14-18 Langres

at war

The Post-Office:

Declaration of War.

On Wednesday 31st July 1914, people's minds were preoccupied with worrying events in town. During the morning, horses were requisitioned by the army, followed by rumours, which were denied, then the people of Langres heard that the 21st Regiment of Infantry was about to leave. This regiment, which had been in position in the citadel since 1873, was the pride of Langres and its people whose lives were timed by parades and military music concerts. When the regiment left the town on Saturday 1st August during the morning for the Vosges mountains, the local population accompanied them, aware that the moment was serious. However, the newspapers were reassuring: the Spectator wrote a column:
« We should not exaggerate the importance of the measure. This is not, strictly speaking, mobilisation. »
(Le Spectateur 2 August 1914, Coll. Bibl. Marcel-Arland)

The reporter was right, this only happened a few hours later, at 4pm...The Mobilisation Order was then posted above the letter box at the Post Office. The following day, the town was flooded with reserve men who came to sign up at the recruiting office. The barracks, though numerous, could not contain the crowds of future fighters, and they had to be lodged in people's homes. To control the arrivals, civilians were called in to help. Each person wore an arm band of a different colour, to identify his job.
A Langres man said: « This is no longer Langres, it's Arm-Bandville! In fact there were arm-bands of every colour. Here are cabbage-green ones for reception of requisitioned goods, there are yellowy-green ones, with the word Langres, they are for the Civil Guard who are backing up the police force (...) brown or red arm-bands for drivers of cars, Red Cross arm bands, tricolour stripes for Alsace-Lorrains, etc. etc. »
(En Avant, 19 August 1914, Langres Almanac from 2 August, Coll. Bibl. Marcel-Arland).

While the press boasted of the good organisation of the army during the mobilisation, other witnesses were to put this in perspective. E. Delamotte, a citizen of Langres of the time of the conflict described it:
« Here a pair of trousers that was too short, there a jacket too big, over there, an overcoat way too long. The most striking thing in the midst of this the noise and commotion was the almost total absence of any officers. Nobody in command to put some order into all this disorder. »
(Langres pendant la grande Guerre. De la mobilisation à la Marne, coll. SHAL)

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