Alle Beiträge von Matteo

„Di queste case non è rimasto che qualche brandello di muro…“

 

The 20th and last episode of Stimmen aus den Schützengräben completes the trilogy dedicated to War Poetry (see episodes #6 and #11).

 

Georg Britting (Wikipedia)
Georg Britting (Wikipedia)

 

The first text was written by German soldier Georg Britting: „Neujahrsnacht im Schützengraben“: http://www.britting.de/gedichte/1-076.html

 

Giuseppe_Ungaretti
Giuseppe Ungaretti (Wikipedia)

 

The second poem is „S. Martino del Carso„, by Giuseppe Ungaretti (see episodes #6 and #11):

„Di queste case,

non è rimasto che

qualche brandello di muro

Di tanti che mi

corrispondevano,

non è rimasto neppure tanto.

Ma nel mio cuore,

nessuna croce manca:

è il mio cuore,

il paese più straziato.“

Portrait of the poet Siegfried Sassoon by Glyn Warren Philpot, 1917 (Wikipedia)
Portrait of the poet Siegfried Sassoon by Glyn Warren Philpot, 1917 (Wikipedia)

We already discussed British War Poets in Stimmen aus den Schützengräben  #11. The third document of this week is one more Sonet by Siegfrieed Sassoon:

Trench Duty

Shaken from sleep, and numbed and scarce awake,
Out in the trench with three hours‘ watch to take,
I blunder through the splashing mirk; and then
Hear the gruff muttering voices of the men
Crouching in cabins candle-chinked with light.
Hark! There’s the big bombardment on our right
Rumbling and bumping; and the dark’s a glare
Of flickering horror in the sectors where
We raid the Boche; men waiting, stiff and chilled,
Or crawling on their bellies through the wire.
„What? Stretcher-bearers wanted? Some one killed?“
Five minutes ago I heard a sniper fire:
Why did he do it?… Starlight overhead–
Blank stars. I’m wide-awake; and some chap’s dead.”

Most of the poems and other documents we presented during this project are against war. It must not be forgotten, however, that the conflict was often supported not only by part of the cultural and political elite, but also by many common citizens.

For some artists and poets, war and violence were an inalienable part of life and therefore of their artistic credo. A perfect exemple to clarify this point is the 9th point of the Futurist Manifesto written by Tommaso Marinetti and published in 1909 on the French newspaper Le Figaro:

„Noi vogliamo glorificare la guerra – sola igiene del mondo – il militarismo, il patriottismo, il gesto distruttore dei libertari, le belle idee per cui si muore e il disprezzo della donna.“

We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas for which to die, and contempt for woman.“.

Among the many examples of poets who used war as poetical imagery  we selected some verses by French soldier Albert-Paul Granier (Guillaume Apollinaire also did it to some extent, see episode #11). Granier became an airborne artillery observed. He was shot down and killed in action over the battlefields of Verdun on 17 August 1917, aged 29.

La guerre est dure comme une tempête,
la guerre est farouche et meurtrière,
comme l’Océan, par les nuits d’équinoxe où les vaisseaux perdus hurlent sur les écueils,
la guerre, soudain calme et dormante,
la guerre folle, sauvage et féroce,
la guerre est belle, dites, les gars,
la guerre est belle comme la mer !…

La tranchée est une vague pétrifiée,
une vague attentive et silencieuse,
bouillonnante et débordante de force.

Et, là-bas, les obus invisibles,
cataractants et foudroyants,
se heurtant aux blockhaus d’acier âpres et durs comme des brisants,
fleurissent en gerbes soudaines,
en hauts bouquets sifflants et fumants,
comme si un fabuleux raz de marée donnait du front sur la falaise.

Et, par-dessus, le ronflement des trajectoires comme le cri unanime de la mer.

Karl Bröger (Wikipedia)
Karl Bröger (Wikipedia)

We closed the episode with a poem written by German Soldier Karl Bröger. This source was kindly made available by the Brenner-Archiv (Universität Innsbruck). It is featured in: “Eberhard Sauermann (Hg.): Schützengrabengedichte. Online-Anthologie. http://www.uibk.ac.at/brenner-archiv/editionen/ged_wk1/schuetz_ged.html.”

-Credits-

Editing: Romana Stücklschweiger, Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser as Georg Britting, David Hubble as Sigfried Sassoon, Matteo Coletta as Giuseppe Ungaretti und Albert-Paul Granier, Matthias Falkinger as Karl Bröger.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

„la nuit, l’on nous emmena dans des ambulances…“

 

The 19th episode of Stimmen aus den Schützengräben is dedicated to wounded soldiers in WWI. It is not easy to determine their exact number, also due to the fact that many were hit more than once during the war. Statistics on casualties usually count about 10 million dead and over 20 million wounded.

Whenever possible first aid was administrated on the front line, and then soldiers were moved behind the lines, where field ospitals had been set (usually adapting buildings such as schools, churches etc.). With a few selected documents we tried to give a first impression on how wounded soldiers were cured and carried.

 

E_(AUS)_714
Australian advanced dressing station during the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917 (Imperial War Museums)

 

The first „guest“ of the week is German Lieutenant Ernst Jünger (1895-1998). In 1920 he published a an account of his experience on the Westfront under the title „In Stahlgewitter“ (Storm of Steel). Jünger was wounded seven times during WWI. For the episode we selected a passage of his book in which he relates his experience in a field hospital. „The field hospital was built in a school near the railway station and hosted over 400 heavily wounded soldiers (…) All the misery of war was concentrated in the big operating theater (…) hither a limb was amputated, thiter a skull was chiseled (…) A Sargeant, who had lost his leg, laid dying in the bed next to mine. In his last hour he awoke in violent shivers and let a nurse read him his favourite chapter of the Bible. Then, with barely audible voice, he asked all the comrades in the room to forgive him, because he had so often disturbed their quiet in his febrile delirium…“.
The full book is available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34099/34099-h/34099-h.htm

 

Austrian operation room of a field hospital in Russia, 28 November 1915 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
Austrian operation room of a field hospital in Russia, 28 November 1915 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

The second document is a passage from the book „Diario di un imboscato“ by Attilio Frescura (see episodes #2 , #3 und #14 ). In an entry dated 20 June 1916 the Italian officer wrote: „All night long the wounded have been brought down from the frontline to Campomezzavia to be taken care of. (…) The wounded soldier is put on a stretcher and carried down for hours, on a mule track where even the mules refuse to go. And the stretcher-bearers slip, stumble, fall down. And the wounded screams, with all his martyrized flesh“. Another passage of the same entry reads as follows: „He tells me that today, among the others, two wounded, one Italian and one Austrian, were taken care of and put one next to the other. The Austrian asked, in his bad Italian: „Brother, thirst…“ And the Italian apologised for not having the canteen with him, and being unable to help. He reassured the Austrian, saying that water would come soon. The new friendship was so devoted that the Austrian somehow wrapped his arms around the Italian, sighing silently. And the Italian left him like that. The Austrian seemed to fall asleep, happy to have found some kindess amid all the fighting. And he embraced that kindess, until death loosened his grip“. The full journal is available at: http://teca.bncf.firenze.sbn.it/ImageViewer/servlet/ImageViewer?idr=BNCF00004006672#page/1/mode/1up

 

Wounded soldiers in an hospital near Strasbourg
Wounded soldiers in an hospital near Strasbourg

 

The third document is an original interview with British sargeant Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1, #3, #7,#8 and #18 ). He recalls the first hours after being wounded on the Western front, when he was carried to a dressing station some miles behind the lines. Ounsworth remembers that there he saw a nurse for the first time, and that he was really embarassed when she had to undress him. The full interview is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462

 

French soldiers carrying wounded comrades in the Argonnes, 1915
French soldiers carrying wounded comrades in the Argonnes, 1915

 

The last document is a passage from the memories of French cavalryman Charles Guilbert (see episode #9). After being wounded, taken prisoner by the Germans and set free by an English patrol Guilbert was taken to an house where other wounded were being taken care of. The building must have been only a few kilometers behind the lines, since an English artillery battery was firing from the courtyard. The house was shaking at every shot. During the night he was brought to an English field hospital set in a school, near Pas-de-Calais. He stayed in the hospital from the 12 until the 15 of October 1914. The full transcription of Guilbert’s memories is available at: http://ppognant.online.fr/G141802.html.

 

-Credits-

Editing: Larissa Schütz, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Matteo Coletta.

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Ernst Jünger,  Matteo Coletta as Attilio Frescura and Charles Guilbert, Leonard J. Ounsworth as himself.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

 

 

„Il y a dans les yeux de cette bête une douleur humaine…“

 

In Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #18 we deal with an often disregarded topic: animals at war. During WWI millions of animals were used for various tasks on all fronts. Horses were not only used by cavalry but also by artillery regiments to pull the heavy artillery pieces. Mules were also used to convey supplies, especially in the mountains. Dogs could have different tasks: sentry, scouting, conveying messages, finding casualties, providing psychological comfort as mascottes. Pigeons were also widely used to convey messages, with an astonishing 95% rate of success. This episode focuses on horses and mules, presenting different aspects of their life and death on the frontline. They were by far the most exploited animals: in 1917 the British Army alone had to buy 15.000 horses a month to mantain the number they needed!

 

Italian prisoners burying horses. 8 November 1917 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
Italian prisoners burying horses. 8 November 1917 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

The first document of the week is a letter by Johann Görtemaker (see episodes  #5, #12, #13#14 and #15) ), written in Flanders on the 12 August 1917. The German soldier tells to his parents: „in our previous positions we also had artillery barrages, but it has never been such a Hell as here. The Somme was surely not worse“. In that barren land full of mud and holes, artillery batteries had to be moved quite often to avoid counter-battery fire. Sometimes guns, men and animals would get stuck in the mud. „suddenly I fell with my horse, which sunk belly-deep into the mud. Hopefully the bavarian gunners finally managed to pull me from under the horse“. In such conditions,  animals were sometimes enduring more than men: „Horses suffer the most, because they must remain for hours in one spot and they only get a small amount of fodder“. A transcription of the Görtemaker’s letters is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462

 

Dogs at work, Austrian Army. (Österreichsische Nationalbibliothek)
Dogs at work, Austrian Army. (Österreichsische Nationalbibliothek)

 

The second document is a passage from an interview with British Sgt Leonard J. Ounsworth (see episodes #1, #3, #7 and #8).  As a soldier enlisted in an artillery regiment he was always in contact with horses, and he says the training of animals was even more important than that of men. When a cannon had to be moved teamwork between men and horses was crucial, because only with a well-coordinated effort it was possible (for exemple) to pull a gun out of the mud. The full interview  can be downloaded at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/document/9404?REC=1

 

French soldiers pulling mules (gallica.fr)
French soldiers pulling mules (gallica.fr)

 

The third „guest“ of the week is Italian Lieutenant Paolo Caccia Dominioni (see episode #15). We selected two interesting passages from his diary. The first is from an entry dated 20 September 1917. The officer mentions the presence of a dead mule exactly in the middle between two batteries, that stinks horribly because nobody wanted to bury it. The two gun crews are insulting each other while stating it is not their duty to bury the animal. During WWI, dead mules and horses were often part of the landscape. The second passage is taken from the entry dated 21 September 1917. Some mules got sick and died after being fed only rice (see episode #15), and Caccia Dominioni got into some trouble with the army. His comments are very sarcastic: when a men died, nothing happened, but for mules enquiries would be started and the whole bureaucracy would be involved. The war journal of Paolo Caccia Dominioni has been published under the title: „1915-1919. Diario di guerra

 

Kranke Pferde
Sick horse in Gorizia, 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

The last „guest“ of the week is French soldier Paul Lintier. He was enlisted in an artillery regiment and fought from 1914 until 15 March 1916, when he was killed in action. He wrote a book of memories („Ma pièce, souvenirs d’un canonnier„) that was first published as feuilleton by the newspaper L’Humanité in spring 1916. The first passage depicts a sick horse, so emaciated that „one wonders, how the bones of his hips aren’t piercing his skin„. The second one tells of a wounded horse that had to be killed by the author with a shot in the head („there is human suffering in the eyes of this beast„). The full book can be read at: https://archive.org/details/avecunebatterie00lint

 

-Credits-

Editing: Romana Stücklschweiger, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Matteo Coletta.

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser as Johannes Görtemaker,  Matteo Coletta as Paolo Caccia Dominioni  and Paul Lintier, Leonard J. Ounsworth as himself.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

 

 

„La nostra linea era a nove metri dal nemico…“

 

Stimmen of the Schützengraben #17 deals once more with the Alpine front (see episode #10).  In the first half of the show we try to give a general impression of war in the mountains while the second half is dedicated to specific episodes and situations.

 

Austrian soldiers on the Ortler, September 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)
Austrian soldiers on the Ortler, September 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

We begin with Fritz Weber (see episode #16), an Austrian Lieutenant who witnessed the war against Italy from the very first days (he was at Fort Verle when it was heavily bombed by Italian artillery in may 1915) to the very end, fighting on different scenarios such as Monte Cimone (see episode #16) and the Alpine front, but also taking part in several battles on the Isonzo front (see episodes #13, #12, #11, #5, #4, #1)). At Fort Verle Weber became friends with Luis Trenker, with whom he wrote several books related with the war on the Alps. Trenkler also directed a film on this topic, released in 1931 with the title „Bergen in Flammen“, here with Italian subtitles:

 

 

The Source of this document is the book „Der Alpenkrieg“, also published with the titles „Das Ende einer Armee“ and „Das Ende der alte Armee“ (for more details about the editions of this book see episode #16).  The selected passage belongs to the first part of the book, „Granaten und Lawinen“. At pages 82-83 the author gives an impression of what the war in the Alps looked like: avalanches, cold, deadly nature. But also enemies that could dig silent galleries under fresh snow, spring all of a sudden out of the ground, kill and capture in the twinkling of an eye. They would then vanish in the snow, before any help could come. These pages are related to the winter 1916-1917 on Mount Pasubio.

 

Italian Alpini in 1915 (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)
Italian Alpini in 1915 (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

 

The second document of the week is a passage from the book „Un anno sul Pasubio“, by Italian officer Michele Campana. He was assigned to the infantry brigade „Liguria„, which defended a very difficult position from July to November 1916. In some sectors there were only 9 meters between Italian and Austrian lines, with only one barbed wire fence in the middle. The stress was extremely high and the soldiers had to lay on the ground most of the times, with their rifle and hand grenades ready for use.

 

Austrian sniper, 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
Austrian sniper, 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

Austrian snipers were one of the biggest dangers, because they rarely missed their shot. Most of them were used to hunting big game before the war and already had a great experience with scoped rifles. Moreover, the adoption of explosive rounds by the Austro-Hungarian Army is well documented, although their use was forbidden against human targets by the Saint Petersburg Declaration of 1868. Their shots, usually aimed at the head, were extremely deadly.

In his book, Campana recalls a conversation with one of these snipers. The man came from Tirol and had been taken prisoner, but still carried with pride the case of a rifle scope.

Curiosity: the Italian word for „sniper“ is „cecchino„. During WWI Italian soldiers often referred to the enemy as „Cecco Beppe„, short form of „Francesco Giuseppe“ (Fanz Josef, the Austrian Kaiser). „Cecchino“ is a further diminutive of „Cecco Beppe“. It is not possible to say who started using this ironical nickname to identify the invisible threat, but it became so popular that  it is still part of the common language. Using a common man’s name for the enemy is a well documented practice: British soldiers were called „Tommys“ by the Germans, who in return were called „Fritz“ by the British. Similar nicknames were used during WWII, and during the Vietnam War American troops referred to the Vietcong as „Charlie“.

 

Austrian soldier on the Ortler, September 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)
Austrian soldier on the Ortler, September 1916 (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

 

The third document is an extract from the war journal of Thomas Bergner (see episode #10). The was written on the  24 July 1915 in the Soča valley, and it shows how hard the life on the mountains was, even in summer. the weather was windy and rainy, very cold, and the only source of drinkable water was the snow in the fissures between rocks, that soldiers had to fetch risking their lives. A transcription of the diaries and letters of Thomas Bergner is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/contributions/13071.

 

Italian Alpini during WWI (www.nondimenticare.com)
Italian Alpini during WWI (www.nondimenticare.com)

 

The last document of this episode is a short passage taken from the memories of Italian soldier Giacomo Pesenti (see episode #10). He once was on watch duty with two other soldiers on a ridge of the Königsspitze (Gran Zebrù), on the border between Sud Tirol and Lombardy. They wanted to shoot against the Austrian trench to let them know they were awake and alert, but as soon as they pulled the trigger they were struck by lightning. Pesenti says the weather was not stormy, and there was only one single black cloud above them. He was thrown against a wooden balk and hit his head, but one of his comrades was less lucky, and was seriously injured. Pesenti informed his headquarters and unplugged the telephone to avoid attracting more lightning.
The short extract comes from the book “La Grande Guerra in Lombardia”, by Giuseppe Magrin.

-Credits-

Editing: Eva Schmidhuber, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Matteo Coletta.

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Fritz Weber,  Matteo Coletta as Michele Campana  and Giacomo Pesenti, Roman Reischl as Thomas Bergner.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

 

„Ehe der Italiener um Hilfe schreien kann, packen ihn nervige Fäuste…“

 

In Stimmen aus den Schützengraben #16 we deal once again with prisoners of war (see episode #9). The first aspect discussed in this episode is the prisoner as a source of information. Prisoners were often interrogated to obtain useful intelligence not only on the strenght and number of the enemy, but also on the names and origins of their regiments (e.g. : usually Prussian regiments were more agressive than Bavarian regiments). Sometimes, when it wasn’t possible to capture men in battle or to rely on desertors, the order was given to find an enemy soldier and bring him to the headquarters. It was of course a very difficult and dangerous task.

 

Fritz Weber during the war (Wikipedia)
Fritz Weber during the war (Wikipedia)

The first document of the week is an extract from the memories of Fritz Weber, an Austrian Lieutenant. These events took place in 1916 on Monte Cimone, a mountain on the Alpine front (see episode #10). The Austrian headquarters were planning an assault to retake the summit, but they needed to know the strenght of the Italian defence. It was necessary to capture an enemy soldier and question him, and the task was carried on by two volunteers of the 59th Infantry Regiment „Erzherzog Rainer, made up of conscripts from the regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria.

The action was quick and well organised: one night the Italians were distracted with intense rifle fire and hand grenades while the two volunteers sneaked in no man’s land. They shoved a bangalore torpedo under the barbed wire and immediately broke into the gap, grabbed an Italian soldier out of his trench and carried him away so quickly, that he hadn’t time to shout for help.

The selected passage is at cap.6 of the book „Granaten und Lawinen„, first part of Fritz Weber’s memories. It was published together with other three parts in 1933 and 1938 with the title „Das Ende einer Armee“, then republished in 1959 with the title „Das Ende der alten Armee„.

The early involvement of Weber with the NSDAP might explain why his works are extremely hard to find in Austria, not only in book stores but also in the libraries. Despite the fact that Fritz Weber later moved to Salzburg (1962), there is no record of his many books and novels in the Stadtbibliothek Salzburg. For this episode of Stimmen aus den Schützengräben we relied on a (rare) 1996 edition published by the Österreichischer Milizverlag under the title „Der Alpenkrieg„.

In Italy Fritz Weber is mentioned in most anthologies, bibliographies and websites related to WWI and especially to the Italian front. His many books of war memories have been translated, published and republished by Mursia.

German prisoners on the Western front, 31 March 1918
German prisoners on the Western front, 31 March 1918

 

The second document of this week is an original recording of Captain Howard B. Ward (see episodes #2, #14 and #15). He mostly talks about British generals and other high-ranking officers, stating how much they were hated by their soldiers, because of the orders they gave („we had two enemies: one was the Germans, and the second one our own generals„). A visit of those officers in the trenches was always a bad omen. They usually ordered costly and uneffective assaults, but sometimes they also asked the men to „go out“ and try to capture a German to interrogate him. These prisoners were well treated, and they were usually offered a cigarette or sometimes a drop of rum as soon as they arrived to the British lines. The full The full tape is available at: http://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/2020601/attachments_66347_4980_66347_original_66347_mp3.html?

 

tedeschi prigionieri vimy ridge 1917
German prisoners helping Canadian soldiers near Vimy Ridge (http://collectionscanada.gc.ca)

 

The third document of the week is an extract from the memories of French soldier Jean Démariaux. He was captured at the end of may 1918 and sent to a prison camp in Ramecourt, in northeastern France. The hardest part of the detention was the lack of proper food to sustain the men during the forced labour. In 1918 the Central Powers were already starving (see episode #15), and the prisoners were mostly fed with soups and a bad-quality bread, in which the flour was partially replaced by sawdust and potatoes. Démariaux relates that the prisoners were used to carry artillery shells or build roads and railroads. A transcription of his memories is available at the URL: http://forezhistoire.free.fr/jean-demariaux.html.

 

German prisoners helping Canadian soldiers near Vimy Ridge (http://collectionscanada.gc.ca)
German prisoners helping Canadian soldiers near Vimy Ridge (http://collectionscanada.gc.ca)

 

The last document is an extract of a letter written by an Italian soldier of which we only know the first name (Ernesto). In the letter, written from the prison camp of Theresienstadt on the 24th of October 1915, Ernesto relates to his brother the reasons and circumstances of his desertion. He was fed-up with the war, and he casually met two other soldiers who also wanted to  escape. One night they walked towards the first lines with their full equipment, pretending that  they were on duty. They sneaked into no man’s land and crawled until they came in sight of the enemy lines. When daylight came they hoisted a white flag and surrendered.

After the war the Italian prisoners were released by Austria and sent to Italy, but most of them couldn’t go home immediately. Thousands of them were held for weeks in concentration camps near Reggio Emilia, waiting to be interrogated. Trials were started to establish wether the soldiers were captured or they deserted. In the summer of 1919 there were still 60.000 soldiers serving jail time. On the 2nd of September the government granted amnesty to 40.000 of them, i.e. those who committed minor felonies. The rest was „forgotten“, and only in recent years some researches have been done to cast some light on their obscure fate.

 

-Credits-

Editing: Romana Stücklschweiger, Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Romana Stücklschweiger.

Voices in this episode: Norbert K. Hund as Fritz Weber,  Matteo Coletta as Jean Démariaux  and Ernesto, Howard B. Ward as himself.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hannes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

 

„Die Lebensmittel immer knapper werden…“

 

What did the soldiers eat during WWI? The answer can vary a lot depending on time, place and the army in which the men were enlisted. In Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #15 we try to give a first impression on this topic with some original documents relating to the year 1917.

The first witness of the week is Captain Howard B. Ward, of the British army (see episodes #2 and #14). In an original recording he explains what British soldiers ate in 1917 on the western front and how the food was brought to the first line. The field kitchen was situated about 50 yards behind the line, and the cooks prepared the same meal more or less everyday: meat, potatoes, sometimes potatoes and cabbages, bread and margarine, sugar, bacon and cheese. Soldiers lived and ate by night, and „everything happened by night“; the day was mostly spent sleeping. Each soldier had a mess tin in which the stew was poured. By day the soldiers could only eat some bread with cheese or bacon, but Howard states that the food was overall „not too bad“. The full recording is available at: http://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/2020601/attachments_66347_4980_66347_original_66347_mp3.html

 

 British soldiers eating hot rations in the Ancre Valley during the Battle of the Somme, October 1916

British soldiers eating hot rations in the Ancre Valley during the Battle of the Somme, October 1916 (Imperial War Museums)

 

The second witness of the week is German soldier Johann Görtemaker (see episodes #5, #12, #13 and #14). On the 1st of April 1917 he wrote a letter to his parents from Belgium, in which he describes the food ration of a German soldier on the western front: a hot lunch everyday, and every two days a 3 pound bread (about 1,4 Kg), butter and marmalade. Görtemaker writes: „even if it’s definitely not much, it’s still enough“. The letter provides additional information on food shortages among the civilians: „the fact that the food becomes scarcer and scarcer is maybe the saddest thing in this war. As a soldier, one does not notice it…“. Food was saved for the soldiers on the front line, and eventually the Central Powers run out of supplies. Towards the end of the war, both soldiers and civilians were literally starving. The lack of flour was compensated by adding sawdust and straw to the bread, and the broth was less and less nourishing. The lack of hygiene and poor storage conditions were also lessening the food’s quality. The full transcription of Johann Görtemaker’s letters is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462

 

 

Austrian Soldiers having lunch on the Marmolada. 24 September 1917 (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)
Austrian Soldiers having lunch on the Marmolada. 24 September 1917 (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)

 

The last witness of the week is Italian Lieutenant Paolo Caccia Dominioni, who wrote a war diary later published under the title: „1915-1919. Diario di guerra„. The entry dated 20th of September 1917 provides us with interesting information on the organisation of the Italian army and the food on the Karst Plateau front. The soldiers were given every day a disgusting broth with rice, and they started protesting. After being cooked, the rice was carried on muleback for two hours and when it reached the trenches it looked like a disgusting white jelly. Caccia Dominioni sent an order to the kitchens asking to prepare the broth without the rice, and thus managed to appease the soldiers. The rice, however, was still a problem. The Army was bound by a contract and it was not possible to terminate it. The bags were piling up in the warehouse, and there was no way of getting rid of them. Caccia Dominioni tried to ask permission to sell the rice to the civilians, and use the money to buy better food for the troop. He was harshly rebuked by his commanding officer, and told it was against all rules of the Army. He was then suggested to use the rice to feed some mules, which he did, and for a while everybody was happy. However, Caccia Dominioni reports in the following entry of his journal that the mules, only fed with rice, got sick and died.

 

-Credits-

Editing: Larissa Schütz , Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Matteo Coletta

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser als Johann Görtemaker, Matteo Coletta as Paolo Caccia Dominioni, Howard B. Ward as himself.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hanes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.

„Über dem Krieg darf ich nicht mehr schreiben…“

 

In Stimmen aus den Schützengräben #14 we introduce a very important theme: postal censorship. Huge and costly efforts were made by the belligerents to keep the morale high, both on the frontline and in the homeland (see episode #4). Mail was one of the few comforts a soldier could have on the frontline, and often the most cherished. Letters, however, could also convey classified information or undermine the moral on the homefront. For that reason, post censorship occurred in many of the countries involved in the war.

The first document of this week is an original interview with Captain Howard B. Ward (see episode #2), recorded in 1982. In the selected passage, Howard explains how the letters written by British soldiers on the Western Front were censored. Every letter had to be checked by an officer to ensure it didn’t contain classified information, such as the position of the soldier. After reading the letter, the officer would seal it and sign the envelope. Only officers were granted a special priviledge: their letters were sent to a post office behind the lines, where only a small number was randomly opened and checked. The officers had to give their word that their letters didn’t contain any classified information, and if they were found guilty they would be court-martialled.
The full interview is available at: www.europeana.eu/portal/record/2020601/attachments_66347_4980_66347_original_66347_mp3.html

 

Censored Italian letter (www.liceograsso.it)
Censored Italian letter (www.liceograssi.it)

 

The second document of the week is a short letter from German soldier Johann Görtemaker (see episodes #5, #12 and #13), dated 4th of May 1917. He doesn’t explicitly mention the censorship but writes: „I am not allowed to write about the war anymore“. Soldiers were well aware of postal censorship, and most of the time they would write very simple letters to make sure they would reach the families. Censorship, however was not always effective at discouraging the soldiers or destroying confidential information. Many letters managed to slip through the net, and they are today a vivid testimony of those tragic times.
Görtemaker correspondence is available at: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/de/contributions/462

 

Notice of the Austro-Hungarian Military Censorship (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)
Announcement  of the Austro-Hungarian Military Censorship (Österreichische Nationalbibliotek)

 

The third document of this week is a passage of a letter written by French soldier Henri Bouvard on the 3rd of December 1917. He urges his wife not to write about war in her letters, to make sure they reach him. The censorship examined both incoming and outgoing mail. In the best-case scenario, the unauthorised parts were covered with black or purple ink. Often, however, the whole letter was destroyed.
The rules were very strict, and applied not only to military information but also on feelings and impressions of the war. In many cases censorship rejected passages in which soldiers related the horrors of war, because they would endanger the propaganda. The morale of the civilians was as important as the morale of the troops, for several reasons. Civilians not only encouraged and their relatives and friends on the frontline, but also supported the state economy subscribing to war bonds. This could only be possible if they believed in a quick victory.

Henri Bouvard’s letter is reproduced in „Paroles de poilus : lettres et carnets du front 1914 -1918“ by J.P. Guéno, page 92.

The last document of this week is a passage from Attilio Frescura’s „Diario di un imboscato“(see episodes #2 and #3 ). In may 1917 he was assigned for a few day to censorship duty. In the letters he found many funny mistakes and weird expressions which he copied in his journal. He also witnessed all the vile practices of human soul, and could unmask through the lines the lies and infidelity of wives and husbands. Frescura’s war journal is available at: teca.bncf.firenze.sbn.it/ImageViewer/servlet/ImageViewer?idr=BNCF00004006672#page/75/mode/1up

 

-Credits-

Editing: Larissa Schütz , Matteo Coletta.
Commentary: Romana Stücklschweiger

Voices in this episode: Hannes Hochwasser als Johann Görtemaker, Matteo Coletta as Attilio Frescura, Howard B. Ward as himself.

Jingle:

Music: Gregoire Lourme, “Fire arrows and shields
Concept: Matteo Coletta
Voices: Hanes Hochwasser, Matteo Coletta, Roman Reischl, L.J. Ounsworth, Norbert K. Hund.