This Week's Story: Vizefeldwebel Joseph Martus

This week our story comes from Brigitte Weber of Ettlingen-Spessart, and is an extraordinary tale of her two uncles.

Albert Fang, Brigitte's father's brother, was born in Spessart in 1897 and fell in Laffaux, France, on the western front, in 1917. Joseph Martus, Brigitte's mother's brother, was also born in Spessart in 1898 and likewise fell in Laffaux, France in 1918.

The two men, who had never met each other, thus fell in the same tiny village in France one year apart, and at the same age. Their siblings, who had not known each other during the Great War either, subsequently married.

In 2008, Laffaux had a population of 139.

We focus this week on Joseph Martus, Brigitte's uncle on her mother's side. Joseph was born on August 12, 1898 and joined up to fight in 1914 at the age of 16. He rose to the rank of Vizefeldwebel (Senior NCO) and was considered to be a candidate for officer. He served with the 1st MG Company of the Grenadierregiment No. 1 Kronprinz.

Vizefeldwebel Joseph Martus
Served at the western front and died on September 13, 1918 at the age of 20 at Laffaux, France

Joseph spent some time in the lazaret (small military hospital)
Here he is shown (marked by the X) with other recovering soldiers and sanitary staff

Joseph's "Sterbeurkunde" (death certificate), sent home to his parents


The little wooden box sent home to Joseph's parents after his death, and containing his medals and his identification tag. The box had a small relief of the Kaiser on the cover.

Joseph's identification tag. It gives his name, date and place of birth and his batallion:
Joseph Martus, Spessart, Baden, 12.8.98
8th reserve batallion, infantry regiment 43, 8th company, no. 3165


Josephs' medals - the brown one is a jubilee medal for the Grand Duke of Baden

Joseph's iron cross and service medal


Another service medal - "Für Verdienst"

Story Of The Week: Unteroffizier Rudolf Kessler

Our story this week comes from Rolf Kessler of Ettlingen Town, whose father Rudolf Kessler served as an Unteroffizier in the Badische Leib-Grenadier Regiment 109 in the Great War. This regiment belonged to the XIVth Infantry Corps and was the local regiment of Karlsruhe, Ettlingen's nearest city.

Rudolf was born on April 29, 1897 and went to school at the Kant Gymnasium in Karlsruhe. Upon leaving school, he joined the military and was called up to fight in 1916.

Rudolf Kessler, 1897-1962
Served as an Unteroffizier on the Western Front near Verdun

Some of Rudolf's personal possessions from the Great War, including his boots and a hand grenade, can be viewed here under Memorabilia

After a period of training at the recruit training center at Heuberg, Rolf was sent to the Western Front. He was severely injured twice: once with two shots in his upper arm and shell splinters in his lower leg, and once at the beginning of 1918 with a head injury behind his ear. The second time, he remembered that the medic who fetched him said "He won't make it". He was admitted to the lazaret, where he remained until the end of the war.

Rudolf died in 1962.

The Leib-Grenadiers at the barracks in Karlsruhe

Eyes right
Early one morning in a field on the Western Front
The troops march past commanding officers

Rudolf writes as a caption to this photo, dated December 3, 1917:
"Our storm troops before driving out on a reconnaissance mission at Kanonenberg. The x shows our regiment commander".

The regiment commander was General von Stein who is standing to the right of this photo, above the x

Rudolf was awarded the silver "Verdienst" medal (service medal) on November 12, 1917.

Together with the medal, he was also presented with this accompanying certificate from the Grand Duke of Baden (Grossherzog von Baden).

The Grand Duchy of Baden was the state to which Ettlingen belonged, and it existed between 1806 and 1918.

Story Of The Week: The Kriegsbekleidungsamt

During the Great War, the Kriegsbekleidungsamt (War Clothing Office) was the military department responsible for providing clothing to the soldiers and military personnel. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the organization was called simply the Bekleidungsamt (Clothing Office) but changed its name at mobilization. During the war, all army corps had their own Kriegsbekleidungsamt, each with several thousand men, and apart from the section that issued clothing (Bekleidungskompanie), also included a tailoring section (Zuschneidekompanie) as well as a section responsible for repairs (Bekleidungsinstandsetzungskompanie).

On September 3, 1918, shortly before the end of the war, Tor Kiefer, our young doctor at the eastern front, writes a letter to the Kriegsbekleidungsamt of the XIVth Army Corps requesting a list of items of clothing:

1 army cap
2 shirts
2 pairs of socks
2 handkerchiefs
1 towel
1 coat
1 woollen undervest
1 necktie
1 pair of long trousers
1 army shirt

Tor has lost most of his clothes in a shell attack. "I am therefore in a state of emergency", Tor writes, "which is why the troop unit has issued the statement attached".

He writes the numbers of his attached clothing coupons "Kleiderkarte III, 12328"

The statement attached is signed by the Oberleutnant of Tor's batallion, and requests the Bekleidungsamt of the XIVth Army Corps to issue the requested clothing to its senior physician Dr. Kiefer. At this point, Tor is 29 years old. At the start of the war in 1914, he was a junior doctor working under a medical officer.

Statement from Tor's batallion

Tor's clothing coupons sent with his letter, "Kleiderkarte III, 12328". They are marked "Valid for 1918".

These coupons entitle Tor to:
1 necktie
2 handkerchiefs and
1 towel

Story This Week: Private Karl Friedrich Baader

This week's story is brought to us by retired parson Engelbert Baader of Ettlingen Town. Engelbert's father Karl Friedrich Baader was born on July 18, 1898 and served as a private in the Great War.

Karl kept a diary during his time at the front and some excerpts from this diary will be shown in the section Diaries.

Karl was working as a lathe operator at the company Lorenz in Ettlingen when the war started. In his diary, he writes "I worked as an apprentice until August 1914, when the war broke out. I wanted to sign up as a volunteer, but Father wouldn't allow it".

After his 18th birthday, Karl was finally able to sign up and in November 1916 he was sent to Emmendingen in South Baden for recruit training. On May 29, 1917, his unit set off for the battlefields, and on the next day, the unit was greeted personally by the Grand Duke of Baden in Mannheim. On May 31st, 1917, Karl arrived in Beverloo in Flanders, on the western front. In his diary, Karl describes this as "the Algiers of the German foreign legion".

Karl belonged to the 38th Infantry Division of the "94" Thüringen Regiment, which was located in Flanders. In his diary, Karl records that the unit was in Merpen near Antwerp in early August of 1917 and positioned forces in late August. By September 5, 1917, they had been on the front continuously for six days.

Karl was brought to the lazaret (small military hospital) on several occasions, the first on October 23, 1917, when he was shot in the left hand. Barely back in the field, he was sent back to the lazaret in November 1917 with appendicitis. Interestingly, such a large number of the men were suffering from appendicitis that the lazaret undertook several tests to find out if there was a common cause. We have no information regarding the results of these tests.

In December 1917, Karl was back at the front in Flanders, at Passchendaele. The Battle of Passchendaele, or the Third Battle of Ypres, had taken place between July and November 1917, and the conditions had been among the worst of the war. On December 1, 1917, Karl writes of Passchendaele in his diary, "Our position is lousy. Many a soldier falls into the Flanders mud and dies a miserable death". The heavy rain and mud at Passchendaele were notorious, made movement difficult and little artillery could be brought very close to the front as a result.

In July 1918, Karl was positioned near Lille and at the end of August he was at Colmar.

In his diary entry of August 29, 1918, Karl writes that everyone is returning from the Battle of the Somme. This was the Second Battle of the Somme, which resulted in heavy casualities and losses. Karl records "When you think how very many have fallen, then it makes you very sad. My general impression is that something has gone very wrong. Nobody wants to follow orders properly any more. How will it all end?"

On September 1, 1918, Karl was once again in the lazaret with a shot in his upper leg. As a result, he was sent to a lazaret in the Rhineland in Germany, where he stayed until the end of the war in November 1918.

Karl died on March 1, 1960.