Belgian Refugees in WW1
Belgian Refugees came to Hatfield Hyde in WW1
By Robert Gill
As the German Army invaded Belgium in WW1, a number of displaced Belgians sought escape to England where the British government offered ‘victims of war the hospitality of the British nation’. The Belgian refugees, who totaled over a quarter of a million people, were the largest refugee movement in British history. Towns across Hertfordshire became home for many of these refugees for the four year period of the war.
One of the main centres for refugees in Hertfordshire was Letchworth where there were some 2000 by the end of 1916, a quarter of the population.
A few came to Hatfield Hyde, now part of Welwyn Garden City, where the community found ways of providing shelter and general support. The Hatfield Parish magazine provides some insight at the time.
Extracts from the Hatfield Parish Magazine:
Visitors at the Hyde
There are at present two visitors at the Hyde. They come from Belgium: strangers in a strange land, they come among us as welcome friends. The soldiers of Belgium and our soldiers have been fighting together side by side. We owe a great debt to Belgium, and the presence of Belgians in our midst, whose homes have been ruined, is evidence that we acknowledge the debt. Others I fear may follow: they may rest assured of a kind welcome. By coming to us they confer a favour upon us, for they help us show our favour to them in a practical manner. The benefit of the visit will be mutual: they will have much to teach us and we shall have something in which they can learn from us.
An Iron Building having been placed at the disposal of Belgian Refugees is being fitted up to accommodate eight or ten of these most deserving people, who may be expected very shortly. The organisers of the plan would be thankful for offers of anything suitable in the way of furniture – from a teapot to a bedstead, from a blanket to a duster – also contributions towards their maintenance. They feel sure that many will be glad to have this opportunity of showing their sympathy in a practical form.
The Iron Building has been furnished. The house is now ready rent free. An executive committee was set up to manage the Belgian Refugee arrangements. The first family has been identified, the Meyers family from Blankenberghe whose town has been overrun by the Germans. Secretary of the committee is Miss Tweedie of Ludwick Corner.
The Belgian colony now numbers 20.
1. A family of 10 occupy an Iron Building at Peartree, 7 are children.
2. A family live next door to the Hyde Post Office.
3. A family live with Mrs William Sharp.
4. A man lives with Mrs Hawkins, he has lost contact with his wife, last seen in Liege.
Miss Christian Tweedie left Ludwick to go to Le Harve to work at the No 12 Hospital, Crouix Rouge.
Gifts continue to arrive for the refugees.
A child was born in August to Belgian parents.
A family left to go to Paris.
No further mention of the Belgian Refugees in the magazine.
Notes: The location of the Iron Building, Hyde Post Office and houses of Mrs Sharp and Mrs Hawkins are still being investigated.