University of Exeter Press

After The Ruins

Restoring the Countryside of Northern France after the Great War

    • 350 Pages

    After the Ruins uses both official and unofficial records to explore a relatively ignored aspect of recent rural history: how the fields, farms, villages and market towns of Northern France were restored during the 1920s in the aftermath of the Great War. The book contains illustrations and many detailed maps and makes use of both official reports and unofficial critical commentaries.

    After the Ruins uses both official and unofficial records to explore a relatively ignored aspect of recent rural history: how the fields, farms, villages and market towns of Northern France were restored during the 1920s in the aftermath of the Great War.

    ‘. . . this is an excellent study; it is both exhaustive and compassionate. Behind the years of research and solid phalanx of tables, charts and statistics Clout never loses sight of the human tragedy, nor of the extraordinary tenacity of a rural population who as recently as 1976 were busy on the northern Meuse reclaiming land from the wastes of that distant war.’ (Landscape Research, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1997)

    ‘ . . . a path breaking contribution to the literature. . . The effects of the war on land use, mechanization, dispersion of the population and their resettlement have never been as carefully treated. There are powerful and telling surveys of the negotiation between local residents and official organizations over the extent of damage, and the appropriate levels of compensation for the devastation brought about by the war. There are original interpretations of the use of Chinese labour on reclamation projects, on the presence of workers from Italy, Belgium, Poland, Spain and Portugal, as well as resistance to the notion that German workers might rebuild where previously their brethren had destroyed. There is interesting detail on these fields as the repository of huge necropoli, and the commemorative efforts which organized the cemeteries which are still sprinkled liberally across this diagonal linking Belgium and Switzerland.’ (Journal of Historical Geography, 1997)

    ‘Hugh Clout est outre-Manche le meilleur connaisseur de la géographie de la France. . . Grand dévoreur d’archives, il sait rendre digeste l’érudition, même sur des thèmes aussi austères que la reconstruction des campagnes du Nord-Est après la Grande-guerre. . . Au terme d’une bonne décennie de recherches, le résultat est remarquable par sa rigueur, par les pistes de recherche qu’il ouvre aux géographes et aux historiens, mais aussi, fait qui mérite d’étre souligné pour un travail de première main, sa concision.’ (Géographie et Cultures, No. 21, 1997)

    ‘Hugh Clout has written a scholarly, dense text on an engrossing topic that will be of interest to all concerned with reconstruction after the First World War, and indeed interested in the still neglected interwar period of European historical geography.’ (Journal of Economic and Social Geography)

    ‘Sur ces bases et dans ces contextes, Hugh Clout a construit une passionnante analyse historique, parfaitement documentée et maîtrisée et judicieusement illustrée.’ (L'Espace Geographique, No 1, 1998)

    ‘This book makes compelling reading. Although based on monumental archive research, the text reads fluently and is illuminated by extensive use of quotations, abundant clear maps and a well-chosen selection of photographs. . . Professor Clout is to be congratulated on revealing the immensity of the tragedy of the massacre of a landscape and for unravelling the extreme complexity of its reconstruction.’ (History, Vol. 19, 1998)

    ‘Clout provides a wealth of fascinating detail on conflicts and tensions between the various local interest groups and political organizations that emerged to coordinate reconstruction; between the local, national and even international initiatives that were involved, and between the different secular and religious agencies. The book has been very nicely produced by the publishers and has more than 40 superb maps and around a dozen photographs which convey both the nature of the devastation and the energy of those who rebuilt. This is, in short, an extremely important work which deserves to be widely read by geographers and historians alike. It will stand as a fitting memorial to the efforts (successful or otherwise) of all those who strove to overcome the terrible damage of modern war.’ (Geographical Journal, No 163, 1997)

    ‘The story told by Clout is full of detail, yet never loses sight of the main themes. It is the product of considerable research in national and departmental archives, and fills a notable hole in the history of rural France. It should be added that the quality of both print and illustrations is excellent, and the University of Exeter Press are to be congratulated on producing a high-quality book at a reasonable price.’ (The Agricultural History Review, Vol 46.1, June 1998)


    'We as students of history spend so much time attempting to understand the battles that a book such as this is useful for understanding the personal price paid long after the white flags have been raised.' (The NYMAS Review, Vol 88)


    1. The War-torn Zone
    2. The Intensity of Devastation
    3. The Start of Emergency Action
    4. The "Service des Travaux de Premiere Urgence"
    5. "Motoculture"
    6. The "Office de Reconstruction Agricole"
    7. Achievements of the Emergency Phase
    8. Principles of Compensation
    9. Rules of Reconstruction
    10. Reconstruction Co-operatives
    11. Land and Livelihood - Continuity and Changes
    12. Toward a Balance Sheet

    Hugh Clout is Professor of Geography, University College London where he has taught since 1967. He was Dean of the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences from 1995 to 2004. He is one of the foremost geographical authorities on modern France and on the European Union in general.