1-7 September 1914: Belgian Refugees in Balham

On 4th September, the South Western Star reported on the receiving depot for Belgian refugees at St Luke’s, Ramsden Road. On the Monday of that week twenty-seven refugees had arrived, nine more came on Tuesday and a further seven on Wednesday. Tents were set up in the church grounds to provide shelter for women and children during the day, and the newspaper reports that many curious locals had come to have a look at the refugees and to offer sweets and fruit to the children. The reporter from the Star was unable to get a great deal of information, as the local Red Cross had been instructed not to discuss the situation. Some of the refugees were from Louvain “the flourishing city which German barbarism has reduced to ruins” and those who had escaped were “thankful to be with the good English”. Nuns from the local convent were allowed in to take some of the women and children out for the afternoon, and the article finishes by commenting on how they were probably instructed to keep them from talking to strangers.

Elsewhere in the paper life in the area seemed to be carrying on much as before the war. The magistrate’s courts were busy with the usual mix of drunkenness, petty crime and assault, with one major difference being that some of those sentenced were not fined or imprisoned but instructed to join the army. One man who should have appeared on a charge of being drunk and disorderly was unable to attend court as he had enlisted, and it was claimed that “after his enlistment he had a drop too much” – the charge was withdrawn. Another man was arrested for brandishing a revolver whilst drunk to “celebrate the victories at the war”.

The Star also reports on the more conventional methods the borough used to mark the outbreak of war by describing a recruiting meeting at Wandsworth Town Hall. As well as a number of men enlisting, the meeting also passed a resolution to say “that those present pledge themselves to enlist, or, if unable to enlist, to do all in their power to help recruiting”. Elsewhere it was reported that a number of pupils from Wandsworth Technical Institute had safely returned from a trip to Switzerland where they had been when war broke out. They were not alone in the borough in finding themselves stuck in Europe, the Board of Guardians recorded the safe return of their Chair, Canon Curtis, to England at their meeting on 3rd September, and two of the teachers in Holy Trinity School, Upper Tooting had a delayed start to the term as they had problems returning from Switzerland. The newspaper does not record quite why so many people from Wandsworth were in Switzerland!

The South Western Star and other local papers are available on microfilm at Wandsworth Heritage Service.

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