Love across borders: the Belgian brothers who loved the same girl

We have recently begun collecting personal stories from people all across Europe relating to migration, following on from our successful Europeana 1914-1918 project.

Our new short blog series, Love across borders, is inspired by collections discovered during this project, with stories of romance and love at the time of World War 1. Read on to see how new connections and relationships would not have been possible without people moving across the globe!

photograph of two soldiers

August and Gommaire Van Dessel 2 brothers at the front, Rita, Europeana 1914-1918, CC0

August and Gommaire were two brothers from Duffel, a Belgian city near Antwerp. In 1914, August was conscripted and Gommaire, his older brother, volunteered. Both were enlisted in the fifth “linieregiment”.

At the same time, many civilians fled from Belgium to escape from the war zone. Henriette lived her mother and sisters in Antwerp when the war broke out. The family left Antwerp for the Netherlands shortly after Germany invaded Belgium. Afterwards, she managed to flee to Richmond, England with her sister and her brother-in-law. To earn her living, she worked in a munitions factory which soon deteriorated her health.

scan of a diary with handwriting

Part of the diary that the brothers kept during the years as soldiers, Rita, Europeana 1914-1918, CC0

August and Gommaire were at the same time allowed to spend their leave in England. August met Henriette on leave in England and they fell in love with each other. They stayed in contact throughout the war. All three exchanged letters afterwards, when the brothers were back on the front.  Gommaire was also interested in Henriette. Finally, Henriette decided for August, the younger brother, as evidenced by a number of letters. 

Both brother returned safely from war. Afterwards, in 1919, August and Henriette married in Antwerp. They settled near Brussels where August became a bookkeeper.

man and woman

Happy ending: Henriette and August as married couple. Rita, Europeana 1914-1918, CC0.

Do you have a story to share about love across borders, or romance during World War 1? Share your stories with Europeana Migration and Europeana 1914-1918.

  • The Love across borders series was researched and written by Larissa Borck


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