Belgian Refugees

Over a million Belgians fled from the threat of the German armies during the early days of the war, amounting to almost one-sixth of the country’s population. Initially, most were received in Holland, France and Britain. In September 1914 Herbert Samuel, the President of the Local Government Board, announced to the House of Commons that the British Government had offered hospitality to the victims of the war and that arrangements were in place for their transport and accommodation. The War Refugees Committee, a voluntary body, arranged for them to be met at ports and stations, found temporary hostels for them and tried also to secure work for them. The arrival in Britain of some 250,000 Belgian refugees constitutes the largest refugee movement in British history.
In the early days of the war some 64,500 Belgian refugees arrived in Folkestone, Kent where they were given food and shelter and assistance with onward journeys. A Tunbridge Wells committee was formed, chaired by the Mayor, and a relief fund launched to collect subscriptions of money, including £5 from Olive Walton. Donations of linen, furniture and household items were also requested whilst the NUWSS Clothing Depot in Crescent Road accepted donations of clothing.
On a single day in October 1914 thirty-five new Belgian arrivals were received by ladies from the Tunbridge Wells Belgian Refugees Committee. The Tunbridge Wells Advertiser marked the occasion by noting the ‘unrepayable debt which France and England owe to their smaller ally as a result of the glorious stand at Leige, when for a time the sons of Belgium practically held the fates of two great nations in their hands’. The group was offered accommodation in private homes and local lodging houses in Dudley Road, Upper Grosvenor Road and Southborough. Thirteen were housed at Grosvenor Lodge in the charge of Mrs Le Lacheur. It is notable that many of the committee members and other active supporters of the refugee relief initiative, such as the Le Lacheurs, Amelia Scott and Susan Power were also prominent local suffragists. The NUWSS, in addition to turning its premises in Crescent Road over to war relief work, used the network and the organisational skills developed through the suffage campaign in working to support the refugees. This field of women's war work, which reflects the broad horizons of their interests, united those who were otherwise divided over the war and British foreign policy.

The October 1914 funeral of Belgian soldier Louis Marx was held at Tonbridge with full military honours and the death in March 1916 of Mme Rosalie Gebruers, who had lived at 43 Grosvenor Road, the event was announced in the pages of the local press.

Illustrated album/ presentation book presented to Amelia and Louisa Scott for their work with Belgium refugees in Tunbridge Wells during the First World War; dedicated to ‘Mesdemoiselles Scott’ and tied with ribbon made in the colours of the Belgian Flag

source: The Women's Library

Post-card sent to Amelia Scott from Belgian refugees: source: The Women's Library
source: The Women's Library