Reconstruction

The First World War left the BIE-region in ruins. Municipalities located close to the warfront, such as Westrozebeke, Oostnieuwkerke, Moorslede and Dadizele were completely demolished. Others, farther removed form the front line, suffered substantial material damage as a result of the numerous bombardments and intense battles of the Hundred Days Offensive.

Most BIE-municipalities, except for Kachtem, Emelgem, Oekene and Ingelmunster, were accepted by the Dienst der Verwoeste Gewesten, a committee founded to help local councils carry the financial burden of the reconstruction works. 

Most towns and villages opted for a quick recovery through the reconstruction of existing buildings. In Roeselare, on the other hand, the reconstruction was seen as an opportunity to experiment with new architectural styles. The newly constructed garden suburb in the hamlet of Batavia, for instance, marked a milestone in the international reconstruction process. Advocating an affordable, yet durable type of reconstruction architecture, the Batavia suburb served as an example for similar projects in Belgium and abroad. 

Even after the armistice was signed on November 11th, wartime circumstances continued to dominate the day-to-day lives in the BIE-municipalities. Housing, for instance, was very problematic, as the majority of buildings had been rendered uninhabitable. The few houses that had somehow survived the occupation were used to accommodate a number French soldiers who had stayed behind in the area. The rationing of food and goods continued for a while after the armistice, as it took time to organise the reconstruction of the distribution chain. Some municipalities were forced to implement a number of safety regulations, with leftover ammunition and explosives still scattered across their territory and ready to go off at any time. 

After the war, a first wave of tourists started to arrive in the towns and villages that had been part of the Western Front. Many of them were soldiers who wanted to take a last look at the battlefields before they returned home, or give their families a guided tour of the front lines. The local population began selling postcards and memorabilia, mostly cleaned up by-products of the war. Many families came down to visit the graves of their loved ones. This proved a logistic nightmare, initially, with numerous military cemeteries spread throughout the area and a great number of fallen soldiers buried on the battlefields. As time progressed, many of them were identified and transferred to cemeteries in their municipality of origin. The tradition of “Grave godmothers and -fathers” was started, in which volunteers worked together to attend to the maintenance of the graves. They also accompanied family members who wanted to pay their respects to the grave of a loved one. In the years following the armistice, the bodies of German soldiers were transferred to 4 centralised military cemeteries in Hooglede, Menen, Vladslo and Langemark. Bodies of French soldiers were most often repatriated to France. A British military cemetery was installed in the municipality of Dadizele.

During the reconstruction, the BIE-region was regularly visited by high officials. King Albert of Belgium and US President Wilson visited Roeselare on June 17th, 1919. King Albert also went to Moorslede, to estimate the extent of the material damage the war had inflicted upon the village. Furthermore, numerous monuments were erected and memorial services were held.

Photo: collection Dirk Verhelst