Escape to Luton from occupied Brussels
Mr Frederick Holland, a young nephew of Mrs Arthur Dimmock, has just arrived in Luton after an exciting escape from Brussels, where he was present during the German entry into the city. And his story, as told to one of our representatives yesterday, in some respects fully bears out the terrible details of sufferings caused to the people in Belgium by the German invasion.
Mr Holland is the only member of the family to get back to England. His father, who went to Brussels about nine years ago, is well known in Luton, where he was formerly engaged in the straw trade. He went to Belgium with his family to engage in the hat manufacturing business there, and is still there with two other sons and a daughter.
Mr Frederick Holland left Watermael-Boitsfort, a suburb of Brussels, on Monday of last week, the English Consul advising him that this was the last possible opportunity for English people to get home. The Germans had then been in possession of the city for about three weeks.
His home on the outskirts of the city was also on the main road by which the invaders entered, and the troops were passing by on their way into the capital for nine days. They had been marching 50 kilometres a day, and some were so tired that they simply dropped down in the street and went to sleep. People were frightened, and all along the route gave them all the food and refreshments they asked for.
One morning a German officer stopped Mr Holland and, pointing to a little flag he was wearing in his buttonhole, asked him whether he was English. This being admitted, the flag was torn from his coat and he was told that he could be arrested as a prisoner of war. The threat was not carried into effect, however, but Mr Holland had to help him find a place where some food was obtainable, and only escaped having him as a sleeping visitor on the ground that the house was too far away.
While at a cafe one day a German soldier bragged that by the New Year he would be having breakfast in Paris, dinner in Petrograd and supper in London. The walls bore placards stating that the British cavalry had been cut to pieces, that the French had been routed, and that the Russians had gone back to Petrograd (St Petersburg).
Commenting on some of the German atrocities, Mr Holland mentioned that one his chums who cycled from Boitsfort to Groenendael with a letter was shot and killed on the return journey, although he was a non-combatant. He also saw a young girl at a cafe who had lost one of her hands. She had been called to serve some Germans, and as she did so her hand was struck off with a sword. The murder of some priests was also referred to, and Mr Holland mentioned that at the sack of Louvain the flames could be seen from his home at Boitsfort.
German officers were said to go into shops in Brussels to get food, and instead of paying, to tender slips of paper stating that King Albert would pay after the war. Four German soldiers threw themselves into a canal and committed suicide in Brussels, leaving a note that they did so because they would not go on doing the kind of things they had been ordered to do, while another put his foot under the wheel of a heavy waggon so that he might be incapacitated and sent to hospital. Many said they could not go back to face their wives and children after what they had been doing.
Mr Holland left Brussels with three friends of Monday of last week. His father is lame and could not take a hurried journey, while a brother had a Belgian wife, and they could not escape.
As train communication had been cut, the four young men had to go by steam tram to Ninove. There the other three were stopped by German soldiers, but Mr Holland, who was having a lift in a baker's cart, was not questioned. Getting to Dendermonde by road, it was found possible to travel to Ghent by train. There Mr Holland and other refugees found an empty house in which they spent the night.
The next day they got to Ostend, and there they had to stay two days until they could get a boat for Folkestone. At Ostend they saw the British Marines and made their temporary home in one of the bathing machines on the beach.
The boat from Ostend coasted to Calais and then crossed to Folkestone, which Mr Holland reached on Saturday, having been six days on a journey which, in the normal way, would not occupy more than nine hours.
No news has since been received from other members of the family, who are under the protection of the American Consul, and news is now hardly expected until the war takes some decided turn.