A hearty welcome for fleeing Belgians

Burghfield was among the Berkshire villages to welcome Belgian families seeking refuge from the horrors of war, by making not only houses available, but also helping out with food and fuel for their guests.

It is not too much to say that the little country of Belgium has during the last months won the admiration and gained the sympathy of the whole civilised world. She has won our admiration because of the heroic stand which she made against the vast and aggressive military power of Germany and because she refused to become a party to breaking those solemn treaties by which the nations of Europe were bound. Belgium might have saved herself much disaster and suffering if she had at once yielded to the request of the German Emperor to allow his armies to begin their march of conquest across her territory, but she was too noble to break the treaty by which she was bound in order to “save her own skin”, and chose rather to fight and suffer in the cause of righteousness and justice. How greatly she has suffered we all know, for the German motto in warfare is that the conquered should be left “nothing but their eyes to weep with”. We all know that thousands of peaceful Belgians have lost nearly everything they possessed and have been driven from their homes in the towns and villages and have sought the hospitality of the friendly English shores. They have received a hearty and ready welcome, because Belgium has not only won our admiration by her heroism but has gained our sympathy because of her inevitable suffering.

Many of the refugees have found a temporary home in our own neighbourhood – in Reading, and at Mortimer, Aldermaston, and Sulhamstead – and now we can add Burghfield, for a party of four refugees have arrived at “Barnhay”, on the Common, who are brave and cheerful notwithstanding their misfortunes. The Trustees of the “Old Schools” have also granted the use of that building for a similar purpose, and on October 24th Monsieur and Madame Laurent and their two daughters arrived there. They came from Louvain, the beautiful Belgian town where the Germans wrought such fearful havoc. Monsieur Laurent was in business there and his was one of the houses which was burnt to the ground. On hearing of the proposed arrangement, many of our parishioners most kindly and promptly sent a variety of articles required for domestic uses, while Mr and Mrs E F Pilkington sent a ton of coal in order to endure a warm welcome for our guests. We understand that Mr and Mrs Willink are looking after the welfare of both parties for the present, and we are asked to say that any gifts in kind, e.g. fruits and vegetables, groceries, jam, etc, etc, will be most gladly received either at Barnhay or at the Old Schools.

In Bisham, meanwhile, Florence Vansittart Neale met a Belgian refugee family.

24 October 1914
E & I to tea [with] Himes to see their Belgians. Large party of 7. Baby born Antwerp Oct 1st, had to leave when a week old.

The Belgians at Marlow told me the Germans dug a hole, made a woman put her two children in & bayoneted them! Saw baby 3 weeks come from Antwerp. Mother had to move a week after the birth (little Albert).

Burghfield parish magazine, November 1914 (D/EX725/3); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

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