Belgian refugees still remembered 80 years on

They came to the rural West Midlands 80 years ago as refugees when their homeland was occupied by the Nazis – and today they are still remembered by 90-year-old June May.

Miss May became a big friend of one of the young Belgian girls, and for many years after the war they remained in touch.

Miss May, from Worfield, was 10 when the refugees arrived.

She says: "I'm coming up to 91 now. I lived at that time at Chapel Cottages in Chesterton. I can remember them coming to the house in the wood, called The Bogs Cottage. It was just an ordinary cottage down in the wood, with no water and no electricity. It belonged to the Bradburns.

"I went to school with some of the children. I was very friendly with a girl called Maria, who was about my age. She came to Worfield School with us.

"I think some of the others worked on the farm. I think there were 15 to 17 of them.

Madame Hoorne in the kitchen of their cottage with one of her children, Gerard, in 1941

"Maria and me got on very well. We played down the wood and I have been in the house which was just an ordinary old cottage, with a fireplace with old fashioned grates which is all they had to cook."

She says Maria did not seem to be homesick, perhaps because she had all her family with her.

"They had come over on a boat. We had a shop in the village of Worfield and they used to come and get bread, and they had a lot of bread, as there was a lot of them. They used to fetch it freshly cooked.

"The mother couldn't speak English, but Maria could – she spoke good English. Before they came over the mother used to do invisible mending – you don't hear of that today.

"They went back to Belgium after the war. I heard from the daughter who I was friends with for so long afterwards, but I never kept her address, and then all of a sudden she stopped writing. I don't know if anything happened to her. I haven't heard anything for years now."

Miss May says of The Bogs Cottage: "I can't get down there, but I think it's all fallen down."


Mrs Mary Foster of Albrighton, who will turn 94 in June, is the daughter of Robert Vincent Bradburn of Chesterton Farm who took in the refugees all those years ago.

"He always went as Vincent, but he signed himself R V," she says.

"I was away at school and don't really remember meeting them at all," said Mrs Foster, who was a boarder at Lowther College at Bodelwyddan Castle, North Wales.

Her father fell ill at the beginning of 1945, and then died in March that year, although she cannot remember if the Belgians were still at Chesterton then.

Mrs Foster says that in about 1985 one of the Belgians came to Chesterton on a nostalgic trip.

"I don't know what his name was. He came back to see who was still a Chesterton that they knew."

After reading our feature about the refugees, she said: "I was so thrilled to see my father's name back in print. Thank you for taking an interest in it."

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