Two Britons, killed during the WW2 Blitzkrieg, rest in the pretty Flemish cemetery of Peutie, among countless Belgian ex-combatants. Former UK journalist Dennis Abbott recently put crosses on the graves on behalf of the Royal British Legion during the Armistice commemoration week in November.
But he is also looking for answers.
What were those two young British boys actually doing in Peutie? And above all: who are Lucy and Hannah, the two Belgian women who maintained their graves for years?
Abbott has been living in Belgium for 20 years. He is a former journalist for, among others, The Sun and The Daily Mirror in London and was subsequently a spokesman for the European Commission. He is also a member of the Royal British Legion, a charity which raises money to support serving and former serving members of the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force facing hardship, as well as their families.
One of their tasks is also to keep alive the memory of those who died for our freedom. Indeed, Abbott was a reservist in Iraq for British troops in 2003.
"On the occasion of the annual commemoration of the Armistice, I looked into stories related to the Battle of Belgium in May 1940," says Abbott. "I discovered the graves of two British soldiers of the Grenadier Guards in Peutie. They are Leonard 'Len' Walters and Alfred William Hoare. They both died on the night of 15 to 16 May. Len was barely 20 and Alfred 33. I was curious why their last resting place was in the village cemetery and not in one of the big war cemeteries in Brussels or Heverlee.
“I found an article in a British provincial newspaper explaining that the two soldiers were first buried in the grounds of a local castle - presumably Batenborch - and then taken to the village cemetery.”
Abbott added: "The case won't let me go. I have looked into how the soldiers ended up in Peutie. Apparently, the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards fought alongside the Belgian 6th Regiment Jagers te Voet. But nowhere is a specific mention of the German attack on Peutie to be found.
“The Belgian and British troops fought a rearguard action during a phased withdrawal beyond the Brussels-Willebroek Canal and then to the Channel coast.
"It seems that Peutie was the divisional headquarters of the Jagers te Voet Regiment. My guess is that the staff of the regiment and the British Guardsmen might have been housed at Batenborch Castle. So the castle was a target for the Germans.
"Were Walters and Hoare guarding the place? Were they seconded to the Jagers te Voet to ensure the rearguard in the steady retreat towards Dunkirk? Or were they cut off from their regiment during the fighting?”
"The date on the memorial stone, 15-16 May 1940, is also strange. Why two dates?
“My suspicion is that they died at night during enemy shelling or as a result of a night raid by the Luftwaffe. In the chaos of war, it cannot be ruled out either that they were victims of 'friendly fire'.”
Abbott has also discovered that two women from Peutie, Lucy and Hannah, looked after Len and William's graves for years.
"That intrigues me. What was their relationship with the fallen soldiers? Did they know them? I think Lucy died. The question is whether Hannah is still alive. Their relatives are probably still living in Peutie. Does anyone know more? On both graves someone has laid some beautiful chrysanthemums.”
Pakistan urged to 'take responsibility' for 'genocide'
A group of activists who demonstrated in Brussels want Pakistan to be held to account for the violent events of over five decades ago which, it is claimed, have so far gone unpunished, writes Martin Banks.
On 26 March 1971, Pakistani troops entered east Pakistan in order to put down a growing movement for Bangladeshi independence. A nine-month war of Independence followed, ending with Pakistan’s defeat and surrender on 16 December.
The level of casualties inflicted on the Bengali civilian population, and the issuing of a Fatwah by Pakistan encouraging their soldiers to treat Bengali women as “booty” of war, was such that as many as 3 million prople were killed, and up to 400,000 women, and young girls, suffered rape.
The events of 1971 are widely considered as genocide.
This week the Bengali community in Belgium came together with human rights activists to call on the European Union to recognise this fact.
Speaking at a gathering outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, President of European Association for the Defence of Minorities Dr. Manel Mselmi spoke to this website.
Dr Mselmi said: “The Bangledeshi Genocide reminds us that we are all human beings, and that we should respect each other’s cultural heritage, language and religion.
“Conflict based on linguistic and religious levels can never be solved by violence, war, persecution and torture, because at the end the oppressed people always seek to find freedom and dignity even though they lose their families and lands, they will always defend their values and identity.”
The activists called on the government of Pakistan to acknowledge and to take responsibility for its past actions. A letter, hand-delivered by Belgian human rights activist Andy Vermaut of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés AIDL, addressed to European External Action Service High Representative Josep Borrell, called upon the European Commission “to utilize its considerable political leverage to pressure the government of Pakistan to acknowledge its responsibility for this genocidal atrocity”.
Commission approves €10 million Belgian scheme to support organizers of festivals in the Flemish and Brussels Regions in context of the coronavirus outbreak
The European Commission has approved a €10 million Belgian scheme to support organizers of festivals that are planned to take place in the Flemish and Brussels Regions in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. Under this scheme, the support will take the form of direct grants. Beneficiaries will receive up to €500,000 to cover the costs incurred for the organization and production of the festivals as well as for the implementation of measures that the Belgian authorities had to impose to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The purpose of the scheme is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the support will not exceed €1.8m per company as provided by the Temporary Framework; and (ii) the aid can be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.62017 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.
Art Nouveau gem: Hotel Solvay open to the public
Excellent news for the architecture aficionados, iconic Hotel Solvay in Brussels is opening to the public! Alexandre Wittamer, the owner of the building, and Pascal Smet, Secretary of State for Urbanism and Heritage, have announced today that the Solvay House will be open to the public as from Saturday 23 January 2021. This listed and iconic Art Nouveau building was designed and built by Victor Horta between 1894 and 1903 and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
“I am pleased that the Solvay House will frequently open to the public. This gives hope to the cultural and tourism sector, both of them suffering a lot because of the health crisis. From now on, both Brussels residents and tourists will be able to visit this Art Nouveau masterpiece in complete safety, and enjoy a dose of culture with a trip back in time. Thanks to this opening, Brussels will be able to further enhance its rich offer of cultural, heritage and tourist attractions. I am convinced that this way the cultural and tourist revival of our Region will receive a boost as soon as the health measures allow it,” explains Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region.
Urbanism and Heritage State Secretary Pascal Smet was happy that this Art Nouveau gem will now be open to all the people of Brussels and everyone who visits Brussels. “We owe this jewel to Victor Horta and Armand Solvay, of course, but also to the Wittamer family, who saved the house from demolition in the 1950s and have maintained it well all this time. That is why the Brussels Region is today giving the family a special recognition. It was an absolute priority for me to open the Solvay House to the general public and I thank Alexandre Wittamer for having dared to take this step with us.”
Given the history of the building and the initiatives taken by the Wittamer family to preserve this heritage gem, the Brussels Region has awarded the Bronze Zinneke to the Wittamer couple.
The owner Alexandre Wittamer shared his view: “It is an important moment for us. My grandparents bought the building in 1957 and saved it from demolition. They wanted to pass on their love for Victor Horta and Belgian Art Nouveau to future generations. What we are doing now with urban.brussels is following on from what we started last century. It is wonderful that both young and old can discover and rediscover Art Nouveau. Brussels can be proud of its architects and artisans of the time.”
“I’m very happy to award Alexandre Wittamer with a Bronze Zinneke. This statue, a miniature cast of the statue of Tom Frantzen in the Karthuizerstraat, is a tribute to Brussels residents who are informal ambassadors of our city. Welcoming people in a cosmopolitan, open, multilingual and people-oriented city. Like that Zinneke, a bastard dog: strong, streetwise, enterprising, complex and curious about the world. I find these characteristics in Alexandre and his family. His grandparents became the owners of the listed Hotel Solvay of our world-famous Brussels resident Victor Horta. The family converted it into a haute couture house and helped preserve it for future generations,” said Image of Brussels Minister Sven Gatz.
The Brussels government wants to enhance the value of its heritage, in particular by making it more accessible, which explains the decision to open the Solvay House to the public. In line with this, the Brussels Region financed the creation of a website and online ticket sales for the Solvay House on the initiative of the Secretary of State for Urbanism and Heritage, Pascal Smet.
Anyone can now visit the house by reserving a ticket on the website www.hotelsolvay.be for an affordable fee of 12 euro. To ensure that Horta lovers can easily plan their visit, a combination ticket with the Horta Museum and Hotel Hannon is being developed.
Art Nouveau and the Horta buildings provide a very attractive, specific tourism offer, an offer that until now was not structural, while the buildings were not always easily accessible. That is changing. After all, Brussels is the Art Nouveau capital and wants to keep that title.
Visit Brussels wants to keep using this asset both internationally and with the Belgian and Brussels visitors.
“The Solvay House is one of the absolute architectural Art Nouveau gems. Opening it up to the general public will enrich the museum offer and give Brussels an important tourism asset. We are convinced that this will improve the international reputation of our region,” says Patrick Bontinck for Visit Brusssels
“For Brussels culture and tourism, it is great news that the general public can now admire this Art Nouveau gem. The City of Brussels values this art movement throughout the year by supporting many recurring events. These include the BANAD Festival, Artonov and Arkadia asbl and its guides,” explains Delphine Houba, alderwoman for Culture and Tourism for the City of Brussels.
Now that the general public can visit it, the Solvay House reveals a hidden treasure. It was protected in its entirety in 1977 and is one of the best preserved Horta buildings, thanks to the attention and renovations by three generations of the Wittamer family, who bought it in 1957 to establish a haute couture house. The renovations happened under the supervision of the “Commission royale des Monuments et des Sites” (Brussels heritage instance) and the heritage services of urban.brussels. Since 1989, the region has spent no less than … euro for the renovation of this building. Urban.brussels has recently recognised the Solvay House as a museum institution, this way increasingly highlighting this heritage.
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