Notes on Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, in the city of Tours ~ fresh veg, Yankie shoes and union strikes

Saint-Pierre-des-Corps is on the site of an ancient Bronze Age settlement and it was on its current boundaries that the Romans once burned their dead.
From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century it was an area for market gardening ~ plants grew well in the area which enjoys a relatively mild climate and the fertile, flood-plain, soils along the Loire (left bank) and Cher River (right bank). Indeed the area is recorded as being severely flooded in 1527, 1577, 1755 and 1856.

World War I

A large American camp of railway-specialist troops, Camp de Grasse, was established beside the railway track of Saint Pierre-des-Corps in April 1918. A full and detailed downloadable account of the camp’s story and a number of interesting images is available here.

Camp de Grasse, Saint-Pierre-des-Corps

The Recycling of US Army Uniforms

In 1918 the American Forces magazine , The Stars and Stripes, carried this World War One report

“In 1918 the U.S. Army Service of Supply instituted a salvaging unit near the city of Tours which employed hundreds of French women and a number of idle “Sammies” [the name given to American Expeditionary Forces troops after Uncle Sam] in order to eradicate Army waste. It was there that the millions of discarded uniform elements were re-fashioned into other useful items. At Tours they evolved a hospital slipper with a sole made from a torn and discarded campaign hat and an upper of cloth. It was such a good slipper, and easy to make that St. Pierre-des-Corps soon reached quantity production on it.”

The arrival of the railway

At the beginning of the 19th Century, the digging of the Canal de Berry in 1824 stimulated the economy of the area, but it was the later arrival of the railroad and the refusal of the City of Tours to allow through trains that allowed the industrialisation of Saint-Pierre-des-Corps.

Located on the eastern edge of Tours, Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, it is a major nodal point in the French Railway system.  The station at the centre of Tours itself is a terminus station, so trains that do not terminate at Tours avoid it entirely, leaving Saint-Pierre-des-Corps as the principal long distance station for the entire city.

With its high density of population including unionised railway workers, Saint-Pierre-des-Corps was a stronghold of the French Communist Party. Since the Congress of Tours in 1920, the municipality was run by communists and later elected coalitions of socialist and communist parties.

The Railway strikes of 1920

During February-March 1920 there were a series of strikes in the railways and mines across France which were broken by the Millerand government.

On May 1,  there were violent union demonstrations and the general strike failed due to “yellow” unions breaking the strikes and the mobilization of members of the middle class and students from large schools who provided the transport service in Paris. Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, because of its strategic importance, was in the front line and the strike there was suppressed with equal ferocity.

On May 21, the CGT (Confédération générale du travail or General Confederation of Labour) called for the resumption of work after a bloody crackdown by the government on the strikers. Membership of the union fell by 2 million to 600,000. The failure of the strikes of 1920 was the direct consequence of the breakup of the French labour movement.

It was on 30 December 1920, and after the defeat of the strikers, that the mayor of the Saint Pierre des Corps, Henault Robespierre , and his 22 fellow candidates decide to follow the majority of the Congress of Tours and join the Communist International. Saint-Pierre-des-Corps became a municipality with a communist leadership, a tradition which continued up to and after World War II which saw coalitions of The Communist and Socialist Parties.

To this day there is still a Stalingrad Collège and an Avenue Stalingrad in the district.

Saint-Pierre-des-Corps now houses a very large railway yard, rail workshops and the new train station which opened in 1990 with high-speed and local services.

Saint-Pierre-des-Corps train station

World War Two and its aftermath

Saint-Pierre-des-Corps paid a heavy price in the Second World War as the Allied bombing of April 10 & 11, 1944 destroyed 85% of the town. Its City Hall was one of the few buildings to survive the bombing. 1,600 explosive bombs were dropped remarkably causing the death of just 19 people and injuring a further 33. For an areal photo of the scale of destruction click here. The postwar years were characterised by a marked recovery in industrial activity through the creation of several areas of economic activity. Even today, nearly half the area  is devoted to economic activity. With 44% of its housing stock in public housing, the municipality of Saint-Pierre has chosen a very proactive housing policy in this predominantly working class district of Tours.

Sources used include:

About Jim McNeill

I am a blogger on 'The Social History of the Touraine region of France (37)' and also 'The Colonial History of Pennsylvania and the life & Family of William Penn'. I am a Director of Fresh Ground Group Ltd.
This entry was posted in 19th Century Touraine, 20th Century, 21st Century, Bronze Age, Cher, French Communist Party, Loire River and Loire Basin, Market Gardens, Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, Tours, Transport ~ roal. rail, water, World War I, World War II and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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