war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




Following the restoration of the plaque (at Effingham Crescent) by the Dover Society, this article is intended to reinforce our thanks to the Belgian workers who unselfishly helped in the rebuilding of Dover after WWII.

It was 1945 and Dover had suffered much damage during the war. In 1946 to thank the townspeople for their stand against the oppression of the Axis powers the people of Belgium decided to offer their help in repairing some of the damage.

The first fifty men arrived at the port of Folkestone, from Ostend, on the afternoon of Monday 6th May 1946. A further fifty arrived on each of the next four Mondays, bringing the total workforce up to 250.

They proceeded to the National Service Hostel at the old Hougham Camp on the outskirts of Dover. This is now part of the Dover College playing fields just off the Folkestone Road, close to where the Hare and Hounds once traded. This was to be their home for the next year.

The following evening they were given an official welcome at the Maison Dieu Hall by the Mayor, members of the council, and officials. In his welcome speech the Mayor, Arthur Thomas Goodfellow, said that Dover people appreciated their visit, particularly in view of the fact that the people of Belgium themselves had suffered as a result of the war, and there was plenty of rebuilding to be done in their own land. The visit showed that there was still, in the hearts of their people and the British, the feeling of comradeship that existed during the years of the war and it was that sort of friendship which would ensure the peace of tomorrow. He also hoped that they would settle down and enjoy themselves during their six months stay. In fact many were to stay for about a year. There then followed music, magic and song, with refreshments served during the interval and at the end of the concert.

On Wednesday 22nd May the Rt Hon George Alfred Issacs, Minister of Labour and National Security, visited Dover to meet the Belgian Minister of Labour and Social Securty M Leon-Elie Troclet. They were accompanied by Mr J W Stephenson, President of the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives and M J Smets, General Secretary of the Belgian Builders and General Workers Union. During the day they visited the hostel at Hougham and toured some of the war damaged areas of the town.

In the late afternoon the Belgian Minister unveiled a tablet on the Effingham Street wall of the last house in Saxon Street. The tablet reads, "On May 14th 1946 M Leon-Elie Troclet, Belgian Minister of Labour and Social Security, unveiled this tablet to commemorate the arrival of Belgian workers who as a token of gratitude and admiration came to help in the rebuilding of Dover, outpost of freedom from 1939 to 1945". The ceremony was broadcast by the Belgian Radio Service and was attended by members of the local council and officials. Mr Issacs paid tribute to the people of Belgium and said that in some ways they had suffered more than the people of Britain because whatever we had dropped on us by the enemy, at least we did not have the Germans walking our streets as victors. He added that in spite of the amount of rebuilding needed in Belgium they had spared some of their craftsmen to help the people of Dover. That evening a dinner was held in the Maison Dieu Hall and toasts were drunk to Belgium, Dover, and the British and Belgian building operatives.

By June 1946 there were 200 Belgians repairing twenty-seven unoccupied houses in Saxon and Norman Streets. Two of these would be ready for occupation by the 29th June, then two more each week thereafter. At the same time there were thirty Belgians re-erecting eight flat houses (those demolished by bombs).

On Sunday 21st July Belgium's Independence Day was celebrated at the hostel at West Hougham. The day commenced with a Special Mass and a ceremony around the flag, both broadcast by the BBC in their overseas programme. Miss Margaret Goodfellow represented her father, the Mayor of Dover. That afternoon was devoted to a sports programme. During the dance that evening Miss Goodfellow presented the prizes, donated by the Fairy Godmother of the hostel, Mrs Hastings-Ord OBE. She also read out a telegram from HM the King sending his sincere greetings and desire that they would spend a happy day celebrating.

By September ten houses had been completed in Norman and Saxon Streets and the remainder were ready for decoration. They were also rebuilding eight in Barton Road and now also ten at Stanhope Road.

By the end of December 1946 there were about 125 Belgians working on these last two sites. To enable them to have a week's leave at New Year, to visit their families in Belgium, they carried on work throughout Christmas Day and Boxing Day. After work on Christmas Day, at their hostel, they enjoyed a typical English Christmas dinner with turkey and plum pudding, followed by a film show and party with games and dancing. Each worker received a present from Madame Hastings-Ord. At the time she lived in Surrey but was very active in welfare work for the Belgians in this country. For this work she was later awarded the Order of Leopold.

By the end of May 1947 the work had been finished and the Belgians were returning home with heartfelt thanks from the people of Dover. The Minister of Works, Mr C W Key MP sent the following letter to each of the Belgians who worked in Dover.

*On behalf of the British Government, I express to you our sincere thanks for the great help which you, personally, have given in the restoration of one of our most heavily bombed cities. The excellent work you have accomplished at Dover, while working with my Ministry's Mobile Labour Force, will long stand as a symbol, not only of the high standard of Belgian craftsmanship, but also of the maintenance in peace time, as in the bitter days of war, of firm comradeship and close alliance between the Belgian and British peoples."

A tablet was also erected on the wall in the centre of the eight houses in Barton Road. It reads, "This tablet was erected as a token of the gratitude of the people of Dover to the Belgian workers who rebuilt these houses and assisted in teh rehabilitation of the town after the war 1939-1945. Arthur T Goodfellow, Mayor, May 1947"

This article first appeared in the newsletter of The Dover Society, number 64, March 2009. Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

Illustrations: above left, Effingham Crescent, above right, Barton Road, by Simon Chambers

Copyright 2009 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved