Thank you and good bye

After the Estonian, German or Russian war phrasebooks, in which the atrocities to be committed were already coded before the first column started towards the frontier, it is quite refreshing to read a wartime conversational dictionary whose single message is apparently this: “Thanks for having liberated us!”

No, this is no Soviet propaganda distributed in the occupied territories, as our much-experienced readers would immediately think. This phrasebook was published in Belgium in 1944, so every grateful Belgian could chat in English with the tommies and sammies, that is the British and American soldiers.

Unfortunately I have only one page of this dictionary, probably the very first substantive page. But I think this one summarizes the essence of the whole book: thank you and good bye. After all, what else could we talk about, by sweatingly browsing the phrasebook for the building blocks of small talk and trying to intelligibly pronounce in this chewing gum language that down with the Boches, because it is impossible that in America they do not know what the Boches are. That’s quite enough, this is the hour of history, not of language learning, and after all, you will come back after the war, and in the meantime we will have the kid enrolled for an English course.

Instead of the halting conversation, singing is much more suitable to building community. With a genial psychological sense, the phrasebook publishes the text of some songs: the British and American hymn, the Tipperary which has been popular in Belgium since WW1, and of the Siegfried Line. The first three are widely known even today, but the text of the last one has to be published by us as well. This song, mocking the German defense line stretching from Switzerland to the Netherlands, was first heard by the Belgians from the British soldiers coming to the rescue of France in 1940. Although they reached the Siegfried Line only in 1944, the song was not forgotten in the Continent in the meantime either, thanks to the German parody versions and propaganda films mocking the British.

The Two Leslies: We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line

We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line.
Have you any dirty washing, mother dear?
We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line.
’Cause the washing day is here.

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Postscript. Kinga in her comment to the Hungarian version wondered why the American soldier was portrayed as a Chinese man. We do not know whether they really intended him to look like a Chinese or he happened to look so only by chance. But why might have not been there some American Chinese as well, say, from the Chinatown of San Francisco? For you know, what those British soldiers looked like whom the Belgians met in May 1940 around Dunquerque/Dunkirk.

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