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La Première Ligne: Organ of the 25th Battery of the 3rd Colonial Artillery. Number 67, February 1919
La Première Ligne: Organ of the 25th Battery of the 3rd Colonial Artillery

Trench Journals, Magazines and Newspapers

The Western Front was characterized by the static warfare of the trenches. When there was no major offensive underway, entire regiments and divisions might stay in one place for months.

As a means of maintaining morale, many French units developed so-called Trench Journals (or sometimes called Trench Magazines or Trench Newspapers) which were written, published and distributed by the troops themselves. These magazines varied in size and frequency of publication, but had in common a propensity for black humor, and a fairly honest depiction of life on the Western Front. They contained an eclectic assortment of cartoons, jokes, anecdotes and articles. Some were obviously propaganda aimed at bolstering morale — one trench journal, La première ligne, billed itself as the “antidote au gaz lacrymogènes,” an antidote to tear gas. However for the most part these trench journals were much more honest in their depiction of conditions faced by the soldiers at the Front than official communiques or other official propaganda.

French Trench Journals were not printed using typeset or a printing press. Instead they were usually hand-lettered and illustrated by hand, and then copied. Others were more sophisticated and used typewriters. In many cases, the journals contained cartoons which would offend today’s sensibilities by their depiction of Africans and Jews. These cartoons have not been reproduced here. These publications also made heavy use of French WW1 slang and are often hard to read even by fluent French speakers.

Below are some pages from a French trench journal called La première ligne (The Front line) which was the trench journal published by the 25th Battery of the Third Colonial Artillery Regiment of the French armed forces during World War I. The Third Colonial Artillery Regiment fought in most of the major battles of the Western Front and experienced heavy casualties, and was commended for its valor on several occasions.

This trench journal was more professional than some others and used typewritten text. It also published music sheets for the soldiers to sing along with. Below is a page featuring a soldiers’ song, with musical notes, and two poems written by the French soldiers. Note the caricature of the French soldier at the top left of the page.

Soldiers' Songs from World War 1

However most trench journals were written by hand. Below is the front page, of featuring a satirical La Chéchia which was the trench journal published by the First Zouave Regiment of the French army during World War I

Typical French Handwritten Trench Journal - World War 1
Typical French Handwritten Trench Journal – World War 1

Trench journals were typically very short due to limitations imposed by time, resources and lack of paper or printing devices. This journal had only four pages per issue and was reproduced using a cyclostyle copier, which was a device that allowed a printer to make copies of handwriting from a stencil..

These print runs for these trench journals were relatively small, usually no more than 1000 copies being printed at one time. They would be shared among the soldiers, with each copy being read and enjoyed by many men. These WW1 front line newspapers are an important resource for anyone wishing to understand the unique culture and argot that developed among the French soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front.