18 West Parade
17th Oct 1914
My dear Eugénie
I was glad to get your letter of the 11th inst; I had already heard that three of your sons were doing their share in the war and I am glad to have all details of how they are getting on. Arthur will, of course, be very busy at the base hospital all the time of the war. I trust he will keep his health, it is a great opportunity for a young doctor. I trust George is now well again; it certainly would not do to send all the trained men out of England, the Germans might get a chance of attempting a raid, though it is very unlikely. No doubt Cyril has plenty of work, there are so many men to train.
I have seen thousands of the recruits at Schorncliffe and at Aldershot; they have all struck me as very good material, far superior to the German soldier, who is too much of a machine. I do not think that the German army has gone into this war with any enthusiasm; those we have in Belgium seemed as a rule much disheartened and I felt they would never get back to their homes again.
There was an American in Brussels who undertook for a fee to get parties out of Brussels and take them to where they could find a train to Ostend. We started from Brussels, a party of about a dozen on Saturday 12th September, taking a steam tram that ran to Ninove, where no fighting was going on on the line. The Germans we met did not interfere with this tram. At Ninove we packed into a cart and started to Alost, on arriving near that town we were met by Belgian patriots on the road who told us Alost was again in Belgian hands; when we got there, we found the town in commotion as there had been fighting outside on the road to Ghent and our carter declined to go any further, so we took refuge in a café and had hardly got there when I saw four Belgian soldiers fire down a street close by; they killed a German who had come into the town scouting on a motor bike, then the Belgians blew up the railway bridge crossing the river and as it was in the centre of the town, the destruction of window panes by the explosion was very great. I suppose all the windows of some 200 houses must have gone.
We had to remain in Alost that night and divided up between the three small hotels. Sunday morning we got quite a nice omnibus, thanks to the Burgermeister, and started off for Ghent, which we reached at midday. We passed through two places where fighting had taken place and the destruction was dreadful, all the houses were burnt out; it has been the German plan to destroy as much as possible in Belgium, part of the equipment of the men is in view of setting fire to the houses, they behave as badly as the barbarians of old and it shows the utter want of personality in the German, he does everything he is told to do, in private life they could be quiet enough; the Kaiser is responsible for it all and should be hung for it, that is what he desires.
From Ghent we got a train to Ostend and on the Monday I crossed to Folkestone and found all well – I had had no news whatever for three weeks.
Of course this war is very fatal to my company. We cannot tell till is over how we all stand, we have such large businesses in Germany, in most places they are fighting in now we have Works, we can only wait and see but it looks very much as if I should have next to nothing left and the government may not be able to give me much, if any, pension. So far all is quiet in Brussels, but when the Germans have to evacuate it, they may do much mischief and we may find our house gone; then the position of the Banks, though they are first rate, in work. I have some money in Brussels, is not at all a good end. I left our cook who has been with us 20 years, is married to a Belgian, in the house; we are living here with Ethel and her baby and the nurse as cheaply as possible and so far I am still getting three-quarters of my salary. I fear this place is too windy in winter to be very safe for Florence.
I should much like to come down to Badsey to see you all but just now my plans are very uncertain. I am on the lookout for some work for my company, but we are so cut off, it is difficult to do anything just now.
I have some news from our people about Antwerp. I do not think that the town is so very much destroyed. I hope only none of our Works there were damaged.
All this coast if full of Belgian refugees, wounded soldiers – I can’t imagine how the refugees will be settled, however well off at home, they have all only very little money with them; and many people are doing all they can for them.
Much love from us all, hoping you are keeping well.
Your affectionate brother