The army set up a whole network of infrastructure around Cassel. They built arms depots, food warehouses, camps, hospitals, railways, as well as airfields behind the lines.

From 1915 onwards, French factories produced 100,000 shells every day, which were sent to the front. Arms depots were built near the frontlines so that these shells could be easily delivered. In early 1918, there were depots in Caëstre, near Bailleul and around Poperinge, for example. Supply and fuel depots were also built near Ebblinghem or Abeele.

However, if the warehouses and depots were multiplying behind the lines then the most striking aspect of wartime construction in this zone is still the far-reaching development of the railway network. The fact that the frontline remained rather stable also contributed to this: for three years the frontline in Belgium and in northern France barely advanced. Trains thus played a crucial role for the supply of food and ammunition as well as for transporting troops and wounded soldiers. Rail transport was quite popular, with the use of trains, trams and narrow-gauge railroads. 

As the years passed, planes also became more popular, resulting in the construction of new infrastructure: airfields. In 1913 the French authorities built an airfield in Saint-Pol-sur-Mer. But given that its capacity was soon deemed insufficient, bases were built in Petite-Synthe, Coudekerque-Branche, Bray-Dunes and Bergues.

Another building that was quite important behind the lines was of course the hospital. Millions of men were wounded during this conflict. Flanders also sustained heavy losses during the great offensives, with thousands of men wounded every day. The first stop of the wounded was just behind the lines in the first-aid station where very rudimentary first aid was administered: bandages were applied, morphine injections given. The wounded were then transported behind the lines in hospitals where the necessary surgeries could take place. In Belgian Flanders, a farm in Lijssenthoek, a small hamlet to the south of Poperinge, was converted into a field hospital as early as the spring of 1915. From July 31st, 1915, the number of soldiers who succumbed to their wounds was such that they were burying up to ten men a day. At the end of the war, a large British cemetery was erected near the hospital, which became a stationary hospital where people who were wounded in accidents or who were ill were hospitalized.

Loading, please wait...
  • Behind the lines in Flanders – early 1918: communication networks and military infrastructure, © Simon Toulet

  • Descamps Henri-Maurice (1878-1965), Supplying the British Army, 1914-16, glass plate, Fonds photographique patrimonial Descamps – Ville de Cassel

  • First aid station. Forest. In Belgium Transportation of the wounded on a relay road, 16 October 1917, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    This photo shows how rudimentary these first aid stations were.

map of the zone behind the lines in Flanderssupplying the British Armyposte de secours. Bois 16 octobre 1917