I came across this tiny lapel 'flag' while sorting through old papers at the weekend. Do you remember flag days, when you would be solicited to give a few coins for a good cause and would get one of these little flags for your lapel? I don't know whether this is something my grandmother kept and handed down (it was alongside a flag for a children's charity in Glasgow, the city where my mother was born and spent her first nine or so years) or an item that was given to me when young, when I already had a reputation as a collector.
The flag is a little battered, as you can see, but it's remarkable that such a fragile and ephemeral item has survived at all for more than a century.
The arrival of Belgian refugees in the early stages of the First World War was the biggest single refugee influx Britain has ever experienced. About 250,000 Belgians came over to Britain when their country was invaded by the German army. There were refugee centres across the country - and some refugee colonies which operated almost as if part of Belgium (French or Flemish spoken, Belgian currency and stamps used).
The Belgian refugees are not much remembered because they almost all returned home to Belgium - indeed they weren't given much choice - within a year of the war ending. But look hard, and there are some remnants of their presence - for example, the Our Lady of Hal Catholic church in Camden, named after a pilgrimage site in Belgium and run until the 1980s by a Belgian religious order. It continues to display in a side chapel a relief bust of King Albert placed there by 'the Belgian colony in Great Britain'.
And the best known of these Belgian refugees - well he's fictional, but we have all heard of Hercule Poirot!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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