What Memory for Soldiers of the First World War from Alsace and Lorraine?

Histories and Memories of Soldiers
By Raphaël Georges

In studying the First World War in France, soldiers from Alsace and Lorraine hold a special place. Unlike those from other regions, the vast majority of soldiers from Alsace and Lorraine fought for the other side, within the German Army, before becoming French after 1918. A century later, the general public has largely forgotten this singularity, with such soldiers being assimilated to the national figure of the “Poilu”, or First World War infantryman. When they are not merely forgotten, such soldiers are remembered as men forced to wear the German uniform to fight against their true homeland, France. However, recent historiography, as well as projects carried out as part of the First World War centenary, now tend to give a more nuanced view of this national interpretation of their wartime experience. Nevertheless, we can wonder why and how this image became set in the nation’s memory. This is what we endeavour to analyse in this paper, by attempting to trace this constructed memory back to its origins and to follow how it has evolved until today.

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