Help sought for commemorative Belgian plaque in Letchworth park

RELATIVES of Belgian refugees who arrived in Letchworth GC during the First World War are being urged to get in touch with their local council to help them create a fitting tribute to their families.

As part of the �2.7m redevelopment of Howard Park and Gardens, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund, an area of the park will be dedicated to the large number of Belgians who arrived in the town during WWI.

North Herts District Council (NHDC) is now looking to contact surviving relatives of the refugees to get permission for names to be added to a plaque that will mark the area.

It will be one of a number of areas in the redeveloped park that will commemorate important aspects of the town’s history.

Following the invasion of Belgium in August 1914, thousands of Belgians fled to England with local residents offering to board them and help out financially.

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Three who arrived in Letchworth GC that year were Jacque Kryn, a diamond merchant, his brother, George, and a colleague, Raoul Lahy. They subsequently formed the Kryn and Lahy Metal Works in Dunhams Lane.

By the end of August, 1915, many of the Belgian refugees who were welcomed in Letchworth GC were working in the factory producing munitions.

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An estate, nicknamed ‘Little Belgium’, was built towards the end of that year around Campers Avenue and Spring Road to help accommodate the increasing number of refugees.

One of those who worked at the Kryn and Lahy factory was Joseph Etienne who had escaped a PoW camp in Germany before leaving for England. His last surviving son, Maurice Etienne, still lives in the area.

Maurice said: “I remember the park well from my early childhood. I used to play in the paddling pool, sailing home-made boats, and the original swimming pool was fenced and had separate sessions for men and women.

”I think it’s great that the park is being restored, especially as it will help people remember some of the local history.”

Cllr Ian Knighton, NHDC’s portfolio holder for leisure, said: “At the end of the First World War, the majority of refugees returned to Belgium but we know of at least 30 who were still listed as residents in 1920.

“We would really like to hear from their surviving relatives to help us make a fitting tribute to their immense bravery.”

Anyone who can help is urged to contact Sally Everett at NHDC on 07825 896789.

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