14-18 Langres

at war

Langres Station:

News from the front?

As a town close behind the front, Langres was the first point of call to assist with the human casualties of the battles. The town hospitals treated many injured people who arrived by lorry or train. Some only passed through and continued their journey back. On 10th October 1915, the girls’ school Primary School teacher of Boulevard de la République (now Boulevard de Lattre de Tassigny) wrote in his notebook: « A number of trains carrying injured people passed through the station. They were handed tobacco, cigarettes, chocolate, etc… - “We have them, we hold them!” they repeated to those who questioned them. »

In spite of the presence of many injured people in the hospitals, the only news from the front that came out in the press was that communicated by army officials until August 1915 when soldiers took leave and returned to Langres. On this occasion, Le Spectateur published an article which included soldiers describing « in joyful terms » the mud of Yser, the marshes of Woëvre, the chalky guts of Champagne and the black labyrinths of Artois. The journalist reported a dialogue between soldiers which ended so: « Roll on leave so that we can sleep a bit…there’s no way of closing your eyes in bed. – You only have to go to the little streets. You imagine being in the trenches. » The courage (unconsciousness?) of men is as if « the idea of going back to the inferno in a few days does not cause them any more sadness – and perhaps even less – than if they were returning to the barracks after the Easter holidays in times of peace. » Soldiers bragging? The journalist twisting their words? ...or instructions from the general staff in order to build up morale behind the lines?

In November a second wave of soldiers on leave arrived in Langres. The journalist noted this time that the men « were easily recognisable by their crumpled, faded clothes » , consequences of the battle of Artois, which had lasted since September. He capitalised on this opportunity to relay anti-German propaganda, putting words into the mouths of the soldiers: « These Bavarians are species of unintelligent, evil brutes like red imbeciles. With them, as with the Prussians, nothing can be done; we must kill them to defeat them […]. As for the Saxons, they seem more civilised with a more chivalrous character, as much as a German, even a Saxon, can be chivalrous. »

The nationalistic feeling spread all over the press which played the military propaganda game. When Le Spectateur published a section entitled « 1870-1914 – 44 years ago today » it was less to convey history and more to atone for the writer’s anti “Boche” allusions. However, a report on a camp of German prisoners working to repair the Villegusien reservoir was treated as an opportunity to remind people that « the lot of these guys is far from an unhappy one; the poor people in our country would easily cope with their regime” whilst “our prisoners in Germany are treated like vile criminals » …

Gare de Langres

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