This memorial plaque was presented to the citizens of Bangor by Belgium refugees at the end of the First World War, thanking them for their hospitality. An engraved brass plaque at the bottom of the frame reads:
‘PRESENTED TO THE BANGOR CITIZENS BY THE BELGIAN REFUGEES
IN KIND REMEMBRANCE FOR THEIR GENEROUS HOSPITAL
OFFERED TO THEM DURING THEIR EXILE IN THE WAR
The separate crest at the top of the plaque reads ‘L’Union Fait la Force’. The beaten panel, made from a copper alloy, shows an angel or saint like female figure approaching two wounded soldiers lying under weeping willows after a battle had ended. ‘Ypres’ is written on the banner behind the standing figure.
At the beginning of First World War over 1.5 million Belgium fled from the advancing German troops. The war had started with very little notice and many families had to flee their homes on foot with whatever belongings they could hold. About 250,000 Belgian refugees arrived in Britain and were enthusiastically welcomed by communities across the country. Housing and food were willingly provided. The Government was also happy to use them to promote anti German feelings and patriotism.
Over 60 Belgian refugees came to Bangor, many staying in houses provided by Lord Penrhyn. A letter from 1914 to a Belgian newspaper, written to give information about the whereabouts of some of the refugees, lists the names of those living at Wellfield (now the site of the empty Debenhams shop), one of Lord Penrhyn’s houses. It states that 32 people were living there –‘There are 10 rooms and 5 lounges, all furnished especially for us, not even a piano is missing!….. All weeks we receive rabbits and hares, shot in the hunting grounds of our noble lord.’ It continues ‘The population is especially sweet towards us. We are invited to theatre and cinema shows, car and boat rides, etc.’.
The plaque was made in Antwerp by A. H. Bellens whose name is inscribed prominently on the left-hand side. His nephew, Monsieur Bellens, was a refugee who had worked for three and a half years at the Picturedrome in Bangor as an operator. Whilst in Bangor he had made many friends and before he and his family returned to Belgium in 1919 a fund raising benefit concert was held to raise money for them. The North Wales Chronicle reports on January 17th 1919, ‘A programme as varied as it was excellent was given. Mr H. T. Williams as usual got a boisterous reception for his topical comic songs: Mr Tegid Davies induced the audience to join in a chorus song with two or three verses applicable to the Belgians: Mr Land played a couple of concertina solos in fine style; and Miss Bessie Edwards gave a couple of ballads in a manner that greatly please the audience. In a few remarks, the Mayor (Mr R. J. Williams) referred to what the city had done for the Belgian Refugees, though they owed a deep debt to the Belgian nation.’
For more fascinating information about Belgian refugees in north Wales see https://refugeesinrhyl.wordpress.com