Albert returns to family roots

Albert Haler, Toby Seth, Andrew Sefton, Sylvia Haler and Cassie Thackray.
Albert Haler, Toby Seth, Andrew Sefton, Sylvia Haler and Cassie Thackray.

Pocklington had a visitor with a difference recently when Belgian national Albert Haler spent the week in the town with his wife Sylvia.

Albert is from a long-established Belgian family, but he was surprised to find out that his father Joseph had been born in Pocklington in 1916.

A chance meeting with a pair of Yorkshire tourists at a continental caravan park a couple of years ago prompted a link to the Pocklington Local History Group archivist, Andrew Sefton, which resulted in the Halers’ 2019 Pocklington expedition.

When Albert researched his family history in more detail he discovered that his grandparents were among more than 250,000 Belgians evacuated to Britain when their country was invaded at the start of World War I.

A few dozen found their way to Pocklington and surrounding villages, with Albert’s grandparents in the 20 who were billeted in the town in December 1914.

A fundraising campaign was set up to provide them with food, clothing and household goods, and they were initially accommodated in a large empty house in Union Street.

But some moved on to elsewhere in the town, including Pierre and Marie Haler who became gardener and cook for Dr Fairweather at Faircote House on West Green.

Pierre also had spells back at the front on the Continent as an artillery officer in the Belgian army, while Marie remained in Pocklington where her children Georgette (1915), Joseph (1916), and Nellie (1918) were born.

It finally became safe for the family to return home, and they bade farewell to Pocklington for good in 1919 – for 100 years that is until Albert’s trip back to his father’s birthplace this month.

It was a week packed with visits and events.

The Halers’ busy programme included a tour of Faircote House, now Pocklington School’s girls’ boarding house.

After being welcomed in fluent French by Pocklington School headmaster and former French teacher Toby Seth, they were shown round Faircote by its current housemistress Cassie Thackray, and Geoff Todd, who married Dr Fairweather’s daughter and lived at Faircote House before it was taken over by the school.

Other Pocklington activities included him representing Belgium in the D-Day memorial service – he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father in joining the Belgian military; visiting All Saints Church, which houses the Denison Triptych that was carved circa 1500 in Brussels where Albert was born; and St Mary and Joseph’s Roman Catholic church where he believes his father was baptised.

Albert also quickly developed a liking for all things Yorkshire, including Yorkshire Tea, and fish and chips at The Feathers, where he sang a word perfect rendition of the county anthem ‘On Ilkley Moor Bar Tat’ at the end of his meal.