The war is coming

The entry of German troops into Belgium was marked by violence against the civilian population who was suspected of hiding francs-tireurs (irregulars). The “atrocities”, soon reported and amplified, and the fear of destructions caused the departure of a million and a half Belgians towards the Netherlands, France and Great Britain.

The sight of the first refugees, the memory of 1870 and the departure of administrations (the French and Belgian governments moved out, some mayors left their towns) prompted the civilians of northern France to take the roads as well.
As the front was expanding, a large exodus movement took place and the authorities were at pains to stop it.

The chosen routes depended on accommodation and transportation possibilities. If the richest used cars, many left on foot, with their belongings on carts.
Where to go? Most people made micro-moves to take shelter while fighting was going on and came back once the front was stabilized. For example, nearly one million Belgians went back home.

Others, mainly notables, chose to settle far from the front throughout the war. They became exiles.

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  • Refugees from Picardie fleeing the invading army, with their possessions and their livestock, first quarter of the 20th century, photo, Departmental Archives of the Aisne – mark FRAD002 22 Fi Guerre 1914-1918 13

    The people of Picardie (France) were also fleeing the German troops as they advanced, after hearing rumours about the atrocities perpetrated against civilians in Belgium.

  • Belgian refugees in the Netherlands walking towards the buildings where they would be given assistance, photo taken from the Illustrierte Zeitung, volume 1, July-December 1914, Departmental Archives of the Aisne – mark FRAD002 G 2561

    It is estimated that about one million Belgians fled to the Netherlands in November 1914.

  • A Belgian refugee and her child, photo taken from « Panorama de la Guerre », volume 1, 1914, Caverne du Dragon-Musée du Chemin des Dames, Aisne

Refugees from Picardie fleeing the invading army, with their possessions and their livestockBelgian refugees in the NetherlandA Belgian refugee and her child