Glasgow City Archives’ Centenary Stories: Glasgow’s War

Posted on 02 December 2014

Chocolatiers and chair-bottomers, pit pony boys and paper bag makers – these are but some of the long-forgotten occupations noted in a register of around 8,000 Belgian refugees who came to Glasgow during the First World War.

In early October 1914, the Glasgow Corporation was appointed as Scotland’s ‘distribution centre’ for Belgian refugees fleeing German invasion. They were temporarily housed in churches and hotels across the city, including the iconic Great Eastern Hotel on Duke Street, then a hostel for homeless working men.

Official appeals, such as the one below, were made to municipalities across Scotland and in Glasgow a temporary office was established in the Mitchell Library for the purpose of receiving and registering offers of hospitality. Many Glaswegians, believing the war would be over by Christmas, rushed to accommodate families who had fled their own homes.

Along with councils across the U.K, Glasgow formed a Belgian Refugee Committee who were to take responsibility for housing and maintaining the refugees. The Belgian Relief Committee kept a register of around 8,000 refugees, including details of their origin, trade, and address in Scotland. These can be viewed digitally in the Belgium Refugees section online.