Indyref: Culture and Politics Five Years On (Summary)

SCOTT HAMES

Five years is only a quarter-note of historical time, but so much has transpired since 2014 – enough to leave both Scottish and British politics un-recognisable – indyref now sounds like an entirely different song. Or does it?


In planning this retrospective on the cultural debate on independence (held at City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, 21 September), I anticipated a mood of warm reminiscence, and perhaps some gentle pruning of the hopeful visions of young creatives. But we found little appetite for the pleasures of evocation and reconstruction. Instead, there was a general air of disenchantment, as a number of former Yes activists dismantled their passions of five summers ago, while others sought to pluck the democratic baby from the bathwater of disillusion.

We began with a panel on ‘Writers and Independence, Five Years On’, exploring the role of writers and artists in 2014 chaired by Liam Murray Bell. Poet, performer and spoken-word producer Jenny Lindsay recounted her own bittersweet experience with National Collective, the youthful grassroots ‘cultural movement for Scottish independence’, deftly explored in her 2015 collection Ire and Salt. For Lindsay, the ‘co-opting’ of NC by the central Yes campaign as the vote drew near – a sense of being ‘used’ in ways that infringed her own personal and artistic independence – cast a shadow on the summer of hope and belief. The creative energies stirred by 2014, she observed, went directly into party politics – via the explosion of the ‘YeSNP’ in 2014-15 – and left a meagre legacy in creative expression and progressive activism. For this reason, she doubted whether writers and artists would be prominent voices in any indyref2.

 

IMG_5462

Janice Galloway was highly circumspect in her memories of 2014, and recommended the stance of the detached observer, noticing how others react (and remember) rather than dwelling on her own opinions. While distrusting the stance of the artist-seer, and more curious about the views of younger artists, Galloway did venture a memory of ‘middle-class folk keen to embrace a “movement”’ in 2014, but refrained from judgement, preferring to listen as precisely as possible – holding to the disciplines of novelistic observation. Harry Josephine Giles cast a cold passionate eye on the Yes movement and its legacy, including recent divisions within the ruling SNP on trans rights, in light of which Giles viewed today’s pro-independence movement (including its reactionary outriders) as ‘hostile and dangerous’. In 2013 Giles had made a strategic compromise with Scottish nationalism because they believed in the Yes movement’s potential to be ‘a force of transformation and imagination’, offering radical possibility alongside constitutional rupture. Giles now regrets lending their energy to a project whose main consequence has been the strengthening of ‘rump populist nationalism’. Their main impression of 2014 was feeling ‘captured by the politics of the state’, in ways an earlier generation of radical Scottish writers (e.g. Tom Leonard) predicted and cautioned against. In response, Giles has redoubled their commitment to anarchist and anti-fascist activism, and will have nothing to do with any indyref2.

IMG_5465

Mike Small, editor of the blog Bella Caledonia, agreed that the imagination and energy of 2014 ‘has gone stale or has simply gone’. The progressive Yes coalition is today divided between a self-absorbed ‘nationalist movement’ (mainly online, talking to itself) and a more diffuse ‘democracy movement’ with little appetite for flag-waving. The latter group is profoundly disillusioned; not only by Scottish developments, but also Brexit, austerity, the impunity of successive Tory governments, and collapsing constitutional and democratic norms. (The day I published this write-up, the UK Supreme Court ruled that parliament had been unlawfully pro-rogued by Boris Johnson.) But unlike the nationalist movement, Small argued, the democracy movement can be salvaged, rallied and re-focused around distinct progressive goals. A Scottish Republic should now be the focus and rallying slogan: ‘we thought we wanted a parliament but we need a democracy’. In this regard, the image of 2014 had been sharpened and clarified by the passing of five years, not faded or blurred. The resulting picture was not entirely bleak.

Our second panel considered ‘Indyref in Personal and Public Memory’, beginning with the recollections of two members of the BBC’s indyref youth project Generation 2014 (Amina Davidson and Sabina Jedrzejczyk), who were school pupils turning 16 not long before the 2014 vote. Now deep into advanced study in music and software engineering, respectively, Davidson and Jedrzejczyk recalled experiencing indyref like extra school homework, swotting up on facts and figures in advance of media appearances, treating the debate more diligently than most adult voters. They also recalled the novelty of an ‘inside view’ on the media’s indyref – the studied neutrality and both-sides-ism of BBC formats, occasionally hearing breaking news before the public, and the challenge of explaining complex issues to Scottish, UK and international audiences. Despite the strains of ‘growing up in public’ in this way – forming and developing their teenage political views in front of cameras and microphones – both Davidson and Jedrzejczyk strongly endorsed the extended franchise of 2014 (which granted the vote to 16 and 17-year olds) for any future indyref.

IMG_5538

Rory Scothorne and Alice Doyle are PhD researchers examining the past and future of indyref, respectively. Scothorne noted that the future-oriented dreaming of 2014 had the unfortunate effect of cutting the Yes movement off from its own cultural and political precursors in the 1960s-70s – links he is now studying in his work on postwar Scottish radicalism and its print-cultures. Having been an active Yes campaigner and National Collectivist, Scothorne now confessed a degree of embarrassment at the sense of novelty and fresh beginnings circa 2013, while an earlier tradition of critical, unsettling national radicalism went unheeded.

Working in collaboration with the National Library of Scotland, Doyle is exploring how indyref was archived and collected (including digitally) for reconstruction by future historians. She recalled her own sense of dis-involvement from the intensity of constitutional politics when returning to Scotland in the summer of 2014, but quickly feeling taken up (and taken over) by indyref fever. The intense emotional dimension of this experience, Doyle observed – the one most likely to lodge in our memories and stories of self – was that least likely to be captured in the archive. Thus the records and traces of indyref will be preserved quite separately from their affective power, and it seems likely that only those with first-hand experience will find artefacts and documents evocative of the social and political ‘atmospheres’ of 2014.


Many different and antithetical responses to indyref artefacts are of course possible, and we finished this session with a few prompts and objects from the Scottish Political Archive, run by Sarah Bromage at the University of Stirling. Working with images, badges and campaign leaflets of 2014, we split into groups to discuss our strongest memories of indyref and how our personal recollections might enter (or escape) public history. One audience member made the telling remark that as a Scottish Tory, her decision to vote Yes relied on precisely the discontinuity Scothorne had highlighted as a problem: for this voter, it was vital that the 2014 prospectus for independence not evoke the nationalism of the 1970s. A useful reminder that historical consciousness can carry political risks.

The final session, chaired by the poet, spoken-word producer and researcher Katie Ailes, explored ‘Indyref, Nature and Place’. Alec Finlay began by responding to the negativity of the opening panel, and challenged the sense of ‘personal anguish’ voiced by younger artists whose experience seemed to reflect the performative intensities of social-media campaigning. Finlay lamented the erosion of shareable ‘civic’ space necessary to genuine dialogue and debate, and argued that artists had a duty to open and preserve such space. The alternative was to ossify into cliques of tiresome and embittered ideologues, as had been the case with previous generations of disappointed nationalist poets. Moving into the panel theme, Finlay distinguished between ‘the right to own land versus the right to care for land’, and highlighted rights of access and community ownership as advances secured by the Scottish Parliament, small steps in a progressive direction worth defending and building upon.

IMG_5504

Poet Pàdraig MacAoidh agreed with earlier speakers that the more radical discussions of 2014 had gone by the wayside, and urged a return to fundamental questions in relations to environment, ownership and survival. (As several participants commented throughout the day, the urgency of climate change makes Scottish independence seem a smaller issue than it appeared even five years ago.) In noting the very different indyrefs he observed in cities, towns and island settings in 2013-14, MacAoidh was struck by the ‘visual silence’ of the No campaign – not the presence but the absence of No signs, badges, stickers, etc, even in areas expected to vote No by a significant margin. He ‘was wary of what could fill that silence’, and remains so. One unwelcome source of noise was the ‘re-politicisation’ of Gaelic after 2014, with endless spurious debate about road signs as nationalist propaganda. As a Gaelic speaker, MacAoidh now ‘feels less comfortable in his own country’ and finds the need to combat ignorant attacks on Gaelic (motivated by constitutional animus against independence) both exhausting and discouraging.

Writer and performer Hannah Lavery discussed her own ambivalence as a Yes-voter of colour who is acutely wary of ‘Scottish exceptionalism’, and for whom British identity ‘included me and included my colonial history’. She rejected the ‘bullshit’ arguments of nationalists claiming Scotland is or was ‘colonised’, and connected wilful ignorance of Scotland’s relationship with slavery and imperial plunder to more familiar (and comfortably debunked) illusions romanticising Highland landscape. The cultural wing of the Yes movement seemed keen to address the latter, but not the former. In respect of national place and ideas of belonging, Lavery queried ‘the Scotland beyond Scotland’: what of our responsibility to the lands and places Scotland ‘stretched to’, via empire? Why are national ‘homecoming’ campaigns directed at Canada and Australia, but not Jamaica? It was acutely and painfully clear that the ‘Scotland’ of the referendum question ‘is not a fixed thing’ – its horizons, and its historical awareness, must reach beyond what is taken for granted.

Reflections

A different choice of speakers would have yielded a different event, of course, but this gathering left three clear impressions: a mood of cynicism toward the political vision and creative output of the Yes movement circa 2013-14; second, a tendency to judge 2014 by its apparent consequences in the fraught world of 2019; and third (in tension with the previous point) a sense that indyref 2014 is not in fact ‘over’ at all, and thus its meaning and impact are still to be determined. This final impression is the strongest and most complex. Indyref cannot be retrieved from the shallows of memory, wistfully or otherwise, because for many the experience has yet to be fully digested, and has none of the inert, objective quality of the narratable past. For many Yes voters – the clear majority of this gathering of 40 – it remains present, charged, un-grievable and somewhat ungraspable. This profoundly unfinished business explains the rawness and tension of our discussions in Edinburgh, which felt at times closer to a large counselling session than opening the scrapbook of recollection.

Alice Doyle and Harry Josephine Giles are doctoral researchers at the University of Stirling, where Maike Dinger will shortly begin a PhD on the role of writers in indyref 2014 (in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde). All three are students funded by the AHRC, via the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities. The organiser thanks the Faculty of Arts and Humanities for its support of this event, and course all the speakers and attendees.

Indyref: Five Years On (21 September)

 

logoINDYREF: 5 YEARS ON is a free public event reflecting on 2014 and the ‘cultural debate’ in particular.

How did Scottish writers contribute to the visions and vocabularies of the independence debate? What are your strongest memories of 2014, and how do you think indyref (as experience, as event) will enter history?  Where did questions of land and place feature in the independence debate, and how does Scottish writing speak to those questions?

Please join us for a day of discussion and conversation on these themes. This event loops back to our 2014 ‘If Scotland…’ event pondering how the indyref would appear to future historians, and also to the Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence collection.

☛ TICKETS VIA EVENTBRITE HERE

Saturday 21 September 2019
City of Edinburgh Methodist Church
25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9BX


PROVISIONAL PROGRAMME

10.15am: Introductions, etc

10.30 – 11.30              Writers and Independence, Five Years On

Janice Galloway
Harry Josephine Giles
Jenny Lindsay
Mike Small

(Chair: Liam Bell)

11.30 – 12.30              Indyref in Personal and Public Memory

Sarah Bromage (Scottish Political Archive)
Amina Davidson (Generation 2014, BBC’s youth indyref project)
Alice Doyle (PhD on Archiving Indyref, in partnership with National Library of Scotland)
Sabina Jedrzejczyk (Generation 2014)
Rory Scothorne (PhD project on post-1960s Scottish political history)

(Chair: Scott Hames)

12.30 – 1.30: Lunch (not provided)

1.30 – 2.30                  ‘Here Lies Our Land’: Indyref, Nature and Place

Alec Finlay
Hannah Lavery
Peter MacKay
Roseanne Watt 

(Chair: Katie Ailes)

2.30 – 3.00: Tea/Coffee

3.00                             Concluding Roundtable and Interviews

Celebrating Christmas in Exile

Belgian refugees began arriving in Scotland from August 1914 as thousands were forced to flee their homes following the advancement of German troops. Often leaving with few or no possessions, refugees were faced with a difficult period during which they tried to settle into their new lives in unfamiliar surroundings. In such uncertain times, Christmas celebrations were likely to be far from the minds of Scotland’s growing number of Belgian exiles. As in The Netherlands, children in Belgium believe that ‘Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas’ (Flemish) or ‘Saint Nicholas’ (Walloon) brings them presents on 6 December. The below article, from the Buckingham Advertiser, neatly explains this celebration.

Though plunged into a period of uncertainty, for many Scots, in towns and villages across the country, Christmas 1914 provided an opportunity to offer a little joy during a time of adversity at the same time as demonstrating their support for these new arrivals.

On Boxing Day at Rossholm House, in Stepps, a grand residence situated at the corner of Cumbernauld Road and Blenheim Avenue, ‘the Belgian residents were entertained to a substantial Christmas dinner’. The Kirkintilloch Herald reported that the dinner, which was ‘carried through in a first-class style owing to the generosity of a few lady and gentlemen friends in the district’, included ‘turkey and a roast’, sweets, fruits, toys and gifts. Following the dinner, a number of Belgians in attendance ‘entertained the company by singing Belgian national songs’ and, in traditional Scottish style, the event concluded with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne (Kirkintilloch Herald, 30 December 1914, p.5). In neighbouring Motherwell, but this time on Christmas Eve, ‘the Belgian refugees housed in the cottages adjoining the Poorhouse were entertained to an excellent supper, concert and dance’. The event was attended by Peter Graham, convener of the House Committee of the Parish Council, and was made possible ‘through the kindness of an anonymous friend’. As in Stepps, the dinner was peppered with musical accompaniments supplied by the Dalziel Brotherhood Orchestra, who delivered a ‘first-rate’ performance under the leadership of Mr Hodge (Motherwell Times, 1 January 1915, p.8).

Venturing north, efforts were similarly made to help the Belgian refugees celebrate Christmas. In Comrie, ‘local merchants gave the Belgian refugees a splendid Christmas dinner’ while, on Christmas morning, a service was ‘conducted in the Roman Catholic Chapel which was attended by the Belgian refugees and a few others’ (Perthshire Advertiser, 30 December 1914, p.6). In Pitlochry, the ‘lot of the Belgian refugees was brightened by a delightful Christmas entertainment which they were accorded in the Public Hall’. After coffee had been served—‘for they do not drink tea’—the refugees were welcomed to the proceedings by Lady Lunn.

A ‘beautiful Christmas tree’, from which gifts were distributed, bedecked the hall and ‘a programme of games and music’, including the singing of La Brabançonne, the Belgian national anthem. The anthem was sung by four-year-old Irine Van Hulst who had arrived in Scotland with her father Emile, a shoemaker, and mother Emerentia from Dendermonde in East Flanders, whose arrival was recorded in the Belgian Refugees register. Her father joined her in performing at the dinner, singing an ode to Belgium, ‘the home references in which drew tears to the eyes of some of the refugees as their thoughts were again turned towards their devastated land’. Greetings were despatched from Scotland to Belgium during the evening, a way of maintaining a link to the homeland:

Belgians at Pitlochry round their Christmas tree send their loyal greetings to their two Princes and Princess of the Royal House of Belgium. They are made as happy as possible by the kind of people at Pitlochry, but their hearts are all in Belgium with their own beloved King and Queen (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 24 December 1914, p, 1).

The following year, Belgian children in Glasgow received gifts sent from the United States. However, the generosity of the American donation, which included a shipment of ‘thirty large cases’, presented the Glasgow Corporation’s Belgian Refugee Committee with ‘some difficulty’ as the contents of the cases were ‘not in the main suitable for sending out as Christmas gifts to children’. For the most part, the cases contained clothing which, it was felt, would be ‘impossible’ to distribute to children of ‘various ages without seeing the children’. Instead, the items of clothing were handed over to the Clothing Committee, ‘leaving it to them to distribute the clothing’. Other donated items included ‘one or two tins of condensed milk which it was difficult to see how a child could appreciate’ (The Scotsman, 29 November 1915, p.9).

Happily, for many Belgian refugees in Scotland, Christmas time, though not celebrated in ways they were accustomed to, did not go unmarked and, for some, perhaps only for a short period, the anguish they felt over their distance from home was forgotten.

Event Report: ‘Settlement, treatment and employment of French-speaking Belgian refugees in France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland’

The final event in an extremely thought-provoking series of collaborative workshops on First World War civilian war trauma funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh took place on 22 November. The event, held at the University of Edinburgh, was well attended by academics engaged in a range of research areas and stimulated much discussion about the story of Belgians displaced from their homeland during the First World War.

The lecture, delivered by Dr Christophe Declercq of University of Leuven/University College London, was entitled ‘Settlement, treatment and employment of French-speaking Belgian refugees in France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland’. The lecture began with an overview of the mass movement of displaced Belgians during the First World War, as Christophe described the reception they were afforded in each of the respective host nations. In France, home to the exiled Belgian government, Belgian refugees were, by and large, treated very well—a demonstration of anti-German sentiment. They were also viewed as a useful source of substitute manpower amid a severely depleted local workforce and many ended up working in factories, replacing men who had been sent to the front. In the Netherlands, keen to maintain its neutrality, Belgian refugees were afforded a less favourable reception and were interned in refugee camps scattered around the country, such as in Uden and Gouda.

Christophe then moved on to the main body of his lecture, the story of those Belgian refugees who settled in the United Kingdom. The constituent nations of the UK had, by August 1917, received close to 172,000 Belgian refugees—155,000 in England; 10,700 in Scotland; 4,500 in Wales; and 1,700 in Ireland. In Scotland, Glasgow tended to provide refugees with their first glimpse of Scotland. For Christophe, Glasgow was a ‘place of dispersal management’—refugees arrived in the city and either settled there or, less frequently, moved eastwards to Edinburgh or settled in smaller towns such as Motherwell and, moving north, Crieff. Previous blog posts ‘Belgian Refugee Culture in Glasgow’ and ‘Belgian Refugees in Scotland’s Northern Regions’ provide greater detail about these movements. In Scotland there was very little in the way of subsistence funding from the national government to support the more destitute Belgian refugees. Instead, groups such as the Glasgow Corporation’s Belgian Relief Committee lent support to Belgians in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, many Belgians were compelled to search for employment, a pursuit that meant large numbers settled in heavily populated, often working-class, areas like Glasgow. The records illustrate that male refugees found work as clerks, engineers and cabinet makers while many female refugees were employed as domestic servants. Yet the search for employment did not affect every member of Scotland’s Belgian refugee community—there were certainly elements of the Belgian population that were more economically well-off, a point which Christophe expanded on. In Edinburgh, home to far fewer Belgian refugees, the records of the Edinburgh Belgian Committee lay bare this class divide:

Many of them [the refugees] held responsible positions in Belgium, and most of the families had been in comfortable circumstances. In dealing with the refugees the committee have endeavoured to discriminate and have consequently graduated the standard of relief to suit the special circumstances of each case.

Here we see a process of positive discrimination—those that arrived in Edinburgh with lesser means had their application for relief advanced in what Christophe termed a process of ‘reverse social mobility’. Christophe ended his lecture with snippets of refugee stories, from a family settled in Dunblane to the Ceuppens of Glasgow, that he hoped, in time, to piece together in order to add to Scotland’s Belgian refugee narrative.

A lively discussion followed the lecture, including questions about intra and inter mobility around the home nations and the potential for linguistic inconsistencies due to language barriers between the Belgian refugees and those responsible for recording their arrival. Christophe’s lecture was a fantastic conclusion to what has been a fascinating series of events. We would like to thank all of the speakers and attendees for contributing to the series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Event Report: ‘Mediating Emotion, Making Trauma: Doctors, Patients and the Construction of “Shell-Shock” in First World War Britain’

The third, and penultimate, event in the series of collaborative workshops on First World War civilian war trauma funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh took place on 13 October. The event was well attended by historians and researchers from Stirling, Strathclyde and Dundee, as well as postgraduate students from several universities and engaged in a variety of research areas.

The lecture, delivered by Dr Tracey Loughran, was entitled ‘Mediating Emotion, Making Trauma: Doctors, Patients and the Construction of “Shell-Shock” in First World War Britain’. Tracey’s thought-provoking lecture contemplated the way in which doctors and patients dealt with the effects of war and opened with a fascinating case study of one of hundreds of soldiers treated by Canadian-born Lewis Yealland for shell-shock during the First World War.

One of the first doctors in Britain to incorporate electricity into the systematic treatment of shell shock, Yealland’s treatment integrated electrical stimulation with a variety of other—psychological and physical—interventions. Using original case records of his treatment of soldiers suffering from shell shock, Dr Loughran told the tale of a young man who had been heavily involved in the war, in Marne, Aisne and Ypres. Yealland’s ‘Case A1’, a 24-year-old Private, had been rendered mute having collapsed in Salonica. Over a course of months many attempts had been made to cure the soldier: electricity had been applied to his neck; hot plates had been placed at the back of his mouth; and hypnotism had been tried. However, Yealland identified an alternative method of treatment involving the application of an electrical current to his throat with the charge gradually weakened. While the current was applied the Private was simultaneously instructed to walk up and down the room repeating the vowel sounds he had begun to utter. Five hours later, having been rendered silent for nine months, the case of mutism was resolved. This case was not unique—Dr Loughran identified several other patients suffering from similar conditions, recounting their experiences in fascinating detail.

The lecture went on to reveal the way in which wartime experiences altered the doctor/patient relationship. As this group of doctors was for the first time confronted with men traumatised by the effects of war they were greeted with emotions previously unknown, or previously concealed. For Loughran, the effective treatment of these returning soldiers hinged upon a doctor’s understanding of, and empathy for, the soldiers’ past experiences. Indeed, it was this compassion, shown towards shell-shocked men, that generated new, more holistic, approaches to the doctor/patient relationship—approaches that exist to this day. It also led this group of doctors to amend the case study approach so starkly demonstrated in Yealland’s Case A1 in which the doctor became more likely to discuss their personal reactions and experiences in light of the symptoms shown. Concluding, Dr Loughran reiterated the way in which the First World War marked a turning point in the history of neurological treatment. As clinicians were provided with the opportunity and resources to treat and evaluate large numbers of patients with similar symptoms, the way was paved for a more psychologically-based treatment approach. A lively Q&A session followed Dr Loughran’s lecture as numerous attendees praised the innovative nature of the research topic and contemplated the potential for broadening the scope to include, among other suggestions, a transatlantic dimension.

Following this excellent lecture our next event will be Workshop 4 – on Wednesday 22 November at 5.15pm, when Dr Christophe Declercq (University of Antwerp/University College London) will give a lecture entitled ‘Settlement, treatment and employment of French-speaking Belgian refugees in France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland’. The lecture will be held at the Appleton Tower, Room 2.06, University of Edinburgh. The event is free but, for catering purposes, we ask that you please confirm your attendance with Véronique Desnain (veronique.desnain@ed.ac.uk) by 1 November 2017.

Belgian refugee culture in Glasgow

Image

For many years, individuals and groups of refugees have shaped and enriched British cultural and political life, their arrival having had a profound impact on the development of modern Britain. Arriving on Scotland’s shores during the First World War, Belgian refugees brought with them their own specific cultural background; from art and music, to needlework and weaving, the Belgians brought with them traditions and customs. In Glasgow, a particular feature of Belgian cuisine left its mark.

Falkirk Herald (20 October 1917, p.6).

A letter to the Editor of the Dundee Courier (2 January 1915, p.6) addressed this culinary matter.

Sir, there are many thousands of Belgian refugees in our midst, and it has been announced that others will be arriving in the near future. Many of these are destitute, and as the present widespread distress will tend to increase progressively so long as the war continues, the provision of cheap and suitable food is sure to become an important and an urgent problem. It is well-known that in Holland, Belgium, and France horseflesh is used as a staple article of food. We are extremely anxious to develop a scheme by means of which our Belgian guests could be provided with the form of food which they appreciate.

An article printed in the Aberdeen Press and Journal (11 August 1915, p.3.) some months later suggests that these needs were soon met. ‘Since horse butcher’s shops made their appearance in Glasgow seven or eight months ago’, wrote a correspondent, ‘a considerable increase has taken place in the volume of trade in horse meat, an article of diet which was unknown in the city until it was first introduced by the Belgian refugees’. While the existence of butchers who traded in horse-flesh provided the Belgian population with food to which they were well accustomed, they were also a noteworthy addition to Glasgow’s retail scene. ‘One day’, wrote a correspondent for the Stonehaven Journal (19 August 1915, p.4), ‘as we were walking along a street in Glasgow, we popped into a restaurant at meal hour’. Enquiring what was on offer, they were met with the reply, ‘Well, we have very nice horse steaks and sausages’. ‘Let us say nothing further about the lunch or the subsequent proceedings’, continued the article, ‘the point is that in housing and feting the Belgians we have begun to adopt some of their national habits. Already there are butcher’s shops in Glasgow selling horse meat’.

Indeed, records found in the Belgian Refugees Register demonstrate that, during the period 1914-1920, many Belgians trained in the art of butchery arrived in Glasgow. Among them were Andreas Nicate, Joseph Edward Uyterhoeven, Joseph Ludovic Gooskens, and Peter van der Anwera, who all arrived from Mechelen, a city in the province of Antwerp, while Alphons Van Emden, Adolf De Smet, and Remi Broos originated in Hoboken, Dendermonde, and Aarschot respectively. Pictured below are the London Road premises of J. Wouters, a Mechelen-born refugee.

Individuals such as Wouters helped develop the Glasgow-based trade in horse meat:
The horse butchers’ shops in Glasgow, to which attention has been given in the press, are being run by Belgian refugees for the benefit of their compatriots. There are three shops, all situated in the poorer quarters of the city. They sell steaks at 5d and 6d per lb., sausages at 5d per lb., and pickled and smoked meats ready for consumption at 7d per lb. The shops obtain their supplies from dealers in worn-out horses, which formerly were shipped to the Netherlands and to Germany via Leith. While the Glasgow shops cater for Belgians, a Stirling firm, which was associated with the Continental trade in decrepit horses, announce that they will open in that town on Saturday a ‘high-class shop for the sale of horse-meat Aberdeen Press and Journal (11 August 1915, p.3.).
As the months wore on, the trade extended beyond the refugee population as a number of Glasgow citizens began to operate as horse butchers and buy horse meat. One trader, operating in the Anderston area of the city in 1916 revealed that ‘probably 90 per cent of his present customers are British housewives’ (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 29 January 1916, p.8). We see then that, in more ways than one, traditions strongly associated with the Belgians made their way into Scottish homes and onto Scottish tables.

Benevolence towards Belgian Refugees

In July 1916, John Howard Whitehouse, a Liberal and MP for the constituency of Mid Lanark, raised a question ‘within the area of kindness, philanthropy, and mercy’ about Belgian refugees in the House of Commons. Interested in the number of refugees now residing in the country, Whitehouse was informed by William Hayes Fisher, Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, that they ‘computed them at 200,000’. All told, the First World War uprooted millions of European civilians. The resulting crisis had profound consequences, not only for the individuals directly affected but also for officials and relief workers who attempted to relieve their suffering and for communities that hosted refugees. Indeed, Fisher’s response addressed these individuals, as he used Whitehouse’s query as an opportunity to express ‘on behalf of us all, our immense gratitude to the committees which, from the very beginning of this War have taken these unfortunate Belgian refugees by the hand, and with a very kind hand’. While Fisher hoped that, following the end of hostilities, ‘they will be repatriated’ he nevertheless desired that, while in Britain, the local population would ‘exercise towards them the same hospitality as we are showing them at the present time’.

Examples of this hospitality were evident across the country as a number of local initiatives were instigated in order to support the large numbers of Belgian refugees arriving on Britain’s shores. The below image, taken from The Scotsman (2 January 1915, p.8), reveals some of these initiatives.

Glasgow Corporation’s Belgian refugee committee became the organising committee for the whole of Scotland overseeing the fund raising and hospitality provided by over 200 local authorities and local Belgian refugee committees across Scotland. The Glasgow Corporation committee fund raised around the country drawing on the support of local committees and sometimes bailing them out of they grew short of funds. They raised money from local authorities in areas across Scotland including the east coast where no refugees could be settled under wartime aliens’ restriction legislation due to invasion fears.

Glasgow Evening Times pokes fun at the work of James Stewart of the Glasgow Corporation Belgian Refugees Committee in finding accommodation for Belgian refugees, 2 July 1915

In the summer of 1915, the Aberdeen Evening Express (7 May 1915, p.5) published an article informing readers that steps were being taken in Aberdeen ‘in support of the Glasgow Fund for Belgian Refugees in Scotland’. The following year, this time in the country’s capital, readers of The Scotsman (4 March 1916, p.12) were informed of the opening of a two-day bazaar held in the Lauriston Halls ‘in aid of Cardinal Mercier’s fund for the relief of the Belgians’. In honour of the occasion the hall had been ‘tastefully decorated’ and stalls were ‘mostly named after towns prominent in the war—Liege, Namur, Antwerp, Louvain, and Ypres’. In addition, there was a King Albert stall ‘laden with flowers and fruit’. The event, though important in its remit, was entertaining in nature. Part of the hall was screened off as a tearoom; guests were invited to have their fortunes told; and there were games of ‘various kinds to amuse’. Moreover, several artists from Edinburgh theatres, including ‘members of the Carl Rosa Opera Company’ provided their services.

Committees also made direct appeals to the public for financial aid to help them to provide the necessary food and shelter, ‘and thereby in some measure lessen the sufferings of the refugees during their temporary sojourn in Scotland’. The Glasgow Corporation Belgian Refugee Committee made an appeal in early 1916 and, upon doing so, received royal recognition from King Albert who sent the following letter to the Committee:

The King has heard of the generous care and attention given in Scotland to Belgians, and also of the devotion with which your Committee has led and guided so charitable a cause for our compatriots. This proof of sympathy for Belgium has been greatly appreciated by his Majesty, who is happy to be able to address to all members of the Glasgow Committee his felicitations and his thanks. (Western Daily Press, 15 May 1916, p.3).

Responses to the appeal were plentiful and, by June 1916, the funds raised by the Committee amounted to £105,710 (Daily Record, 5 June 1916, p.4).  By the end of the war the Glasgow Committee had raised £190,000 (£11.8 m today) and the rest of Scotland had raised £170,000 (£10.5 m today). Instances of benevolence such as these demonstrate that, whether in Scotland’s cities or smaller towns, the local population was willing to help those who had fallen on hard times.