Keeping civilians away from the war zones: the evacuees

The armies saw the spontaneous movements of civilians as a threat: crowded roads, low troops morale...

During the conflict, evacuation orders were given so as to protect the population, to make fighting easier and to send the spies away.

As the war went on, the evacuations became significant, due to the fear of civilians being used by the enemy:

  • in March 1917, the German army fell back on the Hindenburg line. Part of the population was evacuated, like the 45,000 residents of Saint-Quentin sent away in two weeks at the rate of two trains a day. There were more than 100,000 French evacuees in Belgium (Hainaut) in May.
  • from March to August 1918, after the German offensive, more than 200,000 civilians were displaced by the French army.
  • 135,000 people were driven out by the German army during its retreat after the second battle of the Marne launched on July 18th, 1918.

Besides organizing collective evacuations, the allied armies removed those who were undesirable close to the front: prostitutes and suspects were taken to sorting camps then sent to internment camps or remote towns or villages.

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  • The first evacuees, first quarter of the 20th century, crayon on paper, Departmental Archives of the Aisne – mark FRAD002

  • Evacuation of bombarded apartment buildings in Lille, first quarter of the 20th century, photo, coll. Departmental Archives of the Nord Lille France – mark 15 Fi 893

    On October 13th, 1914, the City of Lille capitulated after heavy bombing destroyed several apartment buildings, more specifically in the station neighbourhood and in the centre of the city.

  • Evacuation in southern Alsace, first quarter of the 20th century, photo, private collection, Copyright

the first evacueesevacuation of bombarded apartment buildings in LilleEvacuation in southern Alsace