Living with the enemy in First World War France

This study considers the ways in which locals of the occupied Nord responded to and understood their situation across four years of German domination, focusing in particular on key behaviours adopted by locals, and the way in which such conduct was perceived. Behaviours examined include forms of complicity, misconduct, disunity, criminality, and resistance. This local case study calls into question overly-patriotic readings of this experience, and suggests a new conceptual vocabulary to help understand certain civilian behaviours under military occupation.

Drawing on extensive primary documentation – from diaries and letters to posters and police reports – this book proposes that a dominant ‘occupied culture’ existed among locals. This was a moral-patriotic framework, born of both pre-war socio-cultural norms and daily interaction with the enemy, that guided conduct and was especially concerned with what was considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Those who breached the limits of this occupied culture faced criticism and sometimes punishment. This study attempts to disentangle perceptions and reality, but also argues that the clear beliefs and expectations of the occupied French comprise a fascinating subject of study in their own right. They provide an insight into national and local identity, and especially the way in which locals understood their role within the wider conflict.

This book will be useful to undergraduates, post-graduates and academics interested in an understudied aspect of the history of modern France, the First World War, and military occupations.

James E. Connolly

This chapter examines three forms of misconduct involving both women and men. It begins by studying denunciations: considered a commonplace occurrence during the occupation and understood as mainly carried out by women, the actual extent of and motives for this behaviour are difficult to discern, but there are some verified cases. The chapter then turns to individuals who engaged in general voluntary labour for the Germans, from making sandbags to working for the German police; it reflects on the complexity of establishing genuine cases set against popular, critical perceptions of this, arguing that only a small minority of voluntary workers existed. Next, it examines alleged cases of espionage for the Germans, where the distance between belief and reality is even harder to establish. The second half of the chapter focuses on the way in which the population enacted revenge on those believed to have engaged in misconduct, from verbal insults to physical attacks; it concludes that such punishments occurred up to summer 1915, were rarer afterwards, and returned on a small scale during and after the liberation.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
Open Access (free)
James E. Connolly

This chapter examine two forms of misconduct more associated with men. The first involves accusations than men in positions of authority, such as local politicians or policemen, abused their power during the occupation; these men were the object of detailed French investigations after the liberation, investigations often sparked by denunciations from locals. The chapter analyses both the post-war denunciations and investigations in depth, which provide a rich tableau of the complexities and difficulties of occupied life – doubly problematic for French men in positions of authority. It then considers the second type of male misconduct: commercial relations with the Germans, from gold trafficking to exchanging goods with the occupier, for which evidence can be found in diaries, repatriation interrogations, even clandestine newspapers – and for which men were punished after the war. The chapter concludes with reflections on misconduct more generally.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
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Conflict continues
James E. Connolly

This chapter outlines the way in which occupied culture drew on both pre-war norms and daily interaction with the national enemy to create a unique breeding ground for disunity. In particular, it highlights continuing areas of tension between the French, beginning with religious conflict whereby anti-clericals accused clergymen of maintaining their anti-Republican crusade during a time of national solidarity, and certain clergymen preached that the war and occupation were divine punishment for the Republic’s sins. Political and personal tensions also continued, notably between socialists and radicals, and mayors and municipal councillors; the union sacrée was just as likely to fracture under foreign domination. Social tensions did not dissipate either, with workers and the wealthy each accusing the other group of profiting from the conditions of occupied life. The chapter concludes by underlining that such tensions contradict claims about dignified suffering in solidarity in the occupied Nord, but also that these conflicts are exceptions to the great deal of unity that was evident in other aspects of occupied life, from food provisioning to conceptions of resistance examined in Part II of the book.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
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Criminality during the occupation
James E. Connolly

This chapter considers a range of criminal behaviours carried out by the occupied French, an understudied aspect of the experience that became an important facet of occupied life. It outlines the methodological challenges involved in such a study, before explaining the difficulties the local French police faced during the occupation. It then examines different types of criminality in detail in an attempt to assess their extent and the motives for such conduct. The forms of criminal action examined are: theft from Germans, compatriots, and relief organisations; fraud, including to the detriment of relief organisations; smuggling; fabricating money; and youth vandalism and ‘vagabondage.’ The chapter also provides an insight into the way locals understood criminality, and ends by demonstrating the fears local notables had regarding the post-war future and morality of the region given the perceived widespread scale of criminal actions.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
Open Access (free)
Respectable resistance (coups de gueule polis)
James E. Connolly

This chapter proposes the analytical concept of ‘respectable resistance’ via an in-depth examination of frequent protests of local notables – mayors, municipal councillors, industrialists, clergymen – against German orders. It considers the importance of respectability and politeness in even these oppositional social relations, and suggests that notable protests had a performative element to them – whereas the Germans unequivocally understood them as resistance.

Such protests often comprised letters, written refusals to provide the Germans with access to materials or manpower to be used for military ends, and were bolstered by juridical reasoning citing international, French, and even German law. There is some evidence of centralised, organised mass protests; in any case, both spontaneous and organised protests continued throughout the occupation, despite the fact that notables and communes were often punished as a result, often acquiescing in the end. The chapter suggests that this resistance was nevertheless somewhat successful in the sense of buying time and boosting the morale of the occupied population.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
Open Access (free)
James E. Connolly

This chapter introduces and contextualises the occupation of northern France in the First World war, and also outlines the methodology and approach of the book. It begins by underlining, briefly, the way in which this occupation was forgotten but has received renewed scholarly attention since the 1990s. It discusses attendant historiographical developments regarding ‘war cultures,’ and explains the socio-cultural focus of this book – and in particular introduces the key concept of a ‘culture of the occupied.’ The final two sections shed light on the choice of the Nord as an area of study, before offering an insight into the specificity of the département before the First World War, and finally a summary of the occupied Nord’s general experience of the conflict.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
James E. Connolly

This chapter highlights and assesses symbolic gestures and actions that allowed allowing the occupied French to express local and national identity, oppose the occupier, and undermine the sense of German dominance. These included singing songs, writing poems, telling jokes or using humour to mock the occupation and occupiers, wearing or displaying national colours, demonstrating humanitarian impulses towards Allied prisoners of war, and preventing successful German requisitions. The chapter reflects on the way in which such actions can be considered resistance, noting that many were explicitly forbidden by the Germans, whereas sources attest to their positive effect and the transgressive motives of those carrying them out. Local and national identity came together in certain acts of symbolic resistance, which often adhered to the norms of occupied culture and in particular a sense of respectable expressions of hostility.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
James E. Connolly

This chapter considers actions that are more evidently identifiable as resistance, and which comprise a more active form of opposition to the Germans. The actions examined comprise: helping escaped Allied prisoners of war; engaging in espionage, escape and correspondence networks on behalf of the Allies; creating clandestine publications; and explicitly refusing to work for the Germans. The chapter draws on both British and French archives to highlight the role of the respective secret services in some of these activities, in some ways a precursor to the resistance of the Second World War. More generally, the chapter attempts to assess the extent of such resistance, its role within occupied culture, and its success. It concludes that active resistance, so praised during and after the war and so present in works on the occupation, was extremely dangerous and never involved more than a small minority of the occupied population; yet it remains a fascinating subject that provides its own insights into the complexities of occupied life and French reactions to it.

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18