Monday, April 18, 2022

1940: My grandfather's probable employer

Have I mentioned that I really like historians?  Every single historian I've worked with has been really great, and the various historians in Europe who have been helping me find details about my grandfather do something absolutely excellent when they don't know the answer to a question - they pretty much always recommend further resources that may be able to help me find the information.

Most recently, the historian who helped me find when my grandparents' home in Brussels was built, put me in touch with a historian in Boechout, Belgium, who helped me find what is very likely the factory where my grandfather worked when the Nazis invaded western Europe.   

Here are the clues I was able to give them:

  1. Located in Boechout, Belgium.
  2. I thought the name of the place had the word "construction" in it, but couldn't be certain as the audio tape had a flaw, and I couldn't be sure of the name
  3. They made davits for the Dutch Navy (device to get a lifeboat into the water, when a ship is listing)
  4. They made aircraft fuel tanks
  5. They made Cointet Elements parts (probably the rollers at the base of the Cointet Elements; if you have an interest in tank traps, and how people tried to stop Panzers)
  6. They worked on converting British trucks left behind after the battle of Dunkirk in 1940, for use by the Wehrmacht (see the description below).
  7. The plant/factory was sold to a collaborator in 1940 or 1941, and there was anti-German sentiment among the workers - they sabotaged their own products by putting abrasive powder in the fuel tanks.
  8. Grandpa was a foreman there (he would have started working there between 1935 and 1940) with 150 men who worked for him.  He was also an engineer working on coal liquefaction technology (synthetic fuels), so maybe they produced synthetic petrol, too?

     So the work which my department had to do – hundreds, maybe thousands of trucks, small trucks which the Germans took from the British, or the British abandoned them before Dunkirk. Before going to England they abandoned everything, and Germans had only very big trucks which were good for good highways in Western Europe, but not for places like North Africa, so that the British, small versatile trucks were useful to them. So what we had to do is get rid of everything pertaining to British weapons and everything which was welded and got a ranger truck, so it could carry both German ammunition and German weapons like machine guns; etcetera, etcetera. Hundred of them passed over there.  Well, okay, nothing to be done; we did it. 

Here is their reply (in translation - it was written in Flemish/Dutch):

Dear Cathy,

In response to your inquiry, we would like to send you information regarding your grandfather and the factory where he worked.

Can you provide us with the following information about your grandfather: correct surname and first name, place and date of birth and death?

In the meantime, we are doing our best to gather some information about the factory where he had a leadership position. We know the following about the factory:

In 1923 the company started as an independent company “Werkhuizen Vanderstraeten”, production of small household items and galvanisation.
In 1937 the name was changed to “Werkhuizen van Boechout”.
And in 1941 the company merged with “Ethablissement Thirion” and the name was changed to “Verenigde werkhuizen van Boechout & Thirion”.

The manager was severely punished for his collaboration with the German occupier.

Later on, other mergers were made and there were changes in the naming. The company closed in 2011. The company was completely dismantled and a new residential area was created on the company grounds.

We hereby send you four photos that can also be consulted on our image bank.
Kind regards,

C-- H-- & R--- D--- 

DB04607 input port

DB04661 director's house, demolished in 1991

DB04557 plan of the factory 1936

DB04559 group photo frame and staff, is grandfather in it?

Click on the photos to enlarge them. The last photo is the most exciting, but it's too low resolution for me to be able to identify my grandpa. When I enlarge it enough to see facial details, it's too pixelated to see details.  I answered their email and provided my grandfather's name and the other info they asked for. I also asked for a higher-resolution image, or a direct link to the photo in their archive, which mostly does seem to have high-resolution scans (they have over 900 pages of images taken in 1939 alone so hopefully they'll tell me how to find it, so I don't have to page through them). 

As always, this is really exciting.

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