Tomahawk Films’ New Year..

A very happy and contented New Year to all of the fantastic and most loyal customers of the Tomahawk Films’ WW-II German Archive that we have around the world and indeed to the ever-growing band of kind and enthusiastic collectors & students of military history now regularly reading our Blog and are beginning to contact us either to share welcome snippets of information or just telling us they are enjoying what we post from time to time here on the Tomahawk Film’s website…

I must admit, (though my friends & colleagues in the business already know it to be fact, sadly), that being the Luddite that I am, I’m so much happier with just a word-processor to write on; so that having to finally launch ourselves into the modern era of ‘social media’ and leave behind the old Tomahawk Films catalogue mail-order business, (that has served us so well over 27 years), has become a bit of a shock to my system… it’s sad, but I know it has to be done!

Albeit still so embarrassing when I watch a tiny tot happily & confidently typing on a lap-top or using the latest mobile phone with all its latest apps & gizmos with such aplomb… makes me feel a right klutz)! Then I content myself with the thought that said tot could not write and produce a 50 minute WW-II TV documentary..but then again, knowing my luck these mega-bright little sparks probably could.. and judging by some current TV output..actually do!

But I find it really worrying that there is now such a cultural divide (or should that be a cultural apartheid?) opening up between those of us over 50 and those under.. and, yes, I am the man that shouts at World’s Strongest Man contests on the box when the commentator says a competitor is ’1.8 metres high and weighs 128kgs’. Excuse me? Speak English man not some strange continental Euro verbiage.. I can imagine a man at 6” 6” weighing 26 stone..but everything else… just forget it!

However persisting with my desire…well it’s not my desire but everybody else’s it seems, (thanks Malcolm!), I actually spent over 6 hours yesterday at our local IT company hopefully, and finally, sorting out the Tomahawk Films website and ensuring that its upgrade to a new, firmer foundation and with a change-over from Card Net (Lloyds Bank’s credit-card clearing bank) to the more global Barclaycard, goes seamlessly. If it does then within the next few weeks the our distinctive German archival website will both have a more secure footing to stand upon and be an easier, more customer-friendly & ultra-secure experience for those German music & film footage fans that generously want to continue buying our rare German archival products via the website and having Barclays accept their welcome Visa & Master card payments on our behalf, (alongside our continued usage of PayPal of course).

If that wasn’t enough (smelling salts Daphne!) I then went through an intensive couple of hours being shown the rudiments of Twitter, Facebook & You Tube, (thanks to the aforementioned Malcolm, who is our great mate Malcolm Moore who runs the excellent Mist of Time on-line & battle re-enactors militaria operation up there in Yorkshire and who is ‘our man in the north’ (along with felllow friend Anthony at Militaria.net) as it was Malcolm that finally convinced us here at Tomahawk that we have to embrace the new social media..or die.

Sadly it is a case in fact that one of the downsides to our fabulous success of our German Archive as we enter our 28th year of operation is that we are a regular target for the myriad rip-off merchants in Europe, Russia and North America who still appear to be sitting in their back bedrooms copying our CDs on a home computer then offering the contents on–line as if it were their own (or passing it off as genuine Tomahawk Films products) or worse simply banging it all up on You Tube without asking our permission. Indeed infamous US pirate even went to all the trouble of copying our distinctive red cardboard covers and placing our ripped-off material on several well known American on-line auction and book sites, but I think a ‘phone call to the right ears disabused him of that notion, hopefully he is now out of business..well we can hope I suppose!

Some youngsters seem to view my generation who’ve been in Film & TV a life-time (so do actually have a small clue as to what we talking about..well sometimes!) as dinosaurs; however for some reason there is a new breed of techno folk coming through now who either have no understanding of the concept of Copyright..or simply care even less and it is really galling when you do a regular Google test to check where our German Archive sits within their listings.. only to find those rip-off merchants are actually ranked higher than our bona fide archive..frustrating in the extreme!

These techno-herberts may be highly advanced in all forms of on-line technology but none of them seems to have grasped the simply concept of Copyright and that if somebody else has that Copyright you simply do not rip it off and post it or advertise it on-line as yours…I think these folk must wear strange glasses that make the words ‘on-line’ translate into ‘free to plunder’… and the on-line authorities seem to care not a jot..well that has to change if there is any justice!

One of these companies passing themselves off as ‘professionals’ have simply lifted our rare and original Kriegsweihnachten Christmas Carols CD (that took me 2 years to source and produce), changed the running order, replaced our distinctive cover and, bold as you like, have it offered on their website as ‘legal downloads’ with some obscure German name appended to the recording to make it look as if they have legally acquired the rights….I think not!.. and in fact I’m not sure they would understand the meaning of the word legal if it hit them in them face. Certainly, and as mentioned before, Tomahawk Films does not offer any of our material as digital downloads as happily, (at least for now) our myriad customers still want our complete archival albums on CD and in an attractive sleeve.. (or the real enthusiastic collectors as I tend to call them!) Perhaps ‘digital’ is not the way forwarded as everybody once blithely predicted..indeed look at the newly burgeoning vinyl market with new material being released onto record..who’d have thought it

Sadly as I increasingly make my way through the business world I see there is precious little honour left in business dealings any more (though with wonderful exceptions inall  the people Tomahawk deals directly with in terms of sale & supply!). I suppose with the pirates, where there is a buck to be made from somebody else’s endeavours, then honour is an alien concept, which is really tragic!

But let’s not get down about the dishonest ‘herberts’ infecting the internet and just be thankful for all the good people out there..to whit, thanks to Malcolm, Craig at our IT company CT Central, my director-cameraman Nobbie and his girl-Friday Harriet, Tomahawk are now about to take the fight to the pirates and ne’er-do-wells by opening our own YouTube account so we can legally list and offer some our archive’s music as tasters of the original material to be found in our archive via the Tomahawk Films website… likewise we will open up a Facebook account to keep ourselves updated and see what’s what in the wider world outside of our production offices here in Hampshire..

I have to say that Twitter is the one that I am least convinced by at the moment as what do you say that can be of any meaning in however few characters you are allowed.?. What can you actually say that might be of some importance to anybody else? Since last evening I have started to follow Jeremy Clarkson, BBC ‘Top Gear’ stalwart and a journalist I admire greatly, (though not for his motoring columns as cars, sadly, do nothing for me), but his weekly newspaper columns about life in general are some of the funniest ‘laugh out loud’ musings I have ever seen and happily are now available as delightful book collections, which I read avidly and highly recommend!

For my money, Jeremy is consistently quite the funniest and irreverent writer currently in print,but watching & reading his exchanges yesterday with a female journalist (who I suspect might be London’s Mayor Boris Johnson’s feisty magazine-editor sister) it all seemed quite inane and not really worthy of taking up any of their valuable time and I thought, er why?

The gist of the tweets seems to a bit of slagging for his most impressive Q17 Arctic Convoy documentary that went out last week and was in fact one of the finest war-time documentaries I have seen of late (after the recent Goering: A Career) and I urge you all to take a gander if you get the chance. Jeremy is just a sublime & confident presenter of such war-time docs as his very evident patriotism shines through and his admiration for the veterans he is talking about certainly adds a very personal touch to the programme.

But returning to his ‘tweets’ of yesterday I sort find all these rather unedifying to have such little spats played out in public.  These are bright people so why do they need twitter..something I am still musing about with Tomahawk. Just why do we need a place to leave inane one-liners when we have our website and our Blog through which to express ourselves more fully? .I cringe even more when certain ‘loved up’ couples in the media seem to play out their entire romance on Twitter of the edification of others and I feel like shouting ‘oh do get a room you two’..!

I don’t know whether it is a ‘showbiz thing’ that these folk have to always been seen in public or cannot live their lives without somebody commenting about them…Malcolm & Nobbie have both told me that Tomahawk being on Twitter, (plus the aforementioned You Tube & Facebook), will all help keep Tomahawk Films in the public eye and so keep us right up in the Google rankings, above the very people trying to rip us off..So if it is for the good of the company then we will give it a go..but I can already see Twitter will be the first of these social media to fall by the wayside for Tomahawk Films, as who is going to be sitting in his bath, say, and be interested in the fact that we have just acquired a new German signalhorn for the archive?

Actually that said, I’ll now completely contradict myself and thank John for contacting us having read my Blog relating to such signalhorns & German Bugles to say that he has recently bought a Max Glass-marked example and do we know of the company?… We certainly do for Max Glass (left) was one of the main manufacturers of such signalling instruments and was prolific in distributing them…but oddly Max Glass was also a typewriter-producing factory and was probably as well known, if not more so, for such German Schreiber machines.

Indeed our good pal Shawn over in Texas very generously gifted us an original invoice (Rechnung) dated September 1st 1939 that he picked up recently as issued by Max Glass from Klingenthal, one of the major musical instrument production areas of Germany (also a ski-jumping town I believe?) during both the years of Imperial Germany and the Third Reich. We just missed adding another Max Glass to the archive over Christmas so must ask John if it was indeed his good self that managed to purchase this bugle from a dealer..it had a small waffenampt stamp to the garland, (something I have never seen before so am keen to hear more about that). However our signalhorn collection continues to ebb & flow..as we speak we are awaiting one from Holland and two from Germany but the Christmas back-log seems to have all 3 still in its grip.. so we must be patient!

However back to the social media and it will just remain to be seen if Tomahawk launching itself on to such platforms will be a success or indeed a damp squib…I must admit I have certainly enjoyed writing the Tomahawk Blog which is now just over a year old…though sometimes the ‘old grey matter’ runs a bit dry and it is not always easy to come up with something new opine on…that is why occasionally there are 3 or 4 Blogs in a couple of weeks or nothing for a month. However it is good to see that since we started Blogging the hits to our Tomahawk Film’s website have actually doubled. So we know you guys out there are finding us..and thank you so much for that..great to know we are not sitting in the dark, wittering to ourselves!

On that front, sad news to report that over the Christmas holidays I heard from the family of former Ober-Kanonier Helmut Zimmerman of the 319th Artillery Regiment stationed in Guernsey, (and whom I wrote about in my Blog and magazines articles A Guernsey Gunner’ returns) passed away on Boxing Day and I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family. Helmut was a wonderful man whom I was pleased to know and spend some time with over in Guernsey… as with many terrific, German veterans he always had a twinkly smile and a warm greeting and was a much loved friend of Guernsey.

So in being able to share both happy & sad news I can see social media does have its part to play in keeping everybody involved & interested in this specialised field of military study & collecting and to that end I welcome any Blog readers contacting me via the Tomahawk Films website to either say ‘hello’ or share any information or comments about anything I may have written here..or indeed any world war two television documentaries you may have watched & enjoyed that I may have missed? Having spent the bulk of my professional career in the film, TV & sporting outside broadcast world, I am still a sucker for a good TV documentary and still enjoy watching them & writing about them, so please feel free to make contact with me, it’ll be great to hear from you…!

Meantime wishing you all a great year of study & collecting in 2014… Tomahawk certainly did much better in 2013 than expected on sales of archival CDs, DVDs & Books so perhaps the Recession is finally lifting its heavy hand from backs & our wallets… here’s hoping!  

           Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Third Reich Spielleute…

As one thought or action invariably leads onto another so, as the bugler and drummer/fifer are forever linked historically down the ages, did I find myself moving from former naval cadet bugler to rock-drummer with ‘Adam West and the Gotham City Rockers’, amongst other bands, early on in my pre-television professional life.

However, like many other tub-thumpers I have also endured much stick as a result, for we un-sung souls, (beavering away at the back of the stage to ensure the ‘rock gods’ in the spotlight at the front kept time & looked good), are always the much-mocked ones and never taken seriously by our fellow musicians… though have you ever tried playing a full 5-piece rock kit and seen just how difficult it is? So perhaps having mastered this complex instrument myself I wasn’t quite the knuckle-dragger as depicted by the ‘real’ musos!

However on the basis of ‘once a drummer, always a drummer’ my continued long–time interests in the infantry bugle also helped keep alive, (once I’d given up active rock drumming), my interest in the snare-drum in its military role with the company bugler and drummer & fifers… an integral part of any military column throughout history.

Markedly different from the ‘standard’ German military musician and forever at the head of the company on the march, the Spielleute…literally playing people… have, with their fife & drums, (together with my beloved signalhorn), seemingly forever been a part of military lore. In fact the fife is very much an historical instrument in its own right having been given to the world by the ancient Greeks, and then picked up by Swiss mercenaries who used them in conjunction with drums as far back as The Middle Ages.

Adopted by the British army in the 18th century, the Third Reich’s Hitlerjugend was to take to fife & drumming with a great enthusiasm and ready zeal in the 1930s and today fifes, (along with bugles), are always associated with drums, with the German military term Trommelflöte in fact meaning ‘drum flute’. Made of black ebony and normally tuned in C of normal tuning the fife (or Pfeife in German) measured approximately 15 inches in length and when not being played was kept in a brown or black leather fife case suspended from the bugler or drummer’s leather belt to the rear of his bayonet and frog.

However, the oldest of all the military instruments is the snare or side-drum dating right back to The Crusades and, used in conjunction with the fife, was an effective way of keeping an army in step and on the move; like bugles they were also used to signal & transmit orders. In the 17th century, German armies went into quarters during the winter until a spring offensive could be launched, with soldiers being billeted in a town or village and with only the locals inns and hostelries for entertainment.

To encourage the soldiers to return to their billets at the end of the evening, the inn-keepers would turn their ale-taps off promptly at 10pm. This ‘witching hour’ would then be communicated to inn-keepers and soldiers alike by the garrison drummers who, in the company of an officer and sergeant, would set off around the town beating out a rhythm, whilst checking and ensuring all soldiers were on the move. From this action the word Tattoo’ which we are all now very familiar with in today’s military phraseology is thought to have been coined, derived directly from the Dutch phrase: Doe-Den-Tap-Toe or ‘Turn The Taps Off’!

Wehrmacht snare drum barrels were made of a brass and their batter heads made from calf-skin whilst snares were made from four catgut cords which were strung tightly across the lower drum skin and were held in place by a brass knob on one side and a hook and cord-screw on the corresponding side opposite. The skins were held in place by a wooden inner ring and an outer ring, the latter having a thin covering of copper, and the complete drum was held together by 5 stretching screws  evenly spaced around the body. Additionally a piece of strong curved wire, either covered in field-grey cloth or bound in leather, was riveted to the drum’s bottom rings as protection for the drummer’s trousers or breeches…

By a German army order of August 1933, all military snare and side drums were to be painted white on the inside and on top of the wooden drum rings, whilst the outsides should have 39 red lacquered isosceles triangles along the outer edge, with 39 black triangles along the bottom edge, both pointing inwards, with the resulting squares pattern formed between the triangles in white.

Whilst Luftwaffe and Heer & Waffen-SS snare drums had a standard brass barrel, it was custom and practice for the Kriegsmarine to over-paint the brass in a dark or medium blue. Hitler Youth & Sturm Abteilung snare drums, produced in 3 differing sizes, were painted in red and white alternating triangles, whilst those of the Allgemeine-SS & Waffen-SS sported alternating black and white triangles… and if you actually get to see or handle one ‘in the flesh’ very attractive items they are too…

Incidentally, talking of the Spielleute and their musical armoury of fife, drum & signalhorn, (another subject I write about in some length in the Tomahawk Films-produced book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45), the bugle itself was originally developed, way back in the dim & distant past by the French as a hunting accessory. In fact ‘bugle’ is actually the French word for ‘young bull’ and it was to be the German & French armies that adopted the instrument for military use, and its primary role was in the passing of signals on the battlefield and in camp, including ‘To Arms’ or ‘Last Post’.

As such it soon became an instrument of major significance within the German military, with all units parading its own signalling bugler.

However, finally as a sign-off for this particular Blog, whilst having dwelt primarily on the subject of the snare drum, though not an instrument of the Spielleute but very much harking back to those aforementioned Swiss and indeed German mercenaries of the Middle Ages, is the Landsknecht drum that was peculiar to the Hitler Youth and Deutsche Jungvolk. Certainly a most formidable-looking and very attractive military instrument, its skins were made from calf-hide, and its wooden drum rings were secured top and bottom by rope cords tautened by leather thongs.

Often used en-masse as part of the formidable Nazi propaganda machinery, these impressive drums were worn suspended on a black leather strap over the right shoulder and hanging down at an angle on the drummer’s left and in place of the standard drum-sticks, it was played by two cane-stick beaters with thick white felt pads on the end…

The usual or standard colour-scheme for these beautiful drums was a most dramatic, almost vivid red & white burning flame design for drums paraded by the Hitler Youth, and a similar black & white flame design for the Landsknecht drums of the  Deutsche Jungvolk. The DJ drums also appeared as a very dramatic design of black with a white runic device to the front. In terms of drum size, as with military snare drums, smaller sizes for the shorter boys were produced and issued.

In addition, though a musical instrument forever linked with the propaganda film newsreels of Hitler’s Germany, they were also used later on in great numbers in post-war East Germany, where they were repainted in blue & yellow of the FDJ and re-issued for use by the myriad Communist Youth bands, so as the saying goes: ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Stand-up, Hook-up & Hit the D.Z..!

It’s just as green and beautiful as I remember!”… the first words of former Private Billie Taylor of the US 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment as he stepped down from the coach that had brought him back to the former World War Two RAF air-base at Chilbolton near Winchester in Hampshire one beautiful Autumnal Saturday morning some years ago…

In late 1943 Chilbolton had became the home to members of the US 17th & 82nd Airborne Divisions, in advance of their deployment in the assault on the Normandy coast and in support of full-scale Allied operations on the ground; and for Billie and his wife Frances this long trip from their home in Indiana marked an emotional return to British soil for the first time since war’s end!

It was also to be just the start of an even longer pilgrimage to the Belgian Ardennes, the location in 1944 of the cauldron that was the Battle of the Bulge thence to the Rhine and ultimately on to Berlin, arranged through MilSpecTravel in association with Libertyroad.com, a specialist travel company offering battlefield & military tours for US veterans of World War Two under the expert eye of specialist tour guide Mr Patrick Hinchey.

In fact it was Patrick who was later to be the expert guide on the 2000 ‘Friendly Convoy’ when as the only journalist invited along, I had the real & most emotional honour of travelling back to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and on into Alsace-Lorraine in the wonderful company of Veterans & Widows of the US 79th Infantry Division; thence later with Patrick as my own personal guide, when I travelled to Bad Kreuznach in Germany to interview former Musikmeister of the Musikkorps 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’  SS-Hauptscharführer Gustav Weissenborn, for my book‘The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945’…

But back to Billie’s pilgrimage and, arriving in England soon after its formation in mid-1943, under the motto ‘Thunder from Heaven’, the 17th Airborne, (boasting one parachute & two WACO glider regiments), first saw combat in Europe in December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, thence in March 1945, the division had the honour of making America’s first & only airborne assault into an enemy heartland as they crossed the River Rhine into Germany in Operation Varsity….

As Billie’s memory-laden return to England continued to unfold before him, I was able to quietly observe this modest man from a distance as he took in this former war-time British airfield spread out all about him; and I could see that faraway look come into his eyes, a look that I have seen on so many occasions with many combat veterans, Allied & German, both here & overseas.

In my journalistic experience, it is a look that only men who have actually fought in combat take on… and I’ve come to realise that when I see it, it’s sometimes best not to say a thing as all their thoughts come flooding back: action seen, good buddies lost, life perhaps that could only have minutes more to run as mortal danger threatens to envelope them!

Some combat soldiers, like Al Sepulveda, a heavily decorated US 82nd Airborne Veteran from Los Angeles, who parachuted into Occupied Europe at 2.25am on the morning of ‘D-Day’ 6th of June 1944, again later at St Mere Eglise, (a jump immortalised in the film ‘The Longest Day’) and at Nimegen and who was awarded a Silver Star at Oosterbeck, will want to talk about their war and share all its details… whilst others will just want to slowly slip away from the crowds and quietly relect on their own.

Billie was in the latter camp, so I just stood silently in the shadows under the trees watching him as he cast his gaze slowely around the former combat glider airstrip around him and so obviously recalled a previous life spent here in a small part of the beautiful English countryside.

Then after a long while alone with his prized & personal memories, the reflective mood of the afternoon was broken as party of British combat veterans wearing their prized airborne forces red berets respectfully appeared and offered their personal welcome to all of the American veterans present at a small ceremony of remembrance.

In a ceremony befitting such a WW-II Veteran visit, both American & British Unit Colours & Honours were presented and wreaths laid at the memorial commemorating the vital role that this former World War Two airfield played in the build-up to the D-Day assault on the French coast of Normandy and thence all future Allied airborne drops over Occupied Europe…

Then the formal mood of Remembrance lifted as the American party was escorted by their former British paratrooper compatriots into the nearby village of Chilbolton; here they were able to finally enjoy a rare treat that many of them had not tasted since 1945: a traditional cream-tea that is now a regular custom laid on by the Hampshire locals who regularly play host to many returning former US airborne troops whom, as younger men, had become a regular & much-loved part of the village fabric back in those turbulent & momentous years of 1943 & 1944.

Then following a few precious hours in the Britain’s ancient capital, the nearby City of Winchester, and a moving Vin d’Honneur, (a simple but truly heartfelt formal ceremony of welcome), by the City’s Fathers to these returning WW-II Veterans, at which I was proudly made an Honourary Member of the 17th Airborne Division Association, it was back on to the coach in preparation for their trip across the Channel and onto the continental leg of their European pilgrimage….

As in the final months of World War Two these former US airborne warriors would once again be facing another reception by German parachute forces… though on this occasion it would be a much anticipated, (and this time friendly!), reception in the lovely small German town of Wesel… and by the very Fallschirmjäger ground troops they last met and fought when they jumped & glided in on top of them during Operation Varsity in March 1945!

Where once their one and only aim was that of killing each other, now these Allied & German veteran soldiers would embrace each other as firm friends… truly, war is a strange thing..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013