“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)

“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)

“I was a stranger”: meet the Belgian refugees welcomed to Maidenhead

In October and November we heard about Maidenhead Congregational Church’s involvement with supporting Belgian refugees in the town. We can now update the story, and introduce the families the church supported:

OUR BELGIAN GUESTS.

The response to our appeal for weekly contributions towards the support of a Belgian Refugees’ Home of our own was prompt and generous. The committee appointed by the Church took 14, Fairford Road (the rent of which was guaranteed by the Adult School) and determined to invite a family of about eight persons to occupy it. On inquiry at Folkestone, three families, related by marriage, comprising ten persons in all, were allotted to us, and since Mr. and Mrs. Dykes of Hill Farm, Taplow, had generously offered to receive two refugees into their home while the need lasted, we accepted the allotment, placing eight in Fairfield Road, and two of the men at Taplow. But the two wives pleaded that they might not be separated from their husbands, and the committee felt that the request was reasonable, and must be met. So we have now ten in our home, three married couples and four little girls.

They all lived at Boom, a small town of about 18,000 inhabitants some 12 miles from Antwerp. M. Asselberghs was traveller for a milling firm; M. Van Hoof was the proprietor of a boot and shoe shop; and M. Van der Plannken was a boatbuilder on the banks of the river Rupel. They fled from their home on the approach of the Germans on September 29th and found a temporary refuge in Antwerp. On the day before the bombardment of that city, they were compelled to fly once more, together with tens of thousands of other homeless people, and went on foot to Ostend. After waiting two or three days, they were compelled to throw themselves upon the hospitality of the English people. They have received information that M. Van der Plannken’s house was demolished by shell fire immediately after they fled, and M. Van Hoof’s shop was looted by the soldiery. M Asselberghs and his sister Mme. Van Hoof are acquainted with the French language, the other speak nothing but Flemish. They all profess the Roman Catholic religion. The children attend the Roman Catholic school in Maidenhead, where a Belgian teacher (also a refugee) has been engaged to teach the many refugee children who are now resident in this neighbourhood. In doing what we can help our guests during their stay with us we shall feel that we are not only fulfilling the spirit of our Lord’s words when he said “I was a stranger and ye took me in,” but we are repaying to Belgium a small part of an obligation which seems greater the more we think of it.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, December 1914 (D/N33/12/1/4)