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 1917:  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.

Guest blog post by Cyriel Boeynaems: De familie Boeynaems tijdens WO 1

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

 (1860-1915)                        (1866-1946)

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

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)   X  Maria Van Welde  (1829-1866)

Hun kinderen Gehuwd met
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923 Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans  1866-1946 Florent Boeynaems
Ferdinand Coosemans (1828-1926)   X  Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel (1836-1906)
Hun kinderen Gehuwd met
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959 Charles Cnoops
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947 Louise Martin
Hortense Coosemans 1873-1935 Felix Goris
Berthe Coosemans 1875-1950 Alfons Steyaert

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.

 

Boeynaems photo 1

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.

Boeynaems 3a Boeynaems 3b

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 / JacquesBoeynaems 4 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 Aid Detachment 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 1917 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.

Boeynaems 6

 

 

 

–Yvonne-Florent-Suzanne-Paul-

 

–Jean-Marthe-Pierre-Marie Louise-

 

–Jacques-Ludovic

 

 

 

 

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.

Boeynaems 7a boeynaems 7b

Hélène van Meerbeeck-Boeynaems en haar dochtertje Monique waren tijdens het Kerstverlof op bezoek in de Prinsstraat.

 boeynaems 8

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)

Het onderwijs

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

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!

What are the chances?  The MATTHIEUWIS family from Mechelen

When I was transcribing the 1916 Scott Album a couple of years ago, some of the names were a struggle to decipher.  Such as this one which, after a year or two, and much Googling, I decided was MATTHIEUWIS :p25_matthieuwis

And it stuck in my mind. 

The full entry is :

Matthieuwis jB         J. Verschueren           Mad. Verschueren

Bailles de Fer 14, Malines

Mad.  Matthieuwis        Jos. Verschueren      Jose Devrory

Fast forward to today :

We’re discussing the creation of a database of those who signed the Scott album and what to include, and for reference I turned to one available online for the refugees who were in Glasgow – and got side-tracked. 

I started looking for familiar names, just in case.  I knew the refugees moved around. Not just within Tunbridge Wells, but also the UK.  We’d not yet found any who came to Tunbridge Wells from Glasgow, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. 

As I scanned the (very long) list of names, one leapt out at me : MATTHIEUWIS, Jean and Barbara, both 66, c/o Little Sisters of the Poor, 180 Garngadhill [1], Glasgow, whence they departed on 16th October 1914 – no onward address given.

But their address in Belgium is given as “Balde Fer 14, Malines” – surely a mis-spelling/transcription of “Bailles de Fer”.  Has to be the same family if not the same people… doesn’t it?


[1] Now Roystonhill

Painter James ENSOR and Tunbridge Wells…

An entry in the Album presented to the Misses SCOTT in July 1916 caught my eye early on : that of a Madame ENSOR from Ostend.

Was there a connection to Ostend resident, the painter James ENSOR (1860-1949), son of an English father and Belgian mother?  His mother perhaps?  An aunt?  Research revealed that he himself stayed in Ostend throughout the war, and that his mother died there in 1915.  So not her.

However, his sister Marie (‘Mietche’), used the name ‘Madame ENSOR’ following a failed marriage to Alfred John Taen-Hee-Tsen.  Could this be her?  It was known that she was in England during the First World War.

And there was more : on the same page was an Augusta BOOGAERTS of 54 rue de Theux, Brussels.  That was the names of James ENSOR’s life-long close friend (some thought mistress) whom he called “La Sirène” and whom he painted on a number of occasions.  And she lived at 54 rue de Theux in Brusssels…

ensor-boogaerts-scott-albym
Augusta BOOGAERTS, 54 rue de Theux, Bruxelles, and Madame ENSOR, 31 Rampe de Flandre, Ostende

And digging a little more I found that Mietche’s daughter Mariette, known as Alex, had married a Richard Jules DAVELUY in 1908 – and that was the name of the Secretary to the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells –

secretaire-daveluy

Monsieur R.J. DAVELUY – later in the album signing his name as Rich. Jules DAVELUY.  And alongside his inscription were Alex and their son Jules.

p06_daveluy
‘Par votre accueil hospitalier Mesdemoiselles vous avez acquis notre plus profonde gratitude‘ Rich Jules DAVELUY, 27 rue de Flandre, Ostende.

Must be them…

27 rue de Flandre is now the Ensor Museum in Ostend.  I visited it last month : what a treat!  (And also a fabulous exhibition at the MuZEE of works by the two great Ostend artists, ENSOR and Leon SPILLIAERT….)

Next stop the Archives in Brussels and the Refugees Registration documents, where I found the confirmation I was after (apologies for the blurred photos…) :

marie-ensor
Mme Marie Ensor, 33 Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells, with Monsieur & Madame Richard J Daveluy and their son Jules
James Ensor's niece 'Alex'
Mariette Alexandrine Jeanne Taen Hee Tseu Daveluy, 27 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells
ensor-marie-cert-reg-1-cropped
Marie Ensor of 31 Rue de Flandre, Ostend, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

Marie ENSOR and her daughter ‘Alex’ had lived with the painter and were very close.  Alex was only 15 when she married Casino croupier Richard DAVELUY.  Her uncle opposed the marriage and there was a falling-out which lasted for a number of years.

ensor-family-tree
James ENSOR Family Tree with “La Sirene” included…
boogaerts
Augusta Melanie Boogaerts of 54 Rue de Theux, Bruxelles, is residing at 11 Linden Park, Tunbridge Wells

James ENSOR met 18yr old Augusta BOOGAERTS, daughter of an Ostende hotelier, in 1888 in his mother’s shop (where Augusta was working for a short time), and so began a life-long friendship.  The story goes that his mother opposed their friendship, and even after her death, they never lived together.

ensor-nos-deux-portraits
‘Portrait de Mademoiselle B.’ (1905) James Ensor – renamed ‘James Ensor et son amie’ in 1920

And my favourite :

the-call-of-the-sea
L’Appel de la Sirene (La Baignade) James Ensor 1896

COMING SOON to London : An ENSOR Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, 29th October 2016-29th January 2017.  Very excited!

“The theatrical, the satirical and the macabre come together in arresting fashion in the art of James Ensor. Curated by Luc Tuymans, this exhibition will present a truly original body of work, seen through the eyes of one of today’s leading painters.”

Royal Adacemy of Arts website

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

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From Tunbridge Wells to Birtley : The DEBERGH-RAVYTS family from Dendermonde

Note: Updated 21 July 2016

On Monday morning I received a Birth Certificate through the post – always a very exciting moment, and an excellent start to the week.

Paula Caroline Alphonsine DEBERGH born at Elisabethville, Birtley, Co. Durham, on 26 January 1917


The trail had started a couple of years ago when I was at London’s Imperial War Museum consulting the private papers of Lady Matthews, wife of Tunbridge Wells JP Sir John Bromhead MATTHEWS, KC.

In her entry for Sunday 21st February 1915, Lady MATTHEWS wrote : “I went to a Belgian soiree last night, run on money I have received from an unknown American Friend. About 80, all ages and classes, were crammed together in a stuffy annex, & listening with joy to the music.  Afterwards they would have buns and coffee. 

“A young wounded soldier & a Flemish dressmaker sat, the cynosure of all eyes. They wore white flowers, & were stiff with new garments.  They had been married at the Registrar’s at 8 a.m. that day.  I do not know what they had to marry on save the English Government grant of 5/6 each a week.” (1)

A quick search, and another order fulfilled by the General Register Office, had revealed that on Saturday 20th February 1915, 25 year old Prosper Leopold DEBERGH married 26 year old Marie RAVIJTS at St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, Tunbridge Wells.

1915 02 20 DEBERGH marriage cropped compressed

I then lost track of them until my visit earlier this year to the National Archives in Brussels to consult the refugee registration documents held there, where I found evidence that the DEBERGHs had moved on to the Birtley munitions factory in 1916 and had had a daughter.

In 1918 Prosper DEBERGH’s repatriation document only mentions him and his daughter, and I haven’t (yet?) found a document for his wife, though I would have expected her to be on the same one.

In my article for the RTW Civic Society publication, I’d hoped they’d returned to Belgium and enjoyed a long and happy married life together.  Now I fear this may not have been the case – the search continues…


Their story so far :

Prosper Leopold DEBERGH was born in Zele near Dendermonde/Termonde on 1 January 1890, the son of ‘concierge’ Theophile Debergh.  When war was declared in August 1914, Prosper Debergh was a clerk in the Justice Ministry in the town.  He joined the ’22e linie'(2) and was wounded: all I know is that by late October 1914 he was in hospital in England, at the Sandgate Royal Military Hospital near Folkestone (Het Volk, 31 October 1914). He was invalided out of the army, and eventually found his way to Tunbridge Wells where accommodation was found for him at 32 Upper Grosvenor Road, a house provided by the local RC church.

Ruins of Dendermonde - Brusselsestraat
Ruines de Termonde – Rue de Bruxelles

At the time of their marriage, his future wife, dressmaker Marie RAVIJTS, the daughter of a ‘cabaretier’, was living at 47 Upper Grosvenor Road, a former ‘Blessed Sacrament’ Convent which became known as ‘the Belgian Hostel’ (rental cost covered by the Misses McClean and Power, members of the Mayor’s Refugee Committee).  Her home was also Dendermonde, her address Brusselsestraat 2 rue de Bruxelles.

'The Belgian Hostel', 47 Upper Grosvenor Road today (2014)
47 Upper Grosvenor Road in 2014

On Saturday 20th February 1915 they were married in St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, then on the corner of Hanover and Grosvenor Roads, by the local Catholic priest, Fr. James KEATINGE, and Registrar Arthur S. WISEMAN. One of the witnesses was R. Van HAWEGHEM, another Belgian ‘soldat réformé‘ but of the ‘2e linie'(1) – more of him in a future post…

I wonder – did Prosper and Marie know each other back home in Dendermonde?  Or did they meet in Tunbridge Wells, drawn together by the common experience of exile?

In April 1916, according to his refugee registration documentation, Prosper DEBERGH (and presumably his wife Marie though she is not mentioned) was living at 37 Culverden Down, another of the houses rented by the Committee, and they were still in Tunbridge Wells in July of that year when they both signed the album given to the Misses SCOTT on 22 July 1916 by the grateful Belgian Community (subject of a future post, or even a page…).

Some time after that, and before the birth of their daughter in January 1917, they moved to Birtley where M. DEBERGH worked in the munitions factory.  Paula was born on 26th January 1917, and baptised the same day at St Michael’s Catholic Church in Elisabethville, the Belgian Catholic church (3).

In August 1918 Prosper and his daughter are confirmed as living at Hutments D.6.A. in Elisabethville, but no sign of their wife and mother, Marie.

DEBERGH Prosper W.R.Repat. cropped

In 1924, at the unveiling of the War Memorial in Dendermonde, one of the speakers was Prosper De Bergh, President of the local War Invalids’ Association (Bond der Oorlogsinvaliden), and he still held that post in 1938 when a statue was erected in memory of Princess Astrid. (Thank you Google!). Has to be him…doesn’t it?

PS I’m intrigued that on Paula’s birth certificate, her father gives his Belgian address as 71 rue Jef Lambeaux, Kiel, Antwerp, when everywhere else it is Gerechtshof, Dendermonde / Place de la Justice, Termonde…

Many unanswered questions still to be answered.


To find out more about the “Birtley Belgians” visit www.birtley-elisabethville.be or view this short film “The Birtley Belgians” or this one “The Belgian Colony of Birtley 1916-1919” on YouTube.


Notes

(1) According to the 1919 Report on the work of the Tunbridge Wells Refugees Committee, ‘each individual Belgian in cases in which accommodation was provided [received] – adults 9/- per week, children 6/- per week.’  These rates were set under guidance from the Local Government Board (Wikipedia link), based on the “separation allowance” received by members of serving soldiers, and taking into account a refugee’s social class and particular needs.  

In Tunbridge Wells, thanks to generous donations from the public, the Committee was able to support the refugees without any assistance from the London Committee until December 1915.  After that and until mid-1917, the London Committee contributed one half of the cost of maintenance, and from mid-1917 the whole cost. The everage weekly expenditure of the Local Committee over the whole period was £50.

Neither the refugees nor the Belgian goverment were required to repay the monies received. 

(2) The ‘2e linie’, based in Ghent, and the ’22e linie’ (reservists) regiments, plus a group of artillery, were brought together to create the ‘2e gemengde brigade’ (the 2nd Mixed Brigade). They had their ‘baptism of fire’, suffering many casualties, on 18th August 1914 at St-Margriete-Houtem, and continued to be involved in the fighting from Antwerp to Nieuwpoort until, on 29 October, reduced to just 14 officers and 513 men, the 22e linie was disbanded.

As you can tell, I’m no military historian – a good overview here though (in Dutch).

(3) I am indebted to Bill Lawrence for his assistance with research in the Birtley records.