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Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Flander's Fields

This year, it will be exactly 100 years ago that World War One began - the Great War, as it was called.

We won't escape the memory. Every country involved in this war is organising celebrations. And these will go over four years, until 2018.

Our national TV, VRT, starts a 10-part series tomorrow, titled 'In Vlaamse Velden' (in Flander's Fields). It tells the story of a Flemish family in the war: father, mother, two sons and a daughter. The father doesn't believe a war will start, while the daughter hopes it does. The eldest son has to go to the army immediately and the second one is forced to do so too, despite the fact he hates fighting and killing. I suppose it will be a great series, because even our generation doesn't know what exactly happened during this period in time.

My grandfather fought in this war, but he never told a lot about it. He did tell lots of stories about the next war, in 1940-1945. I suppose it was because this first war was too terrible to relate to a small child.

The only facts I know from then are that he was only a boy of 17 when the war began. The son of an officer, he was at military school and these young guys were obliged to go fighting as well. He got the command over a company of men twice his age, most of them farmhands. What he told me about it was the fact these farmboys did not know left from right. They had to drill them by putting straw and hay in their boots. Hay-straw, hay-straw... that way they learnt to march. (Well, I would not know the difference between hay and straw....)

Granddad was also caught in the gas and shot a couple of times. And when the war was over, he went to the cinema in Antwerpen and it was raining. A girl stood there and she asked if you could take shelter under his umbrella. That was my grandma, and they were a couple since. A very good and loving marriage. I will always remember the way they held hands, even in their old age.

Also my grandmother did not tell a lot about this first war. They went through hard times, for sure, but she claimed they always had enough to eat (her dad worked in the harbour). She was the youngest of the family, and her eldest sister had a daughter who was the same ago as my grandma. Those two were great friends.

I have more stories about the second world war, when the entire family went to France to escape the Germans. I could easily write a novel about it.

Well, we'll see what will happen next. There are plans for 2015 to have the Last Post played all over the world simultaneously. Wonder if that willl work out?

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