November 17, 1914

Flemish letter of thanks from Belgian refugees

Flemish letter of thanks from Belgian refugees

It is a ‘quiet week’ in journalistic terms for the November 17, 1914, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser. That means there is very little that stands out from the norm of community life in the town and the surrounding district.

Everyone is just getting on with things. Sports clubs play matches, community groups meet, magistrates sit in the courts, and traders advertise their wares for townspeople to buy their products.

The front page is full of its usual ‘display’ adverts, nearly two-thirds of page 2 is packed with ‘classified’ adverts with houses and flats for sale or rent, and the back page is dominated by a report about a new water supply for the village of Fleckney.

There is little national or local news from the war and there are only two items with any real links to the conflict on the European mainland: a letter from some Belgian refugees and an advert from well known Harborough store Shindler & Douglas.

Market Harborough, like many small communities around the country, has taken in some refugees from the initial fighting in Belgium and there is a letter printed – initially in Flemish and then with an English translation – thanking everyone for their help.

The community leader writes from ‘our house in Abbey Street, in the pretty little town of market Harborough and says: “Our hearts overflow with love and gratitude to this noble people.

“To speak frankly, when we were living in our dear old city of Malines often and often we had visits from English tourists.

“We thought within ourselves ‘These English are a cold people’. It is only now that we are learning how warm the heart is that beats under this cold exterior.

“I cannot express to you how great is the kindness shown to us. We have everything we can desire. Above all the children are particularly well cared for.

“Never, never shall we forget these days of consolation passed in hospitable England at a time when this terrible war is spreading death and destruction all over our devastated ever dear Fatherland.”

The Shindler & Douglas advert follows on from previous editions in the Advertiser where it uses the war to help sell its products.

Commerce and conflict are never far apart

Commerce and conflict are never far apart

This advert begins: “Remember our soldiers and sailors. In this colossal struggle they are worthy of all we can do for them, patriotism, sympathy, relationship, combine to claim our help.”

It then exhorts readers to provide them with ‘comforts’ and ‘keep our men warm’ by buying them clothes to send out to them.

For instance it lists what the reader can buy ‘for his head’ (khaki sleeping helmets at just 1 shilling and 11 pence), ‘for his loins’ (arm body belts at just 2/9), and ‘for his limbs’ (warm woollen vests at a variety of prices up to 4/11).

And if these items are a little too expensive Shindler & Douglas has even adapted handkerchiefs into army khaki for the just six and a half pence.

  • Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.
  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.
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