We knew about the Geens Family who came to Prestatyn, and had tried unsuccessfully to contact the daughter of one of the Geens children whom we knew lived in the UK. However, after two years, Diane MacEwan contacted us and has sent us photographs and information about her mother Helene Geens and their family. We’re very grateful to Diane for all the help she has given us in compiling this small part of her family’s story. Helene Geens, Diane’s mother, kept an autograph book which Diane now has. Some of the photographs and drawings are from that book.
This is a photograph of the family in happier times, taken in Belgium before the war.
…and this photograph was taken after their arrival in Prestatyn.
The family were from Malines/Mechelen and consisted of Alfred Geens, his wife Jeanne and his two children, Helene, (aged about 12) and Ivon (aged about 9), along with two maiden aunts, Cornelia and Marie Andries. By 1915 Alfred had gone back to Belgium, as he was worried about his electricity business, leaving some of the family behind in North Wales. He wanted the others to go, but Helene stayed with the two aunts (who didn’t speak any English) in Prestatyn for the rest of the war.
Helene went to a private girls school – Pendre School on Ffordd Las – where Miss Hickson was the headmistress. Helene was very happy in the school and she made many friends. After only a year she came top in English! This is a copy of her school report:
Helene told her daughter Diane of a time when she escorted a younger girl to school: The girl had a pet lamb, and the lamb followed them all the way to school. Helene left the hall door open and the lamb came right inside the school! We’d be interested to see any photos that our readers may have of the school and pupils around the years of the First World War. Diane would like us to pass them on to her.
Ivon went to the local primary school whilst in Prestatyn. This photograph was taken in Rhyl. We understand from Diane that Ivon left for Belgium with his family soon after the photograph was taken, and Helene stayed behind with her aunts. Ivon married quite late in life and had no children. He remained in Malines all through the Second World War.
This is the family at Talacre Hall in Gronant.
For more information about Belgian Refugees – this time the brothers from Dendermonde Abbey, please visit our page “Talacre“.
One of the Benedictine Brothers, Dom Odilo, stayed friends with Helene long after she left Talacre – visiting her many times. These photographs are of Dom Odilo with Helene and her husband William. Dom Odilo and his brother Dom Damien were both Benedictines exiled to Talacre. We know that Dom Odilo also spent time at The Mount, Parkstone – this hall was also owned by Lady Mostyn and was located near Poole in Dorset.
These photographs of Helene, William and Dom Odilo were taken 1936-1937.
Helene met her husband Thomas William Arthur Smart (William) whilst on holiday in Blankenberghe in 1926. William was from Leicestershire. They courted by letter, eventually marrying in Malines Cathedral on June 12th 1928 before moving to live in Leicestershire. Read more about William here: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu
The couple had two children: Andre and Diane. The family returned to Belgium for holidays several times prior to the Second World War and Helene returned in 1946 before her Aunt Cornelia died.
Helene went home to Belgium many times after the war. On two occasions she took Diane’s daughter and son with her, and when Diane’s Uncle Ivon died, Diane and her brother Andre travelled to his funeral in Malines.
In the mid 1970s Andre brought Helene and Ivon back to Prestatyn for a visit. Ivon called to see the son of the headmaster of his former Primary school.
There is a letter from Helene’s father to the people of Prestatyn in the “Letters of Thanks” section of the Prestatyn page. Helene’s mum Jeanne died in 1931.
This photograph is of Helene Geens taken in Prestatyn her Girl Scout uniform.
Helene remained friends with many people she had met in Prestatyn, but there were some people who clearly made an impression on her.
In Helene’s autograph book is the following sketch by the local artist S. Grundy, together with a beautiful landscape of Capel Curig that Mr. Grundy painted for Helene:
Diane would like to know more about S. Grundy – please contact us if you know anything about him, and also about a Mr. Henry Fletcher. He played an import role in Helene’s life in Prestatyn: He had an extensive library and encouraged Helene to read widely. Her two aunts were concerned about this, but Mr. Fetcher assured them the Helene could read anything with no adverse effect on her character. He gave her gifts of books, and Diane still has the copy of The Works of Shakespeare that Mr. Fletcher gave Helene for her 16th birthday. Helene remained an avid reader for the rest of her life.
Helene died in 1994.
We dedicate this page to Helene and her family, and thank Diane for her great contribution to our search for information about the local Belgian Refugees.
The photograph above was taken when Helene was 17, in Malines / Mechelen, and the one below taken around the same time shows Helene, Ivon aged 14 and one of their aunts in the back garden of their Belgian home.