Belgium / Story

Civilians and the Battle for Hechtel




After their battles for the village of Hechtel, the British troops gave it the name 'Little Caen'. Like the town of Caen in Normandy, France, Hechtel had been reduced to rubble by the fighting. In the village, 124 houses were destroyed and the Hechtel civilian population also suffered from the violence of war. 35 civilians were killed, including 11 of who were killed in German summary executions on suspicion of aiding the Allies. Below, 14-year-old Gerard Wuyts tells his story.

7 September 1944

"Since yesterday we have been hearing dull bangs and the sound of thunder all the time. Father is uneasy, since the news that Brussels was liberated, it has been restless in our village. Everyone seems to be moving into basements. We too are doing so. My neighbour, Louis, his sister and parents are also coming to shelter with us. It is hoped that they are fans of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, only my favourite stories I have taken from the house to the basement. This is where we all sit together: my father Hubert, mother Gerardine, my sisters Gilberte and Magda, and the Pijkels family."

8 September

"All our house is on fire! A German truck entered the village burning, and crashed head-on into our house. When father opened the cellar door, he saw how everything around him was on fire. We had to run for our lives as the heat was unbearable, not to mention those loud bangs. Luckily, we could take shelter at Auntie Miet's!"

10 September

"They took father! We were with our aunt and her family in the Kenis family cellar when suddenly the door opened. The Germans shouted something about partisans and took all the men to help them with work. They almost took my 15-year-old cousin too! Only if we went bravely back into the cellar would they come back, the soldiers said. Just before I went back downstairs, I saw father look back and smile."

14 September

"They found father. By dumb luck, a lady found a pile of bodies under the rubble of café Buitenlust. The gendarmerie said all the men there had been shot by the Germans. Mother recovered his wedding ring from Dr Vrancken. Germans stole father's watch. If I can ever find the soldier who killed my father, I will denounce him. I must find him!"

Gerard Wuyts wrote the book Autumn Storm on Hechtel in the 1990s, recounting how he experienced the liberation and lost his father.

Kamperbaan 37, 3940 Hechtel-Eksel