TEN THOUSAND REFUGEES LODGED IN A "PALACE.* ; Mr Hugh Martin, special correspamJenl. of the 4 Daily News,' describes the plight,* I '' of 10,000 Belgian refugees. Writing fronty Ghent, he says;— '-j When I met the people pf Alosb oa tbeltfg great trek to Ghent by way of the BnnU,,; sels road last Monday I resolved to swi something more of them as soon as an casion served. So this afternoon, during' a lull in the storm at our end of tho* battle-line, I went round to the Palais dee; Fetes (built for the recent Exhibition!, anm was glad to find two or three fandliaH faces that I had hardly thought to meets again. q There was an old, old woman who haplu been so ill by the roadside on that terrible # day that a priest had confessed her and j administered absolution in my presence j \ and another, in the most marvellous oil scarlet shawls, who was nearly driven out 1 of her wits by fear of a photographer whom she mistook for a murderous German with a gun. Then there was a young woman whom I had seen lying unconscious In a farm cart; to-day her four-days-old baby- was beside her. This place—the Palais des Ffetest think of the name I —appeals to one as tho most pathetic spot in the world. Since It was opened six weeks ago as the central receiving station in Belgium for refugee* 60,000 men, women, and children, threequarters of them belonging to tho peasant or provincial working classes, have passed through its doors. At times—as, for instance, last Monday night, when there uere 20,000 refugees from Alost alone in the town of Ghent—lo,ooo people have slept in this one building—have Seen fed, comforted, and roclothea here. I beg of you in England to realise, ff possible, what such figures mean. In the hot hurry of war. with the guns barely out of earshot, one finds little time to write or think quietly even about so urgent a tragedy. Bub you in England have the time. Let mo give one or two very small, simple facts. —A Strange Company.— On the morning following tho evacua- j tion of Alost five babies were bom at . this central institution, and two more arrived on tho following day. Their mothers had travelled 20 miles by road in ox carts, farm waggons, or how you . will. All tho mothers and children are i doing well, which is a testimony both to the skill with which they have been nursed and the vigor of tho Flemish constitution. Nearly 400 other Alost babies took np their residence at the Palace that night. One woman is believed to be a centenarian, several men and women axe imbeciles, many were sick almost to death upon arrival, a number are cripples. It is worth while to try, with tho help of points like these, to create a mental picture of the refugee problem as it presents itself to us here on the spot. All except tho very feeble or ill sleep upon straw in long rows divided only by chairs, and are fed 600 at a time in mill* lary fashion. Dreadful as tho circumstances are, the entire place is & model of cleanliness and brightness, and Mme Feyerick De Kerohovo, helped hy a staff of ladies, runs it with remarkable success under the Red Cross. What England , must understand, as she responds to tHS call for a great act of national hoemitality, is that she is only asked to entertain taa overflow of fugitives. The vast majority i have been received into the villagee and small provincial towns still unoccupied by Germany. Probably not fewer than 80,000 have been driven .from their homes during the past six weeks. And now the Belgian provinces are full. Should there bo anv more forced migrations on a large scale England will have to receive the whole of the migrating populations. Arrangements have been made for billeting, if necessary, on a large scale in Ghent itself, but it would be impossible for such an arrangement to be more than temporary. The tide of war is driving tha people into a corner, and there ia no more room. —Language Bar.— At the same time there are grave difficulties in the way of any wholesale emigration to England, not least among them being tho language bar, of which the refugees are fully conscious. As X have remarked, large numbers are of the peasant class, and they speak only tho Flemish language. In thousands of oases thev are almost invincibly opposed to travelling to a foreign land where their speech would not be understood. Only sheer necessity could drive them to such an undertaking. Think of our English rooted to the same soil for generations, timorous in face of the unusual, conservative, suspicious. and obstinate ; and this in epite of the fact that their race is of the colonising and adventurous type. Think of the working people of our country towns with their limited horizon and ingrained thrift. Here arc folk of siijiilar kind asked to go in herds to a land where their tongue is as unfamiliar as Greek, and their religion the religion of a tiny minority. T hey won't go. They are as hard to move as a jiWiing horse. 1 have seen them cling to their homes till the. shrapnel was lashing the very roof-trees. Immobility is one of their chief virtues, and this is aggravated ry their extraordinary fatalism. JTbey weep hardly at all under the stress of tho most terrible cate strophes, and I doubt if in the villagee at least anything approaching a, panic has been seen.
Permanent link to this item
LES MISERABLES, Evening Star, Issue 15668, 5 December 1914