ECA 2 War and Social Change
1. Report of a schoolmaster from Mazerolles, Charente (1915-1916) 2. Extract from “The Servant Problem” (30th Dec 1920) editorial in The Times
These two documents look at the effects of mobilisation and demobilisation of war labour from two different angles. The first document comments on how a particular area manages with a limited workforce during the war, the second looks at the effect of returning labour back to a traditional area of employment – domestic service. Both documents are public, primary sources when considered as evidence for the period of the First World War and the immediate after effects. As the title tells us the first primary source is a report of a schoolmaster from Mazerolles in the Charente region of France. Albert Saurrant, who was the French minister of education in Sept 1914, requested that school teachers made these reports becoming “the living echo of public opinion.” He suggested topics for the reports that included mobilisation, economic life and village administration. This particular report dates from around 1916, although some similar reports from different areas were written post war, and being written later must be treated with some caution. The second source is an extract from a Times editorial dated at the end of December in 1920. It refers to a perceived crisis in the domestic labour market caused by the lack of willingness of women workers to re-enter this field of employment.
As with all primary sources there are issues that the historian must be conscious of when using these sources. The report of the school teacher refers only to one region of France, the Charente, an agricultural, hilly wine area some distance from the battle fields or Germany. It is a translation so there could be some element of interpretation given in the choice of words. The audience must be considered, this report was being presented to the writer’s employers, it is unlikely that anything highly controversial will be reported. There is little information available regarding the author however it could be assumed that as he has not been conscripted he is an older man. It must be borne in mind that, although an official report, it is still the opinion of one man and as such will reflect any biases that he may have. The second source has similar issues, again little is known regarding the journalist, although it can be assumed that it is a middle class male, based upon it being written by the editor or sub editors of The Times. The audience of The Times would be predominantly middle to upper class, they would be those that employed rather than the employees. An important point with this source is that is an extract and the full article should be read to obtain a full understanding of the opinions shown.
Mobilisation for the First World War in France occurred quickly. During the first half of August 1914 general mobilisation had called up 2,877,000 reservists, by the end of the first week in August only about half of the factories in France were still in operation. However in the country areas there was an enormous effort to bring in the harvest, prior to all the able bodied men being sent into the army. Throughout Europe there was a feeling that the war would be short. This was echoed in France, with the government responding to a short war – indeed there were few reservist occupations at the start of the war. More mobilisations followed, but some occupations, including some agricultural reservists were excluded and returned from the military.
The demobilisation within Britain was also a fairly quick process, particularly for women. They had been quite quickly “let go” from their war work in order to open up jobs for the returning soldiers There was a general feeling that now the war was over, women should allow men to return to their occupations, and that a women working was keeping a man from that job. The Times article was written after...