28th Nov 1914. Belgian Refugees Married at St Marie’s

The wedding of the two Belgian refugees, M Victor Buelens, a printer, and Miss Emilie Alice Dekeyser, costumier, both of Louvain, evoked such interest in the district, and it is doubtful if the beautiful church of St Marie’s has ever held such a large congregation for a nuptial ceremony as it did on Tuesday morning. The sacred edifice was packed to the doors, and among the congregation were a considerable number of the Belgians at present resident in the town. The bride, who was given away by a friend, M Gustaaf Leunis, looked very nice in a costume which she had made herself, and she was attended by her two sisters, Jeanne and Maria Dekeyser, who were also prettily attired. The bride-groom was accompanied by the brother of the bride, M Rene Dekeyser, as best man. Father Lerude, a Belgian priest from the neighbourhood of Liege, performed the nuptial ceremony, and he was assisted by Father Jarvis, of St Marie’s, and Brother Vermast, another Belgian priest.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, which was very brief, and was conducted in the Flemish language, Mr F Quartly, the organist, struck up the inspiring and appropriate strains of “ La Brabanconne,” and subsequently “ The Marseillaise,” and the Russian and English National Anthems, also the “ Wedding March.” A merry peal was also rung on the bells. A large crowd assembled outside the church, and gave Mons Victor and his bride, both of whom looked supremely happy, quite an ovation, the scholars of St Marie’s Schools joining in the cheers, which were renewed when they entered the motor-car.

The committee responsible for the care of the refugees provided an excellent English wedding breakfast for the whole of the Belgians, at which the usual complementary speeches were made. Amongst those present, were Frs Lerude, Jarvis & Vermast. The bride and bride groom were the recipients of a number of useful presents from friends and sympathisers in the town. We are sure all our readers will join with in congratulating the happy pair, and in the wish that their married life may be long and happy.

The bridegroom is a painter by trade, but as a temporary measure, he has, with four others living at 17 Hillmorton Read, obtained work at the B.T.H. The bride is a dressmaker, and together with her sisters, conducted a flourishing business in Louvain. Two months before the war broke out Mr Buelens had secured a house of five rooms, and purchased all his furniture, and all the arrangements were concluded for his wedding on August 22nd. Then the present terrible war began, and together with his fiancée, her grandmother, mother (a widow), three sisters, two brothers, and a cousin, they left Louvain on August 18th, the day before the Germans arrived there. The place was then being bombarded, and they were forced to fly from their homes, with nothing more than a few articles of wearing apparel, leaving behind them the newly-furnished house, all their wedding presents, and the greater part of their clothes. From that time they have not received any information as to whether the house has been burned down, but, judging by many pictures published of the ruins at Louvain, there is very little chance of finding it intact. They travelled by train from Louvain to Ghent, were they remained for three weeks, the whole of the bride’s relations and the bridegroom living in a large house in that city. But there was no sleeping accommodation for them in the house, which was probably crowded with other refugees, and at night some slept in armchairs, but the greater part upon straw laid on the floor-boards. They subsequently proceeded by train to Ostend, where they were lodged at the Great School of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart (Freres de sacre Coeur), and for another four weeks they slept on straw on the floor of the schoolroom, in rows down each side of the room. Men and women were mixed together in the same room, and during the whole of this time none of them took off their clothes or made any change in their underwear. At the end of that time they were able to rent a house, where they found proper sleeping   accommodation, and they stayed 1 ½ days more. Then there was a rush to get away to England, and the bridegroom and his friends went to the landing stage at Ostend to take ship. They arrived at the quay at 7.0. on the Tuesday morning, and sat on the wooden bridge by the quayside without shelter, food, or drink until 10.0 on Wednesday morning, waiting for a boat to take them over. The weather was very bad, it rained heavily, and was piercingly cold, but they had to endure all this without any protection. Their bodily and mental sufferings must have been unspeakable. They arrived at Folkestone at 4.0 p.m, and they were immediately supplied with hot food and drink, and everything possible was done for them. They all speak in the highest terms of the reception accorded to them. They were immediately afterwards taken on to Edmonton, where they stayed about a week. During that time they again made arrangements for their marriage, and the priest wrote to the Bishop for permission for it to take place. But before the reply arrived they were moved on to Rugby. Here they met a fellow countryman in Brother Vermast, who lives at St Marie’s College, and he informed them they must remain at Rugby four weeks before the marriage could be celebrated. The four weeks expired last Wednesday.

In spite of all their troubles, the Belgian refugees are wonderfully light-hearted, and those who have spent hours in their company are astonished to find now philosophically they take their troubles. They all speak in glowing terms of England and the English people, and have very little desire to return to their native land. They have met with many friends in Rugby, but we would like to suggest that people in Rugby who know even a little French should invite a few of them to their homes occasionally for an evening; it would help to brighten their days, which sometimes hang heavily on their hands. Visitors are always welcome at 17 Hillmorton Road, and anyone who can speak French-even imperfectly-is especially welcome.

It may be interesting to state that in Belgium the wedding worn on the right-hand, and at the ceremony the bride presents the bridegroom with a wedding-ring, which he afterwards wears, but he has the privilege of buying them both.

For the information of Belgians in the town and district, we append a translation of the above report in Flemish.


Other arrivals of Belgian refugees in Rugby include Mons G Vilain, a glass manufacturer and exporter from Antwerp, and Madame Vilain. They have been received by Mr and Mrs C Bluemel, and are staying with them at Northfield House.

A second instalment of £1 16s 6d, collected by Miss May Madden and Master Dick Cousens in pence from customers at the Crown Hotel, has been handed over to the local Belgian Relief Fund. This makes a total of £3 11s collected in this way.

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