World War I: French Home Front


Figure 1.-- Our information on Frech War prpaganda is very limited. We do not note very sentimental post cards. These appear to have sold on the home front. We wonder how they were received by the soldiers at the front. This post card was mailed in 1915. Click on the image to see the message on the back.

Our information is still limited on the French World War I home front. The home front was important to all combatant countries. For Germany and Britin the homefront was distant from the battlefield. This was not the case for France. The Westrn Front trenches snaked across northern France and Belgium. Paris was only a few miles from the front and the Germany nearly reached Paris twice, in 1914 and 1918. French war propaganda attempted to maintain civilian morle. We note very sentimental postards. The truth of conditions at the front was generlly kept from the public. The British prohibitied cameras and the act of taking photographs could get one executed. I think the French did the same although I do not yet have detils. Even though the soldiers at the front could easily reach home with a short railroad trip, the High Command discouraged home leaves, concerned that the soldiers would not return. The French were in a better position than the Germans as to food production. France had a substantial agricultural production and food coud be easily imported from America. We do not yet hve details on the French rationing ptogram. Nor do we have details on the use of women and youth to replace workers conscripted for military service. We do know that the Boy Scouts played an active role. In the end French home front morale heald, but the French Army almost broke in 1917.

Location

World War I began and ended on the Western Front. It was here the War was decided. France for much of the War provided the bulk of the force blocking the Germans in the West. For France there was less difference between the front lines and the home front. The War on the Western Front was fought in Belgium and northern France. It was close enough that the Germans were able to shell Paris. For Germany and Britin the homefront was distant from the battlefield. This was not the case for France. The Westrn Front trenches snaked across northern France and Belgium. Paris was only a few miles from the front and the Germany nearly reached Paris twice, in 1914 and 1918. The areas of northern France where the War was fought was devestated. This resulted in a refugee problem, both French and Belgian refugees. The cloesness of the front also created a major issue for the French Army--authorizing home leaves. The men at the front because of the excellent French rail system were only hours away from hime.

French War Propaganda

French war propaganda attempted to maintain civilian morle. We note very sentimental postards. The truth of conditions at the front was generlly kept from the public. The British prohibitied cameras and the act of taking photographs could get one executed. I think the French did the same although I do not yet have detils.

Home Leave

Even though the soldiers at the front could easily reach home with a short railroad trip, the High Command discouraged home leaves, concerned that the soldiers would not return.

Food

The French were in a better position than the Germans as to food production. France had a substantial agricultural production which left the country self sufficent in food production, unlike Britain and Germany. Thus France had the agricultural production needed to feed the country. We have not yet been able to find information about rationing in France. In addition, food coud be easily imported from America.

Red Cross

American novelist Edith Wharton visited France working with the French Red Cross. She helped raise funds in America to support the Red Cross.

Anti-war Movement

There were small anti-war groups in both Britain and France. The French home front remained solid during the War. Unlike Germany, I don't know of demostrations and rioting on the French hone front.

Children's Play

Children's play as in other countries was affected by the War.

Rationing

We do not yet have details on the French rationing ptogram.

Labor

Nor do we have details on the use of women and youth to replace workers conscripted for military service.

Refugees

Germany launched World War I by attacking France through Belgium (August 1914). The German Army poured acrioss first the Belgian frontier and within a month rhe French frontier as well. Only the vMiracle on the Marne (Seprember 1914) prevented the Germans from reaching Paris and probably the War. Civilians fled the invading German Army in large numbers Some of the Belgians sought refuge in the Netherlands. Others headed south toward France and were joined by French refugees as well. The Germans occupied most of Belgium and areas of northern France until the final nonths of the War. Thus France throughout the War had a sizeable refugee problem. By the end of the War there wete more than 2 million refugees in France.

Boy Scouts

General Gallieni, the military commander of Paris when reviewing the French Boy Scouts said, 'It is well that Germany should understand,' he said, 'that behind our soldiers there is another and a younger line ready to support them, eager, like them, to do their duty cheerfully, and to join with them in bringing about victory for France.' That seems rather exagerated, but the Scouts did indeed perform important duties on the home front. We do know that the Boy Scouts played an active role. We do not have much information yet, but they appear to have served in a wide range of capacities. They used their bicycles to deliver messages. One report indicates that they did particularly useful wok serving as orderlies in militry hospitals and on barges carrying the wounded to hospitals.

French Army Mutiny

In the end French home front morale held, but the French Army almost broke in 1917. The huge casualties, however, almost cracked the French Army at the Front. Mutinies broke out in the French army (1917). The men had many complaints, some quite valid. One of the issues was home front leaves. Defeatism was rife among those on the left, who had shown pacifist tendencies before the War. Radical prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, supressed the mutinies using both a combination of repression and patriotic appeals. In the end the Army held, but it was no longer capable of offensive operations. The war winning offensive that broke the Germans in 1918 was carried out by the British and new American Army.

Women's Sufferage

Women in some of the beligerant countries were the right to vote towards the end of the war or after Armistice (Russia--1917, Germany--1918, Britain--1918/28, and the United States--1919). France was not one of the countries. French women did not get the right to vote until the end of World War II (1945).

The Americans (1917-18)

The United States after the Germans resumed unrestricted sunmarine warfare declared war (April 1917). The United States never formally joined the Allies, but became a an "Associated Power". The people in France and the other Allied countries expected a huge American Army to immediately enter the War. The United States had, however, only a very small volunteer army. (Even before the War, European countries--except Britain--had huge armies based on consceiption. This was one reason that had fueld European emmigration to America.) America would have to build an Army and would not be ready for actiion until the following year. Congress passed the Selective Service Act and drafted 2.8 million men. Military bases were opened all over Amnerica. The Unitesd States also began transporting men to France to be trained there. It was soon clear that the Germnans had badly miscalculated. It was one of the greates miscalclations in military history, only exceeded in magnitude by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only did the United States begin very rapidly to build an army, but the U-boats were totaly incapable of stopping the American troopships. Eventually 10,000 American soldiers would be reaching France daily untouched by the German U-boats. Several regiments of U.S. Marines were among the first elements of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The British and French desperatelu needed reinforcements and wanted to integrate the arriving Americans into their units. General Pershing rejected this idea insisting that the AEF would fight as a ubit under the American flag. He did agree to permit African-American combat regiments to be used in French divisions. Unlike World War II, in World War I the American troops were headed for France, not Britain. It was the first time that the French met Americans in large mumbers. France was one of the few countries from which people did not emigrate to America in large numbers. The Frencg felt linkages with America because for about a century, America was the only other republic of any consequence. But there has been few likages on the individual and family level. The huge numbers of Americans that flowed into France changed this. Few Frenchmen by the end of the war had not had some contact with American doughboys. It was the children who were most enchanted, especially because the Americans had a seemingly inexhaustable supply of sweets. Perhaps even mor important that the impact of the Americans on the French, was the French on the Americans. There were of course there were war brides. And rather provincial, culturaly conservative Amnericans were exposed to the more libertine French life style. France was especially mind-opening for Afro-American soldiers. The Germans launched their massive Spring offensive designed to finally win the War (March 1918). German troops penetrated as far into France as Chateau-Thierry, a mere 56 miles from Paris. It is at this point that the AEF is first committed in strength. The fatal error of driving America into the War then became apparent.







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Created: 4:46 AM 5/15/2006
Last updated: 10:18 PM 11/3/2010