Crossed by the red line, that of the trenches and fierce fighting, the Nord department witnessed all possible experiences of battle: the “free” zone, the occupied zone and the trenches.
Memory of conflict is all too often selective; it is more attentive to the fate of soldiers or civilians behind the front. It is only recently that the destiny of occupied areas has become an object of study for historians. However, in occupied departments such as Nord, this memory is alive, acute and painful. The scarring left behind by fighting as well as the monuments keep alive the memory of this trauma.
European construction and the duty to peace call for a re-evaluation of the conditions of conflict. One century after the events, whole sections of this story remain unexplored. Avoiding demonising the enemy while refraining from erasing and excusing the excesses of the occupying forces; evaluating the real relationships between the population and the occupier, without minimising the heroic resistance of some; these are the challenges faced when working on the memory of the Great War in the Nord. While the attitude of the French during the Second World War has been the subject of numerous studies, nothing similar has yet been undertaken regarding the First World War. A great deal of time will certainly be necessary.
Making documents from the Nord Departmental Archives available to the public is a first step in this direction. (Thanks go to the European bodies which, along with the Nord County Council and the Centenary Mission permitted the Nord Departmental Archives multimedia project to go online.)