Having found the birthplace of Mr. Vanderdonck, we would have liked to see his grave. But I have no record of his burial-place, other than Brussels, a pretty big place.
I know only this about his end.
This letter, dated August 14, 1919, and written on Elk’s Club stationery, is sent to the city hall in Brussels. It asks “as the daughter of Alexis Egide Diuedonne Vanderdonck,” whether “my father is still alive.” It is signed Mrs. Theodore F. Jansen Vanderdonck, and gives the family’s address in Trenton, 209 Lamberton Street.
It seem s an odd letter. For one thing, I am not sure Grandmother wrote it. I never met her, but from what I’ve heard I can’t imagine her writing on Elks Club letterhead. More likely Grandfather Jansen wrote it, perhaps at her request. Perhaps on his own.
And why would anyone have to write to ask about a death? Surely those “doodbriefs” would have let the family know?
Yes, but World War I put an end to the free flow of letters. And “poor little Belgium” had suffered in that war.
On 2 August 1914 Germany issued an ultimatum to neutral Belgium, demanding permission to march through the country en route to Paris. The Germans assured the Belgian government that Belgium would suffer no territorial loss as a consequence of permission being granted.
But Belgium, under King Albert I, refused the troops passage. And so the German troops invaded Belgium, and that brought Britain into the war in Belgium’s defense.
German troops entered Brussels on August 20, 1914. Contemporary accounts tell of rows and rows, miles and miles, of German soldiers, marching in step for hours, their gray uniforms striking fear in those who saw them. The citizens of Brussels hid, with shutters and doors closed and locked, waiting for the German Army to pass.
They had reason to fear. In what came to be called “the Rape of Belgium,” German soldiers burned homes and exeuted civilians, including women and children, in the early days of the war.
None of this was witnessed by Mr. Vanderdonck, as the back of the Elks letter indicates.
Alexis Vanderdonck died in Brussels on the 22 of February, 1914, and was buried in Brussels on the 18th of September, 1919.