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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

Declercq, C; (2019) The Odd Case of the Welcome Refugee in Wartime Britain: Uneasy Numbers, Disappearing Acts and Forgetfulness Regarding Belgian Refugees in the First World War. Close Encounters in War , 2 pp. 5-26. Green open access

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Abstract

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 article 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.

Type: Article
Title: The Odd Case of the Welcome Refugee in Wartime Britain: Uneasy Numbers, Disappearing Acts and Forgetfulness Regarding Belgian Refugees in the First World War
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://closeencountersinwarhome.files.wordpress.c...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Belgian refugees, refugees studies, memory studies, First World War civilians, diaspora studies, reception studies
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS > Translation Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10092550
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