The “first workcamp”, started in November 1920 in Esnes, a war-destroyed village in Eastern France near Verdun, continued during the whole winter of 1920 / 21. Hubert Parris, one of the leaders of the project alongside with Pierre Ceresole, wrote the fifth report on March 13th.

The report starts with some positive news: Two representatives of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) had visited the site in February, and at the same time the team received a donation of 100 Pounds Sterling from the Quakers’ relief committee (“comité de secours de la société des Amis”). Indeed, even at the very beginning, the international voluntary service movement had to rely on donations of money, and not on benevolent workforce alone. The team started to plan an extension of the reconstruction work to other villages in the surroundings, and to invite more volunteers from different countries, including, once more, Germany. But all of a sudden, on March 11th, they were told by the mayor of Esnes that the préfet (the representative of the French government in the département or district) had ordered to cease all work, paid or unpaid, to be given to the international team of volunteers by all official bodies, be it government or municipalities. Work executed for private persons was not affected by this decision. The report states however that with the exception of the repairing of a road most of the work executed in the past few weeks had been in favour of individuals or families, such as the repairing of private gardens.

Parris says in his report that the préfet had not given any reasons for his decision. But he mentions the firm opposition of Madame Biéler, an inhabitant of Esnes and head of the local relief committee, to the international project. And he states that the reasons behind this opposition was the fact that the project aimed at reconciliation, which implied to weaken not only the hatred of the French people against their former enemies but also what he calls the “narrow patriotism, the only religion practiced in large parts of the country”.

Heinz Gabathuler


Philipp Rodriguez has compiled an extensive collection of original documents in French, German, and English on the Esnes project which can be downloaded in pdf format,download_detail.html