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Reading Friends

Oldham's forgotten refugees

Written by Karuna Mohandas
11 December 2018

Reading Friends in Oldham meet regularly to chat and share stories. Sometimes, the stories they share uncover surprising secrets about the community’s history.

Oldham’s untold history

Over the last few months, Springboard’s Oldham Dementia Carers group has had the support of Reading Friends at our group, which meets weekly in a local church hall. We also meet with Reading Friends in a local library once a month, and chat about topics ranging from puppet making to the First World War. During one particular session we discovered things about Oldham’s forgotten Belgian refugees, and each other, that we weren’t aware of.

Oldham’s forgotten Belgian refugees

In the group we like to read, chat and share stories. At our last meeting, Dorothy, a volunteer from Reading Friends, told us the story of the forgotten Belgian refugees in Royton and Oldham during the First World War. It was fascinating to hear a story that had long been forgotten, or that some of the group had never even heard of. Dorothy revealed that during WW1 some refugees were living in local houses near where we meet. A number of other refugees were housed in a building called Broomhurst Lodge which we thought had been demolished.

Sharing stories through time

At this point one of our members, who has a dementia condition and is usually very quiet, sprang to life saying that the building had in fact not been demolished. As a child he grew up in the vicinity of the building. He became quite animated showing an obvious interest in what we were taking about. He also joined the discussion and told us of his childhood home. It was heartwarming to see how this story was able to resonate with him, and bring out a side to him that we have not seen before.

Photograph: The Byl & Maeyer families in the garden of Royton Hall (Photograph courtesy of Frances Stott) via GM 1914

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