Belgian Refugees in Teesdale: A Warm Welcome

The Bowes Museum World War One Commemoration Project is discovering the warm welcome given by the people of Teesdale to the Belgian refugees who arrived in Teesdale during World War One.

Funding and hospitality were two areas in which the people of Teesdale were specifically commended by the Belgian visitors, as revealed in The Teesdale Mercury’s 4 November 1914, January 20 1915 and January 12 1916 editions. All can be accessed via www.teesdalemercuryarchive.co.uk

In order to support the arrival of the refugees, the Middleton-in-Teesdale Belgian Refugees’ Committee numbered an impressive 50 members, each of whom pledged to give a shilling a week for 6 months. They also held a whist drive and dance to raise funds.

The Mechanics’ Institute and various churches had collected £30 for the National Relief Fund. However, as the local Belgian Committee was short of money, no further appeal was made and it was then “thought advisable to give them preference” and the Belgians were given the funds.

In 1916, Monsieur Guillemerts, a Belgian refugee who had come to Barnard Castle, left to take work in Coventry. His family stayed behind in Barnard Castle. The War Emergency Committee gave the Belgian £1 for rail fares. Monsieur Guillemerts wrote a “graceful, kind and sympathetic letter” to the Committee, detailing his “great thanks and appreciation” for the generous welcome given to him and his family. He added that he would “never forget the hospitality which he had received” from the people of Barnard Castle.

Stories such as these help us gain a greater understanding of the part the people of Teesdale played in the First World War. If you have any stories about Teesdale in the First World War, or wish to contribute to the World War One project in any way, please contact libraryandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk