“We were cadets so they sent us at once to the Belgian front”

A refugee teenager ended up involved in the final push of the war, and helped to liberate his homeland.

The Head Master has recently received the following letter from Devos. We all remember how good a sportsman Devos was, and how thoroughly he entered into the spirit of English School life. It is good the think that he carries home with him some pleasant memories of his exile. We hope he will come and see us again.

Dear Mr Keeton,

It is already a long time I have not written you, but don’t think I have forgotten about Reading School. No, for my greatest pleasure is when I am at home to look at the old Reading School Magazine again. It reminds me of my former English teacher, whom I will never forget, the boys and the School where I had such a happy time.

Since I wrote you last time a lot of things have happened and the big war is over. Let me tell just what became of me. In the beginning of 1918, about the month of April, they sent me to the Belgian Sub-Lieutenant School near Treport (along the coast). I stopped there for six months, when the offensive broke out. We were cadets so they sent us at once to the Belgian front. I came too late for the first push, but the second was mine. On the 6th of October I was in front of Roulers. On the 14th at 5.35 our artillery began and we pushed forward. My battery was with the English people. After about three hours everything became quiet. Our troops were advancing and I went to a British ambulance nearby, to help carry the wounded.

The next day I had to move again, this time to Iseghem, where the French came to take our positions. Later on we came down to Thourout for two day’s rest. Hearing that our troops had entered Ostend I asked for one night and a day’s leave and went walking to Ostend where I arrived at night. You could never imagine what a sensation you have to enter your birthplace again after having left it for five years, not knowing anything about it and fearing not to find anything but ruins. Luckily for me I found everything back, except for the small pieces of furniture and copper they took away. I stopped in Ostend till the next day, when I met my brother, then came back to the battery. They had just received orders to move.

We had to go to Bruges to a small village called Ursel to the north of Ghent. We did not stop long, for we were trying not to the Germans time to breathe. On the 31st of October we made an attack but we could not pass the canal de derivation. We tried again the same morning, but again we could not get through. That day we had rather heavy losses. Two days later, on the 2nd of November, we heard the Germans had left their positions in front of us and were retreating. At once the cavalry began to chase them as far as Ghent. Our artillery pressure had become useless there and we moved to the south of Ghent. Everything was ready to make our big push on the 13th of November early in the morning. We had seen our infantry going up to the line in order to start at daybreak. Our guns and munitions were ready – (at that time I had to look out for the munitions of my battery) – even the men were already at the guns, when the order came that we had to return to our quarters, for the Armistice was signed. Luckily for Fritz ! For his worst time was coming, especially now because we had French and English reinforcements behind us.

From Ghent I went to Brussels and stopped there for about two months. Then we had the re-opening of our universities. I went in for Mechanical Engineering at the Brussels University, and have just finished my first year. I have still three others to do.

Please remember me to Mr. Newport, Mr . Thorpe, &c. Give them my kind regards, and tell them I have I have not forgotten all about the School. I suppose games have begun.

I hope that the list of casualties of Old Reading School Boys is not too heavy.

Yours Sincerely,
G. DEVOS.

October 18th, 1919.

Reading School Magazine, December 1919 (SCH3/14/34)

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Patriotism is not enough

The Maidenhead parish magazine included various inspiring stories arising from the war, some well known today like that of Edith Cavell, other less so.

Sons of the Clergy.

All classes of the community have vied with each other in manifesting courageous self-sacrifice in the nation’s hour of need. But without drawing undue distinctions it is generally admitted that the sons of the clergy have been conspicuous in the Roll of Honour throughout the War. Week after week the long list of names appearing in the Church newspapers bear eloquent testimony to this fact. The work of the clergy in ministering to those left behind in a variety of ways has been of the greatest value.

“How Can I Help England – Say?”

Miss Helena L. Powell, the Principal of St. Mary’s College, Lancaster Gate, has written an earnest and helpful leaflet for children, showing how children can help in the War. It is addressed to the elder children in our Day and Sunday Schools, and copies required for distribution to these may be had free of charge from Miss Edith Neville, Banstead Place, Banstead, Surrey.

A Daughter of the Parsonage.

Edith Cavell, Directrice d’Ecole des Infirmières, Brussels, who was shot by order of Court-Martial in Brussels on a charge of aiding the escape over the frontier of British, French and Belgian soldiers, was the daughter of the late Rev. Frederick Cavell, Vicar of Swardeston, Norfolk. She was formerly a nurse in the London Hospital. In 1907 she went to Brussels, and when the Germans entered the city she refused to leave.

The Rev H. S. Gahan, British Chaplain at Brussels, has given a touching account of her last hours.

“She said, ‘I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.’ She further said, ‘I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

We partook of Holy Communion together, and she received the Gospel message of consolation with all her heart. At the close of the little service I began to repeat the words ‘Abide with Me,’ and she joined softly in the end. We sat quietly talking until it was time for me to go. She gave me parting messages for relations and friends. She spoke of her soul’s needs at the moment, and she received the assurance of God’s Words as only the Christian can do.”

(more…)

A pretty show ward at Bisham Abbey

Florence Vansittart Neale continued getting Bisham Abbey ready for use as a hospital with the help of local volunteers being trained, while landowner husband Henry was involved with the appointment of Special Constables.

22 August 1914

Nurse Barlton & all arranged middle room as hospital – a show ward, so pretty. N room being whitewashed. Couts came & brought Nurse Gordon on approval.

Henry to Reading about Special Constables. Mr Young went too. Have meeting here on Tuesday.

Cookham contingent came down. Made beds, washed patients, took temperatures & pulses. I did another screen. Sewed Red X tapes….

Read papers.

Brussels given up to Germans. B[ritish] Army relocating to Antwerp. French vic[torious] in Alsace.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Lessons in washing patients

Florence Vansittart Neale continued to prepare Bisham Abbey for use as a hospital while her husband Henry worked at the Admiralty. The women from the village who had volunteered to help out at the Abbey (which had a limited domestic staff) came in for some basic training.

21 August 1914
National Intercession Day. Eclipse of sun….

Worked on screens. H to London about Admiralty work. Sister Barlton came for night….

Brussels occupied by Germans. French took 24 guns in Alsace. Not know yet whether our troops at work. Bisham contingent & up the hill came for lesson in bedmaking & washing patients – quite good.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)