How our soldiers received news from home
The Dreissen family organized a bold correspondence service for soldiers and even the Belgian government in WWI.
Right from the beginning of hostilities in 1914, the Dreissen family established a free and regular correspondence service for soldiers between the front, Holland and Belgium. They also handled mail for the Belgian government and diplomacy in The Hague.
World War I may now be more than a century behind us, but it still captures the imagination of today’s generations. On the one hand already distant in memory, and on the other hand still so tangibly present, especially where the front lines formed, as in Belgium and France. Every family has one or more war stories.
I know some stories like that, but recently I discovered a war history I had not heard of. I found this war story so exciting to discover that I could already see it playing out before my eyes like a movie. It began with finding a May 30, 1919 article in the Belgian newspaper Le Peuple.
Correspondence service between soldiers and the home front
It is my great-great-grandfather Jérome Dreissen who, together with his three sons (Alphonse, François and Jean), his brother Léon Dreissen and Mr. Jean Van Dyck from Velsen (Netherlands), organized a correspondence service for soldiers between the front, the Netherlands and Belgium. Even the Belgian government and diplomacy used their service.
When World War I broke out in 1914, my great-great-grandfather Jérome Dreissen, born Hieronimus Gerardus Dreissen, was 47 years old and a successful fishmonger at the fish market in Brussels. His eldest son, Alphonse Dreissen, then 21 years old, was called under arms and conscripted into the Belgian army as a machine gun soldier (8 Line 1/III). Wife Jeanne Van Roy , 41, and sons François and Jean, aged 17 and 14 respectively at the start of the war, worked in the fish trade.
Jéromes brother, Léon Dreissen , was then 35 and working at the Ministry of Public Works, Bridges and Roads Department.
Jean Van Dyck, like Jérome, is a fishmonger from Velsen, near IJmuiden in North Holland. Fishing appears to be the common thread throughout this story.
Le Service J.D.R.W.
The clandestine courier service that the Dreissen family had established with Mr. Van Dyck was christened Le Service J.D.R.W. . What exactly that abbreviation stands for is beyond me. Nowhere did I find that abbreviation elsewhere. Are the first two letters the initials of Jérome Dreissen? Perhaps.
The organization of this covert Service J.D.R.W. must have been a perilous undertaking under the German occupation. Needless to say, they had to overcome countless difficulties. There was always a high risk of being caught by the German army or the“Krauts”, as they were called. The danger of being captured, or worse paying for it with one’s life, was real.
Jerome Dreissen had to cross the Dutch border several times to consult with Jean Van Dyck and son Alphonse at the front.
A real post office
The first letters they distributed to the home front in Belgium came from the front that Alphonse had collected with the help of others in the organization. Among others, he had the help of Belgian military chaplain Mr. Van den Heuvel.
Despite the difficult and risky organization with dangerous obstacles, the mobile correspondence service grew rapidly. A real post office was even established.
The Kraut Guard
Once or twice a week, mail was sent to Belgium. To pull this off, Mr. Van Dyck had to leave Velsen at dusk and make his way through the woods to IJmuiden to bypass customs. When he reached IJmuiden, he discreetly packed the correspondence he had with him and hid it at the bottom of a fish basket. He then shipped them, along with other baskets of fish, by boat or train to Brussels.
This is where the difficulties in unloading the precious packages arose. They had to get around the active vigilance of the Kraut guard. Under the intelligent direction of Jerome Dreissen, his two sons and his brother Léon brought the packages loaded on trucks to his home in Brussels.
German control of Belgians on the Dutch border, 1914-1918
A comprehensive team
The mail was then sorted and in the distribution work a whole team assisted him: Jerome’s wife Jeanne Van Roy, his sons, his brother Léon Dreissen and his wife Nathalie Van Ransbeeck and Miss Beernaerts. Miss Beernaerts in particular was responsible for “Le Mot du Soldat – The Soldier’s Word,” another clandestine organization that took it upon itself to bring letters from front-line soldiers to their families and vice versa1. Vicar Fransen also participated in the distribution.
Answers were sent to Holland in the same way, with the correspondence hidden in empty baskets.
Fish traders and the Belgian government and diplomacy
In early 1915, Mr. Antoine De Bueger requested 2 , his brother Georges De Bueger, both Brussels fishmongers, his brother-in-law and pastry chef, Mr. Theyus, Mrs. Joséphine De Bueger and Mr. Jacobs, asked Mr. Jerome Dreissen for help. It was impossible for them to send or receive their very important mail because they were in a German prison or detention. The mail was to be collected from Joseph De Bueger, chairman of General Intelligence and Security Service (ADIV), at the Belgian delegation in The Hague. Jerome Dreissen eagerly crossed the border to The Hague.
Shortly thereafter, Auguste Leys, a painter from Brussels and also held in a German prison, asked Jerome Dreissen for the same services. Mr. Leys was in charge of cards for the Red Cross.
Hundreds of thousands of letters were sent and received. Mail weighing up to 65 pounds each was brought into the country. But the difficulties increased.
As a precaution, Jerome Dreissen came up with the idea of setting up a telegraph service between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. It was Mr. Van Dyck’s uncle, Karel Scheidt, of Elberfeld, Germany, who took charge of sending these telegrams in good faith. He thought he was receiving orders of fish for his cousin. The telegrams were worded as follows: “Send red mullet”, which meant “Send mail,” and “Suspend shipments of red mullet”.
For those who are not fishmongers or fish lovers, red mullet, or simply mullet, is said to be a tasty fish caught in the North Sea and the English Channel, among others. It was sporadically caught along the coasts of the Low Countries in the last century, especially in summer.
Jerome’s two youngest sons, François Dreissen – meanwhile also a full-fledged fishmonger on Lourdes Street in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek – and young Jean Dreissen, delivered the mail packages of these middlemen to their destinations.
Top left: The mail carrier makes his rounds with the Belgian soldiers
Bottom left: Postal distribution on the Iron Front
Right: Letter from a Belgian soldier.
German customs often confiscated packages and fish, but Le Service J.D.R.W. was one of the services that escaped enemy surveillance and, despite the unspeakable dangers, supported the morale of Belgian soldiers and their families.
When fish imports were banned, the transport of letters in fish baskets ceased, but the soldiers were relieved to the putrid smell of their letters.
Do you know more about J.D.R.W.? Or about the relationships mentioned with the Dreissen family (Jean Van Dyck, the De Bueger family, Messrs. Jacobs and Theyus, …)? Your info is certainly welcome. Contact me via the contact form or leave a message below. Thank you!
- Wikimonde – Biography of Philippe Baucq
- La Libre Belgique, 25/9/1932, p.2 – Le contingement du poisson
- Le Soir, 31/5/1921, p. 3 – Cour d’assises d’Hainaut
- Le Soir, 22/12/1933, p. 5 – Advertisement Poissonnerie Antoine De Bueger
- Le Soir, 9/12/1910, p. 3 – Advertisement Poissonnier Georges De Bueger
- Le Soir, 7/12/1924, p. 4 – Obituary Joseph De Bueger
- Le Peuple, 30/5/1919, p. 3 – Comment nos Soldats recevaient des Nouvelles du Pays
- Wikipedia, Red mullet (fish)