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Touring behind the lines: British soldiers in French towns and cities during the Great War


This article explores the importance that accessing urban life assumed for British soldiers stationed in France during World War I. Many who fought on the Western Front had never visited a foreign country before sailing to France. Drawing on contemporary letters and diaries and later memoirs, it considers how men responded to the new experiences they found in French towns and cities behind the lines. Through exploring activities from shopping and dining to cinema and prostitution, it argues that urban outings became critical to sustaining morale by offering opportunities to engage with civilian life on a reasonably regular basis.

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R. White , ‘The soldier as tourist’, War and Society, 5 (1987), 6378

H.B. McCartney , Citizen Soldiers: The Liverpool Territorials in the First World War (Cambridge, 2005), 18

K.C. Gibson , ‘Sex and soldiering in France and Flanders’, International History Review, 23 (2001), 505756

K.C. Gibson , ‘The British army, French farmers and the war on the Western Front’, Past and Present, 180 (2003), 175240

D. Englander , ‘Soldiering and identity: reflections on the Great War’, War in History, 1 (1994), 300–18

M. Hanna , ‘A republic of letters: the epistolary tradition in France during World War I’, American Historical Review, 108 (2003), 1328–361

R. Duffett , ‘A taste of army life: food, identity and the rankers of the First World War’, Cultural and Social History, 9 (2012), 251–67

C. Makepeace , ‘Male hetrosexuality and prostitution during the Great War’, Cultural and Social History, 9 (2012), 6583

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Urban History
  • ISSN: 0963-9268
  • EISSN: 1469-8706
  • URL: /core/journals/urban-history
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