Thursday, December 24, 2009

GI Christmas Party in Antwerp, 1945

I'm reading the book, Liberators: The Allies and Belgian Society, 1944-1945 by Peter Schrijvers. It's an enlightening text about the relationship between the Belgian citizens and the Allied troops. My grandfather's unit was in Belgium, so this week I was inspired to ask his comrade, Dave Weaver, about their interactions with the people of Antwerp. n 1945 he, Dick Justice, Edward G. Breitenfeldt, and Jim McConchie were happy to be invited to a local Christmas party. Their excited hosts hand-drew a charming Christmas menu with little illustrations of American and Belgian flags. Dave showed this to me briefly when I visited him in Tucson last month. I wish I had a picture to share! Here's his little story:

"Well, there was a guy named Jim McConchie. He was a close friend of mine, interesting guy. He was a tall skinny kid from Paris, Illinois. He used to go around to the bars a lot, and he knew some of these barmaids and people like that. Some way or another he met a girl named Angie, a Belgian girl. She was married to a Belgian soldier, but I don't know where he was. He was out with the forces somewhere. She was a DePunt. There were four or five of us that got to know them quite well.

Mr. DePunt was a very social kind of a guy. He wanted to throw us Christmas party. He had a candy shop downtown. We met there. We used to bring him sugar, which he'd mix it into cordials or some kind of an alcoholic drink. And that's where I first learned about Pernod—an anise-based drink. It's quite good. They had two boys [their own and a foster child]. Angie was a few years younger than us. She was a DePunt relative someway. Her father was a Colonel in the Belgian Army, and he was there. There were more than just the four of us GIs at the party." —Dave Weaver

It's interesting to note the GI's gift of sugar. The Belgians had been under four years of severe food rationing under German occupation. The arrival of the Allies in September of 1944 did little to relieve the shortage. The Allies were focusing their efforts on supplying the troops in their push against the Germans. Theft of these crucial supplies was a tremendous problem, especially in the port of Antwerp. Black market dealings were rampant. In an attempt to limit the loss of military food and materials the Belgian civilians were outlawed from possessing any Allied items. Even the gift of a pack of gum was forbidden. Yet, such strict regulations didn't stop Dave and his buddies from sharing a little Christmas cheer!

Merry Christmas!

Below is the hand-drawn menu given to each of the GIs. The Christmas gathering was actually 1945 (not 1944 as I wrote previously). Note the "Eisenhower Soup with Atom Bombs."

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