Sunday, 25 January 2015

Maulden’s Belgian Refugees

Maulden Schools, 1916 [Z1306/77/17]

Monday 25th January 1915: Five Belgian refugees are living in a comfortable cottage in Maulden which has been lent and furnished with good antique furniture by Mr W. P. Gordon. They are being maintained by the people of Great Barford and Maulden, and by gifts given by other friends. The two boys have settled happily at Maulden School and are fast learning English.

Monsieur Charles Van Huffel, his wife and two boys, aged 10 and 7, come from Ghent and their friend Madame Rombaux from Bruges. Monsieur Van Huffel is the general agent at Bruges for all the French newspapers. He was in the city with his wife and Monsieur and Madame Rombaux, when they heard that the Germans were approaching Ghent. They decided to walk the 27 miles there, collect the boys and bring them to Bruges, but on the journey the Germans arrived at Bruges making it impossible for the men to rejoin their wives. They left Bruges on a crowded train for Ostend, from where they travelled first to Dunkirk, then to Calais, and from there to the refugee centre at Earls Court.

After staying at Earls Court for 17 days the men went to Dulwich and Monsieur Van Huffel managed to obtain the passports needed to return to Ghent via Holland to search for his family and Madame Rombaux. He discovered the two women had gone to Bruges where they were bravely trying to carry on his business as newsagent. On the day he found them there three young priests were shot for looking at an enemy aeroplane through binoculars, and a young man for being on the streets after curfew. They went back to Ghent on foot, collected the children from friends who were caring from them and left for England where they found Monsieur Rombaux, a soldier, had left for Belgium to attempt to rejoin the Army. After ten days at Dulwich Baths the refugees left for their new home in Maulden, which they greatly appreciate.

A sixth refugee, Monsieur Joseph Schwartz, also came to Maulden but has gone in search of his family as he has not been able to get any news of them. Monsieur Schwarz had a general stores, coal and flour business in the village of Tintigny, where he lived with his wife, their seven children, including twins just eight months old, his own parents and his wife’s parents. He belonged to the Reserve Artillery and was called up on 1st August. A few days later his home, along with almost the entire village, was burnt by the Germans. He was wounded at Aerschot and treated in an Antwerp hospital for a week before he was forced to leave when the Germans entered the city. Friends managed to get him to England three days before the Germans entered Ostend and he was treated at a Military Hospital in Folkestone. After time in Sussex, Dulwich and Maulden Monsieur Schwarz left last week to try to find his family, having been unable to get information from any of the Consuls in Holland, France, Belgium or England.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 29th January 1915

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