Around 250,000 Belgian refugees arrived in the UK over the course of the First World War, and many settled in Doncaster. Committees and emergency aid groups were set up to provide for the families and communities banded together to provide houses and provisions.
A letter appeared in the Doncaster Chronicle in September 1914, urging Doncaster people to donate to the central Belgian Relief Fund. Just a month later, the Doncaster Gazette wrote about the decision to accept Belgian refugees in the town.
Initially, two houses were offered by local people to house refugees. A house on Avenue Road offered by Mr. W. S. Arnold, a local building contractor who also donated the building for the Arnold Auxiliary Hospital, and a house on Catherine Street, offered by Councillor E. Dowson. More support followed from local churches, schools, cinemas, shops and the Great Northern Railway’s Doncaster Works (the ‘Plant’). The first refugees arrived in Doncaster in October 1914.
The group of Belgian Refugees living at Catherine Street were described in the Doncaster Gazette in November 1914 as VICTIMS OF THE GERMAN “HUNS”
In November 1914, the Doncaster Chronicle reported that a wounded Belgian soldier sent to Doncaster was reunited with his wife and children who were among the refugees. He is pictured with two of the children.
Many local businesses rushed to assist Belgian refugees. One such offer came from Mr A. Peters, a Rotherham optician who offered free eye tests and glasses to the refugees living in Mexborough, Denaby Main and the surrounding area.
When peace was declared, Belgians quickly began to return home and it’s estimated that by 1921, 90% of the Belgian refugees were back in Belgium.