Story This Week: Three Days in June 1916

This week our story is taken from the original newspapers and field letters of 1916 held in Ettlingen's Town Archives (Stadtarchiv Ettlingen) and observes the fates of three different men during one week in June 1916. Coincidentally, all three were either stationed in or on their way to Russia.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener
On Wednesday 7 June, 1916, Ettlingen's local newspaper the Badischer Landsmann reports on the death of the English Minister of War Lord Kitchener, following an announcement by the Admiralty in London.

Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, had become Secretary of State for War at the outbreak of war in 1914. Kitchener had already won recognition for his roles in Egypt, Sudan, Khartoum, the Anglo-Boer War and India. One of the few to realize that the war would be a long one, he played a key part in organizing an enormous volunteer army as well as expanding the production of war materials. Kitchener drowned on June 5, 1916 when the HMS Hampshire was sunk west of the Orkney Islands, Scotland. He had been on his way to Russia to attend negotiations. It was reported that the HMS Hampshire struck a German mine, although various conspiracy theories concerning his death have since been put forward.

The English Minister Of War Lord Kitchener Sinks With His Staff

"WBT, London, June 6. According to official information from the Admiralty:
The Commander-in-Chief of the Great Navy announces:

To his deepest regret, he must report that the warship "Hampshire", which was on its way to Russia with Lord Kitchener and his staff on board, was sunk last night west of the Orkney Islands by a mine or possibly a torpedo. The night was extremely stormy and although all possible measures were undertaken to provide rapid assistance, it is feared that there is little hope that anybody will have survived.

(Note: Hampshire is an 11,000-ton armored cruiser launched in 1903. It had a speed of 23.2 knots. It held 39 guns and normally had a crew of 660 men on board)."

Dr. Theodor Kiefer
Four days later on June 10, 1916, young German field doctor Dr. Theodor ("Tor") Kiefer, stationed at the Eastern Front in Russia, writes to his family in Ettlingen. For the last few weeks, Tor has been acting batallion's doctor while his superior is on leave. Apart from his medical duties, Tor spends every spare moment, "with pathological zeal", as he reports, organizing the conversion of dugouts into infirmaries. It is clear from Tor's letters during this time that he is under tremendous stress, and that he values the reading and writing of post to and from his family as a mental relief.

"We are currently in a new position, no longer as pleasant as the last one, but reminiscent of the Western Front. I am presently dealing with the problem of a trench stretcher for transporting wounded in the narrow, high trenches. If the Russians attack us here they'll bash their heads in. Our people have been feverishly expanding here for weeks and apart from the fact that a position is never finished, everyone is still continuing at the same pace. I have absolutely no chance of leave at the moment. And I have no hope of it for at least two months. I do not dwell long in my thoughts on Ettlingen, but I would still be grateful for letters full of your news. The mind is easily distracted and wanders through the peaceful realms of a past long since past, and although it is dangerous to think too much, such memories are scarcely tantalizing.

It is terribly difficult to write here, the telephone rings constantly, batmen and dispatchers arrive. One can barely write one word without being distracted by something. Everything in a small room under the earth, made of raw firtree trunks, containing 3 pallets [makeshift beds] and the table."

Leutnant Felix Kiefer
On June 11, 1916 Tor's younger brother Leutnant Felix Kiefer is about to return to the Front for the third time. Felix was wounded on several occasions and after various long stays in the lazaret was always sent back to the Front, until he was finally released from military service in the spring of 1918. Felix married his sweetheart Erne during the war and they corresponded on an almost daily basis. In this postcard sent from the lazaret shortly after his release, he tells her that he has spent a boring evening in Aschaffenburg but is to commence travel to the (Eastern) Front in Russia the next day.

Felix's Postcard to Erne, June 11, 1916
The front of the postcard. The caption
reads "Young Germany"

This Week: The Soldiers of Spessart Part 3 - A Hero's Death

Our story this week once again comes from Ettlingen-Spessart in the hills above Ettlingen, and presents some of the soldiers from Spessart who fell during the Great War. It was important to romanticize and honor what was termed "a hero's death" in order to boost the population's morale and keep them confident of victory. The soldier must not have died in vain, but in the act of directly protecting the homeland and his loved ones.

"The Sun Sank In The West"
A series of painted postcards was used as a means of propaganda to transform these key concepts into romantic scenes deliberately targeted to touch the hearts of women, while combining love, death and the honor of war.

"The Sun Sank In The West.
And when you return to the homeland years from now, bring this dear treasure to my sweetheart".

The dying soldier asks his comrade to take his Iron Cross medal (the dear treasure) to his sweetheart. The clear message of the postcard is that he is proud to have died for his country, as he expects his sweetheart to be.

The postcard was one of a set of six cards, each containing lines attributed to the anonymous folk song "Die Sonne Sank im Westen" (The Sun Sank In The West), although the lines have been altered slightly from the original song. In the postcard shown above, the dying soldier states that his comrade will return home "years from now". This was not the general belief in the early months of the war in 1914, when it was expected that everything would be over by Christmas. The postcards were issued in 1915, when it had become clear that the war might continue for several years.

The memorial card of Eduard Waldmann, born on February 3, 1888, in Ettlingen-Spessart. The card states that Eduard fell "on the field of honor" and "died a hero's death on August 20, 1914 in the battles at Brudersdorf, buried in Niederweiler in Lorraine".

He was thus one of the first soldiers to fall from Ettlingen.

A quote from the book of Maccabees is printed at the top of the card: "It is better to die in war than to surrender the homeland to adversity".

Landsturmmann Adalbert Weber was born on May 2, 1889 in Ettlingen-Spessart and served in the Infanterie Regiment 114.

His card states that he "died a hero's death on April 3, 1918 in Cair, Northern France".

The memorial card of Pionier Josef Anton Kraft, of the Minenwerfer-Bataillon 7 (Trench Mortar Battalion). Josef was born on August 24, 1895 in Ettlingen-Spessart and died on January 28, 1918 in Brussels.

His card states that he "fell on the field of honor".

The memorial card of Konrad Ochs, who was born on December 12, 1897 in Ettlingen-Spessart and who fell on September 29, 1918 in La Ex Aux Bois. He is buried in the cemetry St. Morell in France.

His family has written:
"O God, you have called your loyal servant Konrad from the field of battle to you, and we would have been so happy to have seen him again among those who returned victoriously from the field [Konrad fell shortly before the end of the war]. However, it was not your wish and in your wisdom you know why it had to be so. We trust in your benevolence, even if we do not understand it. Let the efforts that he made during the war and the sacrifice of life that he made in the defense of his homeland graciously make reparation for all his sins and allow you to confer on him in return for this, in your great mercy, the crown of victory of eternal life".

The Infanterie Ersatz Bataillon 110, in which some soldiers from Ettlingen-Spessart served. Alfred Schottmüller is shown standing in the back row, 3rd from the left.
The photo shows the battalion in Heidelberg. They were assigned to the 28th Division of the 7th German Army.

All photos and postcard property and copyright of Brigitte Weber of Ettlingen-Spessart

This Week's Story: Food Rationing in Ettlingen 1915-1916

In 1914, food was already becoming scarce in Germany due to several factors. The increased needs of the armies at the Front, the lack of imports resulting from the disruption in trade, as well as the serious consequences of the War on agricultural structures, including the recruiting of the workforce into the army, all led to problems in food supply, particularly in urban areas, and to stockpiling of food.

The German government hoped to be able to regulate this food supply by defining maximum prices for bread and grain and by rationing eggs. Over the course of the War, a comprehensive system of foodstuff control was set up, which was expanded over the course of the next four years.

The photo on the left shows an Ettlingen ID card allowing the purchase of foodstuffs. The card must be produced and stamped before goods are bought. It is non-transferrable.

The first bread coupons were issued in several towns in February 1915. In November 1915, milk was rationed and in early 1916 potatoes. During 1916, statutory guidelines for meat and sausage coupons were introduced for the whole of Germany.

The photo on the right shows a booklet of 30 coupons for bread or flour for April 1915. It is issued by the Office of the Mayor of Ettlingen.

At the bottom right of the booklet. it states that it is a crime to sell the coupons.

These coupons are issued by the Community Association of Ettlingen and are for eggs and butter in 1916.

125 grams of butter can be obtained every two weeks.  Eggs can be obtained at the rate of one per week.

The other side of the ID card. Butter, eggs and lard have been stamped.

In the "Swede winter" of 1916/1917, the minimum amount of basic foodstuffs for the population could not be covered and famine became rife.

These coupons are issued by the Grand Duchy of Baden (the state in which Ettlingen was situated) and can be used to obtain meat from July through September 1916.

The government's food rationing measures attempted to ensure that the population had a minimum amount of basic foodstuffs, in order to keep them confident of victory and willing to fight. Unfortunately, the food itself was often not available and the coupons were worth nothing. Despite all the deficiencies, however, the state's rationing measures during the War and the immediate post-war years enabled millions of people to survive.

(Source of general information: Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin
(Source of specific information: Stadtarchiv Ettlingen)

Story of the Week: Gefreiter Ambros Weber

This week our story is once again brought to us by Notburga Felber of Ettlingen-Spessart, in the hills above Ettlingen. Notburga's grandfather on her father's side, Ambros Weber, was a small farmer. He was born in Spessart on October 7, 1882.

Ambros and Martha
on their wedding day

In the early 20th century, small farming in South Germany was not a very lucrative occupation and so Ambros also worked in a factory in Ettlingen Town.

He married his sweetheart Martha. At the outbreak of the Great War, he was thus 32 and already married.

It was typical for girls to marry in black at this time.

Ambros joined up with the 1st Landsturm Infantry Batallion No. 56, 2nd Company in Rastatt, near Ettlingen.

The photo on the left shows him in full uniform, with the photographer's romantic caption "Zur Erinnerung" - "A memento".

Ambros' unit was posted to France, on the Western Front. The bataillon was ultimately subordinate to the 28th Division of the Kingdom of Prussia and Ambros would thus have fought all along the Western Front, including battles at the Vosges, Arras, the Somme, Flanders, Champagne, Verdun, Reims and Chemin-des-Dames. 

Ambros in the more typical photographer's pose of new recruits after joining up.

We also have a postcard that Ambros sent to Martha on May 10, 1915, apparently from Dieuze, which is in French Lorraine. The photo on the front of the card shows Ambros together with one of his comrades, and Ambros is standing on the left in this picture.

Ambros (left) in Lorraine, 1915

In the postcard, Ambros thanks Martha for her postcard from Mosbronn and tells her that he is sending her a photo from the Front as a souvenir of the war.

He asks her not to worry about him so much and says that he knows she has a lot of work at home but he asks her to only do what she can because when he comes home, he wants to see her well and healthy.

Ambros survived the war and returned home, where he took up work again in the factory. He and Martha had several children, including Notburga's father, and he died on May 9, 1959.

Ambros' card to Martha from Dieuze in Lorraine in May 1915.

This Week: Gefreiter Otto Weber

Our story this week is brought to us by Notburga Felber of Ettlingen-Spessart. Notburga's grandfather  on her mother's side, Otto Weber, served as a Private in the Great War.

Otto Weber in 1914

Otto was born on March 31, 1892 and had a twin brother, Franz.
Both Franz and Otto joined the 1st Badisches Leibgrenadier-Regiment 109 at the outbreak of war in 1914. The 109 was the highest-ranking and grandest regiment in Baden, the state in which Ettlingen was located, and was the local regiment of Karlsruhe, Ettlingen's nearest city. The head of the regiment was Grand Duke Friedrich II of Baden.

Otto and his twin brother
Franz in the field

Otto was stationed at the Western Front in France. His first battles were at Metz in August 1914, and he later fought all along the Western Front, including Arras, Flanders, Champagne, the Somme, Reims and Chemin-des-Dames.

It was probably during the latter part of 1917 or early 1918 that Otto suffered gas poisoning. The use of poisonous gas by both sides was widespread during the Great War, particularly on the Western Front.

Upon returning home from the War, Otto married his sweetheart Anna, with whom he had three daughters, including Notburga's mother. However, even though he continued to work, he suffered from the ill effects of the gas poisoning for the rest of his life.

A postcard from the Front from Otto to his neighbor Luise, dated September 22, 1917. He writes, "At last I've found time to send you a photo. I trust you're well, as I am. I hope that we will see each other again soon".

Otto in the field

Otto died aged 47 on May 9, 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, from the effects of the gas poisoning.