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
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Brother and Sisters

14 April 2017




All together now.

Four siblings gaze into the camera lens, two older sisters with a mandolin each, younger brother with a violin, and youngest sister with nothing but the charm of a three-year old. The sisters, at around ages 15, 13, and 3, wear nearly matching dresses in a gingham fabric. Brother wears a sailor suit with short pants. Though their names are unknown, they are children of a German family as their postcard photo was never posted but has a message in German on the back.

The writer provides a date, 24.1.1915 and a place – Pries, a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is near the eastern entrance of the great Kiel Canal which is the waterway built in 1895 to connect the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. In 1915 Kiel was the home port for the Imperial German Navy so the boy's sailor suit was likely a common outfit for young boys in Pries.

And in January 1915 the world had been at war for nearly 6 months.


By coincidence the date 24 January 1915 was the Battle of Dogger Bank, a rare naval encounter of the First World War between squadrons of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. On January 23rd the British Admiralty intercepted and decoded a German radio message about a sortie of battleships heading to the North Sea shallow waters of the Dogger Bank with orders to raid Britain's northeast coast. Four British squadrons with 12 cruisers and 35 destroyers were sent out to engage two smaller German squadrons of 8 cruisers and 18 torpedo boats. The German force also included seaplanes and a Zeppelin airship to provide aerial reconnaissance.

Unaware that the British could decipher their codes, the Kaiser's fleet was caught by surprise. Rather than confront a superior force, the German squadrons turned back and a stern chase ensued with ship speeds sometimes reaching 27 knots. This was the first modern naval battle between battleships moving at speed while firing their massive artillery. Early on some German shells struck the British flagship HMS Lion putting it out of action. Meanwhile the British guns managed to strike the cruiser SMS Blücher, the rearmost German ship, causing it to reduce speed and lose contact with its squadron.

SMS Blücher underway
Source: Wikipedia

In 1915, wireless radio was a new technology that was unsophisticated and unreliable, so communication between naval ships were still made with traditional signal flags just as battleships had done in the days of sail. During the chase a false sighting of a German U-boat submarine caused the British commander to abruptly change course in an attempt to avoid an unseen enemy. Then a misunderstanding in signal messages caused the British battlecruisers to break off their pursuit of the remaining German fleet and instead concentrate all fire on the disabled Blücher.

Like most naval ships of this era, the Blücher was powered by steam engines burning coal. When a shell hit one of the ship's coal bunkers it set off a devastating explosion in the engine rooms. The Blücher continued to return fire at the attacking British ships but could not escape their torpedoes. As the Blücher began to sink, British destroyers moved in to rescue the German crew, but the German Zeppelin L5 mistook the overturned ship as a British battlecruiser and attacked the destroyers with bombs, driving them off.

SMS Blücher sinking 24 January 1915
Source: Wikipedia
Just five hours from the start of the battle, after being hit by 70-100 large caliber shells and several torpedoes, the Blücher capsized and sank to a depth of 60m in the Dogger Banks. A photographer on a British ship recorded the moment. Over 747 men perished, perhaps as many as 950, as documents are not consistent between German and British sources. Of the Blücher's estimated complement of around 1000 to 1,200 men, only 234 sailors survived including the commanding officer, though he would later die in a British POW camp along with twenty of his men.


The irony of the postcard's date matching the action of the Battle of Dogger Bank is just a coincidence. History and life itself is filled with an infinite number of similar flukes. But in a time of war, mankind sets up a series of catastrophic events that are unlike the random calamities of the natural world. During the years of World War One, 1914-1918, the rational order of life was disrupted by the collision of great military powers. What was once stable, normal, and expected became precarious, perverse, and accidental.

History forces us to look into the faces of these beautiful children and recognize that they lived in extraordinary times. The force of war produced incredibly stark contrasts between tragedy and joy; between sublime beauty and repulsive horror; between the promise of the past and the alienation of the future.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Click the link for more stories of beautiful children.


tony said...

I must confess I was unaware of The Battle of Dogger Bank.
"Dogger Bank" I always associate with BBC Radio Shipping Forecasts .
As A Child , I always thought the names they read out were 'made-up' Quite Reassuring To Know They Actually Exist In Reality! ( and how appropriate that German Bight is Dogger's next door neighbour!)
Yes! The Kids are Ultra Cute with very knowing eyes & a degree of confidence that is older than their faces.

Karen S. said...

Yes as a matter of fact they are cute. Thanks for the bit of history it's always a treat to learn something new, thanks.

La Nightingail said...

Double "Awww" for the sisters and brother quartet. Beautiful children. Hopefully their music was beautiful too. As for the hapless Blucher, how ironic the German air ship mistook it for a British ship thus hampering the rescue of the doomed German sailors.

Alex Daw said...

Such beautiful photos of the children.

Barbara Rogers said...

I'm left hanging by your last sentence...would have preferred somehow that you said "alienation of the past, promise of the future." The way you wrote it seems pretty forlorn, alienation of the future and all. Aren't children the promise of the future, after all? Interesting coincidence of the battle taking place the same day as the photo.

Jo Featherston said...

I wonder whether these children survived the war. Very likely their smiles were short-lived.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

I'll add another affirmation of cuteness. The girls almost look like twins.

Wendy said...

Extraordinary contribution to Sepia Saturday. Oh what those sweet faces must have seen in their lifetime.


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