the total destruction
of the Tournai archives

may 1940


           Sometimes images can say more than words :

the Tournai archives in 1939

the Tournai archives after may 16 1940

The month of may 1940 was very warm and on may 16, a lot of inhabitants of Tournai were trying to find some cooling off at their doorstep, the children were playing in the streets.
Around 3 p.m. the alarm of the sirenes started.
In the distance one could hear the sinister buzz of the twin-engined bombers of the German Luftwaffe : in formation, in groups of three, the Dormiers 17 were approaching.

Untill then, Tournai had suffered a very light bombardment on the 10th of may, in which three casualties had fallen.
In the week in between, during the air-raid alarms people had noticed the German bombers fly by on high altitude.
On mai 16, a lot of Tournai citizens kept luring at the sky and pointed at the approaching enemy plains.
Others immediately searched for shelter...

It rained bombs on Tournai.
Here and there the first fires started.

After the sirenes had called the end of the air-raid alarm, a major part of the population fled.
They gathered their most important possessions and left the city in colonne, thus obstructing the manoeuvres of the English allied forces.
By lack of means and manpower the firemen did not succeed in putting out the many fires before night fall.
Minutes after dusk the first German bomber flew over the city, and the bombing would continue untill the break of day.
On may 17 around 9 a.m. the enemy plains reappeared above Tournai and the city was bombed again for several hours.

On saturday the 18th of may it became clear to which catastrophical situation the city of Tournai was brought to : the complete city centre was a ruine.
Here and there courageous men were trying to fight the many fires, but almoast the entire inner city was burning.
Finally, English firemen were able to stop the cityfire by creating hacked paths by exploding certain blocks of houses.

A press clipping from a German newspaper from may or june 1940 shows us the German point of view on the facts.
From a military point of view it must have been important -given the presence of English troops in Tournai- to prevent these to form an allied stronghold along the river Schelde.
Whether it therfore was necessary to destroy this city almoast completely is ofcourse an other question.