Blog: March 2019

This month’s blog has been kindly put together by Graham Bradshaw of the Halifax Great War Heritage Society. You can find out more about the Halifax project here.

Belgian Refugees in Halifax: Dr Hector Jules Masquelier and Margret Crabeels

There were around 300 Belgian Refugees staying in the Halifax area throughout the period of the Great War. They lived and worked in the community, their children went to the local schools, some died here and some gave birth here and some were married here. Dr Masqueliers and Margret Crabeels were married at the Roman Catholic Church of St Marie’s in Halifax on 21 March 1916. Margret had been living at West Grove Terrace, Halifax for about a year with her mother, sister and brother. Dr Masquelier had come to Halifax a week before his wedding, on leave from the Belgian army at Rennes, France where he was serving as an army medical doctor.

Dr Hector Jules Masquelier.
Images courtesy of the Halifax Great War Heritage Society

After their wedding Dr Masquelier and Margret left for London with Margret’s mother, brother and sister. Margret’s mother and brother were going to Holland and Dr Masquelier, Margret and her sister were going to Rennes for Dr Masquelier to return to his duties.  The newly married couple, with Margret’s sister left for Folkestone and sailed on the passenger ferry, the Sussex, on 24 March 1916, bound for Dieppe.

Disastrously the German submarine UB-29 mistakenly torpedoed the Sussex believing it to be a minelayer. The ship was severely damaged and some of the lifeboats were launched, but at least two of them capsized and over fifty people were killed. Dr Masquelier and Margret’s sister, who was only 17 or 18 years old, were killed and Margret was in the water for over three hours before she was picked up.

The Sussex at Boulogne in March 1916 after it had been torpedoed. The forepart of the ship was destroyed in the attack. Images courtesy of the Halifax Great War Heritage Society

Margret returned to her mother and brother in London. They expressed a wish to return to Halifax which was granted although other arrangements had been made for the house. It is not known what happened to the Crabeels family during the rest of the war, but what is known, is that most of the refugees were repatriated after the war and therefore the Crabeels would probably have returned to their home in Antwerp.

Background Facts

Dr Masqelier was born on 9 March 1878 so he was 40 when he was married. It is not known how old Margret was.

Rennes is in Brittany, a long way from the conflict area, so Dr Masquelier, his wife and her sister were going to a relatively safe place.

There is no reference to Monsieur Crabeels. Perhaps he had escaped to neutral Holland where Madame Crabeels was heading when the Sussex was sunk. Many Belgian families were split up when they left Belgium.

West Grove Terrace is still there, as are many of the houses and other properties used to house the refugees in Halifax.

The sinking of the Sussex led to a major change in the German U boat campaign and sparked an international diplomatic crisis because the attack of 24 March 1916 was launched in error. French cross-channel passenger ferry, the Sussex, had tragically been mistaken for a minelayer.