Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden…

One of the many World War Two German music tracks that we are often asked for here at Tomahawk Films is the Funeral March, better known as Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden which, as the Second World War unfolded and fortunes began slowly but surely to turn against Nazi Germany, it was a haunting song that was sadly heard more & more across The Third Reich…

Included in the huge loss of German life during the Second World War were many highly talented German career & part-time military musicians who were killed at their home garrisons as Allied air-raids took hold from 1943 onwards; in addition a very high number of superb Waffen-SS musicians who transferred back to their units as infantrymen & combat medics (along with many Wehrmacht musicians dramatically transferred to front or second line units during that final year of war) were to be tragically killed in action. As a result, many wonderful musical careers were to be cut short in a swift and brutal fashion!

So it was that the German funeral hymn, officially known as ’Der Gute Kamerad’ (The Good Comrade) but commonly referred to in Germany as ‘Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden’ (I had a Comrade), became an all too regular and poignant part of German life as the tide of war dramatically began to turn against the Third Reich:

1. I once had a trusty comrade

The best one to be found

The drums called us to battle

He was marching at my side

Wherever to I went, Wherever to I went…

2. There whistling came a bullet

Meant for me or meant for you?

His life it took away

At my feet he lay down slain

Just like a part of me, Just like a part of me…

3. His hand reaches out for mine

While I just load my gun

Cannot hold your hand, my friend

But stay for all eternity

My trusty good comrade, My trusty good comrade…

The lyrics of this moving & dignified piece were written by the German poet Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862), who hailed from Swabia, the area around Stuttgart, and who’d been influenced greatly by the freedom struggles of the Tyrolean region. Due to be published in a Karlsruhe newspaper (along with 3 other songs) under the title ‘Four Lovely New War Songs for the Benefits of the Invalids of the Campaign’, Uhland’s manuscript arrived too late…

However, three years later, Justinus Kerner included the song in his 1812 collection: ‘Deutscher Dichterwald’ (A Forest of German Poets) to commemorate the 15,000 men from Württemberg who, sold into military service under Napoleon, were leaving for the Russian campaign. Though the tune is attributed to the Swabian composer Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860), its true origin, as Silcher always pointed out, actually comes from the old Swiss folk song: ‘Ein schwarz-braunes Mädchen hat einen Feldjäger lieb’ (a black-brown girl fell in love with an infantryman).

Silcher re-recorded this tune on one of his visits to Switzerland and re-arranged it into four-four time on his return, whereupon in 1827 it was published in conjunction with Uhland’s lyrics which, with a mixture of grief, fatalism and a soldierly sense of duty, have always touched German hearts. The same applies to the tune, though it did not become an official part of the funeral ceremony until the 19th century.

A formal funeral march was originally played at such solemn events, followed by the hymn ‘Jesus meine Zuversicht’ (Jesus my Trust), and it became a long standing German custom that both a march & hymn be played together on such occasions; but from 1871 ‘Der Gute Kamerad’ was played at all official military funerals..

However from the 1914-18 War onwards, ’Der Gute Kamerad’ became an essential part of the ceremony at German state military funerals, including that of President Hindenburg’s in 1934 where, according to established procedure, the tune would only be played during, or after the lowering of the coffin, never before 

Across north-west Europe, in the last bitter months of the war before the final surrender of German arms in May 1945, vast POW camps began filling up with Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS prisoners and though totally exhausted and dejected at the final annihilation, many were quietly grateful to have survived such a destructive war..!

For them, ‘Ich hatt einen Kameraden’ (of which Tomahawk Films offers a superb rendition on our CD: Music of Adolf Hitler’s Leibstandarte-SS), was a constant reminder of their comrades who weren’t so lucky!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013


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