In 1914, solidarity with the Belgian people and the people of the North of France who were fleeing the war zones was seen as a patriotic duty. Populations lacked everything: money, food, clothing and housing.

In France, many organizations were created to rescue refugees. Intellectuals and wealthy persons committed themselves to collect funds, handing out food and clothing, accommodating the refugees. In Great-Britain, some private charity organizations supported them. In Netherlands, a committee welcomed the isolated children but most part of the refugees were kept in camps.

To facilitate refugee resettlement, an allowance of 1,25 francs a day per adult and 0,5 francs per child was quickly voted. In January 1915 hundreds of thousands of French and Belgian people benefited from it. In the occupied zone, the Committee for Relief of Belgium ensured that all refugees got adequate food supply.

Through the initiative of notables coming from the occupied zone, committees of refugees (56 in 1915) brought families into contact and centralized job opportunities. They published newspapers for uprooted refugees and helped in symbolically recreating communities.

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  • American aid poster for refugees, first quarter of the 20th century, poster, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne © Y. Medmoun

    Several American associations were involved in providing assistance to the refugees. This was the case, for example, of the Commission of Relief in Belgium, which was founded in October 1914 by the American Brand Whitlock, the Marquis of Villalobar, Spanish ambassador, and the American engineer, Herbert Hoover. The German authorities authorized it to provide supplies to the civilians in the occupied areas.

  • Poster for a benefit gala for war victims, on April 1st 1917, at the Palais du Trocadéro, 1917, poster, Caverne du Dragon-Chemin des Dames Museum, Aisne

    Various programs or bazaars were organized to raise money for the war victims, including refugees.

  • The great Saint Nicholas of small Belgian children, 1914, printed, Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime – coll. Lafond, Rouen

    This leaflet in French and Dutch narrates the story of St. Nicholas and was sold to the benefit of Belgian children refugees in France.

American aid poster for refugeesposter for a benefit gala for war victimsposter. The great Saint Nichollas of small Belgian children