After the Ruins: Restoring the Countryside of Northern France after the Great War

By Hugh Clout | Go to book overview

5
Motoculture

Preparing the Land

As was painfully clear, the events of war had devastated some of the most productive farmlands in France, whose crops and livestock had played a major contribution to the nation’s food supplies. Physical disruption was compounded by the mobilization of agricultural labour and the extensive loss of implements, machines and draught animals. However, many farming women continued to work the land even under extremely harsh circumstances (Pitrois 1916). William MacDonald argued that ‘the sight of peasants ploughing, cultivating or harvesting within sight of trenches and batteries, undisturbed by shells which occasionally exploded nearby, was not at all uncommon in localities close to the front’ (MacDonald 1922: 153). Material damage was only slight in some sections of the war zone where the real problem was that land had simply been abandoned, involving an invasion of weeds and pests, a failure to work the soil, and a complete absence of fertilization for several years (Troupeau-Housay 1927: 395). At least some of these problems might be overcome by employing various forms of mechanized technology (Théry 1918: 25). For example, caterpillar tractors would prove particularly useful on terrain where imperfectly filled shellholes gave rise to subsidence hollows (Padieu 1925: 156).

In order to promote mechanized restoration of war-damaged land the centralized Service de la Motoculture was established in conformity with the Law of 7 April 1917, which sought to bring abandoned farmland throughout France back into cultivation, and was reinforced by legislation of 4 May 1918 (Bros 1924: 47; Laurent 1919: 28). As part of a broad policy to encourage cultivation in the war zone, the Service was charged with

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After the Ruins: Restoring the Countryside of Northern France after the Great War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vii
  • Tables ix
  • Plates x
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - The War-Torn Zone 1
  • 2 - The Intensity of Devastation 19
  • 3 - The Start of Emergency Action 59
  • 4 - The Service Des Travaux de Premiére Urgence 85
  • 5 - Motoculture 109
  • 6 - The Office de Reconstitution Agricole 125
  • 7 - Achievements of the Emergency Phase 149
  • 8 - Principles of Compensation, Rules of Reconstruction 175
  • 9 - Reconstruction Cooperatives 207
  • 10 - Land and Livelihood: Continuity and Change 241
  • 11 - Toward a Balance Sheet 273
  • References 301
  • Index 329
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