Dendermonde burnt down

Dendermonde is situated in East Flanders where the River Dender meets the River Scheldt. The city has a long tradition as a trade centre, thanks to the weaving industry and its strategic position, at a place where rivers meet and where important roads come together. This strategic position was bad news though for the city in 1914.

Dendermonde occupied a strategic position between Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp. Refugees from across Belgium flocked to the city as they were trying to escape German brutalities. As Dendermonde was situated more to the west, the city was only reached by German troops on Friday 4 September. 

Rumour about German atrocities in Visé, Dinant, Namur, Tamines, Aarschot, Tienen and Leuven spread quickly as refugees reached the city in the final weeks of August. The troops of General Max von Böhn mostly focussed on destroying the city through fire.

Arguing that German troops had been shot at by local residents, hundreds of buildings were set on fire. The blaze was enormous. When the Germans left the city on 8 September, an estimated 1,200 houses and public buildings had been gutted while almost 1,000 had sustained heavy damage. There were also random executions of civilians while others were taken hostage.

More bad times to come

People slowly but surely returned to the city afterwards, seeking shelter in houses that had escaped the blaze or that had not been completely destroyed. Wooden constructions could also be seen among the ruins.

The population was estimated at 6,200 people, with 4,339 living from a kind of minimum subsistence benefit or vouchers. Local industry had come to a standstill and unemployment rates were staggering. Unemployed people were sent to German factories to work for the German war industry.

A serious lack of food supplies created even bigger problems in the winter of 1916-1917. Dendermonde recovered bit by bit after the Great War. In order to inform local people and tourists, booklets were made in French and English containing post cards showing the situation in Dendermonde before the war and after.