A Letter from Germany

The following article appeared in The Merthyr Pioneer 103 years ago today, on 26 September 1914 – just after the outbreak of the First World War….

As reported in our issue of August 29, Miss Margaret Gilleland, daughter of Mr and Mrs Gilleland of Brecon Road, is one of the British subjects who were unable to leave Germany before the outbreak of the war. As was explained in that issue of the Pioneer, Miss Gilleland took up the post of governess with a German family residing at Posen in April last, from which place, however, the family have since gone to Borkun, probably in view of the advance of the Russian Army towards Posen.

Mr and Mrs Gilleland have naturally been somewhat concerned about the safety of their daughter, from whom they had received no communication since August 1 until the following letter arrived from a lady residing at The Hague, Holland, in which was enclosed the few lines written to her parents by Miss Gilleland in German (all letters posted in Germany at present must be in the German language), and translated by the lady who kindly forwarded the note to the family in Merthyr. By the courtesy of the family we are able to publish the letters as received, and Miss Gilleland’s friends in the district will be delighted to know that she is in good health and ‘very happy.’ The letter is as follows:

“The Hague
15th Sept 1914

Dear Sir and Madam, – You will probably be surprised to receive a letter from a total stranger. Fraulein Tietz, from Zulchan (Germany), asked me if I could write to you for your daughter, as you would be longing to know how she is getting on. On the overleaf you will find a translation of her German letter to you, for, of course, she cannot but write in German. So if you would kindly write your daughter in English, and then sent the letter to me, I will translate it, and forward it to her.

I have tried to translate it as well as I could, but please to forgive me if the language is not quite correct. Hoping you will soon send me a reply for your daughter. – I am, with kind regards, Yours sincerely,

                   L Huijgen de Raat”

Miss Gilleland’s note to her parents (as translated) is as follows:

“My Dear Parents, – I will write to you just a short letter to tell you that I am quite well and very happy. I also want to state that when in newspapers it is put that we foreigners are badly treated, this is absolutely untrue.

Please let me know how you are, and where George is. Much love, from yours lovingly,                                

Margaret Gilleland”

Below is a photograph of Margaret Gilleland that appeared in the Merthyr Guardian on 5 September 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 5 September 1914

Belgian Refugees

It is sometimes forgotten that during the First World War, an influx of Belgian refugees arrived in Britain to escape the fighting in their country. Quite a number of them came to Merthyr, and transcribed below is an article describing the arrival of the first of these refugees in 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 17 October 1914

A very enthusiastic meeting of local citizens was held at the Town Hall on Monday night, when the final preparations for the welcome and maintenance of the Belgian refugees was made.

Addressing the meeting Coun. H M Lloyd (Mayor) referred to the terrible distress prevailing in Belgium owing to the German invasion, and pointed out the hardships which were being suffered by a whole nation out of employment. Inasmuch as Belgium has acted as a buffer State, we were indebted to them, and were called upon to help them bear their share of suffering and sorrow.

Alderman J M Berry J.P. was appointed treasurer of the committee, and Mr T W Morris, secretary.

A tremendous crowd of people thronged the High Street and the Merthyr Station Approach on Wednesday evening, and the 32 Belgian refugees received a hearty if somewhat embarrassing Welsh welcome. They were met at the station by Coun. H M Lloyd and Mrs Lloyd (Mayor and Mayoress), Major and Mrs Frank James, Capt. G B Williams, Councillors F A Phillips (Deputy Mayor), Mrs M A Edmunds, and Ald. J M Berry, Mrs Wills, Mr T T Jenkins and others.

Some difficulty was experienced in getting the visitors into the two decorated cars which had been lent by the Merthyr Traction Co. to convey them to the YMCA Buildings. Several of the refugees were obviously affected by the cordial welcome which greeted their arrival, and many of the waiting citizens were moved to tears when an elderly Antwerp lady who had received injuries was assisted to the car by Councillors Phillips and James whilst the appearance of Ald. J M Berry with a Belgian youngster on his shoulder was the signal for loud cheers. Outside the YMCA Buildings the Cyfarthfa Municipal Band greeted the refugees with the National Anthems of the Allies. After a splendid meal had been enjoyed, a musical programme in which one of the visitors took part, was provided.

In officially welcoming the refugees, the Mayor said that every class in the community was anxious to do what it could to alleviate their sufferings and misfortunes.

Interviewed by the Pioneer representative on Thursday, the Mayor said that funds for the maintenance of the refugees were still coming in. As the committee desired to maintain them for at least six months, he hoped that local citizens would continue to contribute all they could afford towards the cost of their maintenance. The cost of maintaining them would probably be something between £15 and £20 per week. 19 more refugees were expected to arrive almost immediately, and as the distress was great and increasing, Merthyr might be called upon to maintain something like 100. “I am thinking of arranging for an illuminated carnival, perhaps the last day in October (Saturday the 31st), and I trust that all cyclist and motor cyclists, and those who have fancy costumes, will hold themselves in readiness for the occasion” added the Mayor.

Late on Thursday evening a further party of Belgian refugees, numbering nine, arrived at Merthyr, and were conveyed in cabs to the YMCA Buildings. The party consisted of seven women and two men. This brings the total to be maintained to 41.

Arrangements for the comfort of the visitors have been greatly enhanced by the spontaneous offers of assistance given by many local citizens. The management of all the local entertainment halls have offered free admission; the Traction Co. offer free rides, and Mr Arthur Davies, hairdresser, of Glebeland Street, has offered to attend to the toilet of the male members of the party.

Mrs Suzanne Doolan, local historian and former reporter on the Merthyr Express, is researching the Belgian Refugees in Merthyr, so if anyone has any information about them , please get in touch and I will pass it on.