Community commemorate 'The Belgian Village on the Thames'

Release Date: 05/04/2017

A traditional Flemish children’s song filled the air when a public artwork was unveiled on Saturday to commemorate the stories and tales of the 6,000 refugees who made ‘The Belgian Village on the Thames’ was unveiled on Saturday.

Carved from ‘Belgian Blue’ stone and inscribed with the words ‘memories flow through me like a boat flows down the river’, the monument rests at the heart of Warren Gardens in East Twickenham – where once an army sentry guarded the Belgian Munitions Factory. The moving ceremony and unveiling brought scores of dignitaries together who were joined by local residents and members of the public.

The ceremony opened with Thomas Hardy’s Belgian refugee poem, Land of Chimes, hauntingly read by 12-year old Milly Stephens from Hampton Hill.

Richmond Council’s Mayor Cllr David Linnette welcomed the special guests, Belgian Ambassador His Excellency Guy Trouveroy, and Monsieur Guy Pelabon, descendant of the Franco-Belgian factory entrepreneur who brought the Richmond Belgian community into being.

The monument’s inscription had been selected from many outstanding poems taken from a poetry workshop at Orleans Primary School – where all the Twickenham Belgian children used to go. It was read aloud by the writer, Issy Holton (now 12), repeated in Dutch by Louis de Pauw and Amber Sourbron, and then in French by Elodie Butler (all aged 8). Children from the school sang the traditional Flemish Children’s song ‘Green Swans, White Swans’, followed by two students from the German School in Ham, Lukas Rossmanith and Nikolaus Siller, who spoke on peace and reconciliation.

The forgotten story of the thousands of refugees who worked and lived by the Belgian munitions factory in East Twickenham will now always be remembered thanks to the hard work, creativity and tenacity of the East Twickenham Centennial Group. Their work was made possible thanks to £5,000 each from Richmond Council’s Civic Pride Fund and Richmond Civic Trust, £8,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and additional support from Heathrow Communities Together.

The memorial is part of a wider two year project when the East Twickenham Centennial Group will add to the memories with more newspaper clippings, old photographs and family keepsakes. A three month exhibition will open at Twickenham Museum on The Embankment from 6 April. Researchers and volunteers will also trawl individual Belgian record cards held at The National Archives in Kew. Their work will later be displayed online on an interactive database showing the addresses in Richmond and Twickenham where the Belgians lived or worked.

Richmond Council’s Cabinet Member for Community, Planning and the Voluntary Sector, Cllr Susan Chappell, said:

“The ceremony was beautiful and fitting tribute to the people who made ‘The Belgian Village on the Thames’ 100 years ago and who now, thanks to the work of the East Twickenham Centennial Group, will always be remembered. There has been so much interest in their story from Richmond and beyond and it was wonderful to join a host of other local residents, community groups and descendants of the Belgium refugees.”

Helen Baker, East Twickenham Centennial Chair, said:

“The mix of children, young people and seniors in the ceremony was quite emotional. I think the moment has finally arrived when the stories of the 6,000 souls who worked and lived around the Belgian Munitions Factory will be written into the history books. It’s been a thrill to put this project together and retell the fascinating tale of the Belgian Village on the Thames. This borough will never again forget them and their stories will live on forever.”

Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London, added:

“The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond. With this funding we are enabling even more communities like those involved in the ‘Belgian Refugee Project’ to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help people to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

For more information visit the Civic Pride Fund page, call 020 8487 5259 or email harriet.steele@richmond.gov.uk.


Updated: 28 April 2017