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

 

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