Our People - John Francis Vervloet
John Francis Vervloet helped ordinary Belgians flee the German advance before being reunited with his family who had found refuge in Leyland. The Chorley Weekly News of Saturday 30 January 1915 recorded his exploits...
Last Friday week saw the happy reunion of a poor Belgian refugee with his wife and children. Francis Vervloet is an engine driver. On returning to his house in Antwerp at noon on October 7th he found a placard on the door to say that his wife and children had gone to Ostend. In the same house were the children of the stationmaster, frightened and crying. The mother had gone to Dendermonde to bring into safety her mother, the father attending to his duties.
Mr Vervloet left the children in the care of friends and went to the station which was literally packed with refugees. With two other railwaymen he took several journeys conveying refugees from Antwerp to Esschen. Later, owing to preparation for the German advance, the trains could not return to Antwerp , but were held up at Esschen. A part of three days he spent on the train with nothing to eat but three small turnips. Worse than his own hunger was the hunger of the children, who were crying for milk and even for the water used to feed the engine. At last, on October 10th, they succeeded in reaching Rosendawl in Holland where they were provided with food.
The Dutch provided for them as well as they could, the women and children often in convents. If they had money and did not work, they had to pay one franc per day for food: if the men found work and were willing to do it. their employer paid the franc.
Mr Vervloet found work in a coalyard and was very pleased to be able to keep his money. The food consisted of soup and bread, with twice a week a small piece of meat. His great anxiety was to find his wife and children and to that end he wrote to all the bureaux and inserted notices in the papers, but could not hear anything. Then from an acquaintance he learned they were with relatives who had gone to London. He succeeded in following them there, arriving at Alexandra Palace on January 8th. There he remained for nine days trying, at first unsuccessfully, to locate his family.
He was told to apply at the office of the General Registrar, Somerset House, where he found that his wife and children were safe in the Old Vicarage, Leyland. He at once wrote to his wife and the news was brought to the knowledge of the Vicar, who lost no time in taking the necessary steps to restore him to his family. Over the joy of that re-union we draw a veil
Please email the project with any amendments or corrections
Edited 29 December 2016