We’re honoured to announce that we will be walking in the annual Belgium Day parade at 11.00am on July 14th in London.
Several groups of researchers will be there, and we will be representing those Refugees from Belgium who came to Rhyl and Wales.
Unlike other years, the ceremony will be at the Horse Guards Memorial near The Mall.
Belgium is the only nation allowed to parade its troops in uniform and carrying arms in central London. Since 1934, the Belgian Parade has taken place yearly on the weekend preceding the Belgian National Day. It is a strong symbol of the fraternity between the British and the Belgian soldiers during and after both World Wars and it confirms the close ties that unite both countries.
We’re putting the final touches to our paper to be given in Belgium in September, and working on a small side-project about those Belgians who for whatever reason had cause to stay in the North Wales Hospital (Denbigh Asylum as was.) One of the St. Asaph Belgians died there, and is buried in the city. (Read about him here.)
On Monday, June 11th we’ll be speaking to Rhyl History Club about the Rhyl Belgian Refugees Committee. This will take place at Rhyl Fire Station at 7.30pm. Non-members are most welcome, and for them there is a charge of £2.00.
In September 2018 we are honoured to have been chosen to speak at a symposium on Belgian Refugees, not just those who came the UK but also France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and other countries. This will take place in the Brussels Campus of KU Leuven on the 13th, and we’ll post more details of the event nearer the time. The theme of our presentation will be “Croeso Cynnes Cymreig”, “A Warm Welsh Welcome” and focus on the tremendous welcomes given to the Belgians in various towns and villages throughout Wales.
We’re continuing our search for Gabrielle De Bock, and we’ve managed to find many De Bocks – but not her! Gabrielle lived in the house on East Parade for a relatively short while, but appeared in lists of contributors to the fund raising “A Shilling for Soldiers’ Socks”. We’ll keep looking…
We’re also looking for more information about our most recently found Belgian, Ferdinand Jacques, who moved to a house in Rhuddlan owned by Bodrhyddan Estate. We contacted Bodrhyddan Hall who put us on to the Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates as they take care of the Bodrhyddan Archives. They told us we can search the documents to see if Ferdinand’s name appears in either tenancy documents or work records. The archives are held at Bangor University and so we’ve planned a trip there in the next few weeks. We’ll also look for every other name we have on record to see if they were employed on the farms belonging to Bodrhyddan.
Bodrhyddan and the Institute were really helpful in pointing us in the right direction for our search. Thank you! Fingers crossed!
On Tuesday last we were invited to The Guards Museum at Wellington Barracks in London by The General Representative of the Government of Flanders in the UK and the Governor of West Flanders to attend the launch of a new exhibition – “Exhibition 1914-18, The Battle for the North Sea”.
The relevance to the Refugees in Rhyl Project is that the recently found German submarine UB-29 is the one which torpedoed the steam ship “Sussex”. The Sussex was carrying one of our Refugee families, The Cassimons.
As a war grave, UB-29 cannot be moved but some artifacts, including the gun, will soon be on display in Bruges. Please follow this link: Exhibition for more information.
The text of the page is in Flemish, but translates:
“Together with Nic Van der Marliere, general representative of the Flemish Government in London, the governor gave a press conference at The Guards Museum in London.
On this occasion they presented the commemoration ceremonies and exhibition on the occasion of 100 years of Raid at Zeebrugge. The Raid on Zeebrugge was one of the most important military operations performed by the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines during the First World War (WWI). ”
The governor announced the exhibition 1914 – ’18, the Battle of the North Sea during this press conference . Curator of the exhibition is Tomas Termote, maritime archaeologist and historian, Master of Arts, KULeuven and the University of Bristol.
Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, will be present at the opening of the exhibition on April 20th. Nicholas Jellicoe, grandson of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and Reinhard Scheer-Hennings, great-grandson of Admiral Reinhard Scheer, will also give an explanation; two big opponents at sea during the First World War and more specifically during the sea battle at Jutland in 1916. It can not be more symbolic. (20/3/2018)”
There is a great slide show of the diving site, artifacts recovered and more.
The results of the latest search are now published – please click on the tab “The Family Jacques” to read about Ferdinand and his family.
The search for Ferdinand threw out another name too. We’re now searching for the next of our Refugees. Gabrielle De Bock, a married woman from Brussels who was 24 years of age in 1915.
A busy day yesterday!
First, we went to the National Archives at Kew (complete with frozen lakes!) where building on the findings in the State Archives in Brussels, we located some more information about the Jacques family.
After Kew, we travelled the 4 minutes it takes by train to Richmond and popped over Richmond Bridge to re-visit the Belgian Refugee Memorial at the East Twickenham side of the Thames which marks the site of the Pelabon Works. We’ve been here before but it has taken on a new relevance for us, as we now know that Ferdinand Jacques moved here (via Birmingham) after he left Rhyl.
Then, we took the opportunity to visit St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery at Kensal Green. Here lie 77 Belgian soldiers, wounded in action in the First World War and evacuated to the UK.
The new page “The Family Jacques” will be published shortly, after we’ve checked some permissions and had the ok from a contributor.
Frozen lakes at Kew
“Memories flow through me like a boat flows down the river” – The monument at the Pelabon Works site.
The Belgian Soldiers Memorial at Kensal Green.
Quite a big day today, in terms of discoveries and assistance!
Our friends who are researching the Belgian Colony of Royal Tunbridge Wells and Southborough (https://belgiansrtw.wordpress.com) were at the State Archives in Brussels and asked if there was anything they could look up for us… We have one missing Refugee from the Rhyl Refugees, Ferdinand Jacques, who looked after the house at 2 East Parade and spoke up at Franciscus DeRoover’s inquest. They found him! They’ve sent information about where he moved after East Parade: Vale View Terrace (off Millbank) and we had no prior knowledge of any Belgians living there.
After Vale View he moved to Rhuddlan, to Marian Villas (Parliament Street). We had learned previously that no Belgians were allowed to live in Rhuddlan because of the work being carried out at the foundry, but it is possible Ferdinand moved there to work in the foundry as after he left here he went Small Heath in Birmingham where there was also a munitions factory and then on to Twickenham where the massive Pelabon Factory was operating – creating the “Belgian Village on the Thames”. There is more information to come from our Tunbridge Wells friends, and we’re so grateful for their assistance today.
It’s possible that the marriage certificate of Louis Callens and Marie Van Cauwenbergh who were married at St. Mary’s in Rhyl contains a mistake: It reads that Louis’ address is Marine Villas – after seeing the document from Brussels today it seems more likely it was Marian Villas. (There is a house called Marine Villa on Crescent Road, but we have no evidence it was ever a home to the Belgians.)
St. Asaph Findings
Overnight we received several documents pertaining to the death of Constant Van Goey in St. Asaph. There are more documents to come from Mireille who is in Zwijndrecht trying to find as much as possible about the St. Asaph Refugees. We’re very grateful that the archives waived their 120 year rule and are allowing us to have these documents.
We’ve finished our page about Sister Victoria O’Kearney, and published it here: https://refugeesinrhyl.wordpress.com/sister-victoria/
We’ve a few lines of enquiry that we’re following – Leonie Blaes was a Belgian Refugee who died in Mold, but we can’t find her final resting place, and we’re still searching for more information about the Belgians in Cefn Meiriadog and Tremeirchion.
We’ve started compiling information about the benefactors who donated the various houses to the Refugees in our local towns, and we should have new page to publish soon.
It was fantastic to be involved in the symposium at the Pierhead Building. It was really well attended and very interesting. On the programme were speakers who had a focus on the Belgian Refugees and other aspects of Welsh / Flemish life during the First World War.
It was an honour to represent Rhyl in this way in our capital city, and brings to a close the public work for this year.
Our research and public talks will continue in 2018, however, as we continue to look at the lives of the Belgians in our area 100 years ago including those who came to Tremeirchion and St. Asaph (October 2018 is the centenary of a significant date in St. Asaph’s relationship with the Belgians.)
We’d also like to try and find out about those who came to Cefn Meiriadog – we know there were Belgian Refugees there from information we found in an American newspaper of the time.
Our research will also concentrate on the benefactors – those who donated the houses to give some shelter to the Belgians.
Should be an exciting year!
We’re very honoured to have been asked to speak about our Refugees at a symposium in the Pierhead building in Cardiff on November 9th. Please click here to reserve your free place.
Some more lines of enquiry have opened up:
We’ve heard from our contact in Zwijndecht who is helping us find out about the Van Goey and Bracht families who stayed in St. Asaph. She has a visit planned to the State Archives in Brussels to investigate further has made contact with the convent one of our Refugees was part of after the war, and they are helping her to piece together a little of Bertha Bracht’s life.
We’ve also heard from the family of Refugees who stayed in Tremeirchion: We’ve been searching for them for years to no avail – but a lucky break told us they were from Aarschot and having that lead (and a brilliant contact in Aarschot) put us on the right track. They have photos of Augusta which they’re going to send. And now we know who they are, we’ve booked the documents ahead of our visit to the National Archives in September.
Our search for more information about two of the Talacre Benedictine Monks, who were brothers, has revealed a third brother who sadly died on the Front Line in 1916.
We’re on the trail of the Flemish Priest from St. Beuno’s who acted as interpreter for the Rhyl Refugees – hopefully we’ll have more about him soon.
And we’re really excited to have potentially found the family who lived at Nant Lys in Tremeirchion. Awaiting a reply from their family who are in Aarschot!
What we’ve found in our search for a link between the Mostyn family of Talacre and Belgium, which may explain their generosity towards the Belgian Refugees:
We’re very honoured to have been asked to exhibit at this event:
Refugees: Reflections in Words and Music
Please use the link to contact the organisers if you’re coming along!
Throughout May we’ve had quite a lot of activity…
With lots of information and photographs coming in from Diane MacEwan, who is the daughter of Helene Geens, one of the Prestatyn Refugees, we’re gradually piecing together Helene’s life here.
The search for information about Helene has led us to a few interesting items about the Benedictine Monks who were exiled to Talacre Hall (before the Catholic Church bought it in 1920, whereupon it became St. Mary’s Abbey.) The hall was home to the Mostyn family, their brother was the then Bishop of Menevia, and we’re intrigued to find even more links between the Geens family, the Mostyns and the Monks.
Diane’s mum Helene remained friends with one of the monks for a very long time – there are pictures taken in Wigston, Leicestershire, where Helene settled after she was married. More to come on the Mostyns – we’re also looking at the house “The Mount” in Parkstone, Dorset, where our Lady Mostyn was very hospitable to Belgian Refugees and at one of the Talacre Monks who moved there.
It’s been a bit of a busy week!
We were very excited to be contacted this week by Diane MacEwan. Diane is the daughter of Helene Geens, who was a Refugee in Prestatyn. We knew of Diane, and had tried to contact her several times, but now she has found us! Diane has sent us a photo of her mother in Prestatyn in her Girl Scout uniform, and is going to send us more information.
We had a suspicion that there was a second refugee house in Rhyl, as an address was used on a marriage certificate that wasn’t 2, East Parade. During a visit to Flintshire Record Office this week we found the confirmation we’d been looking for – there was indeed a second house. In February 1915 the treasurer of the Rhyl Refugees Fund, C. E. Totty, declares that “a small furnished house has been taken for a lady and her children from Brussels”… so lots more work to do to find them and confirm that our suspicions about the actual address are true.
We’ve had a red-herring thrown our way this week: A Belgian researcher used a quote from a Refugee called Clementine De Leender in a publication to describe our iconic “Welcome” picture, taken on October 6th, 1914 at Rhyl railway station. This would have meant there was a whole new family to find. We managed to track down the writer, and she confirmed that she’d just used the quote alongside our picture as a description – and that the person she was quoting was never in Rhyl. We also found the grand-daughter of the Refugee involved (she lives in Aarschot) and she told us that Clementine was in fact in Tewkesbury, not Rhyl.
We had a little trip to Nant Glyn to see the memorial to Thomas Alured Wynne Edwards – the donor of the Refugee house in Rhyl. Nant Glyn is the most beautiful little village, by Denbigh. When we write about Thomas we’ll include some information about the village and the church.
We’re off to the National Archives in Kew again on Saturday – hopefully we’ll have more to report on our return. We’ll also be popping to Twickenham to see their new Refugee Memorial.
A whole new chapter published – the history of the Refugee house before and after the Belgian families stayed there: The History of the House.
We are continuing the research the owner of the house, Colonel Thomas Alured Wynne Edwards, the Squire of Nant Glyn, and we’re also searching for information about Sister Victoria O’Kearney and the nuns of St. Mary’s Convent School.
The page about The Committee has now been published here. It was a lot of work, but we found some fascinating stories about the people who cared for the Refugees.
We knew a little about the history of the house on East Parade, but now we’re looking at it a little more closely, and that’s unveiling a really interesting story too – about the residents over the years, the owner of the house and what happened there after the Refugees went home. More on that soon, when we’ve been in and out of the archives in three counties!
We’re honoured that we’ve been asked to give another public talk, and we’ll publish the date as soon as the organisers present their new season programme, and we’ve been invited to present an exhibition as part of a bigger project in the summer of 2017 – we’ll tell you more about that when it is finalised by the organiser.
Thanks again for the interest in this project and your kind messages of support.
After finding a report about a Silver Cup presented to Ruthin Refugees Committee, we contacted the Town Clerk to see if it is still in their care. It is! Find out more about the Ruthin Cup on our new page dedicated to some of the towns in the Vale of Clwyd here.
Rhyl Town Council recently discovered that they had a portrait of one of the Belgian Refugee committee. The lady in question is Edith Maud Bromley, and she lost two sons in the First World War. You can read about Hugh here and John here . The research into the two brothers is part of the incredible work done by www.flintshirewarmemorials.com
We recently received a photograph showing some members of the Janssens de Varebeke family, including Geneviève, who was in Rhyl. Thank you so much to Louis, who uncovered it and sent it to us!
We have a desk and some documents booked in the National Archives in Kew for October 8th. Hopefully we’ll find a little more about the Janssens de Varebeke family whilst we’re there. We’ve been sent a couple of documents by family members, including a vaccination certificate for one who was born in the UK. We’ve also found that a baby born into the Janssens de Varebeke family of Refugees in Manchester eventually married a baby born into another Refugee family in the UK.
We’ll update the page as we find more about this fascinating family.
Last night we were honoured to be discussing the Refugees who came to St. Asaph with the Rotary Club of that city. What a lovely dinner at the Bod Erw – and great company.
We sincerely hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Thank you to St. Asaph Rotary for the invitation!
Gabrielle & Geneviève Janssens de Varebeke arrived in Rhyl 100 years ago today. Read what we know so far about them and their travels here.
What a wonderful surprise!
This iconic photograph “Arrival of The Belgian Refugees” was found at a Car Boot sale in Towyn today by a great friend of the project. He bought it for us, and delivered it immediately! £2.00 very well spent. We are immensely grateful to Marc for thinking of us!
A very successful visit to the National Archives in Kew last Tuesday gave us the names of two more Refugees who came to Rhyl – Gabrielle & Genevieve Janssens de Varebeke. We’ve started to map their movements in the UK, and also evidence we found of other members of the family, please take a look: JdV Map
The family has a website, here, and they’ve published our appeal for help in the search to their members.
Also, we’ve found a little more about the Prestatyn and Dyserth Refugees, which we’ll add to the pages soon.
We’ve added quite a bit to our “Prestatyn” page, including a “Letters of Thanks” section and a pdf about “Dyserth”. Head over there to take a look by clicking here.
Mr. Bernard Willems is the most wonderful man! He’s the son of a Belgian Refugee and he currently lives in Prestatyn. We had the honour of meeting him on Thursday evening and recording some of his memories. When he’s checked our transcript, we’ll publish it here!
We have amassed quite a bit of information about Belgian Refugees who stayed in Prestatyn. It’s currently 15 pages of notes and that only goes as far as 1916! We’ve managed to find the names of the Refugees and the places where they stayed, and we hope to get to the end of 1918 soon and publish our findings. In the meantime, if you’re researching Prestatyn’s Belgian guests, please do get in touch to see if we have any information that may help you.
We also found a little bit about Belgian Refugees in Dyserth, and this was all new information to us as we’d never found any mention of them before. We’ll add this as a pdf to our Prestatyn page soon.
The search continues!
We’ve had a whirlwind couple of days with the Wales for Peace project. We were interviewed by BBC Wales and Radio Wales, then had the the public lecture together with Dr. Christophe DeClerq. Thanks to everyone who came along, it was great to have your support, especially some of our family members who had no idea about our research, and Town and County Councillors who have been behind the project from the very beginning.
We’d like to say that the staff at Little Theatre in Rhyl were very accommodating and flexible when our timetables changed last minute, and couldn’t have been more welcoming to our guest from Belgium.
What a lovely audience too! We’re so grateful to everyone who came along and that Hanna Huws and the Wales for Peace project invited us to speak.
The highlight of the evening was the visit of Mr. Bernard Willems. Mr. Willems is the son of a Refugee from Ghent. He’s a fine artist who has painted portraits of the Belgian Royal Family. He lives in Prestatyn. We hope to meet him again soon and record some of his stories.
Dr. Christophe DeClerq & Mr. Bernard Willems
Our quest continues for more stories to tell. Details of our current searches are below:
Can you help?