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The odd case of the welcome refugee in wartime Britain: uneasy numbers, disappearing acts and forgetfulness regarding Belgian refugees in the First World War

Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel

With about 265,000 Belgian refugees staying in Britain at one time during the First World War, reflections on this transnational and cross-cultural story of welcome and accommodation at times of conflict merits continued attention. This chapter aims to provide an insight into several warfare-related features that characterised the human experience relating to the Belgians in Britain.A brief literature study confirms the issue of this history having been overlooked for so long. Reception at the time and early perception of the Belgian refugees is studied by means of two publications – the Bryce Report and King Albert’s Book. These publications in part steered the very history into later silence and forgetfulness. The British host society faced the fatalities of warfare on a scale that history had not seen until then and within this context Belgians refugees were an equally unconventional presence. However, as Belgian men and women became employed in Britain – mainly in the war industry – and as Belgian children were incorporated into several education systems, this presence diminished to the extent Belgians effectively disappeared from view during the war already. Yet, the very nature of the Belgian refugee was a blurred one, as Belgian military sought refuge on British soil too, without seeking to join the forces again. Long-term convalescent Belgian soldiers in Britain often were managed by Belgian refugee committees as well. Upon return to their home nation, British Belgians found a fragmented country in tatters. They were among the prime workforce aiming to rebuild the nation and its infrastructure and yet in post-1918 Belgian history there simply was no place for the chapter of the Belgian refugees in Britain. In Britain as well, the sole representation became a detective with a moustache and mannerisms. All what was left of the history of Belgian refugees was flatlining forgetfulness.
Tijdschrift: Close Encounters in War
Issue: 2
Volume: 1
Pagina's: 5 - 26
Jaar van publicatie:2020