Belgian Refugees of WW1

“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

Belgian Refugees welcomed to Rhyl, 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.

Belgian Refugees Wales for Peace Lecture by Christophe Declercq, Feb 2016 from WalesforPeace

Belgian Refugees – Hidden Histories Resources and Stories from around Wales