The letters of French and German soldiers in World War One

by Rebekka Sippel

Institution: Victoria University of Wellington
Year: 2015
Keywords: French; German; World War One
Record ID: 1317408
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10063/4153


This thesis uses letters written by French and German soldiers to investigate the mobilization of masculinity during World War One 1914-1918. Through the letters of French and German soldiers of World War One, the thesis discusses the initial ways the soldiers were encouraged to enlist, which includes discussions on patriotism. The work also discusses the concepts of brotherhood and equality, and the idea of protecting women. While masculinity in these two societies was highly militarized, the soldiers took their role as domesticated men very serious and rarely followed instructions from censors as to what to write to their families. Although soldiers were separated from their loved ones and relationships were truly strained by separation, they never forgot their role at home. A comparative framework has been employed to highlight significant differences in French and German ideals of masculinity. This includes an emphasis on religion among French soldiers and the concept of Heldentod in German letters. The analysis of hundreds of letters in published or digitized collections complicates the image of French and German soldiers portrayed in both official propaganda and historians’ work. For example, French and German soldiers had different ideas concerning thoughts on the enemy and equality within the army took on different forms as well. Yet the soldiers from both nations had similar notions regarding goals of personal survival and the defence of the country. Studies of World War One soldiers’ letters have overwhelmingly focused on English language sources. Therefore, an overall aim of this thesis is to contribute to existing research in the English language by using French and German sources. The aim of translating these letters is to facilitate the availability of foreign language sources for English-language historians.