Ossett Pictures - WW1 Belgian Refugees in Ossett

Previous | Home | Next

Belgian refugees working in Ossett during WW1

During WW1 over 240,000 Belgian refugees were evacuated to towns and cities in Great Britian. In September 1914 the British government offered "victims of war the hospitality of the British nation." The Belgian refugees were the largest refugee movement in British history. A number of Belgian people were evacuated to Ossett as the fighting raged in their country. The "Ossett Observer" for Saturday Oct 24 1914 notes that "Ossett has taken into its care some 66 Belgian refugees. They are staying at the Primitive Methodist Sunday school in Queen Street." Thanks to Neville Ashby for the "Ossett Observer" reference.

This picture shows a group of Belgian refugees who worked in a local armourment factory called Moses & Naylor making shell caps for 18 pound shells. Often seen as job stealers, they didn't always get on well with the British and tended not to mix. The language barrier will not have helped. Generally, in the country, tensions surfaced between the refugees and their hosts and an anti-Belgian riot broke out in May 1916 in London particularly over problems of housing and jobs. Refugees were accused of a lack of enthusiasm for work. However, citizens were asked to accept that the refugees possessed the same qualities and flaws as anyone else and that the problems were caused by a small proportion of the refugees.

Virtually all the refugees went back to Belgium after the war was over, but there were still 9,892 Belgian refugees in Britain as late as 1921.

Belgian Refugees in Ossett

The picture above shows a group of Belgian refugees who were living in Ossett in 1915 at the Primitive Methodist Sunday School on Queen Street, here with the Ossett mayor Harvey Robinson and his wife, the lady mayoress. This picture, which featured in the "Ossett Observer" on the 14th November 1986 was kindly sent to me by Carol Krahe and shows her Great-Grandfather Armand A. Krahe, fourth from left, on the top row (his neighbours have their hands on his shoulders.)

Armand A. Krahe was to stay in Ossett after WW1 and in 1915, he married Edith Mary Willet (b. 1897 Wetherby) in Ossett and they had a son Albert Krahe. Armand had seen some action against the invading German army in 1914/15 before his evacuation to England and it was reputed that he had won the French Croix du Guerre. Sadly, he was to die at the early age of 34 in 1928 from gangrene poisoning that developed from his war wounds. Another member of the Krahe family, who may have been Armand's sister, Josephine N. Krahe also stayed in England after WW1 and she married Edward Woodcock in Leeds in 1923.

Horbury also hosted a number of Belgian refugees and these were housed in an ex-Wesleyan schoolroom close to Horbury Co-Op. The Co-op donated furniture and crockery to the Belgians, who had arrived with very few personal possessions.