Gerard was the son of Alidor Steenlant, a painter-decorator from Staden.
When German troops were approaching Staden on 15 October 1914, Mr Steenlant fled with his wife and young children. However, during the confusion, they went the wrong way. After a few kilometres, the family encountered a mounted German officer who chased them off with threats.
Together with 4,000 other residents of Staden, the family then fled to Ieper via Vijfwege, Poelkapelle and Langemark. When Ieper was also bombarded, they went to Vlamertinge and then finally to France.
After a period in the southern French city of Cahors, where Gerard's younger brother was born, the family finally found work and accommodation in the Norman town of Lisieux, a town settled by many refugees from Staden, who had formed a community headed by Father Mostaert.
After only a few hours, Gerard was already involved in a scrap with a French boy who took Gerard's Flemish for German and called him a 'sale Boche' [filthy Hun]. Gerard, who as a refugee had already suffered enough insults, gave the French boy a beating.
At the end of 1919, the Steenlant family returned to Staden. During the years of reconstruction they lived in a barracks run by the King Albert Funds. The local school was also housed in a barracks. Due to the shortage of civilian clothing, even the schoolmaster was still wearing his military uniform during the first few months of peace. Mr Steenlant reopened his shop in the village. Gerard began working in the firm and also attended the academy at Roeselare. In 1934, he married Marjolaine Vergeele from Poperinge, with whom he had six children. Gerard later settled in Bruges as a painter-decorator.
(Source: Characters from the Great War on http://www.inflandersfields.be)