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Belgian Refugees

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per ardua per mare per terram

I've seen various references to Belgian refugees, but no break downs. Are there any sources that give statistics on how many came, how they came, where they went? and who paid for them?

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Tony Lund

I have no figures, but I have the text of some letters dealing with the refugees that appeared in the Holmfirth Express during the war. The tiny village of Holme received refugees a while before any arrived at much larger Holmfirth. It seems they were shared out throughout the country and maintained by their host communities. The letters explain quite a bit, and are included below.

Tony.

October 1914.

A family of five Belgian refugees moved into a house which had been supplied and furnished by the Holme Urban District Council. In a letter to the Holmfirth Distress Committee, Mr. J. Hadfield, clerk to the council, said that although the people of Holme would do all that they could for the family they could not maintain them without outside help. At a meeting of the Holmfirth Distress Committee, Doctor Robert Trotter reported that eight houses at Magnum had been offered rent free for use by Belgian refugees, and the only problem was their isolation, he added that Charlie Tinker had been out collecting furniture.

In a letter to the editor of the Holmfirth Express published on October 31st, the Reverend John Foster Beamish explained the situation regarding the Belgian Refugees: “Sir, An appeal appeared in your paper last week signed by the Chairman of Holmfirth and New Mill Distress Committees, asking the public of this district to subscribe to a fund now being raised, for the purpose of providing homes in our neighbourhood for a certain number of Belgian Refugees. As a member of the sub-committee appointed by the Holmfirth Distress Committee to carry on this work, may I trespass upon your valuable space for the purpose of explaining to the public what we have already done, and what we intend doing.

“As readers of the ‘Express’ no doubt know, many large towns and county boroughs, including Huddersfield and the West Riding County Council, have made themselves responsible to the Government to provide homes for large numbers of Belgians. The Wakefield Distress Committee therefore communicated with the numerous distress sub-committees, such as Holmfirth and New Mill, asking them to take as many families as they could, and provide homes for them. For this purpose the above two committees have now amalgamated.

“A certain Mr. Lindley kindly offered to New Mill six cottages situated at Magnum, free of rent. Needless to say his offer was accepted, subject to the approval of the West Riding Distress Committee (which consent has not yet been obtained). Mrs. Tinker of Meal Hill, has most kindly offered to furnish two, and possibly three of the cottages aforesaid; and the committee are now appealing to the public for gifts of furniture for this purpose. As both committees have now sanctioned the scheme the district is responsible for the upkeep of six families, roughly speaking, from 25 to 30 persons, probable cost £1 per family per week, £6 a week until the war is over. We are informed that the funds already raised and in the hands of the Distress Committee cannot be used for this purpose, hence our appeal for fresh funds.

“This means that if we keep these families for, say six months, a sum of at least £150 will be needed. Can we rely upon the public for this money? The Holmfirth Distress Committee were of the opinion that the money would be easily raised and put at the disposal of the committee. I am informed that the little hamlet of Holme has made itself responsible for two families, and are now considering about applying for a third; if they can do this, surely we can accomplish the task we have now undertaken; of course there are many difficulties confronting us, and objections to the scheme can easily be raised.

“The site, for instance, has been objected to. It has been said that it is a shame to send people to such an out of the world spot, but in our case there was no choice; houses are not to be had here; we have not got proper house room for our own people. When a young couple get married they find great difficulty in securing comfortable homes. But is Magnum any wilder and more ungetatable than parts of Belgium? If we can secure, as I am told we can, families of the peasant class, they will be quite satisfied with a country district; besides, surely we are not expected to provide every sort of comfort or luxury, it is temporary homes that these poor people require and no more, therefore I for one am quite satisfied with Magnum.

“Surely we owe these people a debt of gratitude. They have lost all in the war, their country is in the hands of a ruthless enemy, their homes destroyed and many of their people slain, and it might have been us but for the heroic stand made by the Belgians. I know some people’s hearts have been touched, and I know the committee’s appeal will not be in vain.

“We shall arrange for a place in Holmfirth to which all gifts of furniture and household stuff may be sent. Gifts of money will be received at the bank or by the secretary Mr. Booth Turton (Council Offices, Holmfirth), and Mr. Eli E. Quarmby, Upperbridge, or by the clerk to New Mill Distress Committee, or by any member of both sub-committees.

“If the County Relief Committee reject the Magnum scheme and refuse to send us any refugees, of course the whole scheme falls to the ground. In my opinion, we who live in this district, far and remote from war and bloodshed, with trade booming in our midst and no poverty or distress amongst us, are bound to show our thankfulness in a practical manner by doing what we can for these poor people, who have lost all in what is really our behalf, for the war was aimed at England, and Belgium only came first. Thanking you for inserting this letter, faithfully yours, J. F. Beamish. Upper Thong Vicarage, Holmfirth. Oct. 29th, 1914.”

November 1914.

At a meeting of the Holmfirth Distress Committee the situation regarding preparations to receive Belgian refugees was discussed, and it was stated that six houses would be ready by the end of the week, and the people of Scholes were furnishing two of them. Mr J. Woodhead said that although efforts had been made to find refugee families the supply had run out, however there was a promise of two hundred and fifty to the West Riding of Yorkshire by special train within a week. He added that in the West Riding many requests had been made for refugees of the agricultural class, he pointed out that there were many refugees of the better class, but he assumed they would not want that class in this district, and, until some more Belgian refugees arrived from Holland there was little they could do. He added that although it would be better if there were no refugees needing help, in his opinion it was very unsatisfactory to have houses ready and no refugees.

The Reverend J. F. Beamish thought it rather amusing, they had everything ready but no refugees. Mr. Woodhead replied “I make a point of telephoning Wakefield every day to see if any have turned up. We are practically certain to get some later on”. The Reverend Beamish agreed, “They may be here at any moment. The thing is to get ready.”

December 1914.

On Tuesday 15th Belgium refugee families arrived in the area and were housed at Magnum, the refugees were reported to be comfortable and most grateful.

In an appeal in the Express, Alice Tinker asked: “Sir, May I ask through your paper for any small luxury for the Belgium refugees at Magnum? Wishing to make their Xmas as happy as possible, we shall be most grateful for any fruit, dried or fresh, cakes etc., and any small gifts. We are expecting three more families any day. I think Mr. Wadsworth will allow any parcel to be left with him in Victoria Street, being so central. Your faithfully. Alice M. Tinker. Meal Hill, near Huddersfield. December 18th, 1914.”

January 1915.

A letter of thanks written to the Holmfirth Express by a Belgium refugee early in the New Year was interpreted by Raymond Maenhout, it said: “Dear Holmfirth people. We real Belgiums cannot wait any longer to thank you with all our hearts for your great kindness in helping we poor Belgium people, who have lost all that we held in material possessions. We have received from you furniture and other things for our comfort as freely as if you had been our parents. Our lot is a hard one, because the Germans made an unexpected charge upon us, an educated people, as though we had been outlaws. They came and destroyed even the temples of God in which we used to pray, and of which we thought a great deal.

“We call it murder on the part of those who so ruthlessly killed our brothers, and caused others of us to flee from both towns and cities. Shame we cry on those who have taken our goods and money. They who do such things are not worthy of their name or race. We are very thankful indeed to those who have helped us, and we know that they will never be forgotten. The world will speak with love for you English people for your goodness to us. We therefore as a last request ask you to help us to capture that horrible race who have destroyed our little, but comfortable and beautiful Belgium. The end of this war we think will educate the nations. Again we thank you, our friends, a thousand times for the provision that you have made for us. Oh, England! Oh, Belgium! Oh, the Allies! Hasten to bring good success to all on our side. Yours very gratefully, Egred Beart.”

May 1915.

In a letter to the Holmfirth Distress Committee the Reverend Beamish explained the activities of the Belgium Relief Committee: “Dear Mr. Hirst,- I regret that I was unable to answer your letter by return of post. I think I can give you the information which you desire.

(1) Amount now in hand for the Belgium Relief Fund, £303 18s. 10d.

(2) We have six families and are applying for another: Three families at Magnum, eight persons; one family at Holmfirth (Square), four persons; one family at Scholes and one family at Larks House, number of persons not known.

(3) Up to last week we paid Mrs. Lindley, of Magnum, £4 10s. a week. She catered for four families (12 persons); each adult was given of this money 1/- a week pocket money. Out of the money given Mrs. Lindley she has saved a sum of £9 for the committee. I have not got her account by me so I cannot give you the exact figures. As there are only three families at Magnum now we only paid Mrs. Lindley £3 6s. last week.

“I regret that I cannot in a letter like this explain about the families at Scholes and Larks House. Mrs. Tinker, of Meal Hill, kindly catered for them; we paid her at the same rate - £1 per week per family and 1/- pocket money. From December 29th, 1914, to February 2nd, 1915, Mrs. Tinker was paid £21 3s. 11d. She has not since sent an account. Regular work has been found for three of the Belgium men and one woman; 25% per week of his wages is given to the worker, 25% is taken by our committee, and 50% is put in the bank in the name of the refugee by one of our committee, to be given to him when he returns to Belgium. All the accounts of the committee have been audited and found correct, and we are now in full working order, and as far as I know everything is satisfactory.

“I regret I am not able to speak personally about the two families in the New Mill district. I could not undertake to give information about them. I understand that Mrs. Tinker is most kindly looking after them, but I would like to be supplied with their names and the number of persons in each family so that I could enter them in a book kept for that purpose. I shall be most pleased at any time to supply you with any information in my possession.”

September 1916.

Holmfirth Belgium Refugee Committee received a letter from the Belgium refugees living at Magnum which subsequently appeared in the Holmfirth Express The letter read:

“To the members of the Holmfirth Belgium Refugee Committee,- Dear Sirs,- Excuse us if we take the liberty of sending you this letter of thanks. Nearly two years ago we were obliged to leave our home to free ourselves of German cruelty. We had to leave everything that was dear to us, and did not know where to go or what would become of us. While we were in trouble tidings came that England would protect the Belgiums and receive them with open arms. What had we to do? Stay where we were or cross the wide sea, strangers in a foreign country. Yes, sirs, it was hard, and we were told untrue things of England from people in Holland. At last we decided to go. We waited for our landing full of fear, but as soon as we stepped on British soil we felt that our suffering would be over. Thousands of people were waiting to welcome us, and what about Holmfirth and Magnum. We shall never forget it. We still see Mrs Lindley, Mr Quarmby, and many other honourable persons whom we cannot remember. Whatever they were saying we could not understand. The only thing that we could make out was that we were welcome. We have always been very satisfied and pleased to have your advice and help. We were obliged to leave our parents, brothers and sisters. Here we found them back again. Yes, you have always been to us like a good father to his children. We found in Mrs. Lindley a good mother, and the people of Holmfirth and Magnum brothers and sisters.

“Oh, dear sirs, we do wish we could write to you in our own language to show you our thankfulness. But we think you will be able to understand what we feel in the depths of our hearts. We came here in fear, but we shall go back, we hope, very happy, thanks to you and the other Holmfirth people. Once more, dear sirs, thank you. We hope we may soon have peace and victory.”

The Reverend Beamish pointed out that the writer did not know one word of English when he first arrived, and said the committee were very pleased to receive the letter, although they did not need or want any thanks.

January 1919

A Belgium refugee wrote to the Holmfirth Express with a request that the letter be published, saying:

“To the Belgium Refugees Committee. - Now that the time is drawing near when we shall be able to return to our native land, we hope that some day we may be able to return the kindness that has been shown us. Thanks to you all at Holme and the many friends we have made nearby. You will always be in our thoughts. We shall never forget all the goodness done to us and for us since we came here. We also wish you all every success for the coming years of life.”

Wednesday 5th February 1919.

The last remaining Belgium refugees left the area. Seventeen people gathered at the council office and accompanied by the Reverend Beamish they traveled to Huddersfield in Mr. Castle’s motor bus and two motor cars. There they joined a larger group and traveled on to Hull. They departed for Antwerp on the steamer Plassey.

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Old Featherbed

No exact figures but there were several thousand in Glasgow during the First World War

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Anthony Bagshaw

Here in Mansfield Woodhouse they had approx 500. The local residents of the time donated furniture, money clothes etc, let me dig out the newspaper report..............

post-2154-1183582961.jpg

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zijde26

A lot of refugees were in Birtley.

My grand-parents were however in the very south of France.

Gilbert Deraedt :rolleyes:

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Bernard_Lewis

Some came to Swansea, but no further info.

Bernard

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stiletto_33853

A fair few came to Southend-on-Sea with a good few newspaper articles about them. Also some of the Belgian soldiers that were wounded were placed in the Queen Mary Hospital here.

Andy

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deano

if you google Belgian Refugee's you'll find that they were spread all over the uk.

not found any national figures.

here in sheffield i think there were a few thousand.

there is a memorial to them in sheffield city road cemetery.

Dean

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Alan Tucker

There were large numbers of Belgian refugees in Birmingham. Birmingham Reference Library has a large scrapbook of articles relating to them. There was also a big Belgian Camp near Durham where there disturbances over conditions.

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stuartd

Some ended up in Cornwall too and the newspapers of the time carry reports on them and teir arrival. This would be 1914 and 1915. I have no idea how many or where exactly they went, but I have an inkling that I recall many were housed and looked after by the wealthir elements of society looking to do their bit for the war effort.

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Kath

Sorry, wrong war, but I remember them coming to Mousehole - same kind of thing happened - collection of furniture. Although very young I remember my dismay at seeing a Victorian table top being nailed onto its pedestal.

My mother, previously in Newlyn with only me had to take in "Belgiques" as they were called.

Kath.

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Tom Morgan

There was a whole village built for then at Birtley - see THE BIRTLEY BELGIANS.

There is also one family that I know of who were provided with accommodation in Scotland.

Tom

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stuartd
Sorry, wrong war, but I remember them coming to Mousehole - same kind of thing happened - collection of furniture. Although very young I remember my dismay at seeing a Victorian table top being nailed onto its pedestal.

My mother, previously in Newlyn with only me had to take in "Belgiques" as they were called.

Kath.

Kath, when you say wrong war, is that a WW2 story of the Belgiques in Mousehole and Newlyn?

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Kath

Yes, 'fraid so.

Perhaps the post should be deleted.

:blush:

Kath.

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DaveBrigg

One or two attended Brigg Grammar School, where references were made to the difficulties with the language barrier. There were also refugees from Scarborough for a while, moved out after the town was shelled.

"Those who have joined us are Lawson, in the Fourth, who has left Scarborough for a safer seat of learning, Hepworth in the Third, Jackson and Smith in the First. Three weeks before the end of term we had the pleasure of welcoming the fifth arrival in the Form of Dotreppe, a Belgian from Dinant, near Namur. As he could not speak English-a language he picks up with great strides-we had to speak French.

It is wonderful what a little French you know at first, and what a lot you can pick up. It is almost second nature now for some boys to speak French; indeed, during the first few nights Dotreppe was here, some boys even dreamed in French. The trouble, however, lies in writing it."

Easter 1915

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Alan Tucker

From the reception area of Birmingham Council House...

post-17223-1183659714.jpg

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Moonraker

I entered "Belgian refugees" and "Belgium AND refugees" in The Times archive search box and got c220 hits in each case from August 1, 1914 to December 31, 1915. Obviously some of these are duplicate hits and the early ones refer to the situation in Belgium, but many appear to describe activities in this country.

In Wiltshire some Belgians worked on constructing the hutted camps for the Kitchener armies: these are men working at Rollestone, west of Lark Hill. I also have a card showing a tented camp for refugees at Charlton Park, near Malmesbury. East of Andover, some young refugees intrigued the locals by skinny-dipping in the River Test.

post-6017-1183713806.jpg

Moonraker

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mpjbrennan

There are 14 pages of photographs of the Belgian village at Birtley on the following site: (the link takes you to the first page)

http://isee.gateshead.gov.uk/info.php?v=1&...p;d=&page=0

The shell factory was operated by Armstrong Whitworth, but was under the sovereign control of the Belgian Government in exile.

Patrick

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clive_hughes

Per Ardua,

The Department of Printed Books at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth, has a collection of records of at least some of the local relief Committees set up to deal with Belgian refugees across the UK.

It was (back in the 1970s) listed under the Catalogue under the category "BEL.", and within my own North-west Welsh sphere of research I found at least eight committees, funds, and hostels who had submitted information. It isn't by any means a complete list of these local efforts, but at least a couple of hundred are recorded nationwide.

Looking at my old notes I think there must have been an appeal from the brand-new IWM in 1917 to gather records of all sorts of local war activity, including Land (agricultural & womens' war work) issues, refugees, benevolent organisations, relief funds and various other war associations.

The information I gathered all dates from mid-1917, including letters, financial accounts, and other documentation describing what had been done to date (or up to the point where the refugees had moved on, or the committee had ceased to function).

Hope this might be of use,

LST_164

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per ardua per mare per terram

Thanks to all, its building up and interesting picture.

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Old Featherbed

According to a leaflet published by the Corporation of Glasgow in March 1915 there was over 200,000 Belgian refugees in Britain of which 7,000 were based in Glasgow

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Bart150
According to a leaflet published by the Corporation of Glasgow in March 1915 there was over 200,000 Belgian refugees in Britain

Let's not be chauvinist. Belgian refugees who went to Britain were a minority. Many more went to Holland.

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Old Featherbed
Let's not be chauvinist. Belgian refugees who went to Britain were a minority. Many more went to Holland.

That may well be the case 'Bart150' but that wasn't the original question that was asked...

sc000993e4.jpg

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James Blonde

I have come across reference to some Belgian refugees ending up in Ireland when researching material towards the book I am working on, will have a look through my files for it with refernce where and when,

Connaught Stranger. :D

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