“Where is my mother and my father?” Arthur GHISLAIN from Quaregnon

In addition to civilians, there were also wounded and medically-discharged (‘réformés’) Belgian soldiers in Tunbridge Wells.  I have already mentioned a couple – Prosper DEBERGH and Richard VAN HAWEGHEM (about whom, I know, I have promised more). Another has occupied my thoughts the past few days – Arthur GHISLAIN of the 9e régiment de ligne, no. 58,855.

At 10pm on Sunday 25th October 1914, Miss Katherine POTT, Commandant of the Speldhurst and District Voluntary Aid Detachment (Kent 74) of the British Red Cross Society [1], received notice to call up her Detachment and prepare for the arrival of wounded Belgian soldiers at the newly converted Bidborough Court – a house to the north of Tunbridge Wells which had been kindly lent by Mr Henry Joseph WOOD J.P. of The Manor House in West Malling.  By 11pm all her staff of 20 qualified members, plus probationers and support staff, had arrived and were ready to receive the wounded.

Forty Belgian soldiers arrived at Tunbridge Wells Central Station around 1 in the morning and were conveyed to Bidborough Court and Royal Victoria Hall Southborough.  By 5am they had all been attended to.

“The first call, on Sunday, October 25th, 1914, would have tested the efficiency of a much more experienced staff, for thirty Belgians were sent at the shortest notice direct from the trenches at Dixmude ; but everything was ready, and all was carried through without a hitch, the Speldhurst Men’s Bearer Squad rendering most useful assistance.”  Kent’s Care for the Wounded (1915)

The Tunbridge Wells Advertiser of 30th October reported that one of the wounded Belgians, “a very young man named Arthur GHISTRAIN”, kept asking “Where is my mother and father?”

He was from the 9th ‘régiment de Ligne’, service no. 58,855, and the article went on to wonder what he would find when he returned to his “beloved chateau” – presumably a reference to the Petit-Château barracks [2] in Brussels where the 9th régiment de ligne was quartered in 1914 before being mobilised, rather than to his family home.

Searches for an Arthur GHISTRAIN proved fruitless, but then I struck gold in the online Archive of Belgian War Press : there I found an Arthur GHISLAIN, same regiment, same service number, and at Bidborough Court.  His home town is given as ‘Quargnon’ and I am guessing it should be ‘Quaregnon’, near Mons – I know, guessing is not an acceptable research method, but…

Arthur Ghislain, 9th regiment de ligne, 58,855, from Quargnon ?(Quaregnon?), seeks his parsnts. Bidborough Court, Tonbridge Wells.
Advertisement placed in L’Independence belge of 4th November 1914

On 6th November 1914, the Kent & Sussex Courier reported that one of the soldiers ‘who speaks a little English’ had discovered the whereabouts of his mother who was at Dover and that she had visited him that week ‘to their mutual delight’.  Was this young Arthur? I hope so…

I wonder what became of him? I believe he survived the war, though only because his name does not appear on the online Belgian War Dead Register

And there’s a tantalising reference on Facebook [3] to an Arthur GHISLAIN in Quaregnon who was a champion ‘balle-pelote’ player in 1934.  Now I wonder…

Please do get in touch if you can add to his story – merci – thank you – dank u well.


[1]  “During WW1, Tunbridge Wells would have a total of 18 VAD hospitals (not all at the same time), since it was particularly suited to VAD World War I criteria:
– being reasonably close to Folkestone and Dover, both major ferry ports;
– it had a great number of large houses, which could be ideal as auxiliary hospitals and many of which were either unoccupied or occupied on only a seasonal basis;
– its population had a significant surplus of women, who were generally seen as the natural carers of the sick and ill and by inference, the wounded.”    from  The Shock of War – Chapter 6: How Tunbridge Wells coped with the military-wounded (John Cunningham and Ed Gilbert) (2014)

[2] From 1950-1985 the ‘Petit Chateau’ in Molenbeek St Jean was the recruiting and selection centre of the Belgian Army.  Since 1986 it has been a reception centre for asylum seekers.

[3] Mons 2015 – Le Grand-Ouest a Quaregnon : Souvenir 103. Je me souviens que le club de jeu de balle du Rivage attribuait chaque année le grand prix Pierre Demars, du nom d’un excellent joueur d’autrefois. Le comité invitait toutes les équipes de nationale. J’avais huit ou neuf ans. C’étaient des équipes de haut niveau, le tournoi attirait la grande foule. C’est ça qui m’a donné l’envie de jouer. Mes camarades et moi, on voulait s’y mettre mais on ne savait pas jouer. Monsieur le curé Van Vlezemans, qui était un amateur de jeu de balle, nous a initiés. Le dimanche (on n’avait rien comme distraction, à l’époque, à part la messe et le patronage), on allait jouer. C’est comme ça que ça a commencé. Et puis, Arthur Ghislain est arrivé. Il avait fait partie de l’équipe de 1934 (qui a joué la finale du championnat de Belgique). Il nous a pris en main. À l’époque, je ne savais pas livrer. Il paraît que je servais comme une fille. Le service, c’est tout un art ! Il faut savoir synchroniser certains mouvements sur un temps très bref : coup de rein, impulsion de la balle, retournement… Il nous a appris tout ça. Et puis, on y a mis du sien. On s’est entraînés : le mur de l’école, c’était notre fronton. Je ne sais pas comment il tient encore ! Un bête mur de briques, pas du tout lisse, donc les balles pouvaient aller n’importe où ! Pas d’autre entraînement que celui-là. Des heures et des heures, on tapait. Boum, boum, boum ! Il nous tombait des gouttes comme ça ! Notre secret, c’était le mur !

 

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