Military Music of Hitler’s Reich – A Review by Brian L Davis

When I was about 13 or 14 I think, I was given Brian L Davis’ terrific book: ‘German Army Uniforms & Insignia Uniforms’as Christmas present: my first really exciting and in-depth look at the actual kit that the German Army wore in World War Two…

I still remember how thrilled I was to get this fabulous tome as I was suddenly a collector with ‘real knowledge’ and I jealously guarded it and read it at every opportunity.  For years this single reference book was my bible..still is in many respects.. and the author,who is a brilliant and very well-known military expert across a number of differing areas of expertise, (both in print and as a film advisor), became something of a hero to me back in my days as young German militaria collector… and he still is today!

It was therefore even more of a ’schoolboy dream’ and certainly incredibly flattering & highly enouraging for me when later on, when it became ‘my turn’ to go into print some 30 years on from reading that Brian’s book, that the great man himself so kindly offered to write a very generous appraisal of my work, the product of some 6 long years of my in-depth research on this very particular and hitheto uncovered subject of German military history: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945:

“This book is a delight to both dip into and read: it is landscape in format with a hard, laminated cover. The text is contained on 320 pages and its content and production has obviously been a labour of love, a task that took the Author six years.

The book contains a plethora of fascinating information, contemporary photographs – 386 by my reckoning, some in colour, the rest being contemporary black & white photos, the majority of which have never before been reproduced together with masses of items, mostly illustrated in colour and many of which are of military, para-military and political insignia.

It tells the story of the development of German military music from the time of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, through the Great War, through the period of depression in Germany in the 1920s, the rise of national Socialism in the 1930s, through the Second World War and onto the post-war divided Germany and up to the present time.

It covers subjects such as the training of musicians of the Third Reich, the Musikkorps of both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS, musical instruments, personal documents, sheet music and song books. The subject of the German radio, records and propaganda aimed at the German Home Front has a chapter to itself. Details of composers, lyricists and performers are set out accompanied by photographic illustrations of these people.

There are photographic illustrations of post cards, in particular those with the words of popular and patriotic tunes, song sheets,  song books, performance and concert programmes, posters, actual gramophone records, musicians wings known as Swallow Nests, musical instruments of every kind (even mouth organs).

Army, Navy and Air Force, SS, Waffen-SS, SA, RAD and HJ insignia including items such as musicians shoulder straps, collar patches, cuff-titles, arm bands, trumpet banners, kettle drum drapes, flags and banners, contemporary commercial adverts for musical instruments, steel helmets and their insignia, various forms of headdress, rubber stamps, sleeve chevrons, breast eagles, naval cap ribbons, basic military equipment, medals, decorations and war badges awarded to Bandsmen together with their printed citations, campaign arm-shields, various sports and merit badges, pay books, Wehrpasse and Soldbuch, identity discs, identity cards both SS (SS-Ausweis) and military (Truppenausweis), personal weapons, side arms and their hangers.

A bonus to any potential reader/purchaser the book has two sections on military musicians outside the historic period covered by the title of the book. In addition to the music and musicians of the Third Reich, Brian Matthews has devoted a section each to the musicians and bands including their uniforms and related insignia, of the West German Bundeswehr and the East German Volksarmee.

On the final pages of this work are the words to 79 songs, mostly military, some political, but all popular, marching or sentimental songs. Those  that I can recognise are the Horst Wessel Lied  which became the anthem of the National Socialist Party and which was always sung in conjunction with the Deutschland Lied, the German national anthem and Stille Nacht a most evocative song frequently sung on Christmas Eve.

Lili Marleen as sung by Lale Andersen, a song that was popular throughout Germany and which became a firm favourite of both the Afrikakorps and the 8th Army fighting each other in the Western desert; other tunes I can recognise such as Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden  and Das Engeland Lied…

I commend this book highly and suggest that you place an order for your copy now as privately published books have a habit of selling out fast and once sold they seem to disappear from the book world and then you kick yourself…”

To have one of your author-heroes that you have grown up with so generously take up his pen to both appraise & recommend my ‘first go’ at a really big, definitive military reference work is something  I could only have ever imagined… the fact that it then actually happened later on in life, is quite something… and not only am I very grateful to Brian, but I shall certainly treasure his support through his smashing write-up for many years to come, that’s for sure..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

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