Dutch Boy in Belgium

I consider myself throughly Dutch, although I have spent part of my life in Belgium. Our family lived for several years in the Belgian Congo and much of my boyhood was spent there. Just months after leaving the Congo, I was enrolled in a secondary school in Antwerp, Belgium. In the Congo, of course, I and my friends wore short pants all the time in the hot tropical climate. Our Antwerp school had a uniform, but it was no longer strictly enforced. I was the youngest of my class and one of seven or eight boys who were still wearing short pants. I continued wearing short pants to school until I was 16 years old. I generally wore lederhosen as I participated in an Austraian and German Scout camps. Some Dutch boys at the time considered lederhosen too German. My parents were very interested that I learn English, which is part of the reason that they sent me to Scotland for several summers. Some friends there wore kilts, I stuck to my lederhosen.


I consider myself throughly Dutch, although I have spent part of my life in Belgium. My paternal grandfather had a Dutch passport and was the son of an Austrian immigrant. Grandma had a French passport before she married. My mothers parents were both Dutch.

Belgian Congo

Our family lived for several years in the Belgian Congo and much of my boyhood was spent there. By friends and I mostly wore short pants there, both for school and for play. There were really no seasonal changes as the climate was hot all the time. We wore just plain boys' clothes, shirts and shorts, nothing dressy--it was to hot. I don't recall many details. Fabric: mainly cotton. Colours : predominantly white, also light blue, beige. Our clothes were made by a tailor who also made the workers' clothes. I think my mother showed him European fashion magazines for the ladies' wear. I found some of these after she died. He didn't need patterns for the boys clothes as they were so simple. There was also a seamstress who may have helped. One hot issue between my mother and us : we were supposed to wear shoes (sandals) but we much preferred to go barefoot. I did not have school clothes as such in the Congo. I got home tuition. The nearest European school was a day away. Two days after the rains. Luckily we left the Congo before independence was granted. The Belgians still seemed to have everything under control. Few people at that time had an inkling of what was going to happen. The main reason we left was that my mother couldn't stand the climate, the country and its people any longer. She had never been very happy there, but after some riots in the provincial capital, she finally convinced my father that it was time to sell the estate and invest the money in his Antwerp business. Three years later, it would have become impossible to get a good price.


I am Dutch and Dutch is my first language. I had quite a varied experience in foreign languages, especially when my family moved to the Belgian Congo. I learned virtually no French during my first years in the Congo. Most of the whites on the estate were Dutch or Flemish. The odd French-speaking Belgian would have tried to communicate with me in Dutch, but I don’t recall any. There was no school around. I got home tuition by my mother and by a Dutch nanny. This included some English. With the black boys I spoke Swahili and Kinyarwanda but I have forgotten all but a few words of these languages. When I returned to the Congo much later I was in a different part and learned Lingala of which I only remember the swear words. At school in Antwerp my ‘first foreign language’ was English. French and German were taught a few hours a week each. My grandfather was as much of a language freak as his grandson and read English and French texts with me (Rip van Winkle and stories by Saki for English and Lettres de Mon Moulin by Alphonse Daudet for French).

School Experiences

Just months after fleeing the Congo, I was enrolled in a secondary school in Antwerp, Belgium. It was a college, which in Belgium means a grammar school (academicall oriented secondary school) for boys, run by Roman Catholic priests. I will explain about Belgian schools which is important to understand. My parents were very interested that I learn English, which is part of the reason that they sent me to Scotland. The school had a uniform but it wasn't any longer rigidly enforced. The school also had a choir. Unlike us, they had to wear the uniform, dark blue worsted shorts. The only difference with the regular uniform was that the choristers wore white kneesocks.

My Clothes


I continued wearing short pants to school until I was 16 years old. Occasionally I wore shorts afterwards for Scouting. No one ever comment on my wearing shorts. There were some indirect comment on the fact that I wore German (or rather Austrian) lederhosen. Lederhosen were not worn by most Belgian boys, but they were But not uncommon either, at least not in Flanders during the 1950s and 60s. In my case it was more a family affair. I think I told you that my father was partly of Austrian extraction. During my first period in Europe I met some distant cousins from Vienna, boys my age, who wore 'Lederhosen'. One of them had outgrown them. Somehow I inherited the cast-off leathers shorts and I kept wearing them throughout my "European" years. Short pants were never a big issue between my parents and me. Besides, I had had a suit with longs for quite some time, for formal and festive occasions. I finally decided to ask my parents for long pants to wear to school. I think our discussions on the matter were something like "in the next form I'd prefer to wear long trousers".


Unlike many HBC contributors, short pants were never a serious issue in our home. What was an issue, especially when we were in the Congo, was shoes. My mother insisted I wear them. I often went barefoot when I was away from home


I never wore a school smock, but they were very common in Belgium, motly for children in primary school. I never saw them in the Netherlands, but that is not to say that no Dutch children wore them.

Flanders (Belgium)

School smocks were worn in Dutch-speaking Flanders well into the 1950s. I remember a school nearby my boyhood home were boys wore gray front-butonning smocks with a sewn-on waistband that ran only halfway (backside). This was a primary school run by the local council in a suburb of Antwerp. Smocks were not, at that time, worn in the more prestigious schools located in the city and run by the clergy.

Walonia (Belgium)

I never had any contact with French-speaking Walloon schoolboys, but I would think that the same trends I observed in Flanders were prevailing in French-speaking Walonia.

The Netherlands

I do not recall that smocks were being worn at that time by schoolboys in Holland. But I may well be wrong there, since I went to Holland mostly during vacations. My cousins certainly never wore smocks, either at home or to school.

Dutch Cousins

I have always considered myself Dutch. We lived for many years, however, in Belgium and as a result I dressed much more like a Belgian than a Dutch boy. I noticed this particularly when I visited my Dutch cousins. These factors may explain that I wore shorts in Antwerp at an age when my Rotterdam cousins had for years been wearing longs. That sneakers were banned for daily wear, wereas they were already quite common in Holland. That I still had a school uniform, if only for ceremonies and functions.

Austrian Relatives

You may be interested in my Austrian relatives. A very distant cousin of my father married into a East-Prussian family in the twenties. Her husband, a surgeon by profession, went home to manage the family's estate and stud farm when his father died. He was drafted in 1941 and they were never to see each other again. In 1944 their eldest son Henning, then just turned 16 years of age was drafted too into the Volkstrum. She was left to run the "Gutshof" with Holger, then 13 years old. As the odds increasingly turned against Germany she felt that even Holger wouldn't be safe much longer and -- against her better judgment -- she prepared for sending him to live with relatives in Vienna. Then, in 1945, the Russians pushed west. With their artillery within hearing distance Holger and his mother forever left what had been his ancestral home for over four centuries. There is picture of Holger grooming his horse and another one of him and his mother in front of the main building. They rode as far as Silesia where their horses were requisitioned. The walked all the way to Brünn then got a lift to Vienna. Henning had the luck to be sent west instead of to the eastern front and ended up in a British p.o.w. camp. He married a Canadian of Chinese extraction and his only son again married a Chinese girl. We saw a picture of Henning's grandchildren last year - heirs to a proud line that has given Prussia several civil servants, officers and diplomats in the 19th century and bearers still of the illustrous name--their looks couldn't be more Chinese. Holger converted to his mother's Roman Catholic faith and became a missionary in Brazil. He is now a monsignor working with the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in Rome.


I was never a Cub as I was in the Belgian Congo when I was Cub age. I was when I returned to Belgium, however, a keen Scout. When I became a Scout, our troop went to summer camp in Germany and Austria several times. We had traditional uniforms with short pants and kneesocks. I noticed that Scouts in the Netherlands were giving a lot less attentiin to their uniforms. Belgians Scouts, however, still were often quite strict about the uniform. I often wore my lederhose, but was at first one of the few boys to do so. While at summer camp in Germany and Austria, many boys would swapped uniforms with the local Scouts. Lederhosen became a real hit. In the long run about a third of the troop may have been wearing them. After Scout camp I was off to Scotland.

Medical Device

Reading the HBC pages about leading strings, harnesses and the like remind me of a device my mother made me wear, however shortly, when I was about ten years old. I had had a bout of hepatitis and the family doctor saw fit to advise some rather unconventional measures to buck up my resistance. I had to be rubbed all over twice daily with a washcloth made of very coarse camel hair dipped in ice cold water and on top of that he fancied that I had a tendency to stoop. It doesn't show on any of my boyhood pictures, but the man was rather obstinate and convinced my parents that overextension of my chest and deap breathing would be beneficial to my health.

Summers in Scotland

My parents were interested that I learn English. As a result, I spent several summers in Scotland with friends of the family. I'm not sure how many people learned English in Scotland, but I did. Our friends lived in Kinrossshire, several of the boys there wore kilts when they dressed up. I never did, but as they wore their national costume, I often wore my lederhosen as it was summer which was as close to a national costume as I could get, altough of course lederhosen are really German and not commonly worn in either the Netherlands or Belgium.

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Created: May 7, 2001
Last updated: August 3, 2003