“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)

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“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)

“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)

“Our Belgian friends can now stand upon their own feet”

Belgian refugees in Maidenhead were doing well and optimistic that the end was in sight.

THE BELGIAN REFUGEES.

The Committee’s fund is now nearly exhausted, and our Belgian friends, whom we have helped for more than three years, can now stand upon their own feet, although in case of some unforeseen emergency we would all be willing to lend them a hand again.

The Secretary, Mrs. Hews, has received this letter:-

“14, Fairford Road, Dec. 24th, 1917.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Once more I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May this be the last year of this terrible war, and we sincerely hope that next Christmas will find you bright, merry, and happy as in years gone by. As for ourselves, we hope to be back in Belgium before then.

I remain, yours faithfully, J. Van Hoof.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Belgian refugees can now fend for themselves

The Belgian refugees supported by the Congregational Church in Maidenhead were now more or less self supporting.

THE BELGIAN REFUGEES.
At a meeting of the Subscribers held in the Lecture Room on March 8th, it was resolved that as Mr. Van Hoof is now in regular employment, and as the Treasurer has about £30 in hand, subscriptions might safely be allowed to cease. The rent of the house in Fairford Road is still to be paid for the present. As the Subscribers do not wish to cast off any responsibilities they have assumed, it was agreed that should any emergency arise, such as serious illness or prolonged unemployment, they should again be called together to determine what course should be adopted.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, April 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“We will always admire the English people and think of them as true friends”

The Belgian family being supported by members of a Maidenhead church were deeply grateful for their Christmas gifts.

OUR BELGIAN GUESTS.

The Committee sent to 14, Fairford Road, a parcel of goodies for Christmas, with kind wishes, and received the following acknowledgement:

“Dear Members of the Committee, we wish you all a Merry Christmas. We cannot thank you enough for all you have done for us. We all wish that 1917 will bring both victory and peace. We will always admire the English people and think of them as true friends. We will always remain your friends. The family Van Hoof.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A Belgian refugee in Maidenhead finds work

The financial burden of supporting Belgian refugees lessened when they were able to find work.

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEES.
As Mr. Van Hoof is now earning regular wages, the Committee has decided to be responsible in future for rent and gas only.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, August 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A refugee makes munitions

A Belgian refugee being supported by Maidenhead churchgoers had found work – which was also supporting the war ewfort.

OUR BELGIANS.

At a meeting of the Committee on May 8th, it was decided that since M. Van Hoof was earning wages as a worker of munitions (at High Wycombe) it was no longer necessary to pay him the weekly allowance in money, but that for the present the Committee should continue to be responsible for the rent, coal and gas. In consequence, subscribers were invited to reduce their weekly contributions once more by one-half.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

We must not add to the enemy’s strength by helping refugees return home

The latest news on the Van Hoofs, Belgian refugees supported by Maidenhead Congregational Church. The difficulty of finding work had prompted them to consider a return to occupied Belgium:

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEES’ HOME.
Early in January a meeting of Subscribers was held to receive an application from Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoof, for a grant of money to enable them to return to their own country. After some discussion it was resolved that it was not prudent to consent to this request. The argument which carried most weight with the meeting was that the Germans would probably compel Mr. Van Hoof to make munitions for them, and that thus we should be adding to the enemy’s strength. A balance in hand of about £30 was reported, but it was stated that the balance would not be further increased, as the subscriptions at the present rate were only just sufficient to provide for the outgoings. Mr. Van Hoof has now found regular employment at a boot-repairer’s shop in Bridge Street.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, March 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“A thousand cheers for the generous British nation”

The Van Hoof family, Belgian refugees who were being supported by Maidenhead Congregational Church, were grateful for the help.

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEES.
We print a letter from our guests verbatim:

Maidenhead,
December 27th, 1915.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are very happy to wish you a very merry Christmas and a good New Year. We are thankful for all the goodness and kindness you have had for us and hope the Allies shall have soon the victory over our eternal enemy.

We shall never forget the English People who has done the utmost to help the Belgian Refugees.

We are, dear Ladies and Gentlemen, your most, Obedient Servants. We sign with a thousand cheers for the generous British Nation.

Jhon Van Hoof,
Sid Van Hoof,
Jeanne Van Hoof,
Eliza Van Hoof.

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, January 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Some refugees return home

After almost a year, some of the Belgians who had fled to Maidenhead decided it was safe enough to go home.

OUR BELGIAN GUESTS.

On Wednesday, September 15th, six out of the ten refugees whom we have housed for ten months at 14, Fairford Road, returned to their own country. There remain Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoof, and their two little girls.

A meeting of Subscribers to the Church Belgian Fund was held on Wednesday, September 22nd, to discuss the position. It was stated that up to that date a total of about £168 had been received by the Treasurer, including special contributions for furnishing, Christmas hampers, &c. In addition the Adult School had paid about £17 towards the rent. The Committee had paid the inmates of the Home, at first £2. 10. 0. weekly, afterwards when the prices of food &c. increased, £2. 12. 6. In addition the coal and gas bills had been paid. After meeting all expenses there remained a balance in hand of about £30, a reserve against contingencies and special expenses, and from which assistance could be given when the time for repatriation arrived.

After some discussion it was resolved not to invite other refugees to take the place of those who have left, but simply to accept responsibility as long as may be necessary for those who remain. The Committee should ascertain if help was required for winter clothing, or for household linen, and to expend such sums as seemed wise. It was further resolved that as the financial liabilities were now considerably lessened, subscribers might be invited to reduce their weekly payments by one half. This would leave a very small margin on the right side, but the meeting did not think it necessary to build up a large reserve. A proposition that a grant should be made to the National Belgian Relief Fund out of the balance in hand, was after some discussion withdrawn.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, October 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

The Belgians of Maidenhead say thank you

Most of our sources tell the story of the Belgian refugees who found safety in Berkshire from the point of view of their hosts. Here we have a rare example from the hands of one of the Belgians, which was printed in the Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine. It is of course in the author’s native French, but the editor of the magazine provided a translation so that church members, who were financially supporting this Belgian family, could read their words of thanks:

THE BELGIANS.

Just too late for insertion in our last number, came a letter to Mrs. Lewis from 14, Fairford Road, which no doubt all our readers would like to read.

MAIDENHEAD,
31/12/14.
Cherès Dames, chers Messieurs, chers Enfants,

C’est à l’occasion du renouvellement de l’an que je considere de mon devoir de vous souhaiter tout ce qui peut vous être agreable, tour le bonheur possible et une santé inebranlable pour vous et tous les membres de famaille qui vous sont chers.

Je ne saurais vous remercier assez cheres Dames et chers Messiurs pour tous les bienfaits dont nous avons été comblés depuis notre arrives parmi vous et nous formons l’espoir que vous voudrez continuer à soulager notre sort tant malheureux.

N’ayant pas l’honneur de connaître tous les membres qui participent à cette œuvre de bienfaisance, j’espere que vous voudrez être mon interprete en vous communiquant entre vous tous nos bons sentiments provenant du fond de notre cœur.

Entretemps veuillez tous recevoir nos salutations les plus respecteuses.

Pr le famaille Van Hoof Roofthrop,
Van der Planken, Van Hoof,
GUILL. ASSELBERGHS.

Which is to say:

Dear Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children,
At the opening of the New Year, I think it my duty to wish you everything that is pleasant, all possible happiness, and perfect health for you and all the members of your family and all who are dear to you.

I could never thank you enough, dear ladies and gentlemen, for all the kindness you have shown us since our coming amongst you, and we hope you will continue to help us in our sore plight.

Not having the honour of knowing all the members who participate in this kind act of benevolence, I hope you will be my interpreter to communicate to them all the kind feelings which come from the bottom of our hearts.

Meanwhile kindly all of you receive our most respectful greetings.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, February 1915 (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)