Have you heard of the “Brassards Rouges”? Philippe Égu from Grenay has shown a special interest in the forgotten ranks of civilian workers who, refusing to work for the enemy, were deported, mistreated and tortured.
This was the case for his maternal grandfather, Georges Cambier, a joiner, who was taken away by force at the age of 19, and who survived deprivation and numerous beatings
Few studies have been carried out on the lot of civilians in the occupied zone, although numerous eye-witness accounts tell of difficult living conditions. Requisitions, collective atrocities, reprisals and forced labour became increasingly common.
From 1914 onwards, civilians were a workforce which could be exploited for “the war effort”, in particular for the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed as a result of the fighting. When they resisted, civilians (and occasionally even women and young girls) were deported to forced labour camps, where they formed ZABs (“Zivilarbeiter-Bataillone” or battalions of civil workers) and wore a distinctive emblem: a red armband (brassard rouge), which some wore until 1918.
Living conditions for these “Brassards Rouges” was similar to those of prisoners in deportation camps (download the pdf to read more).