Beds, Herts & Bucks

Relatives sought for WWI tribute in Letchworth park

The families of Belgian refugees who arrived in Hertfordshire during World War I are being asked their permission for a tribute in a city park.

Thousands of people fled to England following the invasion of Belgium in August 1914.

North Herts District Council said many ended up in Letchworth and an estate named "Little Belgium" was set up.

It wants to place a plaque in Howard Park and Gardens and needs surviving relatives to allow names to be used.

The dedication forms part of the £2.7m redevelopment of the park and will be one of a number of areas to commemorate important aspects of the town's history.

'Immense bravery'

The council said that in 1914, Jacque Kryn, a diamond merchant, his brother, George and a colleague, Raoul Lahy, arrived from Belgium and formed the Kryn and Lahy Metal Works in Letchworth.

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

Among them was Joseph Etienne, who had escaped a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

His last surviving son, 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."

Ian Knighton, the council'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."

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