What is a refugee?115.JPG
A refugee is a person who flees for refuge or safety to a foreign country, especially in times of war or political upheaval. Belgium was one of the first countries attacked by Germany during World War I and many people fled their homes to come and live in Britain until the war ended.
Belgian Refugees in Letchworth
In September 1914 the first group of Belgian refugees were brought to Letchworth. They had fled Belgium after their towns had been destroyed by the advancing German army. They were given a warm welcome despite the fact the majority of them didn't speak any English! They were invited to come to Letchworth to come and work in the factories in the town.
Much larger numbers of Belgians arrived in 1915. Work had begun in March of that year on the building of Kryn and Lahy metalworks factory to make weapons and bullets for the war. This is where the Belgian refugees worked. By the end of 1916 they made up a quarter of of the population of Letchworth- there were around 2,000 in the town. There weren't enough houses for them. Some of the refugees lived in empty factories and shops and two or even three families were crammed into small cottages. Eventually new houses were built for them in the Westbury area which was nicknamed 'Little Antwerp' (which was the name of a Belgian city).

For further information:
Belgian Refugees in Letchworth


Working in factories making munitions was often a tough life. You can read more about the life of a munitions worker at these websites:

Such large numbers of Belgian in the city did cause some problems which included cycling on the wrong side of the road and drunkenness. The people of Letchworth made great efforts to welcome the visitors and make them feel as much at home as possible. Some shopkeepers began to learn French and employ French speaking shop assistants, and shops and cafes printed French menus. Entertainments were provided such as concerts at the Spirella Factory and the Pixmore Institute. The children were allowed to attend the Norton Road School. When the war was over, many Belgians returned home with happy memories of Letchworth.

A memorial tree and plaque stands in Howard Park to celebrate the contribution the Belgians made to our community during the war.

Real Story
In 1914 Jacques Kryn, a prominent Belgian diamond merchant fled with his brother Georges, and Raoul Lahy, both engineers. In 1915 they opened 'Kryn and Lahy' on a site in Icknield way to manufacture weapons for the war. The factory they owned can be seen below.

Possible Story Ideas
- A Belgian refugee (child or adult) arriving in Letchworth for the first time
- A Letchworth resident (child or adult) meeting the Belgians

In 1918 they adapted for peace production. The company went borderline bankrupt in 1926 and entered voluntary liquidation in 1927, but was saved when it was bought by George Cohen Sons and Co. Ltd.Also it began to produce munitions for the Second World War in 1939.

Tree planted to the people of Letchworth for their hospitality during the Great War presented by the Belgian Government, Howard Memorial Garden, Letchworth Garden City

Source 1: Photo of Belgian Refugees
A photo taken of Belgian Refugees at the Kryn and Lahy factory at some point during World War I.
- What does it tell you about what the Belgians were like and what sorts of jobs they did?
- Think about the way has been set up- does the crowd seem natural in the way they are standing?- does this make it more or less reliable?
- What was the purpose of this photo do you think?- does this make it more or less reliable?
- It was taken during the war- does this make it more or less reliable?

Source 2: Newspaper Report on a Primary School Concert

Norton Church School

Before they dispersed for their Christmas holidays the children who attend the Church School at Norton gave a couple of concerts, last Monday. Between the concerts there was a tea and to this and to the concert all the Belgian Refugees of Letchworth and Baldock were invited. There were many delighted parents and friends in attendance. As a tribute to the brave stand made by the Belgians against the invading Germans,and to the Belgians present, the programme (performance) opened with rendering (playing) of the Belgian National Anthem. Altogether the concert was most attractive and a great success.

The Vicar spoke a few words. He said it was a very great pleasure to him to welcome the Belgians on the behalf of the head-mistress, staff and the children. The children’s friends provided the eta themselves. They felt they could never repay what they owed to Belgium, for all it had done for us.

- What does the article tell you about the way the town reacted to the Belgians?
- It was written during the war- does this make it more or less reliable?
- Newspaper articles are written to inform the local community about events. However, the journalists often gave their own opinion in their writing. Do you think this article is unreliable or do you think the writer's view of the Belgians has influenced the article?

Source 3: A Letchworth Woman's Memories of the Refugees

'There were lots of Belgian refugees came to live in the town. We had some living with us at various times. Lots of people in Letchworth of course took in Belgian refugees and eventually the Westbury estate was built specially to house them - it used to be called Little Antwerp in those days. Quite a number of them worked at the Kryn and Lahy factory. The Belgian man who lived with us was called Verreyt and he used to work there. Sometimes he would be there for forty hours straight off working on the blast furnaces. In his own trade he was an architect at Malines in Belgium

I knew an old Belgian lady called "Granny" and she used to come to the butcher's shop when we were in there. She said "English people are the laziest people going - absolutely -lazy none of them carry their own shopping home - they all have to have it sent !." The Belgians had a horse flesh shop (horse meat was a common Belgian food) half way down The Wynd and a Belgian Grocer's Shop.

My little brother used to play with some of the little Belgian boys who often used to smoke on the common. My mother used to say to my brother "now you are not to smoke if you go and play on the common." He said, "No" and then one day he came back crying and he said "I've been smoking and I feel sick "- he never smoked again !'

This memory was from an interview with an elderly Letchworth woman who had lived in the town during World War I. The interview was carried out in 2003.

- This woman lived in Letchworth during the war- does this make her a reliable witness?
- This interview was carried out in 2003, which is 85 years since the war ended. Does this make her story reliable?
- Do you think the purpose of her interview was merely to inform people about what life was like? Do you think she might be aiming to entertain her audience with ehr choice of stories? Does this make her account reliable?