Encountering Germans: the Experience of Occupation in the Nord, 1914-1918

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the occupation of the French department of the Nord in the First World War. The focus is on the French responses to occupation, especially the way in which certain actions were understood as patriotic or non-patriotic – acceptable or unacceptable. These behaviours are categorised and studied via three main themes, what might be termed collaboration, criminality, and resistance, although I argue for a reformulation of some of these Second-World-War conceptual categories, taking into consideration the specificities of this occupation. It is demonstrated that the occupied French created their own war culture, a culture de l’occupé, based around notions of respectability, acceptability, and social-patriotic mores. Those breaching the limits of
these norms faced opprobrium and punishment, both during and after the war, although this was never as violent or extensive as elsewhere (such as occupied Belgium from 1918, or occupied Europe in 1944-5 and beyond). For some, the moral economy was redefined, creating a situation in which criminality or misconduct became effective modes of survival. This, combined with economic difficulties, led to a belief among chroniclers of occupied life that crime was increasing, and that young people were particularly involved in this. Fears of moral corruption abounded. The occupation culture demanded opposition to the Germans and expressions of patriotism, often containing a performative element. This could be achieved through the protests of French notables, symbolic gestures carried out by the wider population, and active resistance involving a minority of occupés . Whatever the success of resistance, some forms were praised after the occupation, with the French and British governments expressing their gratitude through compensation and medals. The official occupation
narrative in the post-war period became one of suffering and resistance, and suffering as resistance; but the occupation memory remained local, eventually overshadowed by that of the Second World War.
Date of Award1 Feb 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRichard Vinen (Supervisor) & Jim Bjork (Supervisor)

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