Newspaper reports of the period (see following) give a chronological account of the care given to Belgian refugees in Bexhill using information published in the Bexhill Observer and Bexhill Chronicle newspapers, as well as other sources, 1914 – 1920.
The Bexhill Observer published an editorial titled “What we can do for the Belgians”. This was written when the plight of Belgians was becoming apparent following the German invasion of their country earlier in the month. The Editor invited offers of hospitality from local residents to be sent to the newspaper and they would then forward them to the proper authorities.
In anticipation of refugees arriving in the town and at the suggestion of Father Kennedy, Rector of St Mary Magdalene’s Roman Catholic Church, Templemore, the old convent at 5 Cranfield Road, Bexhill, was lent by the Sisters of Providence, to provide rent-free accommodation for about 20-25 destitute persons on the understanding that a committee was formed who would look after the administration of Templemore and the welfare of the refugees.
The Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee, thereafter referred to as the Committee, was soon formed with J A Paton Esq., J.P. as Chairman, William Reed-Lewis, Esq., as Honorary Secretary and C C Cotterill, Esq., as Honorary Treasurer. The full membership of the Committee is given in Appendix 1. The offices of the Committee were established at 24 Eversley Road, Bexhill, the home of Mr and Mrs Reed-Lewis. It was stressed that no member of the Committee would take any salary and the clerical staff would not receive any wages.
[Mr William Reed-Lewis was already a prominent citizen of Bexhill and as Honorary Secretary he would be instrumental in drawing the plight of the Belgian refugees to the attention of the town as well as actively encouraging the necessary fund raising activities. He was born on November 25th 1860 in Philadelphia, USA. In 1880 he married Rebecca Duane and they were to have five children although two of them died as infants. His wife died in 1889 in Tangier where Mr Reed-Lewis was US Consul and Charge d’Affaires to Morocco from 1887 to 1890. He then came to England and married Mary Wynch in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. They subsequently moved to Belgium for four years where a number of children of his second marriage were born. In 1895 he became a Roman Catholic. With his family he moved to Bexhill in 1911 and stayed until 1923. Mr Reed-Lewis is probably best remembered as the founder in about 1912 of the first public library in the town when some 25 books were made available in the porch of St Mary Magdalene’s Roman Catholic Church. Details of his life after the end of World War One may be found in the section devoted to June 1918].
On September 7th 1914 Mr Reed-Lewis travelled by car with Mr Spooner to Folkestone where many of the refugees were arriving from Belgium. Following discussions with local officials he was able to assemble a group of 14 refugees who returned with him to Bexhill on the last train of the day. The group consisting of four men unfit for active service and 10 women and children were housed overnight in temporary accommodation at the Devonshire Hotel.
By the middle of September 1914 Mr Reed-Lewis reported that £300 of the anticipated £500 needed to support the refugees had already been raised by the residents of Bexhill. There were now 30 refugees in the town and the number was very soon expected to rise to about 100. Most of the refugees were being accommodated in Templemore but an appeal was made for more accommodation elsewhere in Bexhill. The local Boy Scouts were being encouraged to run errands on behalf of the refugee’s welfare.
A detailed list of over 250 benefactors to the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee’s Appeal was published. These ranged from £30 0s 0d from Mrs S J Edmonds to 2s 0d anonymously donated as “a widow’s mite”. The Committee also acknowledged and thanked the many other gifts of kindness and hospitality which had been received. However, the Committee stressed that the refugees would not be exploited for public sympathy, for example through pubic parades, to aid fund raising. At present no Government allowances were available to help assist refugees so all financial support had to be raised from local sources.
An-eight-page additional Bexhill Chronicle “Special War Edition” was published on Saturday, September 12th 1914, in aid of fundraising by the Committee. Each copy sold for 1d and £20 8s 6d was raised. A group of young ladies sold copies around the town during the afternoon in pouring rain. Many customers either paid more for their copies or did not ask for any change.
The majority of Belgian refugees were devoted Roman Catholics and St Mary Magdalene’s Church also offered them hospitality and spiritual support. Father Kennedy, Rector of St Mary Magdalene’s Church, also gave this Committee, as well as the refugees, much help, support and advice. Publication of the times and details of their church services were initially published weekly in the newspapers in English, French and Flemish. Father Fevez, L’Abbé Sas of Malines Cathedral, near Antwerp, Belgium, was staying in town and assisted at a number of their church services. Rev Oak-Rhind preached a “powerful sermon” at St Andrews Church encouraging his congregation to have sympathy for the plight of the Belgian refugees and to do what they could to help and support them.
At the urgent request of the London War Refugees Committee, 51 more refugees described as peasants, including 29 children, were sent at twenty-four hours notice to Bexhill. They arrived at Bexhill Railway Station with cards suspended from their necks addressed “Reed-Lewis, Bexhill”. They were accommodated at Templemore but because of language and other cultural difficulties, and despite the best efforts of the Committee, these arrangements proved disappointing and after a few months stay in Bexhill they returned to London.
This group of 51 refugees brought the total number in the town at the end of September 1914 to about 100. These refugees had travelled to Bexhill from various Belgian towns including Wespelaar, Thildonck, Namur, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Liège, Louvain and Gembloux. Many were described as poor people of artisan class in a destitute condition although there were others from middle and professional classes including a stockbroker, lawyers, legal administrators and the wives of two members of the Belgian cabinet. As a consequence some refugees had money of their own and would be more self-sufficient and less reliant on the Committee for support than others.
Amongst the more notable Belgians who came to Bexhill were Mons Leon Aerts, interpreter with the British Army in Flanders; Mons Gustave Allard, Juge de Paix [Justice of the Peace] of Florrens; Mons Andre Biebuyck of Brussels; Mons Alexandre Borsu of Liège; Mons Georges Fallon, avocat [lawyer] of Namur; Mons Charles Genart, Juge d’Instruction [magistrate] of Namur (resident at 18 St Leonards Road); Mons Franz Gerard, notaire [solicitor] of Namur (54 Wilton Road); Mons Paul Goossens of Liège (15 Devonshire Road); Mons Georges Leheys (15 Jameson Road); Mons Paul Malherbe, avocat [lawyer] of Namur (20 Jameson Road); Mons H Martin, ingénieur (engineer) of Brussels (12 Jameson Road) and Mons George Pirson, notaire [solicitor] of Namur.
Many refugees continued to be accommodated in Templemore and at the nearby Kilronan, owned by Miss Margaret Oxlade, at 3 Station Road, Bexhill. Families with children were more likely to be accommodated in Kilronan. Concerns were being expressed about the difficulty of communication with the refugees because of language differences, especially the refugee’s local dialects; very few of the refugees spoke French and none spoke English.
The Committee had refused a request to accept a further 50 or 60 refugees because they felt the town would be unable to adequately cope with them. The Committee preferred to wait and see how the existing refugees settled in and how well the town was able to support them. As Bexhill was in a restricted area for security and military purposes, this made the Committee’s decision to refuse more refugees less difficult. Once again the Committee expressed its deep appreciation to the residents of Bexhill for the support and hospitality extended to the refugees. The Committee also asked the local Gas and Water Company to reduce or cancel their charges to the properties housing refugees as had happened in other towns.
Bexhill Sea Angling Club gave a gift of 56lbs of fish, including plaice, dabs, whiting and cod, caught in a recent competition, to the refugees. Bexhill Tradesmen’s Cricket Club held a whist drive in the Prince’s Café, Marina Arcade, which raised £6 4s 6d for the Appeal. Managers at various places of entertainment including the Kursaal, Colonnade and the Bijou Cinema offered to entertain the refugees free-of-charge as their guests, thereby known as “deadheads”.
A second detailed list of benefactors to the Committee’s Appeal was published in the newspapers. A Reading Room, at the corner of Sea Road and Jameson Road [probably on the opposite corner to the Granville Hotel], Bexhill, was opened to provide a source of French newspapers, illustrated British newspapers and games for the benefit of the refugees. Subsequently this Room appears to have been much appreciated and well used.
It was reported that a number of people had been posing as refugees so as to obtain money under false pretences from kindly disposed people. Mr Reed-Lewis again strongly urged that all gifts in kind or money were sent to the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee for them to distribute as they knew where all the refugees were staying and the individual needs of each family. An appeal was made by the Committee for warm clothes as winter was approaching.
A letter had been received by Father Kennedy at St Mary Magdalene’s Church from the Vicar-General to His Eminence Cardinal Merceier of Antwerp, expressing his deepest gratitude and appreciation for the support given by the whole population of Bexhill to the Belgian refugees. It was noted in the newspapers that refugees may visit Mons L’Abbé Sas at 37 Jameson Road, Bexhill, at any reasonable time.
The Committee’s Appeal had reached £520 and there were now 160 refugees in town. The Committee was looking to find a further 20 empty houses to help accommodate refugees over the winter. In general, the Committee preferred to house refugee families in empty houses and then allow them to live their lives as they wished. Support in terms of food, clothing and furniture would be given as determined by the needs of each family. Those from the middle and professional classes who were able to bring some funds with them would be more self-sufficient than others. The Committee preferred to use the term “exile” rather than “refugee” and not to look upon their work as charity but as supportive. A request for the gift or loan of three or four cots had been made.
A proposal was put forward that benefactors could be invited to contribute one shilling or more on a regular weekly basis to the Appeal for the continuance of the war. Lady collectors would be recruited to collect these contributions. It was also proposed that a public meeting should be held so that the Committee could explain in more detail its work and how gifts of kindness and the Appeal’s donations were distributed. An idea had been put to the Committee from one local school that the money which would normally have been spent on school prizes should instead be donated to the Appeal and that the pupils who would have received prizes should be presented with an engraved certificate recognising this charitable act. The Misses Ratcliffe and Webster arranged for their pupils to perform at a Kursaal matinee and raised £32 0s 0d. Miss Nina Sutton gave a concert at the Sackville Hotel in aid of the Appeal and raised £11 15s 0d. The Local West Country Association held a whist drive in the Sackville Hotel for the Appeal and a recent Bexhill Golf Club Competition raised £1 14s 0d. During the coming months many local individuals and organisations put on concerts or organised fund raising events on behalf the Appeal.
Anxiety was being expressed nationally that German spies may be entering the country masquerading as refugees. The police and the Committee stated that locally they had no grounds for concern. It was reported that last week two women dressed as nuns went about Bexhill representing that they were begging on behalf of the Belgian refugees. Father Kennedy said that he did not know these women and that they were not legitimate representatives of his Church. Children in Normandale School, Sutherland Avenue, had started a “sweet box” into which donations of sweets which the children were willing to forgo, were collected and then distributed to the refugee children. So far only three ladies had volunteered to undertake the weekly house-to-house collection of contributions to the Appeal. A further detailed list of benefactors to the Appeal fund was published.
News was received at the end of October 1914 that by Government Order all Belgian refugees in the town would have to leave immediately. This instruction was thought to be related to concerns about infiltration by German spies of the refugee populations throughout the country. After an emergency Committee meeting a delegation quickly left the following day for discussions at the Home Office in London and with the Chief Constable of Lewes. Ultimately the instruction was rescinded and the refugees were allowed to stay unless the police had special reasons to remove any particular individual. By now there were over 100 refugees in Bexhill.
Mr Reed-Lewis later described this as his “a day of agony”. He explained that “Thanks to the kindness of the Superintendent of Police, who gave us timely warning of the Home Office order, constituting East Sussex a prohibited area for refugees, the Committee was able to take prompt steps to deal with the matter and at two hours notice we held a meeting on Sunday afternoon to face the possibility of the whole Belgian colony in Bexhill being broken up at 24 hours’ notice. The distress of the Belgians at this announcement was most painful to witness and to a man they flocked to the Catholic Church, where they truly believed their only help was to be found. Mr Reynolds at an early hour on Monday morning proceeded to London, accompanied by two influential Belgian gentlemen, and Colonel Briggs went to the Chief Constable of Lewes. The Home Office and Lewes got into telephone communication and the situation was saved but the 24 hours of agony have not yet been forgotten by the Belgians”. Following their reprieve nearly the whole of the Belgian refugee community once again returned to St Mary Magdalene’s Church to give thanks.
Between September 6th and November 1st 1914 the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee Appeal had receipts of £658 11s 3d; it was also decided to create a Finance sub-committee. The majority of refugees were still being cared for at Templemore and Kilronan. Monsieur Andre Malherbe who had now become of military age since arriving in Bexhill had volunteered to join the Belgian armed forces. He was the first Belgian from the town to do so and left behind his mother, invalided father, sister and two younger brothers.
A reception in the Granville Hotel for the Belgian refugees was attended by the Town Clerk, Mr T E Rogers, other notable townspeople and Mons Genart representing the refugees. A number of speeches were made as well as the singing of both national anthems.
King Albert of the Belgians celebrated a feast day known as the “Day of the King” on November 15th 1914. On the day the Belgian refugees held a celebratory Mass and the Committee sent King Albert a congratulatory telegram. One of the refugees had lost a trinket of no great value but to the owner; it consisted of a couple of stag’s teeth set in gold. The Committee commented that the Belgians had now so little left that their few remaining possessions had to them a value which everyone would respect. There were now over 200 refugees in the town.
Normandale School in Sutherland Avenue, Bexhill, had decided to forgo Christmas book prizes and donate the money instead to the Appeal. Typewritten certificates on the official headed notepaper of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee would be signed by the school’s Headmaster and a senior Belgian of the town and given in appreciation to the pupils.
The Bexhill Quarterly was a publication produced between May 1914 and the end of 1917 by the Bexhill Advertising Agency. It was used to promote the business, residential and tourism potential of Bexhill. The publication appears to have had a wide circulation including English speaking communities abroad. As its editor was Mr Reed-Lewis, a number of articles appeared describing the care being offered to the Belgian refugees and the need for fund raising to support this work. As a consequence of a feature in the November 1914 issue the Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia, USA, published an article highly praising how the Belgian refugees were being cared for in Bexhill. This led to a group of ladies of the Westminster Church of Buffalo, New York, sending a generous gift of money and clothing to the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee. Also in the November 1914 issue of the Bexhill Quarterly was an article “Bexhill and the Belgians” by Mr Reed-Lewis [see Appendix 2].
Reg Cane recounts in Bexhill Voices [edited by Fred Gray, University of Sussex, 1994, pages 61-2] that “My vivid recollection was always in the early days of the First World War, you see, Belgium got over run didn’t it. And we took in a terrific lot of Belgian refugees all round the town that had to come away from the war zone and they were, every morning, waiting for their plates outside the railings of the school playground – getting food from the [Canadian] troops. We had to pass the school [Down Elementary School – now King Offa County Primary School] that we were to go to and the troops had it. They fed all their bits and pieces to the Belgian refugees who used to line the railings of the playground”.
The Committee would not be making any special appeal for funds over the Christmas period but any gifts for the refugees should be sent to the Committee for the most appropriate distribution. A number of refugees had now left the town having found employment in other parts of the country. This would allow for the care of some Belgian soldiers who were now convalescent, but whose injuries would not allow a return to the front, to be accommodated within the town.
Details were published of the monies received for the Appeal from collecting boxes left during autumn term in a number of local schools. Details for 14 schools included the Beehive £1 17s 0d, Caledonia £1 12s 5½d and Ebor School £1 8s 9½d were recorded. Few Christmas toys had so far been donated to the disappointment of the Committee. No turkeys had yet been promised and it was emphasised that for the Committee to purchase them would draw heavily on the Appeal funds. Plans were being made for a children’s Christmas party in one of the Committee member’s home where a tree would be decorated to include a personal gift for each child.
A performance of the Water Babies by pupils of Ancaster House School was staged at The Bijou to raise funds for Bexhill and Hastings Belgian Refugee Committees as well as the East Sussex Hospital, Hastings.
Three Belgian refugees; Mons Charles Genart, Mons Georges Pirson and Mons George Fallon, who were all from Namur and members of the legal profession, were invited to sit as visitors on the Judge’s Bench at a recent Sussex Assizes.
By Christmas Day the Committee were expressing thanks for the very generous response to their request for gifts for the refugee children. Some gifts had also been donated for the adults. All gifts distributed to refugee families had a card reading “The people of Bexhill send herewith a Christmas offering, with all good wishes to their Belgian guests, and hope that the New Year will be crowned by victory, prosperity and a lasting peace, Christmas 1914”. There were 230 Belgian refugees in Bexhill during the Christmas period 1914.
A letter from Mons L’Abbé Sas in the newspapers thanked the town of Bexhill for the hospitality and support given to the Belgian refugees. Mr Reed-Lewis, Hon Secretary of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee also wrote to the newspapers saying “It will interest you and your readers to know that no Belgian in this town will be without some token of affection from Bexhill, on his or her, first Christmas in England”.
Eventually over 370lbs of poultry had been made available to the Committee for distribution at Christmas to the Belgian refugees. Each Belgian received at his own home a large Christmas parcel with the Committee’s greetings; the parcel included turkey, sausage meat, vegetables, plum pudding, oranges, apples, nuts, crystallised and dried fruit, cake, chocolates and cordials. If desired, a bottle of Schiedam or Curaçao was also available. Toys were given to the children. A lengthy newspaper letter from one of the Belgians and signed “Aduaticus” was published both in French and English. The letter described the beauty of Bexhill especially the sea and the sunsets, the suffering of his country and his fellow countrymen. The writer also expressed sincere thanks for the loving sympathy and true friendship of the people of Bexhill. The view of many in the Belgian community was that it had been “the best Christmas we have ever had in our lives”.
The death was announced of the first Belgian refugee to die in the town. Edouard Allard, aged 17 months, died of pneumonia on January 9th 1915. He was living with his mother and seven brothers and sisters at 20 Albert Road, Bexhill. His father, a judge, was still in Belgium. The funeral took place at St Mary Magdalene’s Church and he was buried in Bexhill Cemetery.
A number of Belgian refugee men who were now fit for active service had left the town. Those fit enough to work, but not for active service, had reported to the Belgian Consul in London to undertake any available employment; however, their wives and children would stay in Bexhill. It was the strongly expressed desire of the Committee that the funds at their disposal should not be used for supporting able-bodied young men “in idleness”.
The death was announced of another Belgian refugee. Paul Malherbe, aged 52 years, died of heart disease on January 26th 1915. He was a barrister from Namur who came to Bexhill with his wife, daughter Marguerite and three sons; they were living at 9 Wilton Road, Bexhill. Following a Solemn Mass of Requiem at St Mary Magdalene’s Church he was buried at Bexhill Cemetery. Andre Malherbe, one of his sons, returned to Belgium in November 1914 to enlist in his country’s armed forces and subsequently Mons Malherbe’s other two sons left Bexhill to join the Belgian Army.
The death was announced of the third Belgian refugee to die in the town. Gustave Malisoux, who also came to Bexhill from Namur, died on February 9th 1915 from unstated causes aged 67 years. He had been living at Winchester House, Marina, Bexhill. Following his funeral he was buried in Bexhill Cemetery [although his body was disinterred by Home Office license on July 6th 1920, but no other details were recorded about this].
News had reached Mr Reed-Lewis that an account of his Committee’s work in the November 1914 issue of The Bexhill Quarterly had been recognised as far afield as Buenos Aires, Argentina. An appeal in the Buenos Aires Herald had yielded £230 7s 7d by the end of September 1915.
Fortnightly gatherings or conversaziones had begun at the Sackville Hotel for the Belgian refugees and any other interested residents of Bexhill. These events were free of charge and usually consisted of short talks, piano or other musical instrument playing or singing often performed by the refugees. The initial gatherings attracted about 40 people. Also a number of refugees had offered to give French lessons to local people.
The Committee had launched a second Appeal for £500 at the end of January 1915. Four weeks later £112 had been received and a detailed list of contributors was published. Mr Reed-Lewis expressed his profound disappointment that contributions appeared to be falling off. However, he did recognise that residents had many personal demands on their finances, prices were rising and they all had many other requests for charitable contributions. But he stressed that without adequate charitable funding the refugees could not be supported and they would be forced to leave town. He bluntly stated that it was up to the town whether the refugees stay or go.
During the month two very detailed lists were published in the newspapers of the weekly and monthly contributors to the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee’s Appeal. These included the donators’ names and addresses as well as the names of their volunteer lady collectors. A large quantity of clothing from Australia had been received and distributed to the refugees.
Mr Reed-Lewis set sail for the USA to enlist the support and sympathies of friends in the States on behalf of all Belgian refugees in Britain and especially those in Bexhill. He took with him a number of letters of support including one written by the Belgian community of Bexhill.
A letter from the Clothing Committee of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee to local newspapers said “Now that the summer is coming on our Clothing Committee is in great need of all kinds of cool clothing, men’s, women’s and children’s [of the latter, the youngest is about 6 years] including boots, shoes and hats. The Committee would be grateful for the smallest of gifts. Parcels should be sent to Templemore in Cranfield Road”.
The death was announced of another Belgian refugee, Mademoiselle Marguerite Malherbe. She was described as a charming girl of 22 years, unusually gifted with intelligence and charm. She had been ill since arriving in Bexhill and her death on June 5th 1915 was caused by consumption [pulmonary tuberculosis]. She was the daughter of Paul Malherbe who had died in January 1915. Marguerite was single and, at the time of her death, living at 12 Jameson Road, Bexhill. A newspaper report of her funeral at St Mary Magdalene’s Church and internment at Bexhill Cemetery was published in both English and French.
At Bexhill Petty Sessions, Madame Emma Gheys, a Belgian lady, although not one of the refugees living in Bexhill, was charged with failing to comply with the regulations having entered the prohibited area of Bexhill without permission. She had called at Bexhill Police Station to register, having travelled from Hastings where she was already registered, but without the permission of the Chief Constable of Lewes to travel between these two prohibited areas. A member of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee appeared on behalf of the defendant and stated that Madame Gheys had been in Sussex for three months. After discussion the case was dismissed but she was reminded that refugees could not move from one prohibited area to another without prior permission. It was agreed by all that the relevant Order was complicated and the relevant certificates issued to the Belgian refugees were drawn up in a language which they did not understand, yet they were expected to fully comply with these regulations.
Mr Reed-Lewis had returned after three months from his visit to the USA. In a lengthy newspaper report he said that he had met with most success in Philadelphia where he succeeded in forming a small, but powerful committee, to directly represent in the United States the needs of Belgium and her refugees. This North American Fund had yielded £164 8s 6d by the end of September 1915 with Messrs Walter George Smith, George Wharton Pepper and Mrs Warburton of Philadelphia being most influential in the Fund’s collection. Funds were also collected from Mr Reed-Lewis’ fellow passengers on his voyages to and from America. In addition, he felt he had been able to promote Bexhill as a resort well worth visiting in happier times.
Mr Reed-Lewis again talked of what he considered the most difficult problem facing the Committee namely “how to look after Belgian men and women of education and refined habit who were now refugees”. The Committee’s solution had usually been to provide such persons with a small house, one for each family and an allowance given according to need. The Committee considered this approach had been successful and unusual in other places in the country caring for Belgian refugees.
Mr Reed-Lewis also explained that from the middle of July 1915 some money was now being received by the Committee from the London War Refugees Fund to help support the welfare of local refugees but that any money received had to be matched by an equivalent amount donated locally. He stressed again that contributions should be made directly to the local Appeal so that funding received from London could be as high as possible.
Some complaints had been heard around town that “Refugees can afford new gowns and I cannot”. The Committee expressed the wish that local residents could be “a little more charitable” as often the new clothes, or the funds to buy them, had been donated anonymously and the refugees were very grateful for any help offered to them.
The Belgian community in Bexhill celebrated their National Day, July 21st 1915, by attending a Low Mass at St Mary Magdalene’s Church. Mons L’Abbé Sas gave the sermon which was reproduced in full in the local newspapers. Flags and bunting in the national colours of Belgium were displayed from more than 20 houses around the town.
An “Exhibition of War Souvenirs” in aid of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee’s Appeal was held at 14 St Leonards Road, Bexhill. It proved to be a great success with over 200 items on display including various munitions together with artefacts from Ypres Cloth Hall and Cathedral as well as pictures of France and Belgium devastated by war. The Exhibition was extended beyond the original three-day opening during which over 1000 civilians and at least 500 soldiers visited paying 6d for adult admission and 3d for a child. A total of £18 0s 0d was raised for the Appeal and an extensive list of exhibits was published in the Bexhill Observer [August 21st 1915].
Miss B C Sargent of Callington, Cornwall, while a temporary resident in Genoa, Italy, had established the Genoa Fund and by the end of August 1915 her Fund had contributed £43 0s 0d to the Committee’s Appeal..
A letter from Mr Reed-Lewis stating that there had now been over 300 Belgian refugees, mostly of the professional classes, in the town and most of them had received some assistance from the Committee. A total of £2,600 had been collected for their Appeal which had been used to pay the refugees rents, thereby allowing the families to live as much as they liked. However, he was concerned about a recent reduction in public contributions and the Committee’s work may have to stop as a consequence. Currently there were 140 refugees with combined expenses of over £65 a week. Although small grants were still received from the London War Refugees Fund, these grants must be matched by local contributions or they would stop. Collecting boxes were to be found in most local hotels, cinemas, shops and many other public places. They were emptied weekly but this task is “a depressingly light one”. However, the East Sussex County Relief Committee had contributed £20 to assist with the clerical work undertaken by the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee.
The first Annual Meeting of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee was held on September 1st and widely reported in the local newspapers [see Appendix 3]. Recognition was given of the untiring and unlovely labours of the sub-committee of ladies who at Templemore had daily, for months, made possible the receipt and distribution of clothing. A long list of local people who had assisted the Committee in its work; those who had freely offered hospitality and those who had given gifts in kind were acknowledged. Thanks were also given for the help and support given by the two local newspapers. Thanks were also offered to the whole population of Bexhill, including those of the medical and legal profession who often helped the refugees without requesting fees, clergy of every denomination and the managers of places of amusement for their support. Appreciation was expressed for the co-operation of the Belgians themselves in assisting both their fellow citizens and the work of the Committee. In particular, those Belgian refugees who still had sufficient means for their own support, while entirely independent financially of the Committee’s work, identified themselves with their fellow countrymen in such a way as to render it quite impossible for those not “in the know” to be able to say who was in receipt of relief from the Committee and who was living upon private means. Accommodation had been provided rent-free in Templemore, General Ellison lent his house with furniture for over a year and General Sir Charles Woollcombe did the same. Many other houses had been rented by the Committee at little more than a nominal rent and many rooms were available for emergency use. The owners of these houses were listed and thanked. Bexhill Corporation had also been most generous in the matter of rates and electric light charges.
The London War Refugees Fund had now offered to pay £30 a week to help support Belgian refugees in Bexhill provided a similar sum was raised each week within the town. The Committee again warned the town’s residents that this grant as well as the care of the refugees was in jeopardy unless local contributions were increased. A detailed list was published of the contributions in the collecting boxes around the town. These included Café Kahveh £0 1s 5¼d and Manor Farm Dairy £0 0s 4¼d. During September 1915 there were 138 refugees in town.
Detailed accounts for the first year of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee were published in the newspapers. Nearly £3000 had been both received and spent during the first twelve months of the Committee’s work. Receipts were recorded from donations; weekly and monthly contributions; boxes in public places; school, street and church collections; entertainments; Bexhill Chronicle sale of it’s Special War Edition; contributions from Belgians in part payment of rent; Buenos Aires Herald, North American and Genoa Funds and grants from the London War Refugees Committee. Payments included provisions £999 5s 2d; rents £827 7s 4d; coal and wood £79 0s 11½d; electric light £16 9s 8d; gas and water £17 2s 9d; clothing £208 4s 1d; chemist £10 14s 5d and funeral expenses £30 8s 0½d. The Committee again emphasised that there had not been, nor would there ever be, able-bodied men of serviceable age being cared for in Bexhill by the Committee. In fact every man of serviceable age had offered himself for active service, unreservedly; all had been examined and refused active service due to incapacity.
An appeal was made by the Committee for gifts and money for the Belgian refugees at Christmas. Last year £52 was raised for the special Christmas Appeal. This year there were about the same number of refugees though fewer little children. An editorial in the Bexhill Chronicle encouraged the town’s residents to try as hard as possible to make Christmas as happy and as memorable as possible for the refugees.
Lady Lugard, who had established the War Refugees Committee in London, attended a meeting at the Sackville Hotel organised by the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee. The Mayor and Mayoress were also in attendance. Lady Lugard explained the work of her Committee which included supporting 16 hostels around the country where Belgian refugees could be accommodated. She also reported that there were currently about 2,300 local refugee committees throughout the country. She was pleased to report that the work amongst refugees in Bexhill, especially that undertaken by Mr Reed-Lewis, was well known to her Committee and that “Bexhill had shown a charming, kindly and hospitable spirit” in its work. Lady Lugard had previously interviewed Mr Reed-Lewis in Morocco when she was a journalist with The Times and he was the US Consul and Charge d’Affaires there.
The next week Mr Reed-Lewis wrote to the newspapers stating that following some public disquiet about the cost of the reception given for Lady Lugard, he wished to make it clear that her reception was paid for by members of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee and not from the Appeal funds.
The Belgian Hostel at 31 Wickham Avenue, Bexhill, was one of 16 hostels which Lady Lugard helped to establish around the country. It is not clear precisely when the Hostel in Bexhill opened but it was placed under the overall administration of Mr Reed-Lewis as a separate place of refuge for about 30 to 35 Belgians, being funded directly by Lady Lugard’s Committees. The day-to-day management of the Hostel was undertaken by Monsieur and Madame Leopold Sas. Presumably there would have been co-operation between this Belgian Hostel and the work undertaken by the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee amongst the rest of the Belgian refugees, however, if so, it is rarely mentioned in the public accounts of the work undertaken by the Committee and expenditure of their funds. This may be due to the type of residents in the Hostel who were often described as of “the highest class” who were more likely to have funds of their own and therefore be much more independent of the Committee’s supportive role.
[The Belgian Hostel which was built in 1902-03 and originally known as Felixstowe House, stood on the corner of Wickham Avenue and Woodville Road. Boarding rooms and apartments were available in Felixstowe House between 1904 – 1911. The building was derelict by the early 1980s and demolished in 1984 to be replaced by Woodville Court].
[Lady Lugard was born Flora Louisa Shaw in 1852 in Woolwich, London. She was a well known novelist and journalist. She also proposed the name “Nigeria” for land in Africa which in 1897 was called the British Protectorate on the Niger River. During the First World War she actively campaigned on behalf of Belgian refugees since they first arrived in this country. She died in 1929].
King Albert of the Belgians celebrated a feast day known as the “Day of the King” on November 15th 1915. The Committee sent him congratulations on behalf of His Majesty’s 150 loyal subjects in the town. Belgian flags were much in evidence that day being flown from many windows around the town.
The Bexhill Chronicle launched a special “Shilling Fund” for 1,000 shillings to help the Belgian refugees celebrate Christmas “as this will probably be the last Christmas  when the need will exist of entertaining our [Belgian] guests here”.
The Bexhill Chronicle published a detailed list of donors to its “Shilling Fund” from B W Appleton and Mr Schnarr both giving 100 shillings to Mr Baker, Mrs Whiteman and Mr Thorpe all contributing ½d each.
There were about 150 Belgian refugees presently in town. Amongst them were several wealthy Belgian families and these had been cited as evidence by some Bexhill residents that the Belgians were well enough off without any local help. Mr Reed-Lewis stated that such families were exceptions; that those families with some of their own funds assisted the Committee’s Appeal and that the majority of Belgian refugees were in need of genuine help. He made a further request for financial help for the Appeal.
Mr Reed-Lewis had been on a recent visit to London to meet with Lady Lugard. In Bexhill there was currently spending of £80 a week on the refugees but only £14 a week was being collected to support the Appeal. Mr Reed-Lewis wondered how long this imbalance could continue. Lady Lugard reassured Mr Reed-Lewis that the London War Refugees Committee as well as her own Hospitality Fund would “not see Bexhill go to the wall”.
At Prince’s Café, Marina Arcade, a further very successful whist drive was organised by the Committee of the Bexhill Tradesmen’s Cricket Club. There were over 100 players and £4 15s 6d was raised for the Committee’s Appeal.
It is reported at the end of the month that there was a serious lack of funds to support the work of the Committee amongst the Belgian refugees. The extra appeal made at the start of 1916 had so far only yielded £20. The Committee had informed all the Belgian families who received grants that these would be reduced from March 1st. This news had caused concern and anxieties within the Belgian community. Furthermore it was clearly stated that unless sufficient funding was available then the refugees would have to leave Bexhill. Mr Reed-Lewis wrote that “Bexhill, a comparatively well-to-do town, is therefore put upon its honour not to play the curmudgeon host”.
Mrs Tuckwell, of Linkwell, Old Town, Bexhill, was arranging a surprise packet party at her house on March 18th at 3pm, in aid of the Committee’s Appeal. Contributions such as needlework, china, ornaments, eggs, cakes and flowers etc to put in packets were welcome. Tickets would cost 2s each entitling each contributor to a surprise packet; teas would be provided at 6d each. Mrs Edwards had organised a bridge and whist drive at the Devonshire Hotel and raised £2 0s 0d for the Appeal.
Mr Reed-Lewis stated again that there was a very serious lack of funds and the whole situation must be seriously reviewed. He also reminded local newspaper readers that £12,195 had been spent in various ways within Bexhill by the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee during the last 20 months. This was made up of £2,876 collected within the town; this had been matched by £2,859 from outside the town, including the London War Refugees Fund, and £6,460 from some of the town’s Belgian families who were able to support themselves. The Committee’s weekly expenses supporting the refugees were currently £69 a week of which £49 was received from the London War Refugees Fund. That leaves the town £20 a week to raise but currently the average weekly contribution was £10. He urged the residents of Bexhill to dig deeper.
Mr Reed-Lewis wrote to the local newspapers saying “One of our Belgian refugees, a hopeless invalid, before leaving Bexhill several months ago incurred a few small debts. He has since died in London and his widow, an English woman, desires to divide a small sum at her disposal amongst the creditors”. Claims should be submitted in writing to Mr Reed-Lewis.
The first appeal was made for donations for an Auction sale to be held around the August Bank Holiday to raise funds for the Committee’s Appeal
Two concerts had been held at the Colonnade to raise funds for the refugees. Souvenir programmes in the Belgian colours were sold by young ladies in costumes charmingly adorned in the same hues. The Bexhill Observer described in the detail the programme of music and songs.
In anticipation of the forthcoming Auction, descriptions were given in the local newspapers of interesting lots already donated. For example, reproduced was a two-page hand written letter from the poet Henry Longfellow. Auction lots could be viewed in the shop windows at 20 St Leonards Road, Bexhill.
Another auction lot reproduced in this week’s newspaper was a handwritten letter from James Fenimore Cooper, the American novelist whose works include The Last of the Mohicans.
Mr Reed-Lewis wrote in a letter to the local newspapers that he had been addressed by some “ladies” and “gentlemen” who had not been conspicuous by their generosity to the Appeal in the past, about the apparent ingratitude of the refugees to the help being given to them as well as their idleness. Mr Reed-Lewis stated categorically that this was not his perception of the refugees nor was it the general feeling of most of Bexhill’s residents. Again he appealed for residents not to be selfish and contribute to the Appeal.
The shop at 20 St Leonards Road was now displaying a wide selection of items for the forthcoming Auction including books, pictures, lace and jewellery. In addition, a detailed list of 71 autographed letters, including ones from Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll, were listed in the local newspapers.
The Belgian Day of Independence, July 21st, was celebrated by Belgian flags flying throughout Bexhill. The band of the Royal Fusiliers at the Colonnade rendered the Belgian national anthem at the conclusion of the day’s programme. Special services were attended by the Belgian community at St Mary Magdalene’s Church. In addition, Mr and Mrs Reed-Lewis were guests at a lunch given at the Belgian Hostel in Wickham Avenue. A number of speeches given by some of the 25 Belgian residents of the Hostel thanked Mr Reed-Lewis for all his support. Monsieur and Madame Leopold Sas hosted the event.
The Bexhill Chronicle published a “Picture Chronicle Extra” in which eight photographs of a baby Belgian refugee in town were shown together with a poem in English, French and Flemish. Postcard copies of all eight of these photographs could be purchased for 6d.
The date for the Auction had been moved from the Bank Holiday to August 12th. The event would start after the afternoon’s concert at the Colonnade, also in aid of the Appeal. It would then continue on the following Monday, August 14th, in the ballroom, Manor House, by kind permission of Muriel, Countess de la Warr. At present there were more than 500 articles for auction and “the unselfish generosity of Bexhillians is above all praise and my Committee is most grateful” said Mr Reed-Lewis.
The Bexhill Chronicle published a special four-pages “How the Heart of Bountiful Bexhill Was Touched” as a “Picture Chronicle” on the same day as the Auction commenced [see Appendix 4]. The four pages featured many photographs of local Belgian refugees as well as some information about the arrangements for their care within the town. Also given were descriptions of some of the items to be auctioned.
Detailed accounts of the Auction, which eventually became a three-day event, were published in the local newspapers including sale prices and buyers. For example, a handsome model yacht went for 30s; a dozen new laid eggs for 4s 3d; police baton of King William IV’s time for 10s; French brocade dress of 1800 for one guinea and a pair of small Japanese Satsuma vases for £2 12s. A mournful touch was imparted in the sad story of one of the offerings; it was a silver mustard pot, which had been a wedding present. On the eve of the wedding, the bridegroom, a naval officer, met with his death, and the wedding presents were returned to the donors by the bride. This relic with a sad history fetched 25s. The third day of the auction was also held at the Manor House on Wednesday, August 16th. A total of £157 14s 6d was raised for the Appeal.
It was decided to hold a further auction sale on September 6th at the Manor House for the remaining items and some new donations and an extra £40 was raised. Overall a total of nearly £200 was raised from the Auction.
The War Charities Act, 1916, had now become law. In summary, under this new Act, it was unlawful to make a public appeal for money or articles in kind, or attempt to raise money by a bazaar sale, entertainment or exhibition or by similar measures unless  the charity was registered under the War Charities Act, 1916 and  the charity had approved the attempt to raise money. A War Charity was defined as any fund, institution or association having for its objectives the relief of suffering or distress, the supply of needs or comforts or any other charitable purpose connected with the present war unless the charity was established before the commencement of the war.
A letter from Mr Reed-Lewis was published in the local newspapers saying that discussions had recently taken place as to whether the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee should register as a charity under the War Charities Act, 1916. The Committee considered that the Act imposed principles entirely opposed to the system on which the Committee had been working from their constitution as well as duties which would incur serious additional financial and administrative obligations. As a consequence the Committee had decided not to register as a war charity. It therefore became impossible under the Act for the Committee to accept any further contributions from the public. Consequently steps were being taken to wind up the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee. All remaining funds would be used, as before, for the support of the remaining refugees. Arrangements would be made with colleagues in London to care for the Belgian refugees once funds were exhausted.
In further statements published in the local newspapers, Mr Reed-Lewis reviewed the work of the Committee in view of its decision to be wound up. He expected their work would continue until about December 1916. After that the London War Refugees Committee grants would continue, as for all Belgian refugees in the UK, at about 10s per person per week. The average “income” given to the local Belgians refugees was about 14s per week with the average cost to the Committee of 8s 9d a week and the balance made up by the London War Refugees Committee. However, not all Belgian refugees in the town had needed assistance and London War Refugees Committee did not start funding support until about June 1915. By August 31st 1916, a total of £7,056 17s 4d had been received by the Committee of which Bexhill contributed about £3,250; Buenos Aires Fund about £500; the North America and Genoa Funds about £220 and the rest from London. If the Committee had decided to become a charity then this would require a change to all their book-keeping and their scheme of providing relief. There would have to have been a greater level of publicity given to those members within the refugee community receiving support, an action to which the Committee was wholly opposed. In the opinion of the Committee this would not make the Belgians any better off than if they were living anywhere else.
Since September 1914, over 500 Belgian refugees had at one time or another been guests in the town and had been helped by the Committee. A large number of those fit enough had subsequently left for either France or Belgium to serve their country. Currently there were 84 refugees in town, nearly all of them not of the “poorer classes”. In fact most of the town’s refugees had been of the professional and cultured classes and they had attracted others with their own financial means to the town. Mr Reed-Lewis again stressed that his Committee had attempted wherever possible to allow no obvious outward sign of distinction between those refugees of self-means and those almost entirely dependent on the Committee for support. Finally, he confirmed that the decision by the Committee not to seek charitable status would not affect the Hostel in Wickham Avenue where the Belgian colony was currently 35 strong. This type of hostel came under the care of Lady Lugard’s Committee which was now registered under the new War Charities Act, 1916, and as a consequence funding would continue to be available.
A Bexhill Observer editorial commended the Committee for its sensitive treatment of the refugees by allowing them to live as families in the way that they wished during these difficult times. No parades of refugees had been held, no visual demonstrations of their needs had been given and they had not been exhibited as objects of public charity. In summary, they had been treated with dignity and simply victims of the fortunes of war. A letter was published from Lord Gladstone, Chairman of the War Refugees Committee thanking Mr Reed-Lewis and his Committee for all their work on behalf of the Belgian refugees. A letter signed by 20 Bexhill Belgian refugees was also published thanking the Committee for all their hard work and support.
Following the Committee’s decision not to apply for charitable status a number of local suppliers had withdrawn their food allowances for the refugees as they would now have to apply to a committee in London for reimbursement rather than locally. Details were given of one supplier stopping his milk allowance to two Belgian refugee families.
A photograph of Jenny Tuytscheaven was published in the Bexhill Observer. She came to Bexhill as a 3 weeks old baby and was now 2 years and 3 months old. She lived with her mother in Bexhill; her father was on active service with the Belgian Army. Jenny was the niece of Mr Vandam, a member of the Colonnade orchestra.
Detailed receipts and payments account of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee from September 1st 1914 to November 3rd 1916 were published.
Mr and Mrs Reed-Lewis hosted an afternoon concert and tea at the Colonnade for 64 people including nearly all the adult Belgian community. Also present were colleagues from St Mary Magdalene’s Church including Fathers Kennedy and Colbert as well as Father L’Abbé Peeters, successor to Father L’Abbé Sas. The final meeting of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee took place on January 12th 1917. Total expenditure during the 29 months of the Committee’s work was £8,043 9s 5d. A copy of the Committee’s receipts and payments account from September 1st 1914 to January 4th 1917 is shown in Appendix 5. Support, with the help of Lady Lugard and the London War Refugee’s Committee, would continue to be provided as best as could be achieved until such time as the Belgians could be repatriated in their own country. No votes of thanks or other resolutions were recorded at this last meeting as it was felt that everyone within the Committee had worked equally towards its success. However, the Committee wished to put on record its high appreciation of the valuable services of Mr T N Waterhouse, Incorporated Accountant, who had since August 1914 acted in an honorary capacity as Auditor, and had most ungrudgingly placed his own and his staff’s time at the Committee’s disposal. The Committee was then formally dissolved.
A list was published of nearly 50 local charities around East Sussex, including the Wadhurst Belgian Refugee Committee, who had applied and been granted certification under the War Charities Act 1916.
The Spring 1917 issue of the Bexhill Quarterly gave a detailed account of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee’s work in an article titled “The Story of Bexhill and the Belgians” by Fred Wilson [see Appendix 6]. The Bexhill Committee was one of the first of over 3,000 such committees established in the United Kingdom.
A special service attended by many local Belgians was held at St Mary Magdalene’s Church to recognise Belgian Independence Day on July 21st.
At Bexhill Petty Sessions, Monsieur Louis Bielmair, a Belgian refugee living in Park Avenue, Bexhill, was accused of food hoarding. That he did, without the authority of the Food Controller, acquire 3¾ cwts of rice, 70 lbs of coffee beans, 351 lbs of chicory, 40 one-pound tins of salmon and 84 tins of sardines. The accused said that he did “a lot of entertaining of Belgian and Canadian soldiers”. After hearing all the evidence the Bench considered that this had been a technical offence and imposed a fine of 5s and costs.
A copy of a letter dated July 2nd 1917 written by Mr Reed-Lewis on behalf of the Belgian Sub-Committee for the County Relief Committee of East Sussex to the Hon Sec National War Museum Women’s Work Sub-Committee [the circular referred to in Mr Reed-Lewis’ letter is not available] and a copy of a letter dated July 2nd 1917 written by Mr Reed-Lewis on behalf of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee to the Hon Sec National War Museum Women’s Work Sub-Committee [the recent communication referred to in Mr Reed-Lewis’ letter is not available] have been obtained from Women, War and Society, 1914 – 1918, Imperial War Museum Library, 2005, and are shown in appendices 7 and 8.
Rev Father Kennedy, Rector of St Mary Magdalene’s Church, who had significantly helped the Belgian refugees both spiritually and practically, would soon be leaving Bexhill for a new post in London.
Mr Reed-Lewis was awarded an OBE in the King George V’s Birthday Honours for his work with the Belgian refugees in Bexhill. Up to this time only two other people in the country had been similarly recognised for their work with Belgian refugees.
[In 1922 Mr Reed-Lewis was created a Knight of St Gregory by Pope Pius X1 in recognition of his work in establishing the Catholic library in Bexhill. Mr Reed-Lewis and his wife left Bexhill during 1923 and moved to London where he worked for the Catholic Truth Society. He and his wife retired to Dinard in Brittany in the 1930s and he was still in Dinard in 1940 when the Germans occupied France. As he had taken British citizenship, both he and his wife were taken to an internment camp in Besancon where he died on January 17th 1941, aged 80 years. His wife survived the camp and on being repatriated in England, in very poor health, she lived with the Poor Clares in Notting Hill, London, where one of her daughters was a member of the community, until her death].
The Medal of Queen Elizabeth of Belgium was conferred by the King of the Belgians on three Bexhill ladies. Mrs Reed-Lewis for her outstanding work amongst the Belgian refugees, especially the women and children, and the support she gave her husband as Hon Secretary of the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee. This work had been helped by her fluent speaking of French. Mrs Fisher as private secretary to Mr Reed-Lewis and Mrs Griffiths for her support of the Committee were also awarded the same medal.
A letter was published in the Bexhill Observer from a Belgian gentleman residing in Bexhill congratulating Mrs Reed-Lewis on her well deserved award “on behalf of all the Belgians who are still guests of Bexhill”.
The wedding at St Mary Magdalene’s Church of Mons Malisoux of 37 Jameson Road, a former Belgian Army soldier, and Mdlle Francoise Buys, daughter of General Lucien Buys, created great interest amongst the Belgian community. The bride’s dress was of white Charmeuse and she carried a pretty spray of white flowers. November 1918
Bexhill greeted victory and the end of the Great War on November 11th, Armistice Day, with a procession through the town. Some Belgian flags were noticeable in Egerton Road and one or two Belgian representatives saluted the soldiers as they passed. December 1918
It was not expected that Bexhill would lose its remaining Belgian friends until the New Year. The first steps towards repatriation were being taken by each of the refugees reporting to Mr Reed-Lewis and completing a number of forms.
The death was announced of the fifth and final Belgian refugee to die in the town. Mrs Gertruida Stoete Culp, aged 62 years, died of an undisclosed cause, on January 13th 1919. She was a former actress living at 17 Wickham Avenue. The funeral took place at St Mary Magdalene’s Church and she was buried in Bexhill Cemetery. Her husband, Adam Herman Culp, moved to Brighton after her death and he died in August 1925, aged 80 years. He was buried with his wife in Bexhill Cemetery. [Theirs is the only Belgian refugee’s grave still recognisable in the Cemetery as it is marked with a tombstone]. April 1919
A letter from Mr Reed-Lewis was published informing readers of the departure on April 16th of the remaining Belgian refugees. “All [refugees] have expressed the greatest gratitude to me for the hospitality they have been afforded and which I think all will agree they have not abused”. He gave thanks to the citizens of Bexhill for all their loyal support, many gifts in kind as well as £3,333 in cash donations.
The minutes of Bexhill Town Council meeting of April 14th recorded the gratitude of the Council for all the work done by Mr Reed-Lewis and the Bexhill Belgian Refugee Committee in support of the refugees. It was noted that the Committee spent £13,024 supporting the refugees, £7,200 was donated by Lady Lugard and the London Refugee Committee and £7,750 by the Belgians themselves who had independent means. A total of £28,000 was spent within the town for the benefit of local businesses.
A list of the known addresses of hotels and houses within Bexhill used by Belgian refugees between 1914 and 1919 is given in appendix 9.
Mr Reed-Lewis’ eldest son, Major W J D Reed-Lewis, was awarded the OBE [Military Division] for his work as Assistant Director of the Light Railways / Canadian Railway Troops.
The corner stone for the Peace Memorial, St Mary Magdalene’s Church, was laid by Rt Hon Lord Morris of St John’s, Newfoundland and of Waterford.
Detailed reports and photographs of the unveiling service of dedication of the Peace Memorial on November 2nd were published in the local newspapers. These reports also indicated that at the back of the Memorial was a large panel in which it was intended to place in marble or bronze the names of those Belgians who had died in exile in Bexhill, as well as the names of a number of Canadians who, trained in the town, subsequently fell at the Front.
Mr Reed-Lewis was awarded the Belgian King Albert’s Medal for his work with the refugees.
In the early 1920s the Belgian government presented many memorials to local councils as a thank-you gesture. These took the form of plaques and monuments including the national “Monument of Belgium’s Gratitude for British Aid 1914-18” which can be found opposite Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment, London.
In Bexhill a Latin inscription dedicated to the Belgian refugees was placed on the reverse of the Peace Memorial. A copy of this inscription is recorded in appendix 10. It is dated 1920 but no reports of a service of dedication or an official unveiling have yet been found.
Five deaths amongst the refugees were recorded on this inscription as well as in the local newspapers. Copies of the internment applications and death registrations for these five refugees are available in appendix 11. One wedding took place between Belgian refugees during September 1918 but no reports of any births within the community were specifically identified. However in Mr Reed-Lewis’ praise of his wife’s role during this time he talks of her “at the child birth, by the death bed, in all times of sickness and trouble, she has faithfully and untiringly performed her self-imposed task”.
Addendum for 1972
Bexhill Observer on September 16th 1972 reported, with photograph, the return after 56 years of Madame Irene Huge to Bexhill. She was a Belgian refugee who came to the town in September 1914 at the age of 12 years with her parents, small sister and several aunts and uncles. She brought with her a series of postcards collected during 1914 which showed bathing cabins, horse-drawn cabs and the Kursaal. Madame Huge commented “I love Bexhill very much and I am surprised to find how little it has changed after all these years.