The refugee experience, Flanders and Wales

The wartime ‘Report of the Central Register of Belgian Refugees’ included the statement – ‘Add to this the Shakespearean tendency of the Flemish peasant to spell his surname differently on any occasion that arose for spelling it, and it is no matter for wonder that the records abounded in errors, omissions and inaccuracies.’


How did the Flemish monolingual refugees manage to communicate with their hosts? A number of ways emerged, including the use of latin as a lingua franca in Catholic communities, and probably the use of children as intermediaries. Were particular accents of English – or even languages other than English – easier for Flemish-speakers?




The experiences of the Belgian refugees in Britain, and the experiences of their hosts, is a subject whose complexity that has emerged during this centennial period; Rose Macaulay, in Non-Combatants and Others (1916), indicates that there was by no means a uniformity of response: ‘Margot was a good girl, but, like so many others, tired of Belgians, though this Belgian was a nice one, as strangers in a foreign land go. Alix hated and feared her whole nation; they had been through altogether too much.’ … Mrs. Frampton, moved doubtless by some sequence of thought known to herself, said, ‘They say those Belgians in the corner house eat ten pounds of cheese each week. Edwards’ boy told Florence. Just fancy that. Not that one grudges them anything, poor things.’


The refugee experience linking Belgium and Wales is just one of the subjects that will be explored in ‘Flanders and Wales, a First World War Symposium’ this Thursday at the Pierhead, Cardiff. The day is organized with reference to the commemoration of the Passchendaele campaign of July-November 1917, 100 years ago, and is sponsored by the Cardiff University, the Government of Flanders, and the Welsh Government.


Have a further look at the following site for the full programme and more information:


Attendance at the symposium is free and lunch will be provided.   All those attending are invited to an evening reception.  If you would like to attend, please register on the following webpage:

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