WWI was already one century ago! As you know, between 1914 and 1918, Europe was the theater of the first great modern war, and France, one of its actors. Today we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of WWI all over the world. Paris during WWI was behind the lines but let’s see how it was hit by the war anyway.
In September 1914, the German troops had reached the North-East of France. The 1st Battle of the Marne was raging there and the French needed back up. The authorities requisitioned all the Parisian taxis so that they could drive more soldiers to the battlefield. These cabs were soon nicknamed the « Taxis de la Marne » and became one of the most famous symbols of France and Paris during WWI.
Saint-Gervais church after the bombing
The Parisians during WWI suffered from the war deeply: because rationing was implemented, young men were forced to fight and the city was regularly bombed by long-range German guns and Zeppelins. Germans used guns named Big Berthas, it was the first time in history that long-range cannons were used during war time. There was one gun that tormented the Parisians. In the North of France, the German army had settled a gun uniquely made for bombing Paris. It was known as the « Paris gun ». On March 29, 1918, a shell was shot from the Paris gun and exploded on Saint-Gervais church, in the 4th district, killing 88 people. That’s proof that Paris was not spared by the war!
The artist Maximilien Luce painted the Gare de l’Est station during the war
Paris during WWI was used as a refuge for injured soldiers, soldiers on leave and the population from the East of France who wanted to run away from the battles and daily violence. Parisian stations have never been as active as during WWI as they welcomed thousands of people everyday.
Gotha night raids over Paris
Paris was also the main character in one of the most original stories about WWI and France. In 1917, one great project was launched in order to prevent any more night bombings by planes named Gothas over Paris. The idea was to create a life sized replica of the city in the suburbs, where the damage would be less important if shells fell. So French authorities gathered the best engineers to build this « Sham Paris »: the main Parisian stations were reproduced, a moving train was installed, lamp posts illuminated the city and even the Champs-Elysees were there! The fake City of Lights never came to an end because the war did before it was complete!
Paris during WWI served as a backstage, it was far from the trenches but still remained a strategic center for the French authorities and population. For more stories about France and Paris during WWI and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the war, check this out: http://centenaire.org/en.