In the autumn weeks of 1914, tens of thousands of Belgians sought refuge in Britain. Fleeing the advancing German troops and the alleged atrocities they were dispersed across the British Isles. Exeter acted as a dispersal centre for the southwest.
On Monday 24 August 1914, the War Refugees Committee was established as a distress relief organisation for all the war refugees in Britain. The very same day, an early reference in the British press to these Belgian refugees was made in the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette.
Michael Clapp’s grandmother, Alice Graham Clapp, kept a black note book listing some 500 Belgian refugees of all classes who passed through Exeter. For her services to the refugees Mrs Clapp was awarded a Belgian medal, la Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth. Several kept in touch with his grandparents and an aunt, but slowly the exchanges dwindled. Two names in particular are remembered, a Mr Crom and family who were the first to be recorded on 5 October 1914 and kept in contact up to 1926. The second is a Mr. Horemans and family , who last contacted his aunt in December 1938.
Among the Belgians who Mrs Clapp recorded in her black book was a retired Belgian gendarme who was billeted with Mrs Potts-Chatto in Torquay. The Potts-Chattos organized a charity fundraising event for the refugees at which the neighbouring Agatha Christie played the piano. Was he the inspiration for Hercules Poirot?
Eyeing a commemoration event in Exeter in November 2014, descendants of Exeter Belgians are invited to attend.
Please be in touch with Michael Clapp, mcclapp1932 at gmail.com, or contact us for further information.
Exeter, First World War and refugees information online so far