Document 1

Belgian refugees in the Nord Department, August-September 1914, postcard, coll. Departmental Archives of the Nord Lille France – mark 30 Fi 14-18/13

Belgian refugees in the Nord Department

Document 2

Excerpts from an article by Léonie Chaptal "One week with the evacuees (4-12 April 1915)", in Revue des deux mondes, May/June 1915, pp 544-568.

Léonie Chaptal (1876-1937), a nurse, founded one of the first nursing schools in France in 1905. After the war her role in the development of nursing training was instrumental.

[Schaffhausen], 2.40 hrs

(…) At the station. The train with evacuees from Germany should arrive at 3.30 p.m. Some delay. (…) Young girls, women, wearing a Red Cross of Geneva armband, are waiting near us.
There are soldiers there – we know that Switzerland has been mobilised – to keep order.
(…) Since March 16th every day two convoys of civilian prisoners, who were evacuated from the invaded provinces, arrive in France via Switzerland. Each convoy transports at least 500 people. They tell me that Germany wanted to send more people, up to 3,000, even 4,000 a day but that Switzerland refused this. (…)
There’s the convoy (...). At the windows, children’s faces and the women are already descending as the doors open. They are not wearing a hat, their clothes are in a sad state and faded (...). The children, of all ages, follow; elderly people, sick people (...). A crowd (...). The sad procession commences, on the train platform (...). And at the same time, in spite of myself, I find myself thinking: the Germans have been driven to new cruel extremes. This people has become a cataclysm of nature.
(…) I compliment [a] mother about the children and she calmly answers, in a low voice: "I had one more, she was nine, she was killed the other day by a shell."
(…) I ask a family that is standing nearby: "Where are you from? – I was living in X…, in Pas-de-Calais between Arras and Béthune; one morning they1 ordered us to come to the town hall at 6 a.m., without giving us a reason (…). We waited for two hours (…). Then "they" proceeded to take a roll call and then « they » ordered us to leave without giving us the chance to go home to take something with us (…). "
They all tell me the same thing. After the sudden departure from their village, the evacuated families crossed the border and arrived in P...., in Belgium There they stayed with a local (...). The food wasn’t bad, thanks to the American Commission of Relief2 in Belgium, which sends supplies to the occupied Belgian provinces (...).
People from Douai and Valenciennes who travelled with the convoy told me that they were evacuated because they were “useless eaters”, “because there was not enough bread (...)". (…) After three weeks in Belgium today's evacuees were piled onto trains and they thought that they were being sent to Germany. But they only passed through. After three days and three nights, they are finally here, but in what a state of fatigue and confusion! (…)

Zürich, 7.20 a.m.

The arrival of a convoy is announced... Another 500 of ours. (…)


At the town hall (…) the offices are closed; they are opened upon the arrival of the convoys. (…) The offices of the town hall are opened as soon as the convoys arrive. Every day two convoys pass through, one (that of [Schaffhausen]) at 7 a.m.; the other (coming from Zürich), at 5.30 p.m. in the afternoon. Each convoy spends about three hours in Annemasse (...). Then a special train takes them to Evian or Thonon in one hour. (…)

Thonon, 5 p.m.

(...) The Prefect gladly informs us about the measures that were taken by his administration to accommodate the evacuees since March 16th.
The convoy from Annemasse arrives every evening at ten in the station of Thonon. (…) [It spends 24 hours there]. Then, (…) the convoy heads to its final destination. (…) The train for Perpignan is awaiting. (…) The evacuees for the most part come from Raismes, in northern France. (…) I strike up a chat with some young women (…) from Meurthe-et-Moselle (…).
When the evacuation order was given the French cannon had inched closer in the last few days. So the departure was sudden. (…) « If we had known that we were really staying in France! But we thought that they were sending us to Germany, like the first ones that left and we knew that it was terrible there, in the camps. " (...)

1 They are the occupying forces.

2 Author's note: Commission of Relief in Belgium [the American Brand Whitlock, the Marquis of Villalobar, who was the Spanish ambassador and the American engineer, Herbert Hoover founded this comittee in October 1914. The Germans authorized this comittee to supply civilians in the occupied zones, until the United States declared war in 1917].

Document 3

French deportees doing laundry, 1914-1918, German postcard, coll.Departmental Archives of the Nord Lille France – mark 30 Fi 317

The text on the card can be translated as “French women doing their laundry in a wash house”.

Französische Frauen beim Waschen in einer Waschanstalt
  • I observe
    • 1° Document 1 : Describe the conditions in which these displaced civilians lived. Who are they ?
    • 2° Document 2 : Retrace the route of the evacuated civilians which the author talked to.
    • 3° Document 3 : Describe the scene in the picture.
  • I identify
    • 1° Document 1 : Explain the context of the displacement of these refugees.
    • 2° Document 2 : Explain the geographical origin of the evacuees. How did the German authorities justify these evacuations? Explain Switzerland’s special role in the frame of this evacuation.
    • 3° Document 3 : Recall the nature of the document. How can it be indicative of a war situation ?
  • I associate
    • Using the three documents show how the displacement that civilian populations suffered during the Great War is different.
  • I put in perspective
    • 1° Document 2 : What did these displaced persons think of the occupying forces and their decisions?
    • Explain the fear illustrated by the last phase of Document 2.