Little Paris

At the beginning of the First World War, it was clear that Germany was going to ignore the Belgian neutrality. The German Army was planning to attack France by moving through Belgium. In order to stop the German troops, the strongholds around the city of Liège were reinforced and Antwerp served as an important supply post. Both Liège and Antwerp were quickly overpowered by the Germans however, and the Belgian and French armies retreated behind the Yser river. In a final attempt to stop the German advances, King Albert gave the order to open the floodgates. The old tactic worked, and the German Army was unable to make any further progress. Because of this, they launched a new offensive around the city of Ypres, in an attempt to break through allied lines there. The British Army and their allies however held these lines. The front became immobilized for the rest of the War. What was meant to be a “Blitzkrieg” (movement war), had become a “Sitzkrieg” (trench warfare). The Belgian, French and British Armies and their allies were stuck in the face of the Germans. Both sides dug in, and had to live in trenches in horrible conditions.

For the British and their allies in Ypres, Poperinge was the closest "safe" town. Because of this, it became the nerve centre for military operations. Soldiers, supplies, labourers, information, ... Everything going towards the Ypres Salient passed through this town. Every day, thousands of soldiers entered "Pop", which quickly made a name for itself as the place where one could forget about the war in whatever way seen fit. Even though most soldiers slept in camps outside the city centre (in small villages, such as Krombeke, Proven and Reningelst), Poperinge was the place to go for nightlife and pleasure. The town, that was home to about 10.000 inhabitants before the war, was suddenly sheltering about 250.000 English speaking soldiers. This meant of course that the image of "Pop" changed drastically. The soldiers often called Poperinge ‘Little Paris’ because of all the cafes, bars, brothels, cinemas, concert halls and clubs the town had to offer. This is the context in which Talbot House was situated.

Did you know...

...Poperinge was home to thousands of Chinese labourers during the war?