Our grandfather, Edmond Gustave Verhaeghe had joined the Belgium Calvary during World War I or as he called it The Great War. He had already lost his older brother Arthur in the war. He never spoke of being in battle or what happened which we never pushed but he did tell of the time that he had been captured by the Germans and made a prisoner of war. The Germans at that time sent prisoners to work on German farms where the sons and farmhands had been taken into the army.
Papa and the other prisoners were under guard, twenty-four/seven although on Sunday, a single guard would walk the identified Roman Catholics to the nearby church in the village and back again after Mass. The guard would not attend but would wait outside and then walk them back to the work farm.
This continued on for a time until the guards were getting a little bored with watching these Belgium Catholics and they no longer wanted to walk the distance to the town. Finally the time came when the guards told my grandfather and the other men that they could walk to church on their own, going straight there and back. The guards figured that since the men wore prisoner clothing they would not be able to go far, as people would raise the alarm seeing these men walking on their own in another area besides the road to the village and back.
Papa and the other soldiers took their advantage as soon as they were in the village. Slipping down a side street they found a clothes line full of laundry that was dry. They quickly changed from the prisoner clothing to these men’s working clothes. Dumping their clothes in the garbage bins. Once changed they paired up so to be less noticeable than a large group of men. In pairs they made their way back to their country of Belgium. Hiding in fields and forests, stealing food as they could as they made their long walk through enemy territory, never seeing that work farm ever again.
And that was the only story that Papa ever shared about being in the First World War. In fact I did not even know that he had an older brother nor that he had been killed in that war. He did not speak of it ever.
When I was in elementary school and brownies, we had the day off for Remembrance Day on the 11th of November. This was changed in the early 70s as it was thought that the day off meant the children were no longer learning how important that day was but we knew. All Brownies, Scouts and Girl Guides marched in our town Remembrance Day parade. I walked with my father James Michael Broomfield who was in the British Air Force as well as being a child in London during the bombings of the Second World War and my grandfather who was a veteran of the First one. It was a very, very special day and I was very aware of the why of Remembrance Day. When this changed in High School the ceremony we had in our classrooms truly were a pretty poor substitute for walking with Papa and Dad to the memorial in town. No matter the weather we were together as a family remembering what our family did and where they were during the wars and why it was very, very important to never ever forget.