It is sometimes forgotten that during the First World War, an influx of Belgian refugees arrived in Britain to escape the fighting in their country. Quite a number of them came to Merthyr, and transcribed below is an article describing the arrival of the first of these refugees in 1914.
WARM WELCOME FOR BELGIAN REFUGEES
Merthyr Pioneer – 17 October 1914
A very enthusiastic meeting of local citizens was held at the Town Hall on Monday night, when the final preparations for the welcome and maintenance of the Belgian refugees was made.
Addressing the meeting Coun. H M Lloyd (Mayor) referred to the terrible distress prevailing in Belgium owing to the German invasion, and pointed out the hardships which were being suffered by a whole nation out of employment. Inasmuch as Belgium has acted as a buffer State, we were indebted to them, and were called upon to help them bear their share of suffering and sorrow.
Alderman J M Berry J.P. was appointed treasurer of the committee, and Mr T W Morris, secretary.
A tremendous crowd of people thronged the High Street and the Merthyr Station Approach on Wednesday evening, and the 32 Belgian refugees received a hearty if somewhat embarrassing Welsh welcome. They were met at the station by Coun. H M Lloyd and Mrs Lloyd (Mayor and Mayoress), Major and Mrs Frank James, Capt. G B Williams, Councillors F A Phillips (Deputy Mayor), Mrs M A Edmunds, and Ald. J M Berry, Mrs Wills, Mr T T Jenkins and others.
Some difficulty was experienced in getting the visitors into the two decorated cars which had been lent by the Merthyr Traction Co. to convey them to the YMCA Buildings. Several of the refugees were obviously affected by the cordial welcome which greeted their arrival, and many of the waiting citizens were moved to tears when an elderly Antwerp lady who had received injuries was assisted to the car by Councillors Phillips and James whilst the appearance of Ald. J M Berry with a Belgian youngster on his shoulder was the signal for loud cheers. Outside the YMCA Buildings the Cyfarthfa Municipal Band greeted the refugees with the National Anthems of the Allies. After a splendid meal had been enjoyed, a musical programme in which one of the visitors took part, was provided.
In officially welcoming the refugees, the Mayor said that every class in the community was anxious to do what it could to alleviate their sufferings and misfortunes.
Interviewed by the Pioneer representative on Thursday, the Mayor said that funds for the maintenance of the refugees were still coming in. As the committee desired to maintain them for at least six months, he hoped that local citizens would continue to contribute all they could afford towards the cost of their maintenance. The cost of maintaining them would probably be something between £15 and £20 per week. 19 more refugees were expected to arrive almost immediately, and as the distress was great and increasing, Merthyr might be called upon to maintain something like 100. “I am thinking of arranging for an illuminated carnival, perhaps the last day in October (Saturday the 31st), and I trust that all cyclist and motor cyclists, and those who have fancy costumes, will hold themselves in readiness for the occasion” added the Mayor.
Late on Thursday evening a further party of Belgian refugees, numbering nine, arrived at Merthyr, and were conveyed in cabs to the YMCA Buildings. The party consisted of seven women and two men. This brings the total to be maintained to 41.
Arrangements for the comfort of the visitors have been greatly enhanced by the spontaneous offers of assistance given by many local citizens. The management of all the local entertainment halls have offered free admission; the Traction Co. offer free rides, and Mr Arthur Davies, hairdresser, of Glebeland Street, has offered to attend to the toilet of the male members of the party.
Mrs Suzanne Doolan, local historian and former reporter on the Merthyr Express, is researching the Belgian Refugees in Merthyr, so if anyone has any information about them , please get in touch and I will pass it on.