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 }

The Quedlinburg POW Camp Orchestra

26 November 2016

Dressed in long military overcoats,
we can see that they are soldiers.
But as they are armed
with musical instruments,
they are musicians too.

Yet they are not a military band.
With six violins and one contrabass
they are instead a kind of small orchestra.

Their concerts were not open to the public.
They played for a very select
as these musical soldiers were
Prisonniers de guerre,
Prisoners of War.

These 21 musicians carefully posed
outdoors for the photographer,
next to some crude barracks.
Attached to their uniform coats
are nonmilitary badges and armbands,
clues that distinguish them as enemy captives.

Fortunately we do not have to guess where they are,
as this photo postcard was posted
on 1"-9-15,  1st September 1915,
printed by Otto Wendt,
and stamped Geprüft! - Examined!
by the censors
of the prisoner of war camp,
of Quedlinburg, Germany.

The card was addressed to:
Monsieur - Madame
R. Couaillet
St. Nicolas d' Aliermont

Affection Sincère
?ensies constantes

Sincere affection
? constant


The third word of the greeting looks like
but according to online dictionaries
that is not a valid French word.

Even using a French version of a Scrabble word finder
did not produce a suitable match.
Any suggestion from my readers would be much appreciated.

Carriage Clock manufactured by Armand Couaillet Co.
of Saint-Nicolas d'Aliermont, France
Source: Wikipedia

A simple internet search for the name Couaillet and the address, Saint-Nicolas d'Aliermont, produced an interesting result. This small town near Dieppe on the English Channel is known for carriage clocks and watches produced by Armand Couaillet (1865-1954). Armand developed his company with his brothers Henri and Ernest. Together their firm of about 150 employees manufactured fine clocks that are highly prized today. However as the  addressee name is R. Couaillet, there is no way to know if there is a direct family connection.

* *

One man in the photo particularly caught my attention as he holds a woodwind instrument that is very rare to find in old photographs. It is an oboe, or hautbois in French. This double reed instrument with its high nasal voice was one of the first instruments of the military band. But by the 1900s, it was not so common, being supplanted by more durable clarinets and saxophones. French army bands however maintained the old tradition, and this oboist wears the regiment number 36 on his collar.

His dark hair and dashing goateee gives him a kind of debonair movie star look. It made him easy to spot in a second postcard photo of the orchestra.

This group of musicians are dressed
in a strange mixture of uniforms and hats,
with some French, some British,
and even some civilian fashions.
The jaunty French oboe player
now sports a soft cap.

The string section has added a British cello.
The conductor leans back
in a crudely made arm chair.
His mustache looks English,
but the light grey tone of his jacket
and his tall boots suggests a Russian soldier.

This international soldier's orchestra has 24 musicians.
The two men in woolly sweaters and caps
may be merchant seamen taken
from British or French commercial ships
that were either sunk or captured by the Imperial German Navy.  

This postcard was sent on 1er Juni 1917, 1st June 1917,
twenty one months after the 1915 photo.
Though it is not postmarked from Quedlinburg
the addressee and writer's name on the back is the same as the first card.

Like the other postcard, this was sent to:

Monsieur - Madame
R. Couaillet
St. Nicolas d' Aliermont

Embrassements affectueux



Though the greetings are very brief, it seems reasonable to assume that the writer was related to Monsieur and Madame R. Couaillet. Now almost a century after the end of  World War One, it is astonishing to me that written records from 1914-18 have survived. Even more thrilling is that the ICRC or International Committee of the Red Cross keeps an online database these records available to anyone around the world with an internet browser. During the war the Red Cross collected thousands of names of British, French, Belgium, Italian, and Sebian prisoners of war. Each name was written onto a simple paper card which was used to cross-index names with camp documents. With a name that has more vowels than consonants, it did not take long to find this prisoner of war on a German military index card.


Soldat Inf reg 36

* *

The code number of Emile Couaillet's card refers to page 13576 of a large German military account book of captured soldiers. His name was entered at the top on 27 JAN 1915 as a Franzosen - French soldier.


24. Couaillet, Emile  Soldat Inf. Reg. 36 Bétheny  Gefglg. Quedlinburg

The list identifies where each man was captured, and in which POW Camp they are held. In Emile's case, he was being held at Quedlinburg, and taken in Bétheny, a town in the region of the First Battle of the Marne. This battle from September 7-12, 1914 stopped the initial German advance on Paris and forced the war into the trenches, where so many men lost their lives over the next 4 years.


A third index card was complied by the French military and added enough information for a confirmation of his identity.

Couaillet Emile F BB 502

Musicien brancardier, 36me d'
Inf., 3me Corps Disparu depuis
le 12 septembre environs de Reims.
Rép. M. Couaillet, St. Nico-
las d'Aloermont. (Seine Inf.)

P. 13576 C.E. sold. 36e Puis Bétheny
Gef.lag Quedlinburg

Communiqué famille
12/2. 15

The writer Emile Couaillet was a Musicien, a Bandsman in the French Army's 36th Infantry regimental band. He was also a brancardier, a stretcher bearer, responsible for transporting any casualties off the battlefield. He was reported Disparu depuis, missing since the 12th September 1914 in the region of Reims, France. The village of Bétheny is only 4.4 km away by bicycle.  The French department in charge of notifying the families of servicemen who were killed, wounded, or missing in action, added Couaillet's location at the Quedlinburg POW camp and a date when they contacted the family 12-2-15, 12 February 1915.

* *

So was the hautboïste, the oboist with the affable smile,
the bandsman, Emile Couaillet?

 I'd like to think so,
but I believe he is another man.

In searching for Couaillet's name and the Quedlinburg camp, I came across a website called Le camp de prisonniers de guerre de Quedlinburg, devoted to the history of this POW camp. There are numerous web pages, (in French) describing the conditions of the camp and the life of the soldiers imprisoned there. One page even has a different photo of the camp orchestra, taken in about 1915 as they perform a concert for the other soldiers. The soldiers in the camp organized many activities to cope with boredom and low morale. They had a men's choir and a theater for entertainment. They put on boxing matches and various sports games. Despite their containment, the men could earn small wages for camp work that was paid in special camp currency. The German military guards did not seem to mind cameras and the POWs probably paid for photographs like these to send home. This was undoubtedly a propaganda move by the German government who used postcards to influence both the patriotic public opinion in the German homeland, and the enemy opposition to the war by inculcating resentment and dissent amongst the Allied troops.  

Page from the 1914-15 Red Cross Report
on POW camps in Germany
Quedlinburg is a small town in the Harz district of Saxony-Anhalt, more of less the center of Germany. At the beginning of the war, none of the belligerent nations had anticipated the numbers of enemy soldiers that would be captured. Quedlinburg was one of the first prisoner camps built in Germany. It was designed for 15,000 men. By late 1915, the Red Cross had made two trips to inspect camps and reported that Quedlinburg held 4,285 French; 5,521 Russian; 100 Beligian; and 65 English soldiers, for a total of 9,971 prisoners of war.

The total for both inspection tours was 236,880 officers and soldiers distributed over about 14 camps. But there were more camps uncounted in 1915. Many, many more.  The war would continue for three more years, during which Germany maintained POW camps for 2,500,000 captive soldiers. 

* *

The Quedlinburg POW Camp, or Kriegsgefangenenlager as it was called in German, allowed the prisoners to send and receive mail, but of course under strict rules and always subject to military censors. Usually one postcard per week and one letter ever two weeks. Evidently early in 1915, the prisoners could receive packages which included unusual musical instruments like a trombone or a cello. The website on the history of the Quedlinburg camp included several transcriptions of the camp's newspaper, le Tuyau, or The Pipe. On page 5 of the first edition of the paper, printed in July 1915, there was an announcement about the camp orchestra.

Notre Musique
Un orchestre…? Charme pour des captifs! Quelle imagination féconde eut osé rêver la possibilité d'une telle récréation en septembre dernier lorsque, (censure) exténués, malades, nous arrivâmes au Camp des prisonniers.

C'est aujourd'hui la réalité! Dès l'autorisation obtenue de nos gardiens, un comité se forma, son premier devoir fut de se procurer des fonds. Les sommes rapidement récoltées prouvèrent l'enthousiasme du public. Les exécutants, pour leur part s'infligèrent de gros sacrifices, ceux-ci ont permis la formation d'un orchestre satisfaisant. Pourtant les choses traînent et l'on dit….que le public s'impatiente! Il a tort. S'il a fait beaucoup pour nous, n'avons-nous pas fait autant pour lui permettre d'attendre la date du premier concert. Les auditions musicales du dimanche ne lui suffisent pas. Il veut plus, il est très exigeant; cela est bon signe, c'est qu'il s'intéresse à "notre musique", celle du camp, l'œuvre de tous. Il veut assister à la moindre de nos répétitions. Cela est hélas impossible. Nous ne pouvons lui donner satisfaction, autant pour la bonne exécution des auditions actuelles que pour celle des concerts futurs. A l'heure actuelle, nous manquons de partitions. Nous en attendons beaucoup de France. Nous en avons commandé en Allemagne, elles ne viennent pas. C'est long et nous en sommes les premiers privés. Nous ne restons pas pourtant dans l'inactivité. Grâce au zèle de notre distingué contre bassiste, Mr L. Kircher qui, de mémoire ou à l'aide de médiocres documents, a adapté pour "notre musique" presque tous les morceaux exécutés jusqu'à présent. Des dévouements plus obscurs, mais non moins appréciables complètent l'œuvre entreprise et aucun exécutant ne se refuse à copier et à transposer même après les longues heures de labeur individuel et de répétitions.

Lorsque nos lecteurs, qui ne peuvent dans la salle de répétition, liront ces détails, ils comprendront qu'il est inadmissible d'exiger de nous plus d'une heure de musique par semaine. Il est matériellement impossible que nous fassions plus. Comme nous ils se résigneront et attendront.

Le temps heureux des concerts ne peut plus tarder. Un instrument vient d'arriver de France, c'est le premier et son propriétaire, le hautboiste renommé Mr Marson, prix du conservatoire, s'est fait entendre dès le lendemain au cours de la répétition générale du Grand Concert populaire annoncé pour la fête Nationale de 14 juillet. Ce concert hors série précédera de peu, nous l'espérons le Grand concert d'inauguration.

Celui-ci est encore différé par suite du départ annoncé des brancardiers. Des commandes de musique et d'instruments ont été suspendues, causant ainsi un nouveau retard d'une semaine au moins. Nous attendons incessamment de nouveaux instruments. L'arrivée du trombone à coulisses est imminente. Le fournisseur nous apprend qu'il est au polissage! L'impatience est maintenant fébrile. A bientôt donc pour le premier concert; une grande assistance nous encouragera!


     A Google Translation     

Our music

An orchestra…? Charm for captives! What fertile imagination would have dared to dream of the possibility of such recreation in September when, (censored) exhausted, sick, we arrived at the Prisoner Camp.

Today is the reality! As soon as we obtained permission from our guards, a committee was formed, its first duty was to raise funds. The money quickly gathered proved the enthusiasm of the public. The performers, for their part, inflicted great sacrifices, these allowed the formation of a satisfactory orchestra. Yet things drag and it is said ... .the public is impatient! He is wrong. If he did much for us, did not we do as much to allow him to wait for the date of the first concert. Sunday's musical auditions do not suffice. He wants more, he is very demanding; This is a good sign, it is that he is interested in "our music", that of the camp, the work of all. He wants to attend the least of our rehearsals. This is unfortunately impossible. We can not give him satisfaction, as much for the proper execution of the current hearings as for that of the future concerts. At present, we lack scores. We expect a lot from France. We ordered from Germany, they do not come. It is long and we are the first private. We do not, however, remain in inactivity. Thanks to the zeal of our distinguished bassist, Mr L. Kircher, who, from memory or with the help of mediocre documents, adapted for our "music" almost all the pieces executed until now. More obscure but no less appreciable devotions complement the work undertaken and no performer refuses to copy and transpose even after long hours of individual labor and repetition.

When our readers can not read the details in the rehearsal room, they will understand that it is inadmissible to require more than one hour of music per week. It is materially impossible for us to do more. As they will resign themselves and wait.

The happy time of the concerts can not be long. An instrument has just arrived from France, it is the first and its owner, the renowned oboe Mr Marson, prize of the conservatory, was heard the very next day during the rehearsal of the Grand Concert Populaire announced for the celebration National of 14 July. This special concert will precede, hopefully, the Grand Concert inauguration.

This is still delayed by the announced departure of the stretcher-bearers. Music and instrument controls were suspended, causing a further delay of at least one week. We are constantly awaiting new instruments. The arrival of the trombone slide is imminent. The supplier tells us that he is polishing! Impatience is now feverish. See you soon for the first concert; Great assistance will encourage us!



The name of the oboist, Mr. Marson, was found on the next page of the Quedlinburg prisoner log where Emile Couaillet was listed. His full name was Ernest Marson and like Emile, he was a Musicien-brancardier in the 36e Infantry Regiment band. 

His hometown was further west in Normandy where his family contact was M. Ch. Marson, 51 rue de Vancelles, Caen, France.

The bottom note: À retourner à la Trésorerie - To be returned to the Treasury, is unclear as to its purpose. It may be in regards to a pension application.

* *

The Quedlinburg newspaper's report also gives us a clue, L. Kircher to search for the name of the contrabass player, , who provided much of the first music for the orchestra. His nane, Lucien Kircher, was also listed on the same page of the January 1915 Quedlinburg Camp log as Ernest Marson. He also was a soldier in the 36e Infantry regiment.. He is the man standing behind the oboist Marson in the 1917 photo.  

On page 6 of the July 1915 edition of The Quedlinburg newspaper there was a review of the orchestra's first concert. The director was named Chatenet and he received some criticism.

Si ces premières auditions ne pouvaient prétendre à la perfection elles nous permettent du moins d'espérer pour de fort bonnes séances musicales lorsque les conditions matérielles seront plus favorables l'orchestre plus complet, un plus grand nombre de partitions intéressantes arrivé. Les instrumentistes sont pour la plupart de bons musiciens et d'acharnés travailleurs.

Le geste un peu hésitant au début ( Mr Chatenet n'avait jamais conduit avant d'être à Quedlinburg) s'assure peu à peu, il est élégant et prend de l'ampleur. Peut-être la main gauche est-elle encore un peu hésitante, elle aurait besoin de plus de fermeté pour retenir parfois les musiciens qui ont tendance à trop jouer uniquement en forte. Au reste le goût très sur et la grande autorité de Monsieur Chatenet sont le meilleur garant que l'on fera d'ici peu de la fort bonne musique à Quedlinburg

If these first auditions could not pretend to perfection, they at least allow us to hope for very good musical performances when the material conditions are more favorable to the more complete orchestra, a greater number of interesting scores have arrived. The instrumentalists are for the most part good musicians and hard-working workers.

The gesture a little hesitant at first (Mr Chatenet had never conducted before being in Quedlinburg) secures little by little, it is elegant and grows. Maybe the left hand is still a little hesitant, it would need more firmness to retain sometimes the musicians who tend to play too strongly. Besides, the great taste and the great authority of Monsieur Chatenet are the best guarantor that will be made soon of the very good music in Quedlinburg


So can we identify Emile Couaillet?

Perhaps he is the horn player who appears in both photos.

Or one of the two violinists.

Or the young violinist
who was also
a member of the 36e Infantry regiment.

Or the snare drummer
who may have been one of the field musicians
the 36e Infantry regiment.

In the end it doesn't matter. A century later, Emile Couailette did his duty to posterity by sending two postcards that give us a glimpse of musical life in a WW1 prisoner of war camp. The POW camps were improvised prisons of course, so the food, sanitation, medical care, and general conditions caused a great deal of privation for the soldiers. But in September 1914 when he and his compatriots of the 36e Inf. reg. were captured, it was still very early in a very long war, so in a sense they were saved from the horrors to come. They needed a different kind of endurance to survive.

They surely felt anguish and fear for their families back home. And as soldiers, the news of the war certainly gave them great distress over the fate of their old army comrades still valiantly carrying on the fight. Though the camps were run with German military regulations, the men followed their own army's discipline and were allowed to create a prison life that offered the soldiers a semblance of a proper army base if not a civilian town. In this context, music was more than mere entertainment. It allowed the men to use their artistic skills to express self-worth and human dignity even while imprisoned. It added value to the other prisoners' lives too.

During the four years that the camp operated, many men succumbed to disease and ill health. Quedlinburg, like most of the POW camps, had its own cemetery. In January 1917 the Red Cross report noted 144 deaths but this is very likely lower than the actual number of deaths. 

Towards the end of the war in June 1918 the soldiers erected a monument which they designed and paid for. There was a dedication ceremony which included all the camp's nationalities including the German military camp guards. The Quedlinburg prisonniers de guerre camp orchestra and choir performed for the service. The memorial was made to honor the fallen, that is their fellow prisoners who had died not in combat but in prison.

The monumnet still stands in Quedlinburg and on its columns are 444 names of English, Italian, French, Belgian and Russian prisoners who died there during the war years. In fact the archives later brought the total to 703 deaths.

Engraved on the Quedlinburg monumemt are the words:
"À ceux qui ne reverront plus leurs patrie"
"To those who will no longer see their homeland"

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves the sound of peace

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.

The Drums and Trumpets of War

12 November 2016

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States, a day when we recognize the incalculable service given by our present and past military veterans. It originally began as Armistice Day, a commemoration of the end of World War I when Germany and the Allied Nations signed an Armistice and all the guns on the Western Front went silent on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month", 11:00 AM Paris time, November 11, 1918. In Britain and other Commonwealth countries it is called Remembrance Day, honoring the great sacrifice made by British soldiers and sailors during the Great War of 1914-1918.

These four French field musicians offer a salute with their trumpets and drums that any veteran would recognize. Their intense faces were perhaps intended to strike a determined soldierly attitude for the camera. However this prideful look, this esprit de corps, does not come from the end of the war.

It comes from the beginning — 1914.

Penciled onto the bottom of this otherwise unmarked photo postcard is the year 1914. It looks contemporary with the soldiers and not a date added later. The men stand in front of a sheet of rough canvas draped over a farmhouse fence, an improvised photographer's studio. Lying at their feet is a spent artillery shell casing. The numerals on their collar badges show that they are musicians with the 96e régiment d'infanterie. In August 1914 they marched to the Lorraine region, formerly part of France. By October they were sent to Flanders. And two years later they defended Verdun.

When the war began in 1914, soldiers marched to battle. Just as in ancient times, military marching is about regulating the step of soldiers, essentially marking the speed and time that it takes to move a troop of soldiers onto the battlefield. Keeping a steady drumbeat insured good order and maintained communication between units that were strung out along a long line of march. Drummers also gave the stick beats for soldiers going through precision rifle drills and ceremonial changes of the guard.  

The trumpets were for commands. The simple trumpet or bugle has just enough musical notes for an infantry trumpeter to play different short tunes that announced everything from the soldiers' morning assembly to lights out. In the cavalry, mounted trumpeters had even more calls that managed the movement of the horse troops.


As the armies of Europe mobilized in the summer of 1914, the sound of drums and trumpets filled the air. Field musicians like these were a necessary component of every army unit in the First World War and Germany was no different. This group of seven German buglers gives a hearty blast for the photographer.

In 1914 the uniforms of French field musicians were not much different from the regular French soldier's dress. But German army bandsmen added special striped shoulder epaulets that makes it easy to spot them in old sepia tone photos and probably in the field too. German regiment numbers were sewn onto the tunic shoulder straps, and the number 103 is visible on the trumpet master's uniform. I believe this indicates they are soldiers in the 4th Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 103 of the Royal Saxon Army.

What looks like a short sword scabbard hanging from the leader's belt is actually a holster for his fife, another instrument of field musicians. This next septet of German bandsmen has three fife players and four snare drummers. The fifers have their bugles clipped onto their belts.

Hiking any distance makes for dull work and soldiers know that marching to the beat of  jaunty music eases the drudgery. Field musicians could play simple march tunes on trumpets and bugles but the nature of valveless brass instruments limits the available notes and harmonies. The fife, a high-pitched relative to the piccolo and flute, has a complete chromatic scale capable of playing more varied melodies. It's whistle tone is easily heard outdoors and in rare moments of musical combat it doubles as a shriekingly sharp weapon.

For centuries before the 1900s, military bands around the world commonly incorporated a fife in the standard issue kit for field musicians. Trumpeters learned to adjust their lips and use woodwind fingerings on a second instrument. The field drummers usually included a pair of cymbals and a bass drum along with the snare and tenor drums, and sometimes added a bell lyre or glockenspiel for a melodic pitched instrument. 

I also acquired a companion card to this photo postcard where the same group plus one more musician pose in a more traditional German style with two men reclining on the ground. Extra points if you can spot the odd man. Their regiment number is not visible and there are no marks on the cards so they must remain anonymous, but wherever they are, the weather has been cold enough to snow.

The nations that marched to war in 1914 used different models of military organization, but generally a regiment contained several battalions which each had a dozen companies of about 200 soldiers. This structure created positions for thousands of soldiers employed as field musicians. Once again YouTube offers appropriate videos with this brief historic film made sometime during the war years of 1914-18 of a French Army parade review. A squad of trumpeters march pass at  0:30. 

* * *

* * *

Today the old traditions of military field musicians have lost much of their practical purpose for signaling and accompanying the daily life of soldiers. Bands with buglers and drummers are still part of the military but their mission is more focused on their value for  entertainment, public relations, and ceremonial duties, rather than the utility of escorting troops into battle. In this next historic film from WW1 there are no musicians but a long line of French soldiers march along a country road. The footage has no records to know whether they are going to, or returning from the front, but they seem jolly enough for the novelty of seeing a camera.   

* * *

* * *

Both silent films deserve to have proper music. The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is an active unit that performs at ceremonies and events all across the country. Though they are dressed in early colonial era uniforms, their fifes, drums, and bugles strike the same martial zeal that the French and German field musicians from 1914 knew.

* * *

* * *

* * * * * * *

On 6 August, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
delivered an address to the German People.
His voice was recorded.
This is a very short extract.

* * *

* * *

"Es muß denn das Schwert nun entscheiden.
Mitten im Frieden überfällt uns der Feind.
Darum auf! zu den Waffen!
Jedes Schwanken, jedes Zögern
wäre Verrat am Vaterlande."

"It must be the sword that now decides.
In the midst of peace, the enemy attacks.
So, rise up! To arms!
Any vacillation, any hesitation
would be treason to the Fatherland."

(from Wikimedia, underlined words are my translation)

Only a few weeks earlier, on Sunday the 28th of June 1914, a group of inept young men managed to commit an act of terrorism by murdering Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg. It happened on the streets of Sarajevo, Bosnia, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. One of the terrorists shot the royal couple in their open touring car after earlier efforts with bombs failed that morning. As the assassin and his accomplices were Serbian, the crime provoked an immediate reaction in the city and in the Bosnia and Croatia provinces of Austria. Overnight violent anti-Serb riots broke out that verged on pogroms against ethnic Serbs. Many homes and businesses were looted and destroyed. 

Austria believed that a Serbian nationalist  secret society was behind the murders, and used this connection to threaten the Kingdom of Serbia with reprisals. Austria already had a difficult history with annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina and the other Balkan states were seen as a source of anarchists and nationalist groups committed to disrupting the empire's complex ethnic populations. Over the course of July 1914, the diplomatic crisis grew larger and involved more countries allied with either Austria or Serbia. On July 23 the Austrian foreign minister issued an ultimatum to the government of Serbia. Submit to demands or face the consequences of war.

Little Serbia appealed to Russia, its giant ally to the north. Austria depended on Germany to cover its back. Russia expected its ally France to distract Germany. Germany knew it must first defeat France before it could effectively engage the immense Russian army. Other nations pretended that this little tempest in central Europe was just a summer thunderstorm.

All efforts at realizing a diplomatic solution failed when on 28 July 1914 Austria declared war on Serbia. The Russian army mobilized. Germany responded with calling up its army. The French army moved into positions along its border with Germany. Within days the German army overwhelmed Luxembourg and entered Belgium. Britain was forced to protect the French ports and help defend Belgium. The monsters of war were released. The world would never be the same.

This week the United States of America elected a new leader. A man whose temperament, intellect, and judgement have never been tested by political office or military experience. Soon he will be given the keys to the most powerful office in the world. Setting aside his raw boorish behavior and outrageously deceitful ideas, there is no question that his megalomania and arrogant ambition place my country on a new course toward a frightening unknown future. I believe the majority of Americans who voted on Tuesday recognize this abrupt change of direction and so do a great number of people around the world. It feels like the polarity of the globe has been reversed. Negative is now positive. All compass needles point South. The forces of nature are no longer predictable.

I imagine it felt this way on the 6th of August 1914, when Kaiser Wilhelm spoke to his subjects, the people of Germany. Events were set in motion that could no longer be stopped. The Kaiser was arrogant, bull headed, and full of himself, but he was no fool. He knew the risk of war. He just didn't know the price that it would cost.

The world of 1914 was one of sharp divisions. Though at times it seemed a golden age, dark clouds proceeded the storm. Extremes of poverty and wealth lived side by side. Labor unions clashed with industrial capitalists. Women and men without property struggled for the right to vote. Racial hatred and ethnic bigotry divided countries and inflamed brutal passions everywhere. Frustrated nationalists resorted to terror and anarchy as a way to foment revolution.

The Kaiser was certainly not the only one at fault. He had help. There were countless rogues and buffoons in every country who are partly to blame for this terrible conflict. My blunt explanation of the start of the Great War is meant to draw attention to the parallels I see between the world today and the world of 1914. The words we use to describe our present day disputes and hostilities are the same that were used then. Words spoken with scorn, bluster, and contemptuousness. Words filled with hatred, discord, and malice. Words made heavy with bigotry, ignorance, and hypocrisy.

Mr. Trump is not the Kaiser, though like the Kaiser he comes from a life of privilege and knows nothing about the lives of ordinary people. He may share the Kaiser's habit of bombastic rhetoric and delusional reasoning but he is no emperor, no king. In January our country will go through a legitimate democratic exchange of  power. The strange historic resonance that I feel is that Mr. Trump will be entrusted with guiding our nation through a world every bit as dangerous and explosive as the world of Kaiser Wilhelm. In 1914 one man's mistake in judgement resulted in the sacrifice of millions of lives over the course of a catastrophic Great War. In 2016 my anxiety over America's new president is not that this untested leader will precipitate a clash of vast armies contending against each other on the muddy ground between trenches. Instead my fear for the world is that this man is capable of ordering computer guided bombs to ignite a conflagration that we can not imagine now anymore than the valiant soldiers of 1914 could when they responded to the sound of the Kaiser's drums and trumpets.

I am the proud son of a U.S. Army officer and a grandson of a U.S. Marine. Though I did not choose to serve my country, I believe I know something about the dedication and duty of military service. I try to honor the loyalty and commitment of our country's veterans on every Veterans Day, every Memorial Day, and every Remembrance Day with a pledge that as a citizen I must make every effort to dissuade my country from ever engaging in an unjust war. That as a member of a free society I must do all I can to prevent egotistical leaders from misusing soldiers as tools for national gain as they did in 1914. And finally as a human being I must vigorously advocate for protecting the civil rights of all oppressed people. Otherwise I risk losing mine.  

War is easy. Peace is hard.

This is my contribution to the November edition of Sepia Saturday
where remembrance is the prime directive.

The Clarion Call

04 November 2016

It was supposed to be a modern war.
During the first decade of the 20th century
the nations of Europe fiercely competed with each other
over the size of their artillery pieces;
over the strength of their concrete fortifications;
over the number of dreadnoughts in their naval fleets;
and over the magnitude of their nation's military spending. 

But by 1914 armies still operated
on horse power and boot leather,
just as armies had done since ancient times.

And the call to arms
was blown on military trumpets.

Two dozen mounted trumpeters of
L'Armée Française – Cavalerie Légére – Trompettes de Chasseurs. – L.L.
The French Army - Light Cavalry - Trumpets of the Hunters.
sound the clarion call.
Their gleaming trumpets, blue coats and caps, red trousers,
hark back to an age when valor, gallantry, and chivalry
were proud qualities for any good soldier.

The late summer of 1914 destroyed that sentiment,
and this simple postcard carries
a tremendous weight of historic irony
in the message on its back.

It was posted on 30-10-14, October 30, 1914
from Hagenau, (ELS) (Alsace)
to Nürnberg, Germany.

Hagenau was then a city in the disputed region
of the Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen
or the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine
acquired by Germany during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
In 1918 it was restored to France
and reverted to its French spelling of Haguenau

The irony of this postcard of French cavalry trumpeters
is that it was posted by a German soldier.

The penciled script is too challenging
for me to make a complete translation,
but the soldier writes to his loving parents
on 29.10.14, just three months after the war started on July 28.
from the Lazarett – the military hospital in Hagenau.

Did he recover?
Did he survive the horrors to come in the next 4 years?
We may never learn what happened to him.
All we can know, is that someone preserved his postcard
through a century of strife and conflicts,
so that we can reflect on just how much
the world changed during that late summer of 1914.   

Thanks to Susanna Rosalie,
who has several times generously provided
translations of my German postcards,
here is the soldier's message in English:
Addressed to:
J. St. Kreisel
Egydienplatz 22
29. October 14
Dear parents, you are
going to be surprised
to receive my little card.
I am sending you
the joyful piece of news
that up till now I
feel quite well. I lie
in the military hospital.
Say hello to everyone.
Special loving greetings to you,
Your Ar. son

What did a troop of French cavalry trumpeters sound like?
In a word –  thrilling!
YouTube provides the moving pictures
with this cavalry fanfare from Saumur, France.



France retains much of the grand pageantry
of its military traditions.
Here is a demonstration of the mounted trumpeters
of the Garde républicaine of France.
The unit plays in their indoor drill arena
and this video gives us a close look
at how the musicians control their horses.
 If you watch to the end you will see
that not all horses appreciate music.



But for pure spectacle
nothing compares to
a parade of a troop of cavalry
led by a band of trumpets and kettle drums.
This next video was taken on 14 July 2014 - Bastile Day,
the national holiday of France.



Try playing all three videos simultaneously
and we recreate something like
the heart stirring noise of battle. 

But by November 1914
the sound of war changed dramatically.
The heroic fanfares of trumpets and drums
were drowned out by the terrifying cacophony
of machine guns, bombs, and shells.
The splendid uniforms and magnificent horses
became relics of a archaic age.

This is my contribution
to the November edition of Sepia Saturday
where everyone answers the call to war & peace.


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