come along, he and several others left the officer and the rest of the men and went back to camp arriving that day, he got ready to go to OCS and after a day or two the rest of the patrol wandered in. That was the last time he was with the Bushmaster Division.

    At OCS he did well in most things and as you might guess excelled at the compass course. He was selected to lead the unit in the last big field games of the course. After graduation all of the new offices stood to receive their assignments. My Grandfather thought that he would be sent either back to the 45th Bushmaster Division that was then on its way Australia or to another division that was in the South Pacific because of his jungle experience. After all of the men had received their assignment he and another man were the only ones left and they were sent to specialty schools, he was assigned communications school. He was confused by this thinking that he must have done poorly not to get sent to an active division. He went to the commander to ask why and was told that it was customary for the top students to be sent on for further training. After communications school he was sent to join the 91st Division that was forming in Oregon.

    On his was from school to Oregon he decided to ask his sweetheart to marry him. She said yes and they met in Snowflake Arizona in December 1943 and were married despite my Grandmother being stuck in Albuquerque New Mexico in a blizzard for several days.

    He was assigned to the 361st Regiment. There they trained and got ready for combat in Early 1944 the division was sent to Africa, there they trained in amphibious operations and in May his Regimental Combat Team was sent to Italy where he went ashore at Anzio. They took part in the break out from Anzio and here his regiment experienced their first combat. He later was one of the first to pass get to and go through Rome. They were in pursuit of the Germans and did not stop. The pursuit ended when his regiment was the first of the Fifth Army to reach the Arno river. After this they attacked the Gothic Line. They came to a halt at the base of Mount Adoni for the winter. While on these campaigns he was promoted to regimental communications officer. He was responsible to keep communications open and to go ahead of an attack and select the HQ and if possible prepare the site so that it could be used as soon as the regiment advanced to that point. On one of his trips across the lines he was in a jeep and came around a corner in the road to see a Tiger tank, and yes it was a Tiger tank. The driver turned the jeep around and got them out of there, the only thing that saved them was the fact that the gun was not facing forward, they tried to bring it to bear but not in time to shoot. When they came back with some “help” the tank was gone. It was also at this time that he liberated a nice Russian fur hat from a German; his only regret was that he did not keep it after the winter of 44-45. He also recalls the time that they were crossing the Po river, they were there in the boats and an one of the German Jets (Me-262) decided that he would take a couple of strafing runs at them. He hated being in those boats with no where to hide at. The German kept it up until some P-38s came along to chase him off.

    After the end of fighting in Europe he was selected to return to the States to join a division that was getting ready for the invasion of Japan. I don’t have the number with me now. He flew across the Atlantic from Africa to Brazil where he was delayed until he bought a pair of Brazilian boots from the transportation officer. He was with the new division when the war ended.
     
  15. Piron

    Piron Member

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    That's a great story there tikilal, it must be great to know all those details. I wish my grandma remembered more details about my grandfather. Loved the part about the compass, very funny.

    and thx for sharing as well grossborn, quite a journey that must have been

    also thx for stickying this :)

    oh, and almost forgot to thank macrusk for the great book tips, i'll be sure to check them out when i get back home
     
  16. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    Thank you Tikial, I knew the Germans were hiding petrol about eveywhere , I didn't know about Panama.
     
  17. captaincw

    captaincw Member

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    My grandfather, Captain C.W. Hood (his picture is my avatar), was shipped out to Pearl Harbor from Oakland, CA in 1940, where he was part of the 21st Infantry Division in the US Army. He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and had the avatar picture taken soon afterwards to send home to his parents and my grandmother. He was at Pearl Harbor until 1942, when he was shipped out to Australia, at Camp Caves, near Rockhampton for training. After some time, he was sent to Goodenough Island to prepare for an invasion of New Guinea. In April of 1944, he was part of the first wave of an invasion at Hollandia, in which the US Army successfully seized control of key airstrips. After approximately two months on New Guinea, he was finally shipped home.

    I asked my grandmother once, "What was the first thing you and Grandpa did when he came home?"

    She responded, "I asked him the same thing. He said immediately that he wanted to go have a drink at the Claremont (which is a beautiful hotel in the Bay Area, California)."

    She went on: "The Claremont had these big beautiful windows that looked out over the Bay, and Grandpa and I got a drink and sat down on some cushions in front of the windows."

    I asked her, "What did you guys talk about?"

    She responded, "He didn't say a word. He just sat there, sipped his drink, and smiled."

    They were married two weeks later.

    I love them, and miss them both. Especially my grandmother. :)
     
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  18. Shangas

    Shangas Member

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    Hi everyone, I'm a new member here and when I saw this thread I thought "I must jump into it!"

    I'm a 20-year-old university student with a 94-year-old grandmother. She is the sweetest, most loving, most ADORABLE creature in the world. My grandmother and my uncle (aged 73, or thereabouts), both lived in Malaysia and Singapore during the 1940s and both of them used to tell me stories about WWII when I was a little boy.

    Living in Malaysia and Singapore - they witnessed the battles of the Malayan Peninsula between the British and the Japs and they witnessed the Fall of Singapore in 1942.

    My grandmother once told me this story about an old man...

    I was a very little boy when she told me this, but I can still remember it. It was about this family in a hospital. The warning had gone out for the civilians to evacuate because the Japanese army was on the way. The family was at the deathbed of an elderly family-member and they were torn between being with him at his last moments, and facing possible death at the hands of the Japanese, or having to escape and save themselves, but leave the old man without anybody around him during the final moments of his life.

    My grandmother never told me what happened to him, she probably heard the tale from someone else.

    My uncle, who, if I remember correctly, was born in 1935, (yes, that would make him 73), used to tell me what it was like during the Japanese occupation and what it was like immediately afterwards...

    He used to tell me about grandpa (who died in 1983 before I was born) and how life was full of uncertainty. To quote:

    "...there was no gas, no running water, no electricity. We used to have this little lamp on the floor - burning coconut oil. We didn't know where our next meal was coming from...sometimes, it was just a small bowl of rice with...perhaps a little oil or sauce on top of it..."

    He told me about how the civilians were given orders to hide in the jungles while the British and other allied forces fought it out with the Japanese. Both my grandmother AND my uncle testified to this. They used to say they'd wait in the forest until they'd hear British soldiers calling out that it was safe to return to town...
     
  19. bigfun

    bigfun Ace

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    Thanks so much to all fo you for sharing these great stories, this is exactly what I love to read about! These personal stories.

    My Grandfather died when I was 2, so I didn't get to talk to him about his war experiences. His children relayed these things to me of him. He was a farmer and thus very important to the Germans, they needed his crops and livestock to send back to Germany. So they did not bother him much. Only one time was he taken away to dig a bunker on a dike in northwest Holland. He hid a Jewish man in his cellar for 2 weeks, and then a Jewish family in the "bomb" room, that was a hidden room between the barn and the house. His younger brother was taken away to work for the Germans but escaped, and spent 3 years hiding in his brothers house. That is all I know of his expereinces, I just wish I had taken the time to talk with his brother or even my Grandma. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.
     
  20. pimpologist8706

    pimpologist8706 recruit

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    Thanks to all for posting these stories. Sometimes we fail to realize what these people had to actually go through, and these stories always remind us of how thankfull we should really be. Once again thank u!
     

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