Guest blog post by Cyriel Boeynaems : The Boeynaems family during the First World War

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

         1860-1915                            1866-1946

Their children Age in 1914
Ferdinand (Fernand)                   1889-1918 25
Paul                                                1891-1958 23
Hélène                                           1892-1944 22
Hubert                                           1893-1961 21
Marthe                                          1895-1940 19
Jean (Jan)                                      1897-1969 17
Suzanne                                        1898-1982 16
Yvonne                                          1900-1986 14
Florent (Flor)                                1901-1980 13
Pierre (Piet)                                  1903-1986 11
Joseph (Jos)                                  1906-1984 8
Marie Louise (Mimi)                   1908-2004 6
Jacques (Jaak)                              1909-1995 5
Ludovic                                          1910-1996 4

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

    1828-1926                                1829-1866

Their children Married to
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923 Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans 1866-1946 Florent Boeynaems

Ferdinand Coosemans 2°X  Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel

       1828-1926                                 1836 – 1906

Their children Married to
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959 Charles Cnoops
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947 Louise Martin
HortenseCoosemans 1873-1935 Felix Goris
BertheCoosemans 1875-1950 Alfons Steyaert

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.

Boeynaems photo 1

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.

 Boeynaems 3a  Boeynaems 3b

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.

Ludovic /Marie-Louise/JacquesBoeynaems 4 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.

Boeynaems 6

 

 

 

-Yvonne/Florent/Suzanne/Paul-

 

-Jean/Marthe/Pierre/Marie-Louise-

 

-Jacques/Ludovic-

 

 

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.

Boeynaems 7a boeynaems 7b

Hélène van Meerbeeck and little daughter Monique were visiting the family in Prinsstraat.

 boeynaems 8

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)

Education

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?


Cyriel Boeynaems                                                                                                         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.

Advertisements

Where to begin? More questions than answers. The joys of research.

On 20th October 1917, Belgian soldier Louis Jean Albert TANGHE, 25, married Jeanne Marie Colette DEMEURISSE, 29, at St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Tunbridge Wells.  The ceremony was conducted by Catholic priest, Fr Joseph PEETERS, and local Registrar Arthur S. WISEMAN.

The marriage certificate is fascinating, not least because it brings together so many strands of our project research, and throws up so many questions.

I do already know the answers to some of them, but I’ll start with some of the questions without the answers, and perhaps the answers will conveniently provide future blog posts either on here or on the project blog which you will find at  http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/rtwbelgians [1]

1917 10 20 TANGHE-DEMEURISSEMarriage 001

Places :

St Augustine’s Church : the old church was on the corner of Hanover Road and Grosvenor Road, and was the spiritual home of most of the Belgian refugees.

  • Do we have an image of the building?
  • Is the wedding noted in St Augustine’s parish records?
  • Was it covered in the local pressBelgian press in exile?
  • What sort of a ceremony would it have been?  What language was it conducted in?
  • Why is the certificate signed by both a priest and a registrar?
  • Were there special regulations regarding the registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths among the refugees?
  • What day of the week was 20th October 1917?  Is that relevant?
  • What was happening in Tunbridge Wells/in Belgium at that time?
  • Not all refugees were Catholics – where did Protestant refugees make their spiritual home?

19 Monson Terrace : is this the same as 19 Monson Road?  If so, it was one of the properties where “apartment accommodation” was provided by the Borough Refugees Committee

  • Can we get a photograph?
  • Can we see inside?
  • Who was the landlord/landlady/owner of the property at the time?
  • Did any other refugees live there?

Rue Stockholm 25, and Rue de la Chapelle 34, Ostend : these are the addresses of the bride and groom.

  • What sort of properties were they and what can they tell us about the families who lived there?
  • Did they survive the two World Wars?
  • Can we get photos of the buildings?

People :

  • Do we have registration documents for the Belgians – Bride, Groom, Witnesses and Priest??
  • Did they have any relatives with them in Tunbridge Wells or elsewhere in the UK?

The Bridegroom : 25 yr-old Louis TANGHE was a Corporal in the Belgian Army, and from Ostend.  He did not sign the Scott Album in July 1916.  

  • Where had he been?  Was he a career soldier or a volunteer?
  • Was he invalided out of the Army to Tunbridge Wells, or simply on leave?   If the former, was he in one of the VAD hospitals in Tunbridge Wells?
  • Did he go/return to the Front after the wedding? Did he survive the war?
  • Were any other members of his family also in Tunbridge Wells?
  • Were there many wounded or medically discharged Belgian soldiers in Tunbridge Wells at that time?  Did they return to the Front?
  • Did refugee men in Tunbridge Wells join the Belgian Army? Were they expected to?

The Bride : Jeanne DEMEURISSE signed the Scott album as did a Mme DEMEURISSE.  They were also from Ostend. DEMEURISSE signature Scott album

The certificate gives the bride’s father Edmond DEMEURISSE’s profession as Professor of Music.  He didn’t sign the album.

  • Is Mme DEMEURISSE her mother?
  • Did the young couple already know each other from Ostend, or did they meet in Tunbridge Wells?
  • What were conditions like in Ostend in August 1914?
  • Where was her father? Can we find out anything about his musical career?  where he taught?
  • Did they have any relatives with them in Tunbridge Wells?  Or elsewhere in the UK?

Witness 1: A. H. J. VANHERCKEN

  • Who was he or she?  Another refugee?  Another soldier?  A relative?

Witness 2:  Oscar GROVEN – an Oscar GROVEN was Treasurer of the “Club Albert” in 1916

Tresorier Monsieur Oscar Groven_SCOTT Album

  • Are they the same person?
  • Is this Oscar GROVEN also the O. GROVEN who signed the Scott album with a drawing (a copy of a Punch cartoon – see below) alongside G. GROVEN and Gladys whose names also feature?
  • They also lived on Rue de Stockholm in Ostend – did they already know the bridegroom?
  • What was the “Club Albert”?

 

GROVEN drawing Scott Album_photo Anne Logan
Image from Album presented to the Misses SCOTT in July 1916 – Women’s Library @ LSE (Photograph (c) Anne Logan)

 

The Priest: Jos PEETERSAbbé PEETERS from Lint near Antwerp  (“Linth (Anvers)”) signed the Scott Album

  • Who was he?
  • Where did he live in Tunbridge Wells?
  • Can we find anything about his life before or after the war?
  • What was his status in the Community? and likely relationship with the Parish Priest, Canon Keatinge?

The Registrar: Arthur S. WISEMAN

  • What can we find out about Mr Wiseman? His family?
  • About the role of the Registrar in registration of war refugees, and of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Belgian community in Tunbridge Wells, as well as in the UK?

To be continued


Sources :

  • General Register Office (Marriage certificate)           
  • Final Report of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells Belgian Refugees Committee (May 1919) (my own copy)
  • Album given to the Misses Scott by the Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells (22 July 1916) – Women’s Library @ LSE   (All photos of the album, apart from the one credited to Anne Logan, were taken by me, Alison Sandford MacKenzie, on a mobile phone – with apologies for the poor quality)

    [1] I will add links to any answers or post them alongside the questions, so do check back!

Stanton House, Pembury

A quick post about the house in Pembury occupied by refugees M. and Mme. Albert LEJEUNE-KREGLINGER…

A Tweet today about George Llewelyn DAVIES prompted me to re-visit my research into the family who were linked by marriage to the ROBERTS family of Tunbridge Wells.

The Rev. Albert James ROBERTS had been vicar of Tidebrook Church, and his eldest daughter Mary was married to George‘s uncle, Maurice Llewelyn DAVIES.  Another of the Rev. ROBERTS‘s daughters, Lucy Maud ROBERTS, was on the Tunbridge Wells Refugees Committee.

The family were living on the Langton Road in 1901, and by 1911 Rev. ROBERTS had died and Maud was visiting her brother-in-law Maurice who had been widowered in 1902. I’m not sure where her home was, possibly 61 Upper Grosvenor Road, where, in Kelly’s Directory for 1914, a “Miss Roberts” and a C.H. Roberts (the initials of one of her brothers) are listed as living.

Today I discovered from the England & Wales Probate Calendar that Rev. ROBERTS‘s address when he died in 1905 was Stanton House, Pembury.  That was quite exciting – though probably irrelevant!

roberts-rev-albert-james_probate

In 1911, Stanton House was the home of South African-born businessman Samuel D’Urban SHEARING and his family.1911-stanton-house_pembury_england-census_15

 

1917-lejeune-and-pembury-rifle-range-compressed_courier-11-may

Mr S. D’Urban SHEARING was President of the Pembury Drill and Rifle Club, and in 1917 Monsieur Albert LEJEUNE became a Vice-President and opened the new Club.

“He hoped that after the war the same unity of purpose and brotherly feeling now existing between the Allies would be extended to mutual help in the development of industry and the establishment of a permanent peace.”

Perhaps the LE JEUNE family were staying with the SHEARING family rather than occupying the whole house.


Postscript : I believe one of their sons and his wife & children were fugitives to England in the Second World War – I have found the following account on the Poole Flying Boats Celebration website : How and why we moved to England in 1941


 

 

 

Lady MATTHEWS meets some of the Belgian refugees

Recently I have had cause to revisit the diaries of Lady MATTHEWS which are kept in the Imperial War Museum in London, and were written particularly with her young children in mind – Stephen and Esther were 3 and 2 respectively when war broke out, and she wanted to leave them a record of what life was like at the time.  The youngest, Bryan, her “war baby” as she called him, was born in 1917.

Annette Amelia MATTHEWS nee KITSON was the second wife of Sir John Bromhead MATTHEWS KC, who in 1914 was was Chairman of the County Bench, and they were both involved with social work in the area. Lady Matthews was also an early feminist, and was a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), serving as a Vice-President of the local branch and working in its War Relief Clothing Depot in their premises at 18 Crescent Road during the War.

1914 08 17 Lady MATTHEWS clothing depot
Lady Matthews’ Diary entry for Monday 17th August 1914 (IWM Documents.17087)

The Kent & Sussex Courier of 4th September 1914 announced the opening of the Depot for the collection and distribution of ‘new and partly-worn articles of clothing suitable for convalescent soldiers or their wives and families’.  By late October, the newspaper was reporting that ‘at the request of the Mayor, the Committee of the Clothing Depot of the NUWSS at 18 Crescent Road (a department of the Mayor’s scheme for the relief of distress) has also undertaken the collection and distribution of clothes for refugees, in addition to the collection and distribution for convalescent soldiers and civilians’.

Lady Matthews first records the presence of Belgian refugees in the town on Sunday 4th October, and soon she is writing of their visits to Crescent Road, and the stories they have to tell.

Below are transcriptions of the relevant entries. The stories speak for themselves. I may well add some comments in due course.

Note : other than the young couple Lady Matthews met in February 1915 following their marriage, and about whom I have written in a previous post (and therefore don’t include here) I haven’t (yet) been able to identify any of those she mentions.

Can you help?   Kunt u mij helpen?  Pourriez-vous m’aider a le faire?      Thank you…


Lady MATTHEWS writes…

In early November 1914, young man from Tournai came to the Clothing Depot :

He was 21, of service age, & therefore sent out of Belgium by his parents.  He was too shortsighted for service in his army – he would have been sent to the harvest fields in Germany, had he been caught.  He told me how he & his family hid in a cellar while the Germans entered Tournai. Only 800 soldiers (french) opposed them, but these sufficed to hold up the Germans for the necessary 24 hours, tho’ it meant death or imprisonment to practically all the 800.  The Germans immediately drink all the wine they find, & the burgomaster was taken in a motor to Brussels by an officer with a revolver but so drunk the officer’s head lay on the burgomaster’s shoulder.  At Brussels the burgomaster was asked told to sign a paper stating that the inhabitants of Tournai had fired on the Germans.  He refused, but he was not shot, as he expected to be.  In Tournai, the Germans burned 10 houses out of mere malice.

On Saturday 21st November 1914, it was the turn of a couple from Louvain : 

A young Belgian, an automobile mechanic & his wife came in for clothes to our clothing Depôt this week.  His history was quite a common one among refugees.  He lived near Louvain & fled to Antwerp.  When the bombardment began, this family had to quit owing to military orders.  They took refuge in Ostend and lived in a bathing machine for three weeks, husband wife & two children with one blanket between them.  The rain came through the roof, & they had but bread & water to eat & drink.  Then Ostend became a threatened mark & they left again, and came over to England, where the man says they are ‘very happy’.  We made him comfortable with overcoat, gloves, a suit, etc, & the wife also.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205286732
© IWM (Q 53223) A Belgian refugee family forced to live in a bathing machine at Ostend, August 1914

Wednesday 25th November 1914 :

This morning I was in our clothing Depôt & dealt with a Belgian, a musical artist who has lost his only son in the War.  His wife had lost her reason, & he did not even know where she is.   

Another man came in, with his family.  He had lived at the ill-fated Malines, where now only a dozen houses are standing.  His home is destroyed, and he & his wife & children fled to Bruges, Antwerp, Ostend, & so to England.

One Sunday in November, Lady Matthews entertained ‘a Belgian barrister and his dainty little wife’ to tea :

Neither can talk English.  They have a villa near Knocke on the Belgian Sea Coast, & a flat in Antwerp.  On Aug 4th they were at Namur with Madame’s parents.  They endeavoured to persuade their parents to leave Namur.  Madame’s father refused.  Madame and her husband reluctantly left, & went to Knocke.  They were warned to leave their villa about Aug 18th, in a hurry.  They left with each a small valise in their summer clothes & went to Ostend.  There an English gunboat consented to take them across.  The transit took 24 hours, owing to difficulties & cautions regarding mines.  They made their way from Chatham to London, where for 3 months they managed to live in a Boarding house on the few pounds they had in an available Bank.  Their income depends on shares in a Factory which is now a heap of ruins.  Their villa, left with unlocked doors, & unshuttered windows, must be looted, if not burnt by bombardment from the English monitors.  Of the parents, & the little sister, remaining at Namur, they have not heard one single word since parting from them.  And Namur was severely bombarded in August. 

M. & Madame get each 7/- a week f. the English Government for food.  The hostels are full of common people, & life is most difficult for differing classes in such close quarters.  We are trying to get some classes up so that by teaching they may earn a little, & a generous old gentleman is paying for some nice rooms where they are.

The Bread of Exile is bitter indeed.


Notes :

  • After February 1915, there seem to be no more mentions of the Clothing Depot or the Belgian refugees.  Maybe Lady Matthews stopped working there?  The Depot closed in December 1917 as the Belgians no longer had need of it and it was felt that the people of Tunbridge Wells could no longer be expected to give away clothes ‘so lavishly’ in face of the national demand for economy. During the years it was open, 11,000 garments had been ‘dealt with’. (Kent & Sussex Courier, 14th December 1917)
  • Private Papers of Lady Matthews – content description on IWM website : Extremely interesting illustrated four volume ms diary (111pp, 140pp, 172pp, and 132pp) written between August 1914 and November 1918 as a record of the First World War for her young children, with a particular focus on Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where she was living at the time, and including descriptions of: rising food prices; rumours over the progress of the war; the good levels of morale of the British and the atmosphere in Britain; the changes to Tunbridge Wells with the influx of soldiers to the town; helping the Red Cross with sewing clothes for wounded men; helping in the soldiers’ canteen; the blackout and Zeppelin raids; soldiers billeted in Tunbridge Wells; the introduction and administration of rationing; women at work in restaurants and as tram conductors (January 1916); wounded men arriving in Kent; seeing the film ‘Battle of the Somme’, and her reaction to it (4 September 1916); the difficulties in finding servants; the progress of the suffrage movement and the enfranchisement of women (26 August 1917); the Spanish Influenza pandemic (July and October 1918); celebrations on Armistice day; and her hopes for the peace (30 November 1918)….In circa 1924 Lady Matthews added brief notes to the text, correcting rumours she had reported and comparing the food prices to those of the 1920s.

 

100 years ago today – à Mesdemoiselles SCOTT

Updated 21 August 2016

On 22nd July 1916, the Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells celebrated their National Day (21st July) by honouring the ladies of the Mayor’s Refugee Committee – Mrs BURTON, Mrs GUTHRIE, Miss POWER, Mrs Le LACHEUR, Mme Le JEUNE, Miss McCLEAN, Mrs WILSON and the Misses SCOTT – and the local Doctors – WILSON, C. SMITH and GUTHRIE – who ministered to the refugees free of charge.

A ceremony and celebration was held in the Town Hall on Calverley Road to which townspeople and Belgian refugees were invited. On the evening in question the hall was packed.

At 7.30pm precisely the Mayor, Councillor Charles Whitbourn EMSON with his wife, Margaret, and Miss EMSON (presumably their elder daughter, Marjorie), arrived in the hall and were welcomed by Monsieur Florent COOSEMANS, Mrs EMSON then being presented with a floral arrangement of orchids and roses by one of the Belgian children.  Monsieur Albert LE JEUNE, Honorary President of the ‘Club Albert’ spoke patriotically of his country’s history and its links with Britain, and Monsieur COOSEMANS then spoke of the two years they had spent in exile and of the kindness afforded to them by the people of Tunbridge Wells, and by the ladies and doctors of the Committee in particular.

The reception received in this lovely county, rightly named the Garden of England, was above what the Belgian people could have expected… It took all the dexterity and amiability of the British, whose noble and chivalrous character was proverbial, to sweeten their troubles and suffering. (Kent & Sussex Courier, 28 July 1916)

While the Kent and Sussex Courier reported that a commemorative album, to which all the Belgians in the area had contributed, was then presented to Mrs EMSON as the representative of the ladies of the Committee, the Belgian press-in-exile reported that albums were given to each of the ladies of the Committee – including Belgian refugee Mme LE JEUNE – , along with bouquets of flowers.

What we know for certain is that an album was presented to the Misses SCOTT -Amelia and Louisa.  Because it still exists – in the Papers of Amelia Scott which are held in the Women’s Library @ LSE [1]

SCOTT Cover
The Album

It is an amazing resource, providing as it does a list of names of possibly all, maybe most, certainly some, of those in the area at the time.  Some entries take up a whole page – there are patriotic poems, poems of gratitude, drawings and paintings. I will never forget my excitement when I first held it in my hands back in December 2013!

I have transcribed this wonderful album, and to mark its Centenary I am today posting a new page with the names and addresses of all the signatories (see tabs above).

SCOTT3
‘Club Albert’ Committee 1916

And some fascinating discoveries as I research the names.  Among them is Josef DENYN, the famous ‘carilloneur’ of Malines, who was a close friend of local musician and composer, William Wooding STARMER, and spent the whole period of the war in Tunbridge Wells with his family;

p10_DENYN Music
Carillon Music by ‘Mechlin Bellmaster’ Josef DENYN

members of the family of painter James ENSOR of Ostend were here, and possibly his companion and muse, Augusta BOOGAERTS;

p18_Ensor_Boogaerts2
Augusta BOOGAERTS and Madame ENSOR

Albert LE JEUNE, Hon. President of the Club Albert of Tunbridge Wells, went on to be a Belgian Senator for the Antwerp region – my photo of his family’s entry is very blurred, so here instead is Madame Florent COOSEMANS’ painting of Bruges and a poem of homage to Great Britain which I presume she wrote herself since she doesn’t credit anyone else…

p4_Coosemans_Mme - Bruges cropped
Contribution from Madame Florent COOSEMANS

Mayor EMSON and Doctor WILSON thanked the gathering on behalf of the Committee and the doctors, and the evening concluded with a concert and the National Anthems of Belgium and Britain.

concert 1916
Concert programme, Belgian National Day 1916
Concert performers :
Mons. J. DENYN, Mr. O. GROVEN, Madame O. GROVEN, Mlle & Mme DENYN, Mons. DELATTRE, Mons. R. DAVELUY, Mons. R. CLAEYS, Mr WHITBURN, Miss Sylvia WRIGHT, Miss Suzy SWAN.

SCOTT invitation 2 cropped
Invitation to the Misses SCOTT for the event on 22 July 1916

Notes:

[1] Photos taken on my mobile phone

Save

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.