Rendez-vous in Saint-Quentin, an occupied town
During the war Saint-Quentin suffered shelling and German occupation.
The people of Saint-Quentin, like the inhabitants of many other occupied zones in the Thiérache and Laonnois, experienced a very different war from those living in unoccupied France. Under the Germans’ boot, life was full of fear.
All means of communication with the rest of the country were forbidden. The Reich war machine decreed that occupied territories should be directly involved in providing food for their troops. The Germans began to ‘germanise’ the area and changed street names. They requisitioned produce and materials. Saint-Quentin’s industrial enterprises were partly dismantled. The occupied territory was seen as a reservoir of labour. Daily life was particularly difficult: troops billeted on townspeople, food shortages resulting in deficiencies and disease, forced labour, fines for those who refused to comply, girls rounded up to work in brothels, etc. For children the occupation was painful and truly traumatic. The youngest were forced to work in the fields while older children had to work in requisitioned factory workshops.
In March 1917, the German army withdrew to the Hindenburg line. It took 2 weeks to evacuate the 45,000 inhabitants of Saint-Quentin. Every day two or three trains, with 1,200 people on board, left for the north, heading to an unknown destination. As soon as the town's population were gone, the Germans looted the houses. On 1st October 1918 Saint-Quentin, described as an inaccessible town behind its rows of barbed wire, fell into the hands of French and British troops. They were astounded by the ruined landscape of this ghost town, 80% destroyed, with only 253 people remaining.
From this era, there remains a German war cemetery, paid for and officially opened in 1915 by Kaiser William II. It has 8,229 graves and has become an important Remembrance centre for German families. The city was rebuilt in Art Deco style in the 1920s.
The Tourist Information Office organises tours based on different themes, such as the withdrawal and breach of the Hindenburg line, life during the occupation and reconstruction.