Gomersal & The Great War
Following the invasion of Belgium by German troops in August 1914, over 250,000 Belgian refugees came to Britain and were found homes around the country.
In Yorkshire, many of the refugees headed to the cities of Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford but a number of the men, women and children were housed in the Spen Valley area, including Gomersal.
. . . . at home
In October 1914, a Gomersal Belgian Refugee Distress Committee was formed and decided to be responsible for housing and supporting 30 refugees. Three houses would be made available in the Village whilst some Belgians would be personal guests of a Gomersal family.
The housing of the Belgian refugees was not without costs to the Committee but offers of help abounded. Gomersal Gas Company supplied gas free of charge, the Gomersal Colliery Company provided free coal and the Belgians were to receive free medical care. The Spen Valley Hairdressers even offered free hairdressing to those refugees in the area on the production of a letter from their local Relief Committee.
Residents also gave generously to furnish the refugees’ houses and subscribed to the Refugee Distress Fund which was collected on a weekly basis by a willing band of workers. There were also many fund raising activities in the Spen Valley and Gomersal, including a “Belgian Dance” held at Hill Top School and organised by St. Mary’s Sunday School.
Sixteen of the refugees were housed in adapted premises behind ‘Tenlands’, off Oxford Road. The accommodation comprised of 3 large rooms on the ground floor and a large warehouse on the first floor which was divided into 8 bedrooms.
To the Committee of Belgium Refugees
and the people of Gomersal.
Before leaving Gomersal, we wish to thank you most heartily for all your kindness shown to us during our stay in England. We are so happy to return home, but we shall regret to leave the country which gave us such a hearty welcome, and where we made such good and kind friends. It will always be with a feeling of gratitude and friendliness that we shall ever remember the people of Gomersal.
Yours sincerely The Family, A. Rayp
''It was mentioned that John Hens, a Belgian boy, was entitled to a first prize and was expecting to return to Belgium by the end of the month. Therefore it was decided to get his prize if possible before the Children’s party to be held on 29th January.''
Moravian Sunday School Minutes,
15th January 1919
The Belgian refugees remained in Gomersal until early 1919 and it appears that they integrated well into Gomersal life attending local events, Churches and Sunday Schools.
The following letter was received by H.Ashwell Cadman (Secretary of the Refugee Committee)
A family group of Belgian refugees who stayed in Gomersal during WWI