A Visit to the Belgian Refugees

Autumn Term 1914

On Tuesday, 27th October, Miss Wyld took me up to London. We went up to the Belgian Refugee Transport Office, where we found Miss May Wyld, who told us that just as she was about to leave the Office on Monday night, between 11 and 12 o’clock, she had a telephone message to say that 2000 refugees would arrive at about one o’clock that night, and that they must be met and sent somewhere for the night. They were all sent to Alexandra Palace; Miss May Wyld took some up in her car. She told us that they none of them spoke at all, but allowed themselves to be ordered about like small children, which is not surprising, as they were some of those who had been saved from the Gantaume, and also some others fleeing from their country, who were half starved and so dazed and tired that they were grateful for any food and shelter.

First we went to a big hall near the Office, where most of the better class of those saved from the Gantaume had been sent. Miss May Wyld said that it was very difficult to tell the difference between the better and the poorer classes, as they all looked more less like tramps after their long journey, with no clothes except the ones they had on.

The we went to the Alexandra Palace. We took a parcel of sweets from Fawcett House for the Belgian children. When we got there we saw crowds of men, women, and children, wandering about or sitting in groups, with nothing to do. We also saw two huge halls absolutely crowded with beds; they were packed in as tightly as they could be. One room was for the men, the other for the women. The children must have slept several to a bed. Then we saw another hall, which was lined with tables. We saw one table which was stacked with bread.

Some of the poor people had to stay at the Alexandra Palace for about a week, others for only a few days. It depended on how soon homes could be found for them all over England.

Miss May Wyld drove us back through London, and it looked so strange that all the streets were so dark; even the car’s lights had brown paper pasted over them, so as not to show up the streets so clearly.

Margaret Chalmers, Lower V.