Friday, 16 January 2015

Sandy Selects Its Refugees

Belgian Refugee Family at Sandy [Z50/142/706]

Saturday 16th January 1915:  Three Sandy men have returned from London with twenty five Belgian refugees and Mr F. W. Western has described their day. The three went first to Aldwych where they were given papers authorising them to choose their refugees at Earls Court. There they found the Great Exhibition venue transformed. Over 2,000 Belgians waited in the great Central Hall, a “seething mass of gallant but unhappy mankind”. The nearby crèche contained hundreds of little beds and wicker cradles. Sandy had made four houses available and the aim was to select nineteen individuals to fill them. Six children attracted their interest but they turned out to be part of a family of ten which would not be separated – a mother with eight children, one married and with a small child of her own. After some debate as to whether they could be accommodated they agreed to accept the entire family who were sent to be labelled for their journey to Sandy.

A crowd of refugees then encircled the visitors from Sandy. A swollen-eyed mother with two sweet little girls was recommended to them as the wife of a Belgian soldier. He was now recovering in hospital at Market Drayton from wounds received at Liege and would be able to return to his family once his wife found a home. They agreed to take her and to wire for her husband, a decision she greeted with tears of joy. The woman and children were quickly ready and labelled, for they had only the clothes they stood up in.

Next the Sandy men witnessed a commotion which proved to be a group of 200 young Belgians marching off to join the army. They were told that this happens on a daily basis, as young men arrive at Earls Court, register themselves and immediately sign up at the adjacent Recruiting Bureau. Any “Bedfordshire growlers” who refuse to give money to help the Belgians, complaining that they are sponging on English generosity when they should be fighting should be ashamed!

It took a longer to select a third family, but the men finally settled on a telegraphist from Brussels with an “Unfit for Army” certificate who speaks Flemish, French and a little English, his wife, mother-in-law and three little children. The family are destitute and their home destroyed. After a peek at the babies and seeing many others they would have liked to help they chose for their final family a man with his wife, a son and teenage daughters. The man is unfit for military service as he has lost the use of one eye and had worked for a merchant in Brussels for nineteen years.[1]

Although the deputation returned with six more refugees than they had been instructed to bring they are confident in the generosity of the people of  Sandy. Mr Western describes the way their day ended:

“There were no prouder men in the great City of London that night, than my colleagues and myself. If our neighbours could have seen us, Mr Young with two little girls, one at each hand, our friend ‘Mac’ with another pair of fair-haired toddlers, and I with two more, chattering away and wondering at the sights of wonderful London. At King’s Cross we all had a meal, and it was good to see those happy children feed. A kindly inspector reserved three compartments for us, and in due time we arrived at Sandy; but it was raining hard. This, however, did not prevent a crowd coming to welcome their ‘guests’. Wires had been despatched, and we can’t keep such secrets in Sandy. Motors soon carried the newcomers to their homes, where steaming soups, wholesome food, and home comforts had been prepared by sympathetic ladies. And oh, the gratitude of those poor folk – only those who witnessed the scene can understand how grateful they were.”

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 22nd January 1915

[1] This would appear to be the family shown in the illustration above. 

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