The Belgian - Canadian volunteer
Charles Boeyckens was born on November 13, 1887 in the Voortstraat 73 in Oppuurs. He was the third child and only son of Joseph Boeyckens (Oppuurs, May 26, 1849) and Maria Van Hoorebeeck (Brussels, 1852).
Father and mother married in April 1882.
His oldest sister, Maria, was born on August 30, 1883, and his youngest sister, Pauline, on February 12, 1885.
The children of the family Boeyckens became orphans early in life. Mother died on April 27, 1891, and father followed mother in the grave on May 14, 1893. After father's death, the sisters were placed in the boarding school (orphanage) in Willebroek.
The five-year-old Charles was taken in by Jan Vermeiren (born May 12, 1836), married to Joanna Verheyden (born February 27, 1925), and Charles moves to the Meirstraat 57 in Oppuurs.
Jan Vermeiren was an important man in the village. He was former secretary of the administrative committee of the Hospice of Oppuurs, then the local Center of Public Assistance.
The family Verheyden-Vermeiren had no children, hence probably, the “adoption” of Charles in the family.
Charles also had no luck here. On February 14, 1897, Joanna died and two years later, on December 27, 1899, Jan died. Charles was 12 years old when he was left orphaned a second time.
On July 13, 1900, the two sisters and brother went to live together in Eikenvliet. Mary was almost 17 years at that time and obtained permission to oversee her younger brother and sister.
Ten years later, in early November 1910, Charles took leave of his two sisters and he emigrated to Canada. He left on the steamer Montezuma. Three days after his 23rd birthday the Montezuma moored in Quebec. Charles went through the immigration procedures, including compulsory quarantine, and settled in Winnipeg. He was earning his keep as a farmer.
On November 7, 1914, WWI was three months underway, Charles Boeykens joined as a volunteer with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force in Winnipeg. He was trained as a chauffeur and attached to the 5th Field Artillery Brigade.
A copy of his militia certificate learns us that Charles was not married and that his sisters had settled in Antwerp. From the physical description of Charles on that certificate we learn further that he was a rather pale young man of 5 ft 8’ with blue eyes and light brown hair. The medical examination found no problems.
After basic training, Charles came to Europe with his unit. It is quite possible that this happened with the same ship on which he emigrated. The Montezuma was a passenger ship of the Canadian Pacific Line and it had been converted into a troopship in 1914.
The 5th Field Artillery Brigade was quartered in barracks in camp Otterspool near Folkestone, English port city in the south of the country. There they would receive specific training by soldiers who had already received their fire baptism at an earlier stage of the war.
On October 13, 1915, the camp was attacked and bombed by a German Zeppelin. Along with 14 other Canadian soldiers Charles died in the attack.
Today his remains are buried at the military cemetery of Folkestone. At the same cemetery the remains of 18 other Belgian soldiers are buried (see on this website: Belgian soldiers who died abroad and were buried in the United Kingdom).
Oppuurs can prepare to commemorate the centenary of the death of their hero, next October 15, 2015.
This article is the result of a collaboration with historians Jos Winckelmans and Gert Van Kerckhoven,
living in the town of Puurs, of which Oppuurs has become a district.
of Peter and Annie Bamford of the Folkestone Local History Society.
Thanks also to Cara MacDonald of the Canadian Museum of Immigration.