17th October 1914, Belgian Refugees in the Rugby District


There was considerable excitement in the villages of Marton and Princethorpe last week, when 60 Nuns, who had to leave Lierre owing to the bombardment of the town by the Germans, arrived at Marton to accept the hospitality of the Nuns of the Priory at Princethorpe. Their arrival had been expected for several days ; but as the precise time could not be ascertained, it was impossible to make any definite arrangements for meeting them at the station. As soon as it was known in the villages that they had reached Marton Station everyone who had a vehicle fit for the purpose made his way with it to the station, and in motor-cars, traps, dog-carts, and vehicles of all descriptions they were quickly conveyed to the Priory. The Nuns spoke in the highest terms of the kindness they had received from everyone on their journey.


Several of the Nuns spoke English fluently, so that they had no difficulty in making their way about, and included in the party was an English lady, who had been in the Convent some 14 years. By the kind permission of the Mother Superior, our representative was on Monday accorded an interview with this sister and another, who gave him some interesting particulars concerning the town and country and their hurried departure from it. They both spoke in the highest terms of their reception at Princethorpe, and how glad they were to be safe in such a peaceful home after all their trials. The sister explained that they belonged to the Order of St Ursuline, which is not so “ close ” an Order as that of the Benedictines at Princethorpe—for whereas the latter are entirely confined to their convent and grounds, the former were allowed to take the children they were educating out for walks and to do their own shopping and necessary things of that sort, although they wore not allowed to see their relatives, even if they were dying.


It was explained that the day before the Germans commenced to bombard the town the reverend mother of the convent received the whole community of Nuns of the same Order, who had had to fly from Wavre and who thought they would be perfectly secure behind the forts at Lieve. But they only stayed one night, as the following day after their arrival shells began to fall on the convent, one of them striking the hospital, where several wounded Belgian soldiers were lying, killing half of their number. The Superior, therefore, thought it time for the Nuns to leave, and the majority of those from Wavre left for the sea coast, the party which eventually reached Princethorpe following a little later, it being the intention of the two companies to meet at Antwerp. When the second party got to the station at Lierre they were told that, owing to the enormous number of refugees that had crowded into Antwerp, no more trains would be run there. Fortunately for the Nuns, they met an Army officer whom they knew, and owing entirely to his influence they were enabled to travel by a train containing wounded soldiers. When they arrived at Antwerp they found FRESH TROUBLE awaiting them, for they were told they would not be allowed to leave the station. Happily another officer came to their assistance, who took them to a quiet part of the station, where they sat down on their bundles and said their prayers, and eventually through his exertions they were enabled to leave the station and repair to a convent in the city. Unfortunately the leaders of the first party had practically all the money required to transport both companies to England, and as the two failed to meet again, the second contingent found themselves stranded in Antwerp. But here again they met with friends, and subscriptions were quickly forthcoming from parents of girls who had been educated in the Convent, and others—one gentleman alone gave 2,000 francs, or about £80. Naturally the fares for so large a number from Ostend to Marton came to a very large sum, and the delay caused by the raising of the money, obtaining leave from the military authorities to go, and the difficulty in securing places in the boats, forced them to remain at Antwerp from the Tuesday till the Saturday.


During their journey to the coast they did not pass over any of the battlefields or see any of the bombarded towns ; but they saw the barbed-wire entanglements at Antwerp, and some of the houses which had been struck by bombs. They also saw countless numbers of trees which had been cut off about two feet from the ground, and large areas of houses, church towers, etc, that had been razed to the ground to give a clear sweep to the Belgian guns. Everywhere they encountered crowds of refugees with their belongings, many of them being packed on the little carts drawn by dogs, which are one of the most remarkable features of Belgium. A large number of refugees were massed all round Antwerp, to which city they had been refused admittance owing to the large number that had already been taken in, but doubtless some place was found for them before the bombardment began. Questioned as to the alleged German atrocities, such as maiming little children, the Sister said she had no personal knowledge of any, but she described how the Germans at one place made prisoners of the whole of the inhabitants. They then separated the men from the others, and shot every third man. Among the unfortunate victims was the brother of a Sister in the Convent at Lierre. In another instance a German soldier placed the muzzle of his rifle against the breast of the Superior of a convent and threatened to shoot her. Of both these instances the Sister now at Princethorpe had personal knowledge. The nuns at Wavre found outside their Convent a little boy of about 2 1/2 years, quite alone, and wounded by a ball in the foot. They took him to the ambulance and had it extracted, and they took such a fancy to him that they had taken him with them in their wanderings since. The Sister again referred in high terms of praise to the splendid reception they had met with at Princethorpe, which she said had nearly healed their wounds.


With regard to the refugees, now comfortably housed in the Village Hall at Clifton, mention should be made of the thoughtful interest taken in the party by the residents generally. The practical steps taken for the welfare of the two families by Mr and Mrs T S Townsend, of the Manor House, has been previously mentioned. Mrs Stevens and the Misses Carruthers have also been very kind, and the same remark is true of other ladies, including Mrs Mulliner, of Clifton Court, where one of the Belgians and his daughter are making themselves useful in dairying ; whilst amongst the farmers who have come forward nobly Mr Allan, Mr Atkins, and Mr Russell should be named. Mrs Little has offered the use of the Lodge at Dunsmore for Belgians, and a party was expected to arrive this week.


Mr Henry Boughton-Leigh, of Brownsover Hall, having kindly promised to lend Newton House, near Rugby, for the accommodation of Belgian refugees, a committee of those interested met at the Rugby Drill Hall on Wednesday to consider the neccssary steps to be taken. Mr T Vaughan Morgan (Monks Kirby), presided.

It was decided to take in 24 Belgian refugees at once, and it is expected that they will arrive at their temporary home on Monday or Tuesday next.

Meantime, Newton House has to be equipped for the reception of the guests, and the committee will be very glad if residents of Rugby who have surplus furniture or any household article, will either lend or give them. Beds, chairs, chests of drawers, carpets, lamps, linen, etc, will be very acceptable, and on the receipt of a post card Mr Sam Robbins, of Albert Street, has offered to collect and deliver the goods for the committee; also gifts in kind for the use of the distressed Belgians.

Of course, the refugees will have to be kept whilst at Newton House, and any subscriptions or donations for this object will be thankfully received by the Hon Edmund Parker, of Westfield House, Bilton Road, who is acting as hon treasurer.

Mr F Merttens, of Bilton Rise, has offered the hospitality of his house to Belgian refugees.


During the past few days thousands of Belgians have landed in England, and temporary homes are urgently needed for them. The distress in Belgium at the present time is also acute, and the appended appeals from the County Committee and Lady Willoughby de Broke should awaken a sympathetic response :-


To the Editor of the Advertiser.

SIR,—In view of the present crisis it is a matter of urgent importance that temporary homes should be found for the thousands of our stricken Belgian allies who are seeking shelter in this country. Persons willing to offer hospitality to these refugees are earnestly requested to send at once their names and addresses to this committee, together with full particulars concerning the class of refugee they are willing to entertain, their number, sexes, etc, and the accommodation available.

Persons able and willing to act as Flemish interpreters, regular or occasional, are requested to send their names and addresses to this committee.—Signed on behalf of the Committee,

WILLIAM J MURPHY (Deputy Chairman).
WILLIAM J SHAW (Hon Secretary).
14 Northgate St, Warwick.

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