Succouring Homeless Belgians.
FIRE AND SWORD
During the first few weeks of the war the Prussian hordes swept through Belgium, murdering the inhabitants, and pillaging and destroying its Churches and public buildings, Men were ruthlessly butchered, and women and children violated, till the land, drenched with blood, became a shambles and a charnel house. Tens of thousands fled before the occurring scourge, leaving everything behind, and anxiously pressed towards the coast, with the pitiful words on their lips, “When will the British come? Great numbers of these were conveyed across the Channel to England and safely. The immediate problem was to shelter and feed them, for they were destitute of everything except the clothing they had ion, and what could be carried in bundles. The then Mayor of Hyde, Alderman Hinchcliffe Brooke, at a meeting of the Town Council, on the 12th October, 1914, announced that he had received a telegram from London, stating that large, numbers, of Belgian refugees were arriving in this country, and that offers of hospitality, would be welcomed. He stated he had replied to the effect that the town would warmly welcome 150 refugees. The Town Clerk (Mr. Thomas Brownson B.A), who was indefatigable in his efforts, announced that already the people of various places of worship in the Borough had offered to make prevision for housing them, ant several subscriptions for a local Belgian Refugee Fund had been received. Mr. E. J, Cobbett ably acted as secretary of the scheme.
On Wednesday, October 14th, shortly before six p.m. the first hatch of Belgian refugees arrived at the train station. Their arrival was accompanied by scenes and incidents never to be forgotten. The writer was on the platform when the train conveying the refugees pulled up in the station. Words fail to describe one’s feelings at the time. Here were forty Belgians, not one of whom could speak a word of English, driven from their land of their fathers, and from all their old and venerated associations; placing themselves unreservedly at the mercy of the inhabitants of Hyde, On the platform, to welcome the fugitives. were the Mayor and Mayoress, the Town Clerk, and other prominent townspeople; while Great Norbury Street, in the vicinity of the station, was packed with people, it having been made generally known in the town during the previous few hours the Belgian refugees were expected to arrive. The party comprised twelve men, fifteen women, and fifteen children, - a total of 42. Some had had their homes smashed by German shells; all had had to leave hurriedly, and the few priceless relics they retained were carried in their hands, wrapped in tablecloths and large coloured handkerchief. Poor stricken humanity, it was pitiable to see them as they emerged from the saloon carriage, and wearily stepped on to the platform, sticking to their bundles as if their lives depended upon the contents. Mr. Van Aalten, a well known Hyde tradesman; and Father Marrs, of St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church. Hyde, both had sufficient knowledge of the Flemish language to hold conversation with the refugees, paved the way for enabling them to understand the arrangements made. All of them seemed to belong to the working class, or peasantry. The eldest refugee was a lady of about seventy years, the youngest a child of about eighteen months, in the arms of it mother. A young woman among them sob bitterly, and it was stated she had lost both her parents. Onlookers were moved to tears. As the refugees were emerging out the station at the front entrance, a Corporation junior clerk waved the Belgian flag, and several Hyde young women fervently kissed the Belgian children. The refugees were taken to the old Hospital, at Gee Cross, in motor cars provided by friends. The refugees were taken up to the Hospital, having had a wash and “brush up” their were welcomed in a few cheering words by the Mayor and Mayoress (Mr. Van Aalten acting as interpreter), and then were feasted with a good meal of potato pie, which evidently they greatly needed. One of the families comprised father, mother, and seven children; another, the parents and five children. They were “housed” at the old Hospital for a day or two, pending the preparation of more permanent accommodation for them in various parts of the town. With two or three exceptions, from Antwerp, the whole of the refugees were from Malines.
GROUP OF BELGIAN REFUGEES AND TOWN OFFICIALS AT THE OLD HOSPITAL
Centre: Councillor and Mrs. Hinchcliffe Brooke (Mayor and Mayoress) and Miss Brooke. At the back: Councillor W. Fowden (Chairman, Sanitary Committee.) Mr. T Brownson, B.A. (Town Clark), and Miss Pristley (Matron). Left: Mr. Van Aalten (Interpreter.) Right: Councillor T. Middleton.