Belgian refugees from World War I, Ireland
Sir Jack Leslie’s grandmother, Leonie, brought Belgian First World War refugees from London to Monaghan in Ireland, which was still part of the UK then, creating a lasting connection between the two countries.
“My grandmother’s son Norman had been killed on the front in 1914, at the battle of Armentières” says Sir Jack, who was himself captured at Dunkirk at the beginning of World War 2. “This had such an effect on her that she felt that she needed to do something for the Belgians.”
250,000 Belgian refugees had fled to Britain, of which Ireland was still a part. Leonie travelled over the Irish Sea to pick out 15 of them, who were then brought back to Monaghan town. They found work there as teachers and bakers, with three helping to establish a lingerie factory. Most of them were accommodated in a new housing estate, which became known as Belgian Square. It still stands today.
“After the war, Leonie Leslie was awarded the Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth from the Queen of Belgium” says Sir Jack Leslie. “She used to wear it proudly to balls in the days when you went to these places with all your ribbons and decorations. It is now in a glass case at home” he says.
A small reminder of the debt of gratitude refugees will always hold for those who give them safety in times of conflict.
Text by J. Clarke/2014.