L’X and its students during World War I
For the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, l’X looks back on the events of the war through its archives.
The First World War left a profound mark on École Polytechnique. Students were drafted during the conflict and the institution’s site was converted into a hospital until the year 1919.
Over 200 students who entered the School between 1912 and 1917, as well as 900 alumni, all lost their lives in combat. Four École Polytechnique generals who helped win the war were awarded the title of Maréchal de France (Marshal of France), the highest military distinction in the country. They were Joffre, Foch, Fayolle and Maunoury. In recognition of École Polytechnique’s involvement in achieving military success, the standard of the School was adorned with the insignia of the Croix de la Légion d’honneur (Cross of the Legion of Honor) in 1914 and the Croix de guerre (War Cross) in 1922.
With the threat of war imminent, a greater number of students were joining École Polytechnique, where they signed a four-year military engagement. In August 1918, at the outbreak of the conflict, the students were drafted under the rank of second lieutenant. 70% of Polytechnicians were appointed to the Artillery while the rest were placed in the Engineering Arm, and the two corps came to be known as the armes savantes or “Learned Arms”.
Three year groups—1911, 1912 and 1913—were present at École Polytechnique on the day of conscription. They were all appointed as second lieutenants to the active army.