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Wednesday 1 July 2015

Lowick and District’s Response to the Belgian Refugees 1914 – 1915 - part 3

This is a continuation of the Lowick and District’s Response to the Belgian Refugees 1914 – 1915 - part 2.
Alternatively, see all the previous parts of the Lowick and District’s Response to the Belgian Refugees 1914 – 1915, together.
It was performed as a "radio play" in Berwick Guildhall on 25 April 2015 at Discover Berwick’s First World War Story. Researched and written by Julie Gibbs.

Thomas William Wilson Boal, extracted from Berwick Advertiser 17 June 1915
Thank you Border Woman. Now ladies, you have no excuse, there are plenty of ways to help.

You have heard that most of the refugees speak only Flemish. To get a true understanding of their ordeal we need a Flemish speaker to visit them and update us. Who better, than Mr Thomas William Wilson Boal, a gentleman of Berwick and a Flemish speaker to boot. 

Mr Thomas William Wilson Boal      
Good afternoon. Even if you do not know me, you will be familiar with the Leeds Clothing Store in West Street, of which my father has been proprietor for over 20 years. I assist him of course when I have the time, but I am also a well-known sportsman. I have been prominently identified with the Berwick Cycle Club for the last 23 years and was the First Honourable Secretary of the Northern Cyclists August Meet. Aside from my sporting interests, I am the secretary of the Berwick Young Liberals.

 However the reason I am here now, is to make use of my Flemish, which I learnt while at school in Antwerp. I met two young men from the Belgian party, shortly after their arrival. They are staying with other members of their family, Van der Meiren by name, at South Berrington, in a cottage granted by Mr Middlemas. They are cabinetmakers by trade and being anxious to find work, Mr Middlemas and an Interpreter took them to Berwick. Like all the other refugees excepting one, who has a smattering of French, they can only speak Flemish. While talking to them I was accompanied by my niece Miss Sinclair and her family, who came back from Antwerp when the War broke out. Miss Sinclair also speaks Flemish. She had a conversation with the two young men – aged 17 and 16 respectively – who appeared to be delighted in meeting at such a place someone with whom they could converse.

They come from Malines or Mechelen, which is situated in the north of Belgium between Antwerp and Brussels. Before the war, it was a thriving city of about 60,000 inhabitants, many of whom worked in the railway industry or in the artisan furniture business. There was also an important market gardening activity in and around the area.

The young men were thirsting for news. They had left Malines, they said, when the shells began to burst around the town. The Germans were then about 2 hours (7 miles) away. All distances in Belgium are measured by time. They were anxious to know if the Germans had got into Malines. They had been unable to get information. On leaving they had gone to Antwerp where they remained for a month, and then tried to get back to their home, but were unsuccessful. Finally they had been compelled to come to England. They are now as comfortable as can be at South Berrington.

I am intending to visit the Van der Meiren family. Here I am, just outside their cottage. Above which and their neighbours, hang the Union Jack and the Belgian Flag with staffs crossed – typifying British national hospitality for the brave people on whom the first brunt of German invasion fell.  Hopefully you will understand enough of our conversation.

Goeie avond  (Good evening) Frau Van der Meiren. I am Mr Boal. I have already spoken to your sons, but what can you tell us about your family and your escape from Belgium?

Frau Van der Meiren 
Goeie avond  Mijnheer Boal.  As well as my two sons, Julius and Frans, I have a little daughter, Maria Jozefina, aged 2½. 
The Van Puyenbroeck family
In the next cottage is Mijnheer and Frau Van Puyenbroeck and their three children, the youngest a sturdy little fellow of about six. We rejoiced greatly when we discovered one another as neighbours here, after the flight from Mechelen, for we had known one another in the ruined town which was once our home. My husband was a baker’s vanman, and daily delivered bread at the house of the Van Puyenbroeck’s, who were employed at a Mechelen meuble-mackers.

(The Van Puyenbroeck family stayed in South Berrington cottages before moving to Glasgow in 1915. The photo was taken in November 1918 in Bournemouth.)

 Mr Boal      
That is ‘cabinet makers.’

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