Refugees Arrive

Ossett railway station saw many comings and goings in its history and in 1914 it witnessed the arrival of Belgian refugees.


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The workers are thought to be mainly, if not all, Belgian refugees. This photo is dated 1915. The man on the left at the front is John Lee Moses, the man on the right is Mr. Naylor.

Moses and Naylor were brass founders next to Wilby's drift mine on Healey Road. At this time they were making 18lb brass shrapnel shell caps.

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The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 led to refugees flooding out of the country. Many found shelter in the United Kingdom and Ossett was one of the towns which offered a home to them. A group of sixty-six refugees, men, women and children, arrived at Ossett station on 17 October 1914. Led by the Ossett Brass Band and followed by the Boy Scouts and the Church Lads Brigade, they were taken in procession to the Primitive Methodist Sunday School, Queen Street, which was to be their home until the following year. The refugees, most of whom were Flemish speakers, were accompanied by Father Ryan, the priest in charge at St Ignatius' Church in Ossett. Fortunately he spoke both French and Flemish, having spent eight years at a Belgian abbey. Funds to support the refugees were raised from donations and they also received gifts of food and clothing.
More refugees arrived in the following weeks. Most were housed in the Sunday School, while others were lodged with families or in rented accommodation. As there was a shortage of labour in Ossett because of the war, the men had no problems in finding work in the town. On the whole the refugees were accepted by the community, although there were grumbles that they were better fed than some of the townspeople.
At the year's end the refugees celebrated Christmas and the New Year. On Christmas Eve the Mayor, Councillor Stead, presided over a special tea at the Sunday School which was followed by singing, music and dancing while Santa Claus gave presents to the children. Christmas Day was marked by visits from the Ossett Brass Band and groups of carol singers and dinner included roast beef and plum pudding. On New Year's Eve young people from the Primitive Methodist Chapel joined in celebrations which culminated with the Belgian custom dimming and brightening the lights at midnight.

oandgarchive — 5 years ago

I have often wondered why, after living for over 50 years in Ossett, I have never heard of any descendants from these refugees. The following BBC article may explain this. It would be interesting to know if there are any of their descendants still in Ossett or Gawthorpe.