Alice Graham Clapp – Belgian Refugee Committee
7 September 2018
‘I have the pleasure to inform you that his Majesty the King of Belgium has been graciously pleased to confer upon you the Médaille de la reine Élisabeth in recognition of the kind help and valuable assistance you have personally given to Belgian refugees and the Belgian soldiers during the war.’
Belgian Minister, 1918.
Alice Clapp was one of dozens of women who helped to organise homes around Devon for thousands of Belgian refugees fleeing the conflict. Her original black book recording the details of Belgian families is held at the South West Heritage Trust.
Of the 250,000 refugees who came to Britain, around 8,00 passed through Devon. At the time, Exeter was a central hub for refugees. Upon arrival, their names were logged before being sent on to homes found for them around the county and elsewhere. In total, Alice Clapp’s little black book records the essential details of around 500 men, women and children who were helped by the Exeter Committee for Relief of War Refugees.
Both Alice and her husband were very socially active; Cecil held governorships at various schools around Exeter as well as the local rugby club so it would make sense that one or both of them would involve themselves with committees set up to deal with the sudden influx of desperate war refugees. There is even a possibility that they housed some families themselves, in the house next door in St Leonard’s Road. Alice would spend time reading stories to the Belgian children. As her grandson, Mr Michael Clapp recounts, she was only able to make herself understood to some of the Flemish children by reading in a strong Cornish accent!
There is a possibility that one of the names in the book, one Jacques Joseph Hamoir, a retired gendarme, became the inspiration for Hercules Poirot. Staying with the Potts-Chatto family in Torquay, Monsieur Hamoir may have been present at the same fund-raising party attended by a young Mrs Agatha Christie.
Alice died in 1922. In later years, Alice’s children and grandchildren kept in touch with the family of Clara Andrews, another recipient of the Elisabeth Medal featured in this exhibition.
Clapp, A., 1914. Reception register, Belgian refugees received at Exeter, 1914. [handwritten register] Devon Remembers First World War Collection. 9036Z. Exeter: Devon Heritage Centre.
Clapp, M., 2016. Belgian Refugee Interviews: Michael Clapp Interview. Interviewed by Mary Stephenson. [digital audio file] Exeter, September 15th 2016.
Declercq, C., 2014. Where are the Exeter Belgians Now? [online] Online Centre for Research on Belgian Refugees. Available from: http://belgianrefugees.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/ [Accessed on 23/04/2018]
(n.d.) Alice Graham Clapp [digital image of photograph]. Exeter: Devon Heritage Centre.