The refugees who never went home

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.tunbridge-wells-cemetery-004

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

C5/204


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.

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Ici repose Dame Hélène SCHUERMANS-DENYN

sadly the rest is difficult to read

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(B6/96)

(B6/33)

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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A la douce memoire de Joseph Louis Marie VAN NULAND [illegible] mars 1914

(B6/32)

On 4th July 1917 another son was born to M. and Mme VAN NULAND.  They named him Joseph Marie Odilon.

 

 

 

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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 tunbridge-wells-cemetery-005-cropped-becker-beneden

7 month old Helene 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.

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May they rest in peace.

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A family tragedy among so many family tragedies : The BECKER family from Pont-de-Loup, Hainaut

Updated 27 June 2016

On 26th March 1915, 7-month old Hélène BECKER was buried in Frant Forest Cemetery (former name for Hawkenbury Cemetery, Tunbridge Wells), after a funeral service conducted at St Augustine’s Catholic Church, by Fr Bernard Pearce [1].

1915 06 BECKER Helene village name

Her death certificate shows that she had died on 23rd March 1915 in the Tunbridge Wells General Hospital of measles and broncho-pneumonia, and that she was the daughter of a Belgian basket-maker whose first name was not known. [2]

Her death was not registered until 1 May when the informant was the Assistant Town Clerk, William Francis BELLAMY and not one of her parents. Had they moved on by then? Was it simply that he said he would do it to regularise the paperwork and spare them more pain?

At the very end of my most recent visit to the Archives in Brussels, just before closing time, I found a registration form which possibly relates to this family – if so, baby Hélène was the youngest of a family group of 6 children and 2 adults from the village of Pont-de-Loup, near Charleroi, who were first found accommodation at York Garage, Shaftesbury Avenue, Cheriton, near Folkestone.

Victor (age unknown), Marie (32), Henri (9), Pauline (also 9), Hortense (7) Marie-Francoise (3), Eugénie (2), and 1-month-old Hélène had most probably fled their home in late August 1914, when the area was the scene of intense fighting as the bloody Battle of Charleroi (Battle of the Sambre) unfolded.

That is all I know about them – a family who only left a trace in Tunbridge Wells because of a family tragedy.

Little Hélène is buried in plot 115, Class C, Section 5 of Tunbridge Wells Cemetery at Hawkenbury.

May she rest in peace.

1915 03 26 BECKER Helena Burial record DeceasedOnline
Helene (Helena) BECKER – Tunbridge Wells Register of Burials 1915 (DeceasedOnline)

[1] Father Bernard Pearce was Assistant Priest at St Augustine’s from Spring 1914 until Autumn 1917, when he left to take up a similar post at a church in Brighton (Kent & Sussex Courier, 9 November 1917).

[2] The place of residence on the certificate makes no sense at all!  Any ideas anyone?