In common with many other locations across the country, people in Wolverhampton were keen to assist Belgian refugees locally. To this end, Washington House in Finchfield was secured to serve as a hostel for twenty-five reguees. A shop was set up in Darlington Street “for the reception of articles with which to equip the house”. An article in the Midland Evening News in September 1914 described the preparations, including some of the items that had already been collection – jugs, glasses, plates, a big zinc bath, “and a hundred and one other odds and ends”. Interestingly there appears to have been criticism from some quarters about welcoming these refugees, as the article makes it clear that the organisers only want to
provide food and shelter for the refugees until they can be repatriated. It is not intended that work should be found for them, as the organisers, of course, have no wish to displace home labour.
The organisers were also learning more about their guests, as they stress in the article that they do not need any more tea pots – “The Belgians are coffee drinkers.”
The campaign was so successful that, by October 1914, there was already a report in the Express & Star of the opening of a second hostel at “Ashcroft”, Riley Crescent, in Penn Fields. Later that month, a second party of Belgian refugees arrived at the High Level Station, to be met by the Mayor, F. H. Skidmore, and others. Among the group was Jan and Marie Van de Zyphen, together with their married daughter Josephine Manwelante and two grandchildren Marie and Joanna. According to the article, they had spent “days and nights in cellars, and the old man had narrowly escaped injury from a shrapnel shell”.
Another lady, Madame Dyke, was originally from Wolverhampton, but had been living in Antwerp for the past 35 years. She came back to Wolverhampton together with her daughter and stayed at the house of her sister, Mrs Hadley, at the Crown and Anchor Hotel in Bilston Road. Madame Dyke described the Zeppelin raids and “the terrible consequences wrought by the machine”.
The fund-raising efforts for the Belgian refugees were coordinated by the local Belgian Refugees Committee. This will be looked at in a separate blog post. These included whist drives by the Wolverhampton Catholic Friendly Society and events organised by local school children. Many of the school log books include visits from Belgian refugees, such as that of St Michael’s CE (Controlled) Primary School, Tettenhall and the Fraser Street Council School in Bilston. This brought the events abroad closer to home.