Page 5, 24th May 1940

24th May 1940
Page 5
Page 5, 24th May 1940 — Priests and Seminarians Flee from Belgium
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Organisations: Red Cross, army, Divine Office
Locations: London, Brussels

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Priests and Seminarians Flee from Belgium

STORIES OF GERMAN BRUTALITY AND BRITISH COOLNESS

From a Speciai Correspondent AMONG the thousands of refugees pouring into this country from the invaded Low Countries are numbers of Irish seminarians. Many of these have strange and tragic tales to tell of the wanton destruction by the German forces and the heroism of the ordinary citizenry of bombarded towns.

Eight young Irish Franciscan friars— the staff of the historic Franciscan Universite CatholiqUe College San Antoine in Louvain, founded by the Irish Franciscans in 1609—arrived it London on Friday after a series of providential escapes from death following the German invasion. They are now safely In Ireland at the Franciscan house at Merchants Quay.

A chance encounter which Fr. Sylvester O'Brien, the Guardian of the college, had in the streets of the university city with a young Canadian doctor he had met two years ago played an important part in their escape from the town.

"At four on Friday morning we heard guns in the distance, but took no notice," Fr. O'Brien told me. " At eight we heard On the wireless that Holland and Belgium had been invaded. From shortly afterwards until we left Louvain on Sunday there were alerts '—air raid warnings — frequently, and German bombings from the air.

" At five on Saturday morning we saw four German planes from the garden of the college. One suddenly swooped down. aiming bombs at the railway station, where recently British and Germans were reported to be engaged in a handto-hand fight.

Fifth Column a Masterpiece

"At eight on Saturday evening, during the May Devotions service, the 'alert ' was given again. Meanwhile the British forces had arrived.

"We kept calm and gave Benediction, replaced the Blessed Sacrament, and took to the cellars, where we slept

"The German espionage in Belgium," said Fr. O'Brien., " was simply dreadful. The German forces were aided at every turn by spies fa the country Their Fifth Column' must have been a masterpiece, for their information seems to have been unerring."

Just before they left Ostend they received news that a bomb had fallen an the college or the grounds, with what damage they could not learn. The Germans dropped many parachutists in the area during the raids on Ostend, and also eight magnetic mines in the basin.

" The deliberate tactics of the German forces are to demorcaiSe completely the civilian poptikitions by harassing refugee trains by continued maehisu3-gunning and bombings," said Fr. O'Brien. " They are quite inhuman."

Nine young Irishmen were aiso among the refugees. They had walked almost half-way across Belgium, and had been travelling seven days.

They were Brothers of the Sacred Heart Missionary Order (the head house is at Cork), who were doing their novitiate at the Order's house at GerdingenBree, near Hasselt, on the Albert Canal, and only eight or nine miles from the German frontier. Twenty Belgian Brothers were also there.

One of the Brothers told me: " The authorities in the area did not think the danger of invasion was so imminent. In fact, on Thursday of last week people had been sympathwEng with us because they heard a rumour that Ireland was to be invaded.

" The following morning 150 Belgian Fathers and students there were leav hag to join the army as Red Cross men and stretcher bearers, and we were ordered to make our way to the nearest British consul, who was at Brussels.

Quick Work

" He was so quick that ne got us across Brussels in a quarter of an hour, when we caught the train for Ostend. Our train was bombed. and we were also subject to air attacks at Ostend. "There we saw two Belgian soldiers who spoke a Flemish dialect mistaken by the people for parachutists. Women attacked them, but local Belgian officials identified them in time before they were injured. "The delay in leaving Ostend we believed to be due to the fact that Germans were laying magnetic mines continually from the air.

" One thing which, struck us particularly in our journey across Belgium -was the coolness and calmness of the English soldiers under fire and how they stood up to the bombing bp German aircraft.

How one hundred and twenty Fathers and students, almost all Flemish, had to flee before the German invasion was told by the Rev. George Mulligan, C.R.P., and the Rev. Kevin Cassidy, C.R.P. They had been six years at Tongerloo, the famous Premonstratenelan Abbey in Belgium. They are proceeding to the Order's Holy Trinity Priory at Minacrott, County Cavan.

Abbot Remains

Although the Divine Office has temporarily ceased the abbey is not completely deserted. In accordance with tradition the 40-year-old Lord Abbot. the Right Rev. Dr. Staimans, C.R.P.. remained at his post. " As we prepared to leave," the Rev. George Mulligan told me, " our community had only time to pull some priceless tapestries from the walls and bring them into the vaults. The last thing we saw as we left was the magnificent only copy of da Vinci's Last Supper,' which covers the 40ft. long by 10ft. high wall of the abbey under the rose window. "We walked for six hours and reached Malinee, then entrained for Brussels, and later got to Ostend safely and well."




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