Strathaven's Belgian Refugees

Greetings from Strathaven    Amenities    History      Strathaven Memorials    Belgian Refugees
Duke of Hamilton and Dungavel     Harry Lauder         Industry        Education    
Annals of the Parish   Reminiscenses    Bibliography    Links   

Strathaven's Russian Princess

Belgian War Refugees - 1914 - 1918

During The First World War, many thousands of refugees fled to Britain. Some 2000 of these found safe-haven in Scotland. Of these, some 140 families , including members of the Vanderheyden family pictured below were billeted in Strathaven under the care of the Belgian Refugee Committee in association with The City of Glasgow Corporation.

The Vanderheyden family: Henri Vanderheyden and his wife Antonia Rosalia Meeus appear second and third left middle row with their daughter Louise, second left back row, and two sisters who resided at 50 Ballgreen (corner of Reed Street, Strathaven below).

nr50b.jpg (91767 bytes) nr50b1.jpg (78766 bytes)

 Views of Ballgreen (Glasgow Road). Those of 2003 flank the centre view pre-1914.
(Photographs, left and right, by Robert Dalgleish)

Mr. Jean-Pierre Vercruysse of Belgium having surfed the website writes: 


"Here is some history: Louise Vanderheyden born on February 26th 1901 was 13 years old when the Great War started. As a lot of people the parents decided to leave their home in fear for the German troops.  With their family they went to Ostend to take the “mailboat” Ostend-Dover. How they went to Ostend? perhaps by train as Henri Vanderheyden, her father, worked for the Belgian railroads before war. Another point I discovered is that you see only the parents and 3 daughters on all photographs of that period, while there were in fact 4 sisters. My grandmother was the youngest of the 4. I suspect that the oldest one was already married and that she stayed with her husband. When they arrived at Dover, the Salvation Army took care of them, and I understand that through the Salvation Army they have been care of for further despatch of the refugees through UK. So they arrived I believe (not sure) first in Glasgow and then they have been placed in Strathaven. Louise went to school in Strathaven and learned English of course. What I always found “cute” is that she was talking the language with a typical Scottish accent. Note that I found a book in English “Ivanhoe” with a printed label in it dated 1 July 1915. “Little Folks Library Club Magazine Competition”. Prize presented to Louise Vanderheyden.  


She told me to never forget the name Strathaven and the names which came most forward where those of Reverend and Mrs Dey. She met Rev.Dey once again, during a visit to Belgium. I suspect it was early after the end of the Second World War, as his wife was already passed away. Anecdote is that they showed him Louvain and several nice historical buildings inclusive churches. 


Other names are Jeanie and Nancy Hendry. Jeanie was her best friend. She moved to Canada, Toronto, Ontario. They have been in close contact during their life. Mostly writing letters and sending some photographs. Reason I do have here post second war photographs. I understand Jeanie died only a few years ago. She had less contact with Nancy.


Louise Vanderheyden's mother had a chronic chest throat infection in French “Angine de poitrine". Which is in fact a kind of heart disease, contrary what the name should suggest differently.  Antoinette Meeus (my mother thinks that her Christian name was Antonia who died in Strathaven in December, 1916 and she is what I understood from my grandmother buried there. (See Belgian Lair below). Her father Henri Vanderheyden was meanwhile, as a lot of Belgian refugee men, requested to work for the either army or allied war efforts. Accordingly, he was sent from Strathaven to France (not occupied part) to work for this. Apparently he worked on a farm near Rouen. He caught pneumonia, which at that time was then difficult to heal. He died within a few hours, and is buried at Rouen (France). So he never came back to join his family in Strathaven, Scotland. The girls were as such orphaned. My grandmother was only  16 years when she lost both parents. The other sisters were, I think, each 2/3 years older?


After leaving school, my grandmother Louise Vanderheyden worked in a Strathaven wool factory or textile mill (refer to Industry). I learned this from my mother. 

When the war was over the refugees did still stay for some time after the war. Probably due to the bad shape of the occupied countries as Belgium and France. Somewhere in 1919 I suspect she came back to Belgium, and stayed for some time with her oldest sister and her husband at Kessel Loo – near Louvain (Reason more that I suspect that the relevant older sister was not with her family in Strathaven).  She met her husband Louis Bauwens (born 7 September, 1899) and they married (March or April, 1923) They had only one daughter Liliane Bauwens (born 14 June, 1926) This is my mother who is still alive. During the Second World War the Vanderheyden family fled again away, but this time in direction of southern France by truck, but the Germans were so quick that they never reached their destination. They stayed in the Boulogne sur Mer area, and duly returned to their homes in Louvain. Note that contrary to Holland and some parts of France, Belgium was occupied by the Wehrmacht and not by the SS troups.  My mother married Lucien Vercruysse in 1947 and, I am their only son born July 21st 1949. 

Louise Vanderheyden died on February 25th 1978 in a hospital at Wilrijk (Antwerp suburb) where my parents were living. Her husband died at Edegem (near Antwerp) on January 1985."


antontomb.jpg (88348 bytes)

The Belgian Lair
  Plot 21 - Section 'J' - Strathaven Cemetery.
The tomb of Antonia Rosalia Vanderheyden Meeus. 

Belgian viewers with refugee links with Strathaven during The Great War are welcome to contact Webmaster to assist their reseach. 

Tree of Vercruysse- Bauwens - Vanderheyden - Meeus

Cemetery where Henri Vanderheyden is buried in France 

Belgian Relief:

"Attention is drawn to the notice in the advertising column calling a public meeting on Tuesday first of farmers and others to arrange for an auction of gifts of cattle, farming and dairy produce, and other articles, following the example of other districts. For instance, Cumnock in this way has raised over £700, Stranraer over £1000, and Castle Douglas over £2000. It is hoped that there will be a large turnout of the farmers and of the public generally, and that the response will be very liberal. It may be mentioned that a number of townspeople have been for some time maintaining five families of Belgian refugees numbering thirty people in furnished houses in Strathaven which have been lent gratuitously. Not a great many people so far have contributed to this fund, but the committee, in addition to receiving donations of single payments, have been in receipt of a steady income from sums ranging of 1s to £1 per week, and also of several small weekly payments from factory workers, and their funds have also been supplemented by receipts from public entertainment's. Many gifts of clothing have also been received, and four farmers have sent gifts of potatoes, while two farmers are making a weekly cash contribution. Three of the five Belgian families have two members working, and the other two have one member working. The committee have allowed those working to retain 25 per cent of their earnings, and the balance is being applied in reducing the cost of maintenance of the families. The committee are building up a substantial reserve fund, but, after April, they will require to pay rents for most of the furnished houses, and it is their intention, when the refugees depart, to give them a money payment to assist them in making a new start in life. Any surplus will be applied to relieving distress in Belgium. The Parish Church congregation have also just arranged to have a retiring collection each Sunday to raise funds for maintaining more refugees here or for sending assistance to Belgium direct. The local Refugee Committee have, in response to the appeal made at the public meeting held in Glasgow on Wednesday, informed the Glasgow Corporation that they are willing to provide accommodation and to maintain other two families. A great many well-to-do people in Strathaven have, so far, taken little or no interest in the matter, and it is hope that they will embrace the opportunity which the proposed sale will afford them of contributing substantially like so many other people all over the world towards relieving the appalling distress of the Belgian people. Shopkeepers are specially invited to contribute gifts of goods. One well-known farmer has promised to give a pedigree bull stirk, and several other donations of farm stock and produce have already been promised".
Hamilton Advertiser, 23rd January, 1915. 

Local Belgian Refugee Committee:

"This committee, in view of the allocation of £100 to its funds by the committee in connection with the Farmers Free Gift Sale have intimated to the Glasgow Corporation that they are willing to take other twelve refugees in addition to the thirty-four who are presently being maintained here. The committee are meantime endeavouring to secure furnished houses to accommodate these additional refugees and also a family of above who are presently here and whose house will not be available till after next month. They would also like to procure farm work for two male refugees presently here and for any others who may come and are fitted for such work".
(ibid) 13th March, 1915

mrsdey.jpg (4038 bytes)

The local clergy and medical practitioners co-operated with the Strathaven Belgian Refugee Committee in ministering to the the Belgian Refugees.  Rev.& Mrs T.M. Dey of Rankin U.F. Church (pictured left above) were at the forefront of pastoral care. 

"For six months the minister had the privilege of being in France, and taking part in the work of the Y.M.C.A., in the busy port of Boulogne,a dn for two months in the Gordon Hut, in the great base camp of Etaples. In the latter place Mrs. Dey also did highly valued work for more than four months. Since their return, on several occasions, they have told of this important work, with the varied services, which it renders to the men, and the opportunities that open up for giving them moral and spiritual help.   

During Mr. Dey's absence the pulpit was splendidly supplied, attendances were good, and the funds of the church were well maintained . . . The visit of the Rev. George Douglas, of Manchuria, and his statesmanlike and stirring sermons on the progress and power of Christianity in China will long be remembered. 

Before leaving France, and also since returning home, Mr & Mrs. Dey received urgent requests to come back again to Etaples for another period of service. After consultation with the Session, Mr. Dey, with their cordial agreement, has asked and obtained four months' leave of absence from Presbytery, with the approval of the Church's War Emergency Committee." Rankin United Free Church Congregatinal Notes - 1917.

"For five months during 1918 the minister and his wife had again the privilege of working with the Y.M.C.A., among the troops in France. They were stationed at Camiers, near Etaples, and had many opportunities of helping our men in hospitals and in camp, physically and spiritually. A special feature of their work was the teas to which they were able to invite a number of soldiers every Sunday afternoon, through the kindness of Strathaven friends. These hours of Christian fellowship, formed bright spots in many a soldier's life, which will be long remembered. During Mr. Dey's absence the Rev. D.H. Gerrard, M.A., of Chapelton, conducted gthe services of the church." Rankin United Free Church Congregatinal Notes - 1918.

Belgian Refugees:

The following have worshipped with us:

Jules Becker, Corneil Becker, Charles Becker, Joseph Becker, Francois Briels, Emile Daniels, Victor Daniels, Joseph Devries, Jules Claes. Also Louis Debent and Albert Broos now in the Belgian Army. Rankin United Free Church Congregatinal Notes - 1917.

Albert Broos, Jules Becker , Corneil Becker, Charles Becker, Joseph Becker, Louis Debent, Victor Daniels, Joseph De Vries. Sadly Emile Daniels, Jules Claes and Francois Briels of the Belgian Army are among the fallen - faithful unto death." Rankin United Free Church Congregatinal Notes - 1918.

Above right are pictured other clergymen of the U.F congregations in Strathaven: left to right back row are Rev. G. F. Dewar, Greenside U. F. Church, Rev. T. M. Dey, Rankin U. F. Church and front row, Rev. A. W. Donaldson, East U.F. Church and Rev. J. McRorie, West U. F. Church. Avendale Old Parish Church, St. Patrick's RC Church were similarly involved in fund-raising for the War Relief and Belgian Relief Funds. 



Louise Vanderheyden (far right and left) with others of her friends in Strathaven.

Some Interesting Websites on the Belgium diaspora.

Above is an interesting site about the refugees in Holland (note that this country was not in war in 1914-18)

The events day per day in 1914

Belgium : the policy of the occupant

Site of an American University : Very well written with knowledge of the facts



Back to top