During the first months of the war, it quickly transpired that the Germans had prepared the occupation well. A military-led regime was installed in most occupied municipalities, and citizens were forced to abide by countless rules and regulations.
During the occupation, Belgium was divided into three areas. The Okkupationsgebiet took up the largest part of the country's territory. The Etappengebied included most of West and East Flanders, as well as parts of Hainaut and Luxembourg. The Operationsgebiet covered the front zone, a strip 25 kilometres wide that separated the occupied areas from the war front. Most towns and villages in the BIE-region were located in the Operationsgebiet, except for Ingelmunster, which was classified under the Etappengebied. Civilians were not allowed to go beyond the Stadenberg, which marked the border between the Operationsgebiet and the front line. The closer a municipality was located to the war front, the stricter it was regulated by the Germans.
On a local level, municipalities were governed by an Ortskommandatur, a regulatory body with an Ortskommandant, a German town mayor, at its head. In Hooglede, the Ortskommandatur was established in the Sleihage school. In many towns and villages, the Ortskommandanten succeeded one another at a rapid pace throughout the war. The town of Lichtervelde, for instance, saw the installation of 19 different administrations over the course of its occupation.
The German town mayors maintained the order and safety. They were in charge of the German infrastructure, as well as the accommodation, recreation and nutrition of the quartered troops. In the BIE-region, many soldiers were put up in schools, factories and other spacious buildings, or in people’s homes. Civilians were sometimes forced to yield their houses to the occupying forces, when the number of available billets in their town fell short of accommodating the influx of German soldiers. There were times when over 1000 soldiers were stationed at Hooglede-Gits. After the First Battle of Ypres, 7000 German soldiers arrived in Roeselare.
A great number of rules were defined for civilians to live by. Overall, these rules were very similar in municipalities across the entire occupied region. However, depending on the Ortskommandant in charge, the strictness and arbitrariness of regulations varied regionally. Among other things, the German authorities controlled the opening times of guesthouses and the handing over of homing pigeons. Civilians were required to set their clocks to German time; inscriptions in French were banned. Under some Ortskommandanten, like Rittmeister Stephenson in Hooglede, the German rule amounted to a veritable reign of terror, the authorities relentlessly demanding money, foodstuff, provisions and workmen. Ortskommandant Prasse in Roeselare, too, was known to be a stern man.
In theory, local councils of appointed mayors and councillors remained in place to handle public services, while the German authorities took over the military aspects of government. In reality, however, regional governing bodies were powerless and forced to dance to the German administration’s tune.
Photo: collection Stadsarchief Roeselare