4-10 May 1915: Belgian Refugees and the beginnings of the Wandsworth Battalion

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of England on Battersea Rise produced a monthly magazine known as the “St Andrew’s Review”.  The May 1915 edition contains the first in a series of columns headed Belgian Notes, giving news on the Belgian Hostel at 83 Clapham Common West Side.

83 Clapham Common West Side had been a private school before the war, although a small one with eight boarding pupils recorded on the 1911 census.  It was run by a Harriet Bridgeman, but from 26 October 1914 the rate books record it as occupied by Belgian refugees.  A further note also specifies that the property was not to be charged rates, as per a letter from the Town Clerk.  There is a gap in the rate books between 1915 and 1922, by the later date the property was back in private hands and it is not clear who actually owned it when it was being used as a home for refugees.

The first mention of the hostel is in the December 1914 edition of the St Andrew’s Review.  An article written by one of the refugees, John Carnas, gives an account of being called up by the Belgian army, being injured and invalided out, then having to leave Antwerp as the Germans had started to bombard the city.  He initially went to Paris but was unable to find work, then went to Calais where the refugees were not allowed to spend longer than 24 hours, at which point they decided to cross the Channel and came to London, “where we had a reception fit for a king… Here we are now in our comfortable resting place at 83 West Side, Clapham Common, where the ladies and gentlemen of the Committee do everything possible to make us happy”.

The next update is in this month’s Review.  A recent concert had raised just over £30, but the cost of maintenance worked out at a little over 6/- a head (although for how long is not given), with 40 guests in the hostel at the time of writing and as many as 47 in the past.  Due to the “increased cost of commodities” an increase in income was also required, and the Committee were hoping that local residents might be able to start regular door to door collections in their own roads.

A group of refugees at the hostel

A group of refugees at the hostel

Taking place this week was also the regular meeting of Wandsworth Council, where it was reported that the Mayor had been asked by the War Office to oversee the raising of a local battalion for the regular forces (as opposed to the Territorials).  Offices for recruiting were to be set up at the Town Hall and 380 Streatham High Road.  This was what became the 13th (Wandsworth) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment and we’ll be coming back to it in upcoming blogs.

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