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 }

Music on the Eastern Front

18 November 2016

His young eyes stare directly at us,
his cheeks dark with grime,
his lips expressionless.

He is a soldier
but he is also just a boy.

His age, 17 ?
Maybe 16.
Surely no more than 19.

He plays the bass trumpet.

His fellow bandsmen gaze at us
with a mixture of fatigue and resignation.

They have the look
of soldiers weary of war.
Tired of marching.
Wasted from playing jaunty tunes
when their spirits were overwhelmed
by cold, hunger, and thirst.

The bandmaster stoically sits in the center
casually holding his drum major baton,
while at his feet
lie spent artillery shells
and rifle cartridges.

It must be cold as
the men wear heavy wool overcoats

with blanket rolls on their backpacks.
Unlike most military bands,
this group does have some weapons.
One soldier lays prone
with a short sword
along side his battered tenor tuba.

In the top corner of the photo postcard
is a mark:

K u K.
I. R. No.

They are band musicians of the
kaiserlich und königliche Armee
Imperial and Royal Army
also known as the Austro-Hungarian Army of 1914-1918.
Specifically they are Hungarian soldiers of the
 k.u.k. Ungarisches Infanterie Regiment
„Freiherr von Reicher“ Nr. 68.

Twenty eight soldiers posed for a camera
outside an unknown courtyard.
Were they about to depart for the frontlines?
That might account for some of their anxious faces.
If so, it probably was not their first deployment.

The card back confirms more details.
The postmark is from Szolnok,
a city in central Hungary,
15 APR 26 – 26 April, 1915,
with a postage stamp from Hungary.
It was sent to someone whose name is unclear to me,
care of Theodor Nemeček of Prostějov, Mähren,
a small city in the Moravia area
of what was once the Czech region of Austria. 

The men had endured nine months of war.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a vast multi-cultural country in central Europe, second in size only to Imperial Russia. Sometimes called the Dual Monarchy, it came about through the Hungarian Compromise of 1867 which restored The Kingdom of Hungary's sovereignty as a quasi-equal to Austria's Hapsburg Empire. Though the two countries shared the same king, Austria's Franz Joseph I, they each had separate parliaments, separate laws, and even separate passports. Scattered around this duality of Austria and Hungary were numerous small kingdoms and duchies, the autonomous Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, and the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose capital was Sarajevo, and which were annexed in 1908. The empire contained dozens of ethnic peoples, each with their own language, religious and cultural traditions. It was a very large and very complicated nation. So when Serbian assassins murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumptive heir to the dual throne, in June 1914, it took a few weeks to sort out what should be done. The foreign ministers and military leaders of  the Austro-Hungarian Empire chose war.  Within months Austria-Hungary mobilized 3.35 million men to engage Russian and Serbia forces.

Ethnic Groups of Austria-Hungary in 1911

The First World War was not confined to the trenches of Flanders. The Eastern Front was a much larger and dynamic battle zone. It pitted the enormous forces of the two Kaisers, Wilhelm II of Germany, and Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary against a third emperor Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Unlike the static battle lines of the Western Front, the armies on the Eastern Front initially were always on the move, trying to out flank their adversaries. By the end of 1915, the Austrian army was battling Serbs and Rumanians in the south, Russians to the north, and Italians in the southwest.

When Serbia failed to satisfy Austria's ultimatum, Austria responded with shelling Belgrade on 28 July 1914. According to the history on this website, the Infanterie Regiment Nr. 68 was stationed in Zemun, a Belgrade district town that then belonged to Austria. It was assigned to monitor the boat traffic on the Sava River and the railway bridge that linked Austria to Serbia. When Serbia mounted a strong defense, the first soldiers killed in the war reportedly belonged to the k.u.k. Ungarisches Infanterie Regiment Nr. 68. Whether the regiment's band was there is unknown.

Nearly every Austrian-Hungarian Regiment had a name of royalty attached. The Infanterie Regiment Freiherr von Reicher Nr. 68 was garrisoned in Szolnok prior to when the war began. The soldiers were 98% Magyaren (Hungarian), 2% Other. Their dress uniform was colored red brown with gold buttons. Probably very few spoke German.

According to the website,, the regiment's march tune was called the Reicher-Marsch, composed by Stefan Bacho von Dezser.   

As you listen to this jolly march.
Go back and look at the faces one more time.

* * *

* * *

Between 1914 and 1918
Serbia lost 300,000 to 450,000 soldiers
and even more civilians.
Austria-Hungary saw
1,200,000 to 1,495,000 soldiers killed
and 495,000 civilian deaths.

 The Great War does not deserve such lighthearted music
but the memory of these bandsmen does.

This is my contribution to the November edition of Sepia Saturday
click the link for more stories of the Great War of 1914-18.


La Nightingail said...

We often forget the 'other' side of the war and all the people lost because of it, and the young, likely scared and minimally trained soldiers who fought on that side - many not truly understanding why they were even there. At least (the very least) those in the band had their music to perhaps bring momentary joy and calm into their lives once in a while when they were able to play.

ScotSue said...

Such haunting images - you have only to look into the men's eyes to see despair and suffering. I hope, too, that music brought some uplifting moments. Thank you for your poignant post and reminding us of that other theatre of war in the Balkans - still a flashpoint today.

Little Nell said...

Once again you have helped us to home in on the individual faces in the photograph. Unfortunately we don’t see much hope or happiness there; their only solace was the music - however monotonous - I would guess.


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