“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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