Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Belgische vluchtelingen in Engeland - op zoek naar familiegegevens



Mensen uit Vlaanderen zijn vaak op zoek naar archieven, databanken en onderzoekers die hen kunnen verder helpen in het vinden van verdere gegevens uit deze of gene familiegeschiedenis waarin Belgische vluchtelingen in het Verenigd Koninkrijk centraal staan. 

Echter, er bestaat geen enkele centrale digitale databank met alle verblijfsgegevens. Alle materiaal verzamelen op een plek is financieel een utopie. Je hebt het immers over de hele burgerlijke dienst van een stad de grootte van Gent.   

Relevante informatie vinden is dan ook een zoektocht naar een naald in een hooiberg: erg tijdrovend, en zoals men zegt in het Engels 'off-putting', demotiverend. Echter, de zoektocht zelf zal je langs verschillende archieven en bibliotheken sturen, alsook instellingen. Mensen die er werken maar ook mensen die daar opzoekingen verrichten, vinden vaak een gemeenschappelijke noemer. De zoektocht kan erg verrijkend zijn, ondanks het feit dat je zelf niet veel relevante informatie weet op te diepen. De ene week worden wij gecontacteerd door een iemand, de andere week zijn het meer dan een verzoek per dag.

De meeste mensen hebben een antwoord gekregen hoe verder tewerk te gaan. We merken aan het lage aantal antwoorden op onze mails, dat mensen vooral mirakels verwachten en teleurgesteld zijn. Nogmaals, op dit moment beschikt geen enkel individu alle burgerlijke gegevens voor een groep vluchtelingen even groot als Gent, York of Exeter.

Daarbij komt dan dat archiefmateriaal ivm de Belgen in Groot-Brittannië tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog vaak
  • verspreid is over verschillende instellingen in Groot-Brittannië en België (sommige archieven belandden zelfs in de VS, zoals in de Hoover Archives)
  •  nog niet goed ontsloten zijn (zoals tienduizenden registratiekaarten in het Rijksarchief in Brussel, pas ontdekt in november 2012
  • of zelfs vernietigd,
o   ofwel bewust na de afloop van de oorlog (talloze plaatselijke Belgian Refugees Committees verstuurden materiaal naar het Imperial War Museum, maar nog meer deden dat niet, omdat totnutoe geen enkele van deze archieven komen bovendrijven, is de kans groot dat ze gewoon bij het oud papier werden gezet)
o   ofwel als onderdeel van bewuste beschietingen of brandhaarden in mei 1940 (zo gingen vele passagierslijsten van gewonde soldaten die van Frankrijk naar Engeland werden gebracht, verloren).

Dat maakt een zoektocht naar familiemateriaal niet makkelijk, maar er zijn manieren om hiermee om te gaan.

Er zijn op dit moment drie verzamelingen registratiekaarten en persoonlijke gegevens:
  • een in de National Archives in Londen, in Kew, vooral in de serie MH 8
o   een onderdeel hiervan zijn tienduizenden steekkaarten; die zijn alfabetisch geordend, maar erg vaak zijn mensen die naar Engeland vluchtten vergezeld geweest door anderen, die staan dan mee op de fiche; zo staat er bv een Vermeiren bij Peeters
  • Hetzelfde Rijksarchief heeft nog een derde verzameling, maar die is tot nader order niet alfabetisch geordend en ook niet toegankelijk voor het publiek

Met betrekking tot passagierslijsten, je vindt veel informatie terug via Ancestry.com.

Een combinatie van gegevens in familiebezit en informatie verkregen uit voornoemde steekkaarten, kan ervoor zorgen dat je meer lokaal kan gaan werken.
Voor een bescheiden bijdrage heb je toegang tot het online archief van lokale kranten via het British Library Newspaper Archive. De zoekterm ‘Belgian refugees’ voor de oorlogsjaren geeft je nu al meer dan 20000 resultaten. En de collectie groeit elke dag!
Erg vaak worden in plaatselijke kranten ook namen van vluchtelingen vermeld, zeker als het gepaard gaat met aankomst, een geboorte, huwelijk of overlijden.

Voor die laatste drie kan je ook terecht bij www.freebmd.org.uk, daar krijg je die burgelijke stand-informatie op een eerste niveau. Met die gegevens kan je terecht voor een kopij van het oorspronkelijke document. Alle info staat op freebmd.

Namen opzoeken in een gedigitaliseerde krant kan ook in de Koninklijke-Bibliotheek van Belgie in Brussel, daar heb je toegang tot L’Independance Belge, een Belgische krant die in Engeland verscheen. Toegang tot De Stem Uit Belgie, nog waardevoller voor dit soort werk, zit eraan te komen. Digitalisering is nog bezig.

Als je een locatie hebt, moet je sowieso op zoek naar een plaatselijk archief. De lokale bib kan je er misschien best naar verwijzen. Een voorbeelden is http://www.leics.gov.uk/record_office.htm).

Allicht het meest complete archief voor onderzoek naar de Belgische vluchtelingen in Engeland tijdens WO1 vind je in het Imperial War Museum, de sectie BEL van de collectie Women Work Collection is erg uitgebreid. Echter, vele namen ga je er niet in terugvinden. Je kan ook niet op naam zoeken. Je kan eventueel wel op locatie zoeken via hun www.1914.org.

In Brussel vind je dan weer bijkomende informatie via het CEGES / SOMA, waaronder dit fraaie boekje, en het Moskou-archief in het Legermuseum.

Nu we het hier over Imperial War Museum en CEGES/ SOMA hebben: beiden worden in hun voortbestaan bedreigd, uw digitale handtekening kan mee helpen te overleven. Klik op de link om naar de resp. online petitie te gaan.

Om af te ronden, een vreemd toetje: het klinkt gek, maar wij hebben het al twee keer meegemaakt dat iemand op zoek was naar nazaten van het opvanggezin in Engeland, of omgekeerd naar nazaten van Belgen die 100 jaar geleden vluchtelingen waren en dat die via Twitter werden gevonden. Een @ of # voor de locatie kan helpen, alsook @familiekunde.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Great War Britain: Remembering 1914-1918, and some horsemeat / horse meat

Great War Britain: Remembering 1914-1918 is a series of books with each volume having a regional focus. The following is the amalgamated sampled history on Belgian refugees from the books on Bradford, Sheffield and Tyneside. Two more mentions are included in those publications, but they concern pictures.

To some the history of Belgian refugees in Britain is well-known, to others it is not, to many more it remains a quantité negligable. Which it should not be. Still, the following, via Google Books so no page numbers, is a fragmented and limited overview of Belgian refugees from those three books.

"The Pilgrim Street Meeting House - which was home to the Quaker community of both Newcastle and
Gateshead - was offered to the St John Ambulance Association, who held first-aid classes there and set up a temporary ambulance station for use when trains came in with wounded men. Some Quakers gave hospitality to Belgian refugees. As pressure rose to 'do their bit', others joined medical services (nationally there was a whole Friends' Ambulance Unit) or went to help suffering non-combatants. However, pacifism remained a central tenet."

"Between February and June, U-boats sank shipping carrying over 85,000 tons of sugar which, when added to the losses of barley, meant a beer shortage that forced many pubs to close over Easter. Later, the Sheffield
Year Book recorded May and June as a time of 'near famine' and by August, the council were considering plans to licence the sale of horsemeat, previously dismissed as a foreign food associated with the Belgian refugees.
There were mixed feelings. Some argued that Belgians were the main market and since most were working, they could afford to buy beef. There was no need, they said, to cater for the tastes of temporary immigrants.
Others pointed out that there was a risk of greedy traders attempting to pass cheap horsemeat off as beef. There were fears it would be a propaganda coup for Germany to report that Britain was reduced to eating horses but in September, two shops opened on Westbar to sell it and by November there were five horse butchers in the city. "

More on Sheffield and the Belgians there from a 1915 issue of The Star.

"When the Bradford Munitions Factory first opened it was decided that no women would be employed in the work of shell making as it was considered to be too heavy work for them. Instead, they proposed to
employ men of military age who were not suitable for enlistment; men over military age who were unemployed; wounded soldiers who were unfit for further service; Belgian refugees and boys aged 16-19. Applications for positions were made through the Bridge Street Labour Exchange and a special war work badge was distributed to all employees. Four hundred men were recruited in the first four days."

"The Belgian Institute received a commendation from Sir Ernest Hatch, the Commissioners, of the Central Belgium Committee in London and the Local Government Board, who visited the institute on 9 February 1915. They congratulated the Education Committee on its wide outlook and co-operation, and the 'Bradford Scheme' was ultimately adopted by the committee and recommended to other towns, replacing the report of the Belgian Commission.
In 1917 it was decided that the English classes were no longer needed and, as virtually all the refugees had found employment, the workrooms were closed. Over 1,000 Belgian refugees had been housed and  maintained in Bradford, at a cost of £9,000 - the greater part of which was raised by the public, until they became self-supporting. The sum of £21,000 was also raised for the Belgian National Relief Fund."

"Several hundred Belgian refugees who had stayed in Bradford during the war left on 5 February 1919. They had placed a proportion of their earnings into a repatriation fund and had accumulated a total of £2,000 to help them re-establish themselves in Belgium. It had cost £17,000 to maintain the refugees, of which £9.500 was subscribed by the citizens and £7.500 by the Refugees Committee."

A nice online article about the arrival, reception and accommodation of Belgian refugees in Shipley, with pictures from Bradford, can be found here. The story of Elisabethville at Birtley, Gateshead, on the other hand is arguably the most renowned Belgian in Britain story.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birtley_Belgians
http://www.birtley-elisabethville.be/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01qcrzq
http://collections.beamish.org.uk/pages/elisabethville
http://beyondthetrenches.co.uk/remembering-elisabethville-the-belgian-refugee-colony-of-durham/

Saturday, 3 January 2015

She sang the song the Belgian refugees brought

Andrew Waterman (born 1940) is an English poet born in London. Waterman studied at the University of Leicester and Worcester College, University of Oxford. From 1968 to 1997 he lectured in English Literature at the University of Ulster and in 1998 retired to Norfolk. In 1986 Carcanet published Selected Poems, which included 'The Song'.

She sang the song the Belgian refugees
brought to the valley's mills in the Great War.
Straight in his narrow chair her husband sat,
blending a phrase. They were young then.

Their young have gone away. When her eyes went
he sold the weaver's-cottage, brought her down
to the terrace in the Bottom, fixed downstairs
for her wheelchair: bedroom, bath, no doors.

He does the women's work, and washes her.
When relatives call she talks of the old view
from home up on the Edge---moor, clough and sky.
But massive today in a darkening brown room

she sings the strange French words the Belgians taught her,
as if the mind's lens pours all summers since
back on one blot of light. She was young then,
the foreign music was the outside world.

Charged with its resonance the flowered teaset
on the Welsh dresser is set vibrating:
speckless teapot, milk-jug, rows of cups
she kept for best, and never filled or drank from.

Waterman is a recipient of the Cholmondeley Award to Poets

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas 1914

Leave the many stories of Christmas truce at the front be for a moment. Christmas 1914 for Belgian refugees in Britain must have meant quite the opposite of a glimmer of hope. Since late summer, through early autumn, they had been arriving in Britain and Christmas was their first 'feast' abroad, in exile. Hammering the message home that many of their beloved ones were now living in German occupied Belgium, fighting at the front or in exile as refugees in the Netherlands, France and even further, not many a Christmas tree concealed their ordeal. And this despite the fact that a vast wave of empathy and voluntary action had been accommodating the guests of the British nation as much as is possible in wartime.

In the weeks up to Christmas, Hall Caine, the immensely popular but now forgotten late Victorian and Edwardian writer, had been editing a volume, a charity book. The proceeds of King Albert's book : a tribute to the Belgian king and people from representative men and women throughout the world, went to the Daily Telegraph Belgian Fund, one of hundreds, thousands even, charity initiatives that had appeared on the back of the Belgian refugees.


This evening sees the second installment of a radio play of King Albert's Book on BBC 4. Contributors for this episode includes Emmeline Pankhurst, Thomas Hardy and Arnold Bennet. Kenneth Cranham, Tim McMullan and Harriet Walter read, while Kevin Matthews plays piano. The first installment is still available online.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Antwerp, the final days



Prior to the First World War, Antwerp had been designated the ‘National Reduit’, the final safe haven for King, army and government in case of a German invasion. To that end, Antwerp had been fortified with several fortified rings. Because of its renown as a safe place to seek refuge and because King Albert, government and army had indeed settled there, hundreds of thousands of Belgians had sought refuge in the fortified port city.

However, on 28 September the Germans started shelling the city, a siege that intensified over the subsequent 12 days, after which – on 9 October – the city surrendered. In the meantime, up to a million refugees had moved on from Antwerp, most of them towards the Netherlands, but also towards the United Kingdom. As such, Antwerp plays a crucial role in the initial chapter of the story of the Belgian refugees in Britain. The following concerns 29 September.

On 27 September the city of Mechelen (Malines), roughly 25km south of Antwerp, had been taken by the German generaal Von Beseler. This freed German forces to increase their pressure on the outer fortified ring, some forts of which were located literally north of Mechelen.

     On 29 September the German neared the river Rupel but were fired upon from the Fort of Walem. However, resistance did not last long there as a German granate blew up the munition chamber, destroying an important part of the fort. Nearby, the fort of Fort Sint-Katelijne-Waver managed to resist for little more than a day too. Further east, the German army installed two ‘Dikke Bertha’ canon at Heist-op-den-Berg. They started shelling the fort of Lier, roughly 8km away. The Belgian army withdraws from the fort only two days later. 

     Among the many Belgian casualties of 29 September are Armand de KeyzerFelix De PauwJoseph Dolhain, Joseph Givron, Leopold HeerenHenriAertsKarelBaeyens

In an ideal world, it would be a valuable research project to be listing all casualties of Belgian soldiers who died in the wider Antwerp area in the period 4 August – 9 October and whether or not their families had already sought refuge elsewhere and perhaps ended up in Britain. Also, how many wounded soldiers from these battlefields convalesced in Britain? However, resources are very limited for the moment.

In Flanders, people from Antwerp tend to be looked upon as boasting about themselves. However, in the case of the movement war in Belgium in the first months of the war Antwerp played a crucial part. By the end of the war, half the Belgian refugees in Britain had been from the province of Antwerp. Antwerp engineers and factory labourers from Elisabethville were among the first ones allowed to return to Belgium so as to support the reconstruction efforts there. This was also because refugees from the frontline in and around Ypres did not have a house to get back to, even roads had gone.