The impact of the First World War on the citizens of Ypres: a demographic perspective

Overshadowed by the attention paid to geopolitical, military, socio-economic or cultural aspects, the impact the First World War had on the demographics of communities that lived in the front zone, has seldom been considered. The war uprooted millions of people, be they civilians or soldiers. A difficult return home awaited many after the war. Against this backdrop, Ypres was a special case. Thousands of refugees had flocked to the town in the early stages of the war, but, by October 1914, the city found itself on the frontline of the assault that so many had hoped to flee. After eight months of shelling – which claimed hundreds of victims – the situation became untenable for civilians during the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April 1915 to 24 May 1915); those who had not yet fled were forced to evacuate. The remainder of the town’s population ended up scattered throughout Belgium and abroad, notably France and Great Britain. Ypres remained a war zone until after the Armistice. The conflict had brought about the complete destruction of Ypres. Not only did this have far-reaching consequences for the physical reconstruction of the city, but also for its repopulation. This contribution examines the impact of the war on the citizens of and in Ypres during and in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. Beginning with an extensive identification and compilation of demographic data, it maps out the diaspora of Ypres citizens and reconstructs the dynamics of Ypres’ early post-war repopulation. The identification of people before, during and after the war was undertaken in order to carry out a pre-war and post-war comparison.