History

If you have a moment, you can go back in time and enjoy the memories of the vacation and residential village on Sint-Annastrand, this wonderful place. Enjoy reading!

The name Sint-Anneke comes from the patron saint of the Sint-Anne chapel from the 12th century. This small house of prayer was a place of pilgrimage and stood as a parish church in the middle of the hamlet Vlaams Hoofd which was part of Zwijndrecht. Today the building of the pedestrian tunnel stands on this spot.
Thanks to the world exhibitions of 1885 and 1894 the then East Flemish hamlet exerted a great attraction on the people of Antwerp. These world exhibitions were in fact the occasion for developing Sint-Anneke into a place of entertainment. Two entrepreneurs built a few leisure venues for the better-off. The Royal Kursaal had a casino, a wooden pier and a playground. The chic Trocadero was an imitation of the Parisian establishment of the same name. A little further along were the Cirque Nautique and Royal Yacht Club marinas. Behind the fort, overlooking the polders, a few democratic eateries opened their doors, such as the Veerhuis. Here day-trippers could rent a rowing boat and eat Mussels.
Antwerp fun-lovers and gourmands liked to take the ferry to Sint-Anneke. It became a real (fun) village. The Plage still reminds us of the vanished (fun) village of Sint-Anna.

Before 1930

In 1923 a big change takes place: the construction of the pedestrian tunnel and the Waaslandtunnel (the ‘Konijnenpijp’). This way Zwijndrecht is connected with the city of Antwerp.
Sint-Anneke was already a popular place for the people of Antwerp, but with the completion of the Waasland and Sint-Anneke tunnels the sky was the limit. After the festive inauguration of the tunnels in September 1933, taking a ferry was no longer necessary. Sun worshippers and frolickers flocked to a real stretch of beach, created by years of sand spraying: the Sint-Annaplage was a fact.

1930 – 1940

In 1932 the economic crisis reached its peak. The discovery of Saint Anne’s Plage went around like wildfire and soon one tent after another appeared. The campers enjoyed the healthy air and plenty of room for the children to play: everyone was happy. But beautiful songs don’t last long…
The Intercommunale Maatschappij van den Linkerscheldeoever (IMALSO) was founded in 1929 and had the task of building and managing both Scheldt tunnels. In 1934, IMALSO issued a tender for a demarcated area that would be named Antwerpen-Strand. The leaseholder Emiel Draps won the concession as the highest bidder. Initially for ten years, but it would take until 1960 for the concession to expire. Draps wanted to get his money as quickly as possible, so he demanded a fee for putting up tents during the summer months. This led to the establishment of the “United Campers” because Draps was rather greedy and this association could thus represent and defend the fate of the campers. Later on, fixed wooden structures with sleeping accommodation were also allowed, and after a few years the first bungalows appeared. So the people of Antwerp had a great time at De Plage.

1940 – 1945

During the war years the Germans made Sint-Anneke a so-called barred zone. This meant that access was only possible with an ‘intrittskarte’ with a swastika stamp. Things like the Lunapark and Old Brabant became dilapidated because there was not enough money and material for maintenance. There were also occasional floods because the raised ground proved not to be high enough. Furthermore, a bombing raid in 1942 caused a lot of damage: about 150 bungalows were damaged. In October 1944, Antwerp was hit by more than 600 V bombs, 48 of which hit Linkeroever, and 3 De Plage. Many bungalows were destroyed.
After the war, many families returned to Sint-Anneke and the number of bungalows increased significantly. People invested their savings in self-constructed homes. Draps was once again lord and master on the Left Bank.
What few people know is that at the end of WWII a holding camp was built on the Left Bank to repatriate the American soldiers, named Top hat.

American Tent City 1945-1946
In May 1945, the authorities decided to set up ‘Staging Areas’ or waiting camps at various locations for the purpose of repatriating their soldiers to the USA. It could take weeks before a ship brought them home. In Belgium this camp was set up on the left bank of Antwerp. What few people know is that at the end of WWII a holding camp was built on the Left Bank to repatriate the American soldiers, named Top hat.

American Tent City 1945-1946

tophat

In May 1945, the authorities decided to set up ‘Staging Areas’ or waiting camps at various locations with a view to repatriating their soldiers to the USA. It could take weeks before a ship brought them home. In Belgium this camp was set up on the left bank of Antwerp.
tophat
The official name of the camp is ‘Headquarters, United States Staging Area, Antwerp, Belgium, APO 562′ but the soldiers christened their temporary residence ‘Top hat’. The name Top hat is said to come from a lost war code. Other sources mention that the camp was named after the Belgian cigarette Tophat.

On June 1, 1945, American units arrived in Antwerp from Germany. Some 7200 landmines laid there by the Germans on the low grounds were cleared. After the completion of this task, the unit was replaced and the new men were given the task of constructing tracks and access roads. The further completion of this gigantic camp was carried out by a new unit. This unit eventually provided the camp with 2,500 tents, 500 buildings, cinemas, Radio City Music Hall, two open-air theaters, an ice cream factory, bakery, library, three hairdressing salons, ironing room, laundry, shoe polishing hall and Red Cross.

The American soldiers were received as guests. The Antwerp civilian staff, who according to American sources spoke excellent English, left nothing to chance in making the G.I.’s comfortable.
camp
The luxury in the camp is unprecedented after the poverty the soldiers endured. Prisoners of war are employed to wash clothes and polish shoes.

The cinema and bar are obviously the most popular with the soldiers. Every night long lines of soldiers try to conquer a spot to watch a movie. In the bar a lot of beer is served. An average of 3000 liters of coffee is poured per day and several thousand donuts are sold.

The 85th Quartermaster Group had to supply the camp with food. In the middle of the camp a chapel had been built for three religions: Christianity, Protestantism and Judaism.

The camp was divided into 26 blocks. The tent city had a total length of two kilometers and was a kilometer wide in some places. It had room for about 16500 men: the resistant personnel and about 500 German prisoners of war. The camp opened on July 1, 1945 and officially closed its operations on April 2, 1946 when the last soldier embarked on the ship the “Vassar Victory.

Basic From July 1945 to March 1946, some 500 ships secured the repatriation to the USA of many NCOs and soldiers. It was May 1946 when the clearance and liquidation of all infrastructure was fully completed.
In the Sint-Annabos here and there remnants of the camp can still be found. The straight lanes in the forest still refer to the intersections of the blocks.

A private magazine was also published: ‘The Top Hat Tales’ with notices about life on Top Hat. Maria Seyssens, Georgette Rooman, Ellisa Balliau are among the Flemish people who contributed to the magazine. Flemish photographers Guy Michielsen and Fernand Verjauw also contributed.

To date, no copy of this magazine can be found anywhere, neither in the Belgian nor in the American archives.

Sources: Hoe een stukje Borgerweert wandelbos werd – J. Moens. 1983
Photographs : http://www.skylighters.org/special/cigcamps/camptophat.html

1945 – 1960

After the war years there was a period of uncontrolled growth. Bungalows popped up everywhere and there were no real obligations to the concessionaire anymore, rather heavy rents for the vacation homes.

Around 1950, a first attempt at land use planning came about. The idea was to build an abode with durable materials. Several solid homes were built, some even in villa style.

As a result of World War II, new sites were sought for large-scale construction. Around 1950, the Antwerp Housing Authority entered into negotiations with IMALSO to reserve 20 hectares of building ground between Gloriantlaan and Halewijnlaan. The plans provided for 16 residential complexes with 2700 housing units with a shopping center, church, party hall and a large pedestrian square. The high-rise did guarantee the possibility of living in the middle of a green park. It became a monumental whole, inspired by modernist thinking. The central idea was to give “light, air and space” to the “new man”.

1970 – present, the farewell years

Everyone had a good time, but in September 1960 dark clouds gathered over the bungalow park.
Draps’ concession came to an end and no new tender was issued. IMALSO, the development company for the Antwerp Left Bank, took back the management on 1 October 1960 and decided to demolish the bungalow park. The local action committee was able to secure a nine-year extension, but this was only postponement of execution. In 1969 the bungalow park had to be demolished with the exception of a few buildings. The owners of those bungalows were allowed to stay indefinitely. If they left or died, the bungalow still had to go. Of the former vacation and residential village, 28 bungalows remained in 1969. In 2013, there are still three.

But the Sinjoren have always remained faithful to their Sint Anneke. Thanks to the soft breeze from the Scheldt, it is a lovely place to be when the weather is warm. Antwerpers still go ‘oep Sint-Anneke’ to eat mussels. And since the City of Antwerp, at the mayor’s instigation, has had a shower installed on the beach, water fun for children is guaranteed. That’s all there is to it!

With this initiative we want to restore the grandeur of Sint Anneke of yesteryear and hope that others will support our line of thought. In this way we can be a catalyst for other initiators and together blow a fresh wind over Sint Anneke.

SOURCES

SINT ANNEKE
Ik zien A gère
SAINT ANNEKE PLAGE
Memories of the vacation and residential drop of Sint-Annastrand
1930-1969