September 5, 2021•499 words
History has always been one of my passions. While my classmates in Primary school were playing games, I was "storming the beaches of Normandy during D-Day". Luckily, I share this passion with both of my grandfathers, who are History junkies just like me. At the start of the Holiday, one of them had provided the entire family with some old pictures of our ancestors. While all of them were interesting, one of them caught my eye. It appeared to be an older man wearing military decorations, presumably from the First world war. The picture was rather old looking (from the 50s), and the man in the picture was already pretty old. Thus, eager to find out more about this mysterious soldier, I set out on a conquest to find out more about this man.
The first step that I undertook was posting the picture on a Belgian History forum. One history buff was nice enough to identify the majority of the medals, and he recommended me to look up my last name in a book dedicated to WW1 veterans. That's where I found out about Leonard Gobbaerts, my great-great-grandfather. As soon as I found out, I contacted my grandpa, and explained what I had found. He was very interested and said that he would go to the military archives to find more documents, as I was still living abroad. This would later be extremely useful, as it allowed us to look into his role in the army during the first world war.
After examining all the documents, we came to the conclusion that right before the start of the war he was drafted into the 6th line regiment, a normal infantry regiment. He would stay in that infantry for more than 1 year and a month. This means that he most likely fought in the defense of Antwerp, the battle of the Yser and that he lived in the trenches for several months. Afterwards, the military documents state that he underwent a training to become part of the artillery regiment. He finished it within a month, and from then on he served there for the rest of the war. Another thing that I noticed was that he was evacuated to a medical center, due to a disease. Unfortunately, the name of the disease was not mentioned anymore, so we can only speculate. He was eventually discharged in 1919, completing over 5 years of service.
After finding out, I created a document wherein I could assemble all the info I could find. Seeing this document grow over time was amazing, and it gave me a sense of achievement and accomplishment. It includes maps, schedules and other information about my ancestor that allowed the entire family to get a clear view of what he did 100 years ago. At the moment, it includes possible other ancestors who would have fought in WW1, but I'm still working to find out whether they are direct relatives, or if they are distant family.