French Language Blog

French History – WWI and the Occupation Posted by on Nov 20, 2018 in Culture, Vocabulary

Last week the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended la Grande Guerre which ravaged Europe from 1914 – 1918*. As a young man living in France, I heard much more about la deuxième Guerre Mondiale since my host parents had lived under that occupation**, but the recent anniversary got me thinking about that previous war and what life in France might have been like.

Image of the banner graphic from the Bulletin de Lille.

Bulletin de Lille, a bi-weekly publication appearing on Sundays & Thursdays. Published under the authority of the German command. For sale at Madame Tersaud’s 14 See-Aremhault Street.

Lille sous les Allemands / Lille under the Germans

One of the best ways to understand events from the past is to examine primary resources like letters, newspapers, and official documents. A quick search of Project Gutenberg led me to a series of local papers from the years that the city of Lille in northern France was under German occupation. En souvenir de ces evenements (To remember those events) over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of the interesting excerpts I found.

The following is the description of an exchange that took place between the local French town officials and the German command about street cleaning.

ACTES DE L’AUTORITÉ ALLEMANDE (dans l’édition du jeudi 2 décembre, 1915) Official acts of the German Command (in the Thursday, December 2nd, 1915 edition)
Samedi 27 novembre 1915 Saturday, November 27, 1915
Propreté de la voie publique. – L’autorité allemande signale à la Municipalité que le nettoyage et le balayage des rues laissent à désirer. Spécialement, les trottoirs sont fréquemment souillés par les ordures des chiens, et son Excellence exige que des mesures soient prises pour faire cesser cet état de choses. Cleanliness of the public way. – The German Command alerts the Municipality that the cleaning and sweeping of the streets leaves something to be desired. In particular, the sidewalks are often dirtied by dog waste, and his Excellence requires that measures be taken to stop this state of affairs.
Des punitions seront infligées à la Ville, si on n’y remédie pas de suite. Punishments will be imposed on the city, if the situation is not rectified immediately.
M. Crépy-Saint-Léger (remplaçant M. le Maire, souffrant), dit que c’est aux propriétaires des maisons riveraines à nettoyer ces trottoirs, et que cette obligation peut leur être rappelée par le Bulletin de Lille. Mr. Crepy-Saint-Leger (standing in for the mayor who is unwell/suffering), says that it is up to the owners of the homes abutting the streets to clean these sidewalks, and that they can be reminded of this obligation through the Bulletin de Lille.
M. le Général objecte que l’autorité allemande n’a pas à s’adresser aux propriétaires, c’est à la Ville qu’elle s’adresse pour que des mesures soient prises afin d’assurer la propreté de la rue. The General objects that it is not up to the German Command to address the homeowners, it is the city who is being addressed so that proper measures can be taken to insure clean streets.

Key Vocabulary

propre clean

sale dirty

nettoyer / to clean

le trottoir / sidewalk

les maisons riveraines the houses along the way (riveraines originally referred to buildings along/on either side of a river, it now refers more generally to houses and buildings along a street or other way, as in stationnement réservé aux riverains / parking for residence only)

les propriétaires / homeowners

Want to read more? You can find the full édition du 2 décembre by following this link.

* The Great War, as World War I is known, is also referred to in France as la guerre de 14 18 (and WWII as la guerre de 39 45).
In fact, both of my son’s great grandfathers were POWs and spent much of WWII in German prison camps.

Images and text CC0 from Project Gutenberg.

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.