An Interesting Letter from World War I

Wandering around the internet recently brought me to Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, where the author's focus is on such things as books that have been lost to us, forgotten kingdoms, things he can't figure out, rogue researchers, weird wars, and so forth. A recent post includes the text of and discusses a newspaper article from 1915 about a German soldier who asked his sister to write to the family of a dead British soldier he found on the battlefield.

A bit of the letter:

Frankfort-on-Maine. It is a very sad matter I am writing you. My brother sent home a letter from the front and begged me to write you. He stands in the west, and it was in his first letter since the hard fights there. My eldest brother was killed last year at Ypres, so that I know how glad we were to hear any details of his death. I think you have already heard that Lawrence B. Merson, whom I believe to be your son, did not come back from the last fight. We were enemies, but pain and mourning are uniting us. So thought my brother, too, for he wrote everything about your son he could find out. I just will translate to you: 
‘We led the way to our position, and found there a dead Highlander, who had a deep wound above the right eye, probably by a thrust of the bayonet. We found the following objects: book of payment, mark of distinction, a small sketch, and an instrument against the gases. The dead Englishman had his gun with the bayonet at (and there were spots blood on it) his right side. He was Highlander, with a kilt and bare knees.’


Tom said...

What strikes me now is that there was a time when we could be mortal enemies and not hate each other.

Grim said...

Soldiers often don't hate the soldiers on the other side. But the walls come down when ordinary people get involved; I know of a story from WWII in which American soldiers handed over some German POWs to French partisans for shipment to a POW camp. When the prisoners never arrived, the partisans were asked about them, and replied: "They all died of the flu."

David Foster said...

In the "all died of flu" case, it probably wasn't just that the French partisans were ordinary people, but also that they had seen close-up the things inflicted on French civilians by the Germans.

Captain Georg von Trapp...yes, the prototype of the Captain, in The Sound of Music...was an Austrian submarine commander in WWI and wrote an interesting memoir. He said that early in the war, he felt no anger toward the enemy (ie, the Allies), but on the contrary felt very sorry for the fellow seamen he killed. But after observing the effect on civilians of the 'hunger blockade', his attitude changed and the war became much more personal.

I reviewed and excerpted the memoir here:

David Foster said...

BTW, there is a *very* good French TV series (with English subtitles) about the impact of the occupation on residents of a particular fictional village.

The leading character is a doctor who also serves in the largely-honorary position of Deputy Mayor. After the regular mayor disappears, he becomes mayor for real.

The series, titled A French Village, ran for 6 seasons on French TV, and deservedly so. I can't recommend it highly enough.