And Worcester's Adoption of Gouzeaucourt

The British League of Help for the Devastated Areas of France and Belgium was founded in 1920 largely due to the efforts and leadership of Lady Bathurst. Lady Bathurst was a wealthy and influential woman, the proprietor of The Morning Post newspaper. She visited France in 1920 and on her return set up a local group in Cirencester to send help to two villages she had visited: Passel and Ville. From these small beginnings a nationwide organisation grew.

Lady Bathurst - a photo taken in 1902 at the coronation of Edward VII.
Courtesy of Lafayette Studios, Victoria and Albert Museum
The League’s aims were “To come, then, to the rescue of those who have suffered as much on our behalf as on their own, . . . . . to bring practical and personal aid to those who are so sorely in need of it, . . . . . It is very strongly recommended that there should be . . . . .an exchange of visits; . . . . It is to establish a personal bond that the League aims.” British League of Help for the Devastated Areas of France and Belgium, Manifesto 1920. Bathurst Papers, Leeds Library

The League of Help wrote to Mayors across Britain urging the ‘adoption’ of ‘godchildren’ - towns and villages affected by the war. They lobbied local newspapers and held public meetings. As a result about 80 towns and cities adopted ‘godchildren’ in France. 

One was Worcester, who adopted Gouzeaucourt.

Extract from Worcester City Council Year Book, 1920/21 (Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service)
The proposed public meeting was held in Worcester at the Theatre Royal on 17 February 1921.
Theatre Royal, Angel Street, Worcester.
Location of public meeting, 17 Feb 1921

In July 1920 the Britain in Flanders League had written to Worcester requesting they adopt Gheluvelt in Belgium – the hamlet where the Worcestershire Regiment had distinguished themselves holding up the German advance in 1914. But the Belgian government asked for the re-building of the entire village, and the cost was too great for the city.

The League of Help wrote to Worcester in January 1921 encouraging an adoption and suggested Gouzeaucourt as it was where the Worcestershires had been heavily involved in fighting in 1917.  Consequently on 1 February 1921 the Council passed a motion:

“to adopt Gouzeaucourt, a French village; and that the Mayor be asked to summon a Public Meeting of the Citizens to consider the proposal, and to initiate a public subscription to provide funds for assisting in the restoration of the village after the ravages of the War.”

The public meeting was duly held in the Theatre Royal on 17 February 1921 when Major Fox gave a lecture on the devastation in France.  He gave a full explanation of the part played by Worcestershire soldiers around Gouzeaucourt, and a committee was set up to supervise the fundraising.

Nearby towns also ‘adopted’ French villages: Malvern adopted Landrecies, Evesham - Hebuterne, Stourbridge - Grandcourt.

Towns and cities taking part were encouraged to make their own decisions about the help given. They had to arrange and pay for the transport to London, and the League then paid for the journey of goods across the Channel, arranged through Walford and Co., who contributed by only charging half price. Rail transport to the final destination in France was paid by the French government.

British soldiers inspecting a well at Flesquières 23 November 1917.
Most wells had been poisoned by retreating German troops.
Reproduced with kind permission from Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 6325)

Return to Gouzeaucourt after the war was slow.

Residents had to prove that they had somewhere to live before being allowed to return and then there was little food and no drinking water.



French Refugees in 1918
Image from
The town of Morains: returning refugees searching for valuables
The town of Morains: returning refugees searching for valuables in the debris of their homes
with kind permission Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 54688)

In one village Lady Bathurst met a woman “living in a room one side of which had been demolished and was open to the air.”
Lady Bathurst, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard 6 Nov 1920

Victor Thonon, the Belgian architect who planned the re-building of Gouzeaucourt,
standing in the ruins of the village when he visited in 1919
Image from



The League was always an ‘umbrella’ organisation – of itself it did not send help or collect funds to do so. It lobbied towns and cities to join the scheme and supported them in their work. After 1922 no more towns joined. Those who were going to had already joined and the impact of Britain’s own economic problems meant that many were able to send less help than had been hoped. The League held its last meeting in October 1923 and was dissolved in 1927.