March 1915

The very first local casualty was not a fighter, but an ambulanceman. He was William Farnworth, of the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve, drowned when the boat on which he was serving, HMS Bayano, was torpedoed in the River Clyde, 11 March. Corporal Farnworth was in the first draft of ambulancemen from Adlington at the beginning of August 1914.

Also in March, the last two local people stranded on the Continent were able to make their way home. They were the Misses Bond, whose home address was 80 Chorley Road, Heath Charnock, and who had been teachers of English in Belgium.

Chorley & District Weekly News 3 April 1915

Included in the first party of the 80 British women and children who have been permitted to leave Belgium by the German authorities, through the good offices of the United States Minister at Brussels, are Misses Sarah Lena and Mary Bond, daughters of the late Mr John Bond, farmer, Heath Charnock, near Chorley. The party arrived at Tilbury on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday morning, Mrs Bond, mother of the two local ladies, who resides at 80 Chorley Road, Heath Charnock, received a telegram announcing their safe arrival in England, and stating that they were staying in London for a few days. Miss S.L. Bond has spent the last eleven years in Belgium, where she has been engaged as a governess. She was for two years in Termonde. Miss Mary Bond has been in Brussels for six years.

In the course of a singularly interesting interview with the Misses Bond, the two ladies, who gave a graphic account of their experiences in Brussels, owe their return, as stated, to the good services of the American Minister, who succeeded in getting permission for fifty English girls to leave Brussels. Miss Sarah L. Bond, the elder of the two, has resided in Brussels for seven years. She described in graphic terms incidents from the time of the panic which preceded the entry of the Germans into Brussels, and the efforts that were made by them to leave. The position at the station made it impossible for them to leave, and their chagrin at having to return was, as may be imagined, very marked.

Bombs fell on the station, and any prospect of departure had to be abandoned. The Germans entered the city on August 20th, and two days before that there was an indescribable panic at the Gare du Nord. Later the Garde Civique were called upon to surrender their arms. The present condition of affairs in Brussels is described as pitiable in the extreme. All the shops are closed, and the entire city is at a standstill. Rigid supervision was exercised by the German military, the Britishers having to report themselves at the Ecole Militaire on the first of each month. The Germans were somewhat astonished at the number of English people in the city, and this fact caused some little change in their demeanour towards them.

Miss Bond related one incident in which she scored over the Germans in relation to the monthly security. On March 1st she presented herself to the officials in the usual way, but on the following day a message came demanding her appearance at the bureau. The Germans claimed that she had not registered on the previous day, and it was owing to the omission of the officer who marked her papers to make the entry in the official books, that she was so closely questioned. The officials were compelled to admit their blunder, but no apology was tendered for the occurrence which had gone so near to involving imprisonment for a British subject. The ladies referred to the appearances on several occasions in Brussels of the Kaiser himself, which were accompanied by considerable display of military force.

All classes of Englishmen were taken prisoners, clergymen of the Church of England and priests included. Some of these had terrible experiences, and their release was eventually ordered in the customary bluff German way. It would be done this style: the officials would enter the place where the clergy were, and with a touch on the back accompanied by the words “One, two, three. Out!” they were set free. The two sisters were fortunately domiciled in houses not far distant, and they made repeated efforts to secure passports. The incident already reported with respect to the wearing of the Union Jack was recounted with a touch of pride. Occurrences associated with the funeral of a Belgian soldier were related.

German soldiers entered the Church of St Gilles, Brussels, and demanded the removal of the Belgian flag from the coffin. This led to a great tumult, and firing took place outside the church, with the result that several people were wounded. Participants in the melee were subsequently punished. Miss M. Bond, during the summer, lived at a chateau at Malines, and the utter ruin of the town is a sad reflection for her. The chateau no longer exists, and the whole town was denuded of property of every description. In one part of the grounds a private grave was opened for the burial of two German officers. Miss Mary Bond produced a photograph of a little child who had been buried in the same grave. Bodies of unburied German soldiers had been found in the park many weeks after their end. Souvenirs picked up in the neighbourhood are valued reminders of the sad events which have taken place.

The world knows how the Germans have denuded Belgium of cattle and farm stock, and the ladies are able to relate many stories of how the poor Belgians have suffered in this direction. They speak with delight of how they were able to help a poor wounded English soldier, who, after months of close confinement, was allowed freedom to move about. The Belgians, they said, were equally assiduous in administering to the man’s comfort. The spirit of thankfulness to the British pervades all Belgians, who are looking anxiously to them for an early deliverance from the bondage under which they are at present so keenly suffering. The allowance of bread, of the kind it is, is limited to 250 grammes per head, and meat is practically unobtainable, the cattle having been sent to Germany.

Milk is procurable in powder, but there is the possibility of getting proper milk in very small quantities. On the journey to Malines, Miss Bond paid the equivalent of 7d for a cup of boiled celery. Terrible tales of the sack of Louvain were related with a shudder, and of Termonde, where the elder Miss Bond lived for two years, photographs exhibited of the present wreckage of the place being sad reminders of the terrible havoc wrought by the invaders. The German Crown Prince was seen on one occasion in Brussels. The interesting narrative is necessarily abridged.

They were deeply touched by the miserable plight of a Bradford lady – Mrs Atkinson – whose husband had been interned in Germany. She was left with three children, aged six months, two years and three years, and they were glad to be of assistance to the unfortunate lady. The party were not allowed to make the passage in one boat, half leaving by a second one on account of the risk in crossing. The two ladies hope to return to Belgium in due course, and in the uncertain circumstances hesitancy in dealing with many aspects of their varied experiences will be well understood. Congratulations are extended to them on their fortunate release.