Blog: October 2018

This month the blog comes from a little closer to the project’s home. Many thanks to Lynda Kitching, secretary of the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery in Leeds, for sharing with us her findings on Belgian refugee Joanna Cools. Joanna came to the city in 1914 and sadly never made it back to Belgium. 

Sandwiched between two Guinea Graves in the Unconsecrated part of Beckett Street Cemetery is a Common Grave containing 13 persons. This is plot 22048. Interred in the plot is young Joanna Cools who died in August 1917 of TB. She was 17 years of age.

At the time of her death Joanna was a patient in the Workhouse opposite, presumably because of her illness, but she lived at 1, Holderness Street in the Hyde Park/Woodhouse area of Leeds. The street was demolished some years ago.

Photographs courtesy of Lynda Kitching at Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery, Leeds

Joanna was a Belgian refugee, although she was born in Holland, who arrived in Leeds sometime in 1914 at the outbreak of World War One. She came we believe with her father Leonardus and her mother Anna Maria, although at the time of going to press we have no confirmation of this. However, living at the same address was Hermina Cools who died in 1916 aged 41. She is buried in St. George`s Fields Woodhouse in plot 6217 along with Blanch Cools who died in 1916 aged 4 months. What relation Hermina and Blanch were to Joanna is still a mystery. That they were related is almost certain.

More than 250,000 Belgian refugees came to the UK during WW1, having escaped the German invasion. There was initially no Government funding and local relief committees relied heavily on donations. The Yorkshire Post ran a series of articles encouraging the donation of food, clothing and money. Because of the response furnished houses were put at the disposal of these committees and were a true reflection of Yorkshire kindliness and welcome. Over £10,000 was raised in Leeds in one week [ £1m by today`s money].

Many refugees worked in factories contributing to the war effort and filling the gaps left as men signed up for recruitment.

At the time of going to press our knowledge of Joanna and her family is still very vague, but we felt that she and the story of the Belgian Refugees deserved to be mentioned.

Thanks for reading our blog. If you have any questions or comments, or if you know anything more about the individuals that are featured (and would be happy for us to pass this on) please don’t hesitate to get in touch via email belgianrefugees@leeds.ac.uk, or Twitter @FWWBRefugees.