Refugees in Rhyl

What do we know about the Refugees in Rhyl?



We know a little about one of the families, the De Roovers, and have dedicated a page to them here.

The other families we know about also have dedicated pages – please see the menu for more information.


There were at least two births, one death and one marriage among the Refugees.


The house on East Parade was donated for the use of the Refugees at the request of the Sister Superior of St. Mary’s Convent School. The sisters at the Convent were of the Order of St. Mary, Our Lady of Namur. At the Mother House in Namur, Belgium, they experienced the full horror of the German Invasion – the assault on this fortified town is known as The Siege of Namur. Two of the postulant nuns at Rhyl took their vows here after having been sent to safety from Belgium. (We cannot strictly class these two sisters as Belgian Refugees: Although they were exiled from their order in Namur, they were actually from Cork in Ireland.)


* The Convent School in the former Bryntirion Hall on Russell Road was established in 1900 and became the UK base of the order for the duration of the First World War. The central convent of this Order is in Belgium (still) and at the time of opening they had one other convent in the UK, at Bishop Stortford, and twelve in America. (The sister of one of the Refugees who came to St. Asaph was also part of this order – read about the St. Asaph Refugees here.)



The census for 1911 lists one Superior and twelve Nuns at the Convent, seven of whom are from Belgium. The Superior is named Victoria O’Kearney (it seems the census is listing their given names rather than those assumed upon taking vows) and the Belgian Nuns are noted as Julienne Van De Putte aged 40, Marie Phillipe aged 49, Elisa Phillipe aged 28, Sophie Collin aged 30, Octavie Quoetin aged 30, Stephanie Thyssen aged 30 and Isabelle Collart aged 27. There is a 17 year old servant listed too – Elie Charlier, also of Belgium. We know from the Liverpool Daily Post of October 28th 1914 that one of the Belgian Sisters died here in Rhyl.

The Sister Superior instigated the fund for the Refugees. There was already a relief fund in place, but this was for the general assistance of refugees, rather than for Refugees in Rhyl. (The ladies of the committee appealed for “New clothes, old clothes and pieces of material to make clothes”, and hoped that the ladies of the town would join them to help.)


Once the house was established and the Refugees were settled, the Sister Superior also undertook the management of the house. She wasn’t alone in doing this – she had her “right hand man” (we can’t find his name) and the backing of the committee. On the death of the Sister’s assistant, she was very eager to relinquish control of the house as she hadn’t anticipated how much of her time it would take up, and for a while the management of the house passed to one of the Refugees – a Mr. Jacques -who was paid £5 per month to do the job. It should be noted that the committee were not necessarily very happy about this arrangement, and did seek to take over the management of the house themselves.


The locals were very generous to the Refugees: A Mr. Ashbury, who was on the committee, had occasion to write to the newspapers at the time to state that “It has been found that gifts to individual Refugees are not always well used and are not to their best interests.” He went on to suggest that, rather than giving gifts of sweets or tobacco to an individual, such donations could be made to the house so as to be equally shared. Although the Refugees were supplied with everything they needed, there was no money allocated from the fund for “such luxuries”. (He also mentions in a letter that a particular Belgian child received sweets from every confectioners in the town and suggests that this, perhaps, was not the best thing for either the child or those looking after him!)
Mr. Ashbury also suggests that any individual wishing to give money to the Refugees should consider setting up a fund to accumulate a sum that could be distributed among the Refugees upon their departure to help with their expenses back home.

Here are some reports from newspapers in 1914 & 15 about the Refugees in Rhyl:

Some have links to view the newspapers held in the Cymru 1914 Archives.


Flintshire Observer and News, Tuesday, October 1st 1914


Colonel Wynne Edwards, of Denbigh, has placed one of the largest houses on the sea front at Rhyl at the service of the local committee as a home for Belgian refugees. The Sisters of the St. Mary’s Convent School at Rhyl have undertaken the preparation of the house, and, with the assistance of residents, are furnishing it. The Union Jack and Belgian flags are flying at the home.

See the facsimile of the Newspaper here:



Homes for Wounded Soldiers and Refugees

The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, Monday, October 5th, 1914


Rhyl can justly and proudly claim to be “quite in it” in relation to the war, for in addition to having been selected as the training ground for the North Wales Comrades Battalion of Kitchener’s Army it also possesses convalescent homes and hospitals for wounded soldiers and a home for Belgian Refugees. Batches of recruits are arriving in the town daily, and they are compactly billeted on the lodging-housekeepers at the west-end, while they turn out on the promenade for drilling. Their instructor is Sergeant-Major F. C. Ruscoe, an ex-colour-sergeant instructor of volunteers and old army man, who was the first to be enrolled in the new battalion. Colonel Dunn is the commanding officer and Major Wynne Eyton the adjutant of the battalion. The William and john Jones Convalescent Homes for Working-Class People of Wrexham and District have been accepted as hospital and convalescent homes for wounded soldiers, and are admirably equipped for the purpose; and No. 2 East Parade, one of the larges houses on the “front” is all in readiness for the reception of a large number of Belgian refugees expected to-day. Added to all this, the townspeople have raised about £500 for the relief of distress, and a great deal of work has been done for the Queen Mary Guild.


Homes for Wounded Soldiers and Refugees

The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, Wednesday, October 7th, 1914


Rhyl residents yesterday gave the Belgian refugees from Aarschot a magnificent welcome to their new home on the East Parade. Thousands lined the streets, the newly-formed North Wales “Pals” Brigade, under Colonel Dunn, keeping passage through High Street, while hundreds of school children carried flags. Councillor Phillips (chairman), Councillor Sykes (vice-chairman), and Councillor Frank Jones (secretary), of the relief committee, gave the refugees a hearty welcome, and they were then taken charge of by the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent School and Mrs. Derance, of the Relief Committee. Residents of Rhyl have furnished the home.


Rhyl Railway StationThe Refugees arrive at Rhyl Railway Station


The Liverpool Echo, Wednesday, Friday, October 9th, 1914


Another batch of Belgian refugees arrived in Rhyl last night, travelling direct from London. The party belong to Liege, and brought very little luggage with them. Some of the women had only what they stood in.

A tremendous crowd welcomed the party at the station, and accompanied them to the East Parade. The refugees were carried in a motor charabanc, and the High Street was again lined by the North Wales Pals.



The Rhyl Journal, Saturday, October 10th, 1914

How Rhyl received them

A memorable scene


We doubt whether, in the history of Rhyl, such a huge demonstration depicting sincerity and enthusiasm has been witnessed in Rhyl to excel that which took place on Tuesday afternoon, on the occasion of the arrival of the Belgian refugees. For days the event had been patiently awaited, and the house on the East Parade set up as a home for the homeless, was literally besieged with enquirers anxious to learn when the party were expected, and the great interest culminated in a memorable scene outside the Railway Station on Tuesday.

At least 200 people assembled, not to mention the many thousands that lined the route all along the High Street. All the elementary schoolchildren were present, carrying banners and flags. They had commenced school that afternoon at one o’clock in order to be at the station at 3pm, and surely no better means could have been devised for impressing upon the youthful minds the immense trials the poor Belgians have undergone.

The party were timed to arrive by the 2.55pm train from Liverpool, but it did not arrive until 3.20pm. Councillors, officials and priests were amongst those who welcomed the refugees.

As they left the station, the awaiting charabanc was kindly placed at their disposal by Mr Anderson, the Manager of Rhyl and Potteries Motors Ltd. There were 22 in the party altogether, consisting of several old men and women, young married women and a number of children, natives of Aarschot.

Councillor F. Phillips (Chairman) speaking with evident emotion, said he was proud of Rhyl, and he would remember that day as long as he lived. His heart was too full to deliver a speech, but he called for 3 cheers for the poor Belgians.

30 more refugees arrived last (Thursday) evening.

 East ParadeThe Refugees arrive at their new home on East Parade

Barmouth and County Advertiser and District Weekly News, Thursday, October 15th 1914

Amongst the latest arrivals in Rhyl of the Belgian refugees are several men who have scarcely any flesh left on their wrists. They were dragged by ropes behind carts and horses by the Germans until they dropped from exhaustion, the ropes cutting into the flesh of their wrists. In another instance a father saw his three children killed before his eyes. An old lady made the journey to Rhyl wearing bedroom slippers.

See the facsimile of the Newspaper here:


The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, Friday, October 16th, 1914


While proceeding from the monastery near St. Asaph to Rhyl to act as interpreter to the Belgian refugees in the that town, a Flemish Priest was so badly injured in a cycling accident that after being medically attended he had to return to the monastery. The accident was the more unfortunate as the priest was the only one in the district who could freely converse with the refugees, but yesterday a gentleman was found in Rhyl who can speak the language and has undertaken to act as interpreter.





The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, Monday, October 19th, 1914


On Saturday, through the kindness of Mr. Fisher and the management of the Rhyl and Potteries Motors Ltd., all the Belgian refugees at Rhyl were conveyed in a motor charabanc, where they were entertained to tea and afterwards taken to a performance of “Mad Hatters”, the management of which company is Van Mertz, a Flemish Artiste, who was able to speak to the refugees in their own tongue, and give the audience first-hand statements of the way the Belgians had been treated by the Germans.


Anxiety & Fatigue.

The Flintshire Observer, Thursday, February 25th, 1915


On Saturday, at Rhyl, an inquest was held on the body of Franc De Roover, a Belgian refugee, aged sixty-four, who was found dead in bed in the Rhyl Belgian Refugee Home. It was stated that the deceased was in Rhyl with his four daughters and a son, and had passed through a very trying period at Aarschot, where he was in business as a wood bootmaker. He was locked up for some days by the Germans, but escaped, and when he reached Rhyl with other refugees he was broken-hearted, and became weaker and weaker. He died from mental worry and exhaustion, following shock. A verdict of “Death from natural causes” was returned.


We have been trying to find Franc’s grave. We explored both the old and newer cemeteries on either side of Dyserth Road in Rhyl, but could not find any stone with his name on.

Two really helpful gentlemen who were working there put us in touch with a lady named Joy who works for Denbighshire County Council. Joy promised she would search for any information there may be and get back to us.

Soon after, Joy phoned back. How helpful this lady is! She gave us the following information:

Franc is listed as Franz De Roover in the cemetery.

He was buried on February 22nd 1915.

The cost of the burial was £4.00

Franc is buried in an unmarked, common grave. This means no one person can lay claim to it. There is no lasting memorial to Franc or anyone else in this common grave.

If you visit Maeshyfryd (Rhyl) Cemetery, there is a grassed area in section 3. This is where Franc is buried.

We found the following reports in the Liverpool Daily Post about the funeral, and who bore the cost of it:

Saturday, March 13th 1915


A Pauper’s Funeral

The St. Asaph Board of Guardians had under consideration yesterday a letter from Mrs. Eustace Hutton, hon. secretary of the Rhyl Belgian Refugee Fund Committee in reply to the guardians’ appeal to the committee to refund the cost of the burial at the expense of the union of a refugee from the district of Aarschot, whose death was attributed to a broken heart consequent upon German atrocities. The committee were stated to have between £200 and £300 in hand, but Mrs. Hutton expressed regret that the guardians wished to be refunded the expense of the funeral, as she thought it arose from a misunderstanding of the committee’s financial position. The committee were now entertaining three distinct parties of refugees, and their weekly receipts did not amount to two-thirds of their weekly expenditure. The receipts were also likely to become less as time went on, and the committee naturally did not wish to have to return the refugees to London now that they had settled down so happily. She would, however, place the guardians’ request before the committee at their next meeting, but she trusted that in the meantime the guardians would reconsider their descision. “The poor old Belgian was in very truth a pauper.” she concluded.
The guardians decided to press the committee to deal with the matter, one member expressing the opinion that the committee ought to have had the decency at the outset to spare the refugee the indignity of a pauper burial.

Monday, March 29th 1915


A few weeks ago a Belgian Refugee at Rhyl died suddenly, and he was buried at the expense of the parish, the Belgian Refugee Committee at Rhyl declining to bear the expense of the funeral. The St. Asaph Board of Guardians took up the matter very strongly with the secretary, and it was pointed out that with so much money in hand the committee might have saved the poor refugee’s relatives the feeling that he had been buried as a pauper. The secretary of the committee has now sent to the guardians a cheque to discharge the bill.

1850- 1915


You can read about Franc’s Memorial here.


Gratitude for the Care of Refugees

The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury, Thursday, July 1st 1915


Comte Goblet d’Alviella (the Vice-President of the Belgian Senate), accompanied by Mons. Paquet, yesterday paid an official visit to Rhyl for the purpose of meeting the Belgian refugees of the district. A public meeting was held in the Council Chamber, presided over by Mrs. Bromley (chairman of the Refugee Committee). Who stated that Rhyl had entertained as many as sixty refugees, but that number was now reduced to thirty-five. None of the men were fit for military service, but they were in employment.

Comte Goblet, in the name of the Belgian Government, thanked Rhyl for what it had done, and said there was no doubt that the time was coming when Belgium would get back her own, and her people would ever be grateful for what the British nation had done. Mons. Paquet said the Belgian people believed that England would find the money, men and munitions to drive the Germans out of Belgium.

An official welcome was given the visitors by Councillor Clews, for the Rhyl Council, and Alderman Perks for the Flintshire County Council.

Who was Comte Goblet d’Alviella?

Born on August 10th 1846, Eugène Goblet d’Alviella was a Belgian, politician, professor and author.

A newspaper archive search shows that he visited many places throughout the UK to the meet the Refugees and the local committees. By September 1915 he wrote in “The Book of Belgium’s Gratitude” (click here to read it online) that he had visited 60 different places in Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, Devonshire, Cheshire and Surrey. That wasn’t the end of it though – we found that he carried on this tour right though the war years. By July 1916 he was in South Wales and by September 1917 he was in Yorkshire.

On the day he visited Rhyl, he also went to Bangor and told the assembly that he had already visited 47 other towns and that wherever he went he “found the same spirit of genuine kindness from all.”

Click here: Alviella to read more about Comte Eugène Goblet d’Alviella.


Flintshire Observer, Thursday, August 19th, 1915


The residents and visitors of Rhyl were on Thursday evening favoured with the opportunity of hearing Professor Firmin Swinnen, the distinguished organist of Antwerp Cathedral, and at present a refugee in this country, and a crowded congregation at St. Thomas’ Church was thrilled by his wonderful manipulation of the fine organ there, the capabilities of which were demonstrated in a most effective manner. Violin solos were also brilliantly rendered by Corporal Whittaker, of the Swansea Battalion. The collection, amounting to £13, was in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund.

Firmin Swinnen

(Firmin Swinnen attended the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen. Graduating in 1913, he married Augusta Vantilt and became organist at St Walburga’s in Antwerp. When the First World War started they fled to the UK where “Professor” Swinnen was presented as one of the organists of Antwerp Cathedral. He played some 260 recitals to a total audience of about 100,000 people for the benefit of the Belgian refugees.)

At the top of this page, we mentioned a wedding – here is the report on that, from the Denbighshire Free Press of he 19th of June, 1915


 The marriage was solemnized at  the Roman Catholic Church, Rhyl, on Thursday (17/6/1915) of Mr. Louis Callens, Marine-villa, and Miss Marie Van Cauwenberg, Penybanc, Abergele – both being Belgian Refugees. The witnesses to the marriage were Mr. & Mrs. Carnier.

Both the bride and groom were badly wounded in Flanders at the commencement of the war.

You can read more about Mrs. Carnier and some of the Belgian Refugees in Abergele here:




Ruth Ellis – Daughter of a Belgian Refugee in Rhyl

On the 13th of July 1965 Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Born in Rhyl in October 1926, Ruth was the third of six children. Her mother, Elisaberta (Bertha) Cothals, was a Belgian Refugee who had originally settled in Manchester. Her father, Arthur Hornby, was a cellist from Manchester. He changed his surname to Neilson after the birth of Ruth’s elder sister Muriel.

When in Rhyl, Arthur was “principal cellist” at the Cinema Royal. This building was  the first purpose-built cinema in the town. It was built in the back gardens of numbers 1 & 2 East Parade, which had been the home of the De Roover family, and opened on May 27th 1926.  The cinema closed in 1939, with Woolworths then establishing themselves on the site.

Bertha Cothals (sometimes listed as Goethals) was born in Belgium at the turn of the century and grew up with her sisters Charmaine, Rachel and Olga. When their mother died, their father Julius was serving in the Belgian Army overseas, and so the girls were sent to live in a convent in Bruges. When the Germans invaded, the nuns hastily removed their charges from the convent and put them on a boat bound for England. Bertha and her sisters were housed in a convent in Manchester where she remained until she was 18 years of age – leaving to enter domestic service.  By 1920 Bertha was courting Arthur, and they eventually married.

In 1926, when Bertha found herself pregnant with Ruth, the family decided to move to Rhyl as they believed the sea air would help their son Granville, who suffered with encephalitis lethargica, and thus Ruth was born in the house at 74 West Parade,

In 1969, Bertha was found unconscious in a gas-filled room in her flat – the circumstances around this occurrence are unknown. She never fully recovered from this and was moved to the Brookwood Hospital near Woking, formerly known as the Brookwood Asylum. For a while Bertha lost the power of speech, and most certainly her language skills. She died in April 1979.

More about the changing face of 2 East Parade here:

2 East Parade



Updates: October 2015

Following quite a bit of digging in archives and libraries, we’ve found the following reports. They give us quite an insight into the power struggles behind the management of the Refugee House, more information about Franc De Roover’s inquest including the first person to describe him as “Broken Hearted” and the balance sheet for the first year of the Committee’s operation.


Rhyl Journal, 30/1/1915

“Committee of Ladies take over Management”

“Can Rhyl entertain more Refugees?”


A meeting of the General Committee of the Prince of Wales Fund was held on Monday evening, Councillor F. Phillips presiding. The meeting was called to consider a resolution passed by the Ladies’ Sub-Committee recommending that the General Committee of the fund take over the management of the Belgian Refugees Home on East Parade.


In opening the proceeding the Chairman reviewed the work of the Prince of Wales Committee and said that it was gratifying to know that it had not been necessary to call the Food or the Employment Committees to undertake any work. The Relief Committee had spent about £29 in weekly relief, £21 15s 6d had been distributed at Christmas, and £6 was spent on toys for a Christmas treat to the children of the soldiers and sailors at the front. A tea was generously provided by Mr. Buckley Jones, and he moved a hearty vote of thanks to him for his generosity.


Mr. Gamlin seconded, and it was unanimously carried.


The meeting then proceeded to the business for which the members had been called together, and a letter was read from the Sister Superior of St. Mary’s Convent School asking to be allowed to sign control of the Belgian Home in favour of a Committee consisting of Mrs. Bromley, Mrs. Hutton, Mrs. Joshua Davies, Mrs. J. Wilde, Mrs. Eyton Lloyd, Miss Linthwaite, Mrs. P. Ashbery (treasurer) and Mr. Roberts (Men’s Home.)  The Ladies’ Sub-Committee had considered the letter, and considered that the Prince of Wales Fund take over the Home.


Mr. Frank Jones asked if the Committee suggested in the letter thought it would receive sufficient support to carry on the Home. Mrs. Hutton replied that support was readily coming in, and she was sure the same support would in the future be given as had been given to the Sister Superior.


The Chairman asked whether all the members of the Ladies’ Sub-Committee which had dealt with the matter … (the next line was illegible on the original) … Ladies of the Sub-Committee of the Prince of Wales Fund had not been invited to attend a single meeting.

Mrs. Hutton said it was possible that their names had been omitted when the notices were sent out.

Mr. Frank Jones asked who gave the Sub-Committee power to co-opt members.

Mrs. Hutton said she understood they had the power to co-opt members, and they had co-opted those who were helping in connection with the Home.

Mr. Frank Jones said they had no power to co-opt. The General Committee alone had power to add to the Committee. Was it a fact that the co-opted members had had notices of the meetings whereas the original members, or some of them, had not had notices?

The Chairman said it was evidently a misunderstanding of the ordinary routine of Committee work.

Mr. Gamlin said that the Sister Superior wished to hand the control of the Home over to certain ladies outside that Committee. Suppose that meeting decided that night that it would go in for a wider Committee, was the Sister Superior prepared to hand the Home over under these conditions? There had evidently been some feeling in the town over the matter, as a little while ago Mr. Batho wrote a letter to the papers asking for certain information about balance sheets. He did not know what was in Mr. Batho’s mind, but reading between the lines it seemed to him that it was a question of the control being in the hands of the Roman Catholics. If the new arrangements were carried out the control of the place would practically be in the hands of the Church of England, with but one Non-Conformist. He was a member of the Church of England, and he did not think it would be right that a Home run by town’s subscriptions should be in the hands of one particular denomination (Hear, Hear). He considered if was handed over at all it should be handed over to a Committee representative of all the religious bodies in the town. Mrs. Bromley said she was sorry the question of religion had come in. It was not intended that the Committee should be composed of one body. It was composed of those who had taken an interest in the Home.

Mr. Gamlin said he was prepared to accept that, but it was a coincidence that the Committee was composed practically of one body.

Mr. Frank Jones pointed out that the Sister Superior was delegating the power to a specific Committee. He felt that Mr. Gamlin was voicing the views of the town generally on the matter.

Mrs. Hutton said that the Sister Superior would resign if they elected others to the Committee.

A member: Then Non-Conformists are not wanted – except their cash.

Mr. Frank Jones: “She will find the contributions falling off then. Judging from the list, Catholics are also not wanted.”

Dr. Goodwin asked whose guests were the Belgian Refugees. It seemed to him, that the Sister Superior having invited them, they were her guests, therefore he could not see how she could resign. The Chairman said the Sister Superior wished to resign the management in favour of a Committee.

Mr. J. H. Ellis asked whether the Sister Superior would be in favour of delegating the management to a Committee appointed by the Prince of Wales Committee.

Mr. R. Frank Jones pointed out that the names of certain ladies were mentioned as those who should take over management. In the first case the Sister Superior delegated management to the Ladies’ Committee in general; now, according to Mrs. Hutton, she delegated it to certain members specially named.

Councillor I. Batho said his letter, to which Mr. Gamlin referred, was the result of ratepayers questioning him about the funds. As a representative of the ratepayers he wanted to satisfy those people. There was nothing personal in this letter at all. He had not the slightest prejudice against Roman Catholics. All denominations were the same to him. He would suggest the Ladies’ Committee be attached to the Prince of Wales’ Fund Committee.

… (the next line was illegible on the original) … remove the impression that the Sister Superior would not have Non-Conformists on the managing body. She wanted people on whom she knew.

Alderman Gamlin moved that the Chairman, the Vicar of Rhyl, Father Rigby, Rev. G. H. Havard, Edward Jones, and Mr. Lewis Jones (Registrar) form a deputation to wait upon the Sister Superior and ascertain her views. Dr. Goodwin seconded this.

The Ven. Archdeacon Lloyd withdrew his name.

Replying to the question, Mrs. Bromley stated that the small Committee which now existed was quite willing to undertake the management of the Homes, and would in no way draw upon the funds of the Prince of Wales Fund. As a matter of fact, the Committee was in possession at the present time.

Mr. A. Lewis thought that as the Ladies’ Committee had carried on the work and borne the brunt of the affairs for some time, the simplest course would be to allow them to continue to do so, especially as they were willing to receive into their numbers other representatives so as to make the Committee fully representative. He did not see what need there was to approach the Sister Superior.

The Chairman said that if the ladies undertook to form a committee outside the Prince of Wales Committee they were perfectly at liberty to do so. He also pointed out that the Ladies’ Committee could not co-opt any other than those approved by the Sister Superior.

Mr. P. Ashbery said that people had subscribed willingly towards the Home, and he thought, if he went through the accounts, he would find that more had been subscribed by people out of the town than in the town. Certainly Roman Catholics had contributed as well as any other denomination. Only that day, Father Rigby suggested to him that a Roman Catholic should be co-opted on the Committee. Rhyl was very favourably situated for entertaining Refugees. When the Belgians were first invited, the Sister Superior only expected 20, and then received 46, which number she could not manage, but the Ladies’ Committee assisted her. Now the Sister Superior was not in such a position as she was in the first place, having lost her right-hand man by death. She had an immense amount of trouble, and could not continue the management, therefore she wished to hand it over to people who had done the work. The Refugees had given considerable trouble, and it had been found necessary to place Mr. Jacques, a Belgian Refugee, in charge of the place.

Mr. R. Frank Jones: “Is it true that Mr. Jacques, who is enjoying the town’s hospitality at 2, East Parade, is paid £5 a month for this alleged managing?”

Mr. Ashbery: “That fact will come out in the balance sheet.”

Mr. Frank Jones: “Then I take it that is true.”

Mr. Ashbery suggested that they, the ladies nominated by the Sister Superior, dissolved connection with the Prince of Wales Fund, and other committees be formed to entertain other Refugees. He intended, in the near future, to draw up a properly audited balance sheet of the Belgian Fund accounts.

Mrs. Hutton and Mrs. Bromley having stated that they were willing to withdraw from the Prince of Wales Committee for the purpose of managing 2, East Parade.

Councillor Clews moved as a direct negative to the motion, that the Prince of Wales Committee take no action with regard to the management of the Belgian Refugees Home.

Alderman Gamlin questioned Mr. Ashbery as to whether the desire to relinquish the management of the Home came forward on the Sister Superior’s own initiation, and whether she first suggested a Ladies’ Committee.

Mr. Ashbery, in reply, said the Sister Superior some time ago told him that the work was more than she could undertake, and that the management was a much bigger undertaking than she had anticipated. Later on he was approached by Mrs. Hutton on the matter and they offered to relieve the Sister Superior of the responsibility. She welcomed this very gladly.

Mr. Gamlin: “So it was you who suggested it in the first place?”

Mr. Ashbery: “Yes.”

Mrs. Hutton: “But the Sister Superior had frequently in conversation expressed the desire to give it up.”

After further discussion, Mr. Clews’ motion was put in to the meeting and carried. This, therefore, disposed of the question of dealing with the Refugees at 2, East Parade.


“More Refugees”


The Secretary then submitted a further letter from Mr. H. H. Williams, Local Government Board Inspector for Wales & Monmouth asking whether Rhyl could entertain more Belgian Refugees.

Alderman Gamlin said there was a considerable sum of money lying in the bank for the local Belgian Fund, more than sufficient for the Belgians at present in the town. He moved that any more Refugees who came to the town be placed under the care of the Ladies’ Committee.

The Chairman thought that, as a town, they ought to do something more than that. Surely in the prosperous Winter time they could extend hospitality to a few more Refugees. He would be very glad to see the town welcome and entertain another party.

Mr. A Lewis Jones said that the Ladies’ Committee had worked magnificently, and done the work thoroughly. They were engaged upon a common and philanthropic work, and if they were going to be a house divided they could not stand. If two committees were formed, and they clashed, one was bound to fail. He strongly supported the Ladies’ Committee having entire control of all Refugees, not merely those at 2, East Parade.

Mr. Ashbery thought that if a collection was made and the funds thus obtained forwarded to the Head Office for the maintenance of the Refugees, it would be a much better method of giving assistance.

Mr. Clews said he would not be in favour of supporting any Belgians eligible for the army.

Mr. Frank Jones remarked that one of those at present in Rhyl was of military age.

Councillor Clews proposed and Councillor R. Hanlon seconded that the question of entertaining other Refugees be referred to the Ladies’ Committee.

Mr. Sabin suggested that a town meeting be convened to consider the matter. Mr. Frank Jones supported this.

Mr. Clews than withdrew his motion in favour of one by Councillor Batho, to the effect that the question be first dealt with by the Council.

Archdeacon Lloyd seconded, and on being put to the meeting this was carried.

This concluded the business.



Rhyl Journal, 26/2/1915

“Broken Hearted”


… the same jury investigated the circumstances surrounding the death of one of the Belgians at the Home on the East Parade, named France [sic] de Roover, aged 64. Ferdinand Jacques, who is in charge of the Refugees, said deceased was a native of Gelrode, near Aarschot, and by trade a wood bootmaker. He came to Rhyl with other Refugees in October last, and was then seen by the doctor. While being weak, deceased did not complain of being ill.

A son of deceased, Marcelle [sic] de Roover, giving evidence in Flemish, the previous witness acting as interpreter, said he slept with his father, whom he found dead on waking at 7 O’Clock in the morning.

Dr. Eyton Lloyd said he inspected the Refugees, including the old man, on their arrival at Rhyl. Deceased was very feeble, and suffering from shock and “broken heart”. He never saw him after that, and although he was in the home two days ago, it was evident that the other inmates did not know he was ill. He found deceased in a perfectly natural position, and he was satisfied that death was due to natural causes. A verdict in accordance with doctor’s evidence was returned.
Rhyl Journal, 20/3/1915

“Belgian’s Burial”


With regard to the funeral expenses of the Belgian Refugee at Rhyl, the following letter was read from Mrs. Dr. Hutton, as secretary for the Belgian Refugee Committee:- “I regret that the Guardians wish to be refunded for the expenditure incurred in this matter, as I think the request arises from a misunderstanding of our financial position. The Committee now entertain three distinct parties of Refugees, and their weekly receipts do not amount to two thirds of the weekly expenses. The weekly receipts are also likely to become lees, and the Committee, naturally, does not wish to have to return the Refugees to London, as they have now settled down happily amongst us. I will, however, place the request before the Committee at the next meeting, and trust that, in the meantime, you will be able to reconsider your decision. The poor old Belgian was, in very truth, a pauper.”

The Vice Chairman: “I hope the Rhyl Guardians will pay it. The Chairman said that in certain cases the Local Government Board had refunded money expended on the burial of paupers. Both the relieving officer and himself had tried to induce the Committee to pay, but up to now they had refused.”

Mr. Batho: “Was the man legally a pauper?”

The Clerk: “No.”

Mr. Batho added that the Committee had plenty of money in the bank unexpended, and so long as they had that he thought it was their duty to pay for any expenditure in connection with the Refugees. The Belgians were brought to the town, not by the Council, but by a self-constituted Committee.

The Clerk quoted an extract from the Poor-Law Amendment Act of 1844, which stated that the obligation to bury a dead body rested with the person in whose premises the death had occurred. Also the authorities of a public hospital, and not the Guardians, were liable to bury a person dying in such hospital. The Guardians, however, had discretionary powers.

Mr. Batho remarked that he had every possible sympathy with the Belgian Committee in Rhyl, but he thought that when the Committee had money it ought to be expended upon the people under their charge.

The matter was deferred for a fortnight.



Rhyl Journal, 13/11/1915

The Finance Committee of the Council have been asked by Mr. A. Lewis Jones on behalf of the Belgian Refugees Committee to forego the general district and water rates for No. 2, East Parade. It is stated that the landlord lets the house free of rent and that the Inland Revenue Authorities forego the house duty and income tax on the premises. The Council have decided to grant the request.

It was stated on Monday that the Committee have about £400 in hand.



Rhyl Journal, 5/2/1916

“Belgian Refugees”


The Committee of the Rhyl Belgian Refugees Fund in presenting the Balance Sheet of the fund for the 12 months ending 23rd, January, 1916 beg to thank Colonel Wynne Edwards for granting them the free use of No. 2, East Parade, and all other friends who have subscribed either money or goods.

They also tender their very grateful thanks to the three doctors who have kindly given their services.

They take this opportunity to make a very earnest appeal for more funds, as their present balance is only sufficient to enable to carry on for another month at the most and unless further money is subscribed almost immediately, the majority of the Refugees will have to be sent back to London.

At the present time there are 21 persons dependant on the fund, viz., 9 adults (4 men, 5 women) and 12 children. Of the men, only one is of military age and he has been certified to be medically unfit for service. Of the other men two are capable of manual labour and have been in regular work ‘till quite recently, the one as a tailor and the other as an assistant in the Post Office Telephone Service; now, unfortunately, they are both, through no fault of their own, out of work and although they and the Committee have energetically sought suitable employment, they have been unsuccessful. The Committee hopes they will be advised should any kind friend know of work which would be suitable for these men.




Mrs C. S. Anderson, Mrs. Bromley, Mrs. Joshua Davies, Miss Gamon, Mr. A. Lewis Jones, Miss Rhydderch, Miss Wild, Mr. Percy Ashbery & Miss Linthwaite (Joint Hon. Treasurers) Mrs. Hutton (Hon. Secretary)


balance sheet

“I hereby certify that I have examined the above receipts and payments with the Vouchers and Bank Pass Books, and find the balance standing to the credit of the fund to be Twenty-four pounds, fifteen shillings and sixpence (£24, 15s, 6d)”


(Signed) C. E. TOTTY

Dated 29th January, 1916








9 thoughts on “Refugees in Rhyl

  1. It is heart-warming to learn how a whole community didn’t need to think twice before accepting a totally unknown community of refugees among its own. And how willing it was to care for them. It is also heart-warming to see how this event of a century ago inspires your community now to seek contact and rekindle ties that were made then. As one who has lived the better part of his life in Aarschot, and who has a British soldier as a father (he met my mum during the liberation of Aarschot in WWII) I still feel grateful to the people of Rhyl for providing the refugees from my home town with a safe haven in dire times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comments, Mr. Harding,
      We visited Aarschot in June this year, where we were given such a warm welcome. It’s a beautiful place and we were very honoured to visit.
      This project has been a truly eye-opening experience for us. It will extend far past the intended date, as many more things are happening. This Thursday we will be the guests of the Representative of the Government of Flanders, at Flanders House in London.
      We’re now attempting to find the family of one of the Refugees, Franc de Roover, who died here in Rhyl. A memorial to him is being planned, donated by a local business. This will happen in 2015. Franc travelled to Rhyl with his children, and we are hoping that we can find his surviving relations by using twitter and facebook, with the hashtag #findfrancsfamily – it would be wonderful to be able to let them know that Franc has not been forgotten.
      Once again, thank you for your comments.


      • Toni, I’ve posted a message on 3 Aarschot community facebook pages about your search for descendants of Franciscus De Roover. Turns out his family is huge! Could you send me an email at the address you have, so that I can send you some stuff over?


  2. I now understand people from Aarschot have emailed you directly with more info. So you can disregard my previous message. Still available though if you need further help!


  3. Here are a couple of links that may be of interest. The first shows the photograph at the railway station but someone has done a good job of improving it – it’s much clearer. The second link is about the Belgian promenade in Menai Bridge which brings fond memories of holidays with my Taid’s family.

    Congratulations on the excellent site, there’s so much more than when I last looked – I particularly like the new photos.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for these links!

      The photograph is fantastic – you can zoom in and see the faces of the people of Rhyl quite clearly. I wonder if anyone recognises family members there?
      Thanks again…



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