12.3 – Maria Vanhoey

Ici repose Mademoiselle Maria [Marie-Antoinette L. J.] Vanhoey

nee a Malines le 17th Novembre 1877.

Pieusement decedee a Todmorden le 5th Janvier 1915.

(Refugiee Belge.)

Priez pour elle!

Todmorden gave refuge to a number of Belgians during WW1 and this lady is one of them. She died from bronchitis three weeks after arriving from Belgium, only 38 years old. Maria Vanhoey had come from Belgium along with a number of other Belgian refugees, some of whom came to Todmorden and others who went to other parts of the country. She was one of the later groups who arrived from the continent and was in Surrey for a short time before relocating to here. For several years now there had been refugees arriving on British shores escaping the war after their homes had been destroyed during fighting. By February 1915 the West Riding had received 2,400 Belgian refugees, with 50 having been settled in Todmorden. Efforts were made to help them find work and fundraisers were held to help them buy clothing and furniture so they could get back on their feet.

Maria’s brother Dieudonne was in London recuperating from illness contracted while serving in the trenches and travelled north at (almost certainly) great cost and discomfort in order to be there for his sister’s funeral. He joined their sister Leontine and their mother in mourning Maria’s loss, although they weren’t alone – after the service at St. Joseph’s, the town lined the streets in what the newspaper described as a showing of “curious but most sympathetic onlookers”.

This is the address given by one of the other refugees at her funeral and was printed in the Todmorden Advertiser on the 15th January 1915:

“Dear compatriot, dear Maria:- It is with a heart full of sorrow and regret that I bid you, in the name of your friends, in the name of the Belgians here present, a heartfelt and last farewell.

If your lot in the world, dear Maria, has been humble, how great it has been in the family circle. The eldest of six children, you have shown a pure devotion for your brothers and sisters.

You have been the attentive companion of your dear mother at all times, helping her in the trials of our life, comforting her in the sorrows of our earthly existence. Maria was a pearl of rare price, which like the modest violet, hid itself in the darkest corner of the family dwelling.

Driven from her own hearth by the barbarous Teuton hordes, Maria Vanhoey has suffered greatly, having already felt the pangs of the terrible illness which, in a few hours, tore her from the arms of her dear sorrowing parents.

May this earth of our new country, of noble-hearted England, which has made for us a new home; may this earth, I say, rest lightly on you. May the great kindness of the ladies of the committee, of the municipal council, of the inhabitants of Todmorden, and of all the English people, soften the bitter sadness of your dear parents and friends!

Farewell, dear Maria, farewell in the name of our beloved oppressed Belgium and of our new golden-hearted country.”

The speaker, Dieudonne Massart, is related to the other Belgian refugee buried at Christ Church – Rosalie Defosse who would pass away 9 months later. Maria had been living at York Place with the Massart family and her mother and sister for the entirety of her stay here, with an uncle and brother having gone to Bradford and London with their families How many other of her siblings stayed in Belgium or were elsewhere in Britain is unknown.

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