There are two Belgian Refugee graves in the old Mount Road church yard in St. Asaph:
The first is that of C. L. Brack. The inscription reads “In loving memory of my dear husband, C. L. Brack, Burght, Belgium, who died October 2nd 1918 aged 70.”
The second is that of Constant Van Goey. His inscription reads “In loving memory of Constant Van Goey, Burgomaster of Zwyndrecht in Belgium, who died August 15th 1918, aged 63 years.”
There is a mention of both these men and their families in the Denbighshire Free Press published on Saturday, May 24th, 1919:
Help for Belgian Refugees
On Friday evening a public meeting was held in connection with the closing of the St. Asaph Belgian Refugees’ Association. The Bishop of St . Asaph, who presided, greatly praised the work of the Association. Mr H M Cleaver read a report, in which reference was made to the death of two of the Belgian visitors, Mons. Van Goey and Mons. Brack. Mons. Franz Brack returned to Belgium in January last; Mme. Brack and Marie Jos in the following month.
Letters had been received by the Dean of St. Asaph, chairman of the Association, expressing the gratitude of all the Belgian visitors for what the St Asaph people had done for them during their exile, hoping that some of the St Asaph people would be able to visit their Belgian friends in their own homes in the days of peace.
The treasurer (Mr E Mainer) reported that the voluntary contributions had amounted to £393 10s 4d. Mons. Van Goey had repaid £50 and £25 10s for rent of rooms up to the date of his decease. The War Refugees’ Committee had assisted, out of Government funds, to the amount of £87 10s. A resolution was passed directing the payment of the balance of the general account to the War Refugees’ Committee. Some comment was made adversely to the proposed war memorial scheme, in special reference to the placing on the memorial cross the names of all who had served in the war.
We found very little about C. L. Brack, but Constant Van Goey is a different matter:
In July 1908, Constant Van Goey was inaugurated as Mayor of Zwijndrecht. There was a parade of floats, and the mayor was picked up at the Stone Cross, joining the parade through the town. By 1915 Constant had fled the town (one article has it that he “disappeared”) and he was replaced as mayor by someone who had been selected by the occupying German forces.
Zwijndrecht is a town near Antwerp, in the Flanders region of Belgium. It is very close to the village of Burcht, C. L. Brack’s home town, so it is possible Monsieur Van Goey & Monsieur Brack knew each other prior to their arrival in St. Asaph.
Constant was already a widower when he came to St. Asaph. His wife, Paulina Cole, had died in 1912.
He came from a long line of politicians. His brother, Jan Baptist Van Goey was mayor twice before him , in 1872-1878 and 1889-1902.
Constant was obviously re-elected for a second term as mayor, as we’ve found a notice of his re-appointment in the Belgian newspaper “De Volksstem” dated April 4th, 1912.
Constant even has a road named after him in Zwijndrecht – Constant Van Goeystraat.
The mayor’s inauguration in 1908
We contacted the Historical Society of Zwijndrecht & Burcht to see if they had any information about these two men. They had lots!
This is taken from an email we received on April 28th 2015 from Mireille Schaekers in Zwijndrecht:
“C.L. Brack’s full name was Carolus Ludovicus Brack. He was born in Burcht on 10/12/1874 and lived Dorpsstraat 21. He already was a widower when he passed away, father to François and Bertha. By profession he was a trader in flour and coal. He also was of local political influence as he used to be a deputy to the local mayor and later on as a council member (all for the catholic party). He was also a member of the parish council for the parish of Sint Martinus. We do not know yet when exactly he left Burcht nor by which means but we know that he was accompanied by his daughter and the house servant, Maria Joos. Maria stayed stay at his side whilst he was on his sick bed. It was she who informed his son François, then serving his country as an infirmary soldier, of his father’s death. François would take care of all the burial procedures. His sister Bertha by that time was already a novice or postulant in the Sisters of Sainte Marie de Namur convent. She later on became known as sister Maria Assumption. We have no knowledge of any remaining family archives.
Constant Van Goey was born in Zwijndrecht on 14/03/1855, and was a widower without any children when he left for the UK. Before he left he lived in what we call the house of Tassyns (Polderstraat 2). We think he left our village somewhere after the execution of a presumed German spy Paul Ehrhard in the dry ditch of Zwijndrecht fort. This was on September 5th 1914. He did so because (according to family history) as the local mayor (for the progressive wing of the local catholic party) he would be held responsible for this deed. He was the official who had to sign the death certificate.
He stayed in a hostel called Ynys House (still existing) in St. Asaph while in Wales. It could be that Carolus Ludovicus Brack also stayed in the same hostel. (To be absolutely certain on this matter I should reread a book on the history of 3 brothers of Burcht during WW1 in which he is mentioned). Anyway, Maria Joos (yes, she again!) nursed him when he was struck by a cerebral haemorrhage. She as well was the one who warned the family of his illness and death afterwards. In the local village archives I have found the copy of the telegram message send to his family announcing his passing away. His nephew, Florimond Van Goey, was the one who would get permission of the local German authorities to take care off all the procedures following his death. The name and date of death of Constant Van Goey was added to the family grave Van Goey here in Zwijndrecht. Constant van Goey was a very wealthy man and in his will he left a considerable amount of money to Maria Joos. He owned a large farm with a lot of land, orchards, meadows, woodlands and such. Most of this was sold by auction after his passing away. The grave stone in St. Asaph was commissioned by Florimond Van Goey, but manufactured by a local professional.
When he was a village councillor, Constant already felt the urge to become the mayor of Zwijndrecht. He made a lot of fuss at the local elections. During this battle there was a big political discussion (quite a raucous row actually with pamphlets and the lot) between 2 fractions of the catholic party: the blues (the conservative part consisting mostly of farmers) and the reds (mostly traders). Van Goey won the elections (in 1908) and thus became mayor. The leader of the blues, Gustaaf Van Bogaert, stayed a village councillor. After Van Goey fled to the UK, Van Bogaert became acting mayor but was evicted from this post by the Germans in favour of a Dutch journalist. This person left 18 months later, leaving the local administration in a complete shambles and Van Bogaert once again took over. After WW1 he won the local elections and was officially installed as mayor.
Maria Joos was born in Melsele in 1870. She came to work in Burcht with the Brack family in 1911 together with her brother. Maria stayed a house maid and a spinster while her brother became a small but prosperous farmer after leaving the Brack house. She returned to Belgium (date unknown) and stayed as a servant in the house of François and his wife. This marriage did not bear any children. Maria Joos was still alive in 1942 (she was mentioned in François’ obituary) and by then they lived near Brussels. We do not know when she passed away.”
We would like to thank www.heemkundezb.be and Mireille Schaekers in particular for the above information.
Mireille contacted us again to tell us that on the 6th of March 1917 Carolus Brack was admitted to the North Wales Hospital, Denbigh Asylum, and his maid Maria stayed at his side whilst he was on his sick bed. We cannot access the reception order for Carolus to find out why he was admitted until the 6th of March 2017, as there is a 100 year embargo in that information. Carolus died in the hospital and was buried in the Mount Road Cemetery.
Ynys House, St. Asaph
Tassynshuis, Zwijdrecht. The Home of Constant Van Goey.
St. Asaph residents were very active in raising money for the refugees.
We found this description of a Concert held in St. Asaph for the benefit of the Belgian Relief Fund in the October 31st 1914 edition of the Denbighshire Free Press:
“Concert at St Asaph”
With the object of augmenting the funds for the relief of the Belgians, a highly successful concert was given in the Church House, St Asaph, on Thursday evening. So great was the attraction that many were unable to gain admittance to the hall, and every available inch of space was occupied. The idea of holding the concert originated with the St Asaph United Choir, and as soon as it was agreed upon the officials laboured incessantly to ensure its success. An admirable programme was arranged, several vocalists of tried ability being engaged. Mr. Mainer, headmaster of the County School, presided, and the programme opened with a duet, “Gwys ir Gad,” by Mr. Mortimer, of Denbigh, and Mr. Prodger, of St. Asaph. Later in the programme they sang “Arwyr Cymru Fydd” with excellent effect, and songs were also given by Miss Tregoning, Denbigh, and Mr. Mortimer, while Messrs Birlow and Tregoning joined in the singing of a pretty little duet entitled “Maying.” The second part of the programme was entirely maintained by the United Choir, who gave a spirited rendering of the cantata “The Crusader” (Thomas Facer), under the baton of Mr. Robert Jones. The solos were splendidly taken by Miss Tregoning (“Margaret”), Mr. Barlow (“Volunteer”), and Mr. Mortimer (“Peter the Hermit”). A word of praise is due to Miss J Davies, who played the accompaniments throughout with characteristic skill. The programme fittingly terminated with the singing of “God Save the King”, the “Marseillaise,’ and “Hen wlad fy nhadau”.
During an interval Mr. Mainer made a few appropriate remarks. Those present, he said, were experiencing a two-fold pleasure – for while they were patronising St. Asaph United Choir, they were also augmenting in a small degree the Belgian Relief Fund. At the present time no cause could have greater claims than that fond upon the sympathy and generosity of the British public. Belgium was a country larger than Wales, but only one-eighth the size of the United Kingdom. Like all small nations, Belgium had valued her freedom and independence as a priceless possession. The British, French, Russian, German and Austrian nations were pledged to maintain her independence, but suddenly Germany, dragging Austria in her train, had openly repudiated her written bond as a worthless scrap of paper, and had basely tried to get Britain to do likewise. But Britain’s word was her bond, and she bad encouraged Belgium to put up a valiant fight for her right against the might of Germany that was unexpectedly and unjustifiably launched upon her. Thus there was a moral obligation upon the British nation collectively, and upon her citizens individually, to do all they could to mitigate the sad lot of the Belgians who, after being brutally ill-treated, were forced to leave their homes and fly to another country. The course of the war appeared daily to be more favourable to the Allies, and they might reasonably look forward to the day when the merciless invader would be forced to let go his prey and to make some reparation to the injured and despoiled (cheers), No amount of money, not all the wealth of Germany, could make amends for the ruthless murder of helpless civilians, and the injuries inflicted upon helpless women and children; but until the day of reparation to the outcast and the destitute, let all British people do what they could to help the Belgians, with the prayer that God would defend the right and raise up the gallant and noble Belgian nation to a proud position among the free and independent peoples of the world (loud cheers).
During the evening boxes of chocolates, kindly given by Mr. J E Price, Liverpool House, Mr. Robert Hughes, Cross Keys, and Mrs. Price, City Bakery, were sold for the benefit of the fund and realized over £33. At the close the members of the choir, numbering nearly fifty, were each presented with a brooch emblematical of the flags of the Allied nations by Miss Lewis, Haulfryn. The programmes were kindly given by Mr. Jones, of Liverpool.
We found another call for assistance in the same issue of this newspaper:
Mr. J. Wynne Davies, Chairman of the Parish Council, has issued an appeal for homes or hospitality for Belgian Refugees: he having received an appeal from the Secretary of State, War Refugees Committee, stating that they are in need of large offers of hospitality, as thousands of refugees are arriving daily, for whom it is impossible to provide accommodation. The Chairman will be pleased to hear from anayone able to respond to this urgent appeal.
In the rather grandly named “North Wales Chronicle & Advertiser for the Principality”, published on the 6th of November 1914, we found this additional information about fund-raising in the city:
“Helping Distressed Belgium”
“The Bishop of St. Asaph on ‘Our Splendid Allies’ ”
The Bishop of St. Asaph presided at a meeting held at St. Asaph on Friday for the purpose of arranging local hospitality for Belgian refugees, and in commending the object to his fellow citizens, said he supposed the hearts of British people had rarely, if ever, been more stirred than they had been during the last three months by what had taken place in Belgium. The position of Belgium in this war was altogether unique, inasmuch as it was suffering more previously than any other country, and yet had not done anything to deserve that suffering. We certainly owed our splendid allies in Belgium every form of sympathy we could extend, and he was sure the people of St. Asaph, though, not a large community, would do their very utmost to help these who came there in dire necessity to appeal to the sympathy and hospitality of the great British people. Speaking for Churchpeople, he was sure they would all do their duty in this matter, as they had done in a remarkable way throughout Wales in this war. A scheme of housing a number of refugees of the peasant class was outlined by the Dean of St. Asaph, who also announced that he had already received promises of financial assistance to the extent of £48, including £20 from the Bishop, £10 from Mrs. Brinkley, £10 from an anonymous donor, and in addition to the £48 5s per week from the Hon. Mrs. Charles Williams, Eryl Hall, as long as hospitality, and various offers towards the furnishing of the premises available for the purpose of the scheme. The Rector of St. Beuno’s College, Tremeirchion, heartily supported the scheme, and, speaking from experience of Belgian life, imparted some very useful information as to Belgian customs and habits and the language problem. The scheme was approved, and an influential committee was formed to carry it out, the Dean as chairman, Mr. E. Mainer as treasurer, and Mr. H. M. Cleaver secretary. The committee met subsequently and appointed Finance and Housing, and Management sub- committees. It was stated that a house in Mount Road, large enough to accommodate a party of ten, had been offered at a nominal rental. The subscriptions sent in to date amounted to £75. The committee are operating under the chairmanship of the Dean of St. Asaph, and much assistance is being rendered by the authorities St. Beuno’s College. Tremeirchion. under the direction of the Rector (Rev. Father Townsend).
Letters to America
In the Utica Daily Press (Morning Edition) published on Monday, February 15th 1915, there is a selection of letters from schoolgirls aged 12 and 13 in St. Asaph.
They were written to a 10 year old schoolgirl, Gwendoline Jones, who lived in Utica, New York State. Gwennie was born in Wrexham, and emigrated to America with her family when she was around 4 years of age. Gwennie had written to the school and sent a photograph of herself and her siblings. She received 18 replies. The copy of the newspaper is very poor, and it took some time to decipher, but we have reproduced parts of three of the letters below. They paint a fascinating picture of how the girls saw their lives in the war years, discussing the loss of family members on the frontline and giving a little information about the Belgian Refugees in St. Asaph and the surrounding villages.
Mill Street, St. Asaph, North Wales.
January 26th, 1915
We are thanking you very much for your kind letter this morning. It was very kind of you to write. Some of the schoolgirls are knitting comforts for the poor soldiers. In the papers this morning we heard that a German Dreadnought* was sunk in the North Sea. It is a great victory for our Navy. The Germans have lost many lives. They deserved it, because they have bombarded unfortified towns and many women and children have lost their lives. We have a few Belgians here, some of them live in Cefn. Sometimes we see them coming to the city to do their shopping. We are a thinking of sending a parcel to the Indian troops, because they feel the cold very much. My age is 12. I am in Standard Five. I had a brother at the front but he was killed. His name was Albert Jones† If you receive my letter would you kindly show it to your schoolmates, I am sure they would like to see it. In a place next to St. Asaph they are building houses for the soldiers. War is a terrible thing.
Well I will close now with much love.
Your loving friend,
Tŷ Celyn, Cwm, Dyserth,
January 26th 1915
This morning we read the letter you sent to Rene Pearce and the one you sent to our teacher, Miss Hewitt. We saw the nice photograph of yourself, your two sisters and your brother. Some children in St. Asaph have had some presents from the Santa Claus Ship.‡ I have got five cousins and two brothers who have joined the army. They are not at the front yet, but one brother is expecting to go to the front any minute. We have got some Belgian Refugees at St. Asaph and at Cefn and some at Dyserth. I am in Standard Six in School and I have three miles to come every morning. We are very busy making socks, scarves and body belts for the soldiers. I would like to hear from you as soon as possible.
Your loving friend
Gertrude Roberts, Age 13.
Cornel Cottage, St. Asaph.
January 28th 1915
No doubt you would like to know how we received presents from the Santa Claus Ship. The presents reached here on Christmas Eve. I did not have a present, but some of the other girls had a very nice present. Most of the Belgian Refugees have had presents. We have some Belgian Refugees at St. Asaph and Cefn. There are some in Bont Newydd as well as here. I have two brothers in the army. One has been home for four days and he told us that when he went back he was going to France. We heard from the other on Saturday afternoon. He is in Cambridge now. He said that he was coming home on Tuesday afternoon. I am in Standard Five. My favourite lesson is writing a letter. When I get home from school I have my tea and after tea I read a book called “Sister Ann”.
I hope you will pass this letter on to some of your schoolmates and ask them to write to me and I will answer it. The men are very busy at Kinmel near St. Asaph. The British have sunk a German dreadnought. I think I will come to a close now.
Your loving friend,
*Decoded radio intercepts had given the British advance knowledge that a German raiding squadron was heading for Dogger Bank, so they dispatched their own naval forces to intercept it. The British found the Germans at the expected time and place; surprised, the smaller and slower German squadron fled for home. The British slowly caught up with the Germans and engaged them with long-range gunfire. The British disabled Blücher, the rear German ship, but the Germans put the British flagship HMS Lion out of action with heavy damage. The remaining British ships broke off pursuit of the fleeing enemy force to sink Blücher. By the time this had been done, the German squadron had escaped; all the remaining German vessels returned safely to harbour, though some had heavy damage requiring extended repairs.
† Albert Jones is listed on St. Asaph War Memorial. He is buried in Menin Gate Cemetery.
‡ The Dominion, a newspaper published in New Zealand, discusses the Santa Claus Ship in their edition of December 17th, 1914:
“1200 Tons of Christmas Gifts”
With more than 1200 tons of Christmas gifts from the people of America, a Santa Claus Ship, the naval collier Jason, sailed from New York for Europe on November 14. A message of Godspeed from President Wilson was received by Lieutenant Commander C. F. Courtney, U.S.N., shortly before sailing time. The docks as the ship sailed were black with thousands of school children
The gifts the ship carried were gathered from every State of the Union. They include everything from toys and dolls to clothing and food. So heavy was the rain of presents that a force of ninety soldiers and sixty sailors from the navy yard was required to classify and repack them so that an equal distribution might be made in the several countries for which they were intended.
The ship will call first at Falmouth, where the gifts intended for England, France and Belgium will be discharged; then she will proceed to Rotterdam, where gifts for Holland and Germany will be discharged. At a later date another consignment will go forward for the people of Russia and Poland.
In the Flintshire Archives there is a letter detailing a delivery of flour, potatoes and cheese delivered to St. Asaph Station for the benefit of the Belgian Refugees, and a card of thanks from the refugees.
To view the letter on the Cymru 1914 Website, click here
To view the postcard, click here
Updates, August 2015
We found additional information in a few more newspapers:
Denbighshire Free Press
THE BELGIAN HOME
The Financial and Ladies Committees have secured considerable help to the Belgian Home, “Ynys,” lent to the Committee at a nominal rent. It is now comfortably furnished by the ready and generous help of the citizens, and Mr H M Cleaver desires to express the thanks of the Committees to those who so kindly and promptly lent furniture and household requisites.
Denbighshire Free Press
ARRIVAL OF BELGIANS
A party of eight Belgian refugees arrived at St Asaph on Saturday evening from Folkestone. The visitors include two men and six women. They were met at the station by several members of the committee responsible for the reception arrangements, and conveyed in coaches to the house in Mount-road, which had been lent for their accommodation, and where the ladies committee had a good hot meal ready for them.
Denbighshire Free Press
BAPTISM OF BELGIAN BABY
A ceremony of much interest was performed on Sunday last by the Rev J Donovan at the R.C. Church in Chester-street, namely the baptism of the Belgian baby born at Cefn on December 19th. The child was named Albert George. the names borne by the Belgian and British Kings respectively. Sad to relate, no news has been heard of the child’s father since the outbreak of war, and Madam Klecken does not know whether he is dead or alive.
We’re going to start searching for the family of Albert George shortly. We hope to be able to publish more information later in the year.
It is worth noting that the admission charges to the Whist Drives in St. Asaph were doubled so that the members could make a contribution to the Refugee Fund:
Denbighshire Free Press
At the Constitutional Club last night the usual fortnightly whist drive was held, and among the large number present was Monsieur Von Bogaert, one of the St Asaph Belgian guests. A feature of the drive was some novel innovations by Mr Joseph Lloyd, who efficiently carried out the duties of M.C. Mr Kelly, Mr Robert Price, and Mr Syd Roberts each made 155, and when cutting for the prize, the Queen, King and Knave were cut respectively. Mr J R Williams kindly presented Mr Syd Roberts with a third prize.
Denbighshire Free Press
INTERESTING WHIST DRIVE
The Whist Drive at the Constitutional Club last week proved a most enjoyable event. Mons H le Fevre, a Belgian soldier on a visit to his relatives at Ynys, tied with Mr Thomas L Frier for the second prize. Mr Frier gave up his claim to a cut, and Mons le Fevre was awarded the prize amidst the heartiest applause that has ever been heard at the Club. This distinguished prize winner is in the mitrailleuse section of the Guards, and is a fine proportion man, standing 6ft 4in in height. He has twice been wounded during the war. Mr George Fowels was the winner of the first prize. Amongst the entrants was Pte Hudson Pape, who is reputed to be the smallest soldier in the British Army, his fifty seven inches looked fewer than ever when stood talking to Mons le Fevre.