Since my first visit to the Archives in Brussels three years ago I have been trying to find out more about primary school teacher Palmyre FROIDART with no luck. Today, on re-reading my notes and comparing them with the single registration document I have for her, I discover that her surname was FOIDART – no ‘r’…
While that hasn’t opened hundreds of research doors, a simple Google search of the correct name turns up the information that she was off sick in 1913 and retired from teaching in 1919 – information found in the the Bulletins communaux (1) of the City of Brussels – all helpfully online as PDFs at https://archives.bruxelles.be/bulletins/date
I also found that in September 1915 a (male) friend was looking for her
From the afore-mentioned registration document I know that in October that year she was in St Leonards on Sea with distiller Louis BAL from Antwerp, and soon to remove to Tunbridge Wells where she was to live in apartment accommodation at 13 Guildford Road.
After that, I have no idea, but at least I now know that she returned safely (and unmarried) to Belgium.
I also have been reminded of the importance of taking care when transcribing information!
(1) From the City of Brussels website : Bulletins communaux : Les Bulletins communaux de la Ville de Bruxelles contiennent les procès-verbaux des séances du Conseil communal ainsi que les rapports des départements et des services de la Ville depuis le 19e siècle. Ces Bulletins communaux sont publiés par la Ville. Ils donnent une vue globale de ses décisions et des actions qu’elle entreprend. Ils permettent d’appréhender la grande variété des débats et des questions qui préoccupent les édiles communaux et qui touchent à la vie politique, sociale, économique et culturelle à Bruxelles… Pour les périodes plus anciennes, les Bulletins imprimés ont fait l’objet d’une campagne de numérisation par les Archives de la Ville. Ils sont consultables à l’aide d’un moteur de recherche.
“Municipal bulletins : The City of Brussels’ Municipal Bulletins contain the minutes of the meetings of the Municipal Council as well as the reports of the City’s departments and services since the 19th century. These municipal Bulletins are published by the City. They provide an overview of its decisions and actions. They make it possible to understand the wide variety of debates and issues that concern municipal councils and affect political, social, economic and cultural life in Brussels… For older periods, the printed Bulletins have been digitised by the City Archives. They can be consulted online.”
Yesterday I gave a short talk at a Studienamiddag organised by the Study Centre for Flemish Music (Studiecentrum voor Vlaamse Musiek), with specific reference to some of the Belgian musicians and artists who were in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War. It was short and fairly superficial, but I thought I’d post it here for posterity, with some links.
There were a number of very interesting papers delivered, not least one by Jan Dewilde on Belgian women composers Eva Dell’Acqua and Maria Matthijssens which included a performance by Belgian soprano Eloise Mabille of two songs., “Villanelle” (dell’Acqua) and “Chaperon rouge” (Matthijssens).
My own presentation was followed by a performance of Frederic Bonzon’s “En Ardenne” by young oboist Balder Dendievel
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the evening concert. Had I done so I would have heard a performance of Peter Benoit’s Troisieme fantaisie, op. 18 which was played in a concert at the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells on 1st January 1916 by Jef Denyn.
Frederic Bonzon (1850-1926) and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Belgian refugees, 1914-1919
Gooie namiddag, damens en herren….
It’s a great honour to be with you today to share in this 20th anniversary celebration and I thank Jan Dewilde for inviting me to speak. I must also thank him for his help in finding out more about Professor Bonzon when all I had was a scrap of music and an address.
But to start at the beginning –
As you will know only too well, during and after the terrible events of August 1914, something like a quarter of the population of Belgium fled, on foot, in carts, taking what they could carry, in many case with only the clothes they stood up in. Perhaps members of your own families were among them. I can’t imagine what it must have been like.
They fled to neutral Holland, to France and to the United Kingdom – 250,000 people – men women and children – made their way across the English Channel by whatever means possible, and in such numbers that in one week after the fall of Antwerp on 10th October 1914, 26,000 fugitives landed at Folkestone.
And among their number were 64 year old Professor Frederic Bonzon, his wife Marie Therese Faviesse and their grown-up daughter Marthe who arrived in Folkestone on 9th October 1914. We don’t know how they travelled, simply that they arrived and were soon in lodgings in the town.
Folkestone had become a veritable “town of refugees”. Many of those arriving were destitute, others were able to support themselves.
In early September the British Government had offered hospitality to any refugees from Belgium for as long as it was needed and soon a Central Refugees Committee was established in London followed by voluntary committees around the country. A scheme was put in place for receiving and registering the refugees.
On arrival in Folkestone, most people were sent to dispersal centres in London set up in public buildings like Alexandra Palace and Earls Court. The local committees around the country identified possible lodgings in their towns and villages and the refugees were then sent on to them.
Others went directly from Folkestone to the care of a local committee, and this was the case for the Bonzon family for in December 1914, just in time for Christmas, they are at a house in Tunbridge Wells – 11 Linden Park – a large 16-roomed house round the corner from the famous Pantiles. Unfortunately the house no longer exists. 
They shared the house with at least two families from Ostend – the Tanghe-Vanhercke-Groven family and the sister of painter James Ensor, her daughter and family and the painter’s friend and muse, Augusta Boogaerts and her nephew.
The house was one of those provided by the local refugees committee and had been lent rent-free by a local builder. The fact that the Bonzon family was given lodgings in one of the houses provided by the Committee suggests that they had left Antwerp with very little and were not able to support themselves.
The Tunbridge Wells committee had been set up by the Mayor in September/October 1914 and during the ensuing 4 1/2 years the committee looked after a total of 297 men, women and children, providing housing, clothing, and schooling, and often helping them find local employment. This number was augmented by those who were able to support themselves or stay with friends.
We learnt recently that one of the self-supporting families – the Meeus-Havenith family from Antwerp, chose to come to Tunbridge Wells simply because the novelist Thackeray had once lived there!
So what was the town the Bonzon family and others found themselves in, like?
Tunbridge Wells in 1914 was – a fashionable spa town,a royal municipal borough and market town, about 55 kms from London and about the same from Folkestone,with a population of about 36,000. It owed its existence to the discovery of its iron-rich spring water (similar to that in Spa here in Belgium) in the 17th century after which it became a favourite destination for royalty and fashionable society. In the 19th century the town began to attract more permanent residents. The surrounding countryside was ideal for walks and rides and early guide books of the town described the country houses that could be visited in the area.
But by the autumn of 1914 it had also become a military centre
with thousands of soldiers encamped in tents on the Common and billeted in empty houses in the town.
A notable feature of the town, was its religious-ness – it was predominantly Church of England and non-conformist, and well-known for its more Puritan tendencies. In 1914 there were 9 Anglican Churches, 9 non-Conformist chapels, a Quaker Meeting House and one Catholic church, St Augustine’s
which became the spiritual home of the Belgian community, the scene of national celebrations such as the Belgian National Day and King’s Day, of marriages and baptisms, and sadly also of funerals.
A refugee priest from Mechelen, from SS Peter and Paul Church, Fr Louis Lemmens , ministered to the refugees until he left the town in mid-1915 when his place was taken by Fr Josef Peeters from Lint.
In November 1914 St Augustine’s was packed for the celebration of King’s Day, the traditional Te Deum was sung, led by a choir under the direction of one of the town’s refugees from Belgium – none other than the great Beiaardeer Josef Denyn who had arrived from Mechelen in October 1914 with his wife, their 6 children and his wife’s sister.
This photo of Jef Denyn and his family – for which I am most grateful to Koen Cosaert of the Koninklijke Beiaardschool in Mechelen – was probably taken some time in late 1917 as missing from it are Mr Denyn’s youngest daughter Emma and his wife Helene who tragically died during the family’s exile in Tunbridge Wells, in 1916 and 1917. Their graves are in the town’s cemetery. 
Tunbridge Wells already had a thriving musical life, with choral societies and orchestras, 2 or 3 theatres, and of course frequent concert parties & this continued throughout the war years, with performances not only by local musicians, professional & amateur, but also by visiting Belgian performers, often themselves refugees, such as Mme Helene Feltesse from the Brussels Opera and the violinist Eugene Ysaye. [In fact, Mr Isaye himself spent a few week in Tunbridge Wells in 1914 with his family (and their cook – and his Stradivarius. according to newspaper accounts) following their dramatic escape from Knokke in a fishing vessel.] And concert programmes in the town included music by Belgian composers such as Peter Benoit and Eva dell’Acqua whose “Villanelle” we will hear later I believe.
Unfortunately I have no found evidence of works by Profesor Bonzon being performed in Tunbridge Wells, nor of any performances given by him or his family – maybe simply because the oboe doesn’t lend itself to solo performance in the same way as piano, violin or voice.
In March 1915 Prof Bonzon was joined in Tunbridge Wells by his son Charles’s wife, Laure, and her 6 year old son Andre – they had been in Manchester, in the north of England – and in May 1915 Laure returned to Belgium, leaving her son with his grandparents and aunt. And the following year the family moved to apartments in a house nearer the centre of the town – just along from the Opera House.
We have a photo of little Andre Bonzon with a group of Belgian children in the garden of a house in Tunbridge Wells.The photo belongs to the LIMPENS family, descendents of the MEEUS-HAVENITH family from Wynegem, whose grandparents are also in the photo – see the little boy in school uniform – probably Frederic MEEUS. Schooling was provided free of charge in local primary and secondary schools, but there was also a Belgian School in Tunbridge Wells, set up – probably in a private house – in early 1918 to provide instruction in French and Flemish to the children, alongside their English education.
And while the children needed to continue their education, the adults wanted and were encouraged to work – though it was made clear not at the expense of local workers. Tunbridge Wells did not have the industry of other parts of the country, where the refugees were employed in munitions or aircraft factories for example, but there were certainly opportunities to work – as domestic staff in one of the big houses for example and Professor Bonzon’s daughter, Marthe, obtained a position as a Governess with the Talbot family in nearby Bidborough – possibly in response to this advertisement placed in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 7th May 1915 :
Marthe worked for them until she and her family returned to Antwerp in April 1919.
Going home was never far from the minds of the refugees, and finally after the Armistice in November 1918, this was possible – thought not until early 1919. The British government chartered ferries to provide free passage first to Antwerp and then also Ostend, The local committee in Tunbridge Wells reported that by May 1919 all the Belgian refugees had returned .
The Belgians had been in Tunbridge Wells for four and a half years and in that time were gradually absorbed into the life of the town. In the first year the newspapers were full of stories and reports of Belgian National Day and King’s Day and social events held at the Belgian social club, the Club Albert.
Their presence now is hardly known about, but they did leave at least two memorials of their stay.
The first is an almost life-size bust of the then Mayor, Mr Whitbourn Emson, who was chair of the refugees committee during the whole period.
It was commissioned and paid for by the Belgian Community from sculptor Paul Van Den Kerckhove, himself a refugee who stayed in the town with his wife and two daughters, and it stands today in the lobby to the Council Chamber in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall.
The other “memorial” is much smaller but perhaps more important – certainly from a researcher’s point of view –
and that is a souvenir album signed by some 180 Belgians and presented to two Tunbridge Wells sisters, Amelia and Louisa Scott, who both worked tirelessly to help the refugees from Belgium.
Indeed Amelia Scott was awarded the Golden Palms of the Order of the Crown by the King of the Belgians for her work.
But the souvenir album was a very special thank you from the people she helped, and it was there that I came across this :
Professor Bonzon’s Oboe piece – En Ardennes – alongside which he wrote Hommage respectueux de l’auteur a Mesdemoiselles Scott Tunbridge Wells le 22 juillet 1916…
…And this seems a fitting place to stop as the moment has arrived for you to hear that very piece of music.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak today. And please don’t hesitate to talk to me or contact me later if you would like to know more, or indeed if you yourselves can add to our research. 
 This morning I found this fascinating blog post by Ed Gilbert about 10 Linden Park – maybe number 11 was similar?
 Afterwards I spoke to a gentleman who believes a member of his family married one of Jef Denyn’s daughters (and will let me know), and to Koen Cosaert, Director of the ‘Jef Denyn’ Beiaardschool in Mechelen, who told me that in letters held in their archives Jef Denyn wrote that the family chose Tunbridge Wells as it was cheaper than London! I also discussed with Mr Cosaert the possibility of a Carillon piece by W.W. Starmer’s being played in Mechelen in June 2019 – fingers crossed…
It is a pity that we no longer have the complete correspondence to and from the Boeynaems family who fled to England during WW1, especially as the letters sent from the refugees’ addresses in England may contain important material. But that exchange of letters has not yet been found. Only seven letters and a dozen postcards, all sent to England, have been preserved. This was enough to make up a puzzle, one with many missing pieces. No full story, rather a list of events and locations.
At the outbreak of the First World War the family of Florent Boeynaems and his wife Marie Coosemans had 14 children. They lived in Antwerp at no 5 Prinsstraat. By profession father Florent Boeynaems was a notary.
Florent Boeynaems X Marie Coosemans
Age in 1914
Ferdinand (Fernand) 1889-1918
Jean (Jan) 1897-1969
Florent (Flor) 1901-1980
Pierre (Piet) 1903-1986
Joseph (Jos) 1906-1984
Marie Louise (Mimi) 1908-2004
Jacques (Jaak) 1909-1995
Mother Marie Coosemans was the half-sister of Florent Coosemans, chairman of the Club Albert in Tunbridge Wells during WW1. Florent Coosemans was married to Louise Martin. His father Ferdinand Coosemans married twice. His first wife passed away shortly after Marie Coosemans’s birth in 1866.
Ferdinand Coosemans 1°X Maria Van Welde
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923
Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans 1866-1946
Ferdinand Coosemans 2°X Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel
1828-1926 1836 – 1906
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947
1913 was a glorious year for the Boeynaems-Coosemans family. Two silver jubilees. Father Florent Boeynaems celebrated his 25th anniversary as a notary. And the couple also celebrated 25 years of marriage in November.This seemed the best moment to gather the children together for a family photo. A unique picture because the Boeynaems children looked as they did just before leaving for England.
When the German troops were on the outskirts of the city of Antwerp on 7 October 1914, the Civil Guard of the city of Antwerp was dissolved. Paul Boeynaems had served in the Civil Guard since 1912 as an artilleryman. In the grip of fear and horrible stories, people fled to the Netherlands in panic and large numbers.This was also the case with the Boeynaems family.
The Boeynaems children left without their parents. According to a story recorded by Marie-Louise Boeynaems in 1999, the children gathered back in the parental house in the Prinsstraat and had to say good-bye one after the other to their father and mother. From the Netherlands they travelled to England. Some of their uncles and aunts also fled to England: Uncle Florent and Aunt Louise (Coosemans-Martin), Uncle Charles and Aunt Caroline (Cnoops-Coosemans) and Uncle Gustave and Aunt Marie (Simons-Boeynaems / Marie was the sister of Florent Boeynaems). It is not clear whether other family members followed and if everyone left together with the children. Even the exact date of departure remains unknown.
1914 The Boeynaems children were certainly all at a permanent address, either in the Netherlands or in England, by 13 October 1914. Other family members, including possibly their mother, Marie Coosemans, left the city when the first bomb hit Blindestraat in Antwerp. They stayed in Standdaarbuiten and Oudenbosch in the Netherlands. In a letter dated 13 October 1914 (from Standdaarbuiten), the children were informed about the confused situation in the Netherlands. Everyone was looking for family members there. The van Meerbeeck family of Wilrijk near Antwerp was also being sought by other relatives. Hélène Boeynaems was engaged to, and married in 1915, René van Meerbeeck, son of the family in question. Due to fear and on the advice of the local authorities, Ferdinand and Paul were advised not to return to Belgium. But before the end of February 1915, the parents and Ferdinand were already back at home in Antwerp. Son Ferdinand returned home to help his father Florent Boeynaems who was in ill health.
(Cfr. Letters dated October 13, 1914 and March 2, 1915)
1915 To avoid censorship and loss of mail, the letters were sent to and from Belgium via intermediaries in the Netherlands. In the first months of the war, the Boeynaems family had two intermediaries Mr. Reinemund and Mr. Mattheezen in Bergen op Zoom. Paul and Jean Boeynaems left England and travelled to France to offer themselves as volunteers in the Belgian Army. Paul signed up in Rouen on 19 February 1915 and Jean did the same in Parigné-l’Evêque on 29 April 1915. Both brothers kept in touch with the rest of the family in England via their sister Marthe. She became the point of contact of the family in England. From the address on a card from Paul Boeynaems it becomes clear that Marthe and probably the other children were at 22 Alwine Mansions, Wimbledon, London on 14 March 1915. Was this the first refugee address in England? Meanwhile, the state of health of father Florent Boeynaems deteriorated. He had already received the last rites. Hélène Boeynaems and her brother Hubert had to return urgently to help in the family. The letter asking for help was dated 26 March 1915 and was addressed to Hélène Boeynaems at 44 York Road,Tunbridge Wells via an intermediary, Mr. Van Nieuwenhuize. The trip was arranged in collaboration with Mr. Léon Van Nieuwenhuize who stayed at 8 College Road, Harrow, London.The brother of Alice Van Nieuwenhuize also had to return to Belgium and it is probable one of the small Boeynaems children travelled with them. The journey was via Vlissingen (Flushing) in the Netherlands.
In Antwerp, the brothers Ferdinand and Hubert tried to save their father’s notarial practice. Ferdinand was training to be a notary and was a welcome help in the practice. Brother Hubert mainly helped in the administration. As planned Hélène married René van Meerbeeck in the summer. Paul Boeynaems started officer training in Bayeux (F) in July 1915. As an ex-civil guard he was deployed as an instructor. Jean Boeynaems left for the Front.The brothers kept in touch and saw each other during a military leave in De Panne in Belgium. The Boeynaems children moved from York Road to Capilano, 154B Upper Grosvernor Road, Tunbridge Wells. They were there certainly in August 1915. Sometime later in the year they moved to 19 Beltring Road, Tunbridge Wells. Here they definitely were on 26 November 1915. At the end of August 1915, Marthe Boeynaems received a postcard from her sister Hélène in which she told her about her marriage with René van Meerbeeck. The postcard was sent via an intermediary in Moensel near Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
The three youngest Boeynaems children posing in Spring /Summer in St. John’s Recreation Ground in the immediate vicinity of 19 Beltring Road in Tunbridge Wells
Jacques and Ludovic wore their sailor suits as in the picture from 1913.
The war year of 1915 ended on a sad note. Father Florent Boeynaems and the children in England never saw each other again. Florent Boeynaems died on Christmas Eve 1915. He was just 55 years old.
(cfr. Letters dated 2 March 1915 and 26 March 1915 – postcards dated 14 March 1915, 20 April 1915, 1 August 1915, 16 August 1915, 26 November 1915 and17 December 1915)
1916 Paul Boeynaems requested his transfer to the Front and in February 1916 he joined the same regiment as his brother Jean. In a letter of 6 September 1916 we read that mother Marie Coosemans and her son Joseph Boeynaems were in Kerkom (Boutersem) in Belgium to visit Aunt Regina Van Welde. Regina was the sister of Maria Van Welde, the deceased mother of Marie Coosemans. They stayed for a few days. Joseph Boeynaems was no longer in England. Either he had always stayed at home, or he went to Antwerp with Hélène and Hubert in 1915. After the death of their father, the children in England received extra moral support from their uncle Gustave and Aunt Marie (Simons – Boeynaems). In Tunbridge Wells the Belgian refugees regularly paid tribute to the members of their reception committee. In July 1916 two special members of the Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee were honoured for their care, reception and committed engagement towards the refugees: the sisters Amelia and Louisa Scott. They received an album filled with all kinds of drawings, paintings, texts, poems and musical pieces, and the signatures and names of the Belgian refugees. In this album, “The Misses Scott Album”, were texts written by Florent Coosemans and his wife Louise Martin and also name cards with the names of the Boeynaems children, Marthe, Suzanne, Florent, Yvonne, Pierre, Jacques, Marie-Louise and Ludovic.In a letter to his sister Marthe, Ferdinand Boeynaems tried to make it clear that life in occupied Belgium was much worse than in England. There was a lot of hardship and scarcity. Forced by circumstances and in their own best interests, the children were encouraged by Ferdinand to stay in England. If necessary, they could move to another location and might also ask for advice from the rest of the family who were in situ or even from their brother Paul. Marthe was temporarily employed as a volunteer at the West Hall Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. It was one of the Red Cross’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals in Tunbridge Wells. Marthe was not a nurse but the hospital could use all available help; in the hospitals there were also Belgian wounded. She probably remained there for a while because her brother Paul sent her a postcard at that address in September 1916: West Hall Hospital, Chilston Road, Tunbridge Wells.
(Cfr.Postcards of 16 February 1916, 2 March 1916, 7 September 1916 and a letter of 8 September 1916)
1917 The children left Tunbridge Wells late in 1916 or early 1917. They moved to London and first settled in South Kensington: at 18 Onslow Gardens and 2 Gledhow Gardens. In that same year, they moved to 21 Russell Square in central London. This was their last address in England. They moved in above the offices of the newspaper “De Stem uit België” (trans: “The Voice of Belgium”) published by Canon Floris Prims, well known to the family Boeynaems. Suzanne and possibly Marthe and Yvonne Boeynaems were also employed there in the office. In January or February 1917, Jean and Paul Boeynaems were on leave in England and were photographed with their brothers and sisters for a family photo. The photo was taken by Sketches – 72 Oxford Street, London.
In May 1917 a first child was born to Hélène Boeynaems and René van Meerbeeck: Monique van Meerbeeck. In that same year, the Boeynaems children learned of the death of their great uncle and great aunt Jean Hagenaers and his wife Louise Boeynaems, their great aunt Régina Van Welde and their aunts Marguerite Boeynaems and Marie Boeynaems. At the end of 1917 Marie-Louise Boeynaems had fallen ill at St Leonards-on-Sea School and spent a week recuperating with her sisters in London. Son Florent who was on school holidays in London wrote a long letter to his brother Pierre with all the news from 21 Russell Square and his experiences at his new school in Norwood.
(Cfr. Postcard of 25 March 1917, letter of 10 December 1917)
1918 In January Marthe Boeynaems received news from Antwerp from her sister Hélène and her brother Joseph. The postcards were sent from the Netherlands through the intermediary of Mr. Van Herck, a stone merchant in Sluiskil Terneuzen. To mislead the German occupier and to make the name of the final recipient clear in writing the address, Marthe’s first name was linked to the intermediary’s last name. Hubert sent a postcard to Eug. De Roeck in England for news about the death of Marie Boeynaems, the wife of Gustave Simons. This card also went through Terneuzen.
Hélène van Meerbeeck and little daughter Monique were visiting the family in Prinsstraat.
Hubert – Ferdinand
Hélène – mother Marie Coosemans – Monique – Joseph
In the background, between Joseph and Ferdinand, is Paul Boeynaems’s picture in military uniform
Jean Boeynaems was wounded in the war and taken to a hospital in Le Havre (F) on 1 October. Paul Boeynaems was mentioned in dispatches on November 8 during the liberation of the Ertvelde canal during the final offensive. Yvonne Boeynaems returned to Antwerp in late 1918.
On the day of the Armistice Ferdinand Boeynaems died, as a result of the Spanish flu. Joy quickly turned to sadness. Not long before, he was smiling in a family photo at home in Prinsstraat.
1919 Two letters of 9 and 10 January were the only letters from England to home in Belgium that have been preserved. In these we read that Suzanne Boeynaems was still in London. She wrote to her sister Yvonne that many refugees had already left. She also announced the departure of the René Dieltiens family,of the Denijn family and also of Mrs. Brusselmans. It is not known when all the Boeynaems children followed. After the Christmas holidays 1918/1919, Pierre and Florent Boeynaems went back to school in Upper Norwood. Jean Boeynaems left the army on 6 August 1919 and Paul on 15 August 1919. Not everyone returned to Antwerp. Marthe Boeynaems had become engaged in the meantime to a doctor from Kortrijk, Karel Depla. They married in London in 1920 and had six children. But fate struck again. The Second World War proved fatal for her. She died during a bombing raid in London in 1940. Her children and grandchildren remained in England. (cfr Letters of 9 and 10 January 1919)
As soon as it was possible the children were sent to boarding schools in England. The boys Florent, Pierre, Jacques and Ludovic Boeynaems first went to school in Stroud in Gloucestershire. Florent left the school in Stroud and moved to St Mary’s College in Upper Norwood in southeast London. Later Pierre, Jacques and Ludovic went to St Joseph’s College in Malvern Wells in Worcestershire. In 1919 Pierre and Florent Boeynaems were in St Mary’s College in Upper Norwood. Ludovic stayed for some time at St Paul’s Convent in Brighton. Marie-Louise went to Convent school in St Leonards-on-Sea, Hastings, in the county of Sussex.
Who is who
Many letters and postcards mention names that to date remain unidentified. Some readers may be able to clarify some of these names. And some names may also belong in another story. Comments are always welcome.
The unknown individuals mentioned:
* On the flight from Belgium in 1914: Nuchelmans, Sluyts, Scrivener?
* In a letter of March 26, 1915: Leo or Léon Van Nieuwenhuize, Alice Van Nieuwenhuize and her brother?
* On a postcard of November 1915 from Jean Boeynaems: René De Jongh and Etienne?
* On a postcard of 16 February 1916 from Jean Boeynaems: Adolphe, Emmanuel, Arnold Van Kerkhoven, Lahaye, Dupuis?
* On a postcard of March 25, 1917 from Jean Boeynaems: Miss Lombart (sent a package to him)?
* In a letter of 10 December 1917 from son Florent Boeynaems:
– Mrs Maria Van Bavel (was employed by ” De Stem uit België”)?
– Mme. Josephine (was employed by “De Stem uit België”)?
– Bouveroux, Willemsen, Maes, teachers?
– Arsène, Piesen, Cornelius, fellow students of Florent and Pierre Boeynaems?
– Mr. Fernand Robert?
13 June 2017
I am so grateful to Cyriel for this moving and personal account of his family’s experiences. If you can help with any of his queries, or can add to his family’s story, please contact him via this blog’s Contact page. Thank you.
Het is doodjammer dat men niet meer kan beschikken over de volledige briefwisseling van en naar de familie Boeynaems die tijdens WO 1 naar Engeland was gevlucht. Vooral de brieven verzonden vanuit de vluchtadressen in Engeland hadden waardevol materiaal kunnen bevatten. Maar die briefwisseling is tot op heden niet teruggevonden. Enkel een zestal brieven en een tiental postkaarten naar Engeland zijn bewaard gebleven. Toch genoeg om een puzzel te leggen. Het werd een puzzel met veel ontbrekende stukjes. Geen volledig verhaal, eerder een opsomming van gebeurtenissen, locaties….
Bij het uitbreken van de 1ste Wereldoorlog telde het gezin van Florent Boeynaems en zijn echtgenote Marie Coosemans 14 kinderen. Zij woonden in de Prinsstraat nr. 5 te Antwerpen. Vader Florent Boeynaems oefende er het ambt uit van notaris.
Florent Boeynaems X Marie Coosemans
Leeftijd in 1914
Ferdinand (Fernand) 1889-1918
Jean (Jan) 1897-1969
Florent (Flor) 1901-1980
Pierre (Piet) 1903-1986
Joseph (Jos) 1906-1984
Marie Louise (Mimi) 1908-2004
Jacques (Jaak) 1909-1995
Moeder Marie Coosemans was de halfzuster van Florent Coosemans, de voorzitter van de Albert Club in Tunbridge Wells tijdens WO1. Florent Coosemans was gehuwd met Louise Martin. Zijn vader Ferdinand Coosemans trad tweemaal in het huwelijk. Zijn eerste echtgenote overleed kort na de geboorte van Marie Coosemans in 1866.
Ferdinand Coosemans (1828-1926) 1°X Maria Van Welde (1829-1866)
Constant Coosemans 1861-1923
Marie Van Goethem
Marie Coosemans 1866-1946
Ferdinand Coosemans (1828-1926) 2°X Anne Cornélie Van de Wiel (1836-1906)
Caroline Coosemans 1871-1959
Florent Coosemans 1872-1947
Hortense Coosemans 1873-1935
Berthe Coosemans 1875-1950
In 1913 waren het nog hoogdagen bij de familie Boeynaems-Coosemans. Twee zilveren jubilea. Vader Florent Boeynaems vierde zijn 25- jarig ambtsjubileum als notaris. En het echtpaar was in november ook nog 25 jaar gehuwd. Dit leek het uitgelezen moment om de kinderen te verzamelen voor een groepsfoto. Een unieke foto want zo zagen de kinderen Boeynaems er uit vlak voor hun vertrek naar Engeland.
Als op 7 oktober 1914 de vijandelijke Duitse troepen al aan de rand van de stad Antwerpen stonden werd de Burgerwacht ontbonden. Paul Boeynaems was sedert 1912 in dienst bij de Burgerwacht als kanonnier. Bevangen door angst en verward door vreselijke verhalen sloeg de bevolking massaal en paniekerig op de vlucht naar Nederland. Zo verging het ook met de familie Boeynaems.
De kinderen Boeynaems vertrokken zonder hun ouders. Volgens een verhaal van Marie-Louise Boeynaems, opgetekend in 1999, verzamelden de kinderen zich achteraan in het ouderlijk huis in de Prinsstraat en moesten één na één afscheid nemen van hun geliefde vader en moeder. Via Nederland reisden ze door naar Engeland. Ook sommige van hun ooms en tantes vluchtten naar Engeland: oom Florent en tante Louise (Coosemans-Martin), oom Charles en tante Caroline (Cnoops-Coosemans) en oom Gustave en tante Marie (Simons-Boeynaems / Marie was de zus van vader Florent Boeynaems). Het is niet duidelijk of nog andere familieleden volgden en of iedereen samen vertrok. Zelfs de exacte datum van vertrek blijft onbekend.
1914 De kinderen Boeynaems waren alleszins op een vast adres,in Nederland of in Engeland, vóór 13 oktober 1914. Andere familieleden waaronder misschien ook moeder Marie Coosemans verlieten de stad pas toen de eerste bom viel op de Blindestraat in Antwerpen. Ze hielden halt in Standdaarbuiten en Oudenbosch in Nederland. In een brief van 13 oktober 1914 werden de kinderen ingelicht over de verwarde toestand in Nederland. Iedereen was daar op zoek naar familieleden. Ook de familie van Meerbeeck uit Wilrijk werd door andere familieleden opgezocht. Hélène Boeynaems was verloofd en zou in 1915 huwen met René van Meerbeeck, zoon van de bedoelde familie. Ingegeven door angst en op aanraden van de plaatselijke autoriteiten werd er aan Ferdinand en Paul gevraagd om niet terug te keren naar België. Maar nog vóór het einde van februari 1915 waren de ouders en Ferdinand al opnieuw thuis in Antwerpen. Zoon Ferdinand keerde uiteindelijk terug naar huis om zijn vader Florent Boeynaems te helpen die gezondheidsproblemen had.
(cfr. Brieven van 13 oktober 1914 en 2 maart 1915)
1915 Om censuur en verlies van post te vermijden werden de brieven vanuit en naar bezet België verzonden via tussenpersonen in Nederland. In de eerste maanden van de oorlog had de familie Boeynaems twee tussenpersonen Dhr. Reinemund en Dhr. Mattheezen die in Bergen op Zoom verbleven. Paul en Jean Boeynaems verlieten Engeland en reisden door naar Frankrijk om zich daar aan te melden als oorlogsvrijwilliger bij het Belgisch Leger. Paul ondertekende op 19 februari 1915 een verbintenis in Rouen (F) en Jean deed hetzelfde in Parigné-l’Evêque (F) op 29 april 1915. Beide broers hielden contact met de rest van de familie in Engeland via hun zuster Marthe. Zij werd het aanspreekpunt van de familie in Engeland. Met het adres op een kaartje van Paul Boeynaems aan zijn zus Marthe wordt het duidelijk dat Marthe en waarschijnlijk ook de andere kinderen op 14 maart 1915 in London Wimbledon, Alwine Mansion 22 verbleven. Was dit het eerste vluchtadres in Engeland? Ondertussen was de gezondheidstoestand van vader Florent Boeynaems zodanig verergerd dat men hem de laatste sacramenten had toegediend. Hélène Boeynaems en haar broer Hubert moesten dringend terugkeren naar huis om hulp te bieden. De brief om hulp dateerde van 26 maart 1915 en was via een tussenpersoon, Dhr Van Nieuwenhuize, geadresseerd aan Hélène Boeynaems in Tunbridge Wells, York Road 44. De reis werd geregeld in samenwerking met Dhr Léon Van Nieuwenhuize die in London Harrow, College Road nr. 8. verbleef. De broer van Alice Van Nieuwenhuize moest ook terugkeren naar België. Indien men het wou mocht ook één van de kleine kinderen Boeynaems meereizen. De reis ging langs Vlissingen.
In Antwerpen deden de broers Ferdinand en Hubert er alles aan om het notariaat van hun vader te redden. Ferdinand was kandidaat-notaris en was een welkome hulp in het notariaat. Broer Hubert was voornamelijk behulpzaam in de administratie. Wat gepland was ging door en Hélène huwde in de zomer met René van Meerbeeck. Paul Boeynaems begon in juli 1915 een officiersopleiding in Bayeux. Als ex-burgerwachter werd hij ingezet als instructeur. Jean Boeynaems vertrok naar het Front. De broers bleven met elkaar in contact en zagen elkaar tijdens een militaire verlofperiode in De Panne. De kinderen Boeynaems verhuisden van de York Road naar Tunbridge Wells, Capilano, Upper Grosvernor Road 154 B. Ze waren er alleszins in augustus 1915. Iets later in het jaar verhuisden ze naar Tunbridge Wells, Beltring Road 19. Hier waren ze zeker op 26 november 1915. Eind augustus 1915 ontving Marthe Boeynaems een postkaart van haar zus Hélène waarin ze het relaas deed over haar huwelijk met René van Meerbeeck. De briefkaart werd verstuurd via een tussenpersoon in Moensel bij Eindhoven in Nederland.
Ludovic,/ Marie-Louise / Jacques
De drie jongste kinderen Boeynaems poseerden in de lente/zomer in St. John’s Recreation Ground in de onmiddellijke omgeving van Beltring Road 19 in Tunbridge Wells
Jacques en Ludovic droegen hun matrozen kraagje zoals op de foto uit 1913.
Het oorlogsjaar 1915 eindigde in mineur. Vader Florent Boeynaems en de kinderen in Engeland bleven voor altijd gescheiden. Florent Boeynaems overleed op de vooravond van Kerstmis 1915. Hij was amper 55 jaar.
(cfr. Brieven van 2 maart 1915 en 26 maart 1915, postkaarten van 14 maart 1915, 20 april 1915, 1 augustus 1915, 16 augustus 1915, 26 november 1915 en 17 december 1915)
1916 Paul Boeynaems vroeg zijn overplaatsing naar het Front en kwam in februari 1916 terecht in hetzelfde regiment van zijn broer Jean. In een brief van 6 september 1916 lezen we dat moeder Marie Coosemans en haar zoon Joseph Boeynaems in Kerkom (Boutersem) waren om tante Regina Van Welde te bezoeken. Regina Van Welde was de zus van Maria Van Welde, de overleden moeder van Marie Coosemans. Ze verbleven er enkele dagen. Joseph Boeynaems was dus niet in Engeland. Ofwel was hij altijd al thuis gebleven ofwel was hij in 1915 meegekomen naar Antwerpen met Hélène en Hubert. Na het overlijden van hun vader kregen de kinderen in Engeland extra morele steun van hun oom Gustave en tante Marie (Simons- Boeynaems) . In Tunbridge Wells brachten de Belgische vluchtelingen geregeld hulde aan de leden van hun opvangcomité. Als blijk van dank voor de opvang, het onthaal en de onverdroten inzet werden in juli 1916 twee bijzondere leden van het Mayor’s Belgian Refugees Committee gehuldigd: de gezusters Amelia en Louisa Scott. Zij ontvingen een album volledig versierd met allerlei tekeningen, schilderijtjes, teksten, gedichten, muziekstukken en handtekeningen en namen van de Belgische vluchtelingen. In dit album “The Misses Scott Album” werden teksten geschreven door Florent Coosemans en zijn echtgenote Louise Martin en ook naamkaartjes gekleefd met de namen van de kinderen Boeynaems Marthe, Suzanne, Florent, Yvonne, Pierre, Jacques, Marie-Louise en Ludovic.
In een brief aan zijn zus Marthe probeerde Ferdinand Boeynaems duidelijk te maken dat het leven in bezet België er veel slechter aan toe was dan in Engeland. Er was veel ontbering en schaarste. Noodgedwongen door de omstandigheden en voor hun bestwil werden de kinderen door Ferdinand aangemaand om in Engeland te blijven. Desnoods mochten ze verhuizen naar een andere locatie en hierover eventueel raad vragen aan de rest van de familie die ter plaatse was of zelfs ook aan hun broer Paul. Marthe was tijdelijk tewerkgesteld als vrijwilliger in het West Hall Hospital in Tunbridge Wells. Het was één van Voluntary AidDetachment hospitalen van het Rode Kruis in Tunbridge Wells. Marthe was geen verpleegster maar het hospitaal kon alle hulp gebruiken; in de hospitalen lagen ook Belgische slachtoffers. Ze bleef er waarschijnlijk een tijdlang overnachten want haar broer Paul zond in september 1916 een kaartje op dat adres: Tunbridge Wells, West Hall Hospital, Chilston Road.
(cfr. Postkaarten van 16 februari 1916, 2 maart 1916, 7 september1916 en een brief van 8 september 1916)
1917 De kinderen verlieten Tunbridge Wells eind 1916 of begin 1917. Ze verhuisden naar London en vestigden zich eerst in South Kensington: London South Kensington, Onslow Gardens 18 en London South Kensington, Gledhow Gardens, 2. Nog in datzelfde jaar verhuisden ze naar London, Russell Square 21. Dit werd hun laatste adres in Engeland. Ze trokken in boven de kantoren van de krant “De Stem uit België” uitgegeven door kanunnik Floris Prims, goed gekend in de familie Boeynaems. Suzanne en wellicht ook Marthe en Yvonne Boeynaems werden er tewerkgesteld in de administratie. In januari of februari 1917 waren Jean en Paul Boeynaems met verlof in Engeland en lieten zich samen met hun broers en zussen fotograferen voor een familiefoto. De foto werd genomen door Sketches – Oxford Street, 72 London.
In mei 1917 kregen Hélène Boeynaems en René van Meerbeeck hun eerste kindje, Monique van Meerbeeck. In datzelfde jaar betreurden de kinderen Boeynaems het overlijden van hun grootoom en groottante Jean Hagenaers en zijn echtgenote Louise Boeynaems, hun groottante Régina Van Welde en hun tantes Marguerite Boeynaems en Marie Boeynaems. Eind 1917 was Marie-Louise Boeynaems ziek geworden op school in St Leonards-on-Sea en kwam een week rusten bij haar zussen in Londen. Zoon Florent die met schoolverlof was in Londen vertelde in een lange brief aan zijn broer Pierre al het nieuws uit de Russel Square 21 en ook zijn belevenissen in de nieuwe school in Norwood.
(cfr. Postkaart van 25 maart 1917, brief van 10 december 1917)
1918 In januari ontving Marthe Boeynaems nieuws uit Antwerpen van haar zus Hélène en haar broer Joseph. De postkaarten werden verzonden via een tussenpersoon uit Nederland:
Dhr. Van Herck, een steenfabrikant in Sluiskil Terneuzen. Om de Duitse bezetter te misleiden en de naam van de uiteindelijke bestemmeling toch te verduidelijken werd in de adressering de voornaam van Marthe gekoppeld aan de familienaam van de tussenpersoon.
Hubert Boeynaems stuurde een postkaart naar Dhr. De Roeck in Engeland om nieuws te ontvangen omtrent het overlijden van Marie Boeynaems, echtgenote van Gustave Simons. Ook deze kaart ging via Terneuzen.
Hélène van Meerbeeck-Boeynaems en haar dochtertje Monique waren tijdens het Kerstverlof op bezoek in de Prinsstraat.
Hubert – Ferdinand
Hélène – moeder Marie Coosemans – Monique – Joseph
Achteraan op een kastje, tussen Joseph en Ferdinand, prijkt de foto van Paul Boeynaems in militair tenue
Jean Boeynaems raakte gekwetst en werd op 1 oktober afgevoerd naar een hospitaal in Le Havre (F). Paul Boeynaems kreeg op 8 november een vermelding in de dagorde van zijn regiment voor zijn vastberaden houding bij de bevrijding van het kanaal in de streek van Ertvelde tijdens het eindoffensief. Yvonne Boeynaems keerde terug naar Antwerpen op het einde van 1918.
Uitgerekend op de dag dat de wapens zwegen overleed Ferdinand Boeynaems. Hij stierf ten gevolge van de Spaanse griep. Vreugde sloeg al vlug om in verdriet. Niet lang voordien stond hij nog lachend op een familiefoto thuis in de Prinsstraat..
1919 De brieven van 9 en 10 januari waren de enige brieven vanuit Engeland naar het thuisfront die werden teruggevonden. Hierin lezen we dat Suzanne Boeynaems nog in London was. Ze schreef aan haar zus Yvonne dat veel vluchtelingen al vertrokken waren. Ze kondigde ook het nakende vertrek aan van de familie René Dieltiens, de familie Denijn en ook van Mevr. Brusselmans. Het is niet geweten wanneer al de kinderen Boeynaems volgden. Na het Kerstverlof 1918/1919 vervoegden Pierre en Florent Boeynaems alleszins opnieuw de school in Upper Norwood. Jean Boeynaems werd op 6 augustus 1919 met onbepaald verlof geplaatst en Paul Boeynaems op 15 augustus 1919. Niet iedereen keerde terug naar Antwerpen. Marthe Boeynaems had zich intussen verloofd met een arts uit Kortrijk, Karel Depla. Ze huwden in Londen in 1920 en kregen zes kinderen. Maar het noodlot sloeg opnieuw toe. De tweede wereldoorlog werd haar fataal. Ze overleed tijdens een bombardement op Londen in 1940. Haar kinderen en kleinkinderen bleven in Engeland.
(cfr.Brieven van 9 en 10 januari 1919)
Zodra het mogelijk was werden de kinderen ondergebracht in kostscholen. De jongens Florent, Pierre, Jacques en Ludovic Boeynaems volgden eerst onderwijs in Stroud in het graafschap Gloucestershire. Florent verliet de school in Stroud en verhuisde naar het St. Mary’s College in Upper Norwood in zuidoost Londen. Later gingen Pierre, Jacques en Ludovic naar het St Joseph College in Malvern Wells in het graafschap Worcestershire. In 1919 waren Pierre en Florent Boeynaems in het St.Mary’s College in Upper Norwood. Ludovic verbleef ook enige tijd in het St Paul’s Convent in Brighton. Marie-Louise vervoegde de Convent school in St Leonards-on-Sea bij Hastings in het graafschap Sussex.
Wie is wie
In heel wat brieven en postkaarten werden namen vermeld die tot op heden onbekend zijn gebleven. Misschien kunnen sommige lezers en lezeressen meer verduidelijking brengen bij sommige namen. En horen die namen wellicht ook thuis in een ander verhaal. Reacties zijn altijd welkom.
* Bij de vlucht uit België in 1914: Nuchelmans, Sluyts, Scrivener ?
* In een brief van 26 maart 1915: Leo of Léon Van Nieuwenhuize, Alice Van Nieuwenhuize en haar broer ?
* Op een postkaart van november 1915 van Jean Boeynaems: René De Jongh en Etienne ?
* Op een postkaart van 16 februari 1916 van Jean Boeynaems: Adolphe, Emmanuel, Arnold Van Kerkhoven, Lahaye, Dupuis?
* Op een postkaart van 25 maart 1917 van Jean Boeynaems: Mej Lombart (heeft pakje naar hem gestuurd) ?
* In een brief van 10 december 1917 van zoon Florent Boeynaems:
– Mevr Maria Van Bavel (was tewerkgesteld bij “De Stem uit België”) ?
– Mevr Josephine (was tewerkgesteld bij “De Stem uit België”) ?
– Bouveroux, Willemsen Maes, leraars ?
– Arsène, Piesen, Cornelius, medeleerlingen van Florent en Pierre Boeynaems ?
– Dhr Fernand Robert ?
Cyriel Boeynaems 13 juni 2017
Ik ben zo dankbaar voor Cyriel voor deze bewegende en persoonlijke rekening van de ervaringen van zijn familie.Als u kunt helpen bij een van zijn vragen, of kan toevoegen aan het verhaal van zijn familie, neem dan contact met hem op via de contactpagina van deze blog.Dank je. Alison MacKenzie
Sometime last year – or maybe the year before – the idea of marking the First World War Belgian Colony of Tunbridge Wells in some way wandered into my mind. Some sort of “Anglo-Belgian Friendship Event” to run during 2017, maybe over the Belgian National Day weekend in July. And perhaps we would be able to trace some descendants of the families who could join us…
Then when the Community Research Project was proposed, we decided we would round it up with an event for project volunteers on Belgian National Day, 21st July 2017 at which the Project’s Heritage Trail would be launched.
And now all of a sudden we have a mini-festival on our hands! Tunbridge Wells Belgian Week 2017 is now ‘a thing’. Wow! Thanks to a gang of volunteers who have taken up the idea, a variety of events celebrating all things Belgians will be happening in the week 15th-23rd July.
And I am delighted to say that family members from Belgium will be joining us for the weekend.
Among the events so far confirmed are :
A Concert on Saturday 15th July at St Paul’s Church Rusthall, featuring local singers and musicians performing works by local and Belgian composers and others. Main items on the programme are James Whitbourn‘s Son of God Mass for choir, organ, and soprano saxophone, and a piece for oboe and piano by Frederic Bonzon who was one of the refugees in Tunbridge Wells in the years 1914-1919 and a Professor at the Antwerp Conservatorium. There will be a Retiring Collection at the Concert for the present-day work of Tunbridge Wells Welcomes Refugees
Costumed role-players from CREATE will be on hand to guide visitors round the new Heritage Trail on the morning of Saturday 22nd July
A friendly T20 Cricket Match at the Bayham Cricket Ground between TWBC Royals and the Royal Brussels Cricket Clubfrom 11am on Saturday 22nd July (please note change of venue & date).
An impro show by local groupClaqueurs Impro and Improfiel from Leuven in Belgium on the evening of Saturday 22nd July at King Charles Church Hall
A Country Walk and Picnic – perhaps a re-creation of that organised by the Belgians in July 1917 to celebrate their National Day – period costume optional!
Unfest Sunday Session @ the Forum on Sunday 23rd July 1pm-7pm – music, DJ, food, drink and much more, including a screening of Jozef Devillé’s 2012 film The Sound of Belgium
We are also in discussion with a number of local hostelries regarding their adding a Belgian theme to their menus during the week – keep an eye on the website (see below) to find out more.
And we would also encourage local groups and organisations to follow suit – maybe a book group could read a book by a Belgian author, or a film society screen a Belgian film, or… or… Whatever takes your fancy! Just let me know and I’ll put it on the website.
What makes this all an even crazier idea is the fact that we have no funding. All events will need to fund themselves. Unless anyone fancies sponsoring, say, printing costs of posters etc? Just a thought.
Meanwhile, a website has gone quietly live – you’ll find it at www.twbelgianweek2017.org.ukDo keep an eye on it as it will be regularly updated as more details become available.
And for more information, or indeed if you would like to organise an event, please contact me via my contact page.
P.S. Unfortunately the tree-planting isn’t happening just yet as it’s the wrong time of year.
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 
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?
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)
 I will add links to any answers or post them alongside the questions, so do check back!
Today I stumbled upon another birth in the Tunbridge Wells Belgian Community, that of Françoise Marie Isabelle Louise Madeleine Cornélie, daughter of Jean-Baptiste and Madeleine VAN DE PUT-MEEUS, on 30th April 1915.
The child’s parents had married in Wyneghem near Antwerp on 9th June 1914 – the bride was the daughter of the town’s Mayor, M. Hippolyte MEEUS, and the newspaper Le Courrier d’Anvers devoted a quarter of its front page on 19th June 1914 to coverage of the celebrations, describing how the marriage party made its way from the church to the MEEUS home, their way lined with a large and “sympathique” crowd of well-wishers.
As the young couple set off for their honeymoon in Biarritz and the Swiss Lakes, they couldn’t have known that only a few weeks later they would be fugitives from war.
The MEEUS family’s story I have not yet told on this blog, but you will find some of it in the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society book The Shock of War (ed. John Cunningham), in the Chapter I contributed about the Belgian refugees in Tunbridge Wells. The Mayor and his wife both died in Tunbridge Wells in 1915, six months apart. Lavish funerals were held at St Augustine’s and their bodies laid to rest in the Cemetery Mortuary Chapel until the end of the war when they were repatriated and buried in the family vault.
But I digress. My intention today was simply to list the Births, Marriages and Deaths I have so far come across and for which I have the certificates, so here goes.
January 2nd Death at 3 Woodbury Park Road of widow Euthalie Amelie BAL-VAN VAERENBERGH, 78, of 112 avenue du Commerce, Antwerp – she too was repatriated after the war and buried in Antwerp.
February 23rd Marriage of Oscar Edouard GROVEN and Germaine Mathilde Therese TANGHE both from Ostend, and engaged to be married before they left Belgium, at St Paul’s Catholic Church in Dover
March 23rd Death at Tunbridge Wells General Hospital of baby Helene BECKER, 7 months, from measles and broncho-pneumonia. She lies in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at Hawkenbury.
April 30thBirth of Francoise Marie Isabelle Louise Madeleine Cornélie, daughter of Jean-Baptiste and Madeleine VAN DE PUT-MEEUS, at 4 Nevill Park
May 25th Birth of Jacques Albert Daniel, son of Leon and Laure COEN-CHRISTIAENS from Schaerbeek, Brussels, at “Belle Vue”, 54 Mount Ephraim
June 26th Death of Isabelle Adolphine Marie Ferdinande Josephine MEEUS-de MEURS, 61, the wife of Hippolyte MEEUS, distiller and Mayor of Wyneghem, at 4 Nevill Park
October 17th Birth of Rose Marie, daughter of Paul and Marie Francoise VAN NULAND-HANOCQ, from Antwerp, at 7 Calverley Park Crescent
October 26th Death of Hippolyte Maria Ivo MEEUS, 64, Mayor of Wyneghem, at 4 Nevill Park
December 2nd Birth of Gladys Marie Virginie, daughter of Oscar and Germaine GROVEN-TANGHE (the couple who had married in Dover earlier that year), at 11 Linden Park, Broadwater Down.
February 26th Death at Tonbridge Workhouse Informary of Rosalie GEBRUERS-de PAUW, 58, wife of telephone fitter Sebastien GEBRUERS, who were living at 43 Grosvenor Road
April 12th Marriage of munitions worker Andre VAN DEN EYNDE of Yew Cottages, Powder Mills, Tonbridge, and Annie TAYLOR, spinster, of Maidstone Road, Paddock Wood, at Tonbridge Register Office – not Tunbridge Wells, but he does pop up in the occasional concert in the town (at least I think it’s him/he) so I thought I’d include them.
September 1st Death at 154b Upper Grosvenor Road, of Josef Marie Louis , 2, son of Paul and Marie VAN NULAND-HANOCQ, from tubercular meningitis
September 28th Death at 3 East Cliff Road of Emma Caroline, 12, daughter of Mechelen ‘carilloneur’ Josef DENYN and his wife Helene DENYN-SCHUERMANS
February 1st Death at 63 Grosvenor Park of Theodore VAN BENEDEN, 66, from Blaseveldt near Antwerp. He was in Tunbridge Wells with his brother and several cousins.
June 13th Birth of Genevieve Marie Josephe Julie Christiane Ghislaine, daughter of Professor Joseph WILLEMS and his wife Marguerite WILLEMS-BESME – by this time they were living in Folkestone, at 83 Bouverie Road West, where the Professor was an Adjutant in the Belgian Intelligence Service
June 22nd Birth of John Emile Polidore, son of Oscar and Germaine GROVEN-TANGHE and a brother to Gladys, at 55 Culverden Park Road. Father Oscar is now a munitions worker.
July 4th Birth of Joseph Marie Odilon, son of Paul and Marie VAN NULAND-HANOCQ, at 154b Upper Grosvenor Road
Ernest Jean Pierre KUMPS and his wife Jeanne Josephine Marie (nee VAN BRIEN) came to Tunbridge Wells with their daughters Sylvie (15), Julienne (14), Madeleine (12), Elisa (9) and Jeanne (4) from their home at 239 rue de Merode in Brussels, not far from the Palais de Justice – the Law Courts – where M. KUMPS was employed.
Mme KUMPS was from Lier near Antwerp, and the couple had married in Antwerp on New Year’s Eve 1892. Daughters Sylvie and Julienne had been employed as shop assistants at the A l’Innovation department store on the rue Neuve in Brussels.
A home was found for them all at 40 Upper Grosvenor Road.
This 10-roomed house was offered by Miss CANDLER in late October 1914 on behalf of the Society of Friends – a fact mentioned in the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, but not, so far as I can see, in the Kent & Sussex Courier – and had been the home of a leading member of the Society, Thomas Ashby WOOD, until his death at the age of 79 on 26 August 1914. According to his will, he left the house to his daughter Kate who had looked after him and the house since his wife’s death in 1912 – I’d thought maybe he’d left it to the Society of Friends.
I wonder where his daughter lived while it was home to the KUMPS family and others. And why it was left to Miss CANDLER to oversee its use as housing for the Belgian families. Anyone?
Mr KUMPS became the first President of the Belgian community’s Club Albert when it was set up in November 1914; he was President when the bust of the Mayor was presented to the town in September 1915, and continued in the role until January 1916 when he joined the Belgian Army and left for the Front. He was by then 6 months short of his 45th birthday.
His family left Tunbridge Wells for France from Southampton in May 1916.
Little Jeanne KUMPS must have made her mark on the town – not least when in March 1915 this “tiny mite of four years” sang the British National Anthem in English at a concert at St Luke’s School – a concert at which all the performers were Belgian refugees resident in the town (Kent & Sussex Courier, 26th March 1915).
In July 1917, the Courier reported that Bro. E. KUMPS of the Belgian Army sent fraternal greetings to the “Royal Victoria” Lodge of the Druids.
I have traced the family in the Brussels Censuses at the City of Brussels Archives (3) and find that they all returned safely to Brussels after the war.
I wonder what became of little Jeanne?
(1) Sarah CANDLER and her sisters, Lucy and Phillis, strongly influenced by their Quaker beliefs, were actively involved in Tunbridge Wells in a wide range of political and social causes. They ran the Woodlands Steam Laundry at 104 Upper Grosvenor Road. Read more about them on the University of Kent’s Inspiring Women website. Their older sister Elizabeth married an ASHBY but I have yet to find a connection with Thomas Ashby WOOD though I’m convinced there is one – ASHBY was his mother’s maiden name…
I have just returned from giving a talk about the First World War “Belgian Colony” of Tunbridge Wells in the Victorian Chapel at Tunbridge Wells Cemetery.
The cemetery is the final resting place of seven of the Belgian exiles who took refuge in our town, and earlier today I visited their graves with local expert Anne Bates who had prepared Belgian flags to mark them, ready for visitors in the afternoon.
We took the opportunity to place flowers on each one and wondered how many years it has been since their memory was honoured.
Four of the graves have headstones but three are unmarked.
The flags, we have left there – they are in Sections B6 and C5, Roman Catholic Sections, not far from the lower entrance on Bayham Road, should anyone care to pass by.
An impressive headstone near to the path is that of 58 year-old Rosalie GEBRUERS-DE PAUW, wife of telephone fitter Sebastien GEBRUERS, who died in the Workhouse Infirmary at Pembury on 26 February 1916.
A la pieuse mémoire de Dame Rosalie Marie DE PAUW épouse de Sébastien GEBRUERS née a Oostmalle (Prov. a’Anvers) Belgique le 26 janvier 1857 décédée a Tunbridge Wells le 26 février 1916. Priez pour elle
A few yards away are four more graves, three with monuments, one unmarked.
Two are the graves of Madame Hélène DENYN and her 12 year-old daughter, Emma, the the first wife and youngest daughter of Josef DENYN, the ‘carilloneur’ of Malines Cathedral.
Emma Carolina Maria DENYN died on 28th September 1916, just over 100 years ago, and two days after her 12th birthday, at 3 Eastcliff Road – the family’s temporary home, provided by the Refugees Committee. Her mother followed just under a year later on 23rd September 1917. Their graves are one in front of the other, so that standing in front of Madame Denyn’s cross, her daughter is just behind her.
Ici repose Dame Hélène SCHUERMANS-DENYN…
sadly the rest is difficult to read
A notre regrettée Emma Caroline Marie DENYN née à Malines (Belgique) le 26 septembre 1904
Next to Emma DENYN is 2 year old Joseph VAN NULAND who died on 1st September 1916 at 154b Upper Grosvenor Road. His parents were stockbroker Paul Francois VAN NULAND and his wife Marie HANOCQ from chaussée de Turnhout, Antwerp. Joseph had an older sister Rose-Marie who was born in Tunbridge Wells on 17th October 1915, at which time the family were living at 7 Calverley Park Crescent.
A la douce memoire de Joseph Louis Marie VAN NULAND [illegible] mars 1914
On 4th July 1917 another son was born to M. and Mme VAN NULAND. They named him Joseph Marie Odilon.
And in an unmarked plot nearby ( B6/90) lies Wilhelmina Florentina VANHERCKE, the unmarried daughter of cabinet-maker Jean VANHERCKE, who died on 1st May 1916 of pneumonia, aged 66 years.
From Ostend, she was living at 11 Linden Park, Frant Hill with, I think, her widowed sister Maria TANGHE, Maria’s daughter Germaine, Germaine’s husband Oscar GROVEN, and their baby daughter Gladys. A married brother lived in Dover where he worked on the railways. They had stayed near him and his family when they first arrived in England – at that time Germaine TANGHE and Oscar GROVEN were only ‘fiancés’ – they married in Dover on 23rd Feburary 1915.
There are two more unmarked graves – C5/115 and C5/172
7 month oldHelene BECKER, youngest daughter of basket-maker Victor BECKER, died on 23rd March 1915 at the General Hospital on Grosvenor Road – she must have been so tiny when the family fled their home at Pont-de-Loup near Charleroi.
And Theodore VAN BENEDEN, a labourer employed at the Church Army Home on Upper Grosvenor Rd, who died of pneumonia on 1st February 1917 at 63 Grosvenor Park.
This blog is as much an aide memoire for myself as anything else – somewhere for me to record what I still have to research.
And schooling is a whole area still to be explored.
In all, 75 Belgian refugee children passed through Tunbridge Wells (though the maximum at any one time was only 35), and arrangements were made with the Borough’s schools to give them free education as required .
Some were taught by Belgian nuns staying at at Clayton’s Farm, and most of the younger children attended St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School. However, King Charles and Murray House Church of England Schools certainly took in one boy and two girls, and the Girls’ High School had one pupil who was being supported by the Old Girls of the school. There were boys at Skinners’ School and also at Tonbridge School (see note ), and from February 1915 a number of Belgian refugee children attended the newly-opened Sacred Heart Convent School at Beechwood on Pembury Road .
This contemplation of the Belgian children’s schooling has been prompted by my discovery this morning while sorting papers of some forgotten notes made from the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser some years ago (only consultable on microfilm in the library – sadly not (yet?) on the wonderful British Newspaper Archive).
“Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, 18th May 1917: Mariette CARMON joined Murray House School in October 1914. Kent Higher Education Committee consented in July last that she be educated at the County School in recognition of her good work.”
In July 1916, according to the Kent and Sussex Courier (which is on the British Newspaper Archive) Murray House School Annual Sports afternoon at the Nevill Ground included the presentation of ‘a charming scene’ from Hiawatha in which Mariette CARMON played Chibiabos, musician and close friend of Hiawatha, and an M. Carmon – Mariette? – was awarded a swimming certificate and badge.
Now here’s the thing: is she a Belgian refugee? Did I assume she was because of her name? Or did the newspaper say that she was? A slap on the wrist for poor note-taking and back to the library and the microfilm machine! [Update: see comments below]
Meanwhile, if you can help, please do get in touch! Thank you.
Interestingly, only in early 1918 was a Belgian School started up in Tunbridge Wells, and that thanks to Mr Albert LE JEUNE , Honorary President of the Club Albert. Head of the school was Professor Gaston WOLVERSPERGES, a refugee from Antwerp, who with his wife Irma had arrived in Tunbridge Wells from Leicester in August 1917. His registration papers show frequent visits to the LE JEUNE family residence, Stanton House in Pembury, which suggests they already kinew each other – maybe Mr Le Jeune arranged for him to come to Tunbridge Wells especially to set up the school?
I found no record of this school in the local Kent press or records. It was an article in L’Independence belge of 7th August 1918 which alerted me to its existence. It seems that that year the celebrations for Belgian National Day on 21st July had included the school prize-giving and recitations in French and Flemish of poetry and prose by the children. The purpose of the school, the article explained, was to complement the ‘instruction’ the children were already receiving in English schools. Pupil numbers were growing, and the mothers and fathers were very grateful to Professor WOLVERSPERGES for the devotion with which he carried out his difficult task.
The registrations documents I consulted show that Gaston WOLVERSPERGES was born in Schaerbeek, Brussels, on 8th June 1875 and that his home address was 11 rue du Lys, Berchem, Antwerp. A teacher of Geography and History, he spoke both French and Flemish. Once in the Tunbridge Wells area he and his wife lived first at 16 Meadow Road in Southborough, and later, from February 1918, at 9 Cambridge Street. He was employed as a teacher at ‘Lingfield School’ and if that’s Lingfield in Surrey, those records are in Woking!
 Report of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells Refugees Committee, May 1919, a copy of which was found for me by Michael Amara of the Belgian National Archives.
 Information gleaned from the local newspapers, and from the Beechwood Sacred Heart Convent & School Archives held at Barat House, Roehampton.
 Albert LE JEUNE was a future Belgian senator and apparently had an English grandmother whose identity I have still to discover. He and his wife Gabrielle played an active part in both the local and Belgian communities. Their sons attended Tonbridge School. More about the family in a future post.