Decorated war hero who lived quietly in town

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A book has been released on a decorated war hero who lived in Eastbourne after being awarded an MBE for services to British intelligence.

The book on Margriet Poolman has been penned by Janet Dean.

She writes, “In the 1970s few of the neighbours in Sidley Road knew that the elderly Belgian lady who crossed the street in her apron to the corner shop was a decorated war hero, awarded the MBE in 1919 for services to British Intelligence.

“She had lived quietly in the town since 1920, marrying Sidney Poolman, a man ten years her junior who had been invalided out of the army and sent to Eastbourne as a ‘Blue Boy’ to recuperate from a serious bullet wound.

“As casualties of war they had plenty in common. Margriet learned English, called herself Margaret, settled down to have a family and tried forget the tragedy she had left behind in Belgium.

“At the outbreak of war in 1914 Margriet was so angry at the cruelty of the invading German forces that she joined a local priest and friend of the family, Father Felix Moons, who was setting up a group of undercover agents with the aim of assisting the Allies and undermining the army of occupation.

“Margriet’s father was a senior police officer in Kontich, the village near Antwerp where she lived with her parents and three sisters. She could easily steal blank passports and identity cards from the police station which could be forged and then given through Father Moons to young men hoping to cross the border and join the Allied forces.

“When the priest came to the attention of the German police he hid in the Ballegeer’s house for a year until betrayal meant he had to go underground.

“Margriet and her father were arrested, tried and found guilty of forgery. After her father’s release from prison in 1916, Margriet resumed her activities under the noses of the secret police, living with the constant threat of betrayal by collaborators.

“By 1917 she was working for Henri van Bergen, the leader of a spy network, with whom she had fallen in love and planned to marry. They co-ordinated a large number of agents, who collected and encrypted information about German troop movements within Belgium. This data was sent to neutral Rotterdam over the electrified fence and then to the British generals.

“In August of that year they were betrayed to the Germans, the whole network being rounded up and imprisoned. After a military trial she was condemned to death along with 24 of her colleagues and only reprieved the day before the death sentence was due to be carried out.

“Both van Bergen and Father Moons were executed in March 1918. After the Armistice, half starved and with her heart and spirit almost broken, she moved to England to recover.”

Now as we approach the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1 Margriet’s grand daughter Janet Dean (nee Baulcomb) has written an account of her exploits using the family archive.

Janet continued, “I thought I should do something with this story which was largely forgotten in my grandmother’s lifetime. I am sure there are people in Eastbourne who remember Margaret and Sidney Poolman and their daughters Irma and Gladys (my mother, who married Ron Baulcomb in 1949).”

Janet attended Eastbourne High school for Girls from 1963-70 but now lives in Kent.

The story is available as a PDF document published by Osprey at www.ospreypub or at www.ama