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German Soldiers Write Home
Letter of Prince Joachim
The following letter was written by Prince Joachim of Prussia, son of the Kaiser, to Sergt. Karl Kummer of a Prussian Regiment of Guards, who had been sent, badly wounded, to his sister at Teplitz, and whom the Prince had known for years.
and to die. Kummer, if I can in any way help you I shall gladly do so by providing anything that will make you comfortable. You know how happy I have always been for your devotion to the service, and how we two always were for action, (Schwung.) I, too, am proud to have been wounded for our beloved Fatherland, and I regret only that I am not permitted to be with the regiment. Well, may God take care of you. Your devoted, JOACHIM OF PRUSSIA.
Letter of Rudolf Herzog
The following letter, written from the field by Rudolf Herzog, one of the leading German novelists and poets, was published in rhymed verse in No. 41 of Die Woche.
T had been a wild week. The storm wind swept with its broom of rain; it lashed us and splashed us, thrashed noses and ears, whistled through our clothing, penetrated the pores of our skin. And in the delugesights that made us shudder—gaunt skeleton churches, cracked walls, smoking ruins, piled hillock high; cities and villages-judged, annihilated.
Over there a stone pit; faces grown like the faces of beasts, a picked-up rabble of assassins. A short command. A howling of death. Squarely across the road we surge. A bloody grappling coil; batteries broken and shattered; iron and wood and bits of clothing and bones.
And upon the just and the unjust alike, the lashing rain for days and nights.
We rushed through the gray Ardenne Woods, the Chief Lieutenant and I, racing along day after day, wrapped up tightly, our rifles ready, through wood and marsh. No time to lose! No time to lose! Down into the valley of the Meuse!
Of twenty bridges, there remained but beams rolled up by the waters-and yawning gaps.
Now comes the order: In three days new bridges must be finished!
Haste, men! Haste! Rain or no rain, it must be done!
Pioneers and railway builders working together, hunt up material, drag and
hammer and ram it together; take the rain for the sweat of their brows; look like fat toiling devils; hang along the banks, lie in the water-after all, in this weather, no one can get any wetter! They speak very little, and never laugh. Three days are short. Nothing, nothing but duty!
Not a thought remained for the distant homeland and dear ones far away; the only thought, by day and by night— on to the enemy, come what may! No mind intent on any other goal. No time to lose! No time to lose! Haste! Haste!
And forward and backward and crisscross through the gray Ardennes, the Chief Lieutenant and I, racing day after day. Laughter, when we tried it, died sickly on our lips. The bridges! the bridges and nothing but the bridges! Empty belly, and limbs like lead. Once more, now; all together for a last great heave!
There lies Fumay on the smooth-flowing river; and next to the old bridge, a newly built one stretches from shore to shore a German roadway, a roadway to good fortune!
Captain of the Guard! You? From the Staff Headquarters?
He shouts my name as he approaches.
I gaze up at the sky and am silent. And far and near the busy, noisy swarm of workers is silent. Every one looks up, seeking some point in the far sky. Officers and men for a single heart-throb listen as to a distant song from the lips of children and from a mother's mouth -stand there and smile around me, in blissful pensiveness, as if there were no longer an enemy. Every one seems to feel the sun, the sun of olden happiness. And yet, it had merely chanced that on the German Rhine, in an old castle lost amid trees, a dear little German girl was born.
(Written Sept. 17, 1914, in the Field.)
Letter of the Duke of Altenburg
From a letter written from the front by the Duke of Altenburg on Sept. 5, 1914, and published in the Altenburger Zeitung.
E have lived through a great deal and done a great deal, marching, marching continually, without rest or respite. On Aug. 10 we reached Willdorf, near Jülich, by train, and from the 12th of August we marched without a single day of rest except Aug. 16, which we spent in a Belgian village near Liége, until
today, when we reached
have been army marches such as history has never known.
The weather was fine, except that a broiling heat blazed down upon us. The regiment can point back to several days' marches of fifty kilometers Everywhere our arrival created great amazement, in Louvain as well as in
Brussels, into which the entire marched at one time. At first we were taken for Englishmen in almost every village, and we still are, because the inhabitants cannot realize that we have arrived so early.
The Belgians, moreover, in the last few days almost invariably set fire to their own villages.
On Aug. 24 we first entered battle; I led a combined brigade consisting of The regiment fought splendidly, and in spite of the gigantic strain put upon it, it is in the best of spirits and full of the joy of battle. On that day I was for a long time in the sharpest rifle and artillery fire. Since that time there have been almost daily skirmishes and continual long marches; the enemy stalks ahead of us in seven-league
boots. On Aug. 26 we put behind us a march of exactly twenty-three hours, from 6:30 o'clock in the morning till 5:30 the next morning. With all that, I was supposed to lead my regiment across a bridge to take a position guarding a new bridge in course of construction; but the bridge, as we discovered in the nick of time, was mined; twenty minutes later it flew into the air.
After resting for three hours in a field of stubble, and after we had all eaten in common with the men in a field kitchen-as we usually do we continued marching till dark.
The spirit among our men is excellent. Tonight I am to have a real bed-the fourth, I believe, since the war began. Today I undressed for the first time in eight days.
Letter of Paul Oskar Hoecker
The German novelist, Paul Oskar Höcker, is a Captain of the Landwehr
WANTED to write to you from the
village of D., which we captured by storm. Hundreds of Frenchmen,
upon the retreat of their troops, preferred to flee to the cellars, where they promptly transformed themselves into civilians. Our battalion had orders to conduct investigations, arrest those apparently liable to military service, and to take possession of all arms. Unexpectedly large stores of ammunition thus fell into our hands. Among these seizures were many chests containing dumdum bullets and bearing the stamp of the ammunition factory where they were made. The cartridges were intended for use in carabines. Accordingly, it would seem to be chiefly a question of the unlawful use of these missiles, repulsive to the laws of nations, by bicycle and scout corps.
These bullets lay also in a factory
package in a writing desk next to a draft of the last will and testament which Monsieur le Capitaine wrote out on the first day of mobilization: He bequeathed his cash fortune of 110,000 francs, as well as his household furniture and his two hunting dogs, to Mme. Isabelle H. The forsaken Mme. Isabelle, who sought distant and clearer skies two days before our entry into the village, does not, however, seem to have been very fond of animals; for out of the forsaken house there rose piteously the whimpering and whining of the halfstarved setters.
But what are the thousand bright recollections of the captured town, what are all the experiences of this campaign, compared to the heavy, heavy days of fighting which our battalion had to battle through near L.!
On Sunday, Oct. 4, the detachment
marched from D. in the direction of L. It had been known for some time that the enemy was attempting a movement around our extreme right flank. Continual detrainments of French troops were taking place at L. A further advance was to be permitted to them under no conditions. The march toward L. took place on various roads. A cavalry division cleared the territory north of the city, and dispatched, simultaneously with our own advance, a company of Jaegers and a company of bicycle men against L.
At 1 o'clock we received fire. point of our column returns it. As ever in small towns and suburbs the skill of the French is great in street fighting, turning to best advantage every protruding corner and extension of a building, and utilizing every alley of trees for firing attacks. Then the Frenchman clears these spaces quickly and hurries for protection to the next block of houses, till he has lured the foe far enough forward to surprise him with a carefully prepared fire from the side.
By leaps and bounds we advance along the broad road to the heights of the two suburbs F. and R. Here for the first time there is a matching of fighting forces. Undoubtedly the foe is far superior to us numerically; and he seems firmly determined not to allow himself to be crowded out of his excellent sheltered positions.
Our battery rolls up, and lets her brazen tongue speak. The infantry fight ceases, until the foremost buildings are set aflame on all three sides. Troop at a time, the French now take to flight, most of them abandoning their cartridges, as is evidenced by the rattle of exploding ammunition on every floor of the buildings.
But R. holds out, while F., at the right of the roadway, and the houses afire on the road toward Lille itself are quickly cleared of the enemy. The bicycle patrol, which has undertaken a determined advance to F., meets no further foe.
But upon the two companies engaged on my right there is poured a murderous fire that presently exacts heavy toll;
and in the rough country hereabout it is impossible to discover the masked positions of the sharpshooters and machine guns. The Frenchman is an expert in the location of excellent hiding places, wire entanglements, and the like. He even puts forth infinite efforts to make his fortified positions extremely comfortable nests from which he can enjoy a view of all the points at which, in the irregular lay of the land, the enemy must necessarily halt; and thereupon the Frenchman meets the hesitating column of attack with his concentrated fire.
Four guns are nibbling at the edge of the village with their shells. Perhaps the machine guns, whose monotonous rattle lashes our nerves to the snapping point, may be hidden there in the church tower. But the battery commander hesitates to damage the house of God. So he leaves a gap there, and sweeps the smaller houses. Suddenly one of the machine guns ceases-it must have been concealed in the hedge close to the church; the gun squad serving it must have been found by the fire of our gunners; for presently there is noticeable in that quarter a foot race of red-trousered infantrymen. In the moaning of the shells there mingles the rattling of shrapnel. A whole group tumbles pellmell; yonder one of them dashes madly this way and that, until a new load strikes him-they move like dolls in a miniature theatre; it is hard to realize at this distance that human lives are being crushed out here.
But an hour later we entered R. Night has fallen. Through the mighty gaps in the gabled roofs of the houses of the narrow street on which we enter shines the moon. Four men of the bicycle corps stand silent at the entrance to the village; the prisoners in their midst, infantrymen in uniform or in rapidly donned civil garb—the tell-tale red of the trousers shows under the short vest of one of them. In the streets lie curious bundles, the corpses of those who have fallen here. A wounded soldier drags wearily up to the subaltern officer's post, with hands raised above his head; it is a Frenchman who has thrown away his
blue coat, but still wears his cap. The steps of the incoming battalion ring out on the village pavement. Otherwise an icy silence, night, and the smell of blood and burning.
And now horror creeps over us. We greet Death. He greets us.
In R. scarcely a single house is still inhabited. All have fled to L. In the street that has been assigned to my company, I must have almost every house opened by force, in order that the men, worn out with marching and fighting, may rest. Here and there, in answer to prolonged knocking, one of the inhabitants comes to the door. When the shell fire began they took refuge in their cellars.
In the brightly tiled hall of a pretty house that has escaped damage I sit with the gentlemen for several hours over glasses of mulled wine. We are waiting for orders for the next day. The orders reach us at 1 o'clock that night; the detachment is to take its stand at 7 o'clock beside the church at R., in order to continue the advance toward L.
But during the hours of the night many changes have taken place. The troops driven out of R. have sent their patrols, the black scouts, to the very edge of the suburb again, under cover of darkness; and reports of our cavalry and bicycle men tell that during the night heavy detachments of troops sent from the north have reached L. They talk of 40,000 to 50,000 men, chiefly newly enlisted forces and territorials; but Englishmen, too, are said to be among them. Our assigned task does not include fighting a destructive battle. We are simply to compel the enemy to unfold his forces, for certain strategic reasons the nature of which, of course, we do not know. Accordingly, our small detachment must risk everything in order to lure upon itself as many as possible of the enemy's troops. That, too, is just what happened.
We take our former positions. The cavalry division has departed, with its artillery, its bicycle corps, its Jaegers, and its machine guns. New problems are
in store on the right wing for the brave division which has already distinguished itself throughout the entire campaign. We remain alone with our battery-the third battalion of the active regiment and our provincial Landwehr battalion.
It is going to be a heavy, heavy, heavy day of fighting.
Patrols establish the fact that F. is free of the enemy's forces. But as we enter the road toward L. the French machine guns at once announce themselves. They sing and whistle and whirr above our heads. After yesterday's losses (half a column of the Fifth Company is still busy burying our dead, laying our wounded in automobiles and wagons to be sent to the hospitals) our artillery will first shoot breaches in the enemy's lines before we advance.
But at midday the field artillery of the Frenchmen already replies to ours. They must have transshipped, at night, from their positions on the canal to L., in the belief that mighty forces were being assembled here for a further tremendous blow. The object of our assignment would in that case already have been for the most part accomplished. But all of us subordinate officers-who neither possess nor should possess an insight into the strategic movement—we have but a single desire: Forward!
For a few minutes, after the first thundering crash of the French artillery, there is deep silence. It seems as if nature itself were holding its breath. The crash had fallen in the alley of poplars along the road. The roadway is strewn with branches and twigs. Just beside the northern column of our battery the monstrous shell has buried itself in the clay soil. A hail of earth-crumbs has rained upon us. We cannot note any other damage. But all the companies that are still in closed formation spread out in order to offer no compact target.
For hours, now, there continues this terrible cannonading backward and forward, this dreadful argument of batteries. Horrible as is the devastation which such an instrument of murder can wreak, you gradually grow accustomed to the roaring storm. And you almost