Belgian Jozef Debusschere (age 10) reports in his diary of his escape to France during WW1


The three/four-day train journey from Den Abele-Hazebroeck to Lannion did provide a sense of relief, but it was far from fun. Relief: we had escaped the bombs, violence of war and mortal danger, but the ten of us were packed into a single train compartment in a seated position. The old-fashioned train compartments had no side corridor, or WC, but did have a door on both sides with windows that slid up and down. Just imagine it: two adults, two teenagers, three just under the age of ten and three little ones, the youngest of which was almost three.

We didn’t have to do everything, but quite a lot in this compartment. There were hours of train stoppages (e.g. Rouen) and the nights were extremely unsettling, also due to the rolling and pounding of carriages and machines. At certain points the locomotives were exchanged, brakes and buffers inspected. However, everything could be found at the stations: water, toilet facilities, Le Foyer du Soldat meals. This provided much relief. Meanwhile, nobody knew where we would end up: we were being transported by God’s hand to God in France.

And we were optimistic. This optimism – and the relief – occasionally lifted the mood: us children started singing. The story goes that we endlessly sang: “Are we still far from Mexico, cico, cico…’, a tune our elders soon started to find tiresome! Yet we were getting closer, after days and nights, to a certain and safe destination. We wanted to go to France, and we were there: far and deep inside the country.

From: Réfugiés Belges (Belgian refugees) (1914-118), Biekorf, 1995