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/

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