Critique du livre « Les chemins de fer impériaux d’Alsace-Lorraine » dans la revue de la « French Railways Society » (03.2019)

It is perhaps hard for British-born people to comprehend what it must be like to change nationality overnight. Not since the partition of Ireland in 1922 have borders changed within the British Isles†. Alsace became part of the kingdom of kingdom of France in 1648 and remained French until 1871 when 93% of ist territory, together with 25% of Lorraine – the Moselle départment – were incorporated into the Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen, the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine, under the government of the Kaiser alone. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles restored Alsace-Lorraine to France but they were occupied as part of the Greater German Reich in 1940 and remained so until 1945.

Most inhabitants of Alsace spoke the west-German language Elsäßisch and many still do. My wife and I met a very old man who claimed he couldn’t speak or understand French but, as we could not speak Alsatian, the conversation was brief. Alsace-Lorraine is a fascinating region with a complex history; one member of the Society claimed that it was his favourite, combining French elegance with German efficiency.

This magnificent book deals with the various Reichs-Eisenbahnen during the period 1871 to 1919. It begins with an introduction in French followed by a seven-page summary of the contents in German. [The rest of the book is in French except for very abridged captions in German.] There follow chapters on organisation – including a brief history of the origin of railways in Alsace-Lorraine and Luxembourg – and personnel with their duties, traffic, both passenger, freight and accidents, the First World War and the Armistice. All go into intimate detail are lavishly illustrated with contemporary photographs, postcards, posters, menus, documents, uniforms and maps. My only disappointment is that there is no discussion of signalling but information on that can be got from the work of Daniel Wurmser.

The work is the result of a fifteen-year labour of love. It is beautifully produced on high-grade paper and the illustrations are exceptionally well produced. The price is justifiably high but the book should be on the shelves of everyone interested in the railways of the Imperial Territory and, indeed, of the railways of Alsace-Lorraine in general. It is not a book to be taken on a visit to the area, though: it weighs 1.5 kg.

Very highly recommended.

Peter Clegg
French Railway Society