By Paul Anderton, formerly Senior Lecturer in History, North Staffordshire Polytechnic and Associate Lecturer Keele University.
This post features the biographies of a number of Belgian refugee families who resided in Nantwich during the First World War:
Four families most evident: Demeestere; Verheyen; Beulens; Brouhon
Three families with good information: De Belder ; Van Horen ; Mellaerts
Others fairly detailed : Demeestere ; Rabau ; Dupont
Short stay families: Lafire ; Genin ; Sebille ; Sterkx ; Troye ; Suy ; Van Cliven ; Mertens ; Soete
The information on which the following accounts are based is contained in the Minutes of the Belgian Refugee Committee held in Nantwich Museum.
Richard Demeestere and Family
Among the four families who came to Nantwich on the 23 October 1914 was that of Richard Demeestere. This, at least, was how his name was usually given in the Minute Book. He was a 44 year old piano tuner from Antwerp (once resident on Rue Van Serius (or Lerius), 61) who came with his wife, never given a Christian name, and son, Walter. The boy was initially recorded as 11 years old, but was later noted as 16. They were housed in Welsh Row with the other three families who all came together. Richard had an elder son, Gaston, who joined the family on 12 February 1915. He was said to be 17 years of age and a soldier, wounded in the leg and sent to Bournemouth in the first instance to recuperate. Potentially, therefore this family had three males who were of military age, or nearly so, two of whom were fit for work when they arrived, Gaston, however, being of debateable capabilities. It is an intriguing question as to how Gaston kept in touch with the movements of his parents.
As with all the others in the house on Welsh Row, there was a question as to how they were to be supported by the charity and when they might be able to fund their stay in England themselves. Walter did find a job, after nearly a year, for by November 1915 he was applying for financial help to buy new boots, a suit and two working shirts. At the time he was earning 12/- a week, though where and how was never stated. The suit might be a clue to some job putting him in a public role, perhaps in a shop behind the counter or as a waiter in a hotel. This would also argue that he fairly quickly became sufficiently proficient in English without going to school. The only certainty is that he remained in Nantwich even after his parents left in 1916. At that stage, in June 1916, he was lodging with the Stevensons and was repaying the loan made to him for the purchase of his working clothes.
Gaston was obviously subject to medical examination, carried out by Dr Lapage, a long-time resident in Nantwich. In June 1915 he left for London having been certified as fit to resume army service. He was owed overdue army pay on which the Refugee Committee made claims to cover some of the expense of keeping him one hundred and twenty six days.
One puzzling feature of the household on Welsh Row was the relationships between the Belgian families forced by accident to share a home. There are strong hints that there were tensions, and perhaps these lie behind the acquisition by the Committee of another property in Market Street, called the Creche House. The Demeesteres moved there in May 1915 along with the Verheyen family. Presumably these two got on together well enough, both being from Antwerp and presumably Flemish speaking.
Richard Demeestere was fish out of water for undoubtedly Nantwich and district had all the piano tuners required, and until he could speak some English few other jobs were likely to come up. Like his son, Gaston, Richard was very sensible of the response Nantwich people had made to the plight of his family. Both wrote letters of thanks to register their gratitude. To do this, Richard joined with his neighbour from Belgium, in the Creche House, on the anniversary of their arrival, and their letter appeared in a local newspaper. Shortly after, in November 1915, Richard went off to Oswestry where there was a training establishment for munition workers in company with another Flemish resident in Nantwich, Jacobus De Belder. The Committee sent their parallel group in Oswestry 7/- a week to cover some of the cost of Richard’s accommodation. On 17 January 1916 Richard returned to Nantwich with a certificate to prove his efficiency in munitions making, but without a job to go to. The Committee undertook to inquire in the Liverpool area for work opportunities, and presumably it was through Liverpool Munitions Committee that he found a job, by the end of January 1916, at Douglas & Wall Ltd, making ammunition. The Liverpool War Munitions Committee was established in 1915 after the revelations about shortages of ammunition on the Western Front. Lloyd George was then in charge of an initiative to boost shell production, and he called on Liverpool steel manufacturers to act cooperatively through the medium of a supervisory committee also involving Liverpool municipal authorities. For Douglas & Wall see Gore’s Directory of Liverpool 1914. Jacobus De Belder got a similar job in the same firm. Richard stayed with this until Easter (21 April), but then came back to Nantwich where, presumably, his wife had remained. Before the end of May Richard Demeestere succeeded in finding a way of nearly returning to his homeland for he and his wife left for Rotterdam in Holland, a neutral country with a substantial Belgian refugee population. Work in armaments factories was not only hard and dangerous, physically debilitating and psychologically stressful at the best of times: to one with limited English, away from family and compatriots, and possibly of rather a fastidious nature, it must have been awful. His fate, and that of son Walter, left behind in Nantwich, remain mysteries.
M. Verheyen and Family
The family who came closest to the Demeesteres were usually noted as the Verheyens. They both arrived 23 October 1914 on the same train. The father was only every referred to by his Christian name initial of M, which could have been Marcel, given that this was the name of his five and a half year old son. His wife was never named in the committee minute book. Mr Verheyen had lived in Rue Montens, Borgerhout, Antwerp and worked as a hairdresser. His age was not recorded, but he was almost certainly of military age though his potential for recruitment was never mentioned. Perhaps he was obviously not of appropriate fitness for armed service. His poverty was extreme – he had £1-8-0 when he came to Nantwich. There was some doubt about the medical condition of his son, Marcel. Lady Cotton-Jodrell arranged for him to have a thorough examination by a Liverpool specialist, with no particular problem identified. However, he was ordered to undergo regular massage treatment at the hands of Mme Immer, the manager of the Welsh Row household.
It was very much up to Mr Verheyen to find a way of gaining independence from the Committee. He was grateful for all that was done for himself and family as his joint letter with Richard Demeestere in October 1915 showed. One relief he probably valued, in May 1915, was the move into the Creche House, shared with the Demeesteres. However, he could have found employment in walking distance of Nantwich extremely difficult. On 13 October 1915 he left to stay in Oswestry, presumably to attend the munition workers’ training school there. This must have led rapidly to a job, for on 1 November he was reported as earning 30/- a week. This was in line with munition workers’ pay, and suggests that he was a man of some robustness. On these grounds the Committee wanted to know what sum he proposed to send back to Nantwich towards the cost of keeping his wife and child there. He was asked if 5/- or 6/- was possible. It seems likely that he was in no rush to comply with this request, which was repeated in January 1916, more or less at the same time that his wife asked the Committee to inquire of the Oswestry committee if a cottage could be found there to enable her to re-join her husband.
Nothing came of the request to move to Oswestry where Mr Verheyen continued to work, it would seem. By that stage it was presumably well-known among the community of refugees that in County Durham there were more congenial circumstances to be found for those willing to work in munitions factories. On 5 September 1916 “Verheyen left 5 September 1916 for Co. Durham”. A further note indicated that it was Mrs Verheyen and her son who left to meet up again with her husband at Birtley in County Durham.
Among the places for which histories have been written about the contribution Belgian refugees made to the war effort, that for Birtley in County Durham ranks high.2 Here a purpose-built arms factory was rapidly constructed in 1915, and in the absence of a sufficiently large local workforce, a village called Elizabethville was created to house Belgian workers, initially intended to be wounded soldiers. It was, in effect, a bit of Belgium abroad, sheltering up to 6,000 Belgians at one point under Belgian military supervision, with home acknowledged through the use of the queen’s name for the settlement. It was not entirely a happy place, but the Verheyens were not know this when they left Nantwich.
The task of settling something in the order of one to two hundred thousand refugees over the winter of 1914-15 using only voluntary organisations such as the committee in Nantwich was a huge task. This was not necessarily the majority of people escaping German rule, for Holland and France were closer at hand and easier to reach than England. Alphonse Beulens had first led his family into France in October 1914, but found his way to London thereafter at some unknown date. He was noted as a ‘bottler of beer’ from Westende (Bains), near Ostend, in the Flemish region of Belgium. (J. Schlesinger and D. McMurtrie –The Birtley Belgians (History of Education Project, n.d.) (Elisabethville, Birtley, County Durham) John North – The Birtley Belgians in The Northern Echo 23rd March 2006 (Elisabethville, Birtley, County Durham)
He was 47, with a wife, Clementine Beaupres, a daughter of 13 called Germaine and a son, Charles, aged 5. How long they had stayed in London and under what circumstances was not recorded, but they arrived in Nantwich on 3 February 1915. There was room for them because earlier guests had departed.
Alphonse’s keenness to find employment was evident and approaches were made on his behalf to Mr Bowers Cooke of Crewe to see what might be offered. Nothing came of this and in September 1915 Alphonse returned to France, quite possibly to a job in a sugar factory. This was not a solution to his problem, and he returned to Nantwich, and his family, in January 1916. Presumably he now recognised that many Belgian wounded soldiers and refugees could only find work in the armaments industry, so he requested financial help to take the necessary training course. A Major Richard was consulted about this, and, however arranged, Alphonse moved to London to get his certificate of proficiency in munitions work. This got him a job in High Wycombe making ammunition boxes, which proved another task he found unsatisfactory. He came on a weekend visit to Nantwich, and shortly after it became known that he intended to go again to France to resume his job in a sugar factory. It seems possible from the committee minutes that this factory was in Normandy at a place called Nointot. On 23 September Clementine, his wife, left Nantwich to join him, as he requested. The Committee agreed that the two children could be left in their care for the time being.
Over winter 1916-17 Alphonse Beulens’ two teenage children found what pleasure they could in the Welsh Row house, but left before April 1917, as the Committee noted; “Germaine and Charles Beulens left the home for London 31 March 1917 to join their mother and father.” There is no knowing whether Alphonse and Clementine were in London, or in France, but the organisation managing refugee movements appears strong enough to reunite parents and children even after some months of separation. What these few sparse facts do not sufficiently convey, however, is the individual torment and tribulation Alphonse and his wife bore while they attempted to find a way through the difficulties of enforced removal from home and employment. There is little doubt though that the search for a new job to finance settlement somewhere had to extend over a very wide range of territory.
Another family who arrived in Nantwich on 3 February 1915 was that of Alfred Brouhon. He was from Neuville en Condroz, near Liege, deep in the heart of Wallonia, the French speaking half of Belgium. He was 40 years old with a wife, Amalie Paul-Gobiet, a daughter, Noelle, aged 13, and a nephew, Alexis Dagnalies, who was only 8. Alfred gave his occupation as ‘entrepreneur’, which was taken to mean master builder. Alfred had been a student at the University of Liege in his youth.
To solve the problem of income generation Alfred proposed, and got Committee approval for, setting up French lessons for local people. He advertised his services in the local paper. Initially, this was to earn fees to be paid direct to the Committee as a contribution to its expenses, given that Alfred drew an allowance, as did the others, from the Committee’s funds. After a while another deal was struck and half the fees came to Alfred.
One of the characterising features of Belgium was a deep divide culturally between French speakers from the south and the Flemish inhabitants further north. It is a nice point as to whether or not Alfred was posing as a rather superior Belgian because he could offer French lessons to the English. It is very evident that the Brouhons did have problems fitting into a communal way of life which must have operated in the Welsh Row house. Alfred hoped to escape difficulties with his housemates by moving into a cottage Lady Cotton-Jodrell had vacant on the Reaseheath estate. On 1 November 1915, “Mr Brouhon be asked to pay the rent, with the rates and taxes, amounting to 3/2 or 3/3 weekly on the house at Reaseheath he and his family are about to occupy; also that he pay for the gas and coal consumed and other expenses such as clothing, boots etc” . He was to draw an allowance for food from the Committee of 25/- per week and to retain all the fees for French lessons. A one off payment of £2 was made to furnish the cottage.
Nothing was as smooth as hoped. On 29 November 1915 the Committee noted a letter from Brouhon asking to be moved out of the Reaseheath cottage to which there was a reply expressing disappointment that a move back be requested so soon, as “being in Nantwich you had every opportunity of judging beforehand as to the suitability and advantage to you of going there”. Nevertheless, the request to move back to Welsh Row was granted on condition that “there must be no more complaints made there, and that a full share of the household duties must be undertaken”. It was also stated that Brouhon was to get only half the fees of his French lessons for himself, which might look like a bit of a penalty. Apparently the cottage was too cold!
The Brouhons got through the winter and eventually Alfred’s persistence paid off. On 10 August 1916 the Committee noted that Alfred Brouhon got a job as a draughtsman at Fodens in Sandbach, starting on 14 August. He will get £2 per week. He did not move out, and must have travelled daily to his new workplace. Presumably he gave up the French lessons.
To find work at Foden’s vehicle factory is testimony to the proficiency of Alfred Brouhon in English as well as technical expertise in drafting plans and drawings. It is also perhaps witness to the shortage of skilled labour now being experienced in those industries essential to the war effort, such as lorry builders and agricultural machinery manufacturers. Fodens had been at the forefront of steam road vehicle development, large engine manufacture and farm traction engines for at least thirty years. It had won War Department contracts at least as early as 1901. Unfortunately, nothing is known about Alfred Brouhon’s career in the firm and whether he remained until the end of the war, or beyond. What is certain is that residence in the Welsh Row house was not without its problems. The Committee minutes recorded on 12 January 1917 – “The Secretary was requested to write to Brouhon requiring him to discontinue washing clothes and household articles on Saturdays in the home and to send it to a laundry in future at his own cost. Also if his wife cannot help in the household work a woman must be employed at 2/- each time she is engaged.. Failing this it will be better to take a house.” Amalie appears to have been a rather frail creature, perhaps in poor health. It seems as though Alfred had no time to do the family laundry during the working week when he had travelling to Sandbach as a priority. He saved it until Saturday, but annoyed his neighbours. Petty irritants, presumably, never normally came to a head with complaints to the Committee, so this must have symptomatic of a deeper gulf between the residents in Welsh Row.
There is no record of when and under what circumstances the Brouhons left Nantwich.
Theresia Marie De Belder
In a third set of arrivals a 77 year old woman brought her two daughters, son and son’s wife on 2 July 1915. She was Theresia Marie De Belder from Berchem, near Antwerp, where they had lived on the Grand Chausee. Little was said about the aged mother in this group, for the attention of the Committee fell on Jacobus Constantinus the 42 year old son, a tobacconist by trade. He had resided in the city itself, at Plaine de Maline, 5, Antwerp. Where he had moved to in the first instance is not known, or whether the family had been long in England. Clearly, Clemence, wife of Jacobus, at 46 years of age, was in very poor health. She had been in Nantwich scarcely six weeks when Dr Jack Munro ordered her to hospital in Liverpool where she died on 6 September. She was interred on 10 September in Liverpool. This was a sufficiently distressing event to warrant a special notice in one of the local Nantwich newspapers.
Jacobus De Belder realised fairly quickly that the best chance of work and hence independence was to find a job in a munitions factory. In November 1915 he moved to Oswestry to be trained in appropriate work and the Committee agreed to pay 7/- a week for his accommodation. He went at the same time as Richard Demeestere which suggests that they, as expatriate Flemings, had discussed their employment prospects and come to the same conclusion – perhaps encouraging each other to take this step. Like Demeestere, Jacobus returned in January with the necessary certificate of proficiency, and similarly needed the Committee’s support through the Liverpool Munitions Committee to get a specific job. This came at Douglas & Wall for which he left 31 January 1916, with Demeestere, who had a similar job in the same factory.. His pay had been set at 25/- per week, or 6d per hour, which means he worked a 50 hour week.
He stuck at this until at a weekend break back in Nantwich over Easter (21 April) he somehow injured himself and did not return to Liverpool until 5 June. Doubtless this was tough for a man used, presumably, to the gentler profession of tobacconist, and he must have missed the company of his sisters and mother. He came back to Nantwich early in July, either because he had a new job, or he was lucky enough to land one soon after. On 2 August he went to stay in Sandbach as an employee at Foden’s vehicle factory with a wage of 30/- a week. This doesn’t sound as though he was in the drawing office with Alfred Brouhon, but as they both were taken on in more or less the same week it does suggest that Foden’s were on a recruiting drive to fill gaps in their workforce on the factory floor and in the design area.
There are no further reports of Jacobus De Belder or his mother and sisters, Maria Theresia Ludovica (47 years old) and Albertina Maria Theresia (aged 39). He appears to have found accommodation in Sandbach, so they must have remained in Nantwich until the Committee ceased operations in May 1917.
Jean Van Horen
The four members of the Van Horen family arrived in Nantwich on 19 March 1915. Jean, the father, was a 29 years old “reprisentant de fabriques”, with two children, Francois aged 10 and a daughter, Laura, 8 years old. Jean obviously married Josephine Loux (32 years old) at a relatively young age, and there could well have been questions about his status, being well within the army service age group. Nothing about this was noted in the Committee minutes. This family was from Brussels and had lived on the Boulevard du Nord.
Unfortunately, Laura was a crippled child, and she was clearly examined soon after arrival by Dr Munro. He was sufficiently concerned to enquire of Mr Robert Jones, a specialist in a Liverpool hospital if she could be admitted for surgical treatment. This was arranged for 4 June 1915, at Heswall. The Committee shouldered the cost of 10/- per week.
There is no record of the outcome of the hospital treatment, or of any search for work by Jean. The last note in the minutes was to the effect that Mrs Van Horen left on 8 September 1915 taking her children intending to move to Glasgow. Quite likely, Jean had gone on ahead, but there is no evidence for this.
On 15 January 1915 Loius Mellaerts, a discharged wounded soldier, aged 25, arrived alone in Nantwich. He had been declared unfit for military service, and may well have come from a stay in Chester, though whether in hospital there is unknown. At any rate, his wife travelled from Chester to join him, coming into the Welsh Row house on 21 January 1915. They had been living at Tervueren, Brussels and may well have left separately as Louis must have been involved in actions at some point to have received a wound serious enough to be evacuated to England. It may have been this news which caused his wife to join the exodus of her countrymen.
Louis must have benefitted from resting in Nantwich, but not enough to bring him back to sufficient fitness for the army. He went before the Belgian Army Medical Board in London on 5 July and was again rejected and had to find some alternative way of life. How he managed it is not known, but he was given work in Manchester at Mr Rigby’s warehouse and left for that city on 5 September with his wife. It is very evident that Louis and his wife made a good impression on Nantwich neighbours outside the Belgian community, and not just with the letter of thanks they sent to the committee. A newspaper report described their departure as being accompanied by many friends, sorry to see them go, and appreciative of their “kindly disposition”. Apparently, Mr Rigby had a reputation of being especially generous towards refugees from Belgium, so perhaps someone on the committee had a contact with him and recommended Louis Mellaerts as a man worth supporting.
A second family called Demeestere came to Nantwich arriving on 17 February 1915 some three months after their namesakes. It is not clear whether it was Louis or his wife who came first, alone, to be reunited in the town with a partner. They were recently married and she was pregnant, as it turned out, for on 15 August a girl, Mary Paula Josephine Justine, was born to them. If they had any ties to the other Demeestere family, headed by Richard, these were not declared in the minutes. Louis came from the Rue de Bom, 67, Antwerp.
Louis was not recorded as having any profession or occupation, but may have been a seaman. On 23 June he left to take up a post as steward of a steamer destined for the Congo, due back late August. He particularly requested that the Committee should take good care of his wife in his absence, and they agreed. He didn’t quite make it back for the birth of his child, but did return on 23 August 1915. It seems that his wife had been living in the Creche house, for the baby girl was delivered there. Despite having an infant to deal with – or perhaps because of the need for income – Louis was reported as leaving sometime late in October on a rather mysterious errand to Holland for the War Office. It would appear that he was away for several months, but also that news of his circumstances had reached his parents-in-law, who wrote, or somehow made known to the Committee, that they wished to move to Nantwich. They Committee noted on 29 November 1915 that Mrs Louis Demeestere’s parents and brother wished to “come to England and our home: asked for more particulars as to their position; question postponed”. They were possibly in France or Holland, certainly not in Belgium, but were no doubt anxious about their daughter now with a tiny grandchild of theirs and temporarily separated from her husband. Nothing came of this inquiry.
Louis did return, in April 1916, somewhat unexpectedly, and in need of an operation in some hospital. No details are available about his wife and child, and it is not clear as to whether the note about his departure on 4 August 1916 was meant to signify that he took his wife and child with him. None of them reappear in the minutes, and the likelihood is that they all departed together.
Another of the first group of families to reach Nantwich in October 1914, shepherded by Lady Cotton-Jodrell, was called Rabau. They were two parents and their three daughters, with a friend of unstated gender. Initially they were called Rohan, but this was later changed to Rabau. They were neither named nor registered as to age or condition, though their poverty was stressed, having only £3 between them. They came from Antwerp and had been lace sellers.
There is a mystery here. According to the minutes they were evidently most unhappy and just before Christmas 1914 some matters of discontent came to a head. “Lady Cotton-Jodrell, with the Secretary, interviewed the Rabau family who have been holding themselves aloof from the other refugees in the home and have been helping, to only a limited extent, with the household duties and that evidently grudgingly. In the course of the conversation carried on by Mrs Collins in French, the family, as represented by the three sisters, expressed their dissatisfaction at having left their home and their goods and wished they could return. Lady Jodrell told them she would write to London to try to find some other place for them, and meantime they must do some more housework. Mr Harlock was present during part of the interview”. [15 Dec 1914] The last reference is to their departure on 26 January 1915 for Cornwall and a house made available for them in Porthtavon (assumed to be Porthtowan).
To all intents and purposes the three daughters got what they wanted. In one respect this is testimony to the willingness of Lady Cotton-Jodrell to go to infinite pains to respect the wishes of strangers reliant on charity. In another way, it gives an insight into the terms on which the Belgians were expected to live in the Welsh Row house. Did this offend the sensibilities of girls with some sense of their own social status as well as an unwillingness to accept fate’s harsh blow? The mystery lies in the memory of this family recorded by a resident, Dorothy Vaughan, many years later,. She recalled that the Rabau family moved into a shop on the corner of Hospital Street and Church Lane “where they made and sold beautiful Belgian lace”. One girl married Bernard Skidmore, pharmacist and optician in High St. when the rest of family left. 3 It is not impossible to reconcile this memory with the Committee minutes, but it would involve the family returning to Nantwich and Dorothy not knowing of a temporary absence in Cornwall, where they may well have not settled successfully. One way or another, this does raise the possibility that there is a further story to tell about Belgians who stayed in the area after the end of the Great War.
Four families came in October 1914, and one soon passed out of the committee’s purview. Three brothers, their two sisters and two male cousins travelled together, all with the same surname of Dupont. All were below military age, with one exception, who was presumably the eldest of the brothers and declared unfit having defective eyesight. They had but a few pounds between them. None was named or had age recorded, but they were apparently from Liége. For some unstated reason they attracted the attention of Mrs Hornby, who was not associated with the organising committee. She very soon provided them with accommodation at a house, called The Lodge, but not given a specific location. They stayed there for six weeks, but were only supported by the committee for five days.
Nevertheless, the Dupont brothers and their cousins must have been five strapping youths for they appeared to all the world as though they should have been in the Belgian army. Gossip came to the attention of the committee that they were sheltering draft dodgers, an accusation Lady CottonJodrell and her colleagues fiercely and publicly rejected. They had passed on the five young men, in any case, to Mrs Hornby’s private care, and knew full well that they were under age or rejected. They resented the slur upon the good work of the committee. Perhaps this all came to the attention of the Dupont family and they responded by leaving. Certainly they were recorded as having left the area by 19 January 1915.
The role of Mrs Hornby is of interest. She was one of five individuals who took a direct interest in the plight of the Belgians, Lady Cotton-Jodrell, Dr Jack Munro, Miss Yates of Worleston and the Stevenson family being the others. In Mrs Hornby’s case she helped with the Duponts, at least for a short period, taking them out of the care of the Committee, but for reasons unknown. Her husband was Albert Neilson Hornby, a sportsman of some fame, nationally and locally. His career as an England cricket captain – the one in charge when defeat at the hands of the Australians brought the Ashes into being – is the most publicised, but he was almost equally at home on the rugby and soccer fields. In the south Cheshire area he was a renowned huntsman and dabbler in local authority politics, being elected to the County Council for a spell as a Conservative. His father, William Henry, 3 Dorothy Vaughan, Nantwich: it was like this (1987) p18-19. had first arrived in the area from Blackburn, a highly successful cotton manufacturer who created a fortune for his family. He leased Shrewbridge Hall when Albert (sixth of seven brothers) was at Harrow, and later settled as tenant at Poole Hall where he died in 1884. Apart from his profitable industrial interests in Blackburn, he was the town’s MP for a time, and chairman of the Conservative Party nationally. Poole Hall, a small estate adjoining the Reaseheath property of the Cotton-Jodrells, may have then passed for a short time to Albert, before he set himself up at Parkfield on Wellington Road. The prestige of this ‘new money’ family was further bolstered by a baronetcy given to Albert’s elder brother, also a William Henry, in 1899. This was more for long service on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons than for its announced reason. All this placed Albert’s wife, Ida Sarah, in a leading social position, and as a woman of about sixty or so years in age with three surviving grown up sons (one died during the Boer War and two served in the Great War), she might well have been expected to play a prominent part in charity work. Clearly she preferred to do this independently, and the Duponts benefitted accordingly. Neither were presumably responsible for the shortness of their stay or the gossip which may have driven them out (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for William Henry Hornby, Albert Neilson Hornby and Sir William Henry Hornby. Various Directories of Cheshire 1864-1896 for their addresses in Nantwich.).
Two families did not find Nantwich as suitable to their needs as initially thought, and one turned round almost immediately on arrival. Edmund Lafire brought his wife Valentine Clemence van Outryne and their 14 year old son, Emile on 19 March 1915 and they stayed until May 25. He was a 39 year old river pilot from Dupret Street, 39, Antwerp, and his wife was 35 years of age. They shared the Creche house with the Van Horens for their short stay, but left no information about where they were heading for on leaving.
Leon Genin must have wanted to keep his family in the town for he requested that his children, Marcel, aged 11 and Yvonne, 9, be found places at the grammar school. Leon was 33 years old and his wife Alexandrina 31. They were from Auderghim, Tercoigne, near Brussels where Leon had found a career as an electrician. They asked to be housed separately and left for Lodon when the Committee found it impossible to meet this request.
Four people called Mertens appeared on 23 February 1915, and the left after three days “dissatisfied on the evening of their arrival, and demanded railway tickets to return to London: for two nights they slept at the Victoria Temperance House”.
A series of individuals tried their luck in Nantwich. Francois Sebille, for example, from Anderlouis, Charleroi, stayed for 164 days as a wounded soldier discharged as unfit for further service. He came on 15 January 1915 and succeeded in getting work with the help of the Committee in his own trade as a miner. Mr Racklyft took him to Madeley to see what chance there was, presumably at the pit at Leycett. Accommodation was looked for through the Betley Committee for Belgian Refugees. Probably nothing came of this, but he was luckier at Silverdale, near Newcastle-under-Lyme, for he left for that job on 28 June 1915. Two more electricians turned up on 11 December 1914 and both left after 27 days on 7 January 1915. Both were 39 years of age, Francis Suy from Rue Tonnelier, Antwerp and Joseph van Cliven from Rue Longue, Ostend. Neither left any other information about their past or their future.
Julius Adolphe Soete, on the other hand, of “Ockene, Belgium, was brought to the home in Welsh Row by a woman on 19 May 1915. Was weary and footsore. He said he had walked from Chester and wanted to get to London. Wired and wrote to Holywell about him, but have received no answer: wrote to Miss Freidlander, the War Refugees Committee, Aldwych, who sent a railway voucher and the man was sent to London on 25 May – Tuesday after Bank Holiday”. This would appear to be a case of a man unable to get the necessary help in the place to which he had been sent – perhaps Chester, probably Holywell – who felt unable to do anything else but get back to London and the centre of operations. How many other Belgians tramped the roads in England while the home country was occupied by the enemy?
Finally, two females appeared and left leaving little mark. Both are intriguing. Madame Sterkx seems to have come to Worleston on 20 December 1914 and found accommodation with Miss Yates. This must have been a private arrangement, but the Committee took an interest for Yates and Sterkx offered to run a sewing class to teach the females in the refuge houses how to make useful clothes for distribution among their fellow countrymen as a way of keeping expenses down. Clothing was a major item for people who mostly came with nothing other than the garments they stood up in. Madame Sterkx left, seemingly abruptly, on 4 January 1915 her sewing class idea being spurned. For thirty days Miss Bertha Troye remained, with no dates recorded, she being from 22 Chaussee de Berchim, Antwerp. She was noted as a ‘femme de chambre’ and 21 years old, who went on to London. Miners and factory workers may have been in short supply, but no one in Nantwich had need of a Belgian maid.