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100 years ago in Salford: Belgian refugees flood into city

It may seem strange, but in November 1914 Salford was awash with refugees from Belgium, a story that still to this day goes almost unreported.

Germany had invaded their home country and 250,000 men, women and children fleeing the fighting made their way across the English Channel to be welcomed into homes in Britain.

Local communities in Salford and Manchester rallied round to offer homes to the unfortunate refugees.

The Eccles Journal reported on the 11 November that 11 Belgian refugees were given a temporary home at 252 Liverpool Road, Irlam.

They were met at Irlam train station by Justice of the Peace Mr George Thomas of Irlam Hall who, strangely enough, was able to speak Flemish, their native tongue.

A charity rugby match was held for them the next day, raising £2 and 5 shillings when Cadishead Rugby Football team played against Pendleton with Mr George Thomas kicking off the match.

After the match an appeal was made by two recruiting sergeants to young local men to join the army, while Mr Thomas issued a leaflet urging footballers and those with no family encumbrances to enlist for the honour of their country, adding that. “those who can and won’t enlist at this most critical period will get the moral ‘kick out’.”

In Salford, the newspaper reported that their were five special residences available in the city for the refugeees: Summer Hill, on Eccles Old Road; Bank Lane at Irlams o’th Height; Moorlands in Vine Street, Kersal; The Polygon in Lower Broughton and 342 Great Clowes Street in Higher Broughton.

It is interesting to note that the house in Vine Street, Kersal was shortly afterwards turned into a military hospital and some 30 wounded soldiers were billetted there.

Four Belgian refugees staying at Bank Lane were coal miners by trade and were given employment at Pendleton Pit.

One week later, on 18 November a party of 13 Belgian refugees were met at London Road Station and taken by motor car to Summer Hill on Eccles Old Road, where they were met by the Mayor and Mayoress of Salford, Alderman Worsley and his wife.

Three days later another 36 arrived at Summer Hill and were again given the same welcome, amongst them were a number of small children who were said to delighted at the change of surroundings provided by the beautiful grounds of the house.

In all it is estimated that over a quarter of a million Belgians fled to Britain to escape the German invasion, however after the war had ended they were given free passage back to Belgium and by 1921 90% had returned home, leaving little trace of this massive influx into Salford.

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Tom is SalfordOnline.com's News Editor and community co-ordinator.