This is a piece I wrote in February 2014 for The Shock of War, but which had to be cut for space reasons. Since then, I have found out a great deal more about the family, and their extended family members who also came to Tunbridge Wells. More in Part Two…
In the National Archives in Brussels, among the papers relating to those Belgians who fled their country in 1914, tucked away inside a whole sheaf of letters regarding lost relatives and friends, and luggage gone astray, are two handwritten letters from Professor Joseph WILLEMS of Liege University, sent from 6 Lyndhurst Gardens, Tunbridge Wells, lamenting the loss of his 6 pieces of luggage which he had checked in at Ostend but which had not accompanied him to Tunbridge Wells, leaving him and his wife and their five children with only the clothes they stood up in.
There is no indication that they were ever reunited with their luggage, but that does not appear to have prevented the family from settling well into life in their temporary home. Professor WILLEMS became Honorary Vice-President of the Belgians’ “Club Albert”, and when Beechwood Sacred Heart Convent School opened its doors in February 1915, his two young daughters, 7-yr old Clementine and 8½ -yr old Christiane, were the first pupils to arrive. Their mother had been educated by Sacred Heart nuns in Belgium and would seem to have been quite involved in the life of the school, both before and after its opening.
“Our two little Belgians” as the Sisters called them, made the presentation to Reverend Mother on her feast day that year, and when Clementine was one of those who made her First Holy Communion in December 1915, most of the 11 relatives who attended were members of the Willems family.
Clementine and Christiane left the school in July 1916, and one can only assume that the family then returned home to Liege as no further mention of the family has, as yet, been found in Tunbridge Wells….
To be continued…