A Belgian man has gifted his 87-year-old dad with the letters the elder man exchanged with his parents while staying as a refugee in England during World War II.
Luc Van Roey from the Belgian municipality of Kapellen presented his elderly dad with a book of all the letters he sent and received at his wartime home in Alton in Hampshire during his five-and-a-half years in the UK.
Jan Van Roey was sent to England aged seven when World War II broke out.
Now nearly 88 years old, Jan said that his parents spent the first eight months of his time in England believing he may have been dead.
Reports in Schoten, the municipality in Belgium where he was from, said that ships heading towards England when Jan was travelling had been bombed by the Nazis.
Luc told Newsflash: “Through the Red Cross, he was able to inform his parents that he was still alive. He had to limit those first letters to 25 words.
“My dad lived apart from his parents for five-and-a-half years. I only really became aware of the impact of that when I had children myself. I could not imagine missing them for such a long period and vice versa of course.
Jan said: “Those letters remained on the road for a very long time. Sometimes there were seven or eight months between sending and the date of receipt.
“I was in England with about 100 other children. I learned to write there, but I had to dictate the first letters.
“When I was able to write them myself, they couldn’t be longer than 25 words.
“When the war ended and I was able to return home, my parents told me to bring as many clothes as possible. It was obvious there was practically nothing available in Schoten.”
Luc told Newsflash: “In England, my father was brought up in French and English. On his return, the boy and his parents no longer recognised each other and he had to learn Dutch again!
“He is now 88 years old and is still in excellent health. He did not return from England until 19th July 1945, so 75 years ago.
Luc did a lot of research, recovered the letters and arranged them chronologically for his elderly father.
He said: “The letters sent to England were sometimes clearly censored. When his parents talked about a bombing in Schoten, a piece was cut out.
“I found all the letters and some photos in a box in my parents’ attic. I don’t think this should be lost. My children and many others should be able to read this. It has been exactly 75 years since my father saw his parents again. The letters can be read for free, but only digitally.”
Luc told Newsflash: “On page 56, you will find an image of the building in Morland Hall in Alton where my father spent most of his time as a child during WWII.
“On pages 87 and 88, you can see how the German occupying forces censored parts of the letter, especially passages about the location of bombings on the home front.
“You will also find an extract from Alton papers based on my father and Mr. Verschueren who taught my dad during his stay in England.”
The book was made with the help of Luc’s friend and graphic designer Luc van Malderen and is available to read online here: www.lucvanmalderen.be/jantje
During the war, the Red Cross ensured that citizens, prisoners and refugees were able to remain in contact with each other. The organisation brought 700,000 prisoners across Europe into contact with their families and exchanged around 105 million letters.
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