1914: Cuckfield inhabitants hear of War atrocities and offer help for Belgian refugees


Sussex Agricultural Express - Friday 30 October 1914


CUCKFIELD AND THE BELGIAN REFUGEES.

PRIEST'S STORY OF GERMAN ATROCITIES.

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The inhabitants of Cuckfield assembled in strong force in the Queen's Hall Friday night for the purpose of considering the question of helping Belgian refugees. Already a house has been taken in Cuckfield and a number of Belgians are being cared for in it, and it was proposed to take other houses, and to send for some refugees. But the Local Government Board Order put a stop to that, and so the Vicar of Cuckfield (the Rev. R. Fisher), who presided at the public meeting, suggested that a good round sum be forwarded to the Central Fund from Cuckfield, that those at central headquarters could send refugees to places where they could be received and warmly welcomed. Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke, he added, had contributed fifty guineas to the collection that would made that evening—(applause)—and the Fund would be kept open for a week to enable those not present that night to send something along.


The most striking feature of the meeting was a speech from the Rev. Father Rankin, of Brussels. He commended Great Britain for having kept her pledged word in a solemn treaty to maintain the neutrality of Belgium, and added that Belgium had been ravished because she also kept her word to England. They all knew what price had been paid for the respect of a treaty and fidelity to a signature on a “scrap of paper," as Germany termed it. Belgium had given the flower of her youth, the riches of her industry and agriculture, and her jewels of architecture as a pawn for relief. The Allies, he was confident, would not forfeit their pledge to see Belgium righted.


Belgian War veterans outside The Queens Hall circa 1915

ONLY ONE COMPLAINT.

The refugees sheltered in England were very grateful for the aid given them and they had been deeply touched by the kindness of the English. As for material conditions, nothing so far had been left undone. He had heard only one complaint - English tea was a poor substitute for continental coffee (laughter.)


The problem of employment was a serious one. The Belgians were too industrious, too thrifty, to remain idle. Street parading was no occupation to them. It would be better if they could be found work without disturbing the English labour market. Some of them might teach Brussels lacemaking, or diamond cutting. The men were also used to market gardening and a force station. Efforts had already been made in that direction in Hertfordshire. As to the future, what Belgium would most need was money. If they were to repair the damage done everywhere they could not provide the necessary means themselves. After Belgium had provided a battleground for the European powers these might very well pay for the game. They looked to England as the good Samaritan, who not only attended their wounds, but also took charge of their convalescence. Her reward and Belgium's would be shared together.


Some of the refugees he had met at Brighton had told him, with full particulars, some of the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans. In Wackerzul <sic> a village between Malines and Louvain, 14 men were bound together, with their hands on their backs, and shot one after the other, while their wives and children were locked up in a church. When the poor people were set free they had to bury their kith and kin in a large grave prepared by their murderers. In Gelrode, near Aarschot, the parish priest was called out by another priest, at least, a man dressed as a priest, a disguised spy under the pretext that some wounded soldiers were lying on the road at some distance from the Presbytery. Complying with his duty, the priest accompanied the man without suspicion, but he never returned. His body was found later stripped of the cassock, which every Belgian priest wore, floating in the river. It was completely disfigured, and it was by means of a pocketbook bearing his name that he was discovered.


THAT BLEEDING HEART

In Elewijt, 74 men were taken prisoners for 12 days. Every hour they were counted up and threatened to be shot at once if one were missing or trying to escape. The priest among them was compelled to peel potatoes, which had to be eaten raw, and he was ordered to put the peelings in a bag, carry it on his shoulder, and passed by his fellow prisoners, who were lined up as for a procession. When at the end of his walk the soldiers spat in his face, and threatened him with death. Every farm the Germans visited they piled up straw, chairs, tables, and furniture, and then set fire to the lot. They either killed the cattle or let them loose in the open. The Kaiser's heart was bleeding for Louvain, but let him wait until the smoke of the burning buildings reached heaven, and until the smell of the bloodshed aroused its judge!


On resuming his seat, the Reverend father was enthusiastically applauded. Mademoiselle Johnson, who did Red Cross work in Belgium, also spoke, and set forth the terrible sufferings of the Belgian soldiers, and also others in that unhappy land when the Germans invaded it. Altogether, it was a most interesting meeting, and there is every indication that not only will Cuckfield do its upmost for the central fund, but will also see that the home in which Mrs C. H. Waugh is interested lacks nothing while the Belgians are housed there.


The following month, 16 wounded Belgian soldiers were received at the Queen's Hall, which had been equipped as a hospital with eighteen beds. Follow this link for the story:- https://www.cuckfieldconnections.org.uk/post/1914-1918-the-queens-hall-converted-into-a-temporary-hospital


For further details on Western Front War Crimes please follow the link:-

https://www.westernfrontassociation.com/world-war-i-articles/the-truth-about-german-atrocities/

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