University of Sussex
(2014.05.05)_Kempshall,_Chris.pdf (4.32 MB)

Unwilling allies?: Tommy-Poilu relations on the Western Front 1914-1918

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posted on 2023-06-08, 15:02 authored by Chris Kempshall
This thesis examines the relationships and interactions between British and French soldiers on the Western Front of the First World War. To date the historical approaches to inter-allied relations has been predominantly focused on those interactions taking place at governmental or command levels. Whilst previous studies have touched on the relations between common soldiers, this has often been within specific case studies. I have drawn particularly on the contemporary diaries, letters and written records of British soldiers within the Imperial War Museum and also the postal censorship records of the French army at the Archives de l’armee de terre in order to trace the nature and evolution of these relations across the war. My study covers the time-period of 1914-1918 and focuses on periods of sustained contact in 1914, 1916 and 1918. This focus shows that the arrival of Kitchener’s New Armies in 1915-16 was a crucial development in forming strong relations between British and French soldiers. British military command took little interest and made no substantial plans for ensuring friendly relations between soldiers of the two armies and, as a result, these early interactions were largely self-directed by the soldiers. They were also driven by the apparent insecurities of the British volunteer soldiers who viewed themselves as being less accomplished than their French fellows, who were largely well-disposed to welcoming and teaching the new British arrivals in order to achieve swift victory. I argue that, although serendipitous in nature, this uneven starting point allowed relations between British and French armies to evolve positively whilst allowing both sides to maintain a sense of their own national identity without having to overly sacrifice their own ideals. However, the French desire for a decisive victory and a professional response in the trenches led to a rupture in Tommy-Poilu relations following the British failures in 1918. This changed the dynamic between the two nations in the build up to, and aftermath of, the armistice and provided a prelude to the difficult inter-war relationships at governmental levels.


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