August 1914 witnessed the dispatch of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to fight alongside the French Army in northern France. With the advent of trench warfare in November 1914, the billeting of troops on civilians, and the numeric and geographic expansion of the BEF in 1915 and 1916, the records of the French postal censor reveal the full extent to which British soldiers impinged on the lives of local inhabitants, especially in agriculturally‐sensitive areas. While most inhabitants, mainly shopkeepers and farmers, initially welcomed the presence of troops who frequented local shops and whose numbers and matériel surely heralded, it was believed, the war's victorious conclusion, relations were often far from harmonious. Indeed, there were many who resented the BEF's inactivity, especially after Verdun and before the commencement of the Somme attack; the careless damages and petty thefts committed by troops; and the social and economic dislocation wrought by an invasion of a foreign though allied army. Although individual moments of compassion and mutual goodwill should not be overlooked, the day‐to‐day problems caused by the BEF had an immediacy which usually outweighed any far‐sighted appreciation or comraderie felt for troops who were nevertheless fighting in common cause. If anything, the divergence was exacerbated by the German attacks of spring 1918, when allied soldiers were accused of widespread pillaging and misconduct.
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