Monday, 14 April 2014

CFP: Responses to Belgian refugees in Britain during the First World War: a Symposium (University of Stirling)

Responses to Belgian refugees in Britain during the First World War: a Symposium
Tuesday 2 September, 2014, 9.30 – 17.30
C1 and C2, Pathfoot Building, University of Stirling

Keynote speakers

Professor Lorna Hughes, University of Wales Chair in Digital Collections, based in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, “Finding Belgian Refugees in Using digital resources for uncovering the hidden histories of the First World War in Wales”
Dr Rebecca Gill, Lecturer in Modern British History, University of Huddersfield, “Brave little Belgium arrives in the West Riding ... voluntary action, local politics, and the history of international relief work”

Call for Papers
The arrival of 250,000 refugees from Belgium was the largest single mass reception of refugees in British history. Despite accounting for three quarters of those from overseas resident in Britain during the war (Saunders) there has not been any in depth consideration of the experiences and wartime treatment of Belgian and the many thousands more refugees and migrants from allied or neutral nations who lived in or arrived in Britain in the course of the War (for example, Jewish and various other peoples, including Serbians, fleeing the impact of war in the Russian empire).  

This symposium aims to bring research into ‘official’ responses to Belgian and other refugees together with consideration of the refugees’ reactions to their residence in wartime Britain. The history of migrants from enemy nations living in Britain has been well covered by secondary literature; particularly on the internment and mass deportation of Germans (Panayi). In contrast, the only full length study in English of Belgian refugees in Britain by Cahalan focused on the work of middle class philanthropists in assisting the refugees. Yet, central and local government agencies worked alongside charitable effort to provide the housing, employment, education and medical care required by Belgian and other refugees.

Belgians sought wartime refuge only, the overwhelming majority had returned home by 1920. This is starkly illustrated by census figures for Belgians living in Britain of 4, 794 in 1911 rising to 9, 892 Belgians in 1921 quoted by Holmes. Mass repatriation of Belgians was begun at the end of 1918 funded by the Belgian government and administered by the Local Government Board and Ministry of Transport. This rapid return did not prevent questions in parliament on the potential cost to Britain of the repatriation process (Kushner). This symposium aims to shed light on a group whose mass wartime presence is often unremarked and has been largely unrecorded.

Papers may consider (but are not limited to) the following:
·         Central government and refugees
·         Local responses to Belgian and other refugees
·         Refugee voices
·         Charitable arrangements
·         Class, gender and religious difference in the treatment of refugees
·         Police and press attitudes
·         Anti-alienisim
·         Britain’s ‘tradition’ as a place of refuge
·         Repatriation

Papers of 30 minutes are sought. Please send 250 word abstracts to Dr Jacqueline Jenkinson by 15 June 2014.

This symposium is free to attend but numbers are limited. To reserve a place please contact Dr Stuart Salmon at:

 The symposium is funded by a personal research grant [SG122197] from the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust – ‘British government policy and reactions towards Belgian refugees during the First World War.’

Belgian soldiers in Britain

With more than a quarter of a million of Belgians registered in Britain, many of whom were soldiers who never enlisted but worked in the British war industry, the line between a soldier and a refugee able man was a fine one.

At Leicester Welford Road cemetery nine Belgians are buried, all of whom were soldiers who had been treated for their wounds, but succumbed nonetheless.

The period in which most of them passed away concerned the October and November weeks of 1914 (30-31 October and 1-5-9-12-17 November), whereas after that the dates concerned 20 September 1915 and 1 August 1918.

Picture by Adam Llewellyn

With five soldiers from Walloonia and three from Flanders, the balance seems a bit towards the French-speaking part of Belgium. However, much more striking is the anonymous soldier. The man himself must have felt incredibly lonely in the safehaven that accommodated him. Most likely not able to speak English, even not at all, he was not recognised by any other member of the Belgian army.

Another awkward story emerges from the Belgian soldiers buried in Leicester. Martijn Cauwenbergh, from Mechelen, has listed as his last post of military service the Boulangerie militaire Bourbourg... 

More information on

WarMemorials Archive (this site mentions 7 people only)