Because of its strategic position behind the front lines, the BIE-region played an important role in the medical accommodation and treatment of German soldiers. Municipalities located in a 15 kilometre radius around the front lines were frequently flooded with soldiers who were wounded in action in the combat zones around Ypres and the river Yser. Farther removed from the war front, in Lichtervelde, Roeselare and Izegem, the German military built various types of field hospitals to provide medical care for its troops.
A series of first aid posts, or ‘Verbandplätze’, was installed immediately behind the front lines. Beyond the first aid posts, at a greater distance away from the front, emergency surgical procedures were performed in several field hospitals, the so-called ‘Feldlazaretten’. Moreover, the Germans erected a ‘Kriegslazaret’, a larger hospital for soldiers who were looking at a long recovery. The region also counted a number of ‘Ortskrankenstuben’, hospitals that dealt exclusively with illness and infections. Those Ortskrankenstuben were also open to sick civilians.
The field hospitals were mostly housed in existing buildings and structures, which were claimed by the German occupier. In Izegem, for instance, all residents of the local care home were forced to leave the building on November 11th, 1914, in order to make room for the first wave of injured German soldiers. The soldiers were treated by German doctors and nursing personnel. A great number of convent sisters were recruited to join the medical staff, as many of them were accustomed to nursing elderly or disabled people. To organise the conveyance of wounded soldiers, the Germans demanded the municipalities and their inhabitants to hand over their means of transportation. Furthermore, civilians were employed in the construction of mass graves for the burial of German soldiers.
Terrified of infectious diseases such as typhoid, which posed a threat to soldiers and civilians alike, the Germans sometimes sealed off entire neighbourhoods to prevent an impending epidemic from spreading. The Mentenhoek-quarter in Izegem, for instance, was preemptively made inaccessible to German soldiers and officers during an outbreak in October 1916. The municipal school in Oekene was converted into an ‘Isolierstation’, a place where German typhoid patients were treated in isolation.
When quartered in municipalities such as Ingelmunster and Izegem during their leave from the front lines, it was commonplace for German soldiers to engage in sexual adventures, opening the door for sexually transmitted diseases to spread like wildfire. Occasionally, “lewdly women” were arrested and taken to Bruges for a medical examination; some of them were imprisoned for a considerable amount of time. In Roeselare, a special hospital was opened for the sole purpose of treating venereal diseases. Towards the end of the war, Belgium was subjected to an outbreak of Spanish Influenza, which resulted in an exceptionally hight mortality rate among soldiers and civilians.
Photo: collection Ten Mandere