Derbyshire played its role in helping those Belgians in need. By 26th November 1914, there appeared to be 500 Belgian refugees being provided for within Derbyshire, and by mid February 1915, 2000 - 3000 had settled in Derbyshire. An example of how this process worked and the challenges faced can be found in Tideswell.
In Tideswell a Refugee Committee was created and the whole community came together to support in it. Members included the Reverend Thomas Rogerson (vicar of Tideswell), Reverend R. Holmes (Congregational) and Reverend Sidney Brown (Wesleyan). The rent was paid by Reverend J. F. Warden, from November 1914 to March 25th 1915 for Blake House and this became the home for the Belgians in the village.
In spite of the medical care put in place, on the 24th/25th January 1915 one of the stricken Belgians Marie Rubben Maes died. She was 32 years old and had been born in the village of Adinkerke, Flanders, close to the French border, and about 10 miles west of Nieuport. She had two children, and her husband, Auguste Maes, was serving in the Belgian army fighting the Germans. She was buried on the 28th January at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Tideswell. Tragically, on the day of Marie’s funeral, a letter was received from her husband, who no one had been able to contact to inform him of his wife’s death because his whereabouts were unknown, in which he said he was in good health and trusted they were too. Marie’s principal mourners were Monsieur Rubbon, Madame Rubbon, Monsieur Von Belmont [Billemount?], and several people from Tideswell.
On 27th February 1915, Florimond Van Billemount, 29 years old and husband of Julia Gldys, also died. He too was buried at St. Mary’s again by Reverend Father Chielens. The principal mourners were Madame Rubbon and Monsieur Maas. It was not stated in the newspapers at the time, but he may have also been one the sons of Mathilde Deboutte who had attended her funeral. Florimond was the last death recorded, and the accounts for the temporary isolation hospital were examined and found correct on the 28th April 1915, so the outbreak of fever must have passed by then.
The Tideswell Committee had to pay for all this extra expense, which they believed amounted to £10 per week plus medical fees. This had not been budgeted for, and unsurprisingly they were very concerned that if their funds ran out, they would not be able to provide care for the remaining Belgians. So they appeared before the Bakewell Rural District Council to request that they take over the responsibility of running the temporary isolation hospital. However, the Bakewell Rural District Council response was that ‘they did not feel disposed at the present time to take over it’, but instead offered to contribute £6 per week for eight weeks towards the maintenance of the Hospital and, if at the expiration of that period the disease had not abated, the matter would have been further considered.
When informed of this decision, the Reverend Rogerson wrote in reply that the Tideswell Committee were far from being satisfied with the offer made, and if nothing more adequate was provided, a lot of money would have to be found by the people of Tideswell. An anonymous letter from Tideswell in the Derbyshire Courier questioned why no provision was made for typhoid fever, even when a child from Tideswell caught it, but a case of scarlet fever was dealt with. “What the people are asking is” the letter writer stated, “if the Bakewell authorities are responsible for isolating scarlet fever cases, why did they not take full responsibility for the typhoid case? If they had the power in one instance why not in the other?”.
The Vicar wondered if it was the case that other local authorities around the country were providing isolation hospitals solely by a spirit of philanthropy? He pointed out that when one Tideswell resident living in the Chapel-en-le- Frith Union contracted typhoid fever in a serious form, she was placed in the Chinley Hospital. He felt it was Council’s duty to make proper provision when the infected poor could not help themselves, not just for the poor’s sake, but for the protection of the inhabitants generally.
However, in the end, Bakewell Rural District Council’s offer of £6 per week was accepted by the Tideswell Belgian Refugees Committee. Extra funds were also raised by £42 in donations and subscriptions, £61 4 shillings from the Local Government Board, £10 from the District War Refugees’ Committee for Belgians towards the costs of the funerals and 17 shillings 8 pence from the sale of hospital equipment.
The surviving accounts for the Tideswell Belgian Refugees Committee only date up to 29th September 1915 but it is not known if this is the date the Belgians left Tideswell to live somewhere else. The vast majority of the Belgians in the United Kingdom returned home once the war had ended. What happened to Marie’s two children and husband Auguste or Florimond Van Billemount wife Julia is also a mystery. With all the arguments over the financial costs of dealing with the typhoid fever outbreak, it is important not to forget that many people in Tideswell gave up their time, money and goods to help strangers who came in need into their community. It is also important to remember Marie Rubben Maes, Mathilde Deboutte and Florimond Van Billemount, who would never see their children or grandchildren grow up, or see their homes again, but instead would lie forever in a peaceful corner of Tideswell.