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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Easter on the Eastern Front

10 April 2015

Their beer barrel may say Fröhliche Ostern - Happy Easter, but the glum expressions on the faces of these German bandsmen convey little joy. The musicians wear the field uniforms of a regimental band in Kaiser Wilhelm's army of 1914-1918. Their Pickelhauben have a fabric cover to hide the gleam of the gold spike and helmet plate. The trumpeter sitting on the barrel has the number 260 stenciled on his helmet cover.

The bandleader stands at the back center holding his baton. A medal ribbon, perhaps an Iron Cross, is tucked into his tunic. The cymbal player and snare drummer recline casually on either side of the bass drummer but there is no cheer in their eyes.

The place and year is recorded on the second barrel – Bemern, a website database of former German geographical names in East Prussia, did not offer an exact match. There was a Benern, a Bernen, and even a Remmen, all places now located in Poland and once part of the German Empire in Prussia, but spellings are never consistent in war.

However the number 260 on the one bandsman's helmet may indicate Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 260 of the 78th Reserve Division of the Imperial German Army. This unit first saw action on the Eastern Front in the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes. In May 1915, it engaged the Russian army in Lithuania and Courland, and later fought in the Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive and in Daugavpils where the Russian line collapsed. After Russia withdrew from the war, the division transfered to the Western Front and joined in the battle over Verdun.

Certainly the log house behind the band with its dovetail corners is not a building style typical of Flanders on the Western Front. The band has 15 musicians which is about 10 fewer than their standard complement. Two clarinets, a high E-flat and a B-flat fill out the usual brass band instruments.   

The postcard was produced by Wilhelm Riege, Photographer of Lüneburg, which is in Lower Saxony just southeast of Hamburg. The message is in a hand script that I am unable to read. Did they just play a concert for Easter morning services?

* * *

Perhaps the bandsmen were not so much weary of war, but only hungry waiting for their Feldküche or Field Kitchen. An army marches on its stomach and with its band too. During the war of 1914-1918, soldiers on all sides usually collected their meals from a horse drawn cart like this. German army units were supplied with a very efficient Feldküche designed with a double-walled, round tank holding 200 liters of food. The inner kettle was made of nickel while the outer kettle was copper. The cavity between the two cauldrons was filled with glycerine so that cooked food could not burn. The wagon also included a coffee pot which held 90 liters. Both boilers were heated by a wood-fired oven. Later models added a single-wall rotisserie and a warming compartment, so that theoretically several dishes could be prepared simultaneously.

The horse drawn military field kitchen was still in use when the German army of the Third Reich invaded Poland in 1939. It has even been produced as a plastic 1/35 scale model (base not included). A Feldküche could feed between 125 and 250 soldiers, who gave it the nickname Gulaschkanone or Goulash Cannon as the food cart's chimney resembled an artillery piece. This next image shows the wagon tilted with the kettle and various compartment lids open for cleaning and reloading.


The postcard has a caption that reads: Bayr. Landw. Inf. Regt. No. 4, Feldküche, März 1915 or the Royal Bavarian Landwehr Infantry Regiment No. 4, Field Kitchen March 1915. This regiment was part of the 1st Bavarian Landwehr Division which served on the southern flank of the Western Front primarily in Lorraine. I would say they were proud of their two horses. Did they have a beer wagon too?

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


Tattered and Lost said...

As a kid I was always jealous of the boy across the street that had the Roy Roger's Marx chuck wagon. I still want one. Now I want one of these wagons too!

I think you're right. They want to be fed, not pose for photos. Where's the schnitzel and schnapps?

Brett Payne said...

Wonderful postcards, Mike, and I hope you get the the bottom of the location puzzle.

Unknown said...

Love the field kitchen shots -- and highlighting sections of that photo really helps me focus on details.

Postcardy said...

The field kitchens are very interesting. I wonder whether the U.S. had anything like them.

Postcardy said...

I found a recent article about a new field kitchen being tested by the U.S. Army
Fort Leonard Wood to Assess New Field Kitchen

La Nightingail said...

the thing that interested me the most were the fabric caps covering their helmets - including that top spike. Done, I'm guessing, as camouflage to cut the possible reflection which could alert the enemy as to their location. I'd never seen that before.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

What a smooth link-up of the band with the horse drawn feed wagon! Around here, we have the food truck craze going on. Everyone loves them - very creative cooking on wheels. There are also the not so great meals on wheels...we call them the roach coaches...I guess everyone does. We used steam jacketed kettles in the food industry...never heard of one jacketing glycerin but the boiling point is higher than water and I guess that's why they used it. Very interesting as always.

Susanna Rosalie said...

Interesting, Mike!
My father, as a young child at the end of WW II in Berlin, he remembers the Russian 'Feldküche' also drawn by horses. It was stationed right in front of where he lived, and the Russian soldiers were friendly and would give him and other children bread and cabbagesoup. That was basically the food he and kin survived on.

The text of the German handwriting says:

Unsere im Winter
zusammengestellte Regi-

Our Regiments band, compiled in winter.

I think your postcard really does show alot about war.

Wendy said...

Goulash Cannon -- that's a good one! I attended a church Easter morning. They had a brass quartet, and I couldn't help wondering what Mr. Mike would tell me about these instruments. I know you would have found these 4 gentlemen much more cheerful than the 260.

Little Nell said...

Nicely connected to the theme. Those bandsmen certainly do look sad; let’s hope they cheered up when the food arrived!

Kristin said...

That does look like a cannon. Gives to meaning to cereal shot from a gun (puffed wheat used to say that in their ads). The band is well posed but they certainly do look gloomy.

Jofeath said...

I suppose in the circumstances there wasn't a lot to smile about, except when meals were handed out. Let's hope goulash never actually exploded out of that 'cannon', in pressure cooker fashion, as it would not have been a pretty sight!

Anonymous said...

The organization involved in feeding an army is mind boggling. Impossible to imagine how they can get food to all the right people at all the right times.

Barbara Rogers said...

The lack of smiles seems appropriate for the time, the place, and the reason for them being together. War isn't fun. Thanks for the info about the field kitchen. Some trivia I'm sure I will use someday, or not. As usual the band info is also great.


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