THE generosity of Herefordshire residents was proven during the First World War when households welcomed Belgian refugees into their homes.

During the Great War, 250,000 Belgian refugees fled to Britain and Hereford was the first city in the country to offer hospitality to those fleeing their homes.

A new exhibition at Hereford Town Hall called Strangers In A Strange Land will tell the story of the refugees and how Herefordshire reacted.

Stuart Dove and Herefordshire Council's Sarah Chedgzoy have organised the exhibition and it is a subject very close to Stuart's heart as his mother was one of the refugees who came to Hereford.

Stuart, who lives in Gloucester, said: "I want to highlight how generous the people of Hereford were. It links in with refugees now."

On August 22 Captain Clive, MP for Ross (South Herefordshire) wired the Mayor of Hereford, G.B. Greenland, and asked him if he would accept 50 to 100 refugees for a few weeks.

Stuart said: "A positive response from the mayor gained Hereford the distinction of being the first city to offer hospitality to Belgian refugees."

On September 10 a small party of refugees arrived at Barrs Court railway station and they were taken to the town hall where they were introduced to their hosts. On September 23 more refugees arrived.

A refugee committee was set up to assist the refugees in Hereford.

There were many donations from the public and offers of places to stay. They were taken to the Judge's Lodgings in Commercial Street, given refreshments and allocated their new homes.

The number of refugees who arrived in Hereford from September to January 1915 fluctuated with 303 being the maximum at one time.

On December 30, 1914 a Christmas party was arranged by the mayoress, Mrs Greenland, at the Shire Hall. "Decorations were like a fairy land - the Christmas tree with electric lights and presents" and thanks to donations it allowed 350 refugees throughout the county to meet.

For most of the war the refugees in Herefordshire worked on farms.

During his research Stuart discovered a flag had been given to Hereford in January 1916. Stuart found it in a council chamber and pushed for it to be restored.

In May 2017 a civic ceremony was held to commemorate both the Belgian flag and a replica of the original.

One one side of the flag is the Union flag and on the reverse the Belgian colours, a shield and an inscription in French which read: "Tribute of gratitude to our benefactors Mr and Mrs Greenland, and members of the committee, Belgian Refugees, in Hereford on Nov 9, 1915."

The flag became fragile and only the shield could be saved from the Belgian flag which was then put on the Union flag and framed. A replica was made. Both are on display at Hereford Town Hall.

Stuart said: "They didn't leave many artefacts. We are so lucky to have the Belgian flag. At this time 100 years on we want to be celebrating that fact."

Stuart's grandmother Charlotte Stewart and his mother, Irene, a baby aged approximately five months escaped from Belgium with others on a coal boat.

Initially they settled in Malvern but in need of work his widowed grandmother Charlotte left her daughter in the Link Hostel (local workhouse in Malvern).

She was placed with George, 68, and Ann, 54, Bishop in Hereford who had a grown up family of six.

Stuart said: "Not only did they provide a secure and loving home for my mother but they decided to adopt her."

He said an elderly couple doing this was surprising enough, but as his mother was mixed race it would have been considered most unusual in those days.

Remarkably in 2011 the archives in Brussels revealed his grandmother, Charlotte, was actually born on October 6 1890 at Whitney-on-Wye and must have ended up in Belgium.

In 1919 the Belgian refugees returned home.

The exhibition is at the town hall from October 29 to November 30.

Stuart thanked Hereford City Council, the Belgian embassy, Julian Putkowski, a historian at London University, Dominiek Dendooven from Flanders Field Museem, and Wendy Toulson, textile conservator for all their help.

Replicated by king permission of the Flanders Field Musuem.