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Saturday, 26 July 2014

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Lace youngsters were a long way from home

TODAY’S main picture was spotted in a Grasmere collectables shop and features a group of Belgian refugees who called Ulverston their home during the First World War.

The picture was taken by an Ulverston postcard photographer called Groocock and shows a group of youngsters practicing their lace-making skills.

Lace – along with chocolate – remains an iconic Belgian product brought home by visitors from all over the world.

In 1914 and 1915 people were Belgium’s chief export with hundreds of thousands of them fleeing from the advancing German army with little more than they could carry to the railway stations and ports.

At Ulverston, many were given a place to stay at Lund Hall.

Most of the men and many of the younger women would commute by train to Barrow each day to work in the production of munitions.

There were so many Belgians working in Barrow shipyard that the men formed their own brass band to play fund-raising concerts.

In West Cumberland, many of the Belgian men put their experience to good use in the coal mines around Whitehaven.

Millom saw the greatest influx of refugees with an estimated 1,000 staying in converted halls and spare rooms.

People were happy to help the strangers as Britain had got involved in the First World War to free “plucky little Belgium” from German occupation.

The neutral country had been overrun in the early days of the conflict and by 1918 its ruined houses and shell-cratered fields were still being fought over, yard by painful yard.

The Millom Gazette noted: “Many of these had to leave their homes and run, just as they were at the moment, and many left beautiful homes and treasures behind.”

The town saw a series of parades involving the visitors, perhaps the biggest being to mark Belgian Independence Day in July 1916.

It was held just as news began to trickle back of the tremendous losses in the Battle of the Somme.

German forces did not leave Belgium until after the November 11 Armistice in 1918.

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