The Belgian Visitors

By kind permission of John King, Author

The Army Service Corps instructors and recruits were not the only visitors to Grove Park in 1914. In smaller numbers but at first very emotive to the British were the Belgians. The appeal by Samuel Luffman to his parishioners in the November magazine was typical of others in England “We who have been spared the desolation and ruin of our country by war, must needs feel our hearts oppressed by the thought of the terrible sufferings of the poor Belgians. Thousands, and thousands of them are houseless, homeless, destitute and exiled from their country as the result of this war. That little country has borne the first and fierce assault of that power which threatens the whole of Europe. There can be no doubt that if the Belgians had not made such a brave and heroic fight Paris would long ago have fallen We must, compelled by all that is best within us, do what we can to help them”. A notice of a meeting of those who wanted to help would shortly be distributed, the Vicar concluded. The Vicar of St Mildred’s wrote in a similar vein but in fewer words, simply associating himself with the attempts to establish an organisation to help house the homeless Belgians who were arriving in London.

The local people reacted quickly to the appeals. Indeed before the November magazines were published, the Lee Journal reported on the wish of Lee residents to help and that it was known that the owner of 105 Burnt Ash Hill (three houses up from the Modern High School) was offering the house rent free to the Belgians; furthermore, that a committee had been formed with the Vicar of St Mildred’s as vice-chairman and Owen Evans of the Burnt Ash Congregational Church as secretary.

The house in Burnt Ash Hill was soon ready and on 10 November twenty-three Belgians arrived. The new residents included seven children who subsequently were to be seen being driven around Lee in the car of Horn Park farmer Walter Wood, who was a member of the Belgian committee. At the same time people at the other end of Lee were preparing to help after Captain Bowãter made it known that his old home Highleigh, would be similarly available. A meeting duly took place in the Iron Room at St Augustine’s — a sort of committee room and Sunday School. A committee was similarly formed and furniture provided. The December magazine published a long list of people who had donated or made promises. Before the end of the year three families and a servant had arrived.

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