Peace Day 1919

100 years ago today, 19th July 1919, was the day designated as Peace Day and was celebrated in Tunbridge Wells just as it was all over the country.  All of the Belgian Refugees in the town had returned home a couple of months earlier, but nonetheless I thought I couldn’t let the day go by without writing something (mostly a precis of the article which appeared in the Kent & Sussex Courier, 25th July 1919).

Although November 1918 had marked the end of the fighting in Europe, negotiations were to continue at the Paris Peace Conference until 1920, and the Treaty of Versailles (Wikipedia links) wasn’t signed until 28th June 1919.  As negotiations advanced, and a real prospect of peace was in sight, a committee was formed, chaired by Lord CURZON, to decide how to mark and celebrate the end of the war, and Saturday 19th July was declared a Bank Holiday and a public holiday.

‘We, considering that, with a view to the more wide-spread and general celebration of the Conclusion of Peace, it is desirable that Saturday, the Nineteenth day of July instant, should be observed as a Bank Holiday and as a Public Holiday throughout the United Kingdom’

Proclamation by King George V, 11th July 1919 (London Gazette)

Not everyone was happy about the proposed celebrations, considering that the money would better spent supporting returning servicemen.  In addition, the servicemen were not necessarily included in the celebrations – in Tunbridge Wells it was decided to give them their own celebration later in the year when all were returned home, and this seems to have been generally acceptable (though there is some evidence from local press reports that the Mayor, Councillor Robert Vaughan GOWER, OBE,  did receive some criticism for this decision), unlike in Luton for example – as I write I am listening to a report on BBC Radio 4’s World at One about how soldiers, rightly angry at being excluded from the main celebrations in the town, rushed the Town Hall and burnt it down.

Tunbridge Wells celebrations

But not so in Tunbridge Wells, where over six hundred flags were used to decorate the Town Hall on the corner of Calverley Road and Calverley Street – there were Union Flags and French tri-colours, and a “well-arranged group” of flags of the allied nations. There were decorations all over the town – private houses and local businesses alike decorated their buildings and there were Venetian flagpoles and flags and streamers all around the town.  Three stunning triumphant arches were erected on Camden Road, and one at the top of Mount Pleasant.

1919 07 11 Peace Day Preliminary programme heading
Preliminary announcement of events in Kent & Sussex Courier of 11 July 1919 (British Newspaper Archive) – note the choice of border decoration – a symbol of peace and good fortune which only a year later would be usurped by Hitler and the Nazi Party.

When the day came, the whole town celebrated, and many pages of the Kent & Sussex Courier were devoted to accounts of the day in Tunbridge Wells as well as in the surrounding villages.

Festivities began at 8am with a “joy peal” on the newly-re-installed bells of St Peter’s Church, and those of St Augustine’s too, after which there was a short choral service of praise and thanksgiving in a packed King Charles Church where the flags of the Allies were carried in procession by the boys of the choir and their choirmaster.  Early morning services took place in several other churches around the town, before everyone lined up in the streets around Grosvenor Bridge, Quarry Road, for A Grand Procession at 10.30am.

This was, according to the Courier, “one of the longest processions the borough has ever witnessed”, and indeed so long that at one point on its extraordinarily circuitous journey [1] to the Lower Cricket Ground on the Common, “the tail of the procession met its head”.  The Courier was clearly pleased to report that this “familiar incident of the boa constrictor endeavouring to swallow itself” only happened once!

The procession was headed by members of the Borough Police, followed by banner bearers, then the local King’s Rifle Corps cadets.  Next came decorated cars “in the familiar style of decorated automobiles in the South of France at Carnival time” (a point of reference which presumably meant something to the Courier’s readers!).  These carried wounded soldiers and V.A.D. nurses – the only women who took part in the procession, despite the fact that a special request had gone out for women to join its ranks and “demonstrate their share in winning the war”. Maybe they were all holding the fort back home…

The Tunbridge Wells Veterans’ Association and band led a contingent of discharged and demobbed soldiers and sailors, the Skinner’s School OTC and band followed, then the local corps of the Volunteer Battalion of the Royal West Kents.  Next came the youngsters – Boy Scouts, Boys’ Brigade, and the Girls’ Life Brigade – followed by representatives of the Postal Service and the Railwaymen (those who weren’t keeping the trains running).

1919 07 25 Miss Donovan as Britannia
Miss Donovan as Britannia

The town’s Friendly Societies came next with their colourful regalia and banners, alongside 3 tableaux cars: “Peace with Honour”, “Britannia and her Colonies” and the Gardeners’ Society whose float recalled the importance of home food production.

1919 07 25 Miss Godden as Peace
Miss Goddard as Peace

The local tradesmen’s decorated carts included a dray from Messrs E & A Kelsey‘s, a Burlesque Fire Brigade, and a delivery cycle ridden by a small boy, Master Coleman, with the motto “Justice for the Tommies, not Charity”.  School children followed behind, the girls all in white carrying garlands and baskets of flowers, and the boys, Union Flags.  The Local Fire Brigades and the Salvation Army were the last groups before a series of “carriages and motors” brought the Town Council, local magistrates, clergy of all denominations and representatives of local Associations, led by a detachment of the Borough Constabulary including the newly established Policewomen [2].

Three more cars carried the Mayor and Mayoress, Town Clerk, and Mace-bearer; the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress; and former Mayor, Councillor EMSON who had been Mayor 1913-1917 and did so much to help the town’s Belgian refugees, and Mrs EMSON, respectively.

Soon the Lower Cricket Ground was a “sea of faces” in all directions.  Schoolgirls carrying floral letters lined up to form the word “PEACE” and the Memorial Service began with the reading of the King’s Proclamation of Peace, and then of a letter from the King to the Lord Lieutenant, Marquis CAMDEN, expressing his gratitude an admiration for the Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of Kent. Hymns were sung and prayers said, and then came the Last Post and the dipping of the flags, before rousing cheers went up for the King, for the brave men who fought, and for the Mayor and Mayoress.

In the afternoon, there were Old English Sports on the Common for the Adults and amusements in the Calverley Grounds for the children.  It seems the Women’s Tug of War was one of the “most exciting events” of the former (the Married Women’s team beat the Single Women’s…), and their Sack Race “a novelty”.  The children were treated to tea in the schools and parish halls and the leftovers donated to St George’s Home for Boys an the Children’s Convalescent Home in Hawkenbury.

Sadly rain set in in the evening and the Children’s Festival of Song as well as the Fancy Dress Parade had to be postponed till Wednesday 30th.  Instead the Peace Orchestra and Peace Choir of 200 adult voices gave 3 short concerts in the Great Hall, after which judging of the decorated floats took place near the Spa Hotel, young cyclist Master COLEMAN winning second prize in his class.  Despite the rain, the planned bonfire lighting took place at 11pm, and dancing continued until well after midnight.

The postponed Peace Festival of Song took place on 30th July in the Calverley Park Meadow as planned, and the Courier declared  “A prettier spectacle has never been witnessed in Calverley Park”. A Children’s Choir of 2,000 young voices made up of contingents from all the schools in the town sang alongside the Adult Peace Choir under the baton of Mr Francis FOOTE.  The concert was a huge success, and a letter of thanks from Mr Foote, published in the Courier, concluded “I am sure I should be voicing the feelings of thousands of our townspeople when I suggest that we give a similar Festival of Song every year on Peace Thanksgiving Day“…

20 years and 16 days later the country was to be again at war.


[1] The route of the procession was as follows : Grosvenor Bridge, Quarry Road, Camden Road, Town Hall (Calverley Road), Crescent Road, Mount Pleasant, Monson Road, Calverley Road, Mount Pleasant, High Street, Kentish Corner, London Road, Grosvenor Road, General Hospital, Church Road, Common – Lower Cricket Ground.  

[2] Women’s Patrols were recognised by the Home Office in May 1918 and at a meeting of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council on 7th June 1918 a question was raised about the appointment of three policewomen. They were paid 35/- weekly plus war bonus which meant 43/6d per week, and fulfilled the same duties as men (Kent & Sussex Courier).


 

Julienne Elodie MONIN – a Five Ashes connection, and a guest blog post

During my most recent visit to the Belgian Archives in Brussels, I searched on behalf of Catherine Plowden for any documents concerning her Belgian grandmother, Julienne MONIN, and found that Julienne had spent some time in Five Ashes, just up the road from where I now live, and less than 10 miles from Tunbridge Wells. I like to think she would have at the very least have attended some of the events at the ‘Club Albert’ on Calverley Road!  Catherine very kindly agreed to write about her grandmother and her article is below.

What I found

From October 1917, Julienne MONIN was governess with a family living at The Quarry in Five Ashes, a substantial 11-roomed property on the Mayfield side of Five Ashes.  I believe the family were Ernest and Mary JORGENSEN and their daughter Mary Winifred (b.25th December 1910 [i]), who were listed at this address in the 1911 census and in fact still there in 1939 according to the 1939 England and Wales Register (on Ancestry.co.uk). [ii]

Ernest Stuart Lyon JORGENSEN, son of a Danish corn merchant, married Tunbridge Wells-born Agnes Mary AIRD in 1909, and was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2/11th London Regiment (“Finsbury Rifles” I think) during the war – Territorials, who, if I understand correctly, initially guarded railway stations, but in 1917 were sent to the Western Front. [iii]

A search in the British Newspaper Archive turned up this ad for “a children’s maid” placed by, I assume, Mrs JORGENSEN (“J.”) in the Eastbourne Gazette of 3rd October 1917:

Was this the role Mademoiselle MONIN took on?  The registration documents held in the Archives in Brussels show that she moved to The Quarry 3 weeks later, on 24th October 1917, and stayed there until 17th June the following year when she left to take up employment as a “child’s companion” in Holland Park, London [iv].

Registration document (change of address) for Juliette MONIN
(Ref I 420/862)

Julienne had come to Five Ashes from Abinger Hammer near Dorking having also spent time in Shere near Guildford.  I wonder how she came to take up the post? Did she or the Dorking Refugees’ Committee see the ad in the Eastbourne Gazette?  Was there some connection with the JORGENSEN family?  Or was there a central “database” of domestic employment for which Belgian refugees would be suitable?  Or possibly, quite simply, it was word of mouth amongst “society” folk of Surrey and Sussex…

Julienne’s granddaughter, Catherine Plowden, writes :

I always knew that my grandmother – Julienne Elodie Monin – was a Belgian refugee and had arrived in England sometime during World War I, but I didn’t know anything about her arrival or where she had stayed.

I had been told that she had fled Belgium in a hurry, and alone; one of her sisters had even escaped to Brazil. Apparently, Grandma had left all of her possessions behind, and come with little else other than the clothes she stood up in. I always wanted to know more.

Julie Elodie Monin in her 20s (family photo)

Grandma had been a major figure in my childhood. We saw a lot of her – even though she lived 300 miles away – and apart from everything else, I shall never forget her distinctive accent, her incredible knitting skills and the strong bitter coffee she made with chicory. But although she didn’t die until I was about 18, I had never been brave enough to ask about her life. I knew she had been through some of the horrors of World War I, and that she had also lost one of her children in a tragic incident at school. She had clearly had some highly traumatic experiences.         

She married my late grandfather, Thomas STAINTON, at Rudgwick in Sussex in November 1919. Shortly afterwards, they settled at Kendal in the Lake District, and went on to have four children. Grandma was one of the small number of Belgian refugees who stayed in England, and didn’t go home.

I had managed to find her birth detailed in the Brussels records for July 1890 – which revealed the names of her parents – so at least I knew more about her family, but I still didn’t have any information about her arrival in England. Although I am a professional genealogist, I am ashamed to say that I had never got round to searching for her refugee papers in the archives. So when Alison very kindly offered to look her up for me in the Central Register of Belgian Refugees[1] on a recent visit to the Belgian Archives in Brussels, I was delighted.

After only a short while, Alison contacted me with the wonderful news that she had found my grandmother’s records. I was thrilled; I now had the information I had been looking for, and a bit more….

I was amazed to discover that Grandma had stayed for some months at Five Ashes, near Mayfield in Sussex during 1917 – 18. This is where my elderly father-in-law has owned a holiday home for nearly 60 years!

Catherine Plowden, Devon Family History Research www.devonfamilyhistoryresearch.co.uk

[1] The full inventory title is “Inventaris van het archief van “The Central Register of War Refugees. The Central Register of Belgian Refugees” 1914-1919. B. Symoens”
_____________________________________

  • [i] Ancestry.com, 1939 England and Wales Register (Lehi, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2018), Ancestry.com, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/2560A. Record for Ernest S L Jorgensen. http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=61596&h=3943749&indiv=try.

  • [ii] Ernest JORGENSEN’s sister Beryl was married to Hugh Thomas MANN who lived in and owned Trulls Hatch at Argos Hill, Rotherfield, and (according to his will quoted in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 31 March 1922) also owned The Quarry at Five Ashes, and a house in Eastbourne called “Cheltenham”.  The family were brewers: Mann, Crossman & Paulin (of the Albion Brewery, Whitechapel), Watney Mann from 1958.  (Interestingly, it seems that 3 MANN siblings married 3 JORGENSEN siblings.)  

  • [iii] https://friendsofim.com/2017/05/03/the-finsbury-rifles-our-local-regiment/

  • [iv] The full address was 64 Holland Park, a substantial detached house, and I believe that Julienne may have been employed there by widow Alice HUGHES as a companion to her 6 year old daughter, Alice Mary. Mrs Hughes’s husband, John James HUGHES, had died the previous year, on 26 June 1917, at their home in Cornwall, and there is evidence that a “Mrs HUGHES” was living at 64 Holland Park by 1920 (Source: London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London City Directories), information confirmed in 1923 when Alice HUGHES’s eldest daughter Gladys’s engagement was announced in The Western Mail (6th February 1923). Discovery of this family sent me off on yet another fascinating tangent as John James HUGHES’s obituary in The Times (28th June 1917) revealed that he was the son of Welshman John HUGHES who had founded the town of Hughesovka (later Stalino, now Donetsk) in Ukraine in 1870. More here https://biography.wales/article/s-HUGH-JOH-1814  – and do follow the links – it’s a fascinating story!

  • “Deaths.” Times, 28 June 1917, p. 1. The Times Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9zNP53. Accessed 10 May 2019.


What a difference a single letter makes!

Since my first visit to the Archives in Brussels three years ago I have been trying to find out more about primary school teacher Palmyre FROIDART with no luck. Today, on re-reading my notes and comparing them with the single registration document I have for her, I discover that her surname was FOIDART – no ‘r’…

While that hasn’t opened hundreds of research doors, a simple Google search of the correct name turns up the information that she was off sick in 1913 and retired from teaching in 1919 – information found in the the Bulletins communaux (1) of the City of Brussels – all helpfully online as PDFs at https://archives.bruxelles.be/bulletins/date

Bulletin communal Bxl 1913
Bulletin communal Bxl 1919

I also found that in September 1915 a (male) friend was looking for her

1915 09 23 L’indépendance_belge (hetarchief.be)

From the afore-mentioned registration document I know that in October that year she was in St Leonards on Sea with distiller Louis BAL from Antwerp, and soon to remove to Tunbridge Wells where she was to live in apartment accommodation at 13 Guildford Road.

After that, I have no idea, but at least I now know that she returned safely (and unmarried) to Belgium.

Registration document (Ref I420/19, National Archives, Brussels)

I also have been reminded of the importance of taking care when transcribing information!

Notes:

(1) From the City of Brussels website : Bulletins communaux : Les Bulletins communaux de la Ville de Bruxelles contiennent les procès-verbaux des séances du Conseil communal ainsi que les rapports des départements et des services de la Ville depuis le 19e siècle. Ces Bulletins communaux sont publiés par la Ville. Ils donnent une vue globale de ses décisions et des actions qu’elle entreprend. Ils permettent d’appréhender la grande variété des débats et des questions qui préoccupent les édiles communaux et qui touchent à la vie politique, sociale, économique et culturelle à Bruxelles… Pour les périodes plus anciennes, les Bulletins imprimés ont fait l’objet d’une campagne de numérisation par les Archives de la Ville. Ils sont consultables à l’aide d’un moteur de recherche.

“Municipal bulletins : The City of Brussels’ Municipal Bulletins contain the minutes of the meetings of the Municipal Council as well as the reports of the City’s departments and services since the 19th century. These municipal Bulletins are published by the City. They provide an overview of its decisions and actions. They make it possible to understand the wide variety of debates and issues that concern municipal councils and affect political, social, economic and cultural life in Brussels… For older periods, the printed Bulletins have been digitised by the City Archives. They can be consulted online.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An intriguing postcard

Off piste again today, as I take a detour to Wimbledon! A dear friend has just given me a postcard, found on Ebay, with a Belgian connection, and originating from a photographer there, E. Callcott Quinton.

Wimbledon Postcard

I headed straight to the wonderful British Newspaper Archive where a quick search for the photographer produced nothing, but another for +Belgian +Wimbledon did, and I discovered that the Duchesse de Vendome (Princesse Henriette de Belgique before her marriage), sister of Albert King of the Belgians, had a house on Wimbledon Common.

One Sunday in September 1914, the Duchess herself took the collection at her parish church, the Church of the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon’s impressive Roman Catholic Church, on behalf of the Belgian Relief Fund.

I suspect that this postcard records that event, and that the woman in the centre is none other than the Duchesse de Vendome herself, for on Wikipedia I found this photo of her.

Could the girl next to her, carrying a collecting basket, be one of her daughters, Marie Louise or Sophie?  Both were educated in England and both worshipped with their mother at the Sacred Heart Church.  And maybe the young boy is her son Charles-Philippe who would have been 9 1/2 at the time.

The priest walking with the Duchess I haven’t identified either – the church is next to Jesuit Wimbledon College [1] where 12 Catholic priests are listed  in the 1911 Census.  The Rev Henry HORN S.J. was Headmaster (or Prefect as Studies as he was called) in 1914 – could it be him? Or possibly the Parish priest of the church (who may or may not have been the Rev David BEARNE S.J.)?

I shall certainly be taking this postcard with me for the “show and tell” at the Tracing the Belgian Refugees Workshop in Manchester on Monday!  Maybe someone there will know more…


[1] Not surprised to find this on the Wimbledon College website: During the Great War, the College increased rapidly in size, with 201 boys in 1916-17. This figure included 50 Belgian Catholic refugees who had fled their home country due to the German occupation. According to records under July 1916, 140 Belgian boys had either passed through the College or were being educated there. The sudden influx of students strained the College’s resources, but the Jesuit Fathers still managed to provide a solid education to all its students.

A Belgian family at Heron’s Ghyll

(*Updated 9 November 2018)

It has been such an age since I wrote anything.  Real life has rather got in the way.  There’s plenty in the pipeline though for when things calm down again!

I’m busy just now, helping out with an Armistice Centenary event in the village of Fairwarp in the Ashdown Forest, which prompted me to get side-lined and see if I could find any Belgian families living there during the First World War.

There was just one, living in nearby Heron’s Ghyll, a family of five from a village between Leuven (Louvain) and Mechelen (Malines).  Their story is a horrifying one.  This article from the Sussex Express of 2nd October 1914 says it all :

Newspaper article heading
Article from the Sussex Express, 2nd October 1914 (from British Newspaper Archive)

By the kindness of Mrs F.J. HOPE [1], a peasant family of refugees from Belgium are now comfortably housed at Herons Ghyll near Uckfield.

They arrived on Saturday by the 5.9 train, but their coming was not generally known so that they did not get as warm a reception as would otherwise have been the case. As it was, a small crowd assembled to greet them, and gave visible signs of the welcome which is most assuredly theirs.

On leaving the train it was seen that they comprised a family of five, and all were carrying such of their goods as they possessed, which were tied up in bundles. The father, to the buttonhole of whose coat was tied a label inscribed “Catholic Women’s League” naturally carried the most bulky of the parcels, and the mother, in addition to three bundles tied in cloths, carried an infant. There was a small boy, who looked proudly happy carrying what few of the family possessions he could, while his younger sister, in addition to a doll which she clasped as tightly as if fearing its confiscation, and which by its newness did not suggest its having come from Germany [sic] also bore a small package. They were a forlorn-looking group and pending the departure of the train which brought them, placed themselves and their belongings on a seat on the platform, but it was only a moment before the kindly Stationmaster, Mr PARKER, took them in hand and conducted them to a waiting landau, which was to take them to their new home.  There was an expression of unexpected pleasure as they took their seats in the carriage, and as it drove away a cheer from the spectators followed them.

Like most peasants in Belgium, they speak only the Flemish language which seems to be but little known.  Our representative went to Herons Ghyll on Wednesday to interview them, and found that they were comfortably housed with Mrs DUTTON [2], the wife of the coachman, who is away doing his duty to his country.  French is as unintelligible to these unfortunate people as English, but the Rev. Father BURT [3] was good enough to tell us what he had learnt of their sad history, and what an appalling tale it was.

Their home, he said, had been in a village between Louvain and Malines. The family had originally consisted of six children, but two of them had been killed by the Germans, whilst another had disappeared when they fled from a cellar in which they had been hiding, when opportunity offered for escape.  The parents fear that this child, though only a girl of ten years, has fallen into the hands of the Germans.

The sights of which they were eye witnesses are almost too terrible to relate.  They say that the German soldiers treated those of their Belgian captives in a most inhuman manner.

These refugees, it is said, actually saw the Germans cut off the ears, gouge out the eyes, and split the noses of their hapless prisoners, and in their own village, girls of only 10 years of age had their hands cut off, and even babies were bayonetted.  They were compelled to stand and see their own priest fetched out and shot in the road before their eyes.  On escaping they walked all the way to Ostend, and arrived in England absolutely destitute, the man not even having a shirt to his back.

Of the family the man appears to be the most obsessed with the fate which has befallen them, and spends much time brooding over their awful experiences and the loss of his children.  He has asked to be found some employment with which to occupy his mind, and this, we understand, will be given him on the estate where he is at present a guest.


In November 1914, the following appeared in the Belgian newspaper De stem uit België :

1914 11 13-VAN OOSTERWIJK Mr_Stables_Heron's Ghyll seeks news of family De_stem_uit_België-cropped
from De stem uit België , 13th November 1914 “Mr. A. VAN OOSTERWIJK [seeks news] of his family, c/o Stables, Heron’s Ghyll, Uckfield, Sussex.” (hetarchief.be)
A couple of months later, in January 1915, a longer request is published :

1915 01 15 VAN OOSTERWIJK family_Stables Herens_Uckfield_De stem uit België hetarchief be
from De stem uit België, 15th January 1915

VAN OOSTERWIJK. Alfons, from Campenhout-Sas [4], with wife Josephina Feyaerts and 3 children asks for news of his little girl 9 year old Julia and of his parents and brothers and sisters from Boortmeerbeek and also of Gustaaf van Oosterwijk and wife Louis Feyaerts and child and other members of the van Oosterwijk family and Isabelle de Pris from Wespelaar.  They are staying at Stables Herens, Uckfield (Sussex), England.

I think we can safely assume that this is the family referred to in the article.  I wonder whether they were ever reunited with their little girl?  I would so like to think so.  Perhaps I will find out more on my next visit to the archives in Brussels and Kew.


[1] James Fitzalan HOPE (‘J.F.’ rather than ‘F.J.’), nephew of the Duke of Norfolk, and Conservative MP for Sheffield Brightside 1900-1906 and Sheffield Central 1908-1929, bought the house at Heron’s Ghyll in 1891 from its then-owners, the Duchy of Norfolk,.  A Roman Catholic, he commissioned the building of a Catholic Church near the house.  St John the Evangelist was opened in 1897 and consecrated on 7th September 1904.  The Belgian family very probably worshipped in this church.

Although Heron’s Ghyll strictly-speaking comes under Buxted, that the HOPE family had some connection with the village of Fairwarp is evidenced by the fact that in 1911 J.F. POPE was President of the Fairwarp Cricket Club (Sussex Express, 27th October 1911)

Mrs HOPE – or Lady RANKEILLOUR she would become when her husband was raised to the peerage in 1932 – received the Elisabeth Medal from the King and Queen of the Belgians for humanitarian work during the First World War.  In addition to helping this family of refugees, and maybe others, she was responsible for the work of equipping and running 35 soldiers’ huts in England and France which were organised by the Catholic Women’s League of which she was for a time President.

1911 Census DUTTON Herons Ghyll

[2] The DUTTON family lived at The Stables, Herons Ghyll, where Albert Edward DUTTON was employed as Coachman and chauffeur.  I am not sure where he was in October 1914, but he was first in the Sussex Yeomanry, and then, in June 1915, he was in the Royal Navy, a motor driver serving with the RNAS (Royal Naal Air Service) on HMS President II.  In August 1917 he was posted to the East Mediterranean , where he remained until 31 March 1918, becoming an Air Mechanic with the RAF on its formation the following day* (UK Royal Air Force Airmen‘s records of the First World War – Source:Ancestry/Fold3)

dutton-albert-ernest_ww1-raf-muster-roll_fold3.jpg
Albert Ernest DUTTON 205948 on RAF Muster Roll (Source:Fold3)

Albert and his wife Caroline (nee STEVENS) had 3 children, Frank (b.1908), Albert (b.1910) and Gladys (b.1911).  It must have been quite a crush in the 5-roomed house when the Belgian family moved in in October 1914.

[3] The Reverend Father Emile BURT was parish priest at St John the Evangelist Heron’s Ghyll from 1910-1922.

[4] In August 1914 the region around Kampenhout-Sas was the scene of fierce fighting. All houses in the vicinity were destroyed, and the hamlet of Relst was totally wiped off the map. In Boortmeerbeek 85 houses were burnt.  In Wespelaar 47. The parish priest of nearby Buken (Bueken), Fr H. DE CLERK, was one of those in the Diocese of Mechelen (Malines) murdered in 1914.

List of priests murdered by Germans_Malines_ Diocese
List of priests murdered in the Diocese of Mechelen (Malines) in the First World War


 

Belgian National Day 1918

Just one hundred years ago, the Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells held its usual celebration of Belgium’s National Day on 21st July – their fourth in exile – but unlike in the early years of the war, it didn’t seem to merit a mention in the local press.  However it was covered in the Belgian newspapers in the UK – in the Metropole d’Anvers of 3rd August, and the Independence belge of 7th August 1918 (source hetarchief.be)

I find the articles particularly interesting as we learn that the ‘flu’ was already in evidence; that M. Florent COOSEMANS was still President of the Club Albert, and the Secretary was now Mr LEFEVER [1]; there is also the first (and so far only) mention I have found of a recently-created Belgian school in the town, under the directorship of Professor WOLVERSPERGES, and thanks to the efforts of M. Albert LE JEUNE, Honorary President of the Club Albert.

July 21st that year fell on a Sunday – it’s not clear whether the celebrations were held on that day, or spread across the week.  There had been no resident Belgian Catholic priest in the town since Abbé LEMMENS had returned to Belgium in August 1915 [2], but Abbé PEETERS, we are told, made a point of travelling up from his home in St Leonards to sing the traditional Te Deum and address his compatriots.

My blog-posting record being currently at an all-time low, I thought that rather than take weeks to write my own account of the festivities, I’d offer a (rough) translation of the article from the Metropole newspaper. Here goes :

From La Metropole d’Anvers, 3rd August 1918

Belgian National Day in the Belgian colony of Tunbridge Wells

“This year, as in previous years, the Belgians of Tunbridge Wells were keen to celebrate their national holiday in a worthy manner.

“Apart from a few “influenced” by the Flu”, all made it their duty to attend the Te Deum sung by Father PEETERS, who had insisted on going to Tunbridge Wells for this purpose, and followed by an address by him full of patriotism, of a sense of resignation to the current sorrows and deprivations but also of hope for the future of Belgium and in the unity of all parties and all opinions to guarantee the rebirth of our dear homeland after the victory.

“A part quelques «influencés» par le « Flu » tous se sont fait un devoir d’assister au Te Deum chanté par M. l’abbé Peeters….”

“The singing of La Brabançonne by all present closed this moving ceremony.

“In addition, a charming little family celebration organised by the Club Albert, with the generous help of M. and Mme Albert LE JEUNE, brought together all the Belgians at the Club’s premises last Saturday.

“Without a doubt, the highlight of this celebration was the distribution of prizes to the pupils of the Belgian school. This school – of recent creation – is also the work of M. Le Jeune. It complements the education most of our children receive in English schools. Professor WOLVERSPERGES has been entrusted with the directorship of the school, and he carries out his task with a rare devotion and a marvellous success

“The ever-increasing number of pupils is evidence of how much his work is appreciated. M. Albert LE JEUNE, the worthy Honorary President of the Club Albert, opened the meeting with a speech reminding us of the importance of the day we were celebrating, as well as our duties as Belgians. M. COOSEMANS, President of the Club, thanked M. LE JEUNE, as well as Mme LE JEUNE who had also made it her duty to attend the meeting, for their tireless devotion to the colony; M. LEFEVER, Secretary of the Club, on behalf of the fathers and mothers of the families, thanked Professor WOLVERSPERGES for his dedication to fulfilling his difficult task, and congratulated him on the results obtained.

“Then M. WOLVERSPERGES, after reading the list of Prize Winners, gave the floor to his pupils, who, in French and Flemish, in verse and prose, provided proof of their declamatory talents.  Finally the distribution of the prizes, followed by the traditional tea, concluded this delightful gathering to the satisfaction of all, young and old.”


Brabanconne
La Brabançonne”  – translation by The Times correspondent in Brussels during the war years


[1] Auguste LEFEVER and his wife Gabrielle DECAUX were from Antwerp, and in Tunbridge Wells with their four primary-school-aged children, Jean, Marie-Louise, José, and Albert, and M. Lefever’s sisters.  Clearly the family would have been very pleased that the children were at last able to receive tuition in their own language.  I wonder which Tunbridge Wells school they attended.
[2] Click here to link to an article about the Belgian Comunity and St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church

 

Tunbridge Wells goes to Belgium…

Yesterday I gave a short talk at a Studienamiddag organised by the Study Centre for Flemish Music (Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Musiek), with specific reference to some of the Belgian musicians and artists who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War.  It was short and fairly superficial, but I thought I’d post it here for posterity, with some links.

There were a number of very interesting papers delivered, not least one by Jan Dewilde on Belgian women composers Eva Dell’Acqua and Maria Matthijssens which included a performance by Belgian soprano Eloise Mabille of two songs., “Villanelle” (dell’Acqua) and “Chaperon rouge” (Matthijssens).

My own presentation was followed by a performance of Frederic Bonzon’s “En Ardenne” by young oboist Balder DendievelYoung oboist Balder Dendievel and pianist Kristien Devolder take their bows after a performance of Frederic Bonzon's "En Ardennes" in Ghent in February 2018

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the evening concert.  Had I done so I would have heard a performance of Peter Benoit’s Troisieme fantaisie, op. 18 which was played in a concert at the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells on 1st January 1916 by Jef Denyn.


Frederic Bonzon (1850-1926) and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Belgian refugees, 1914-1919

Gooie namiddag, damens en herren….

It’s a great honour to be with you today to share in this 20th anniversary celebration and I thank Jan Dewilde for inviting me to speak. I must also thank him for his help in finding out more about Professor Bonzon when all I had was a scrap of music and an address.

But to start at the beginning –

As you will know only too well, during and after the terrible events of August 1914, something like a quarter of the population of Belgium fled, on foot, in carts, taking what they could carry, in many case with only the clothes they stood up in. Perhaps members of your own families were among them.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like.

They fled to neutral Holland, to France and to the United Kingdom – 250,000 people – men women and children – made their way across the English Channel by whatever means possible, and in such numbers that in one week after the fall of Antwerp on 10th October 1914, 26,000 fugitives landed at Folkestone.

And among their number were 64 year old Professor Frederic Bonzon, his wife Marie Therese Faviesse and their grown-up daughter Marthe who arrived in Folkestone on 9th October 1914. We don’t know how they travelled, simply that they arrived and were soon in lodgings in the town.

Folkestone had become a veritable “town of refugees”.  Many of those arriving were destitute, others were able to support themselves.

In early September the British Government had offered hospitality to any refugees from Belgium for as long as it was needed and soon a Central Refugees Committee was established in London followed by voluntary committees around the country.  A scheme was put in place for receiving and registering the refugees.

On arrival in Folkestone, most people were sent to dispersal centres in London set up in public buildings like Alexandra Palace and Earls Court. The local committees around the country identified possible lodgings in their towns and villages and the refugees were then sent on to them.

Others went directly from Folkestone to the care of a local committee, and this was the case for the Bonzon family for in December 1914, just in time for Christmas, they are at a house in Tunbridge Wells – 11 Linden Park – a large 16-roomed house round the corner from the famous Pantiles. Unfortunately the house no longer exists. [1]

They shared the house with at least two families from Ostend  – the Tanghe-Vanhercke-Groven family and the sister of painter James Ensor, her daughter and family and the painter’s friend and muse, Augusta Boogaerts and her nephew.

The house was one of those provided by the local refugees committee and had been lent rent-free by a local builder.  The fact that the Bonzon family was given lodgings in one of the houses provided by the Committee suggests that they had left Antwerp with very little and were not able to support themselves.

The Tunbridge Wells committee had been set up by the Mayor in September/October 1914 and during the ensuing 4 1/2 years the committee looked after a total of 297 men, women and children, providing housing, clothing, and schooling, and often helping them find local employment.  This number was augmented by those who were able to support themselves or stay with friends.

We learnt recently that one of the self-supporting families – the Meeus-Havenith family from Antwerp, chose to come to Tunbridge Wells simply because the novelist Thackeray had once lived there!

So what was the town the Bonzon family and others found themselves in, like?

the_pantiles2c_28royal29_tunbridge_wells2c_kent2c_england2c_ca-_1895
The Pantiles (Wikipedia)

Tunbridge Wells in 1914 was – a fashionable spa town,a royal municipal borough and market town, about  55 kms from London and about the same from Folkestone,with a population of about 36,000. It owed its existence to the discovery of its iron-rich spring water (similar to that in Spa here in Belgium) in the 17th century after which  it became a favourite destination for royalty and fashionable society. In the 19th century the town began to attract more permanent residents. The surrounding countryside was ideal for walks and rides and early guide books of the town described the country houses that could be visited in the area.

But by the autumn of 1914 it had also become a military centre

Soldiers encamped on Tunbridge Wells Common 1914
Photo: Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery

with thousands of soldiers encamped in tents on the Common and billeted in empty houses in the town.

A notable feature of the town, was its religious-ness – it was predominantly Church of England and non-conformist, and well-known for its more Puritan tendencies. In 1914 there were 9 Anglican Churches, 9 non-Conformist chapels, a Quaker Meeting House and one Catholic church, St Augustine’s

St. Augustine's with school
St Augustine’s Church and school

which became the spiritual home of the Belgian community, the scene of national celebrations such as the Belgian National Day and King’s Day, of marriages and baptisms, and sadly also of funerals.

A refugee priest from Mechelen, from SS Peter and Paul Church, Fr Louis Lemmens , ministered to the refugees until he left the town in mid-1915 when his place was taken by Fr Josef Peeters from Lint.

In November 1914 St Augustine’s was packed for the celebration of King’s Day, the traditional Te Deum was sung, led by a choir under the direction of one of the town’s refugees from Belgium – none other than the great Beiaardeer Josef Denyn who had arrived from Mechelen in October 1914 with his wife, their 6 children and his wife’s sister.

Denyn family

This photo of Jef Denyn and his family – for which I am most grateful to Koen Cosaert of the Koninklijke Beiaardschool in Mechelen – was probably taken some time in late 1917 as missing from it are Mr Denyn’s  youngest daughter Emma and his wife Helene who tragically died during the family’s exile in Tunbridge Wells, in 1916 and 1917.  Their graves are in the town’s cemetery. [2]

Tunbridge Wells already had a thriving musical life, with choral societies and orchestras, 2 or 3 theatres, and of course frequent concert parties & this continued throughout the war years,  with performances not only by local musicians, professional & amateur, but also by visiting Belgian performers, often themselves refugees, such as Mme Helene Feltesse from the Brussels Opera and the violinist Eugene Ysaye.  [In fact, Mr Isaye himself spent a few week in Tunbridge Wells in 1914 with his family (and their cook – and his Stradivarius. according to newspaper accounts) following their dramatic escape from Knokke in a fishing vessel.]  And concert programmes in the town included music by Belgian composers such as Peter Benoit and Eva dell’Acqua whose “Villanelle” we will hear later I believe.

Unfortunately I have no found evidence of works by Profesor Bonzon being performed in Tunbridge Wells, nor of any performances given by him or his family – maybe simply because the oboe doesn’t lend itself to solo performance in the same way as piano, violin or voice.

In March 1915 Prof Bonzon was joined in Tunbridge Wells by his son Charles’s wife, Laure, and her 6 year old son Andre – they had been in Manchester, in the north of England – and in May 1915 Laure returned to Belgium, leaving her son with his grandparents and aunt. And the following year the family moved to apartments in a house nearer the centre of the town – just along from the Opera House.

28 Dudley Road
28 Dudley Road (Photo Caroline Auckland)

We have a photo of little Andre Bonzon with a group of Belgian children in the garden of a house in Tunbridge Wells.Belgian ChildrenThe photo belongs to the LIMPENS family, descendents of the MEEUS-HAVENITH family from Wynegem, whose grandparents are also in the photo – see the little boy in school uniform – probably Frederic MEEUS.  Schooling was provided free of charge in local primary and secondary schools, but there was also a Belgian School in Tunbridge Wells, set up – probably in a private house – in  early 1918 to provide instruction in French and Flemish to the children, alongside their English education.

And while the children needed to continue their education, the adults wanted and were encouraged to work – though it was made clear not at the expense of local workers.  Tunbridge Wells did not have the industry of other parts of the country, where the refugees were employed in munitions or aircraft factories for example, but there were certainly opportunities to work – as domestic staff in one of the big houses for example and Professor Bonzon’s daughter, Marthe, obtained a position as a Governess with the Talbot family in nearby Bidborough – possibly in response to this advertisement placed in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 7th May 1915 :

Newspaper Ad Required immediately young French of Belgian lady to take charge of one little girl - Mrs Talbot, The Grey Lodge, Bidborough

BONZON Marthe 1919 04 17 CoA Blue cropped
Marthe Bonzon Registration document

Marthe worked for them until  she and her family returned to Antwerp in April 1919.

Going home was never far from the minds of the refugees, and finally after the Armistice in November 1918, this was possible – thought not until early 1919. The British government chartered ferries to provide free passage first to Antwerp and then also Ostend,   The local committee in Tunbridge Wells reported that by May 1919 all the Belgian refugees had returned .

The Belgians had been in Tunbridge Wells for four and a half years and in that time were gradually absorbed into the life of the town.  In the first year the newspapers were full of stories and reports of Belgian National Day and King’s Day and social events held at the Belgian social club, the Club Albert.

Their presence now is hardly known about, but they did leave at least two memorials of their stay.

cw-emson-bust

 

The first is an almost life-size bust of the then Mayor, Mr Whitbourn Emson, who was chair of the refugees committee during the whole period.

It was commissioned and paid for by the Belgian Community from sculptor Paul Van Den Kerckhove, himself a refugee who stayed in the town with his wife and two daughters, and it stands today in the lobby to the Council Chamber in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall.

 

The other “memorial” is much smaller but perhaps more important – certainly from a researcher’s point of view –

SCOTT cover 1and that is a souvenir album signed by some 180 Belgians and presented to two Tunbridge Wells sisters, Amelia and Louisa Scott, who both worked tirelessly to help the refugees from Belgium.

Indeed Amelia Scott was awarded the Golden Palms of the Order of the Crown by the King of the Belgians for her work.

But the souvenir album was a very special thank you from the people she helped, and it was there that I came across this :

BONZON_Music 8

Professor Bonzon’s Oboe piece – En Ardennes – alongside which he wrote Hommage respectueux de l’auteur a Mesdemoiselles Scott Tunbridge Wells le 22 juillet 1916…

…And this seems a fitting place to stop as the moment has arrived for you to hear that very piece of music.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today.  And please don’t hesitate to talk to me or contact me later if you would like to know more, or indeed if you yourselves can add to our research. [3]

Thank you.


[1] This morning  I found this fascinating blog post by Ed Gilbert about 10 Linden Park – maybe number 11 was similar?

[2] See earlier blog The refugees who never went home

[3]  Afterwards I spoke to a gentleman who believes a member of his family married one of Jef Denyn’s daughters (and will let me know), and to Koen Cosaert, Director of the ‘Jef Denyn’ Beiaardschool in Mechelen, who told me that in letters held in their archives Jef Denyn wrote that the family chose Tunbridge Wells as it was cheaper than London!  I also discussed with Mr Cosaert the possibility of a Carillon piece by W.W. Starmer’s being played in Mechelen in June 2019 – fingers crossed…