Belgian Refugees Lecture, 17th February 2016, Aberystwyth

How did Wales care for 4,500 Belgian refugees during WW1?

Continuing to offer informative experts and challenging topics for debate, Wales for Peace together with Aberystwyth University will be hosting a Public Lecture on the Welsh response to the Belgian Refugee Crisis of WW1.

On 17th of February, at 6pm, in the Main Hall of Aberystwyth University’s International Politics Department, the public and academics alike are invited to explore a less-studied aspect of WW1, namely the astonishing achievement of hosting around 250,000 Belgian refugees in the UK.

The guest speaker, UCL lecturer Christophe Declercq, has researched the Belgian refugees story for over a decade and is the UK liaison officer for a project currently organized by the Amsab Institute of Social History, affiliated to the University of Ghent, Belgium.  He said: "Reflecting on the past to illuminate the present is what history is all about. This Belgian-Wales sharing of information will enhance our understanding of the Belgian Refugees' story during WW1, in the context of a new refugee crisis emerging in Europe a 100 years later. I was very pleased to respond to this opportunity to share my research through the Wales for Peace project, at Aberystwyth University’s International Politics Department."

Over 4,500 Belgian refugees came to Wales during WW1, leaving again by 1919 with very little trace, apart from art, craft and building work still valued in Wales today. These include the rood screen carving at Llanwenog church, the Belgian Pier in Menai Bridge and of greatest national significance, the intricately carved Black Chair of the 1917 National Eisteddfod which was awarded posthumously to Hedd Wyn who died at Passchendaele.

IMG_0272.jpg  hidden histories - belgian pier.jpg

Declercq explained the background: “The sojourn in Britain of about a quarter of a million Belgians has long been overlooked. The reasons for this are many. Most importantly, the Belgians came as imperceptibly as they went. By mid-1919 virtually all had returned to Belgium. They first arrived when Germany invaded Belgium on 4th August 1914 and Britain declared war on Germany. The following weeks, fierce fighting across Belgian territory created a mass movement of civilians, which came to a halt with the fall of Ostend (15 October) and the First Battle of Ypres (19 October – 22 November). In fact, in the early autumn of 1914 nearly one in three Belgians sought refuge from the war.”

Head of Wales for Peace project Craig Owen added: “An exciting part of the Wales for Peace project is mapping out the impact of war and collecting the peace heritage of Wales. With the help of volunteers and in partnership with the university and People’s Collection Wales, we are interested in uncovering local hidden histories and archives relating to the Welsh-Belgian experience during WW1. Christophe Declercq’s contribution, with this Belgian research project, provides an opportunity to extend the partnership to share discoveries digitally, to inform future actions relating to the reception of refugees, and to strengthen Wales-Belgium links.”

Register Online here or ring 02920821051.

Participants are welcome to register on arrival at the event - priority will be given to attendees who have pre-booked.

Remembering for Peace Exhibition and Lectures

The Public Lecture coincides with the Wales for Peace “Remembering for Peace” Exhibition at the National Library of Wales Aberystwyth, until 16th of April. Further Wednesday Public Lectures are scheduled:

  • the Conscientious Objectors of Wales in WW1 will be delivered at the International Politics Department by Aled Eurig at 4:30pm on the 2nd of March 2016, a century after the Military Service Act came into effect.
  • The final lecture will be held at 2pm on 16th of March at the Morlan, Aberystwyth by Rupert Gude on the subject of Opposition to the First World War in the British context.

Further information is available on

Wales for Peace is a four-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by 10 organisational partners including Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities, the National Library for Wales and movements such as the Urdd and Cymdeithas y Cymod. The project’s core question is: in the hundred years since the First World War, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace? Wales for Peace is a heritage project working with communities across Wales; it is also forward-looking in stimulating debate around issues of peace for the benefit of future generations.

Note to Editor: Please call 07498309779 for further information or liaison.

Pictures can be taken from our website of the Belgian Pier or the Black Chair of Hedd Wyn.

Photo caption walkway: Belgian Pier in Menai Bridge on Anglesey is part of the Welsh heritage left behind by the Belgian Refugees

Photo Caption Chair:  The “Black Chair” for Hedd Wyn was hand crafted by Eugeen Vanfleteren, a refugee from Mechelen, Belgium, and can be seen at Yr Ysgwrn in Trawsfynydd, home of Welsh war poet Hedd Wyn.  






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