The latest focus of The Bowes Museum World War One Commemoration Project concerns the arrival of some Belgians in Middleton-in-Teesdale.
The people of Middleton were praised for their lavish welcome to the “poor, persecuted Belgian refugees”.
The British government was called on by its Belgian counterpart to take 500,000 refugees when the Belgians feared that Antwerp would be overwhelmed by the Germans.
When a family of six such refugees arrived in Teesdale in October 1914, the people of Middleton did everything they could to make the Belgians feel welcome.
According to the the 28 October 1914 edition of the Teesdale Mercury , the town’s silver band was out in force. Two cars had been provided by Teesdale Motor Company to transport them to their new home, a fully furnished cottage in New Dyke, offered by landlord Mark Watson at a “very small rent”.
When the Belgian Brunel family arrived at their new home, they were so pleased that they shed tears of gratitude. The family comprised Mr and Mrs Brunel, their son-in-law and daughter, Mr and Mrs Coopman and children Maria and Angelo Brunel. Angelo was just 6. The family were fishermen and soldiers by trade.
It should be pointed out that it is probable that the people of Middleton would have had little or no previous contact with foreigners, which makes their efforts to welcome the Belgians yet more notable.
So keen were the people of Middleton to support the new Belgian family that they offered numerous gifts to the newcomers. Lord Barnard gave £5 to support them, whilst gifts of food and clothing were numerous. The response to the call to help the Belgians was hailed as “magnificent”.
Other refugee families also came to Barnard Castle, Lartington and other townships during the First World War, with committees of locals raising funds and organising accommodation. If you have any information about these, or other Teesdale stories related to the First World War, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the contemporary accounts in the Teesdale Mercury Archive: