Tracing the Belgian Refugees: A Call for Things

3 September 2018 | Bethany Reynard

ACCOMMODATION FOR BELGIAN REFUGEES IN BRITAIN, 1914-1918 (HU 88813) Tea for 600 children in a dining room at Earl’s Court, London, during the First World War. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

A hundred years ago, approximately 250,000 Belgian men, women and children came to Britain after the invasion and subsequent occupation of 95% of their homeland in the opening stages of the First World War. Many of them settled during and also after the conflict, taking on jobs and becoming part of the local community. Despite this large number of people, their histories are still not very well-known. The Tracing the Belgian Refugees project is hoping to change this.

The project are launching a database that will host the findings of researchers in the UK and Belgium. The database will be accessible to anyone who would like to use it to input information they have found about a Belgian refugee, and to view the information that others have shared. Communities and academics in the UK and further afield have already traced hundreds of Belgians in exile in villages, towns and cities.

The project is working with IWM on an exhibition on Belgian refugees opening in 2020, and are looking for the following:

1. Letters and diaries that tell the story as it was happening, including transcriptions/translations

2. Objects that people took with them (especially if there was a story as to why they brought what they did)

3. Objects/supplies/resources that people were given on arrival

4. Paperwork, forms, passes

5. Later written memoirs

6. Photographs

If you have something that fits the bill and would be happy to share it with us, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please get in touch via email, or bring your item(s) along to one of a workshop. You can find details of future workshops here.