Thursday, May 10, 2012

MAY 10 1940

Dates spark memories.........I never forget about May 10 1940.
I live in Langerbrugge, 7 KM from Ghent.
My grandma came to visit for awhile.
My dad had joined his Army Unit a few weeks ago.
We know the day will come.
I know nothing about war except what my Grandma tells me when her'
husband, an army professional, was taken prisoner of war in 1914.
She has tales of how poor they were and how my father at age 7 went to steal food in the German camps.
My mother talks about fleeing their house with a gas mask on and how frighten she was at that time.
I am 8 and it all sounds so bizarre.
The two women chat and chat and all I hear is war, war, war.
We have a radio, no other communication.
They sit by the radio listening and shaking their heads.

I am laying in a rattan chaise lounge next to the coal stove, it is chilly outside.
I have a sore throat and I am being watched by 2 Mama's and perhaps spoiled.

I am thinking that they have these wild stories and they are so agitated, this must be all special.

I decide I want my own war. Not "Bonma's" nor Mama's my very own so I can tell stories too when I grow up.
Foolish child...a wild imagination.

We had a practice in the house that I hated. All citizens had been given these horrible gas masks, you looked like an elephant from outer space. A long tube went from the mask to the tank. I could not breathe in it. I hated it and screamed when I was told to try it. Equally my father had told me that if they attack in any way I must lay under the mattress.
There too I could not breathe. But that morning all I could see was my two grown ups starting to weep.
Radio had announced that Belgium was at war.

Now that was a confusing picture, so I had my war but I did not like all the crying. Would I need to put on this mask?
I thought it was enough already , lets just stop the war, tell the Germans to go home. Finish with all this.

I lived about 100 yards from the electrical plant. No houses in between us and the plant. The horrible smoke billowing all the time leaving black little specks on my mothers fresh washed laundry on the line. That was just all I knew about the plant. Came 3 o clock that afternoon and I would learn lesson one. Electricity factories are targets. This one was a target till 1945.

The alarm went off at the plant, we had done drills about that, danger might be coming (they told us) if the alarm goes on.
The alarm would go off when all danger had passed so you were to listen to air warnings.

My short rotund Bonma was helped down the stairs in the cellar. We kept potatoes in a bin and coal in another. It was a dark hell hole. A chair had been placed there for Bonma. Her heavy breathing was all I heard as Mom and I sat on the stairs, Bonma did not do well with stairs. We sat in silence and waited. Bonma soon had enough of it and wanted to go back up ,she asked my mom for help going up the stairs and only one step up and we heard a whistle, a loud sound but it was not the siren from the plant and Mom pulled Bonma down the step by her skirt and held us both tightly against her. Within seconds the house trembled, we heard glass crash on the tile floor. We were the target next to the plant. The planes were very low, we could hear their motors, mother later said that she thought they would crash but none did. We had been bombed on the first day of war.

I do not know how long it was before the siren let us know the danger had past.
I ran up the stairs but was held back, the two women knew what was to come.
It was only May 10th 1940 and it would last till June 1945.

Today sitting safely in my house in America I am thinking that all this happened somewhere in a book I read.
However it is not so, I have been known to crawl under the table if a plane comes by and is low.
I have thrown my children in ditches when a siren went off at the fire department.
The plant is now a museum and how many stories it can tell us.
But today is May 10th and I stop with that for now.
I had my war and I can talk about it like Bonma and Mama.

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