Among the many refugees who arrived in Blackburn some were already acquainted with the area and a few even had acquaintances in the area. Monsieur and Madame Piens who were formerly from Brussels arrived in Blackburn in October 1914; they were already acquainted with Mr G. A. Yates having once entertained Mr Yates when he visited Brussels some years before.
In October 1914 the sub-committee registered the “Blackburn Fund Relief of Belgian Refugees.” It was established to “give necessary assistance and provide maintenance for necessitous Belgian Refugees living in Blackburn”. Over a prolonged period of time many of the Belgian Refugees became self sufficient, and were able to work in the area, some of whom worked in the Munitions factories. Therefore, the need for local funding diminished as the war progressed. Local traders were also willing to help the Belgian Refugees; they supplied them with food and other necessary goods at reduced prices. Blackburn Sub-committee set up a fund for the Relief of Belgian Prisoners of War in October 1916. Twelve Belgian Prisoners of War were adopted by private individuals on the recommendation of the London committee. It was intended that food parcels and other such necessities would be sent to the Belgian Prisoners of War on a fortnightly basis. This fund ceased in 1917 owing to new regulations issued by the London Committee.
Blackburn sub-committee frequently received offers of accommodation and funding from the public in the opening years of the War. In July 1915 the children of Audley Range Council School raised 18 shillings for the local Belgian refugees. Mr Oliver also made a donation of £140 towards the Belgian fund; the money was raised through two performances by the Amateur Dramatics Company. Blackburn Rovers Football club gave a donation of £150. Similarly the committee also received donations of clothing and furniture. Many of the Belgian children attended the local schools. Six Belgian girls received education at Notre Dame Convent(pictured below) as a gift from the Sisters and three boys also received free education at Blackburn Grammar School.
The majority of Belgian Refugees returned to Belgium after the Armistice in November 1918. The First Belgian families to leave Blackburn left at the end of 1918, the last to leave left in March 1919. The Blackburn sub-committee established a fund for the “Repatriation of Belgian Refugees.” The joint secretaries were Mrs. Teresa Mary Wilding and Mrs. Mercia Thom who had helped to establish several other funds to help the Belgian Refugees of Blackburn. This fund was established to assist Belgian Refugees to return to Belgium; they were given gifts of money or goods to help facilitate this. All Refugees leaving Blackburn for Belgium were provided with warm clothing and boots. The money that was needed to cover the expenditure to supply these gifts was raised by three ladies: Mrs. Henry, Mrs Thom and Miss Dugdale; who had raised the money in 1916. The Repatriation fund which was established in 1916 ran until March 1919 when the last of the Belgian refuges had left Blackburn. The houses used to tenant Belgian refugees were returned to their previous owners as was the furniture donated to the sub-committee.
Blackburn was one of many towns and cities that established committees to help the quarter of a million Belgian refugees who arrived in Britain in the concluding months of 1914. As is evident from newspaper cuttings and accounts, people were only too willing to help the Belgian refugees entering Britain; it was something that the British public could physically do to help with the war effort. As the First World War progressed, the plight of Belgian refugees was overshadowed by the rising casualty lists; people became focused upon family members, sons, brothers and fathers, who were fighting at the front. Interest in Belgian refugees diminished and that is why the largest refugee movement in British history is largely forgotten about today.
Researched and written by Jane McMahon, student at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School, whilst on work experience at Blackburn Museum.
If you would like to hear a podcast about the Belgian Refugees given by Stephen Irwin, Education Officer at
BRITISH RED CROSS
The British Red Cross along with the St John Ambulance Association were responsible for co-ordinating many of the Military Hospitals in the Country. Please select the following link in order to see the List of Auxilliary Hospitals in the United Kingdom during the First World War: List of Auxiliary Hospitals in the UK during the First World War
Blackburn was designated to be a large clearing hospital for this district. Troops who landed on the East coast were immediately sent to various inland locations so that the coast hospitals were always kept free for the reception of wounded sailors and soldiers coming in later.
OXENDALE HALL In the early days of the War, Mr Joseph Dugdale, J.P. of “Claremont”, East Park Road placed his country residence, Oxendale Hall, in the Ribble Valley at the disposal of the committee (Blackburn War Hospital Committee) for a convalescent home and generously offered a contribution towards the expenses. Blackburn Times, 26.09.1914
Ellerslie,situated on East Park Road, opened with 28 beds on 28 October 1914. The house was rented and staffed with entirely voluntary personnel by the British Red Cross Society and St John Ambulance Brigade. The Blackburn Times noted that the best possible use had been made of the many rooms, noting that there were 6 beds in what was formerly the library, 5 in the old drawing room whilst the dining room accommodated 4 beds. (Blackburn Times, 24.10.1914).
By the end of October 1914, visiting times which were fixed for Tuesday and Fridays from 2.30pm to 3.45pm were being advertised in the local papers. It was noted that anyone wishing to see the hospital would be welcome during visiting hours. Permits, however, had to be purchased from Messers Seed and Gabbatt (Booksellers), 4, Preston New Road. A charge of a shilling each was made, in order to raise money for the hospital. Blackburn Weekly Telegraph, 31.10.1914.
During the first year of the War, the Red Cross accounts for 166 admittances between October 28 1914 to August 4, 1915 comprising of 132 British soldiers and sailors, 5 Australians, 1 Canadian and 28 Belgians.
In August 1915, the number of beds was raised to 41, and, at that time, the hospital contained nine wards, an isolation ward, mess room, day room, billiard room and pack store, as well as kitchen facilities and staff bedroom. All the operations were undertaken by the authorities of Blackburn Infirmary who were also responsible for x-ray diagnosis.
East Lancashire Branch British Red Cross Society: An Illustrated Account of the Work of the Branch During the First Year of the War, Sherratt & Hughes, Manchester, 1916 (pp. 256 – 259).
The addition of an annexe in April 1916 increased the number of beds to 50.
In July 1916, a request was received from the Authorities for further accommodation; and this the Committees were enabled promptly to provide by the generous offers of the late Mr Adam Dugdale and Mr Norman Dugdale to let Staveleigh at a nominal rent, and of Mr & Mrs Wilcock Holgate to bear the whole cost of its furniture and equipment. The number of beds was thus increased to 75.
Another urgent request for more hospital accommodation was made to the Committee in May 1917. The Blackburn Corporation at the instance of the Mayor (Alderman Nuttall) placed the recently built Public Halls in Northgate at the disposal of the Committee. The military hospital was then removed from Ellerslie and Staveleigh to the new Public Halls which contained 120 beds and still retained the name Ellerslie Auxiliary Home Hospital. In June 1917, the average admission rate per month was 53. The soldiers admitted between 1914 and June 1917 comprised of British, 684; Austrailians, 10; Canadians, 9; New Zealanders, 1; and Belgians, 28 and, although there had been some serious cases, no deaths had occurred at the hospital.
Ellerslie Auxilliary Home Hospital, Public Halls, Report, 1914 -1917 prepared by J. W. Carter (Chairman), 30 June, 1917
Ellerslie Hospital, The Public Halls, Blackburn
(c) Blackburn with Darwen
As well as supporting the work at Ellerslie and Moss Bridge, Blackburn Royal Infirmary was also asked to provide a ward for the sick and wounded coming from France as early as November 1914. The Board of Management of the Blackburn and East Lancashire Royal Infirmary received a letter from the Military Hospital, Manchester, stating that more beds were urgently required, and asking for the Blackburn Infirmary’s co-operation. The Board decided, in a time of national emergency to offer twenty beds at the Royal Infirmary for the reception of wounded soldiers, and additional provision was made by converting all available rooms into temporary wards, so as not to unduly restrict the accommodation for civil cases. Blackburn Weekly Telegraph, 14.11.1914
A wooden building was erected in 1915 adjoining Ward 5 at a cost of £1,500, and hundreds of wounded soldiers received treatment there during the years 1915 – 1919. Known as the “Annexe”, the ward was intended to be a semi-permanent structure but was still being used 50 years later. (A History of Blackburn and East Lancashire Royal Infirmary 1865 – 1965, produced by Blackburn and District Hospital Management Committee, p.7).
Billinge House (established February 1919):
The following report appeared in the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph: "Billinge House, Preston New Road used for the past 3 years as a home for disabled soldiers and sailors still undergoing treatment, more particularly, those suffering from paralysis of the lower limbs, was closed on Monday.
The house came under the control of the Committee for the Northern Area of the East Lancashire Homes for Disabled Sailors and Soldiers about the time it was offered for sale by private treaty, and, on February 1, 1919, it was assigned to the purpose already stated. It has now been closed because of the reduction in the number of patients requiring the particular kind of treatment for which it was equipped. ……..The patients have the option of going to the Manchester Home (Broughton House) for the remainder of their course of treatment. Blackburn Weekly Telegraph 07.01.1922
According to the British Red Cross list of Auxilliary Hospitals in operation during the First World War Moss Bridge Hospital and Tullyallan School provided accommodation for wounded soldiers and sailors in Darwen.
Moss Bridge Hospital, Darwen
Jill Faux's compilation of her Grandmother's diaries provide an illuminating insight into life in Darwen and, at Moss Bridge Hospital, during 1914.
The entry for October 19, 1914 notes: “We have had official news today that we shall have 20 wounded men at Moss Bridge tomorrow. I am very glad as I was beginning to despair of it being used. I hope we shall be able to make it a success”.
October 24, 1914: entry includes a note to say that four British soldiers had arrived at Moss Bridge Hospital.
Granny’s War: The War Time diaries of a Lancashire cotton mill owner’s wife, 1914 – 1945 by Ethel Hinemoa Shorrock edited by her granddaughter Jill Faux. Copies of this diary are available to consult at both Blackburn and Darwen Library and are available to buy from Blackburn & Darwen Tourist Information Office in Blackburn Market.
Information (below) kindly provided by Jill, depicts how active her Grandmother was in visiting sick and wounded soldiers particularly those from New Zealand :
Paddock House Oswaldtwistle
Pt Bainbridge J. W. 10/19 Taraniki Rifles, shot lungs
Pt Stevenson, L. P. 8/113 Otago Batt - heart
Pt. Evans J. 7039 1st Batt - wrist
Pt. Cowdrey, Edwin 12/1063 16th Co Auk - shoulder
Pt.Lynds, James 12/1456 6th Hawraki Auk - leg and shoulder
Tn. Bremmer, John 12/213 Well - left hand
Dri Hendrick, George 2/787, No 2 Co - left elbow
Pt. Rea, Earnest 10/813, Taranta, Well - foot damage
Serg. Hamilton, M. 8/1139 Otago - left hand
Cpl Griffiths, J. 10/358 A Co Well - groin
Pt. Scott, Frank 6/720 13th Canter - left hand
Cpl Marsh, Cecil 40911 F.A. Res Batt - Deafness
B Lloyd Harry 27370, 15th Highlanders C Co - scalds
Pt. Fenwick, Charles 63340, 4t Batt B Co - head
Auxiliary Military Hospital, Haslingden
Pt. Jeffries,, J. 6/2173 2nd Can - enteritis
According to Jill, her Grandmother made notes of the errands she ran and the things she bought for the soldiers, from where she made the purchases as well as the price of items, such as, Boots from Salter and Salter, Wigan for 19/6d.
During the early portion of 1915 a new wing was added to Moss Bridge Hospital, increasing the accommodation from 29 to 55 beds and the extension fund was opened by a generous donation from Messrs. J. and W. G. Shorrock. Within a month of the completion of the new wing every bed was occupied. The dressings, which averaged 70 to 75 per day, kept the staff of nurses very busily engaged.
Early in June (1915), the Matron, Miss McGregor, withdrew her services to take up duty at the Cardiff Military Hospital, and Miss Yates accepted the vacated position; she was assisted by Sisters Payne and Platt, together with seven day and two night nurses from the St. John Ambulance Brigade.
In June (1915) the staff and patients decided to raise sufficient money to pay off the remaining debt of £89 on the new wing. A very successful Garden Party was held in the grounds on June 25 and 26, at which numerous and varied attractions were organised. A most interesting feature was a trench “Somewhere in France”, made and manned by wounded soldiers from the Hospital. On the right of the trench was a “dug-out”, and hundreds of visitors traversed the anything but easy road that led to this realistic scene.
There were two sections of trenches, loop holed and protected by barbed wire. Visitors were shown the working periscope from the trenches, and the gas protector helmets were clearly explained by Corporal Haworth of the 1st East Lancs. Within a month another Garden Party was held, and on this occasion, in addition to again giving a most vivid representation of actual trenches, there was a most interesting innovation. This was a camp-life scene, and the soldiers sold tea made in dixies over the regular camp fires.
The Two Garden Parties were exceedingly instructive, and they realised the sum of £370, out of which an x-ray apparatus has been purchased for the Hospital. A new hall at that time was in the progress of being built in order to contain dining and recreation rooms following which the Hospital contained six wards, office, three bed-sitting rooms, dining room, two kitchens, linen room, operating theatre and bathroom.
The report notes that there were 277 admittances from October 22, 1914 to August 4, 1915 comprising British, 246, Australians, 3; Canadians, 5 and 23 Belgians. These troops had contracted their wounds or primary illnesses from France and Belgium, Gallipoli and Great Britain. Injuries tended to be bullet and shrapnel wounds, frost bite, gas inhalation, rheumatism plus a range of other conditions.
Information regarding Moss Bridge: East Lancashire Branch British Red Cross Society: An Illustrated Account of the Work of the Branch During the First Year of the War, Sherratt & Hughes, Manchester, 1916, pp. 253-255.
Moss Bridge Hospital Ward
Moss Bridge Hospital, photograph below taken by Ted Kershaw, Darwen
The following images are taken from the autograph book of Mercy Anne Forrest Hunt (Mrs Old) who worked as a Nurse at Moss Bridge Hospital.
Information kindly supplied by Tony Foster Friends of Darwen Cemetery
notes that Mercy was singled out for praise in an article which appeared in The Darwen Gazette. The ladies who served as Voluntary Aid Dispatch workers at Moss Bridge were recognised for their hard work and contribution at an awards ceremony which took place at the St John Ambulance Drill Hall. Dr I W Heywood noted that "It would not be right of him to select from amongst all who did so much particular ladies for special mention, but he felt that he ought to mention Mrs Old who worked so splendidly during the time she was at Moss Bridge. The Darwen Gazette, Saturday, November 13, 1920.
The autographs give an insight into the talents and experiences of the soldiers who were recovering from their injuries. They also provide clues as to who stayed at Moss Bridge during this period; some of the pages have been signed by Belgian soldiers. The images have been kindly provided by Mr Philip Old (Mercy's Grandson). Of particular interest is the entry provided by Gunner George Old who ultimately married Mercy at St Cuthbert's Church in Darwen and, is therefore,
Mr Old's Grandfather.