Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Notes from a train: Hitchin

On our way to Leeds, our train unexpectedly stopped at Hitchin. Quite fittingly really. You can find a Hitchin Belgian through the database by @FWWBRefugees. Irma, came to England when she was 16 years old. She was accompanied by her mother, Maria Theresia Lodewijk, and her brother Leon. They settled in Letchworth, Hertfordshire in 1914. A munition factory had been established there by two Belgian refugees Jacques Kryn and his brother George. The factory became known as Kryn and Lahy. Mrs Lahy herself lived at Corrie Wood, Hitchin Road, Letchworth. There is a nice story about Maggie Wray, a local young woman who worked at Kryn and Lahy. Irma began working there as a munitionette While working there she met her future husband George Julien Francois Heinen. They were married in Letchworth when she was 19yrs old at the Church of St Hugh of Lincoln, Letchworth. They lived at an unnamed road in Hitchin. has the marriage, Dec 17. 

Hitchin has 87 hits at, although some relate to Lord Robert Cecil's election victory in Dec 18 or to a Hitchins. @viaa_be hetarchief does mention The Belgian Cottages in Ickleford (between Hitchin and Letchworth). At those cottages Mrs Angélique Gonderzeune (from Merksem, Antwerp) lived, with her daughters. The cottages also house Maria Wouters, most likely a sister-in-law. Ickleford also welcomed a French refugee, I. Gonnet, from Paris. Gerard Remes/Herges (Namur - the two spelling variants appeared) stayed with Mrs Ransom at Grove House, Hitchin. Jeannette Devos, from Kumtich (Tienen) was based at 4 Cleveland Terrace, Walsworth, Hitchin. A family Van Doren resided in Hexton, Hitchin.

On 21 October 1915 Jean-Baptiste Moens (born in Brussels 1886), corporal in the Belgian army, was buried in Hitchin. He had been wounded in the siege of Antwerp more than a year prior and had been working at Kryn and Lahy in Letchworth as a convalescent soldier. He had died because of a lung-related illness. (L’Indépendance Belge, 25 October 1915). A mention was made of fellow convalescent soldiers including those from the local Belgian convalescent hospital. On 19 August 1916 Séraphin Balcaen, from Aartrijke, had died in Hitchin because of an unspecified accident.
On 21 February 1916, it became clear funding for Belgians was no longer at the same level it was at the start of the war: an appeal was made for funding so that a group of 10 to 12 year olds could have some more clothes. The children, listed below (note the nameless girl…), were overlooked at St Michael’s School in Hitchin by the Belgian priest Cochet. 

On 31 March 1915, an event was held at the Hitchin Gymnasium. Mr. William Baruh, the chairman of the Union Dramatique d’Anvers was talking about “De l’influence des sociétés d’agrément sur l’ésprit artistique de la Belgique”. Entrance was free for Belgians, which makes you wonder whether any non-Belgian even attended. (L’Indépendance Belge, 30 March 1915) The event was covered again one week later by the same Belgian exile newspaper but then it was added that Mr. Baruh thanked the Hitchin Debating Society and that local people would have attended, in part because of the Hitchin Collège Français. After he concluded his talk, Baruh recited two patriotic poems by Emile Verhaeren.

 On the 10 April 1915 L’Indépendance announced that the then coming Sunday a very Belgian Te Deum would be performed at the local Catholic church, due to the birthday of King Albert’s, and that the de facto head of the Belgian community in Hitchin, Mr. Vuylsteke, invited all to come, especially those who were open to some religion and patriotism.

There are two paintings of St Mary's Church at Hitchin by Gerard Ceunis (1885-1964). There is a connection between Ceunis and the building that now has the Hitchin Starbucks.

But then again we might as well want to mention that nearby Wheathampstead was established by Belgic tribes in 50 BC. However, do have a look at the Hitchin Roll of Honour and browse using 'Belgium' to get a more accurate imprint of WW1 times.

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