In September 1914 a quarter of a million Belgian refugees poured in through Britain’s ports having escaped the advancing German Army. This was, and still is, the largest refugee movement in British History and is largely forgotten. The British Government accepted the responsibility for the reception, maintenance and registration of these refugees, whilst at the same time they sought out assistance in housing the refugees with local authorities. The Belgian refugees remained in Britain until after the end of the war when most returned to Belgium.
The Rhyl Journal of Saturday, October 10th, 1914 describes the arrival in Rhyl of the Belgian Refugees by train:
“Arrival of the Belgian Refugees”
“How Rhyl received them.”
“A memorable scene”
We doubt whether, in the history of Rhyl, such a huge demonstration depicting sincerity and enthusiasm has been witnessed in Rhyl to excel that which took place on Tuesday afternoon, on the occasion of the arrival of the Belgian refugees. For days the event had been patiently awaited, and the house on the East Parade set up as a home for the homeless, was literally besieged with enquirers anxious to learn when the party were expected, and the great interest culminated in a memorable scene outside the Railway Station on Tuesday.
At least 200 people assembled, not to mention the many thousands that lined the route all along the High Street. All the elementary schoolchildren were present, carrying banners and flags. They had commenced school that afternoon at one o’clock in order to be at the station at 3pm, and surely no better means could have been devised for impressing upon the youthful minds the immense trials the poor Belgians have undergone.
The party were timed to arrive by the 2.55pm train from Liverpool, but it did not arrive until 3.20pm. Councillors, officials and priests were amongst those who welcomed the refugees.
As they left the station, the awaiting charabanc was kindly placed at their disposal by Mr Anderson, the Manager of Rhyl and Potteries Motors Ltd. There were 22 in the party altogether, consisting of several old men and women, young married women and a number of children, natives of Aerschot. The vehicle in which they took their seats were decorated with several Belgian flags, and on the glass in front of the driver were the words “Welcome Home”.
Deafening cheers rent the air immediately the visitors were observed, and the Chairman of the council had scarcely any need to call for three cheers, in acknowledging which the old men waved their caps. Bags of sweets, tied in red, whit and blue ribbon were distributed to the Belgian children, who were already carrying dolls, picture papers etc.
At the top of the High Street, the newly formed North Wales “Pals” Brigade, who, under Colonel Dunn are training in Rhyl, had lined at attention.
The party were assembled on the steps of 2, East Parade for a photograph.
Councillor F. Phillips (Chairman) speaking with evident emotion, said he was proud of Rhyl, and he would remember that day as long as he lived. His heart was too full to deliver a speech, but he called for 3 cheers for the poor Belgians.
3o more refugees arrived last (Thursday) evening.