J C Buttenaere

J C Buttenaere

Joseph Cyrille Buttenaere (1884-1917)

Mijn naam is Joseph Buttenaere. Spreek jij nederlands? Your Flemish isnít that good? OK Iíll speak English.

I was born in July 1884 in the town of Menen, which is near Ieper and the border with France. When I was old enough I joined the army and served in the 10th Regiment of the Line, an infantry regiment, but then left to get married and returned to my home town. In late July 1914 we were mobilised as it seemed likely that the Germans would attack on their way to France. On August 4th they did attack and with an army many times bigger than ours. We knew the British were coming so the plan was to hold them up for as long as possible; we even had soldiers on bicycles! We heard many dreadful stories about what they were doing to people as they attacked and this made us more determined. Some of my family escaped the approaching Germans and managed to get to a town in England called Beaconsfield.

My regiment was sent to Namur, one of the fortified cities in Belgium. The Germans arrived on August 20th and bombarded the forts before attacking with infantry. Most of the other Belgian soldiers withdrew to the south but we were asked to hold the city for as long as possible. We did manage to hold the German advance for several days longer than they had anticipated. I managed to leave the fortress at the last moment but unfortunately was captured south of Namur at a place called Bioul, around 6,700 Belgian and French prisoners were captured at Namur.

I was taken to a Prisoner of War camp in Germany. They treated me badly and I was made to work very hard. The 21 months I spent in Germany were very difficult and my health deteriorated; I even had a small heart attack. Because of this I was sent to a camp in Switzerland and I was held here for another year. Although Switzerland was a neutral country conditions werenít much better; we were still made to work and there wasnít enough food.

Finally in April 1917 I was liberated and sent to hospital in France. I was told that I needed to rest to build up my strength and was given some leave. With the whole of Belgium occupied by the Germans except for the area around Ieper, which was held by the British, I decided to go and visit my niece, Celina, in England. After a very rough sea voyage I arrived at her house on Friday 5th October; she was living in a lovely town called Beaconsfield. On the Saturday evening there was a show at the Electroscope Theatre in the nearby town of High Wycombe and we decided to go. The theatre looked amazing, it was painted white and had statues in the wall on the outside. It was in Oxford Street near Frogmoor. There were six different artists visiting from London who were putting on a show called the Frolics and the advert said we were to be entertained, amused, mystified and entirely delighted.

It being a Saturday evening we arrived early and were let in at 6pm to find our seats. We sat down and it was then that I started feeling unwell. At about 6.15 I yawned, fell forward and called out to Celina. A soldier who was also on leave was sitting in front of us, his name was Gunner Blanks, and he helped get me to the yard outside. He tried to resuscitate me but I never recovered consciousness. The doctor who examined me afterwards discovered that I had valvular heart disease and I had died as I was being carried out of the theatre. Although my condition was probably congenital it was felt that my treatment in the prisoner of war camp had made it worse and I was therefore buried with full military honours. Many of the Belgians who had escaped to England came to my funeral. Dank u. Vaarwel!

Researched and performed by Mr Andrew Wright

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