There is a fascinating story in today’s Journal newspaper featuring an 80-year-old from Birtley who is planning to visit Belgium to re-trace his family’s escape from the advancing German army during the Battle of Mons 100 years ago. Retired doctor Leon Le Dune’s grandparents and uncle were among thousands of Belgians – refugees and wounded servicemen – who came to the North East after their country was overrun. In 1916 two munitions factories were opened in Birtley and local women and the Belgians, including Dr Le Dune’s grandfather and uncle, went to work there. More than 6,000 Belgians lived near the factories in a community called Elisabethville, which was named after their Queen. Dr Le Dune’s family eventually settled in the North East and he is returning to Belgium, with his son and grandson, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Mons and his family’s escape.
Here is a link to the Journal’s story:
With the help of former BAE Systems employee Brian Armstrong, Newsmaker PR and Video Production Ltd has produced a film history about the Birtley munitions factories – which finally closed in 2012. The film was narrated by the actor Tim Healy whose grandfather played a key role in preparing the factories for the level of production required for The Second World War. Newsmaker has also produced a video – in partnership with BAE Systems and Bridge North East – about the Birtley Belgians as well as the impact of The First World War on the North East. It features an interview with former BBC correspondent Kate Adie, who has written books and presented television programmes about the role of women between 1914 and 1918, and tells the story of the German bombing of Hartlepool.