Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A typical look into Belgians, locally

In the past many weeks and months, we’ve had literally dozens of requests for information, more often than not for family history reasons. However, given the sheer numbers of Belgian refugees, that is simply not feasible. Below you can find a reply to someone from Rutland asking about general information on Belgian refugees in the area. The reply is very representative of what has been sent to other people. And if you hadn't had a reply yet, please reiterate your request.

“I'll try and reply to your request to the best of our abilities. The main problem in looking into the Belgians in Britain during WWI is the fact that much of the archive material

  • has been destroyed after the war
  • is scattered across various institutions in Britain and Belgium (some of it even ended up in the US)
  • is not properly archived yet (such as a vast set of registration cards at the Royal Archives in Brussels, only discovered little over a year ago)

As such there is no amalgamated catalogue of what is stored where and contains which kind of information. To that end I'm afraid that for now, what is described below is what I can offer you.

The first way of looking into this is the local newspapers at your local library or local archives ( . These often have the most complete information on who was sitting on which committee where and not unusually include the names of people too. Visiting the Mercury archives ( will already answer many queries.

Another way of accessing newspaper archives can be done online, via the British Library Newspaper archive online, Slightly less local are the national dailies, most archives can be accessed through your local libary. Especially The Times is very useful in this respect.

The Imperial WarMuseum holds many archive material on Belgian refugees through the Women's Work Collection, some of which is uncovered through They do hold a few things on Ketton and Stamford.

The Ketton plaque refers to the names of Kieckens and Verbeeck and their family (from Aalst / Alost), is it not? Through the National Archives in Kew, it might be possible to retrieve registration cards for those people, provide they are included: about 165,000 people are recorded in the MH8 series, whereas about another 100,000 came to Britain. The plaque also mentions the honorary secretary of the Belgian refugees committee at Ketton, Miss M.E. Molesworth.

The Albertina library in Brussels allows you to run a keyword search on digitized newspapers from the time, most importantly L'Ind├ępendance Belge, a newspaper published in exile.

As you probably know, there has been reference to the Royal carriages in the Rutland Record issue nr. 15, I'm also certain that Katherine Storr's book 'Belgian Refugees in Lincolnshire and Hull, 1914-1919' includes many relevant references to the Rutland area.


  1. I am researching for the Yateley Society, DO you have the British Census of Belgian refugees? We are having problems seeking our local Refugee board, probably chaired by a William Shakespeare ( no not him!). I have a lot of referenced to the NAtional Archives and will probably down the road to Kew and see if they are any value. Twitter @_jabiru and @YateleySociety.
    I dont understand the Comment as selection. Regards Charles Weager

    1. Hi Charles, sorry to be replying to you via this way only now, notifications clearly not in tune. Good to have been in touch via other channels.
      A census yes, but a trustworthy one is a slightly different matter. You first need to find out the names of the Belgians and then head for the Register held in Brussels National Archives. Perhaps the MH8 cards in Kew can add information on that, but they don't always. I'm not sure whether I have come across Yateley in the large collection of material at the IWM though.
      Are you going to be in London for next week's Society of Genealogists event?

  2. I am researching the Peterborough/Belgian refugees. A relation of mine went back to Belgium with them when they returned home after the war and she lived for the rest of her life in Belgium, even during WW2. I have visited her son and his family and they all visited Neuve Chapelle where her brother was killed during WW1 and is buried there
    This piece of history if very interesting and should be stressed during the 100th aniveresary events.

    1. Hi Biddy, thanks for that.
      IWM London holds archive material on Peterborough should you be interested in that. Women Work Collection, BEL. Where were these refugees from and did they go back to the same community?

  3. Hi,
    I am doing a research project into the Belgian Refugees in Cheshire. Do you have any records of the exact numbers that entered here, and any records of their arrival at Chester train station? It is something that the local archives haven't got, but something that is vital to my project. Any help or advice you could give on this would be greatly appreciated.


  4. The Belgians were not a stable group, rather mobile really. No records on Chester / Cheshire, sadly enough. Records are rarely location based, not least because the Belgians in Britain were rather mobile.

  5. I have undertaken a fair bit of Family History research into Sir Robert Woolley Walden who was Chairman of the Metropolitan Asylums Board 1913 - 1919. For those who are not aware of the MAB it was responsible for the running of London's Poor Law Hospitals but had extended its remit to Sanatoria by 1912 in response to the Insurance (Industrial) Act 1912 in particular s16 (1) of that Act. In Sir Robert's own words in a letter to The Times published on 10th June 1912

    "The Board, though legally a "Poor Law authority", is not constituted entirely of guardians of the poor, and has many duties travelling far outside the confines of the Poor Law. It is the infectious hospital authority for the metropolis, controlling 8500 hospital beds available for the whole community without distinction, and as a fact some 4% only of the occupants of these beds are Poor Law cases. In addition the Board controls two large general hospitals for children which, with seaside sanatoria, provide accommodation for nearly 2000 cases, about 40% of which are tubercular. Though these children are technically Poor Law children, large numbers of them are removed from and return to their own homes and are doubtless the dependants of insured persons"

    Gwendoline M Ayers book "England’s First State Hospitals and the Metropolitan Asylums Board 1867-1930" (Wellcome Institute of Medicine 1971) gives further insight into the importance of the MAB as an administrator of healthcare in our capital.

    What I wanted to highlight here is that it was the MAB that was responsible for the care of many of Belgian refugee's when they first passed through the Earls Court camp firths opened on 23 October 1914 and that by the "third anniversary some 80,000 people had passed through it. From this number 20,000 men had been placed in industrial occupations directly or indirectly connected with munitions production, and 5,000 men had joined the Belgian Army. Large Government contracts had been carried out in the camp workshops, which had also served as training schools for unskilled workers. A Belgian elementary School for 400 children was provided along with a creche together with a Hospital and out patients department for Belgians living in London. The camp was available for all Allied nationalities who had escaped from Germany, although primarily some 95% of those admitted were Belgian. The population in of the Earls Court camp 1917 was 1100." (source The Times)

    Also in my research I have identified that Robert's wife Jessie helpied out at the Belgian Refugee Centre, and she along with Lady Downes, Lady Jerred and other women workers and nursing staff were awarded the Medaille de la Reine Elizabeth towards the end of the War in July 1918. One of my questions is about this award. Are there any records of the citations for want of a better word?

    Indeed it is quite possible that Jessie paid with her life through working at the centre as she died at the relatively young age of 44 on 9 October 1918 after a long and painful illness. I am hoping her death certificate will offer more clues.

    Katherine Storrs informative publication Belgian Refugees in Lincolnshire and Hull, 1914 – 1919 tells me that of all Lincolnshire towns Spalding took in the highest number of refugees. This is most interesting as Sir Robert Woolley Walden was Spalding born and there is evidence that he kept in touch with his native town and perhaps offered some encouragement behind the scenes?

    The purpose of my posting is to share this part of my more extensive research on Sir Robert in the hope that those who have far more time than I currently have available to me may be able to offer me any more information on the actual (as opposed to reported) extent of the MAB's involvement with Belgian Refugee's and in particular whether they have come across any material that can be directly tied in with my own research into my 1st cousin 3 x removed.

    1. Can someone provide contact details for the Metropolitan Asylums Board 1913 - 1919

  6. My grandmother came over as a teenager as a refugee. Before she died my uncle recorded her story on audio tape, now CD. Would be happy to send it.

  7. Hi Gregg, that would be fabulous, can you be in touch via c (dot) declercq (at)

  8. As a follow up - the best way to reach me about the Belgian Refugees at Silerbithall is to e-mail me: debendevan at hotmail dot com

  9. I am tracking three Belgian women who entered the USA in December 1919. I hopetoattend the 2018 symposium