This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

A Memorial Day for a Distant Time and Place

27 May 2016



A token, a souvenir, a memento, a memorial.
Some photographs are endowed
with extra powers of remembrance.
  This photo of grave markers for two soldiers
killed in the Great War of 1914-1918
has a special quality
that makes it
a talisman of memory.

 Smaller than a postcard,
almost wallet sized with creases and a torn corner,
it was once someone's keepsake.
It attracted my attention because the dealer
included a companion photograph.






It's a picture of the gate to a military cemetery.
The sign reads:

Ehren Friedhof

(Honored Cemetery) 
Der Division V. Campe
 
Situated on a flat open landscape,
several wooden grave markers are visible
behind a wooden picket fence
and carefully shaped shrubbery.
In the background is a line of trees
typical of a European country lane.
 

The photos have no message, no notes.
Only the names inscribed on the markers.




{click any image to enlarge}





Hier ruht - (Here lies)

Gefr. (Gefreiter - Corporal) Anton Bukowski
geb.
(geboren - born) 17.1. 1896   
gef.
(gefallener - killed in action) 1.6. 1918
1. M.G.K.
R.J.R. 265





Hier ruht - (Here lies)

Gefr. (Gefreiter - Corporal) Franz Doell
geb. (geboren - born) 12.8. 1885   
gef. (gefallener - killed in action) 1.6. 1918
1. M.G.K.
R.J.R. 265




Two German soldiers, Anton Bukowski, age 22, and Franz Doell, age 32, served together in the same unit and died on the same day, June 1, 1918. They both belonged to the 1. M.G.K. or 1. Maschinengewehrkompanie - 1st Machine Gun Company of the R.J.R. 265 or Reserveinfanterieregiment - Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 265. This regiment was part of the 108th Division of the Imperial Germany Army from 1916 to 1918. During the last months of the war, this division was commanded by General Friedrich von Campe, which explains the subtitle on the cemetery gate, Der Division V Campe or The Division of von Campe.






Composition of 108th Division of the German Army
265th Reserve Infantry Regiment
Source: Histories of Two Hundred and Fifty-One Divisions of the German Army
which Participated in the War (1914-1918)



When the war started in 1914, the machine gun was considered a secondary weapon by most armies involved in the conflict. It was still a relatively new weapon technology, as yet untested against modern military forces, whose commanders belonged to the old school of cavalry charges and attacks of massed riflemen. But Germany invested heavily in this ordnance, and in August 1914 it could field 12,000 machine guns, compared to only a few hundred available to the allied powers. Within weeks this deadly apparatus proved itself to be the dominant weapon of the war.  By 1918 the armament industry of both sides produced hundreds of thousands of machine guns.

Here is a postcard photo of 12 soldiers in a German machine gun company. Their date and unit is unknown but they pose proudly around a very imposing instrument of death, which I believe is the Maschinengewehr 08, or MG08, the standard German machine gun modeled after Hiram S. Maxim's original 1884 Maxim gun.





The internet website, Archive.org, provided a useful resource, published in the USA after the war, entitled Histories of Two Hundred and Fifty-One Divisions of the German Army which Participated in the War (1914-1918).  Page 596 outlines the history of the Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 265.


History of the German 265th Reserve Infantry Regiment
Source: Histories of Two Hundred and Fifty-One Divisions of the German Army
which Participated in the War (1914-1918)


The regiment was formed in 1915 by the merger of several existing but undermanned units. It was sent first to the Eastern Front in the vicinity of what is now Poland, where it fought against the Russian army. In December 1917 it was ordered to the Western Front in France. Most of the recruits were from the Hanseatic cities, principally the Mecklenburg province in North Germany on the Baltic Sea.



The early machine gun with its portable tripod mount was very heavy. When filled with water, the weapon weighed 69 kg (152.1 lb), requiring a crew of several men to operate it. The rapid rate of fire caused these guns to often overheat and jam, so maintaining the water filled jacket around the muzzle and the long belts of ammunition demanded a well trained platoon. This next photo postcard shows a larger group of 20 German soldiers posed with two MG08 machine guns.  Again the photo has no date or identification, but I suspect this unit with its smart, clean uniforms, has just finished its basic gunnery classes, and will soon be off to the front lines.  
 








***

In 1918 the R.I.R. No. 265 served first in Corbeny in the Aisne department of Picardy in northern France. In April it was reassigned to the Somme river area where it participated in last great German offensive, Operation Michael, also known as the second battle of the Somme. In May 1918, just east of the city of Amiens, France, the R.I.R. 265 relieved troops that had endured fierce combat around Villers-Bretonneux, which was the furthest point that the Germans were ever able to penetrate the British and French line.

A map of the campaign, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows how the front lines shifted as the battle progressed from March to May 1918. In this sector German forces were opposed by Australian, British, French, and Moroccan soldiers.  It was also the first battle to pit British and French tanks against the German's new A7V tank. During this engagement, called the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, from April 24 to 27 the Australian brigades took 2,473 casualties, British casualties numbered 9,529, the French lost about 3,500, and German casualties were between 8,000 – 10,400 men.


It seems likely that Corporals Bukowski and Doell were killed in the support action a few weeks later during a retreat as the German forces withdrew eastwards to the old trench lines.


Operation Michael / Second Battle of the Somme
21 March – 5 April 1918
Source: Wikipedia



Centered on the map above is Proyart, a small village in Picardy between Amiens and Peronne. Just outside the village is a German military cemetery which holds the remains of soldiers killed in this area during the Great War of 1914-1918. It is also the resting place of Anton Bukowski and Franz Doell, as it is the location of the Ehren Friedhof, Der Division V. Campe pictured on my second photo.

By a curious coincidence, the website Findagrave.com, a catalog of cemeteries and grave stones compiled by volunteers from around the world, has just one entry for the Proyart German Military Cemetery. It includes a photograph of a soldier's grave marker that was taken not recently, but shortly after the war ended in November 1918.   


Grave marker of Paul von Kothen
Proyart German Military Cemetery, France
Source: FindaGrave.com

Es starb den Heldentod
fürs Vaterland

(He died a hero's death
for his Fatherland)

Schütze (Rifleman) Paul von Kothen
J.R. 137   3. M.G.K.
geb. 6.1. 1897   gef. 22.6.1918

644.


In the background are a line of trees
silhouetted against a featureless sky.
When compared to the set of trees in my two photographs,
there is a remarkably good match.





I do not know who contributed this photo or whether they are related to Paul von Kothen. By another coincidence, like the other soldiers, this rifleman belonged to a M.G.K. - machine gun company too, and was killed only a few weeks later on 22 June 1918.  His marker is more elaborate than the covered crosses for Bukowski and Doell, and when we look closely through the gate of the Ehren Friedhof photo, we can see both styles of markers. Paul von Kothen's may be one of the three graves centered in the cemetery entrance. The larger marker and inscription may be a tribute to his act of heroism in combat. The markers in all three photos are decorated with flowers with a turf cover that seems fresh, so I judge they were all taken shortly after internment, perhaps 1919. 







***


I acquired the cemetery photos from a dealer who also listed this next postcard photo of a German Army Band. The are dressed in typical field grey uniforms with cloth covers on their Pickelhaube helmets. The number is 265, the same as Bukowski's and Doell's R.I.R. No. 265.




The band leader sits on a sturdy wooden bench. He looks older than 55, maybe 60? Like several of the other musicians, he has a campaign medal ribbon tucked into his tunic. The 26 musicians hold their instruments in a semi-formal way under their arms. Most are seated in front of folding wire music stands, from which, for the benefit of the photographer, they have removed their music folios.







The hazy sepia-tone sky offers no clue as to where they are. It is very flat though, and crude telephone poles mark a distant line in the background. Perhaps they will play a concert for the officers at headquarters. A few men smile but most look very tired. I find it a grim picture, an image of the futility of music trying to withstand the monstrous noise of war.   






The postcard was sent by Feldpost on 4 February 1918, which by that date would be when the 265th regiment was in the Corbeny area, before it moved to the Somme. It was sent to Herr Thr. Binder of Schwiebus, then a part of the Brandenburg province of Prussia, and now a city called Świebodzin in western Poland.






The writer has left his name and address in the stamp box corner. 

Schütze (G?) Binder
P.. inft 265
1. M.G.K.




Rifleman Binder belonged to the same machine gun company
as Corporals Bukowski and Doell.
Together they heard
the band of the R.I.R. No. 265 perform,
sang along to its songs,
whistled its tunes,
and marched to
the rhythm of its drums.

***
   UPDATE 30 May 2016  
Courtesy of a generous reader who likes
the challenge of difficult puzzles, (see comments below)
we have an English translation of the message
on this postcard. Thank you very much, Susanna Rosalie.

4.2.1918
Liebe Eltern und Schwester.
Kann Euch mitteilen,
daß ich jetzt in [...] bin.
Sende Euch eine Ansichtskarte
von unserer Regts-
musik. Bin sonst immer
noch gesund. Wie sieht
es in der Heimat aus?
Die besten Grüße aus dem Felde
sendet Euch Euer Sohn Georg.


Dear parents and sister.
I want to let
you know that I am now at [...].
I am sending you this postcard
showing our Regiments-
Music. Otherwise I am
still healthy. How are
you doing back home?
The best regards from the battlefield
is sending you your son Georg.



From Susanna's information, we learn
that the soldier's name was Georg Binder.
In September 1918, his R.I.R. No. 265
was merged into Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 76.
where Gefreiter Georg Binder remained
in Machine Gun Company No. 2.


Tragically he did not survive to the end of the war,
as in February 1919 he was one of thousands of soldiers
reported missing in the official army casualty lists.

Born 7 February 1896, the same year as Anton Bukowski,
Georg sent the postcard of his regiment's band
to his parents and sister just a few days
before his 22nd birthday.



Binder Georg (Schwiebus, Züllichau)
Verlustlisten 1. Weltkrieg, page 29.399
Source: Der Verein für Computergenealogie






***





Today the Proyart German Military Cemetery is a peaceful place devoid of the horrible cacophony of bullets and artillery shells, where the only mechanical sound comes from tractors and lawn mowers. The wooden markers have been exchanged for more durable metal and concrete crosses set out in long orderly rows. With apologies and thanks to an unnamed photographer, I've borrowed this recent photo of the Proyart cemetery from the internet to show the contrast of its green serenity nearly one hundred years after its devastating turmoil.

German Military Cemetery, Proyart, France
Source: The Internet

Google Maps provides a road view of the gate to the Proyart military cemetery.
Take a moment to spin it around
for a view of the flat Picardy landscape
on the other side of the road.
Trees are a luxury.

***


***






Below is a map of northern France
overlaid by a large cluster of red balloons
scattered around the region of the Somme river.
 
Each one marks the location of a World War 1 military cemetery.
 
There are 280. 

(click this <link> to see zoom in for more detail.)



By the spring of 1918 the European nations reached a stalemate that offered no resolution to a seemingly interminable war. Each of the belligerents tried to outlast the others, hoping that the enemy's government would collapse when exhausted of men and resources. But with the United States joining Britain and France as an ally with very deep pockets, Germany knew it would confront a fresh adversary in the coming summer, so it made one last effort to break the British and French forces.

The casualty numbers for Operation Michael, which include the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, are staggering. From 21 March to 30 April 1918, the British lost 177,739 men - killed, wounded, captured, and missing; the French lost 77,000 soldiers; and the Germans saw over 239,800 casualties. That's 494,539 men, nearly a half million, destroyed by war in one month. And the counting could never be precise, as many soldiers died without a grave, without any record of their death.

A study of history may bring explanations for war, uncover its mistakes, or clarify the thousands of reasons for its origin. But in the end it is always about people embroiled in a pandemonium. Human beings mutilated and sacrificed to an insanity that failed to be contained. There can be no better memorial to those lost lives than that we, their descendants, strive to never allow the madness to escape again.





***


Hidden to one side in the dark soft focus area
of the Ehren Friedhof cemetery photograph
is a figure of a man who appears to be in a military uniform.
He is holding something too.
It's unclear.
It might be just a garden spade.
But I think it is a camera.

A camera that records an image
of the burial place of a fallen soldier.
A small memorial to
a son, a husband, a father, a brother.








After the war, each government created organizations
to account for and tend to the grave sites
of hundreds of thousands of dead and missing soldiers. 
Grieving families were not permitted
or even able to visit these cemeteries
 for many years, even decades.
Their only solace might come
from a small photo of a grave marker.

A token, a souvenir, a memento, a memorial.








This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more bridges.







6 comments:

La Nightingail said...

All I can think of when I see lines and lines of grave markers laid out like those in the photographs is the tremendous waste and loss of young lives. The really sad part about that is humankind will never learn. Humans have warred against each other since time immemorial and given human nature, I don't believe that will ever change. I think it's a very good thing earth is nowhere near the center of our galaxy and instead, located in a far-flung spiral of it. Divinely planned with good reason? Could be! :)

Jo Featherston said...

Very sobering thoughts. When we visited the war graves around Ypres we wwre shown a German cemetery in which a very large number of dead soldiers were interred in a mass grave, which seemed particularly sad. I'm always amazed at your ability to zoom in and find hidden details in your photographs!

Barbara Rogers said...

A very thoughtful posting. It's good to see the lives, if only through brief photos, of those who fought on the other side of wars in which our nation engaged. The civilians sent those men off marching in their new uniforms, then other civilians were impacted as their fields turned to battle sites. They didn't speak the same languages but bled much the same. Wars are terrible.

Susanna Rosalie said...

I read your post with interest and was very moved by it. And amazed by your detective work putting the photos together and and also finding the place of the cemetery.

I would like to add the translation of the postcard along with other info. It was signed with "Georg". So, on the 4th of February 1918 rifleman Georg Binder wrote:

Dear parents and sister.
I want to let you know that I am now at [...]. I am sending you this postcard showing our Regiments-Music. Otherwise I am still healthy. How are you doing back home? The best regards from the battlefield is sending you your son Georg.

The place name which I cannot decipher is probably the same as in the middle of the blue stamp.

Online, there are the lists of deceased, wounded, missing and imprisoned German soldiers of World War I. On February 28, 1919 the private Georg Binder, born 7. February 1896 in Schwiebus, county Züllichau was reported missing. He was at the Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 76, 2. Maschinengewehr-Kompagnie (76th Reserve Infantry Regiment, 2nd Machinegun Company). I found here that on 16. September 1918 the RIR 265 became part of the RIR 76: http://genwiki.genealogy.net/RIR265

So Georg wrote to his family shortly before his 22nd birthday.

http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/8321008

Here is the transcription of the postcard:
"4.2.1918
Liebe Eltern und Schwester.
Kann Euch mitteilen, daß ich jetzt in [...] bin. Sende Euch eine Ansichtskarte von unserer Regts-musik. Bin sonst immer noch gesund. Wie sieht es in der Heimat aus? Die besten Grüße aus dem Felde sendet Euch Euer Sohn Georg."

Mike Brubaker said...

Thank you, Susanna, for contributing your translation. I've added it and the excerpt from the 1919 casualty list to my post so that it will be better picked up on internet searches.

Initially I was going to write only about the cemetery and grave markers of the two soldiers. When I discovered the image of the third soldier's grave marker, it was such a powerful coincidence that I had to make the story more meaningful and include the postcard of the band. The message's cursive handwriting, and in pencil, was impossible for me to decipher, but just before I was going to publish this post I realized I could read the soldier's return address and that as a member of a machine gun company in the same 265 regiment he must have known Bukowski and Doell.

Now with your wonderful translation, we can add Binder's very personal voice to this memorial story for four young soldiers. I greatly appreciate your help, thank you.

Joan said...

I have a hard time enumerating all that I liked about this post. Being a history junkie, the history woven into and around haunting photos was, to me, perfect. I loved the old wooden grave markers that seemed so much more personal. The story of sending a postcard of the units music makers, combined with the sombre photo of the band, tugs at one's soul. And I very much liked the reminder that Memorials are remembered on both sides of the insanity called war.

nolitbx

  © Blogger template Shush by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP