Travel in the occupied areas was very limited. Thus, men and women often undertook trips without requesting the necessary permits. The huge number of fines and prison sentences demonstrates the scale of these illegal practices: people went to see their families or to find supplies.

In some cases, those civilians travelling near the frontline were on the run. They were attempting to get back to their villages after having been taken away by the Germans to work on farms far away from home. After their absence had been established, they were being hunted down. They tended to travel at night, often covering long distances. Some of these men and women tried to make it to the Netherlands, which was a neutral country at the time. As a result, the Germans erected an electrified fence along the Belgian-Dutch border in 1915.

In Belgium's border regions, there were also networks of French civilians which every night set out to find supplies on the other side of the border where it was easier to come by some food. The author, Maxence Van der Meersch (1907-1951) described the activities of these « fonceurs » or risk-takers in Invasion 14 (1935). Every night, men and women risked being arrested at the several checkpoints and by the patrols along the border.

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  • Young smugglers with bags of potatoes, first quarter of the 20th century, photo, Centre of local History, Tourcoing

1915-1916 Souvenir des fonceurs de pommes de terre