Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Friday, 6 August 2010

Hyde In War Time (1914-16) page 9-10

Succouring Homeless Belgians.


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.


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.


Tom said...

I found this chapter of the book most touching... I wonder how any refugees would be treated now.... maybe attitudes have changed so much because the country became an 'easy touch'. The next few pages are very moving and made me feel both humble and a pride in how our old townsfolk rose to the challenge..

I have an email mesage I'd like to share with you about this:

This is a message sent to me and Nancy on the blogs Gmail accout: It is off Karen.. she writes. My mother purchased a copy of this book some years ago from Hyde library ( they had another copy). She wanted a copy because she was in one of the photos in this book along with her sister, father, aunt, and 2 female cousins. They were Belgian refugees and were housed in Flowery Field. My mothers mother had died in childbirth and I think that was why they came to England. A large number of the family stayed in Belgium and took their chances. Grandad buried some of their possessions in the garden and went back after the war to reclaim them ( I don't think they had very much anyway). They walked all the way to the coast, she was aged 7 years and her sister 5 years of age. She said her father told her that if anything should happen to him she must take the documents out of his pocket and find a lady. She said she could remember hearing loud bangs and a lot of noise. Also riding on the back of a haycart pulled by a horse. They did make it safely to the coast and then to England and eventually Hyde. She told me that she couldn't understand what the ladies at the station were saying and when she went to school she was put with the very young ones and given a doll to cuddle. Her father eventually married an English girl and was allowed to stay in England. He worked at Ashton Brothers for most of his life as a joiner and my mother and sister also worked at Ashton Brothers as weavers. The Aunt died in Hyde and is buried in Hyde cemetry. The cousins I believe went back to Belgium.

What a story.. this made the book and the fact Nancy and I agreed to show all the more worth while... last night we had a comment left on the first posting of this book... we were asked about a certain soldier, who was captured by the Germans, his relative wanted to know if he was mentioned in the book... I checked and was pleased to see that not just was he mentioned but there's a picture of him also.... fantastic news.. Once again if anyone knows where book 2 is and is available for us to scan please get in touch. The information it holds could prove most valuable for someone researching their family history.

Hydonian said...

Great post yet again, Tom.
Incidentally ,Duncans Mum has Fathers Mars' chair in her possession somewhere.....!

Tom said...

Thats got to be worth a picture.. ;o)

Rosie harrison said...

My great grandfather was Hinchcliffe Brooke. His daughter Annie who is in the picture married my grandfather victor Higginbottom and they moved to blackpool around 1926. Victors son (my father) was named Brooke Higginbottom after his grandfather. My little boy was born on Boxing Day and we have named him Brooke, after his grandad and great great grandad