When the German army invaded Belgium 250,000 Belgians fled to Britain. Rugby, quite typically of the country’s reactions, established Relief Committees to organise accommodation and fund support1. 200 were settled in the Rugby area2. With neither radio nor TV the Advertiser and Observer were the chief sources of news and devoted many column inches to the arrivals. Through conversations with them, journalists composed accounts of the new-comers’ horrific experiences3.
Newton House, Newton and, later, The Beeches, Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, were prepared for 100 refugees. Furniture was donated in response to appeals in the newspapers4. Events were held to raise funds. A sheep was sold at auction, then resold many times, raising £207 (equivalent to £90,000 today)5. The people of Rugby were very welcoming to the refugees, often referred to as “guests”6. It was necessary to print a request to citizens to limit their curiosity and restrict sight-seeing visits7.
Within months many were earning wages. Belgian fitters were employed in the Rugby factories of BTH and Willans and Robinson8. Other refugees worked on farms. After the War the refugees returned to re-build their devastated country – with thanks to the people of Rugby.
Sources (courtesy of the Warwickshire County Record Office)
1 Rugby Advertiser, 8th August 1914, page 3.
2 Rugby Observer, 8th January 1915, page 4.
3 Rugby Advertiser, 3rd October 1914, page 3.
4 Rugby Advertiser, 2nd January 1915, page 2.
5 Rugby Advertiser, 16th January 1915, page 3.
6 Rugby Observer, 30th October 1914, page 4.
7 Rugby Observer, 9th October 1914, page 4.
8 Rugby Advertiser, 19th June 1915, page 8.
This text has been adapted from an exhibition which was curated with the help of volunteers working on the Heritage & Culture Warwickshire World War One project. For more information, please follow the link.