Post-war memory and reconstruction
Post-war periods are marked by the willingness to commemorate the conflict and its victims. Places of battle quickly become places of memory, with the construction of cemeteries and commemorative monuments. At the same time, unprecedented efforts are made to rebuild regions devastated by war.
Commemorating : Cemeteries and memorials
With nearly 10 million deaths, the First World War represents one of human history's major catastrophes, long-time mourned by societies.
From the outset, armies took particular care, when conditions permitted, to bury the bodies of their fallen soldiers. Soon after the war, each nation made it its duty to honour the sacrifice of their lost ones and to keep their memories alive.
To this aim, portions of French territory were thus "nationalized" in favour of countries that had fought on French soil. Today, French, Germans and Americans regroup their soldiers in large necropolises like the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon (Meuse), and in the French and German cemeteries in Cerny-en-Laonnois (Aisne).
As for the British, they prefer to retain their cemeteries as closely as possible to the sites where their soldiers were killed. The Imperial War Graves Commission thus developed and maintains several hundred cemeteries, each bearing a "Cross of Sacrifice" and the "Stone of Remembrance," on which is engraved a verse from the Bible : "Their name liveth for evermore."
Large national memorials have also been erected on the battlefields to collectively and individually honour fallen soldiers, and notably those missing, like at the Franco-British Memorial in Thiepval (Somme). South Africans have their memorial in Longueval (Somme), Canadians in Vimy (Pas- de-Calais), Australians in Fromelles (North) and Villers-Bretonneux (Somme), and Americans in Montfaucon (Meuse), Bellicourt (Aisne) and Château-Thierry (Aisne).
France also decided to have great national memorials erected along the front line : in Hartmannswillerkopf (Haut-Rhin), in Douaumont (Meuse), in Dormans (Marne) and in Notre-Dame-de-Lorette (Pas-de-Calais).
There was considerable material damage in the frontline regions and many areas were entirely devastated. In France, several hundreds of thousands of homes and public buildings were annihilated, 2,5 million hectares of agricultural land were devastated, 62,000 km of roads, nearly 2,000 km of canals and 5,000 km of railroads were left unusable.
The reconstruction efforts were on par with the damage, and at the beginning of the 1930s, traces of the war had nearly disappeared from urban and agricultural landscapes. It was necessary, in rural areas, to clear minefields and fill the trenches, whereas in cities, reconstruction underwent sometimes widely opposing architectural choices.
The historical city centre of Arras (Pas-de-Calais), for one, was rebuilt exactly as it was originally. Reconstruction, however, also allowed for more modern architecture to take stand, as is the case with the Halles du Boulingrin in Reims (Marne), Saint-Quentin and Soissons (Aisne) and the Lens train station (Pas-de-Calais), symbols of Art Deco.