“Our village is still like a battlefield”

The August issue of a Reading church magazine had news from a family of Belgian refugees who had now returned home.

Our Belgian Guests

Though we have now bidden good-bye to our Belgian family, they are not forgotten, and we gladly avail ourselves of Miss Hammond’s kind permission to print the following letter, (long held over through lack of space) telling of the return home.

Kelfs-Herent,
29TH March, 1919.
Dear Miss Hammond,

We reached home a fortnight ago, on the 15th of March, at half-past four in the afternoon. We found our house quite empty, for the Germans had stolen most of our things, and what they left others took. The doors and windows are broken, the walls both inside and out are damaged, and there is a large hole in the roof. The Germans did their cooking everywhere, leaving the house so dirty that it has taken me ten days to get it even a little clean! We must wait till next year for fresh wall-paper, it is still too dear.

Food is very scarce; there is hardly anything in the shops and everything is much dearer than in England. Meat costs 9-10 francs the Kilo, butter 15 franks, margarine 8.5 franks. A sack of flour costs 110 franks, and one cannot even then always get it. Every day we say that war for existence is now beginning, and happy are the people who live in the promised land of England or France. Our village is still like a battlefield; some of the houses have been re-built but not all. The people living next to us have so aged during these four years that we did not recognise them. We have no cow or horse, and they are so dear that we must wait a while before buying.

I hope that you will give our compliments to all the kind friends at your church, and thank them again for all they did for us during the four years of war.

Please accept the sincere respects of your grateful family.”

M. Van De Venne.
Elise De Kruster.

We are very grieved to hear that, since reaching home, our friends have sustained a very heavy loss in the death of their dear little girl, Elisa, on June 3rd, after an illness of three weeks. We shall all join in sympathetic remembrance of the sorrowing father and mother.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, August 1919 (D/EX1237/1/12 )

“It was nearly five years since we have sat on a roundabout”

Belgium rejoiced in its freedom, despite financial pressures.

THE BELGIANS

The subscribers to the Belgian Home Fund met in the Lecture Room, August 13th, wind up accounts. It was reported that the furniture and fittings not returnable had been sold and all liabilities met, and that £14 12s. 9d. remained in hand. Mrs. Lewis proposed that the amount be sent by banker’s draft to Mr. Van Hoof, at Boom, to be divided between the two girls, Jeanne and Eliza. Mrs. Hews seconded, and the proposition was carried unanimously. A hearty vote of thanks was passed to the Secretary and Treasurer for their services, and to Mr. A.T. Taylor for kindly acting as Honorary Auditor.

Mrs. Hews read a letter she had received from Jeanne Van Hoof, and we print an extract here for the benefit of those who were not present:-

“I hope you do not think we have forgotten you already. I know I have waited a long time before writing, but I have to do such an enormous amount of home work, that I scarcely find time to do anything else. Here in Boom everything is very much like before. We came home just on the day of the yearly Carnival, and the people are as merry as before. A fortnight after there was a big fair on the market place. Liza and I enjoyed ourselves immensely, because it was nearly five years since we have sat on a roundabout. There was a circus, three roundabouts, and a barracks where you could go and buy sweets. The food is at the present time dearer than when we first came. A two-pound loaf costs 8½d., meat 4s. a pound, and an egg is nearly as dear as a loaf. Shoes are scarcely obtainable, so that we sell those we have still left, and can’t get any new pairs……”

Jeanne made a lot of friends in Maidenhead, and we shall be glad to hear of her welfare, and that of the whole family, from time to time.”

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, September 1919 (D/N33/12/1/5)

The address of the Belgian nurse child

3rd June 1919
Children Act 1908

Reporting that the Inspector under the Children Act reported that … the address of the Belgian nurse child had now been ascertained and the proper authority of the district where he was now residing had been notified.

Infant Poor Committee, Reading Board of Guardians (G/R1/59)

Returned to Belgium

A refugee family returned home, abandoning the foster child they were caring for.

15th May 1919

Children Act 1908

The Inspector, under the Children Act, reported that … One child had been removed from a house where he had been placed out to nurse with a Belgian family, and upon visiting the house on the 29th April last, it was found to be empty, but it been ascertained that the nurse child had been given over to the care of the father, and that the family had returned to Belgium. Upon further enquiries, the Inspector had communicated with the child’s father, but up to the present time had received no answer…

Recommending that the Henley Guardians, to whose district the father of the Belgian child mentioned had removed, be notified.

Matron’s Report

The Matron reported as follows:

Nurses’ Home

That, after advertising widely, she had been able to secure the services of Mrs Hustler, a soldier’s widow, aged 43, who would take up her duties on the 10th instant at a salary of £45 per annum, with indoor uniform and all washing, board and lodging.

Minutes of Reading Board of Guardians (G/R1/59)

Stricken with Bolshevism

Hungary, which had been part of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Enmmpire, was in a highly unstable state.

26 March 1919

Johnson’s wedding day. Now Mrs Smith! Our Mr S. & Lottie went.

H & I to tea with Belgians, as farewell…

Hungary stricken with Bolshevism. Budapest isolated.

Council of 10 at Peace Conference reduced to Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Orlando & Wilson.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

All uncertain & unrestful!

There were mixed emotions at Bisham Abbey.

21 March 1919

Miners’ meeting today – all uncertain & unrestful!

Farewell visit of Belgians. Mme Maester, De Witte & Bernard Van de Werve. They go home April 16th… Baby [grandson Berkeley Paget] very sweet to Belgians…

Johnson to be married!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“We were very pleased that we spent those four terrible years in England”

The Van Hoof family, who had spent the war as refugees in Maidenhead, returned home.

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEE FRIENDS.

41, Kapelstraat, Boom,
Prov. (Anvers), Belgie,

March 8th.

Dear Mrs. Lewis,-

I am very sorry I have not been able to write before, but we have been so busy that we have not found time to do anything but arrange things at home. We spent nearly a week travelling before we were home. Before going on the boat we had to stay two days in London, which we spent in sight seeing.

We went on the boat about one o’clock on Friday, 28th, and started to sail about 4 o’clock the same day. The weather was glorious all through the sea journey, so that we arrived in Antwerp on Sunday morning about 12 o’clock. Before we were off the boat nearly an hour had passed. One of my uncles was there to meet us, so that it was quite 5 o’clock before we got home. You can imagine our relatives’ joy at meeting us again. We spent the whole of that day in talking, talking, talking.

Our home was quite alright, but the furniture and many other things that were in it have been stolen or else much damaged. The blankets you gave us have come in very useful, for they are things of the past here. The people have suffered very much, and the clothing has been so dear that they used to have all spare blankets dyed (for garments). The food is now much cheaper, about the same as in England, except the meat and bread. That is nearly twice the price as that in England.

We were very pleased that we spent those four terrible years in England, and by the help of the Committee we suffered nothing to complain of. Thanking you for your goodness towards us, and hoping to receive an answer from you,

I remain, yours faithfully,

J. VAN HOOF

Think of that from a little Belgian girl, who did not know a word of English when she came to Maidenhead!

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, April 1919 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A happy memory of life in a strange land

Maidenhead’s Belgian refugees went home.

OUR BELGIAN GUESTS.

Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoof and their two daughters left Maidenhead for Belgium on Wednesday, February 26th. A free passage was given to them by the Government, and all arrangements were made by the Central Belgium Refugees’ Committee. So ends an interesting episode in our Church life, one upon which we may look back with satisfaction. Our relations with these refugees have been throughout of the pleasantest description, and they were uniformly grateful for our efforts to make their lot in a strange land happy.

When we first resolved to be responsible for the care of a Belgian family, we thought six would be about our measure, but when a company of ten, all closely related to each other, was offered us, we accepted the larger obligation. They settled down in Fairford Road, which we furnished with borrowed furniture, in November, 1914. Six took advantage of an opportunity to return to their own land in September 1915, and we have had no direct word of them since, though we have heard that one of them, Mrs. Asselberg, shortly afterwards died.

Towards the cost of meeting their needs we have raised in all about £265, including £9 11 s. 11d. from the Adult School, and £2 6s. 1d. from the P. M. E. Society. In May, 1916, we ceased making weekly payments to them, though still remaining responsible for rent, coal and gas. Since February, 1918, they have been entirely self-supporting. At the end the Treasurer has about £6 10s. 0d. in hand, part of which sum will be required for carting back the borrowed furniture and cleaning down the house prior to giving up the tenancy, the remainder being given to Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoof. We shall hope to hear soon that our friends are happily settled once more in their own land, and that the four years and a quarter spent in Maidenhead are a happy memory.

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, March 1919 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Many months of anxiety and trouble for the alleviation of the sufferings of others

The hard work of women from Newbury and Speen during the war is reviewed.

RED CROSS WORKING PARTY

The Parish Red Cross Working Party, under the superintendence of Mrs L Majendie, was started by her at the Rectory, Newbury, on May 1st, 1915.

The first meeting was hastily summoned for the purpose of making respirators, but as it was found these were not required, being provided by the War Office, work for hospitals and other objects was substituted.

Mrs Majendie carried on the meetings at more or less regular intervals from a fortnight to three weeks, with suspension of these generally during Lent.

She was assisted, first by Miss Boldero (who also held a number of supplementary meetings for mending for Newbury District Hospital), and later by Mrs and Miss Majendie, Speen.

The number of names on the books was between 50 and 60, and of these over 30 attended regularly from the first meeting, May 1st, 1915, to the last, February 18th, 1919. Thanks are due to all the members, but more especially to these last, also to the various hostesses who provided tea, and lent their houses for meetings (many more would have been glad to do this, if lack of space had not forbidden it).

The hostesses were Mrs L Majendie, Miss Boldero, Mrs A Majendie and Miss D Majendie, Miss Godding, Mrs Gould, Mrs Hawker, Mrs Porter, Mrs Camp, Mrs O’Farrell, Mrs Colbourne, amd Miss Bellinger. Some entertained at their own houses, some at the Conservative Club, and a large number of meetings were held at the Parish Room.

Some members have left Newbury, including several Belgian ladies, who worked regularly for a time.

The objects worked for were very numerous, 24 in all, and included the following:

1. Reading War Hospital, twice.
2. Newbury District Hospital, 9 times.
3. Newbury War Depot, 6 times.
4. Miss Power’s Hospital, once.
5. General Hospital No. 18, France (to Miss Hayne), once.
6. The Minesweeper Newbury, 7 times.
7. HMS Conquest (to Lieut. Burgess), once.
8. Submarine F3 (to Lieut. Burgess, once).
9. The Navy League, 3 times.
10. Dr Heywood’s Hospital, Malta, once.
11. Malta and Near East Special Red Cross Appeal, once.
12. Dr Heywood’s Hospital, Rouen, twice.
13. Dr Heywood’s Hospital, Stationary, No. 3, France, 12 times. Extra parcels were often sent to Dr Heywood’s Hospital at other times.
14. Ripon Camp Hospital (Dr Mackay), twice.
15. French Red Cross, twice.
16. French War Emergency Fund, 11 times.
17. National Committee for Relief in Belgium and Northern France, twice.
18. Belgian Red Cross, once.
19. Italian White Cross, twice.
20. Russian Prisoners of War, once.
21. Serbian Relief Fund, 7 times.
22. Syria and Palestine Relief Fund, 5 times.
23. Air Raid victims in London, once.
24. Soldiers’ Children Aid Committee, twice.

Making 73 meetings in all.

The many grateful letters received are too numerous to quote, but each one showed clearly how much the recipients appreciated the parcels of well made clothing despatched from Newbury. Not only were new clothes sent, but many gifts of garments slightly worn, but in good condition were also sent to various Societies. These were received with special thankfulness for the many refugees in France, Belgium, and Serbia, and as the work of repatriation in some of these terribly devastated regions will have to be carried on for months to come, parcels might still be forwarded from time to time if members cared to collect for them.

Thanks are specially due to those members who were kind enough to continually lend their sewing machines for ten meetings, and to several who undertook from time to time cutting-out at home.
The sum of £92 7s 8d was collected in donations and subscriptions, and was expended in flannel, flannelette, linen, twill, sheeting, muslin, gauze, lint, and cotton wool, which were all worked up into about 2,653 different articles, comprising, roughly speaking, the following:

735 treasure bags, 386 bandages, 376 miscellaneous things (such as washers, dusters, hot water bottle covers, table napkins, etc), 253 children’s garments, 210 men’s shirts, 177 knitted articles (socks, helmets, mufflers, operation stockings, etc), 128 collars and ties for hospital wear, 108 men’s vests and other underclothing, 106 women’s underclothing and blouses, 86 towels, 68 pillow cases and sheets, 20 pair steering gloves (leather palms): total 2,653.

The pleasant fellowship in which the members worked so untiringly through many months of anxiety and trouble for the alleviation of the sufferings of others, may well have strengthened not only parochial and personal ties, but also many wider ones with those they were privileged to help.

Newbury parish magazine, April 1919 (D/P89/28A/14)

“We hope shortly to turn our attention to the needs of French and Belgian Refugees”

One sewing group continued to help refugees even after the war was over.

Crazies Hill Notes

The Women’s Working Party maintains a good attendance on Wednesdays at 2.30. A final consignment of Hospital work has been received from Lady Munro’s Committee, and we hope shortly to turn our attention to the needs of French and Belgian Refugees.

Wargrave parish magazine, February 1919 (D/P145/28A/31)

Our “Burghfield Belgians” are trying to return home

A refugee family who had found asylum in Berkshire were now hoping to return home.

Our “Burghfield Belgians”

It will be remembered that our honoured guests, the Laurent family of Louvain, after a year’s sojourn in the Old Schools, migrated on October 19th, 1915, to Reading, partly for Mme Laurent’s health and partly to get work. The step was successful in both respects. But still better prospects opening up in London they moved there after about 15 months, and have since supported themselves entirely. The enemy having been driven out of Belgium, they are now trying to return to their native country, for though their home at Louvain is destroyed, they have friends in Antwerp and mean to go there, at any rate for a time.

At the last meeting of our Committee it was resolved that any funds left after the payment of small bills should be retained by the Treasurer and handed to the family on repatriation.

The balance in question has grown by interest accretions, from £16 4s 4d to £18 9s 0d, which latter sum was paid by Mr Willink, the Hon. Treasurer, on 13th February, and he holds the receipt. The whole family begged him to thank the Committee and all Burghfield friends very warmly for their help in time of need.

They will probably set up a boot shop again – they had the biggest one in Louvain. The two sons have both served right up to the end of the war – Arthur in fact wishes to remain a soldier. We wish them all happiness and good fortune.

Burghfield parish magazine, March 1919 (D/EX725/4)

Inciting to Bolshevism

Eduard Soermus was an Estonian musician and revolutionary who had been living in Wales.

8 February 1919

Dottie says German prisoners are no longer to be used but make way for our own men. Tuck came back demobilized!…

Strikes still continuing. No undergrounds or tubes running,. Many people taken to work in Army lorries. Conferences going on. A Russian violinist “Soermus” taken up – inciting to Bolshevism. He in Brixton, is to be deported.

Phyllis changed room – by herself to escape flu patients.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“How happy shall we go back, with the knowledge that we have conquered one of the world’s deadliest foes”

The Belgian family who had received the hositality of Maidenhead Congregationalists were grateful.

OUR BELGIANS.

We print a letter received from Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoof. They are expecting to return to Belgium in the spring. Some thousands of their fellow refugees have already been repatriated.

14, Fairford Road,
December 23rd, 1918.

To the Committee.

Dear Ladies and gentlemen,-

It will not be long now before we shall be leaving you, so that we are writing to thank you for your goodness towards us. Never shall we forget what you did for us when we most needed it. How happy shall we go back, with the knowledge that we have conquered one of the world’s deadliest foes.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a bright New Year,

From the grateful family,

VAN HOOF.

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, January 1919 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Vive l’Entente Cordiale!

A wealthy Frenchman living in Burghfield enmtertained wounded British soldiers on river trips. Georges Fiessinger – possibly the obscure artist of that name – married Gertrude Davidson in London in 1912. The couple later moved to Sussex.

More Water Trips for Wounded

A propos of the kind owners of the “Cecilia”, and their good work (see November magazine), it is pleasant to record the kindness shown last summer by our new neighbours at the Manor House, Mr and Mrs Fiessinger, to convalescent soldiers at Oxford. Having fitted out a good sized motor boat with cabins, etc, they took her up the Thames and made Oxford their headquarters, living on board her there for several months, during which time they took wounded soldiers from the War Hospitals daily for trips up and down the river. Mr Fiessinger is of a French family, and was rejected in France for military service, owing to a weak heart. This, however, as our readers will agree, has not affected its warmth, or his will to be of use, somehow, to his Allies, his wife’s native country. Vive l’Entente Cordiale!

Burghfield parish magazine, December 1918 (D/EX725/4)

German submarines fine ships but so badly kept, and crews like dirty pirates

29 November 1918

German submarines fine ships but so badly kept. Crews like dirty pirates.

Heard from Bubs. No flu at present….

Hear Belgian women most kind to all Allied prisoners. Taken risks to help them.

Heard Francis de Greef killed Oct. 14th. Modeste & Emil & Jean de Block back with their people.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)