Reported in the “North Wales Chronicle & Advertiser for the Principality” on Friday, June 13th 1919, is this story of a young Belgian boy who escaped from Belgium by joining the allied troops and fighting alongside them. He then came to Kinmel Camp with the Canadian Servicemen…
On Tuesday, at the Police Court, Georges Daniel, the Belgian boy who had been with the Canadian troops for about two years, was again charged with wearing the King’s Uniform without authority. It will be remembered that this lad was found at Kinmel by the military police attired in Canadian uniform, and his story was that he was at home in Belgium when war broke out, his father and mother being killed in the early days of hostilities. He added that he was sent to a home in Antwerp, but not liking it he left and fell in with the Australians, and later on with the Canadian troops.
Although only 14 years of age, he served throughout the fighting with the forces and was with the troops behind the front line. He learned to speak English, and was brought over to Kinmel with the Canadians, one of the men wishing to take him to Canada. The Belgian Consul at Liverpool had been communicated with, and he expressed the opinion that it would not be right to send the boy to Canada without the consent of the Belgian Government.
The Magistrates’ Clerk said the only charge against the boy, who was very intelligent, was that of wearing Army uniform, and if he got out of that he might be handed over to some kind friends. Mr. John Brookes (chairman of the Council) undertook to give the boy a civilian suit, and on this understanding the Bench again remanded him until Wednesday, when he came again before the court attired in a fine civilian suit, which he said Mr. Brookes had given him. Mr Taverner considered that Mr. Brookes had behaved most liberally, and he hoped that in return the boy would be a credit to the town. Many were taking an interest in him, and if he behaved himself he would do well as he was sharp end intelligent. He would now be discharged in order that he could go to a situation which he had secured, and should he at any time want a friend he had only to consult Supt. Lindsay. The boy thanked Mr Brookes and left the court smiling.
We can’t find out what happened to Georges after this. Did he go to Canada? Return to Belgium? Or perhaps stay here in North Wales?
(Note: This trial occured after the Kinmel Park riots in March of 1919. You can find out more about the riots on the brilliant Canadian Great War Project website: http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com/writing/kinmelpark.asp )
We tried very hard to trace Georges Daniel, but eventually hit a brick wall. There were no listings of his birth on any genealogical websites, no passenger records for him travelling either in or out of the UK, and no records of his marriage or death in this country or Canada.
There was a really good reason for this: George Daniel never existed! We found this report in the North Wales Chronicle & Advertiser for the Principality dated Friday, March 28th 1919:
“ADOPTED” BOY AT KINMEL PARK
Told Canadians he was a Belgian Refugee
An extraordinary story was unfolded at Rhyl Police Court on Friday, when a lad, not yet 16 years old, John William Hand, was charged with wearing the uniform of a Canadian Soldier without authority from February 20th. The lad, it was alleged, had been passing under the name of Patrick Macdermitt, and he gave his home as Nelson Place, Albert Square, Middlesbrough.
Captain Jenkyn, adjutant at Kinmel, said the lad when bought before the commanding officer on February 20th, said that he was a Belgian, that his father had been shot, his mother burnt at the stake by Germans, and his sister also shot by the enemy. He was taken from Nieupoort to Ypres and there picked up by some Canadian troops who promised to take care of him. He was smuggled on board a ship bound for England rolled in a bundle of blankets. He was taken to Branshot camps and from there to Ripon, subsequently coming to Kinmel Camp with the Canadian troops.
He shifted from camp to camp, being eventually taken in charge by a sergeant cook, and then he said he was a Canadian.
Lieutenant Barrett, APM, Kinmel produced a statement which the lad had made:- “I came to this camp from Ripon about three weeks ago, disguised as a Canadian engineer. Sergeant. Lahue, who was going to Brook, Saskatchewan, promised me a home in Canada. Finding he had gone I tried to pull it off that I was a Belgian until they sent a Belgian down to speak to me when I admitted I was a Yorkshireman.”
“When”, the statement proceeded, “I was standing with a Canadian who was taking photos, I saw a man making for a tree, coming from the hut, when he got shot down, and blood was coming from his head. Corporal Young, who I also knew at Ripon, I also saw killed.*
A man who was talking to his friends , standing on the duckboards, got hit and went down with his hands on his stomach. After that I went back to my hut, put on my spurs and bandolier, and went to Rhyl, then came back for some more fun, and got put in the guardroom on suspicion of being a Bolshy.”
The magistrates, in reply to questions, were informed that the papers on the lad showed that had been a voluntary man a course of gunnery at the Crystal Palace with the naval troops, and had a certificate of proficiency and a character marked “very good for conduct and ability.”
In reply to the Bench, the lad, who looks much older than his papers show, said that he would either like to go into the mercantile marine or to Canada.
The Canadian Soldiers said there was no chance of a lad of his age joining the Canadian force except as a drummer or bugler.
The Bench said they would have to take time to consider what should be done with the lad, and he would be remanded in safety for a few days.
The defendant was brought before the bench on Tuesday, and was discharged so that he might have a chance to go to Liverpool to join a ship.
The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of Wednesdays, March 26th also reports:
MIDDLESBROUGH BOY’S ESCAPADES.
The boy Hand, of Middlesbrough, who was in the rioting at Kinmel, and who Friday was remanded by the Rhyl magistrates for unlawfully wearing Canadian uniform the camp (where he led authorities believe he was a Belgian refugee) was yesterday again before Rhyl Bench. Superintendent Lindsay said the boy was very cute, and at remained one camp until found out, when he shifted to another. It was known that he drew pay in the name of soldiers on leave. The boy said he only told a pack lies to get Canada. He had been to Brazil, Spain, and France as seaman gunner, getting his certificate in gunnery at the Crystal Palace. He offered return the Canadian uniform and equipment, and return to the sea once. Telling the boy he had ability and pluck and ought to do well, the Bench discharged him.
What more do we know about John William Hand? We found his birth record – the son of Patrick Michael Hand and Margaret McDermott. He was born on May 15th 1903. He had three sisters, Mary Catherine, Bridget Ellen and Margaret. We understand he married Margaret Mary Scholz and had a son & daughter, possibly in the USA. We’re still looking for his family.
John appears on the 1911 Census in Middlesbrough, listed at an address on Suffield Street.
* The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has Corporal Joseph Young listed as being 36 years old when he died on the 5th of March, 1919. He is buried at Bodelwyddan’s St. Margaret’s (Marble) Church alongside other Canadian Servicemen. Joseph was with the 52nd Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He was born in Glasgow.