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.

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