Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Six Days


Oberfeldwebel Fritz Weber scanned No Man's Land through the periscope, again all he could see was mud, shattered trees, tangled runs of communications wire, the occasional dead body, and rain. It was another cold day in this, the fourth year of the war, the fourth November that he had been away from his family in Aachen.

The latest letter he had had from his wife Greta, not delivered via the Army post, for what Greta had to say would have never made it past the censors. No, this letter had come to him via his friend Horst Lang who had been home on convalescent leave after being wounded back in September. He'd brought the letter with him when he had returned to the front. With a noticeable limp.
Mein Schatz,
There are so many shortages now, bread is hard to get, I haven't seen an egg in a fortnight. The children miss their Vati, the cold is almost too hard to bear as we have to save the coal for the coldest nights. 
When will this accursed war end? I can't go into the city anymore, the Soldiers Committees, or Soviets as they call them, just like the Bolsheviks that old man Bauer says they are, are everywhere. They riot, they demand, they refuse to allow movement to the front. It is awful.
Are you still being paid? I haven't seen a pfennig from you in weeks. I know the post grows ever more unreliable. Please, please, come home soon.
Deine Liebchen Greta
Thinking of his poor wife and their three kids back home didn't help him here at the front. Better to put them out of his mind until the battalion's next rest period. Things were horrible, there was no way they could keep fighting. The replacements were all young boys, many of them hadn't even started shaving yet!

I've been a soldier since 1912, I've never seen things this bad. I...

"Woolgathering again Oberfeldwebel?"

"Thinking of home Herr Leutnant. Things aren't very pleasant there. Any idea when we might have pay call? Soon?"

"I'm sure that we'll be paid as soon as they can..."

The loud whirring noise caused both men to duck down lower in the trench. The single shell impacted not 20 meters in front of their trench. Both men could hear more shells inbound. Looks like the Amis might be making another push. Damned Americans just wouldn't leave things alone!



One hundred years ago the First World War was slowly winding down. Germany was in turmoil, riots in the streets, shortages due to the British blockade, and a general war weariness permeated society. That weariness could be felt at the front, men returning from leave told stories that the official press refused to print. Or were prohibited from printing by the military, which more and more ran the country.

It is the 6th of November, in 1918 by that date millions had been killed or maimed. An entire generation was being butchered.

But it wasn't over yet.

In the next few days I'm going to try and convey what that may have been like. Waiting for the end, knowing, hoping, that the end was near, desperate to survive. What it was like on both sides of the front. Though the war was nearly over, it had less than a week to run, thousands more would be killed, thousands more would suffer crippling wounds, both mental and physical.

For many, that war would never end...


Dedicated to the memories of Albert Mayer and Henry Gunther. The first and last soldiers to die in combat on the Western Front in World War One. And to all of the untold millions of others in between who perished in that so-called "War to End All Wars".



28 comments:

  1. Ah... a fitting way to remember so many lost. My mother's father served in the US Army during WWI, growing up we were around each other a lot since we lived so close but I never heard him talk about it. He was a good guy and a hard worker. Looking forward to these Sarge.

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    1. As World War One recedes further into the past, I'm reminded that when I was 12, the Civil War had ended a hundred years in the past. A lot of WWI vets were still around in 1965, the youngest only in their mid-60s. Now a lot of Vietnam vets are older than that.

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  2. Ironically enough, WW1 while catastrophe to the world was a miracle for Poland, allowing resurfacing of independent state.
    All 3 partitioning empires crashed down hard, and Poles were left to carve their own state out of ruins.
    11 XI is to this day our Independence Day
    (of course communists who hated interwar Poland banned the holiday for 40 years)

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    1. Excellent point Paweł. WWI brought the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian empires crashing down, the immediate benefit of that being Polish independence. It also saw the birth of new nations in southeastern Europe as well.

      I didn't know that you guys celebrated your independence on the 11th of November, I need to remember that!

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    2. Thanks, Pawel. Far too often we are so focused on the western front of both world wars, we don't get taught/don't learn/don't find out about the eastern front much.

      People these days think national lines are so static. I saw, a while ago, on some website unknown, a 'timelapse' of the borders of Poland from about 1900 to today. Startling that it looks like the whole country was picked up and shifted 100km or more to the west after WWII.

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    3. In 1939 Hitler and Stalin divided Poland. The "shift" to the West is from parts of "Germany" ( which were Polish at one time) being given to Poland. The part of of Poland that Stalin received in 1939, the Soviets kept it. As the Soviets kept one half of East Prussia (the northern part) with the rest going to Poland.

      The territory of Poland has waxed and waned over the centuries, the Polish people remain.

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    4. While Stalins "shifting" Poland westwards was quite shock to all involved, it left Poland quite clear of ethnic minorities which resulted in very stable and cooperative society. Germans were expelled, while Lithuanians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians stayed behind. Added bonus was that newly acquired territory in the West was more industrialized and had much larger seashore... Even a genocidal dictator fixes thing twice a decade :P
      Nowadays Ukrainians again mingle with Poles in a completely unsung by MSM story of immigration that is not islamic nor black/brown, with at least million of Ukrainians working in Poland - and offsetiong Poles own migration westward into larger EU. The core of success is because of cultural similarities making adaptation easier, coupled with entirely voluntary movement by migrants and acceptation by hosts.

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    5. I hadn't thought of that. It did create a more heterogeneous Poland. Great point Paweł!

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  3. As with Nylon12, so with my maternal grandfather. He didn't talk about it much either. Both of my parents were born in the last year of that war. It is nice to read that something good came from that war, as Pawel tells us.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Indeed, I'm glad Paweł told us that.

      My paternal grandfather was a WWI veteran, though he didn't deploy overseas. He was stationed in Panama, guarding the canal I reckon.

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  4. At the WW1 museum in Kansas City they have a plaque that talks about the last day. At 0530 a message went out that said "hostilities will cease at 11.00 a.m., on November 11." The blurb goes on to say that 9 U.S. divisional commanders continued to press the attack and over 300 more American soldiers would die.

    I'd be so pissed to have gotten up to that point, to have the war over but have to keep getting killed up to the last minute.

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    1. The French did the same. They listed the soldiers KIA on the 11th as KIA on the 10th. After the fact they realized that the French people might be a little pissed off about continuing to attack when they knew the war was nearly over.

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  5. I’ve known veterans from both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Gulf.
    The only ones who talk abou those times are the ones who weren’t deployed.
    I served with WWII and Korean vets.
    They said very little, too.
    At most, any of them might tell a humorous story that took place away from combat.

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  6. Surprisingly enough, this is touched on in the movie "Big Red 1" with Lee Marvin (an actual combat vet.) His character killed a German after the 11th hour, which haunted him. So, of course, the same thing happened at the end of WWII...

    War is full of senseless deaths. To die in combat after the end of the war is that much more senseless. Though, considering the occasional find in a field, the senseless deaths from WWI continue to this day.

    Gloomy weather, for gloomy thoughts.

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    1. Supposedly, there were eleven THOUSAND casualties between when the Armistice was agreed to and 11:00 when it took effect.

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    2. Beans, do a search on the Zone Rouge in France. These are areas which are still considered too dangerous for human habitation. Scary stuff, and yes, people are still being killed by munitions left over from World War 1, not to mention all the left over mines in North Africa from WW2. And elsewhere.

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    3. a bear, 2000+ deaths on the 11th alone!

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    4. Every year, in France, they lose a few farmers, when their
      plows but unexploded ordnance.

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    5. And there is the occasional death or dismemberment from Civil War explosives around the main battlefields. Some knucklehead always has to go bash something they shouldn't have.

      Unexploded ordnance is an issue all over the world. Even at Kwaj. There's a wreck that is/was loaded with explosives, no one is/was allowed to dive on or near that wreck. Other wrecks just have the occasional unexploded round...

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    6. Yup, it's a big problem in some areas of the world.

      Damned near anywhere a battle was fought with stuff that goes boom. Not all of it did at the time, doesn't make it safe now!

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  7. I’d wager that while Gunther may have been the last to die *in* combat, he was not the last to die *from* combat. Unless everyone in a hospital with a war wound survived, which is... unlikely.

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    1. Yup. Many died long after the war. Some survived in body, but not in mind.

      Heck, they say Joshua Chamberlain died of his wounds some fifty years after the Civil War, and they were right.

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  8. What the Germans did at the outset was evil but almost inevitable. What they did when they put Lenin on a train back to Russia to foment the Revolution, that was the greatest evil in the history of the world. It's like the ISI in Pakistan turning Afghanistan into an insane country of insane muslims dedicated to the overthrow of the West.

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    1. Damned scary that last bit. But yeah, that's what they're doing. Great "allies," aren't they?

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