Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Belgium Refugees

A while back we did a post about the Belgium Refugees who came to Hyde to escape the German's in WW1.  The post turned out to be of interest to many but one person in particular Geert Clerbout who is writing a book and the information was very helpful

Geert writes; "As promised, I send you a little information on Malines in the first days of the war. This was the reason why all those people fled. Some of them ended up in Hyde, as you know of course.
Malines is a Belgian city between Antwerp and the capital Brussels. In 1914 about 60.000 people lived in Malines. On August 4, 1914, Germany declared war to Belgium. The same day the army of the emperor invaded the country. The Belgian army had to pull back time after time and finally decided to defend the National Stronghold Antwerp. Antwerp was protected by two belts of forts. One belt in the outskirts of the city and one somewhat 20 km from the city. The two main forts of this belt were right north of Malines.
The Germans arrived on the outskirts of Malines on the 21st of August. On the 25th they launched the first bombardement. Two days later a new – much more heavy – followed. The Belgians were north of the city, the Germans south. Over a month, Malines was no-mans-land. Almost everyone fled. Some came back during the month of September, but a lot of them stayed away. The people followed the army to Antwerp, but they were not allowed to stay there. Because the government feared that the Germans would try to starve the city (they cut of all the lines to provide and the Schelde was closed because Holland was neutral), all the civilians who did not live in Antwerp, had to go. Therefore, most people of Malines continued there exodus to Ghent. The people there were very kind. Over 10.000 people of Malines could stay in Ghent. From there, the maire and a member of the council of Malines, arranged that the people could cross to England. And the rest of the story you know of course. Some came back after the installation of the German occupation, but most of the people did not come back until after the war.
The people were so afraid of the Germans. When refugees from Leuven (Louvain) came to Malines and talked about the murders, the raping and the burning of the university library  everybody was in complete panic. They took everything they could and left after the first bombs fell. It was really an exodus. It would take until the 28th of September before the Germans finally occupied the city.
 Malines was heavily damaged during the war. It was of course famous because of the Sint Rombout cathedral, but it dit not suffer that much. Malines was also the city of the archbishop of Belgium, cardinal Mercier. He played an important role during the war and is famous for his pastoral letters against in which he condemned the German occupation.
 The American journalist Alexander Powell visited Malines in September and described it as a ghost city:
 “I cannot imagine that I ever experienced a moment so eerie then my veiled visit to Malines. The city was so quiet and desolate as a graveyard. No man was to be seen and whilst we advanced carefully through the narrow windy streets, the beating of the engine echoed against the deserted houses”

It is estimated that about 250.000 Belgians crossed the Channel in 1914.

It is just a little information, but it gives you an idea why the people of Malines fled in August and September 1914. I hope it is interesting to you. If you can find any more information/pictures, I’ll be glad to hear from you.  Geert"

If you have anything to add, pictures, or information I would gladly pass it on to Geert.


Beryl said...

Hi All,
Who would have thought that we had refugees from Belgium in our town. Do you think there would be something about them in the archives of Rosemount if we could get in touch with someone who goes there?
It's fascinating wondering what photos will come up next.

downsie21 said...

We also had Belgian refugees in Gee Cross in 1940.
The son was same age as me (10yrs.) and lived next door to the Platts in Enfield Street opposite the main entrance to the Primary School. His surmname was Plevin but I can't remember his christian name.