Belgian refugees on the way home

[From The Luton News: Thursday, April 5th, 1919]

Yesterday morning, at 7.30, about 80 Belgians bade farewell to Luton after several years' refuge in the town and district. They left the Midland Railway station en route for Hull, and there were some affecting scenes.

They were seen off by Councillor W. J. Primett, Chairman of the local relief committee. Mr Grice, the Midland Railway Stationmaster, gave great help and made special arrangements for the luggage.

The party proceeded by train to Hull, and were taken right to the docks, where they at once embarked. They set sail the same night.

There was a special train of corridor carriages and vans, and at Derby other carriages containing parties were linked up. On leaving Luton the Belgians were profuse in their expressions of gratitude, and one of the party said in broken English to Councillor Primett: “I want to speech with you.” With deepest sincerity he added that he and his compatriots wished to thank the Relief Committee and the people of Luton for all their kindness during the past few years. They would never forget the great kindness they had received at the hands of their British allies.

Others spoke of the sympathetic way in which the children were treated at the schools, and how the little ones were returning with a fluent grasp of the English language.

One man with a big family was proud of the fact that his latest born child was a Britisher. “He is seven months old and a Britisher,” he said, “and I take a Britisher back with me, and am proud of the fact.”

One mother of a large family was distracted because two of her daughters had not turned up owing to the difficulties caused by the Belgians having to be billeted on friends for the previous night. She was in great distress while the train was held up for a moment longer, until Madame Schefer, the local interpreter, espied the girls running to the station. They arrived in time and the mother was happy again.

A few Belgians still remain in Luton for domestic reasons. One woman had a child in the Children's Home as the result of a scalding accident, and another woman is ill.

Many of yesterday's party would have far sooner stayed in Luton owing to the uncertainty of employment, and the higher cost of living in Belgium. A letter received in Luton says that margarine is 5 shillings per lb.

Several of the men have married local lasses, who left with their husbands and children. Altogether quite a score of Belgian babies have been born in the district during the war.

Messrs Hewlett & Blondeau kindly lent a motor lorry to convey a large party from Leagrave.

The windows of the train were crowded with faces as it steamed from the station, and the party waved their hats and little Belgian flags. There were tears in many eyes, and it was a scene characterised by much pathos.

Councillor Primett and Madame Schefer stood on the platform and watched the train and the flutter of flags until they were out of sight.