Meeting with a Belgian Refugee

Event Start and End Date: 

13th October 1914

Luton councillor Murry Barford wrote an article in The Luton News (October 15th, 1914) about an encounter with a Belgian refugee on the 12.15 train from St Pancras on Tuesday.

"It is not war, it is massacre," said the man. He, his brother, a man servant, with two boys of the  tenderest years, were on their way to Derby to receive from some kind-hearted householder asylum and a home, the only gift we Britishers can offer these noble people, bereft of all they once possessed.

The overcoat worn by the man servant was torn in half a dozen places by shrapnel from the German artillery. The shot had entered the roof of an unpretentious mansion upon the outskirts of Malines, and was the forerunner of a cannonade which reduced the houses in that district to so many heaps of rubble. Before the bombardment, greedy "cultured" hands had removed all the family treasures to waiting railway trucks labelled for Berlin. What of the furniture could not be thus easily disposed of was smashed in the mere lust of destruction, piled into heaps to start the fire which was soon to add to the ghastly light outside.

My new-found friend had been prosperous in business, invested his savings in Malines property and retired, as he thought, to enjoy his later years in peace, and realised a few mornings since that his property was all demolished, himself destitute, and was now ready to accept with a grateful acknowledgement a sandwich from a stranger.

In the next compartment, under the care of two daughters, was an old lady stricken with paralysis. Propped up in a corner, her hands shaking like leaves in the autumn wind, one was impressed by the devotion that had seen her safely from the broken city up to the coast, across the sea to Folkestone, on to London, down to the Alexandra Palace, and now back again to St Pancras. The voice of one of the daughters was breaking with tears as she inquired what time they would reach Derby.

The day before I had watched the departure of some sixty or eighty refugees to Manchester. There were women carrying all they now possessed in brown paper parcels tied with odd lengths of string or in a sheet snatched hurriedly from the bed they would never sleep upon again - women of the artisan class, who had spent their lives in the fertile fields now laid waste under under the devastating heel of the modern Hun - women of the tradesman class who had seen the shops that had given them and their families a comfortable living in Malines smouldering in ruins.

One poor soul with three little boys under 12 years of age had been driven from the city so hurriedly that she had lost sight of her two daughters of 16 and 18 years. Whether  they were dead or alive she did not know, but she was praying that the good God would take them rather than that should fall into the hands of the rapacious Barbarian.

No one with a heart for humanity can pass down Aldwych at this time without experiencing a thickening sensation at the throat. Hundreds of Belgians, rich once, poor now, pass into the committee's waiting rooms side by side with those complacent resigned souls who have never known riches. To these latter, troubles are not so rare, their lives have been one long struggle against adversity, but the grace with which they accept every service offered bespeaks them as a people not devoid of the finer instincts of this downtrodden nation, who in her sorrow is shedding tears of joy that she has the throbbing heart of Greater Britain to sustain her.


NB: Murry Barford died in February 1937, having been Mayor of Luton four times. His obituary in The Luton News says he had completed his education as the only English student at a school near Paris which made him "especially qualified to assist the Belgian refugees who came to Luton, and as an interpreter he did much useful work".

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Source Date: 

Thursday, October 15, 1914