On the eve of World War One, as German forces demanded safe passage through Belgium on their way to attack France, the Belgian king refused to stand aside. What came next was unimaginable. Cities were burnt, civilians were murdered. ‘The rape of Belgium’, as it became known, invoked the sympathy of the world.
Terrified Belgians fled in their hundreds of thousands. But where would they go?
In its long history as a safe haven for refugees, Britain had given a home to French Protestant Huguenots in the 17th century and Russian Jews in the 19th century. Now, it would open its doors to its largest single influx – a quarter of a million Belgians escaping the German invasion. Life for them and their British hosts would be radically changed.