The first British tanks rolled into the city on the tenth of
Those first days were heady, emotional days, but they had their dark side too. Amidst all the feasting and rejoicing, there was recrimination and reprisals were taken out on those who had been friendly or collaborated with the Germans. One incident I shall never forget. It was a chilling, cruel spectacle. A jeering crowd stood around an open lorry. On the back of the lorry were chairs in which sat a group of women who had been rounded up and had their heads shaved. They were ashen faced and trembling. The sight made me feel sick and my mother and I quickly walked away. Further on we came to a house that was being vandalized and destroyed. All the furniture and contents of the house were being thrown out the windows and came crashing to the pavement below. The occupants of the house had fled. In our own street the same thing happened to a family whose daughter was engaged to a German army officer. The parents and the girl had managed to escape through their back garden and found refuge at a sympathetic neighbour's house. It was a sad reflection of humanity to see, amidst so much happiness and celebration, the resentment and hatred that had been festering.
Among the first advancing troops were many Canadian soldiers. They were a very wild bunch, roaming the streets totally drunk. I remember seeing two Canadian soldiers swaying side to side down the street, draped in a Belgian flag, guzzling from bottles of spirits and with more bottles stuffed in their pockets. Another time I was caught in the crossfire of two groups of soldiers fighting and shooting at each other across the street. The Canadians soon became notorious among the girls and were regarded as bad men to be avoided at all costs. The gallant British were more in favour. Later, when the jitterbugging, gum chewing Yanks arrived, they were popular with the girls too.
A big civic Liberation Celebration was organized in the city and the streets were decked with flags, flowers and coloured lights. Fireworks were lit at night and there was dancing in the streets. A long victory march took place with contingents of all the different troops. Military bands played and so did my brothers' school band. It was the first time we had seen Lieven and Georges play in a public performance. We had grown accustomed to the German military marches, but now we heard our own familiar national tunes and anthems. We also heard “It’s A Long Way To
After a while the elation began to die down and the pattern of life returned to normal, but now there was a feeling of freedom in the air. It was as if a heavy burden had been lifted from our shoulders. We felt free to laugh and enjoy life again. Food supplies from overseas began to arrive including long forgotten luxuries like chocolate, oranges and bananas. Soon we were eating white bread again. The hustle and bustle of everyday life from before the war returned.
The war was not quite over yet. There was still heavy fighting happening in
Soon however, the Germans were defeated and peace was restored. When it was declared that the war was over and Hitler was dead, church bells rang across the town and countryside. Again there was celebration, but nothing like the exuberance of our initial liberation. I cannot remember how I celebrated Victory Day very clearly, but I will never forget my first sight of a British soldier.