Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Traveling Tuesday: Belgium During WWII

Traveling Tuesday: Belgium During WWII

In War’s Unexpected Gift, nurse Gwen Milford transfers from the wards of a convalescent hospital in a requisition manor home outside London to the sands of Normandy, then into Belgium as the Allies pushed the Germans back from whence they came.

Known as one of the Low Countries (because of its location in the lowland region of Northwestern Europe), Belgium hearkens back to pre-medieval times. Intriguingly, the country has distinctive regions that include Flemish/Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, French-speaking in the south, and a German-speaking community in the east.

Despite declaring its neutrality at the beginning of the war, Belgium was invaded by Germany on May 10, 1940. The country fell after eighteen days of fighting, and the occupation lasted until 1944. King Leopold III surrendered which caused much hostility at home and abroad. Leopold’s act was declared unconstitutional by Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot and his cabinet, who formed a government-in-exile in London. Leopold and his family were placed under house arrest.

A military administration was set up, and thousands of Belgian soldiers were taken as prisoners of war.
The Belgian civil service assisted the administration, ostensibly feeling that limited cooperation with the occupiers would result in the least amount of damage to the country and its interests. Reports indicate that Fascist parties had been established in Flanders and Wallonia before the war and collaborated more actively with the administration.

Food and fuel were tightly rationed; the Belgians allowed about two-thirds of that to German citizens. Monthly allotments per resident included 8.8 ounces of butter, 2 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of meat, and 33 pounds of potatoes. Many survived by fishing and growing their own produce. Unsurprisingly, a black market emerged

All news was censored. In 1942, the occupation became more repressive as those with Jewish heritage were persecuted, then deported to concentration camps. In addition, Belgian civilians were sent to work in German factories. Wages remained at pre-war levels, but the authorities tripled the amount of money in circulation creating rampant inflation. In addition, the Germans heavily taxed the Belgians to cover the cost of the occupation as well as “external occupation costs.” Estimates are that this amounted to almost two-thirds of Belgium’s national income.

In June 1941, the Germans arrested a large number of Communists as well as politicians who had opposed the Nazis before the war. Some were deported to Germany and Polish concentration camps, while others were sent to a former fort at Breendonk that had been converted to a prison camp. By all reports, the camp had extremely poor conditions and a high death rate.

The Belgians resisted, but their work was fragmented a localized. Nonetheless, these brave men and women made a difference. Downed Allied airmen were led to safety, and sabotage was used against military and economic assets with railway lines and bridges being popular targets.

Belgium was liberated in September 1944 by Allied forces that included British, American, and Canadian armies. Tragically, more than 40,000 Belgian citizens were killed during the occupation, over half of them Jews.


War’s Unexpected Gift (A Merry Heart Anthology)

Love and war don’t mix. Or do they?

Eager to do even more for the war effort, nurse Gwen Milford puts in for a transfer from a convalescent hospital outside of London to an evac hospital headed across Europe. Leap-frogging from one location to the next, nothing goes as expected from stolen supplies to overwhelming numbers of casualties. Then, there’s the handsome doctor who seems to be assigned to her every shift. As another Christmas approaches without the war’s end, can she find room in her heart for love?

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