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 ; 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 , 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.”
 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.
 Click here to link to an article about the Belgian Comunity and St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church
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 Dendievel
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. 
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?
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
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
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.
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. 
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.
We have a photo of little Andre Bonzon with a group of Belgian children in the garden of a house in Tunbridge Wells.The 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 :
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.
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 –
and 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 :
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. 
 This morning I found this fascinating blog post by Ed Gilbert about 10 Linden Park – maybe number 11 was similar?
 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…
So many potential blogposts are racing around my head that nothing has been written down for months. Today I came across an interesting connection and thought I’d write it up here while I remember.
In preparation for a talk I shall be giving in Ghent, Belgium, next month, I have been looking at the Belgian artists and musicians who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War, and the homes they lived in whilst here.
Searches in the British Newspaper Archive and of Censuses on Ancestry.co.uk showed that this address was occupied in 1901 by retired surgeon, Dr George ABBOT [sic], and his wife Edith, an “ex-drawing teacher” who were also “of 2 Rusthall Park”. By 1911 they were living at the latter address, but their name was still linked to the Upper Grosvenor Road house as is evidenced, I believe, by this advertisement from the
only a month before the DAVELUY-ENSOR family moved in. I wonder whether they rented all the available rooms or just the flat?
And who was Dr George ABBOT? His obituary in the Kent & Sussex Courier of 16 January 1925 revealed him to be a well-known and highly-respected local resident, retired ophthalmic surgeon, former Town Councillor, and (in some people’s eyes) property speculator, who was also
the founder of an eye and ear dispensary for the poor at Sheffield House on The Pantiles which led eventually to the establishment of the Eye and Ear Hospital of which he was Hon. Surgeon 1878-1896;
the instigator of Technical Classes in the basement of the hospital in 1890 which eventually grew to such an extent that the Technical Institute was opened at the foot of Mount Sion before being taken over by the Borough Council and moving to new premises first in Calverley Road and then, in 1902, Monson Road;
a geologist and founder of the Tunbridge Wells Natural History Society in the early 1880s, and later the South-Eastern Union of Scientific Societies;
and most of all, through the Natural History Society, responsible for the establishment and endowment of the local Museum, then at 18 Crescent Road (1).
“Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery was created by the Tunbridge Wells Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1885, founded by Dr George Abbott. The Museum
In 1922, a portrait of him painted by Charles Tattershall DODD was presented to the Borough in recognition of his public services.
His artist wife was the daughter of pioneering photographer Henry Peach ROBINSON (1830-1901). (2)
I’m not sure what the relevance is to the Belgian refugees, other than that Dr ABBOTT was one of their landlords, but I rather like the idea that there is a connection between the founder of the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery and this part of the town’s history.
And maybe the ABBOTT family’s artistic connections made them the perfect landlords for the family of another artist…
Or perhaps it was just coincidence!
Note : There will be an illustrated talk about Tunbridge Wells Museum and its Collection by Dr Ian Beavis, the Museum’s Research Curator, on Tuesday 27 February, 2 – 3pm Discover more about the history of the Museum and its key collections in this fascinating talk. The Museum holds collections of regional and national importance including outstanding collections of art, natural history, archaeology, photography, craft, toys and much more.
£3 (Friends of the Museum) and £4 (Non-Friends) (payable by cash only on the day)
Booking essential, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) In the premises which had been the office of the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) 1910-1918 and the NUWSS-run War Relief Clothing Depot 1914-1917 – another coincidence!
We are now the other side of Tunbridge Wells Belgian Festival 2017. It was a busy weekend, of beer, Belgians, walking and talking.
There were also some slightly less Belgian elements.
Highlights: Refugee Grandmother hoped they could come to Tunbridge Wells in 1914 after reading Thackeray novels. Reading in a diary about the day the Mayor’s bust was presented to the town in 1915. Going into Wetherspoons (The Opera House). Listening to French and not knowing what was going on.
If you would like to walk the Belgian Community Heritage Trail, there are lots of maps around the town, or download one.
Above image is a photo of a postcard in Tunbridge Wells Museum
Not a lot of blogging has been going on as I recover from our little Belgian Week back in July, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been busy! I thought I’d share a creative writing piece which was the result of a workshop organised at Tunbridge Wells Museum over the summer by local writer Caroline Auckland for the Friends of the Museum as part of Heritage Open Days 2017.The piece was inspired by the Tunbridge ware exhibits in the Museum – I had previously discovered a link between Tunbridge ware maker Thomas Barton and the town’s refugees from Belgium.
Here it is. I hope you enjoy it…
Inspired by the Thomas Barton Tunbridge ware collection in Tunbridge Wells Museum
As she stood before the cabinet containing her precious Tunbridge ware, Mary Ann Figgett wondered what her guests would be like – well, not exactly guests – they were actually lodgers – but she knew she would have to look after them, treat them like friends. So had said the written instructions she had received from Mrs Guthrie of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee: treat them like friends, put yourself in their shoes – and please serve them coffee not tea.
Three women were coming to stay, refugees from war-torn Belgium, “plucky little Belgium” whose Army and people had slowed down the German advance across Belgium, at great cost to themselves, and so protected England from invasion. She remembered the Mayor, Charles Whitbourn Emson, saying in the autumn of 1914 that, as the brave Belgians had stood up to the invader, they must all show their gratitude by helping those from that country now taking refuge in Tunbridge Wells.
Miss Figgett was used to lodgers. For many years she and her sister Lizzie had lived with their father’s sister Mary Barton, and her husband Thomas, in their house on Mount Ephraim – the quaint old house known as the Tunbridge Ware Manufactory and Repository – where in addition to working in the shop and around the house, they had helped their aunt run the apartments rented out to visitors. One family she remembered with particular fondness – Mrs Gielgud and her two little boys who with their nursemaid had spent the Easter holidays with them in 1901. They had kept in touch for a while, and she still treasured the photograph Mrs Gielgud had sent her after the birth of little Arthur John some three years later.
Aunt Mary had died in 1891 and Uncle Thomas had felt the blow keenly. He had had a stroke not long after the Gielguds’ stay, and his two nieces had nursed him until he had finally succumbed to his illness on 14th July 1903. He had left everything to Mary Ann. A kind and generous man, well-loved in the town as well as by his family, he had considered his nieces his adopted daughters, and had also been guardian to a young dressmaker, Fanny Thompson, who had lived with her widowed mother in the Gilead Terrace cottages just along Mount Ephraim. Mary Ann remembered Fanny’s wedding – she and Lizzie had been bridesmaids, and Uncle Thomas had proudly walked the bride down the aisle of Christ Church, and afterwards entertained the guests to the wedding breakfast in his own home. He had taught her much about hospitality and generosity and caring for those less fortunate than oneself.
After his death, “the Misses Barton”, as they were known by so many in the town, had stayed on at the Mount Ephraim house, and continued to make up and sell Tunbridge ware items in the shop, as well as rent out the apartments. She remembered how hard it had been to keep everything going, and when her sister Lizzie’s health began to fail they realised the time had come to move to more manageable – and hopefully modern – accommodation.
40 York Road had just nine rooms (as opposed to the fifteen of 86 Mount Ephraim) – space enough for her and Lizzie, and a couple of lodgers. But since Lizzie’s death nearly a year ago in November 1915, the house had seemed too big and very empty, and so she had decided to respond to the Mayor’s request for hospitality for some of the Belgians in the town.
There had been a Belgian family – an aunt and uncle and their half a dozen little nieces and nephews – living two doors down at number 44 the previous year. They had fled the city of Antwerp in the autumn of 1914 and told her many stories of the hardships they had suffered on their journey to England. How she had felt for the little children when they described being taken to say goodbye to their parents who were staying behind, not knowing whether they would ever see them again! They were very interested in the pieces of Tunbridge ware she still owned, and she was able to tell them that there was a connection with their home country as her uncle had always told her that the inspiration for Tunbridge Ware was similar pieces made in the town of Spa in Belgium. They told her that Spa was in the Ardennes mountains near the German border. It was the part of their country first invaded by the Germans and now under occupation. They had told her that Tunbridge Wells reminded them all of holidays they had spent in Spa, that the waters there were just like the Tunbridge Wells water : rich in iron, and just as liable to stain everything a rusty red. The similarities were comforting, but at the same time made them long more and more for home.
Mary Ann hoped that by opening her doors to some of their compatriots she could both give them some comfort in their exile and fill the emptiness in the house. One of her lady guests, Mme Sperlaeken, was, she understood, about her own age and spoke English; the other two were her unmarried daughters. This would be their seventh home in Tunbridge Wells in the two years they had been here. She was determined that they should not have to move again.
It was nearly time. Just one last thing to do, and as she placed three carefully-chosen pieces of Tunbridge ware on the table in the guests’ sitting-room, she heard female voices outside in the street. She took a deep breath, and concentrated very hard as she went to open the door:
“Bonjour Madame. Bienvenue à ma maison. Vous êtes chez vous.”
Alison MacKenzie September 2017
The first Belgian family referred to is the COOSEMANS-BOEYNAEMS family. Read their story in this guest blogpost by Cyriel Boeynaems here
The Belgian town of Spa (Wikipedia link), the original spa town, produced wooden ware (“bois de Spa”) from the early 17th century. The wooden objects were made from natural wood or from wood soaked in the ferruginous spa waters giving it a greyish or brownish tint; many of these objects were subsequently decorated in various ways, mostly with gouache but also with Indian ink, by encrusting mother-of-pearl, ivory or precious metals. Early Tunbridge ware was also painted.
Louise SPERLAEKEN (nee VAN DE WALLE) and her grown-up daughters Georgina and Yvonne were from rue Royale/Koninklijke straat, Ostend, and moved into 40 York Road in September 1916 according to their registration documents (held in the National Archives in Brussels). It’s not clear when they actually arrived in Tunbridge Wells but a list of refugees from Ostend published in “De Vlaamsche Stem” on 26 September 1915 shows that Mme SPERLAEKEN was then at 26 Guildford Road.
According to the registration documents, they also lived at numbers 8, 38 and 58 Upper Grosvenor Road, 20 and 30 Guildford Road (but no mention of 26), and 44 Lime Hill Road… Hopefully they were able to stay at Miss Figgett’s apartments until they left Tunbridge Wells.
Oh and finally, here’s a transcription of the 1901 Census entry for 86 Mount Ephraim (Ref RG13/752) : Kate and Frank GIELGUD’s third child, Arthur John GIELGUD, the future Sir John GIELGUD, actor and director, was born on 14 April 1904, followed by sister Frances Eleanor in 1907. I wonder whether they spent any other holidays in Tunbridge Wells?
*Sarah Elizabeth, known as Lizzie according to an article n the Kent & Sussex Courier which I could probably find if you would like the reference.
It is a pity that we no longer have the complete correspondence to and from the Boeynaems family who fled to England during WW1, especially as the letters sent from the refugees’ addresses in England may contain important material. But that exchange of letters has not yet been found. Only seven letters and a dozen postcards, all sent to England, have been preserved. This was enough to make up a puzzle, one with many missing pieces. No full story, rather a list of events and locations.
At the outbreak of the First World War the family of Florent Boeynaems and his wife Marie Coosemans had 14 children. They lived in Antwerp at no 5 Prinsstraat. By profession father Florent Boeynaems was a notary.
Florent Boeynaems X Marie Coosemans
Age in 1914
Ferdinand (Fernand) 1889-1918
Jean (Jan) 1897-1969
Florent (Flor) 1901-1980
Pierre (Piet) 1903-1986
Joseph (Jos) 1906-1984
Marie Louise (Mimi) 1908-2004
Jacques (Jaak) 1909-1995
Mother Marie Coosemans was the half-sister of Florent Coosemans, chairman of the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells during WW1. Florent Coosemans was married to Louise Martin. His father Ferdinand Coosemans married twice. His first wife passed away shortly after Marie Coosemans’s birth in 1866.
Ferdinand Coosemans 1°X Maria Van Welde
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923
Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans 1866-1946
Ferdinand Coosemans 2°X Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel
1828-1926 1836 – 1906
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947
1913 was a glorious year for the Boeynaems-Coosemans family. Two silver jubilees. Father Florent Boeynaems celebrated his 25th anniversary as a notary. And the couple also celebrated 25 years of marriage in November.This seemed the best moment to gather the children together for a family photo. A unique picture because the Boeynaems children looked as they did just before leaving for England.
When the German troops were on the outskirts of the city of Antwerp on 7 October 1914, the Civil Guard of the city of Antwerp was dissolved. Paul Boeynaems had served in the Civil Guard since 1912 as an artilleryman. In the grip of fear and horrible stories, people fled to the Netherlands in panic and large numbers.This was also the case with the Boeynaems family.
The Boeynaems children left without their parents. According to a story recorded by Marie-Louise Boeynaems in 1999, the children gathered back in the parental house in the Prinsstraat and had to say good-bye one after the other to their father and mother. From the Netherlands they travelled to England. Some of their uncles and aunts also fled to England: Uncle Florent and Aunt Louise (Coosemans-Martin), Uncle Charles and Aunt Caroline (Cnoops-Coosemans) and Uncle Gustave and Aunt Marie (Simons-Boeynaems / Marie was the sister of Florent Boeynaems). It is not clear whether other family members followed and if everyone left together with the children. Even the exact date of departure remains unknown.
1914 The Boeynaems children were certainly all at a permanent address, either in the Netherlands or in England, by 13 October 1914. Other family members, including possibly their mother, Marie Coosemans, left the city when the first bomb hit Blindestraat in Antwerp. They stayed in Standdaarbuiten and Oudenbosch in the Netherlands. In a letter dated 13 October 1914 (from Standdaarbuiten), the children were informed about the confused situation in the Netherlands. Everyone was looking for family members there. The van Meerbeeck family of Wilrijk near Antwerp was also being sought by other relatives. Hélène Boeynaems was engaged to, and married in 1915, René van Meerbeeck, son of the family in question. Due to fear and on the advice of the local authorities, Ferdinand and Paul were advised not to return to Belgium. But before the end of February 1915, the parents and Ferdinand were already back at home in Antwerp. Son Ferdinand returned home to help his father Florent Boeynaems who was in ill health.
(Cfr. Letters dated October 13, 1914 and March 2, 1915)
1915 To avoid censorship and loss of mail, the letters were sent to and from Belgium via intermediaries in the Netherlands. In the first months of the war, the Boeynaems family had two intermediaries Mr. Reinemund and Mr. Mattheezen in Bergen op Zoom. Paul and Jean Boeynaems left England and travelled to France to offer themselves as volunteers in the Belgian Army. Paul signed up in Rouen on 19 February 1915 and Jean did the same in Parigné-l’Evêque on 29 April 1915. Both brothers kept in touch with the rest of the family in England via their sister Marthe. She became the point of contact of the family in England. From the address on a card from Paul Boeynaems it becomes clear that Marthe and probably the other children were at 22 Alwine Mansions, Wimbledon, London on 14 March 1915. Was this the first refugee address in England? Meanwhile, the state of health of father Florent Boeynaems deteriorated. He had already received the last rites. Hélène Boeynaems and her brother Hubert had to return urgently to help in the family. The letter asking for help was dated 26 March 1915 and was addressed to Hélène Boeynaems at 44 York Road,Tunbridge Wells via an intermediary, Mr. Van Nieuwenhuize. The trip was arranged in collaboration with Mr. Léon Van Nieuwenhuize who stayed at 8 College Road, Harrow, London.The brother of Alice Van Nieuwenhuize also had to return to Belgium and it is probable one of the small Boeynaems children travelled with them. The journey was via Vlissingen (Flushing) in the Netherlands.
In Antwerp, the brothers Ferdinand and Hubert tried to save their father’s notarial practice. Ferdinand was training to be a notary and was a welcome help in the practice. Brother Hubert mainly helped in the administration. As planned Hélène married René van Meerbeeck in the summer. Paul Boeynaems started officer training in Bayeux (F) in July 1915. As an ex-civil guard he was deployed as an instructor. Jean Boeynaems left for the Front.The brothers kept in touch and saw each other during a military leave in De Panne in Belgium. The Boeynaems children moved from York Road to Capilano, 154B Upper Grosvernor Road, Tunbridge Wells. They were there certainly in August 1915. Sometime later in the year they moved to 19 Beltring Road, Tunbridge Wells. Here they definitely were on 26 November 1915. At the end of August 1915, Marthe Boeynaems received a postcard from her sister Hélène in which she told her about her marriage with René van Meerbeeck. The postcard was sent via an intermediary in Moensel near Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
The three youngest Boeynaems children posing in Spring /Summer in St. John’s Recreation Ground in the immediate vicinity of 19 Beltring Road in Tunbridge Wells
Jacques and Ludovic wore their sailor suits as in the picture from 1913.
The war year of 1915 ended on a sad note. Father Florent Boeynaems and the children in England never saw each other again. Florent Boeynaems died on Christmas Eve 1915. He was just 55 years old.
(cfr. Letters dated 2 March 1915 and 26 March 1915 – postcards dated 14 March 1915, 20 April 1915, 1 August 1915, 16 August 1915, 26 November 1915 and17 December 1915)
1916 Paul Boeynaems requested his transfer to the Front and in February 1916 he joined the same regiment as his brother Jean. In a letter of 6 September 1916 we read that mother Marie Coosemans and her son Joseph Boeynaems were in Kerkom (Boutersem) in Belgium to visit Aunt Regina Van Welde. Regina was the sister of Maria Van Welde, the deceased mother of Marie Coosemans. They stayed for a few days. Joseph Boeynaems was no longer in England. Either he had always stayed at home, or he went to Antwerp with Hélène and Hubert in 1915. After the death of their father, the children in England received extra moral support from their uncle Gustave and Aunt Marie (Simons – Boeynaems). In Tunbridge Wells the Belgian refugees regularly paid tribute to the members of their reception committee. In July 1916 two special members of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee were honoured for their care, reception and committed engagement towards the refugees: the sisters Amelia and Louisa Scott. They received an album filled with all kinds of drawings, paintings, texts, poems and musical pieces, and the signatures and names of the Belgian refugees. In this album, “The Misses Scott Album”, were texts written by Florent Coosemans and his wife Louise Martin and also name cards with the names of the Boeynaems children, Marthe, Suzanne, Florent, Yvonne, Pierre, Jacques, Marie-Louise and Ludovic.In a letter to his sister Marthe, Ferdinand Boeynaems tried to make it clear that life in occupied Belgium was much worse than in England. There was a lot of hardship and scarcity. Forced by circumstances and in their own best interests, the children were encouraged by Ferdinand to stay in England. If necessary, they could move to another location and might also ask for advice from the rest of the family who were in situ or even from their brother Paul. Marthe was temporarily employed as a volunteer at the West Hall Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. It was one of the Red Cross’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals in Tunbridge Wells. Marthe was not a nurse but the hospital could use all available help; in the hospitals there were also Belgian wounded. She probably remained there for a while because her brother Paul sent her a postcard at that address in September 1916: West Hall Hospital, Chilston Road, Tunbridge Wells.
(Cfr.Postcards of 16 February 1916, 2 March 1916, 7 September 1916 and a letter of 8 September 1916)
1917 The children left Tunbridge Wells late in 1916 or early 1917. They moved to London and first settled in South Kensington: at 18 Onslow Gardens and 2 Gledhow Gardens. In that same year, they moved to 21 Russell Square in central London. This was their last address in England. They moved in above the offices of the newspaper “De Stem uit België” (trans: “The Voice of Belgium”) published by Canon Floris Prims, well known to the family Boeynaems. Suzanne and possibly Marthe and Yvonne Boeynaems were also employed there in the office. In January or February 1917, Jean and Paul Boeynaems were on leave in England and were photographed with their brothers and sisters for a family photo. The photo was taken by Sketches – 72 Oxford Street, London.
In May 1917 a first child was born to Hélène Boeynaems and René van Meerbeeck: Monique van Meerbeeck. In that same year, the Boeynaems children learned of the death of their great uncle and great aunt Jean Hagenaers and his wife Louise Boeynaems, their great aunt Régina Van Welde and their aunts Marguerite Boeynaems and Marie Boeynaems. At the end of 1917 Marie-Louise Boeynaems had fallen ill at St Leonards-on-Sea School and spent a week recuperating with her sisters in London. Son Florent who was on school holidays in London wrote a long letter to his brother Pierre with all the news from 21 Russell Square and his experiences at his new school in Norwood.
(Cfr. Postcard of 25 March 1917, letter of 10 December 1917)
1918 In January Marthe Boeynaems received news from Antwerp from her sister Hélène and her brother Joseph. The postcards were sent from the Netherlands through the intermediary of Mr. Van Herck, a stone merchant in Sluiskil Terneuzen. To mislead the German occupier and to make the name of the final recipient clear in writing the address, Marthe’s first name was linked to the intermediary’s last name. Hubert sent a postcard to Eug. De Roeck in England for news about the death of Marie Boeynaems, the wife of Gustave Simons. This card also went through Terneuzen.
Hélène van Meerbeeck and little daughter Monique were visiting the family in Prinsstraat.
Hubert – Ferdinand
Hélène – mother Marie Coosemans – Monique – Joseph
In the background, between Joseph and Ferdinand, is Paul Boeynaems’s picture in military uniform
Jean Boeynaems was wounded in the war and taken to a hospital in Le Havre (F) on 1 October. Paul Boeynaems was mentioned in dispatches on November 8 during the liberation of the Ertvelde canal during the final offensive. Yvonne Boeynaems returned to Antwerp in late 1918.
On the day of the Armistice Ferdinand Boeynaems died, as a result of the Spanish flu. Joy quickly turned to sadness. Not long before, he was smiling in a family photo at home in Prinsstraat.
1919 Two letters of 9 and 10 January were the only letters from England to home in Belgium that have been preserved. In these we read that Suzanne Boeynaems was still in London. She wrote to her sister Yvonne that many refugees had already left. She also announced the departure of the René Dieltiens family,of the Denijn family and also of Mrs. Brusselmans. It is not known when all the Boeynaems children followed. After the Christmas holidays 1918/1919, Pierre and Florent Boeynaems went back to school in Upper Norwood. Jean Boeynaems left the army on 6 August 1919 and Paul on 15 August 1919. Not everyone returned to Antwerp. Marthe Boeynaems had become engaged in the meantime to a doctor from Kortrijk, Karel Depla. They married in London in 1920 and had six children. But fate struck again. The Second World War proved fatal for her. She died during a bombing raid in London in 1940. Her children and grandchildren remained in England. (cfr Letters of 9 and 10 January 1919)
As soon as it was possible the children were sent to boarding schools in England. The boys Florent, Pierre, Jacques and Ludovic Boeynaems first went to school in Stroud in Gloucestershire. Florent left the school in Stroud and moved to St Mary’s College in Upper Norwood in southeast London. Later Pierre, Jacques and Ludovic went to St Joseph’s College in Malvern Wells in Worcestershire. In 1919 Pierre and Florent Boeynaems were in St Mary’s College in Upper Norwood. Ludovic stayed for some time at St Paul’s Convent in Brighton. Marie-Louise went to Convent school in St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings, in the county of Sussex.
Who is who
Many letters and postcards mention names that to date remain unidentified. Some readers may be able to clarify some of these names. And some names may also belong in another story. Comments are always welcome.
The unknown individuals mentioned:
* On the flight from Belgium in 1914: Nuchelmans, Sluyts, Scrivener?
* In a letter of March 26, 1915: Leo or Léon Van Nieuwenhuize, Alice Van Nieuwenhuize and her brother?
* On a postcard of November 1915 from Jean Boeynaems: René De Jongh and Etienne?
* On a postcard of 16 February 1916 from Jean Boeynaems: Adolphe, Emmanuel, Arnold Van Kerkhoven, Lahaye, Dupuis?
* On a postcard of March 25, 1917 from Jean Boeynaems: Miss Lombart (sent a package to him)?
* In a letter of 10 December 1917 from son Florent Boeynaems:
– Mrs Maria Van Bavel (was employed by ” De Stem uit België”)?
– Mme. Josephine (was employed by “De Stem uit België”)?
– Bouveroux, Willemsen, Maes, teachers?
– Arsène, Piesen, Cornelius, fellow students of Florent and Pierre Boeynaems?
– Mr. Fernand Robert?
13 June 2017
I am so grateful to Cyriel for this moving and personal account of his family’s experiences. If you can help with any of his queries, or can add to his family’s story, please contact him via this blog’s Contact page. Thank you.
Het is doodjammer dat men niet meer kan beschikken over de volledige briefwisseling van en naar de familie Boeynaems die tijdens WO 1 naar Engeland was gevlucht. Vooral de brieven verzonden vanuit de vluchtadressen in Engeland hadden waardevol materiaal kunnen bevatten. Maar die briefwisseling is tot op heden niet teruggevonden. Enkel een zestal brieven en een tiental postkaarten naar Engeland zijn bewaard gebleven. Toch genoeg om een puzzel te leggen. Het werd een puzzel met veel ontbrekende stukjes. Geen volledig verhaal, eerder een opsomming van gebeurtenissen, locaties….
Bij het uitbreken van de 1ste Wereldoorlog telde het gezin van Florent Boeynaems en zijn echtgenote Marie Coosemans 14 kinderen. Zij woonden in de Prinsstraat nr. 5 te Antwerpen. Vader Florent Boeynaems oefende er het ambt uit van notaris.
Florent Boeynaems X Marie Coosemans
Leeftijd in 1914
Ferdinand (Fernand) 1889-1918
Jean (Jan) 1897-1969
Florent (Flor) 1901-1980
Pierre (Piet) 1903-1986
Joseph (Jos) 1906-1984
Marie Louise (Mimi) 1908-2004
Jacques (Jaak) 1909-1995
Moeder Marie Coosemans was de halfzuster van Florent Coosemans, de voorzitter van de Albert Club in Tunbridge Wells tijdens WO1. Florent Coosemans was gehuwd met Louise Martin. Zijn vader Ferdinand Coosemans trad tweemaal in het huwelijk. Zijn eerste echtgenote overleed kort na de geboorte van Marie Coosemans in 1866.
Ferdinand Coosemans (1828-1926) 1°X Maria Van Welde (1829-1866)
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923
Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans 1866-1946
Ferdinand Coosemans (1828-1926) 2°X Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel (1836-1906)
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947
Hortense Coosemans 1873-1935
Berthe Coosemans 1875-1950
In 1913 waren het nog hoogdagen bij de familie Boeynaems-Coosemans. Twee zilveren jubilea. Vader Florent Boeynaems vierde zijn 25- jarig ambtsjubileum als notaris. En het echtpaar was in november ook nog 25 jaar gehuwd. Dit leek het uitgelezen moment om de kinderen te verzamelen voor een groepsfoto. Een unieke foto want zo zagen de kinderen Boeynaems er uit vlak voor hun vertrek naar Engeland.
Als op 7 oktober 1914 de vijandelijke Duitse troepen al aan de rand van de stad Antwerpen stonden werd de Burgerwacht ontbonden. Paul Boeynaems was sedert 1912 in dienst bij de Burgerwacht als kanonnier. Bevangen door angst en verward door vreselijke verhalen sloeg de bevolking massaal en paniekerig op de vlucht naar Nederland. Zo verging het ook met de familie Boeynaems.
De kinderen Boeynaems vertrokken zonder hun ouders. Volgens een verhaal van Marie-Louise Boeynaems, opgetekend in 1999, verzamelden de kinderen zich achteraan in het ouderlijk huis in de Prinsstraat en moesten één na één afscheid nemen van hun geliefde vader en moeder. Via Nederland reisden ze door naar Engeland. Ook sommige van hun ooms en tantes vluchtten naar Engeland: oom Florent en tante Louise (Coosemans-Martin), oom Charles en tante Caroline (Cnoops-Coosemans) en oom Gustave en tante Marie (Simons-Boeynaems / Marie was de zus van vader Florent Boeynaems). Het is niet duidelijk of nog andere familieleden volgden en of iedereen samen vertrok. Zelfs de exacte datum van vertrek blijft onbekend.
1914 De kinderen Boeynaems waren alleszins op een vast adres,in Nederland of in Engeland, vóór 13 oktober 1914. Andere familieleden waaronder misschien ook moeder Marie Coosemans verlieten de stad pas toen de eerste bom viel op de Blindestraat in Antwerpen. Ze hielden halt in Standdaarbuiten en Oudenbosch in Nederland. In een brief van 13 oktober 1914 werden de kinderen ingelicht over de verwarde toestand in Nederland. Iedereen was daar op zoek naar familieleden. Ook de familie van Meerbeeck uit Wilrijk werd door andere familieleden opgezocht. Hélène Boeynaems was verloofd en zou in 1915 huwen met René van Meerbeeck, zoon van de bedoelde familie. Ingegeven door angst en op aanraden van de plaatselijke autoriteiten werd er aan Ferdinand en Paul gevraagd om niet terug te keren naar België. Maar nog vóór het einde van februari 1915 waren de ouders en Ferdinand al opnieuw thuis in Antwerpen. Zoon Ferdinand keerde uiteindelijk terug naar huis om zijn vader Florent Boeynaems te helpen die gezondheidsproblemen had.
(cfr. Brieven van 13 oktober 1914 en 2 maart 1915)
1915 Om censuur en verlies van post te vermijden werden de brieven vanuit en naar bezet België verzonden via tussenpersonen in Nederland. In de eerste maanden van de oorlog had de familie Boeynaems twee tussenpersonen Dhr. Reinemund en Dhr. Mattheezen die in Bergen op Zoom verbleven. Paul en Jean Boeynaems verlieten Engeland en reisden door naar Frankrijk om zich daar aan te melden als oorlogsvrijwilliger bij het Belgisch Leger. Paul ondertekende op 19 februari 1915 een verbintenis in Rouen (F) en Jean deed hetzelfde in Parigné-l’Evêque (F) op 29 april 1915. Beide broers hielden contact met de rest van de familie in Engeland via hun zuster Marthe. Zij werd het aanspreekpunt van de familie in Engeland. Met het adres op een kaartje van Paul Boeynaems aan zijn zus Marthe wordt het duidelijk dat Marthe en waarschijnlijk ook de andere kinderen op 14 maart 1915 in London Wimbledon, Alwine Mansion 22 verbleven. Was dit het eerste vluchtadres in Engeland? Ondertussen was de gezondheidstoestand van vader Florent Boeynaems zodanig verergerd dat men hem de laatste sacramenten had toegediend. Hélène Boeynaems en haar broer Hubert moesten dringend terugkeren naar huis om hulp te bieden. De brief om hulp dateerde van 26 maart 1915 en was via een tussenpersoon, Dhr Van Nieuwenhuize, geadresseerd aan Hélène Boeynaems in Tunbridge Wells, York Road 44. De reis werd geregeld in samenwerking met Dhr Léon Van Nieuwenhuize die in London Harrow, College Road nr. 8. verbleef. De broer van Alice Van Nieuwenhuize moest ook terugkeren naar België. Indien men het wou mocht ook één van de kleine kinderen Boeynaems meereizen. De reis ging langs Vlissingen.
In Antwerpen deden de broers Ferdinand en Hubert er alles aan om het notariaat van hun vader te redden. Ferdinand was kandidaat-notaris en was een welkome hulp in het notariaat. Broer Hubert was voornamelijk behulpzaam in de administratie. Wat gepland was ging door en Hélène huwde in de zomer met René van Meerbeeck. Paul Boeynaems begon in juli 1915 een officiersopleiding in Bayeux. Als ex-burgerwachter werd hij ingezet als instructeur. Jean Boeynaems vertrok naar het Front. De broers bleven met elkaar in contact en zagen elkaar tijdens een militaire verlofperiode in De Panne. De kinderen Boeynaems verhuisden van de York Road naar Tunbridge Wells, Capilano, Upper Grosvernor Road 154 B. Ze waren er alleszins in augustus 1915. Iets later in het jaar verhuisden ze naar Tunbridge Wells, Beltring Road 19. Hier waren ze zeker op 26 november 1915. Eind augustus 1915 ontving Marthe Boeynaems een postkaart van haar zus Hélène waarin ze het relaas deed over haar huwelijk met René van Meerbeeck. De briefkaart werd verstuurd via een tussenpersoon in Moensel bij Eindhoven in Nederland.
Ludovic,/ Marie-Louise / Jacques
De drie jongste kinderen Boeynaems poseerden in de lente/zomer in St. John’s Recreation Ground in de onmiddellijke omgeving van Beltring Road 19 in Tunbridge Wells
Jacques en Ludovic droegen hun matrozen kraagje zoals op de foto uit 1913.
Het oorlogsjaar 1915 eindigde in mineur. Vader Florent Boeynaems en de kinderen in Engeland bleven voor altijd gescheiden. Florent Boeynaems overleed op de vooravond van Kerstmis 1915. Hij was amper 55 jaar.
(cfr. Brieven van 2 maart 1915 en 26 maart 1915, postkaarten van 14 maart 1915, 20 april 1915, 1 augustus 1915, 16 augustus 1915, 26 november 1915 en 17 december 1915)
1916 Paul Boeynaems vroeg zijn overplaatsing naar het Front en kwam in februari 1916 terecht in hetzelfde regiment van zijn broer Jean. In een brief van 6 september 1916 lezen we dat moeder Marie Coosemans en haar zoon Joseph Boeynaems in Kerkom (Boutersem) waren om tante Regina Van Welde te bezoeken. Regina Van Welde was de zus van Maria Van Welde, de overleden moeder van Marie Coosemans. Ze verbleven er enkele dagen. Joseph Boeynaems was dus niet in Engeland. Ofwel was hij altijd al thuis gebleven ofwel was hij in 1915 meegekomen naar Antwerpen met Hélène en Hubert. Na het overlijden van hun vader kregen de kinderen in Engeland extra morele steun van hun oom Gustave en tante Marie (Simons- Boeynaems) . In Tunbridge Wells brachten de Belgische vluchtelingen geregeld hulde aan de leden van hun opvangcomité. Als blijk van dank voor de opvang, het onthaal en de onverdroten inzet werden in juli 1916 twee bijzondere leden van het Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee gehuldigd: de gezusters Amelia en Louisa Scott. Zij ontvingen een album volledig versierd met allerlei tekeningen, schilderijtjes, teksten, gedichten, muziekstukken en handtekeningen en namen van de Belgische vluchtelingen. In dit album “The Misses Scott Album” werden teksten geschreven door Florent Coosemans en zijn echtgenote Louise Martin en ook naamkaartjes gekleefd met de namen van de kinderen Boeynaems Marthe, Suzanne, Florent, Yvonne, Pierre, Jacques, Marie-Louise en Ludovic.
In een brief aan zijn zus Marthe probeerde Ferdinand Boeynaems duidelijk te maken dat het leven in bezet België er veel slechter aan toe was dan in Engeland. Er was veel ontbering en schaarste. Noodgedwongen door de omstandigheden en voor hun bestwil werden de kinderen door Ferdinand aangemaand om in Engeland te blijven. Desnoods mochten ze verhuizen naar een andere locatie en hierover eventueel raad vragen aan de rest van de familie die ter plaatse was of zelfs ook aan hun broer Paul. Marthe was tijdelijk tewerkgesteld als vrijwilliger in het West Hall Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. Het was één van Voluntary AidDetachment hospitalen van het Rode Kruis in Tunbridge Wells. Marthe was geen verpleegster maar het hospitaal kon alle hulp gebruiken; in de hospitalen lagen ook Belgische slachtoffers. Ze bleef er waarschijnlijk een tijdlang overnachten want haar broer Paul zond in september 1916 een kaartje op dat adres: Tunbridge Wells, West Hall Hospital, Chilston Road.
(cfr. Postkaarten van 16 februari 1916, 2 maart 1916, 7 september1916 en een brief van 8 september 1916)
1917 De kinderen verlieten Tunbridge Wells eind 1916 of begin 1917. Ze verhuisden naar London en vestigden zich eerst in South Kensington: London South Kensington, Onslow Gardens 18 en London South Kensington, Gledhow Gardens, 2. Nog in datzelfde jaar verhuisden ze naar London, Russell Square 21. Dit werd hun laatste adres in Engeland. Ze trokken in boven de kantoren van de krant “De Stem uit België” uitgegeven door kanunnik Floris Prims, goed gekend in de familie Boeynaems. Suzanne en wellicht ook Marthe en Yvonne Boeynaems werden er tewerkgesteld in de administratie. In januari of februari 1917 waren Jean en Paul Boeynaems met verlof in Engeland en lieten zich samen met hun broers en zussen fotograferen voor een familiefoto. De foto werd genomen door Sketches – Oxford Street, 72 London.
In mei 1917 kregen Hélène Boeynaems en René van Meerbeeck hun eerste kindje, Monique van Meerbeeck. In datzelfde jaar betreurden de kinderen Boeynaems het overlijden van hun grootoom en groottante Jean Hagenaers en zijn echtgenote Louise Boeynaems, hun groottante Régina Van Welde en hun tantes Marguerite Boeynaems en Marie Boeynaems. Eind 1917 was Marie-Louise Boeynaems ziek geworden op school in St Leonards-on-Sea en kwam een week rusten bij haar zussen in Londen. Zoon Florent die met schoolverlof was in Londen vertelde in een lange brief aan zijn broer Pierre al het nieuws uit de Russel Square 21 en ook zijn belevenissen in de nieuwe school in Norwood.
(cfr. Postkaart van 25 maart 1917, brief van 10 december 1917)
1918 In januari ontving Marthe Boeynaems nieuws uit Antwerpen van haar zus Hélène en haar broer Joseph. De postkaarten werden verzonden via een tussenpersoon uit Nederland:
Dhr. Van Herck, een steenfabrikant in Sluiskil Terneuzen. Om de Duitse bezetter te misleiden en de naam van de uiteindelijke bestemmeling toch te verduidelijken werd in de adressering de voornaam van Marthe gekoppeld aan de familienaam van de tussenpersoon.
Hubert Boeynaems stuurde een postkaart naar Dhr. De Roeck in Engeland om nieuws te ontvangen omtrent het overlijden van Marie Boeynaems, echtgenote van Gustave Simons. Ook deze kaart ging via Terneuzen.
Hélène van Meerbeeck-Boeynaems en haar dochtertje Monique waren tijdens het Kerstverlof op bezoek in de Prinsstraat.
Hubert – Ferdinand
Hélène – moeder Marie Coosemans – Monique – Joseph
Achteraan op een kastje, tussen Joseph en Ferdinand, prijkt de foto van Paul Boeynaems in militair tenue
Jean Boeynaems raakte gekwetst en werd op 1 oktober afgevoerd naar een hospitaal in Le Havre (F). Paul Boeynaems kreeg op 8 november een vermelding in de dagorde van zijn regiment voor zijn vastberaden houding bij de bevrijding van het kanaal in de streek van Ertvelde tijdens het eindoffensief. Yvonne Boeynaems keerde terug naar Antwerpen op het einde van 1918.
Uitgerekend op de dag dat de wapens zwegen overleed Ferdinand Boeynaems. Hij stierf ten gevolge van de Spaanse griep. Vreugde sloeg al vlug om in verdriet. Niet lang voordien stond hij nog lachend op een familiefoto thuis in de Prinsstraat..
1919 De brieven van 9 en 10 januari waren de enige brieven vanuit Engeland naar het thuisfront die werden teruggevonden. Hierin lezen we dat Suzanne Boeynaems nog in London was. Ze schreef aan haar zus Yvonne dat veel vluchtelingen al vertrokken waren. Ze kondigde ook het nakende vertrek aan van de familie René Dieltiens, de familie Denijn en ook van Mevr. Brusselmans. Het is niet geweten wanneer al de kinderen Boeynaems volgden. Na het Kerstverlof 1918/1919 vervoegden Pierre en Florent Boeynaems alleszins opnieuw de school in Upper Norwood. Jean Boeynaems werd op 6 augustus 1919 met onbepaald verlof geplaatst en Paul Boeynaems op 15 augustus 1919. Niet iedereen keerde terug naar Antwerpen. Marthe Boeynaems had zich intussen verloofd met een arts uit Kortrijk, Karel Depla. Ze huwden in Londen in 1920 en kregen zes kinderen. Maar het noodlot sloeg opnieuw toe. De tweede wereldoorlog werd haar fataal. Ze overleed tijdens een bombardement op Londen in 1940. Haar kinderen en kleinkinderen bleven in Engeland.
(cfr.Brieven van 9 en 10 januari 1919)
Zodra het mogelijk was werden de kinderen ondergebracht in kostscholen. De jongens Florent, Pierre, Jacques en Ludovic Boeynaems volgden eerst onderwijs in Stroud in het graafschap Gloucestershire. Florent verliet de school in Stroud en verhuisde naar het St. Mary’s College in Upper Norwood in zuidoost Londen. Later gingen Pierre, Jacques en Ludovic naar het St Joseph College in Malvern Wells in het graafschap Worcestershire. In 1919 waren Pierre en Florent Boeynaems in het St.Mary’s College in Upper Norwood. Ludovic verbleef ook enige tijd in het St Paul’s Convent in Brighton. Marie-Louise vervoegde de Convent school in St Leonards-on-Sea bij Hastings in het graafschap Sussex.
Wie is wie
In heel wat brieven en postkaarten werden namen vermeld die tot op heden onbekend zijn gebleven. Misschien kunnen sommige lezers en lezeressen meer verduidelijking brengen bij sommige namen. En horen die namen wellicht ook thuis in een ander verhaal. Reacties zijn altijd welkom.
* Bij de vlucht uit België in 1914: Nuchelmans, Sluyts, Scrivener ?
* In een brief van 26 maart 1915: Leo of Léon Van Nieuwenhuize, Alice Van Nieuwenhuize en haar broer ?
* Op een postkaart van november 1915 van Jean Boeynaems: René De Jongh en Etienne ?
* Op een postkaart van 16 februari 1916 van Jean Boeynaems: Adolphe, Emmanuel, Arnold Van Kerkhoven, Lahaye, Dupuis?
* Op een postkaart van 25 maart 1917 van Jean Boeynaems: Mej Lombart (heeft pakje naar hem gestuurd) ?
* In een brief van 10 december 1917 van zoon Florent Boeynaems:
– Mevr Maria Van Bavel (was tewerkgesteld bij “De Stem uit België”) ?
– Mevr Josephine (was tewerkgesteld bij “De Stem uit België”) ?
– Bouveroux, Willemsen Maes, leraars ?
– Arsène, Piesen, Cornelius, medeleerlingen van Florent en Pierre Boeynaems ?
– Dhr Fernand Robert ?
Cyriel Boeynaems 13 juni 2017
Ik ben zo dankbaar voor Cyriel voor deze bewegende en persoonlijke rekening van de ervaringen van zijn familie.Als u kunt helpen bij een van zijn vragen, of kan toevoegen aan het verhaal van zijn familie, neem dan contact met hem op via de contactpagina van deze blog.Dank je. Alison MacKenzie