Letter from Alexander Maes, former Belgian refugee, to the vicar of Knutton, 19 February 1931
©Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service
The letter contains Alexander Maes’ memories of his time as a refugee, aged 8, in the years from 1914 to 1916 in Knutton. He mentions names of various people and families he remembers, and asks if there is any way he can be put in touch with them. He refers to the overwhelming kindness of the people of Knutton towards the Belgian refugees. There are further letters between Maes and the Morrall family with whom he was able to re-establish contact.
19th February 1931
The undersigned is a “late” Belgian refugee, who lived at Knutton with his parents and other relatives from December 1914 till October 1916 and dwelt in “the Old Plough”, a former “Inn” that, at that time, stood close to the farm of Mr Lowe on the Silverdale road.
We arrived at Knutton a few days before Christmas 1914, when I was a little boy of 8 years old. During the two years we stayed in England, I went to Knutton School where Mr Sheldon was head-teacher, and where I also had Miss Wain as school-mistress. My father was employed as a clerk at the N.S. Railway at Stoke-on- Trent Station, which same functions he also fulfilled in Belgium, before the War, and still does now. Our house and its whole contents were burned down already at the beginning of September 1914, and we then crossed the Channel, after a short stay in Holland, to that hospitable England, where the “Knutton committee for Aid to the Refugees” did all it could to help us through that terrible episode of the world’s history which the war was.
The Rev. Mr Selwyn Thompstone was at that time Vicar of Knutton Parish, and we also knew very well his relative, Miss Jessie Henry- I wonder if they are still there, after more than sixteen years, and it would be rather funny that my letter should reach them, instead of the unknown clergyman to whom I address it now, and whom I ask to excuse the liberty I have taken in writing him:-
But it is my sympathy and that of my parents for our old English friends that pushed me to try and have some news of them, and how could this better succeed than in asking the Revd Vicar?!
Among other acquaintances at Knutton, I shall point out some members of the Committee: Messrs Viggars, Bromey, Walley, Owen, Turner, of Knutton; also Mr Simons of Silverdale. We also knew Mr Shaw, of the C.W.S stores, Mr Vinol, the butcher,; the family Moral of Silverdale; and also the family of Mr Vernon, the shoe-maker.
We left England for France in October 1916, and for a pretty long time afterwards kept in touch with Miss Henry. But little by little, we lost sight of each other, and this is why, after so many years, it seems as if the proverb “Out of sight, out of mind” has become reality. But I may assure you Revd Sir, that this is not the case, for in our hearts the remembrance of the happy hours which we, poor refugees, spent at Knutton, thanks to the kindness of its inhabitants, will always remain.
Should I not use too freely of your kindness in asking you to let me have some news about my friends of 1914-1915? It would greatly oblige my parents and myself, and in a following letter, I will also tell you somewhat about my story since I left your country.
Please excuse the blunders I have made in this letter: you will no doubt understand my situation, which is that of a stranger who once knew English better than his own Flemish or French, but has forgotten, oh, such a lot of it.
111 Chaussee de Bruxelles