Links and signals

When it came to communication methods, engineers were on the front line, as they were responsible for protecting and developing infrastructures. Repairing and creating roads, bridges, railways, telegraph lines, etc., they guaranteed good circulation and signals, which were indispensable in war time. It was essential that troops could easily cross rivers in order to get to the front. The army’s engineers thus played an important role, building bridges, temporary (on drums or boats) or permanent (made of metal or wood) structures.

Communication, which was often interrupted, took the form of mail – which was the only link the soldiers had with their families - telegraph messages or field telephone. However, building these structures also involved some measure of danger. The telephone and telegraph operators frequently found themselves on the frontline to repair the lines that had been destroyed during bomb attacks. Radio was still in its infancy during the early years of the conflict. But as a result of the war, it soon developed into something that was widely adopted by civilians after the war. However, the army also still relied on more traditional methods such as carrier pigeons.

New means of transport were also developed in order to facilitate troop movements and disseminate information such as motorbikes.

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  • Descamps Henri-Maurice (1878-1965), British motorcyclist, 1914-15, glass plate, Fonds photographique patrimonial Descamps – Ville de Cassel

    The motorbikes were crucial resources when it came to getting information from behind the lines to the front and vice versa. They were all the more useful because they allowed the drivers to get through even when the roads were full of military vehicles.

  • Barrel bridge over the Aisne in the frame of the attack on Mont-Sapin, 16 April 1917, photo, Departmental Archives of the Aisne – mark FRAD002 22 Fi

    A barrel bridge was installed across the Aisne to prepare the offensive on the Chemin des Dames ridge.

  • Souvenir of the attack on Mort-Homme, taken on 2 August 1917, 1917, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    Cumières-le-Mort-Homme (Meuse) was actually captured by the French on August 20th, 1917. The photo shows three military telephonists, one identified as Robert Dourlens, in a setting that is clearly a former battle scene. It reminds us of the dangerous conditions in which these soldiers who maintained the lines of communication between the front and behind the lines worked.

British motorcyclistbarrel bridge over the AisneSouvenir de l’attaque du Mort-Homme. Repris le 2-8-17