A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 127

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WOMEN TAKE CHARGE


whole activity of the country, and rendered it impossible—for the moment, at least—all trade, every industry. Heads of administrative staffs, managers of banks and houses of business, of workshops and factories, etc.—all left their occupations if they had not reached the age-limit of 48. In the large banks, offices, great business houses, and industrial enterprises, this departure of an expert personnel and of specialised workmen caused dislocation. More than one firm was compelled to close its doors.

In Paris and the great provincial towns the majority of small shopkeepers had shut their shops when they went off to rejoin the colours at the same time as their assistants. On the shutters they had glued notices, mostly humorous, which revealed in what excellent spirits these modest breadwinners answered the call of duty and sacrificed their personal interests to the defence of the country. In many cases, however, wives bravely took up the task of carrying on the business in their husbands' absence, and a tricolour placard pasted on the window would be inscribed with the words "Maison Française," followed often by the information that "the proprietor is with the _____th Infantry,” artillery, or cavalry.

In the countryside, also, the sudden departure of so many men would not fail to produce deep perturbation at a time when agricultural activity demands most effort, when reaping, harvesting and vintaging are either begun or on the eve of being undertaken. In these circumstances the women of France showed of what they were capable. After bidding farewell, not without tears, to husbands, sons, and brothers, who exchanged scythe and plough for bayonet and Lebel, they harnessed the few horses left behind by military requisition as being too old for utilisation by the army, and went off harvesting, storing and ploughing from the rising of the sun until the hour of its setting. Grandmothers found new vigour in their old limbs; young girls renounced their games, and, with new seriousness in their looks, accepted before the time the heavy fatigue of labour on the farm and in the garden. At night, seated round the hearth at their frugal meal, their thoughts travelled towards the absent, from whom news was awaited with anxious patience.

While the whole country was preparing with so much calm, and in a unanimous spirit of sacrifice for the great trial, the president of the republic, on August 2 at noon, signed a decree proclaiming a state of siege throughout France for as

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