A tangent I had to follow…

The writings of Irish Roman Catholic Katharine Tynan-Hinkson have distracted me this morning, and I have come across the following moving extract which has both a Belgian and a Tunbridge Wells and Southborough connection.

Katharine Tynan and her family lived for less than a year (1910-1911) in Southborough and in 1916 she published a volume of reminiscences entitled ‘The Middle Years’ in which she was less than complimentary about the townspeople. There were however a number of exceptions as the extract shows : the Irish curate in question was the Rev. Horace Stirling Townsend Gahan, Curate of St Thomas’s Church, who went on to be Anglican Chaplain in Brussels in 1914.

“There was another person who came and went that summer and played cricket with the children on the Common, who has recently acted a part which shall not be forgotten. Some time in the preceding winter the vicar’s wife had asked me to tea to meet the new curate. “Such a good Irishman !” she said. “You will be so much interested in each other.” I was rather doubtful about it. The new curate belonged to a militant Irish Low Church family, and since I had come to Southborough I had become militant on my own side — at least when I came up against the other militancy. Still the Vicar’s wife and I were friends, so I agreed to go, having protested that we should probably make a battle-ground of her drawing-room.

“The new curate was certainly very Irish to look at – he had in fact the face of an Irish priest: he was Irish, although he hated the Pope ; and there was enough kindly Irish about him to make me forget my antipathies. And I really think he forgot his.

“Of course, his views were very narrow – too narrow even for Southborough – and he banned other people’s cakes and ale in a way which made other people rather indignant. But – perhaps it was the Irish – beginning with a strong prepossession against him, I came in time to like him. There was a streak of the poet in him and the visionary. I used to meet him on the Common talking to the cows, and he would observe the birds by the hour together.

“It was an odd association between him and the Catholic Irish children, who, as soon as they were free, would sally down the Common to his lodgings and call to him peremptorily to come and play cricket. He used to come as soon as he could and play as seriously as though he were playing for his school or ‘varsity. Other children came and joined in, and Father Pat, as we had learnt to call him, used to keep them in order, even the small boy who owned the ball and wanted to go home with it when he was “Out.”

“Southborough generally came to call him Father Pat, and when he was so addressed publicly he took it very well, ascribing its origin to the proper source, but bearing no malice.

“The other day Father Pat, the Rev. Horace Gahan, turned up as the fearless and faithful chaplain of Edith Cavell’s last hours, the man to whom we owe an immense debt for his witnessing to that lofty soul. I could have foretold it of him. He would be perfectly fearless, devoted and sincere. A good hand to hold in those last moments on earth. For what he was to Edith Cavell, for the immeasurable service he rendered us by setting her there on her pedestal for us to see plain – Sancta Editha – let us remember and praise Father Pat of the Great Summer.”

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Those who helped

I’ve been hunting down the local people who worked tirelessly to support the town’s Belgian guests and have put up some new pages about the two committeees looked at so far – that for Clayton’s Farmhouse, Ashurst, and the Mayor’s Borough Committee. Some members of the former also sat on the latter. The research (and writing up) is ongoing.  Some great stories.

It is notable that most of them were women. Many of them were working in VAD hospitals, at least one as Commandant and several as nurses, others were Poor Law Guardians, all were wealthy and influential, and many were related to each other either by blood or marriage.

I’ve found links to J.M. Barrie, Edward Lear, and Alfred Tennyson, to a writer of well-known hymns, to the theatre director Tyrone Guthrie, to the women’s suffrage – and anti-suffrage – movements.

Too many tangents off on which to go!

Revenons à nos moutons…

The small committee to manage arrangements at Clayton’s Farmhouse was set up by Mr and Mrs JOHNSTONE of Burrswood, Groombridge in early September 1914.  Clayton’s closed as refugee accommodation in December 1915, as all the residents had either returned home to Belgium, or taken up work in other parts of the UK.

Later in September 1914, the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells set up the Borough Committee (the which worked until all the refugees had returned home in May 1919.

Queen Elisabeth MedalSeveral members of the Mayor’s Committee were awarded the Ordre de la Reine Elisabeth for humanitarian work by the King of the Belgians :Nora GUTHRIE, Annette WILSON, Susan POWER, Anna McCLEAN, Amelia SCOTT, Gabrielle LeJEUNE, and Alice BURTON..goldenpalm

Amelia SCOTT, Mayor EMSON, and W.C. CRIPPS were awarded the Palmes d’Or de l’Ordre de la Couronne.

Well now, I’m supposed to be concentrating on our visitors – to be honest, I’ve so much material, I don’t know where to start.  I’ll take the plunge in the next few days.

“Bravo, ye sons of Belgium”

Local sympathy for Belgium’s plight was expressed in a variety of ways, including literary…

Crabtree, Charles

Charles CRABTREE, known locally as ‘the Grove poet’, of 14 Guildford Road, Tunbridge Wells, a retired draper and house agent, originally from Yorkshire, via Hastings, and a regular contributor of verse to the local press, composed the following poem which was published in the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser of Friday 28th August 1914 :

To Belgium 

Bravo, ye sons of Belgium,
Who checked the tyrant's course;
Ye bade defiance to his hordes,
A ruthless, devilish force.

Checkmated by your valiant King,
The boaster's plans upset,
His eye upon your sister, France,
He has not got there yet.

We see your homesteads now destroyed,
We hear your cry afar;
Your bloodstained fields of corn laid low
By this infernal war.

But all the world is looking on
In praise of Belgia's deeds,
And will not fail to comfort you
And help to meet your needs.

Let England's purse-strings now once more
Be loosed to help our friends,
Whose deeds are ringing round the earth,
And try to make amends.

To succour those whose homes are lost,
Widows and crippled sons,
The victims of the Kaiser's pride
And his destructive guns.

Let every home in England
Send contributions soon
For countless crying children
Now waiting for your boon.

 

Britain responds to the human crisis

As refugees from the fighting on the Continent arrived in Dover and Folkestone, individual schemes were launched to welcome them, notably by Pastor Adolphe Petersen, Protestant Minister in Folkestone, himself a Belgian, and by writer and journalist, Flora Shaw, Lady Lugard who set up the War Refugees Committee (WRC) in London [Read more here (external link)]

On 9th September 1914, Herbert Samuel, President of the Local Government Board (LGB – forerunner of the Ministry of Health) announced in Parliament that the British Government had offered the “hospitality of the British nation” to Belgium’s war victims, and that the WRC had agreed to cooperate with his department “in the reception and distribution of the refugees“.  The work was now to be shared by the LGB, the WRC, and the Belgian War Relief Committee in Folkestone.

Appeals for offers of hospitality around the country were published in the press, and the Mayors of large Boroughs and the Chairmen of County Councils and large Urban District Councils, were asked by the LGB to form local sub-Committees and establish whether anyone in their district would be willing to offer hospitality to Belgian refugees.  Those committees were asked to communicate directly with the WRC who would be responsible for the distribution of refugees from London to various local centres.  Offers of homes were also invited for the “many educated persons of good families” who had lost homes and employment through the war, where they could be received as guests until they were able to return to their own country[1].

On 25th September a circular from the LGB announced that 6,000 refuges had so far been provided with accommodation, “fewer than expected”, and that offers of hospitality so far exceeded demand. However the situation changed after  the fall of Antwerp on 10th October, and a circular went out asking for further offers, as help was now  needed for nearly 12,000 refugees who had arrived at Folkestone.

In Tunbridge Wells, the first to respond would appear, from perusal of the local press, to have been Mr and Mrs Johnston of Burrswood, Groombridge, who in early September offered Clayton’s Farmhouse in Ashurst.  At the same time, the local branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society, based at St Augustine’s RC Church in Tunbridge Wells, appealed to Catholics in the town to come forward with offers of accommodation, free or otherwise.

These brave Belgian people have nobly done their share in opposing the German aggression, and let us do our best to show our gratitude – Mayor Whitbourn Emson

On 25th September, Mayor Charles Whitbourn Emson called a meeting of interested parties to discuss his proposal to open a Municipal Fund and set up a Borough Committee to help the refugees arriving in the town.

He wrote to the Belgian War Relief Committee in Folkestone:

Dear Sir –

I am pleased to inform you that arrangements have been made in this Borough to accommodate 30 Belgian Refugees, not of the peasant type, but of the middle class and tradespeople – 1 group of 12 to be accommodated in one house; 2 groups of 4 each to be accommodated temporarily in a lodging house; 2 groups of 3 each, ditto; 2 groups of 2 each, ditto.

I shall be glad if you can arrange for these refugees to arrive in Tunbridge Wells on Friday afternoon, and if you will kindly let me know prior to their arrival the names, relationships, and any other particulars relating to those sent, and the time of arrival.

You will no doubt arrange before they are sent that they are medically examined and have a clean bill of health.

Yours faithfully

Chas. W. Emson, Mayor.

The first families arrived at Clayton’s Farm in early October and by the end of that month nearly 100 refugees had been placed in accommodation by the Tunbridge Wells Committee.

In the months that followed, gifts of money, furniture and even homes, poured in, and lists appeared in the local press each week of those who had contributed.  Local Suffragette Miss Olive Walton, local WSPU Secretary, was one of many who made a donation of £5.

Belgians 001


[1] Letter from Lord Lytton published in the Aberdeen Journal, 17 September 1914 [British Newspaper Archive]