The digging of Graeben cost something in the First World War
Paul Diekmann - Field Post Letters from the First World War - Part IV (October to December 1916)
This entry comes from Gertrud Mohr, Cord Diekmann and Christel Lohmann ([email protected]), Paul Diekmann's grandchildren, June 2008:
Field post letter, October 18, 1916
In the Bismarck tunnel at Ancretal, October 18, 1916
B 6, Thursdays, afternoons. 5 o'clock.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
I am now happy again in the beautiful Bismarck tunnel. One day is over again. The 14 days will fly by quite quickly again. That is, if there are not again such insane attacks as we had to observe them here in the Bismarck tunnel over the last 14 days.
We're not being shot at here any more or less than at the front. But it feels good not to have to bear the primary responsibility. In this respect, the 14 days will hopefully mean a recovery! And when they are over, October is also over and thus the time that was actually intended for this position. There is talk of detachment also for this time. I don't believe in it, and we all hardly want it. Nobody knows what will follow.
Now we had heavy rain last night. But that doesn't seem to matter to the Englishman. The artillery is firing more than usual. My beautiful trench got it yesterday evening. He looked bad when he said goodbye. I wanted to go through one more time, had looked at a shot-down shelter in which, as if by a miracle, no one had been injured, and then had to turn back. A grenade had two English corpses that had died on September 3rd. still originated and buried close to the ditch, lifted up again and thrown exactly in the middle of our ditch. My nerves couldn't withstand the smell. Two good paramedics took them away anyway. When will such poor unhappy corpses finally find their final resting place? Not even when there is peace. You have to level the trenches again later. Will they then collect the bones? Doesn't one become hard and jaded? Far too much to forget and despise all true humanity? In any case, one will then no longer be able to distinguish between friend and foe. The bones tell nothing about it.
Last night dinner tasted good again. My boy had cooked again, and he understands. To celebrate the day there was even pudding with preserved strawberries. The pudding was made from condensed milk and pudding powder. Of course, it tasted accordingly. But at least it was pudding again! A few days ago there was even apple puree. Ltn. Reinecke had got me a sack of apples. Raw not to be enjoyed. But the apple mash was all the more beautiful. But the best thing is my good appetite. I haven't gotten as fat as I used to be. But my health is excellent, and that is the main thing. I hardly know colds. And when they come, they'll be gone again overnight. For the 6 long weeks I had two handkerchiefs. They are seldom washed and were more than enough. My rheumatism only stirs from time to time and is bearable.
So you don't need to worry too much, I.L! When things get quieter, I can hold out another winter if I have to. If only we don't get to areas that are too wet! Now that we are inside in winter, so to speak, no one doubts the winter campaigns any more. Sad but true!
There was only one letter from Siekmann yesterday evening. You can be happy about that. And if I should come home happy, we'd all the better hang out with the Siekmanns, wouldn't we, Liesi? But now I hear you praising your fresh, good looks so generally, Liesi, that I have to believe in it! It is of course up to you to keep it that way. I don't want to remind or ask. But I firmly trust in your insight.
Hopefully I'll find time to write again tomorrow! I even hope to be able to read good books again. - God commanded my faithful love! Greetings and kiss my two dearest boys, but above all, I greet you and kiss you from the bottom of my heart
Your faithfully loving Paul.
Field post letter, October 29, 1916
In the Bismarck tunnel B 6, October 29, 1916
on Sunday morning at 3/4 8 o'clock.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
It's Sunday and it hardly gets light. The usual artillery shooting seems to have ended. Now only a few shots are fired. My thoughts have long been with you in the dear home, and today, God willing, they will stop there frequently. There is no lack of time and leisure. If one remains in position for so long, then gradually such a steady, regular service develops that the daily work is done quickly. And what I had to do myself in the past, my clerk now does everything except for the signature. I find a lot of time to read and have made the most of the opportunity. And yet this life is not entirely satisfactory. Rest time and celebration hours must be a rare pleasure, must be like oases in the desert. Then they refresh and are a pleasure and appear to us as a gift from heaven. Work is and remains a blessing, and the God who punished those expelled from paradise punished as a loving father should always punish and yet a god can only punish when he said: In the sweat of your brow you should eat your bread. Some people look gloomy into the future, think about taxes and high prices after the war and quietly fear the restrictions and the hard work. Yet all of this is probably the only real blessing of the war.
I am already looking forward to all the work that awaits me! But how nice should the celebrations be. They will come no less often than before. On the contrary. Basically, every hour of work on our children will be a celebration and relaxation at the same time. I hope so to god. If only these hours were there! - But doesn't everything still seem infinitely distant today? More almost than ever. Our successes before Verdun are taken away from us with a light hand, almost playfully. Has the German strength slackened? The enemies will believe it, the neutrals will be announced cheerfully. The hearts of us fighters here on the Somme stood still for whole moments. We couldn't believe what first got through here as a rumor. And yesterday I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the army report. 'Did you turn angrily against us?' this is how you ask your god. And in ardent anguish of the heart I pleaded more fervently than usual to the Lord of Hosts. Don't forget to pray at home either! Only one person can still help in the sad, deep need of the poor fatherland. Everyone should see that. - Are you going to church, Liesi? It is now 10 o'clock. The hours fly. Only two more days and we'll be back in front. It's good that moonshine is coming. The nights are terribly dark now. Even today it seems to remain cloudy and rainy. Should one wish this weather? The French have taken Fort Douaumont from us under cover of the fog.
I didn't get any mail from you last night. From the 26./10. In the event of an unsuccessful post, at least the letters were found again. All packages have of course been stolen. Yesterday evening Gustav sent me a package with apples and nuts. The dear fellow actually thinks of me the most. Rudolf now also writes more often. He'll be in the dairy for a few days. So I can hardly answer him. He doesn't seem to like it in Düsseldorf.
Actually, I ought to go through the position again. But since it is raining a lot, I'll wait for it. Yesterday evening I got eight replacements. Healthy people. Lately we have had very few losses, thank God. God grant it stays that way!
With warmest Sunday greetings and hot kisses for you and our darlings and with faithful 'God commanded' I am and I will stay
Your loving Paul.
Field post letter, October 31, 1916
In the Bismarck tunnel on the Ancrebach, B 6
on Tuesday, d. October 31, 1916, 10 a.m.
My beloved little Helmut!
You are two years old now. And barely 5 weeks out of the 104 of your young life, your father was able to look forward to your sight. But thank God that wasn’t the only joy! Your dear little mother has painted your dear picture for me so often and so well in dear letters that I have always seen my youngest grow and develop. Beautiful photographs have often helped me to complete the dear picture that I carry of you in my heart. So you have covered a good part of your life path without your father and you may have to hike another part without me. Who can look into the future! Who will tell you and me whether we can meet again!
But we don't want to worry and we don't want to be afraid. Right now, when I sometimes see no way out of all the grave misery of the fatherland, where no hopeful ray of light wants to illuminate all the darkness around us, our dear, good mother writes to me that she feels strong and healthy. If God's goodness receives you, Helmut, the best of all mothers, then I am not afraid for you and for your and your brother's future.
Paulchen got a diary soon after he was born. I gladly and often recorded its growth and becoming in it. You don't have such a book. It was war. But when your mother or, during the few weeks of vacation, your father has completed the book, then we are never just talking about our eldest, but also about you, the dearly beloved youngest. So the book belongs to both of you. I know you'd like to come to an agreement later. And if your brother as the oldest has it in custody: leaf through it quite often together! You will love one another as your parents love you, one like the other. - Mutti will put the sheet in your diary.
Two years, Helmut! Long time! And yet how did they fly! And how has God's goodness reigned over you! Your health has given us little concern. But we have been able to enjoy your spiritual and physical growth. May the faithful God keep it that way! I would like to endure the hard breakup even longer, if I can take you back in my arms safely, Helmut, you and your brother Paul. How lucky it was for me when I was allowed to enjoy your laughing presence! And if the time was always so short! You are worry breakers for us. Your happy children's laughter, your harmless questions and your childish chatter have often given the dear, good mother to other, easier and happy thoughts. May the faithful God graciously grant that both of you may continue to be our consolation and joy!
The more gloomy the present appears, the more anxious we look to Germany's future, the more you both are our hope. I have the firm confidence that you will not ruin our hopes. So far I have been able to do so little for you, especially for you, my dear boy. What I did, I did for everyone at home, for the dear fatherland. But never forget what your faithful mother did for you! Done in spite of the fact that it was often difficult enough for her! And now with God into the new year of life, my dear boy! He will continue to protect and shield you fatherly! I am and will remain true to you
Field post letter, November 7, 1916
In the trenches on the Ancrebach
B. 6, U. 29, Tuesday, November 7, 1916, 3 p.m.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
I’m like you. Then there’s no mail for two days, and then several letters come in at once. Two came last night. From Thursday and Friday. The latter even only stamped on the 4th. So I don’t need to hope for tonight. Father wrote too. Just after I was still amazed in your letter from yesterday that I had no news from Waddenhausen for so long. - Father's letter was also from Friday. He seems to have been very happy about October 8th. You, m. L., certainly didn't have enough time back then. Otherwise you would have written something about the two boy boys too.
In the letter from Thursday you mean that you do not want to get completely used to the air. I wrote about it a few days ago and please again, Liesi: Go outside as often and as long as possible! I already wrote that I have had a little more fresh autumn air in the last few days. She got me very well, too. But this morning I was outside despite the bad rainy weather. But the rain is badly in my bones again. The rheumatism in the right leg is stirring again. For a few days I barely felt it, thank God. In any case, I have to massage again today and I was so glad that I was rid of the pain.
Now the real winter rain seems to have set in. After the storms of the past few days, it was to be expected. If only that would stop the stupid artillery shooting! But that's even better today than yesterday. Our trenches will look nice there soon! - Last night there was a horribly beautiful spectacle like I have never seen before. I had just gone to bed when my guards upstairs at the dugout shouted that Albert was in a huge fire. The sky was then blood-red to the south-east of Albert, and every few minutes bundles of flames flew up to the clouds. No doubt: these were huge explosions. And soon I saw how shrapnel was bursting high up at the highest heights. They shot at planes. Headlights scanned the sky. But in vain. Our brave pilots have come home high above the clouds. Hopefully everyone! Their bombs apparently set huge British ammunition dumps on fire. From a distance of 20 km, the thuds came dull to our ears, and the air pressure extinguished our lamps. That must have been terrible. Columns of steam are still rising there. - Just tell our boy that his excuses are not valid. He had to write again. The little Christ Child wants to come soon. That he loves Grandmother more than you is understandable. But not bad either. - When is mother's birthday? - Now half the time up here is up again. The days have probably never flown faster for me. - I am and stay with warmest greetings and hot kisses for you and boy and Helmut and with faithful "God commanded" your loving one
Field post letter, November 11, 1916
In the trenches at Ancrebach, November 11, 1916
B 6, U 29, on Saturday evening at 1/26 o'clock.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
You are preparing for the holiday. It doesn't seem like Sunday should be a day of rest here. The heaviest fire has been on our trenches again since noon today. We hadn't known it like that for a long time, and we had actually all familiarized ourselves with the idea that the offensive was finally over. That does not seem so by any means. Yesterday morning it started again with a terrible 3/4 hour barrage. Then there was some rest until the afternoon. But then it went on all night and ended with the huge barrage this morning. That means only to be able to start again even better immediately after noon. To our right, however, it's much worse. Otherwise at least every evening at this time it was over, and people could get food. Should it be different today? That would be a bad sign, however.
From the army reports of the last few days I see that the battle is still raging on the Somme and at Verdun and that the French in particular are gaining more and more advantages. Of course, the English are not allowed to remain inactive, even if they might like to. It is and remains a mystery to us where the infinite amount of ammunition comes from! Millions of values fly up and behind our position during the day. It's terrible. It was foggy all day. Airmen were only there this morning. Apparently one of my trench guards took one down with a rifle. He landed close behind the English line and disappeared there in the fog.
The rumors of peace persist. A 10- or 12-day armistice is said to have been reached with Russia. "I can hear the message, but I lack faith," says Goethe in Faust. And this message is really too good to be believed. But with God nothing is impossible. We want to call to him in all our need, to hold on to him at all times!
It's about 6 o'clock. I come from above. There is a fog in the air, impenetrably thick. It is already falling down in faint drops. We had a full moon, and now the real winter rain will begin. If only an attack doesn’t start in such invisible weather! The storming troops can only be seen close to the trench when it's too late, and the signals from red flares that are supposed to call our artillery for help are not seen and are shot in vain. If the barrage does not set in, the enemy can penetrate in such masses that defense is scarcely an option. On the other hand, the enemy artillery doesn't know what's going on either.In any case, it is a difficult task for our trench guards to stare into the impenetrable gray - for hours. And that for 10 weeks now, day after day, night after night! What our good people do, only we know! And when I walk through the ditch and speak to them: They are never dissatisfied and grumpy. How much I love people for that! How it hurts me when someone is badly wounded and approaching certain death! And it will be infinitely difficult for me to have to tell my father or mother at home in distant Poland or elsewhere in my dear fatherland the death of my good son. But I always do it myself.
Now it's finally got a little quieter. The cookware is already rattling outside. And in the side tunnel, where my patrol group is, it sings and sounds. I stand in dark midnight - golden German disposition! - Letter and newspaper from Monday and Tuesday came last night. Thank you very much, dear! My letters are arriving a little faster now! The attack you wrote about was not north but east of the Ancre. So on the other bank. Many thanks to dear Helmut for his lovely writing! Buy him something nice to thank you for!
Did the boy play with Hans? Does he like to join in with others?
Greet and kiss him too! And thus commanded the faithful God!
He wants to shield and protect us all! With true greetings and kisses
Your grateful Paul.
Field post letter, November 15, 1916
Bucquoy, Nov. 15. 1916
Wednesday morning 1/2 11 a.m.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
I live and I am not trapped. The day before yesterday was the unfortunate battle! The whole regimental section was lost at once. Only 9th and 10th companies held everything.
But we were locked in. I fought my way back at dusk to get reinforcements. There was no such thing, and so the next day my whole company was also taken prisoner. I cannot enjoy my freedom. I should have stayed where I was. Then I was with my good people. Now I have arrived here with my 4 orderlies tonight.
Your unfortunate Paul.
Field post letter, November 17, 1916
Courcelles, November 17, 1916
on Friday morning 1/2 10 a.m.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
Since the post is about to leave, there are only a few lines today. I can hardly summarize my thoughts either. The nerves are too badly worn. I don't sleep enough at night. All the gruesome battle scenes stand before my eyes, and over and over again I ask myself whether I shouldn't have gone back through at the moment when I saw that no troops were available to help my two poor companies across the English lines to my good people to die with or to be captured. I struggled with my God in prayer and find no right or wrong, with all the weakness of the body, that affects mental health. - Yesterday I was with the division commander of the 38th Inf. Division in Vaulx to be the only officer to report on the attack in front. Everything is so obscure, so inexplicable. Such a catastrophe could only come with the fog.
I am with heart. Greetings and kisses in the most loyal love
Field post letter, November 21, 1916
Thiant near Valenciennes, Northern France,
Tuesday, November 21, 1916, afternoon 1/2 5 a.m.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
Since we are moving again tomorrow morning, I would rather write a little more quickly today, as I will hardly find time tomorrow. And you must finally find out more. In the previous days, I was simply unable to write. My nerves failed completely and I still barely get any sleep at night. Thoughts chase each other, and dreams scare me out of every half-slumber. I often think that the lust for life will never come back to me. I'd rather be dead or imprisoned then. Then I would be with my good people who lost their lives on the bloody 13th or who were captured on the 14th. And only one thought keeps me going: that I can benefit my fatherland here through faithful work on the new people who will soon form my company. To bring you back to where the company was previously, that is a lofty, beautiful goal. I don't want to and shouldn't think about vacation for the time being. And the work, which is endless, will hopefully be a blessing when God is with me!
How we had all been looking forward to the well-deserved rest, how beautiful Christmas should be for our good people! And now everything has turned out so very differently! I can't think about that anymore. The image of the dead still stands before my eyes. Of course they were the best. I can still hear the seriously wounded whimper and moan, I still see burning English corpses lying in front of the ditch - I will never get rid of the pictures again in my life.
How was it actually? I had to reflect for a long time before some clarity came back into my consciousness. On Sunday, November 12th I wrote to you on the evening and also to Bubi and Helmut and Lieschen. The English are sure to have got their hands on the post. Shortly before writing, I was still through the ditch. A heavy grenade bursting close in front of me tore large stones loose and hurled one the size of a brick against my steel helmet. That alone saved my life. In my letter to you I warmly thanked my God. During the night the artillery fire exceeded everything that had been seen before. Gas grenades had poisoned the air. Behind the Bismarck tunnel, many had collapsed sick. We felt the gas less in front. Thank God I only lost one dead and one wounded man during the night. Then came the unlucky day, Monday! November 13th! At 3/4 8 the earth shook from a blast. A huge drum fire started, and at 8 o'clock the English were standing at the ditch. The fog was so thick that friend and foe could not be recognized. Our red flares were not seen and so our artillery could not help. No shot was fired. The English had an easy time of it. To the right and left of us they were through, and soon they were behind us. But even from there they couldn't overrun us, and so we were locked in on all four sides. Now we waited longingly for help from behind. We looked out our eyes. She didn't come. Instead, more and more Englishmen came. But there were still gaps behind us, and through one of these I snuck through with 4 of my best people in the evening to bring help. There wasn't any. And nobody knew how we were up there. No wonder: our lieutenant colonel is missing, the regimental adjutant dead. No more management! Of course there were no more reserves. And fate relentlessly continued its course. I've tried a lot. But about it tomorrow, if it's possible! - God commanded my beloved Lieschen! He shields and protects us and our boys! Heart and kiss her! But above all, be loyally greeted and kissed hotly by
Your always grateful Paul.
- I will probably not receive any mail from you for a long time. I am sending old letters with me again! -
Field post letter, November 23, 1916
Haulchin near Valenciennes, November 23, 1916,
on Thursday afternoon at 3/4 1 a.m.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
I have already written that your dear letter of the 15th came yesterday evening. How long you poor girl lived in worry! Of course I couldn't write on November 13th and 14th. And when and how my short card letter from Wednesday morning (November 15) may have gotten away, I don't know yet. You certainly haven't had it for long. And how many hundreds of other women and mothers and siblings are still waiting for news today in the greatest worry! Meyenberg's father has just telegraphed for information. But I wrote to him at the same time. Most of the relatives knew pretty well where we were after the long weeks. And the army report of 15./11. evoke grave concern. When Helmut folded his hands, I was saved. Hopefully everyone else is too. News from captivity must arrive soon. Until then you have no peace.
I wanted to continue writing to you about the evening of the 13th. When I and my 4 good people (my brave comforter is also there) had happily reached our 2nd position, I hoped to find plenty of reinforcement there. But the trenches were so thin that we went in unnoticed. There were so few posts. We met our 8th company with almost 80 men. Nothing to be asked of them. Because our Rgts.-Kdr. knew nothing and our Rgts. adjutant was dead, I ran through terrible artillery fire to the neighboring Regiment 62. We really did not think of death. I felt that I was getting through safely. The lieutenant colonel of the 62s had already been captured that morning and was working out an attack through which he wanted to resume his lost position the next morning. Of course he couldn't give me any powers. But I promised him that the next morning I would bring forces from behind so that we could attack together the next morning. But then I almost collapsed. It went well over the knees through mud and water. I came back to the Kompf. The 8th Company, and there was a good colleague, Lieutenant Feger, who brought back a message to our Rgts.-Führer, Captain Minck, in which I asked for help. He took five brave people with him. Everyone got there. Nobody has returned. The Engld probably have them on the way back. already cut off.
So it was 5 o'clock in the morning. I had to report to Rgt. 62 that I didn't have any help yet. When there was still nothing to be seen at 6 o'clock, I sent the order to the 9th and 10th Company to retreat. But they had not recognized the danger of the situation and wanted to hold on until reinforcements came. Now I had no choice but to run to Captain Minck myself. I had never seen the way, there was no man from the 8th Company to be seen. Only my 3 orderlies dared to do it again, and again God was with us. Of all the hundreds of the heaviest shells, none could hurt any of us. But we went wrong. And we couldn't go to Captain Minck during the day. The 99s we met thought he was a prisoner. In any case, there was already an Engl. Machine gun. That didn't let anyone in.
We were only able to get through in the dark on the 14th. Then we heard the sad thing: the rescue of the two companies could not have been thought of because there were no troops. Ltn. Feger had therefore already received written orders that we should withdraw. If I had got that, then I would have fetched the two beautiful companies myself, and everyone was saved. God wanted it differently. Now it was too late: The 8th Company had already withdrawn, and so even the 2nd position had already been lost. Also the battalion shelter of the captain. Minck was left in a hurry at 12 o'clock in the evening, and now came the saddest way back I have ever made from a position. The most insane thoughts rooted in the brain. My good company captured without me! I wouldn't have had anything with it if one of the densely bursting bullets had put an end to the agony of conscience. In addition there was the dreadful, terrible thing my eyes saw, there was concern for the poor fatherland. I overlooked exactly what had been lost, saw that the English had huge successes and that we were in the most terrible confusion. On the afternoon of the 14th, two companies from 99 tried to dig a new trench. The English artillery swept mercilessly in between. There were dead after dead. 2 officers and 2 orderlies jumped into a ditch. Heavy shrapnel. All 4 lay. An officer dead, his companion too; the other officer seriously wounded. Only one man was safe. Because he was down below.
And then I passed artillery positions. Leave the guns. Lots of ammunition still with me. Everything now came into the hands of the enemy. And what else is lost with a position! The hard-working, steady work for a whole 2 years, the huge shelters! Afterwards our poor people lie in the open air in snow and frost and rain. And the English sit in our warm shelters. Look, Liesi, you lose courage and faith! And when I heard that on the night of the 14th a whole 144 battalion had run into the enemy's arms without a shot being fired - no one knew how far the positions were in German and English! - I believed there was now no more saving. We encountered troops on the way more than good and necessary! But what good is it when it's too late? And the English had courage. Little losses and great successes. In the following nights you drummed again as badly as usual. You have also achieved all sorts of things. I didn't feel like reading any more reports. But despite all this, the breakthrough did not succeed. The new troops have done superhuman efforts. How it may look there now! We no longer hear the thunder of cannons. But my thoughts are still on the Ancrebach. They will return there again and again.
The night of the 14th to the 15th I slept in the cellar in Bucquoy, in my sergeant's bed. I wasn't there until 4 o'clock. Tired to drop. I also slept for a few hours. Then I woke up and for the first time came to think about my situation. Left alone! All my loyal friends of the I. and III. Batl. path! And the II. Batl. hadn't seen such anger. I rolled around in bed in wild feverish thoughts, as I have often done since then! And just asked my God to keep me mental health and save me from madness. Did my poor people still bleed? Who gives me certainty! The company was in good hands. I had given it to Meyenberg. But the full and complete responsibility for the 10th Company was borne entirely by myself. And both companies could have been saved on the morning of November 14 if I had known that no help would come. I can't get over that, no matter how much I've done. If my good people are trapped, then it may be good. You're better off than any of us. You saved your life. But for the time being we don't know anything.
Only one thing is certain! I'll never get such a company again! 80 replacement men have just arrived. From Lemgo, Detmold, Salzuflen! But no lips. Münsterländer and Rhinelander. Mostly Catholics. But otherwise strong people who were all already in the field! May a faithful God give me the strength to educate people rightly, to instill in them the old, good spirit of the most faithful fulfillment of duty to the point of death! There should be no lack of hard work and good will. Let us continue to trust in the old, faithful God, Liesi, who guided me so wonderfully. We want to pray even more than usual. He won't leave us. You write that nothing happens without his will.
Heart and kiss my dear boys, Liesi! But above all, I warmly greet you and give you a warm kiss
faithful loving Paul.
Field post letter, November 26, 1916
Haulchin, November 26, 1916
Sunday afternoon at 3 a.m.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
Dead Sunday! Yesterday a year ago, the next day, I was in Illies for the last time, with our dear Theodor Grabe. I planted Lina's flower bulbs. What became of the flowers - I haven't seen it again. Did they bloom in the summer, whether the cemetery continued to be tended after the 55s left? What has the regiment experienced again in the meantime! How many new cemeteries it had to build near Verdun and on the Somme! And what does the beautiful cemetery in Illies look like now! Did the English grenades spare him? They could reach him only too well for a long time.
It's no different for us. Saxon troops have long been lying in Salomé and Hantay, where our large cemeteries are. How can it be there now? And especially in Bourgogne, where it appears that our lines were pushed back as early as the spring of 1915! And all the many dead that have fallen around here since May! They rested in the beautiful quiet cemetery in Bucquoy. And today our new adjutant from Rgt. 15 came. He said that Bucquoy would be evacuated entirely by our troops, as it was constantly under Engl. Artillery fire is lying. Soon, of course, no house will be whole anymore, and then English grenades will soon ravage the cemetery. These are strange thoughts on Sunday in the dead. But they mustn't hurt us. The body is no longer worth anything. I have seen bodies torn to pieces, bodies of which hardly anything was recognizable, have seen bodies crumble and disintegrate outside in wind and weather and sun and have seen corpses agitated again, which should not find their rest in the bosom of the earth. There you see that the body is nothing but dust and ashes, nothing more and nothing less, and that's why you lose all fear of corpses. And our relatives at home also have to get used to the fact that just as the gruesome war destroys everything here, our bodies are also torn and torn apart. [...]
On Sunday evening at 3/4 10 a.m.
My faithful love!
I'm just coming back. Our battalion commander hasn't arrived yet. So far I've had all the work. But today our new adjutant came. He can now do the written work. I like it a lot, by the way.He is a factory owner, 31 years old, and has very healthy views. He ate at my place today. We now have the company leaders together. But most of the other officers are still missing. The 10th company has Niediek back, the 11th and 12th get two officers who were immediately wounded at the beginning of the war and have since been back in the field, Lieutenant Hellwege and Lieutenant Bockermann. It's good that work can finally begin! It's better that way for our people too. You were actually without any occupation.
Tonight I went for a ride out to Denain. I had been out in the fresh air so little and wanted to think about other things. The ride was good for me too. I had only ridden once in the whole time before. I had no desire for it.
Now the Sunday of the Dead is over. I still remember the last one clearly. The weather was the same. As it is always on the Sunday of the Dead. Cloudy and hazy in the morning and pale November sun in the afternoon and towards evening. Last year I went to Seclin for the pioneer course. It was bitterly cold in the morning in the car, and in the train too. In Lille I was in the museum and the picture gallery. And in the evening we sat in the beautiful, cozy casino in Seclin and gradually got to know each other. What beautiful days followed! And the next Saturday August was already wounded. I can't believe it was all a year ago. I keep saying that my time has never flown as fast as in the war. And it is precisely the times that others call the most boring, the days of the trenches, that vanish the fastest for me. I have nothing with me if we soon get back into a reasonably calm position. At the moment, however, the fight between Beaucourt and Serre is still terrible. The 15s were there again. Attacks are still expected even at Gommécourt. The successes with us have of course given the English new courage. - More tomorrow, my dear Lieschen! Good night and God commanded!
1 a.m. on Monday.
My beloved Lieschen!
Since the mail is about to go, I have to be quick. Everything is not yet settled here. In any case, the mail will hardly come in as quickly as it did in the trenches. I've often thought of the trenches again. You had gotten so used to it. And again and again my thoughts fly back to there. Despite all the danger and all the hardship. All the friends and dear acquaintances are no longer either.
This morning the new regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel v. They got the regiment together at Thiant. Half an hour from here. A sunny morning! But what wistful thoughts! How few old people have regiments left! All strange, new faces. It hurts so much. The division commander wants to see the regiment tomorrow. There is a lot of work to do. - But work is still the greatest blessing. If only there aren't so many old officers that I have to surrender my company! Then I would be completely unhappy. That's the only thing that kept me going: that I wanted to rebuild a company like the old 9th. God grant it to be so! - I am in grateful love with warm greetings and loyal hot kisses
Your faithful father.
Field post letter, December 22, 1916
Haulchin, December 22nd, 1916,
Friday evening at 6 o'clock.
My beloved, good Lieschen!
The last evening in the cozy quarter! Another night in a soft, warm bed! Tomorrow evening the guns on the nearby front will roar the evening song again. Up to here you could hear them again today, over 70-80 kilometers away. You will have to get used to it again. How good it is for the vacationers! You will not continue here until the 24th, but will not go to Courcelles at first. My boy is going too. I also wrote him a vacation pass to Nienhagen and, in addition to this letter, I am also giving him a few things in a parcel. There is also a piece of cheese. From our catering officer. He came from Germany and told me that cheese was no longer available there. Maybe I'll make you happy with it. We actually get it a little too often. Our food is excellent in general. You don't have to worry about that. That's why you don't send me any more sausages, Liesi! It would be wrong. Better help someone there! The food shortage in Germany seems to be very great.
I will also send your packet of candles back to you. I can't make a tree myself. There are no fir trees. And we also received candles for the large company tree we delivered. We don't yet know where the tree will burn, any more than I know where my quarters will be tomorrow evening. Soldierless! But keep the candles for me! I do hope that our boy Lichterbaum still has needles when I come. Then, God willing, we can all rejoice once more over the glow of the lights. In our next position there is electric light. Candles are probably only delivered for the Navy.
When you think of the bitter shortage of raw materials, you start to doubt whether we can hold out any longer. A bar of soap costs 1.20 M. But it doesn't foam. And with some other things it works the same way. Substitutes cannot be created there. Only now do we hear from holidaymakers that our harvest was not good and that there is great concern about the potatoes. And what is paid for fruit! 30 sts the hundredweight. And for Christmas nuts we paid almost 5M per pound. Pepper recently cost us 18M the pound. I was a casino executive at the time and got a lot of insight into these things. I hadn't thought the matter so bad after all.
How glad I can be that I don't have to worry about you in this regard! You write to me about our little pig, won't you? And the goat is probably healthy again. Our captain buys what he can get here and sends one vacationer after another to his wife: rabbits and ducks, chickens and pigeons, sausage and bacon and cheese. In big cities there is nothing more to be had for all money.
The war must come to an end. And no matter how far the opponents reject peace. I still hope that the words of the enemy ministers are intended to deceive as our Note intended to deceive.
Yesterday evening all non-commissioned officers of the battalion were with us in the beautiful casino. The regimental music played, and we sat together peacefully and comfortably until 3 o'clock this morning. At 8 o'clock it was time for my bags to be packed. I'm a little tired now, and I'm going to bed early this evening. - Hopefully. A small farewell party cannot be avoided. There was no service today. Then I finished reading a book that I barely read halfway in the whole 4 weeks. Today afternoon I am then at Kompf. the 11th company, colleague Hellwege, who I actually like best of all comrades. It was pouring rain outside. Nevertheless the captain had ordered the regimental music to come tonight. She played goodbye in the marketplace. Our people coped well with the population. In general, I believe that we can be satisfied with the replacement. Especially after we saw 42 of the oldest and weakest Lt. from each company.
We haven't received any mail for 2 days. But she is probably waiting for us in Courcelles, where the Rgt. Has been two days now. I hope my mail always came along and I hope that you will find this letter in good health! Troester shouldn't take anything with him. I have everything. - I'm good. However, I still have a cold. - God ordered, Liesi! I am in with greetings and kisses
dearest love your father
Field post letter, December 25, 1916
Courcelles, on Christmas Day, in the evening 1/26 o'clock.
My good, dear Lieschen!
I would have wanted to celebrate Christmas at home. Now at least I want to do it in my head. We don't have a casino yet. But there's beer tonight. But I would much rather stay at home. I long too much for my dear Lieschen. And I only want to chat with you. Hopefully nobody will bother me anymore! - Well, an orderly is already there at this very moment and calls me to the captain for 6 o'clock. Discussion with the company leaders. I can put my boots on again and I can even lose my cup of coffee. I've been busy all day. Will I find my peace and quiet afterwards and the time for my Lieschen and for Christmas thoughts? Let's hope so first of all!
1/2 9 a.m. - I have just come back and had dinner. Cheese (real Swiss) and liver sausage and biscuits and oranges. I hardly had time to drink coffee this afternoon, and the sergeant has to come right away so that tomorrow's duty is scheduled. This makes the holidays the worst working day. I have never been so tired of the war as I am now. There is still no talk of vacation. After all, that's what makes it bitter. And takes all lust and love. I still have all sorts of problems in the company, with the sergeant, etc.
But get away with it! My dear Lieschen shouldn't know anything. And today is Christmas. In addition I found so many dear letters and cards with Christmas wishes that I had to be happy. Your dear letter of the 20th was also included. And a card from Pastor Sturhahn.
This morning I was dead tired. I hadn't slept particularly well. It was often bad drumfire. Another plane came late last night and dropped bombs. Also a Christmas present! There was no coffee because my boy slept too long and because there was already a meeting with the brigade commander at half past ten o'clock. I had to think about my mother and about the nice coffee and the delicious cake every Christmas morning when the light tree was burning next door. How much love we children were allowed to experience just this morning! We'll certainly want to do the same with our boys. Certainly you write to me in great detail about Christmas, don't you, Liesi? It is half past ten and the electric light is no longer on and my stove doesn't really work anymore either. But I still want to chat something.
After the meeting this morning, I went to the Christmas service. Pastor Müller. In the cinema. I haven't heard very much about the sermon. But I saw a Christmas tree burning and heard Christmas carols and she sang herself. The bright tears almost ran down my cheeks when the music began to the old beautiful "O you happy".
I couldn't think of the beautiful Christmas party in Bourgogne. Next to me sat Niedieck, who was in charge of the 3rd Company at the time. And a year ago it was still so beautiful. Who of all the dear comrades is still there now? All strange faces! All people with different memories! And how bleak the conditions are here! No room in which a company could have celebrated! Trees and presents haven't arrived yet. The Christmas spirit does not arise. And so terrible dirt on the streets that you can hardly get through. And rain pouring down from the sky. But that's always the case in France.
Our day of travel was also bad. On December 23 at 9 o'clock in the morning our train from Trith-St. Drive casually. Late in the evening on the 22nd, however, the order came that the train should leave two hours earlier and that we would be unloaded one station in front of Bapaume. Nobody doubted that we would be deployed on the Somme, because there could be heard violent artillery fighting. I was in a good mood on December 23rd. Farewell to Troester at 5 a.m., who stayed in Haulchin to go on vacation from there. He shouldn't tell you anything about any fears and certainly didn't. It was pouring rain and after half an hour of walking the water flowed down my legs over the saddlebags. My white horse shied away from every puddle of water and every pole in the darkness. Otherwise I would have fallen asleep despite the rain. At the train station in Trith I dried my knees again and then we huddled close together in a second class compartment and emptied one bottle of rum and Steinhäger after the other until we got a little warm and fell asleep. The cold of the unheated car woke us up quickly, of course. At noon we were in Frémicourt in front of Bapaume. Orders for us were not there, and because of the terrible rain we put our people in the church. The storm had torn all the telephone lines, and it was not until 3 o'clock that we learned that the battalion was supposed to go to Courcelles after all. That was 18 km. A terrible way for our people with all their luggage. Storm and rain worse than in the morning. I have often ridden ahead or stayed behind to seek shelter behind houses or walls.
We came through Mory, where we had been camping for some time in September. I didn't know the place again. A double-track railway with a new station was built. The paths are simply no longer usable. The streets have holes meters deep and filled with mud and water. The whole battalion looked in single file on a large, wide road to pass through. 2 km over an hour! My mold had lost an iron and was lame. I had to walk and had on my beautiful yellow boots with gaiters. It went through the mud up to my knees, and then I fell into the ditch for a long time. My nice coat and my new hat are still not in order today. I will never forget the day. It was actually the greatest of the war. There were no worse ways in La Bassée during floods. I had lost half the company on the way. Only after and after did the people come back. And then in the evening 1/2 10 in a strange, uncomfortable quarter. There had been no food all day. At least it was better than if someone had sent us from Frémicourt into the shell holes on the Somme. And now I don't even have a worse cold. That was what I feared most of all. And none of our people called in sick. Even the mold is doing it again. The only thing I must not think about is that I could have avoided all this moving stuff like my consolation. Otherwise there will be bitterness. A company leader is easy to do without, especially with something like that. But all the ranting is of no use.
I have to close. It's getting cold, and tomorrow morning I have to get up at 7 o'clock. God commanded my dear! May he protect us all!
I am and stay with warmest greetings and many kisses for you and our boys in the most loyal love
Your grateful Paul.
More field post letters from Paul Diekmann:
Field Post Letters from World War I - Part I (May to December 1915)
Field Post Letters from World War I - Part II (January to April 1916)
Field Post Letters from World War I - Part III (May to September 1916)
Field Post Letters from World War I - Part V (February to May 1917)
Field Post Letters from World War I - Part VI (June to July 1917)
Field Post Letters from World War I - Part VII (November 1917)
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