Hello, I’m sitting here today with my grandfather. He was 19 years old when the war started in Belgium and in the past he told me about his escape from Belgium. I decided to write it up and post an AMA. Here goes! We’ll start answering questions in 20 minutes.

Proof 1: Imgur Picture of him

Proof 2: Imgur Life insurance from his shipbuilding company, issued in 1936.

My grandfather has been a shipbuilder all his life. When he was 19 years old the war broke out in Belgium. Because he had lost his father some years before and was an only child he avoided conscription / being drafted in the Belgian army.

On the morning of May 9 it was announced by the bellman/town crier in his town that he had to flee from the German invasion. Thus started his long journey to avoid capture by the Germans. Along the way he saw his fair share of German bombers flying over, but he was always lucky. His journey led to Dunkirk where he was almost arrested because the French gendarmes thought he was a German paratrooper. When that was cleared up he and his fellow refugees had to board three large ships, destination unknown. The first two days on board a lot of German bombers passed, which led to a lot of confusion in the dark ship’s hold. He was only allowed to leave the hold on day three.

After five nights on sea they reached the French city Brest. The original plan was to go to Britain, but that plan was soon scrapped because of the German U-boats. This is when he heard that the other two ships were bombed and had sunk. He was very lucky.

Then he was brought to Lourdes by train. There he had it quite comfortable, he slept in barracks and he was properly fed. After a few weeks he received a letter from home, telling him it was okay to travel back. The Germans would arrest you in Paris, but you could travel home without problems. His three week journey back started, some parts on foot, some parts by train. He arrived home on August 4. Belgium was occupied by then. Because of his experience as a shipbuilder he was allowed to stay in Belgium, working on commercial ships.

Nowadays my grandfather fills his days with collecting stamps. He’s got two big cabinets full of them, I might upload a picture of that if people are interested.

edit 1: some formatting

edit 2: we'll be staying online for another twenty minutes

edit 3: that's it folks, signing off, thanks for your questions!

Comments: 36 • Responses: 13  • Date: 

JamesKerti10 karma

How did day-to-day living and working in occupied Belgium differ from his everyday life before the invasion?

denbompa192115 karma

There was surprisingly little difference. I wasn't forced to work in Germany, so I could keep on working where I was already working. They paid me the same as before. Because I worked I received more rations than other people, this allowed me to avoid hunger.

One big difference was that you weren't allowed to go out in the evenings by the Germans, especially in the first years of the occupation. Because I was a married man this was not really a problem for me.

Peculiar story about my soont-to-be-wife: she was the daughter of two shopkeepers. The rule was that either my fiancee or her father had to go to Germany to work. To avoid this we hastily married, although this meant I had to abandon my widowed mother.

TheFinalDeception9 karma

Thanks for doing this.

What is the most amazing invention you have seen?

What surprises you the most about the world today?

denbompa192119 karma

No problem!

1) This must be the telephone. Being allowed to talk to someone when you are at ease at home was nothing short of a miracle. It made it possible to talk to people you don't often see.

2) Robots. Especially smaller robots used in elderly care. It's fascinating that they are used to keep elders active. When I was young there obviously weren't any robots around!

psilocybin116 karma

I gotta be that guy to argue for the internet but the more I just think about the two inventions, they're pretty similar. Just enhanced communication ability... makes me wonder "what's next?" In the field of communication...holographic stuff ?

denbompa192117 karma

Dat zal de toekomst uitwijzen.

Translation: Only time will tell. :-)

siraisy8 karma

Which one is your favorite of all your stamps? and why?

And please thank him for doing this IAmA.

denbompa19217 karma

Belgian stamps!

I don't really have a favorite, I don't collect them because they are expensive or rare, I just enjoy collecting.

But I do like stamps of other countries, most countries try to make them beautiful to get people interested in them.

edit by grandson: I would love to take a picture of his favorite stamp, but he truly doesn't have one.

Iwouldlikesomecoffee6 karma

In the US, my grandfather also escaped the draft for honorable reasons, but there were social repercussions. He was disrespected, spit on, etc.

Did you come across similar treatment? What about during the time you were working on ships after coming back?

denbompa19219 karma

In the end I did serve in the Belgian army, but only after the war.

But to answer your question: not really. I didn't have any negative social repercussions during or after the war.

weaselpaws5 karma

Having seen a great deal of history happen, how do you feel about the way the world has progressed? Is there anything (culturally or otherwise) that you wish people still held on to?

denbompa192115 karma

People helped each other more, and were more talkative. Modern society is more egoistic.

ElfMage835 karma

What do you think of modern shipbuilding techniques and technology?

denbompa192118 karma

It's very different. We used to use nails and an air pressure gun, now everything is welded together. I prefer our old method, the ships looked more beautiful.

Keanu_reeds4 karma

What do you know about the "killroy was here" graffiti?

denbompa19213 karma

Nothing I'm afraid, haven't seen it.

Keanu_reeds3 karma

Ah that's too bad, legend has it that it began in ship building. Thank you for the response.

denbompa19216 karma

grandson: I tried it again and explained the origin. He probably hasn't heard from it because he worked in a Belgian shipwharf.

angelfoxrage3 karma

What was living under the Nazi way like? Were many people taken away to camps, and were there rumours of what went on in them?

denbompa19216 karma

Some people were taken to the Breendonk camp for infractions like owning radios or violating the curfew. Most of them returned, some of them did not.

More information about this camp: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Breendonk


Were you able to see a change in the culture just before the war? Was there a noticeable difference or did no one see it coming. I just wanted to know it from a different perspective.

Also, I think it's very sweet that you are doing this for him.

denbompa19215 karma

The newspapers were filled with talk about the upcoming war. So it was no surprise for us. This also meant that people started hoarding food and tobacco.

eatsbabydingos2 karma

What was your favorite ship to work on? And what was the most beautiful ship you have ever seen?

denbompa19214 karma

Because most ships were freight ships they weren't very beatiful.

Once we did the finishing touches on a yacht of about 30 meters long. That was quite an unique experience.

BootyTackle2 karma

Was there ever danger of being sent to the camps and places like that even though you were a ship builder?

It seems like a silly question but I am genuinely curious.

Edit: I see the person above me just asked this. How often were people sent to camps?

denbompa19215 karma

It's hard to quantify this.

Sometimes young people were picked up at the cinema and forced to go to Germany to work. This almost happened to me once, but I was warned and fled home.