the City of Light during the Great War
- the sidewalk terrace of the Café de la Paix in Paris during wartime.
- A soldier from every almost Allied country is depicted
- as well as various exotic colonial troops and famous branches of service.
Test your knowlegde of uniforms by identifying as many as possible. First prize : 'un petit rouge'.
It would be hard to find a city that is more romantically inspiring than Paris. Though many modern-day inhabitants of France would argue otherwise, Paris is still the heart and soul of the country not to mention the capital and administrative and legislative center. The fall of Paris in 1871 precipatated the end of that war and a bloody revolution into the bargain. In August 1914 it looked like the same would happen again. Inhabitants suddenly remembered relatives living 'en province' and left Paris in droves. It is estimated that up to 800 000 Parisians left the city in August and early September 1914. The government did much the same and moved to Bordeaux. As can be read in the accounts written by reporters remaining in Paris during that period of the war, the city appeared virtually deserted at times. Many people expected Paris to fall to the enemy within the near future. Nevertheless the authorities started work on building barricades and trenches and felling trees to impede the enemy army should it ever reach the gates of Paris and begin siege operations against the extensive ring of fortifications defending the city.
But the fortunes of war were reversed and the Germans were halted during the battles of the Marne and the Aisne . By winter of 1914 things had returned to a state of semi-normality. Or as normal as can be expected in times of war. With the men away in the army, women took over many jobs. Air raids by either Zeppelins or German aeroplanes were a newsworthy and interesting occurence at first. Later on the novelty soon wore off as the city was bombed from the air.
Children took up new variations of age-old games. Soldiers on leave went looking for the oldest game of them all and Parisian society and magazines adapted to the new war-time conditions. Patriotism became very 'chic' indeed. All the more so when the Yanks finally entered the fray in 1917. For a time, both the US and France celebrated each other's national holiday and it seemed that the Parisians devoted as much energy into organizing 4th of July parades as they did for their own 'Quatorze Juillet'.
To be sure there were many other war-time parades held in Paris, along with charity drives for refugees, wounded soldiers and other worthy causes. The Armistice celebrations were an unplanned spontaneous event, rivaled half a year later in martial splendor by the grand Victory Parade on the 14th of July 1919.
The following links contain excerpts from contemporary books and magazines dealing with the situation in Paris. Many books and articles on Paris were written by war reporters because in the early days of the war, French authorities were extremely loath to allow reporters anywhere near the front-lines. Needs be, journalists turned their energies to describing conditions in and around Paris. Not the most exciting of events, but interesting nonetheless for readers 90 years later, when they describe the atmosphere and feel of the city during war-time. And from the list of authors below, it seemed that sooner or later all reporters and writers passed through Paris.
Furthermore there is a wealth of photographic and illustrative material to be found in war-time magazines and books. A representative selection is available for viewing.
Descriptions of Paris during the Great War taken from contemporary books and magazines.
- Texts in English
- The Soul of the War 1 (by British journalist Philip Gibbs)
- The Soul of the War 2 (by British journalist Philip Gibbs)
- The Mobilization in August 1914 (by British journalist Philip Gibbs)
- 1914 Paris Waits 1 (by M.E. Clarke)
- Trips from a Village on the Marne to Paris in August 1914 (by Mildred Aldrich)
- Trip from a Village on the Marne to Paris in 1915 (by Mildred Aldrich)
- Trip to Versailles in 1917 (by Mildred Aldrich)
- A Trip to Paris on Valentine's Day 1918 (by Mildred Aldrich)
- Paris in 1918 / 4th of July Celebrations in Paris (by Mildred Aldrich)
- My Year of the War (by American journalist Frederick Palmer)
- Air Attacks on Paris (by British journalist Frank R. Cana.)
- With the Allies : Paris in War Time (by American journalist Richard Harding Davis)
- The American Ambulance Hospital (by Arthur Gleason)
- With the American Army in France (by Lincoln Eyre)
- The Look of Paris - August 1914 - February 1915 (by Edith Wharton)
- Paris at Bay (by American Journalist Arthur Ruhl)
- The Zone of Paris (by American playwright Arnold Bennett)
- A Visit to Paris
- Paris and the Marne (by Harold Ashton)
- In a Paris Hospital in 1915 (by Henry Sheahan - American volunteer ambulance driver)
- Paris War Days - Diary of an American (by Charles Inman Barnard)
- Among the Ruins (by Spanish correspondent Gomez Carrillo)
- Godmothers to the Trenches
- Fanny Goes to Paris on Leave (by V.A.D. member Pat Beauchamp)
- How Paris Gets the News
- An Englishwoman in Paris - 1918 (by Marie Harrison)
- Texts in French
- Paris Menacé - Paris Sauvé - 1914
- Les Parisiens Pendant l'Etat de Siège
- de la Méditerranée aux Champs de Bataille de la Marne
- Aux Avant-Postes 1914
- Journal dun Bourgeois de Paris Pendant la Guerre vol 1 par Georges Ohnet
- Journal dun Bourgeois de Paris Pendant la Guerre vol 5 par Georges Ohnet
- La Parisienne et la Guerre par Maurice Donnay
- La Vie à Paris
- Le Paris Nouveau
- Croquis Parisiens (from 'La Vie Parisienne')
- Les Petites Madames aux Gares d'Evacuation
- Paris Vu Par un Permissionnaire (from 'Fantasio')
- Paris Pendant La Guerre 1915 (Journal des Ouvrages de Dames)
- Paris 1915 (from 'Le Monde Illustré')
- Paris 1917 (from 'Le Monde Illustré')
- Les Zeppelins sur Paris
- Les Héros de l'Yser à Paris
- l'Adieu de Paris au Général Gallieni
- Journées de Juin 1918 à Paris
- Paris 1918
- Les Américaines de Paris
- Independance Day - 1918 (from 'Le Monde Illustré')
- La Journée du 11 Novembre a Paris
- Armistice 1918 (from 'Le Monde Illustré')
- Fête de la Victoire - Julliet 1919
"Every automobile which passed had at least one soldier in it. Almost every well-dressed woman had a soldier beside her. Those who did not, looked sympathetically at every soldier who passed, and now and then stopped to chat with the groups soldiers on crutches, soldiers with canes, soldiers with an arm in a sling, or an empty sleeve, leading the blind, and soldiers with nothing of their faces visible but the eyes.
By every law I knew the scene should have been sad. But some law of love and sunshine had decreed that it should not be, and it was not.
It was not the Paris you saw, even last summer, but it was Paris with a soul, and I know no better prayer to put up than the cry that the wave of love which seemed to throb everywhere about the soldier boys, and which they seemed to feel and respond to, might not with time die down. I knew it was too much to ask of human nature. I was glad I had seen it.
In this atmosphere of love Paris looked more beautiful to me than ever. The fountains were playing in the Place de la Concorde, in the Tuileries gardens, at the Rond Point, and the gardens, the Avenue and the ambulances were bright with flowers. I just felt, as I always do when the sun shines on that wonderful vista from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, that nowhere in the world was there another such picture, unless it be the vista from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. When I drove back up the hill at sunset, with a light mist veiling the sun through the arch, I felt so grateful to the fate which had decreed that never again should the German army look on that scene, and that a nation which had a capital that could smile in the face of fate as Paris smiled that day, must not, cannot, be conquered."
Mildred Aldrich (writing to Gertrude Stein) in 1915
- photograph of a sidewalk café in Paris in 1917
- not unlike the above illustration by L. Sabattier
Photo & Illustration Galleries
'Paris again a gray Paris, with bare tree-trunks, dead leaves on the sidewalk, and in the air the chill of approaching winter.
Across the gray distances one fancies now and then to have seen the first stray flakes of snow, and in some old street, between tall, gray houses leaning backward, sidewise, each after its fashion as some girl, pale, with shawl wrapped about her shoulders, hurries past with a quick upcasting of dark eyes, one thinks of Mimi and the third act of "La Boheme."
Old sentiments, old songs and verses return in this strange, gray stillness that spirit so gracious, delicate, penetrating, and personal, which has drawn so many through the years, becomes more moving and real. There is more animation in the streets now: shops are opening, cabs tooting down the Avenue de l'Opera the greater part of the night; but most of the house-fronts are still shuttered and still. Tourists, pleasure-seekers, and the banalities they bring are gone every thought and energy is with the men fighting on that long line across the north. It is a Paris of the French of a France united as never before perhaps, purified by fire, ardent, resolute, defending her life and her precious inheritance.'
Arthur Ruhl, American journalist in 1914
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