Belgian Refugees During the First World War

Many groups of people arrived in Surrey during the First World War, including refugees.

Belgian refugees began to arrive in England at the end of August 1914 and the numbers increased throughout the year. By the middle of 1915 there were well over 250,000 refugees nationally including 40,000 wounded soldiers. Initial shelter was found in places like Alexandra Palace and Earls Court in London but this was only temporary.

Appeals were made in newspapers and in letters to chairmen of county councils, urban district councils and mayors and in response 2000 local voluntary committees were formed offering relief and accommodation. People even offered rooms in their own homes.

SHC ref: AC/1321/7/11/6

SHC ref: AC/1321/7/11/6

Churches also helped. In the minutes of a trustee’s meeting at Putney Methodist church, held on 11 March 1918, it was noted that a group of Belgian refugees had just left church premises after 4 years residence.

Details of the Belgian refugees housed in Surrey can often be found in local council records, and those produced by the Weybridge Urban District Council are particularly detailed. They include Belgian Fund accounts, correspondence and papers relating to the use of a house named Milston on Monument Hill and another called Lindale on Thames Street, for housing refugees, and embarkation papers for when the Belgians were repatriated home in 1919. In the archive there is also a card index of the refugees who arrived in Weybridge, listed by family name and giving names and ages of children, addresses and the assistance given. This picture shows the cards listing just two of the Belgian families who lived at Milston; the Pylisier and Wagemans families.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Click here to download a pdf (PDF) copy of a list of Surrey History Centre sources relating to First World War Belgian refugees.

County remembers looFind out more about Surrey in the Great War: a county remembers.

Some useful online links:

Online Centre for Research on Belgian Refugees (based at UCL):
Their Twitter feed is @belgianrefugees

World War One: How 250,000 Belgian refugees didn’t leave a trace:

Europe on the move: refugees and World War One:

One thought on “Belgian Refugees During the First World War”

  1. Jenny Hayford says:

    My mother came as a young child with her mother and granfather to Sheffield. Her name was Rosalie Peeters.
    Her mother`s name was stephania Van Dooren
    Her grandfather …….Peeters
    They came from Mechelen, Belgium in 1914
    My mother wrote her Memoirs all about Sheffield, Newcastle, Blackpool and I translated them in English now.
    Could i send them somewhere ?
    its very historic…..

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