Parisian Policemen and the Traces of the Great War
In the early years of the twentieth century, French police officers in urban areas were not soldiers—as gendarmes in rural areas were—but merely civilians wearing uniforms. Except in major cities such as Lyon and Paris where they were state officials, they remained under the authority of municipalities. Yet the First World War substantially altered this position when towns and cities—especially harbours—filled with masses of soldiers foreign to the local population. In charge of monitoring them, police officers began to be perceived as “shirkers” deliberately avoiding combat and lost their former legitimacy. Lasting consequences ensued as civil society and social relations became more brutal: uniforms were reinforced (French policemen were equipped with soldiers’ helmets) and officers were henceforth recruited among army veterans—which itself resulted in far less unconditional respect towards superiors. The First World War therefore left the same scars on police officers in urban areas as it had imprinted on the whole French nation.