Retro: Sheffield aid for Belgian wartime refugees

Retro Nov 1914: Buses carrying Belgian casualties entering Collegiate Crescent
Retro Nov 1914: Buses carrying Belgian casualties entering Collegiate Crescent
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At 5pm on November 4, 1914 a meeting was held in Firth Hall, University of Sheffield, to decide what steps might be taken to help the Belgian refugees who were about to arrive in the city.

It was decided that two university buildings along Western Bank, then known as Stephenson Halls, would be allocated to the refugees.

Each building would accommodate 20 Belgians along with two servants. This was the beginning of the Belgian Relief Fund, a charity dedicated to assisting the city’s new occupants.

The University’s Chancellor, Mr H Fisher, issued an appeal for assistance in furnishing the buildings and it was announced that the majority of refugees settling in the accommodation would be students and lecturers from Belgium.

This appeal signalled the start of many fundraising events across the city and the university was not the only place in Sheffield where refugees found a home.

Some came to live at St Vincent’s Home for Belgian Refugees at Shirle Hill. It was at St. Vincent’s where one of the first charity concerts was held to raise money for the new occupants, and the Telegraph reports that it was well attended.

On November 21, the treasurer of the Belgian Relief Fund published a notice on the front page of the Telegraph, thanking people for their donations.

Details were also given of special screenings at the Sheffield Electra Palace where all proceeds between 2pm and 6pm would go to the Relief Fund.

Local children also did their bit for the refugees and many Sunday schools held charity concerts. On November 24 children from Woodbourn Road Wesleyan Reform Church performed the various national anthems of the Allied Forces to a large audience.

Belgian soldiers and refugees found a warm welcome here in Sheffield and the Telegraph reports that wounded Belgian and British soldiers developed strong friendships, attending these cinema screenings and concerts together.

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Photographs courtesy of Sheffield Archives at www.picturesheffield.com.