“A contingent of Belgian refugees reached Aberystwyth on Saturday evening by the express train from Euston and received a hearty welcome by inhabitants. The adults are distinguished professional teachers, musicians and painters, of a high station in life. The maintenance of a large number of the refugees has been undertaken by a well known benefactor.” Cambrian News and Merioneth Standard excerpt, October 9th 1914
‘We doubt whether, in the history of Rhyl, such a huge demonstration depicting sincerity and enthusiasm has been witnessed … to excel that which took place on Tuesday afternoon on the occasion of the arrival of the Belgian refugees’. Rhyl Journal excerpt, October 10th 1914.
The media excerpt above contrast sharply with the narratives of refugees we see in today’s press and tabloids 100 years later, in a time of relative prosperity. Yet in 1914 Wales welcomed over 4,500 Belgian Refugees fleeing Flanders Fields, as the conflict of WW1 consumed their homes; and whilst most returned, we are uncovering today an indelible contribution they made towards Welsh culture, arts and civil society – including the Black Chair of Hedd Wyn, one of most potent symbols of WW1’s lost generation. As the European refugee crisis unfolds 100 years later, what can we learn from the past, towards peace today?
In Feb 2016, WCIA‘s Wales for Peace project in partnership with the David Davies Memorial Institute at Aberystwyth University launched a call to gather together ‘hidden histories’ of over 4,500 Belgian Refugees for whom Wales became home through the First World War – stimulated by a public lecture by Christophe Declercq, one of the UK’s leading experts on the topicfrom UCL and the Amsab Institute / University of Ghent, and UK liaison of Belgian Refugees 1914-18.
- View Wales for Peace / Belgian Refugees in Rhyl Lecture article, 24 May 2016.
- Spring 2016 Belgian Refugees Storygathering Tour – ‘Storify’ summary of media and social media coverage.
Belgian Refugees – Hidden Histories Resources and Stories from around Wales
- View Belgian Refugees stories on our Peace Map
- View Belgian Refugees Volunteer Blogs
- How to find records of Belgian Refugees in the UK 1914-18 (database) and Finding Belgian Refugees in Wales – article by Lorna M Hughes.
- How did Britain handle its biggest wave of refugees ever? BBC iWonder Guide, 2014 accompanying R4 ‘Home Front’ series.
- Rhyl, Denbighshire – Refugees in Rhyl Project and Blog Piece following Wales for Peace Belgian Refugees lecture at Little Theatre, Rhyl
- Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd – the Black Chair of WW1 War Poet Hedd Wyn, carved by Flemish carver Eugene van Fleteren.
- Menai Bridge, Gwynedd – the Belgian Promenade, built 1916 as a gift from the refugees of Mechelen to the people of Bangor area, and blog piece.
- Criccieth, Gwynedd – committee for Belgian Refugees and rehoming supported by Margaret and Megan Lloyd George,
- Cemmaes Heritage Centre, Gwynedd – 1923 Eisteddfod Chair carved by Van Eyck (WCIA volunteer blog)
- Llandinam, Powys – The Davies family and Belgian refugee artists & musicians in Wales (National Library of Wales Journal, 1981) and Gregynog Festival celebrates contribution of Belgian Refugees, 2014 (and the work of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies)
- Aberystwyth – Belgian Refugees at Aberystwyth University, Belgian poet Verhaeren in Aberystwyth 1914 and Refugees Welcome Centenary Concert Feb 2016 at Capel y Garn (BBC coverage)
- Llanwenog, Ceredigion – A Wartime History Recorded in Wood Carvings (BBC Feature) by WW1 Belgian Refugee and leading wood-carver Joseph Reubens; Download Church Guide.
- Milford Haven & Tenby – building on centuries old ties between Pembrokeshire and Flemish fishing communities – with an existing local population before WW1 – Milford accepted over 1,000 refugees following the outbreak of war. View Belgian Refugees 14-18 Blog, Belgian memorial, Laugharne Memorial, and call for Hidden Histories.
- Swansea – World War One: How Swansea helped refugees from Belgium (BBC Wales Article)
- Porthcawl, Glamorgan Gazette – Belgian Refugees Archive from 1914
- South Wales Valleys – ‘A Welcome in the Hillside’ Blog Piece.