Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Belgium Refugees WW1 - Hayes

Belgium Refugees 

Hayes Belgium Relief Fund
The first immigrants

Hayes Belgium Relief Fund was established at a public meeting 23rd October 1914, after the Emergency Committee had received a letter from Local Government Board asking Hayes to offer hospitality to Belgium refugees.

At the outset of World War One and the German invasion , Belgium refugees had flocked to Britain (an estimated 500,000 in total).

Many Belgium refugees seem to have been progressed initially through the Earls Court Camp in London.
The Hayes Committee looked after 100 families, many of the women and children, but also wounded Belgium soldiers. 
Some refugees we know were from the Louvain region of Belgium, an area and City destroyed by the German Army in retaliation for resistance to occupation.

Initially, the committee tried to secure accommodation for the refugees at White Hall, Hayes End, but Hearne House and Lodge were secured, later The Gables at Wood End and Mr Drenon (Labour Councillor) took refugees into his home at Barra Hall.

Some of the younger Belgium men secured work in the Hayes factories, but work at the Army Motor Works was said to be "irregular".
Despite a national shortage of Labour, pay and conditions for the Belgium workers seem to have been bad, local employers taking the opportunity to cut pay rates. Belgium workers who protested at poor conditions were threatened with being conscripted into the Belgium Army.

A number of local Belgium workers in the factories joined the Workers Union, who had appointed a national Belgium full time officer, Jan Chapelle (a well know Belgium trade union leader) to look after their interests. 

The committee raised money by local collections and Belgium flag days

Hayes Belgium Relief Fund Committee:

Dr W. D. Hopkins, Cllr Juan Drenon JP, Mrs Gunton, Mrs Hudson, Mrs Ellis, Mrs Ritchings, Rev Mr E.R Hudson, Mr I. Ellis, Mr J. Hibbert, Mr H.W. Hunt, Mr E. Tucker, Mr E. J. Nyblom, Mr E. Window
Hayes Belgium Relief

Committee Secretaries:
Mr Montague Rose, The Bryan, Keith Road, Mr W. Herbert Rhodes 17, Cranmer Road

Rhodes was a Labour Councillor as was Juan Drenon
Local branch Secretary of the Workers Union was Douglas Page

Picture Top
Belgium monument on the embankment in tribute of the Belgium refugees, unveiled 12 October 1920

Hayes and World War One - WW1

It is clear despite a significant minority of the Labour Party opposing World War One, The vast majority of the British Labour Party ended up supporting the War, and it seems this division was reflected locally in Hayes, West Middlesex.

While there may have been concerns about the War by Hayes Labour Association founder Percy Langton, accusing the “gutter press ” of having “done more to bring about this war than the Kaiser.”

The German invasion of neutral Belgium and abuses of Belgium civilians had swung support to the pro War lobby.

Former Hayes Urban District Labour Councillor, Henry Palmer, who had by 1915 emigrated to Canada stated

“We are fighting a just and right war and one that was forced on us to keep our honor we were bound to help the weak and those of us who have to give up our sons to go, know that if they never come back they died doing their duty for their country. Both of my sons have gone and if they never come back I say God’s will be done

Henry Palmer; Stratford Canada December 1915

Henry Palmer, like so many paid a heavy price for his beliefs, both his sons were killed by the end of the War. William Alfred Palmer Eastern Ontario Reg (Killed 26th April 1916 Woods Cemetery, Belgium). Lieutenant Henry Arthur Palmer Central Ontario Reg (killed 30th September 1918 Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery, Nord France)

Leanold W Spencer Uxbridge ILP Secretary (Belmont Road,Uxbridge) was also killed, 1st September 1915. shot in head aged just 26. He had been a founder member of Uxbridge Labour Party and was the first man to motor cycle up Snowdon, Wales

L.W Spencers, Regiment took major loses and he underwent terrible ordeal suffer from hunger, thirst, sleepless nights and 7 months on constant bombardment, he slept with his motorcycle by his side doing his Christian socialist duty
13th Kensington Battalion Cyclist Orderly he is buried at Longuenesse St Omer

At Uxbridge, Labour Councillor Robert Hudson got caught up with the jingoism of the day in stating that “We are all British before Party”

A more main stream Labour Party view of the War was stated by Labour Perspective Parliamentary Candidate for Uxbridge Parliamentary Division (which included Hayes) Harry Gosling (Later TGWU President) at a meeting in Harefield in late1918

“I hate war and militarism but I would object to anyone taking a liberty with me (?) I believe country was absolutely right in the action it took, but it need not mean that they should go on fighting for ever and ever, the war must be settled”

In Hayes the immediate impact of the War was improved wages offered by the factory owners, (and huge numbers of women rushed to new jobs - some soilders wrote to complain about their pay compared to these young women's) as the factories switched from consumer goods to War goods. This no doubt also muffled opposition to the War in Hayes

As the impact of the War hit home, food prices rocketed and rents often doubled, there was growing local support for those that protested, such as the local National Union of Railwaymen’s branches protest at price of food “ which they viewed with alarm and extreme dissatisfaction the present high prices of food “

On Rent’s, Labour Councillor Juan Drenon was at the forefront of the campaign to expose “profiteering” by Private Landlords. It was stated that “Rents in 1915 were 3s above that charged pre-War”

Councillor Drenon in a blistering attack in July 1915 stated,

"The patriotism of many so called patriots, starts and ends with their pockets. It was the same with the coal owners who grew fat out of the country’s needs and risk the country’s safety rather than give the colliers a living wage”

By November 1915, Councillor Drenon was so concerned about the situation with regard to rents that he called for the establishment of a Tenants Defense League similar to that established elsewhere.

Councillor Drenon had also taken into his home a number of Belgium refugees (500,000 nationally), the Belgium's being the first wave if immigrants to arrive in Hayes looking for work in the Munition factories.

Hayes Belgium Relief Fund was established by Hayes Labour Councillor Mr Herbert Rhodes on October 23rd 1914 and its primary purpose was care for the Belgium refugees, especially mothers and children. by 1916 it was looking after one hundred families in Hayes alone.
 (a number of the refugees was from Louvain, Belgium). Hayes also saw a regular Belgium Flag Day to raise money

Elsewhere, in West Middlesex the harsh treatment and eviction of those with husbands and sons in the Armed Forces was typified by the heartless eviction of Mr and Mrs Fort aged 73 and 69 respectively, residing at Copthall Farm, Ickenham, who had five out of six sons in the army and one son in a restricted occupation. This eviction was not uncommon and showed the scant regard business showed to the poor during the War.

Little wonder, that the Hayes Labour Party was supportive of the principle of £1 a week for soldiers and their dependents .

In the early part of 1918 the Thames & Medway region of the National Amalgamated Union of Labour organised a delegation to visit the troops in the front line, This delegation included locally Hayes Labour Councillor Woodward. Woodward stated in Febuary 1918 that

“The impression the trip made upon him, an impression that was shared by every member of the NAUL party was the fighting must continue until a clean and lasting peace is assured”

“The only complaint I heard from Tommy was about the smallness of there pay… compared to that earned in the munitions factories”.

When conscription was introduced, a local Uxbridge branch of the No Conscription was established, primarily consisting of ILP members and included Norman Cox (Hillingdon)and Adam Priestley (Northwood). Most conscientious objectors received short shrift and were handed over to the military authorities and ultimately prison.

At Harrow School, the school boys organised a strike in order to remove a Teacher, Mr Sutherland from employment because he was a conscientious objector

In total 16,000 men refused to fight of whom most were pacifists, 7,000 acted as stretcher bearers and suffered high casualty rates.

A unique letter home from Reginald Hamaton of Hillingdon who was in the Army of Occupation in (Cologne) Germany in January 1919, shines a small light on the situation in Germany.

“We are very lucky here as we are in Jerry’s peace time barracks, and have nice single cots, pillows, and soft beds, plenty of coal for the fire, “bags” of electric light, etc. We are not allowed to walk or talk with the civilian population…..I suppose this is the place where they make the Eau de Cologne, but I have not seen any about. Of course, I cannot speak any German, and it is hard to understand the people, but they are very nice and treat us very good – far better than I thought would be the case. It is funny to see Jerry’s bicycles with the patent spilings for tyres. As you know, he has no rubber, and his motor lorries have iron tyres, and it makes the people look when they see all ours using rubber. Another thing they are very short of soap”.

At the end of the War, what is of note is the refusal of the Labour councillors and therefore the Hayes UDC to mark or participate in the victory and peace celebrations carried out by nearly every other council in the country.


Belgium refugees monument, South Bank, London unvailed 12 October 1920

Belgium's can therefore claim to be the fist immigrants to Hayes (excluding people from Wales and North of England)

German atrocities in Belgium and France as well as raids on Scarborough and Hartlepool, Zeppelin raids all helped populate anti German feeling

Hayes Urban District Council is very unusual in refusing to  officially celebrate victory in WW1 on the grounds of cost and glorifying war