“The expression ‘Belgian Refugees’ means a person who being either a Belgian subject or an alien recently residing in Belgium has arrived in the United Kingdom since the commencement of the war.”

The Aliens Restriction (Belgian Refugees) Order 1914, 28 November 1914

Ali at Quiberville

These pages feature my research into the Belgian refugees who came to Tunbridge Wells and environs during World War One.

I discovered the Belgians’ story in 2008 during research for a Community Play “The Vanishing Elephant”, written and directed by Jon Oram of Claque Theatre, which dramatised some of the history of the Camden Road area of Tunbridge Wells in the years 1880-1918.

Subsequently I was invited by the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society to contribute a chapter on the Belgian refugees to a local history monograph, “THE SHOCK OF WAR – Tunbridge Wells on the Home Front 1914-1918” which was published in 2014.  The book can be ordered from Tunbridge Wells Civic Society.

Since then I have continued to research the individual families and have set myself the task of tracing them all.

Please do get in touch if you have information to share – maybe a member of your family was a refugee – or on one of the committees – or took in a family – or…

Many thanks! Dank u well! Merci beaucoup! Danke schoen!

Alison Sandford MacKenzie

CW Emson bust

Bust of Tunbridge Wells Mayor and Chairman of the Belgian Refugees Committee, Charles Whitbourn Emson, made by Belgian sculptor and refugee Paul Van den Kerckhove, and presented to the town in September 1915. Now on display in Tunbridge Wells Town Hall.

Read a bit more here