SLIDESHOW: The First World War - Belgian refugees

Throughout 2014, the Harrogate Advertiser series of newspapers is publishing photographs and stories from our archive room at Cardale Park to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.

Lucinda Abbott looks at Belgian refugees who arrived in Harrogate soon after the war started.

Archive image

Archive image

The outbreak of the First World War caused not only military casualties, but also civilian casualties - refugees.

Almost one quarter of a million Belgians fled to Britain after the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914. This was the largest contingent of refugees ever to come to England.

There was some anti-Belgian sentiment, but overall the Belgians integrated smoothly into the British community and were overwhelmed with sympathy and support.

Many remained in Britain until the end of the war, when most of them then returned to Belgium.

The Harrogate Herald reported that Belgian refugees were starting to arrive in Harrogate.

A Belgian Refugees Relief Committee and Refugees Fund were soon set up, with a depot on Regent Street. The first meeting of the committable was held on September 11, 1914 in the Council Chamber in Municipal Buildings.

The committee appealed urgently for clothing, furniture, carpets, bookshelves, soap, tools and writing materials.

On October 21, 1914, the ‘Herald reported that around 150 refugees had been allocated various accommodation around Harrogate.

This figure had doubled by the next month, when the ‘Herald reported on November 11, 1914, that there were 300 Belgian refugees in Harrogate.

During the previous week the passports of the refugees had been examined for police registration purposes and found to be satisfactory.

The ‘Herald said this was an exciting occasion, as many of the Belgians saw friends and acquaintances who they had not seen since leaving their own country.

But 30 or 40 of the male guests would shortly be leaving, as the Belgian government had requisitioned all Belgians between the ages of 18 and 35 to for military service.

Those who did not volunteer before November 15,1914 would be commanded to join and a list of eligible men was made by the Belgian Relief Committee.

A Belgian Institute was set up at 11 Westminster Terrace on Victoria Avenue in Harrogate in November 1914 and opened by the Mayor.

The house, lent by Miss Willey, of Wetherby, was to be used as a recreation house for the refugees.

It was also hoped to have workrooms and to offer English lessons. More houses were being prepared for the accommodation of the refugees such as on Kent Road, East Parade and Regent Parade and Cold Bath Road.

Harrogate man Mr J R Ogden’s house in Spring Grove was put forward to accommodate refugees. Straight away it was furnished and a party of twenty moved in, who seemed very happy and contented in their new abode (PIC).

The manager of St James’ Picture Palace in Harrogate kindly offered a pass for all the 300 refugees to go and watch an afternoon show there, as a practical way of showing sympathy for the distressed people from Belgium.

The Belgian Relief Committee wished to thank the ‘Herald for placing such an enormous amount of valuable space at their disposal without charge.

On November 18, 1914, the ‘Herald said Harrogate was doing splendidly and is anxious to do more for the refugees, and that such public spirit is greatly appreciated by the committee and by the inhabitants of Harrogate.

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Read more First World War stories at the Great War section of our website