On the run
the chaotic days of May 1940
In this project, we are leaving the regular 1944 theme and going back to the days when the war in Western Europe started. On May 10th 1940, Germany commenced the invasion of the Low Countries and France. The main German attack went through the Ardennes Forest in southeastern Belgium and northern Luxemburg. German tanks and infantry quickly broke through the French, British and Belgian defensive lines and advanced to the coast. In less than six weeks, the German Army reached its targets.
This story is based on the notes in the diary of a Belgian woman during those turbulent days of May 1940.
"We are in war again. Germany has crossed our borders last Friday, for the second time in 25 years. We are listening to the radio all day, it is our only source to obtain some information what is going on. It's clear that the Germans are advancing fast. We're discussing what to do. Many people in town have already left."
A large part of the population went on the run. Because of the fightings and the bombardments, because of fear for a repeat of the brutalities of the First World War or just because everybody is fleeing. Approximately 2 million Belgian refugees fled their houses. They caused huge traffic jams and impeded military troup movements. The refugees became a problem not only for the military but also for the local authorities. They didn't know what to do with thousands of people arriving in the cities. Some people are going to the western side of Belgium thinking it will be safer over there. The largest part went to France but only to face the German panzerdivisions raging to the Channel. Some 15 000 Belgians managed to escape to England.
"We are going to my aunt in Oostende. Father hopes the Germans will not reach the sea this time. We took the most important possessions: food, cloths and our money.
The roads are full of refugees loaded with bags or pushing overloaded bicycles, charts, wheelbarrows and prams. It's a very surreal sight. An endless column of people moving forward, silently, staring at the ground."