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

A Hurricane Downed over Guernsey..!

When wandering the tranquil lanes & backwaters of the beautiful islands making up the Bailiwick of Guernsey it is sometimes hard to believe, especially on a drowsy, sunny, early Autumnal day that, between 1940 & 1945 this Crown Dependent landscape was occupied by the military forces of Hitler’s Third Reich!

Indeed sometimes amidst the peace & quiet of these intrinsically agricultural islands you could be fooled into thinking the Bailiwick had been completely untouched by war and that the sound of heavily studded boots and the clinking of German mess-tins on gas-masks and lusty voices raised in soldier-song on these narrow lanes was all but a fantastic dream..!

However although the Channel Islands are dotted with some very serious German fortifications, (some of which were doomed to be destroyed post-war until it was realised the civilian-commissioned demolition teams were to be beaten by the sheer amount of concrete involved), it is only when you visit some of the well kempt graveyards or see the myriad memorials in the occupation museums or renovated German military sites & locations that you realise that it did indeed happen…and how!

As to be expected, there was a large human cost involved despite this ‘benign occupation’ as the late Guernseyman Frank Stroobant called it and the German cemetery at Fort George is both another place of ‘pilgrimage’ for me as well as being a part of the closing sequence in my TV documentary Channel Islands Occupied.

Here, high up on the cliffs overlooking St Peter Port, some 113 German graves lie with full public access and where one can see headstones of some 19 Kriegsmarine matelots, 88 soldiers & 4 German merchant seaman killed, some as the result of Allied assaults and some of illness or natural causes during the years of occupation. All of these graves all beautifully tended & manicured by locals and a paternal eye is also kept by the German War Graves Commission, however there would have been many more German graves across the Bailiwick but for a concerted effort by the German authorities in the 1960s to exhume and repatriate many bodies of former serving Wehrmacht and Organisation Todt personnel from the Bailiwick.

Slightly macabre evidence of this very sombre act can be seen today in Richard Heaume’s Occupation Museum at Forest.. sight of which I must admit rather stops me in my tracks and causes more than a few moments of quiet thought! But why some bodies were removed and re-interred in military graves in France & Germany, whilst the 113 in St George were left quietly in this most stunning of locations, I have yet to find out… it may be that by the 1960s their families were now stranded behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany or their families were no longer around… or maybe that their surviving loved-ones thought it perhaps best to leave them quietly at rest here in this most peaceful location on Guernsey.

However it is a further contemplative moment when you wander amongst these many German headstones in St George’s cemetery and note the varying ages of those lying here: from late teens to late 40s/early 50s, plus the varying ranks & branches of service of those former servicemen laid to rest here. Indeed there is a member of the NSKK, (Nazi Germany’s political motoring arm), a Wehrmacht veterinary officer, a Kriegsmarine ships stoker, a Luftwaffe flak gunner, a senior army officer… just casting an eye across this cemetery is a history lesson in itself.

Then, set just atop all of these German headstones that step down in tiers below it, is one of a Canadian pilot, 22 year old Flight Sergeant Biddlecombe RCAF, shot down over the Bailiwick in 1944 when either conducting an air assault on Guernsey’s German fortifications or having baled out when in the vicinity of the islands… and again I am wondering if that, as his family was so far away across the Atlantic, they too perhaps thought it best to also leave his body here in peace on the island of Guernsey.

This then led me on to wondering just how many Allied air crew had actually been killed over the Bailiwick – and the number was surprisingly readily forthcoming: 111. Indeed at Richard Heaume’s Occupation Museum at Forest there is now a very attractive little propeller memorial to these airmen sited in the corner of his car park as you venture from your car towards the museum entrance as testament to this fact.

When you think about it, 111 is a huge number of lost Allied air-crew even for the  5 years occupation of these islands, (on average just over 22 a year), and a number of these would have come as a result of probing low-level fighter-bomber offensive attacks conducted against the islands by the RAF and USAAF, whilst others, (which would account for the somewhat high number of losses) would be from British, Canadian or US bomber crews shot down on the return legs of their missions over the Ruhr or the Reich’s capital Berlin.

These would undoubtedly have been shot down as they strayed off course and got bounced by Luftwaffe night & day fighters flying from nearby France, or by the ME109s scrambled from Guernsey’s Luftwaffe base. A number would have also been shot down by the many heavy flak crews sited both on the islands and again over the water in France.

Happily not all Allied crew that baled out or crashed over the Bailiwick were killed… and I am indebted to my pal Major Evan Ozanne, late of the Guernsey Tourist Board and more recently editor of his former parish’s newsletter ‘Les Tortevalais’, who told me of a Hawker Hurricane pilot that baled out over the island early on in the war and the tale surrounding the pilot’s family who had recently come to Guernsey looking for information on his war-time escapades!

Lesley Sutherland and her husband Alastair had flown over to the Bailiwick from their home in Glasgow, intent on researching the story of her father, Robert Stirling, who crashed off Lihou island during the war. Staying at a local hotel they picked up Evan’s magazine and there, before her eyes, was her father’s story as penned by Evan … and a subsequent meeting up with him and thence with Simon Hamon from the Channel Island Occupation Society (Guernsey) added more vital information to their research.

It transpires that Robert Stirling was a 23 year old Sergeant-Pilot with 87 Squadron RAF flying a Hurricane Mk1 on a night-intruder patrol from its base in South West England in the vicinity of the Channel Islands on the night of April 11th/12th 1941, when his plane actually ran out of juice over the Bailiwick. Making a swift decision to try to force-land at Guernsey’s airfield unfortunately the Luftwaffe heavy flak crews defending the air-field opened fire on his Hurricane and Robert decided to bale out instead of being shot down and safely came down on the end of his parachute onto the tiny all-but inhabited island of Lihou just off the south-west corner of Guernsey.

Fortunately it was low-tide so he made his way back across the causeway to the mainland and, surviving both a German minefield and a mined road, walked to the nearest house he could find, that of Mr Tom Brouard who took him in and gave him a cuppa, (of bramble tea no doubt!).

With an island-wide night curfew and Tom having no ‘phone Robert was given bed and in the morning, he gave himself up to the German authorities… and Tom? Well sadly for all his endeavour the Germans gave him 4 weeks in prison for harbouring a British fugitive… despite not being able to inform the authorities that the downed RAF pilot was with him..! and that might have been the end of the story but for Robert’s daughter Lesley who, later in their holiday, was chatting to Marion Henry at the Bruce Russell Gold & Silversmith showroom and mentioned the purpose of their trip.

She showed Marion Major Ozanne’s magazine article and said she & her husband had learned that a Mr Tom Brouard had sheltered her father on that fateful night he was shot down…to which Marion replied:’Tom was my uncle’…a very small world if ever there was..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013       (Robert Stirling photos courtesy: The John Goodwin CIOS Archive)

Music of the Kaiser’s War 1914-18…

When Tomahawk Films first got involved with the professional restoration, recovery & re-mastery of original pre-1945 German military & civilian music back in way back 1987, I never for one moment imagined that we would eventually go right back to the earliest inceptions of recorded military music… back as far as pre World War One in fact.. .but with our decision to eventually widen out our World War Two German Archive as far back as 1914 (in one direction) and then up to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in the other, to complete the picture and ‘journey’ (awful word!) of German military music, this was exactly what happened… and by a stroke of the most incredible luck possible too..!

Thanks to this lucky break and our friendship with the good folk at Eagle & Lyre, our studio guru Simon ‘Woody’ Wood was given his toughest assignment yet.. an incredible archival sound restoration of perhaps some of the rarest military-music you will ever own on CD… and by the time the maestro’s fingers had finished doing their stuff in the recording studio, certainly our most expensive audio-production to date!!

This lucky find leading to our venture into First World German War sound recordings, all stemmed back to 1997 when Eagle & Lyre’s Tony Dean, (a wonderfully enthusiastic & most knowledgeable fellow German military music enthusiast) found himself in the beautiful and atmospheric  medieval Eastern German town of Quedlinburg, when by an amazing stroke of fortune, he was walking past a very old building that was being renovated and, looking into the builder’s skip slowly filling up outside in the road, he noticed what looked like suspiciously like a folder containing 78 rpm schellack records.

On stopping and carrying out a further inspection, this is exactly what it was… a collection of pre- and early World War One schellacks, (1913 to 1916), and all were, amazingly, fully intact and without a mark on them… and despite his utter amazement at this find, he managed to enquired of one of the workers where the records had been found… the reply coming that the folder had been located up in the attic as they were taking the old roof off this very old German building.

After a few minutes of quiet haggling Tony managed to acquire this wonderful folder of musical treasures that turned out to be a totally unique collection of the earliest-known military 78rpm-schellacks containing the performances of some of Imperial Germany’s finest military musicians. What was even more amazing when you come to consider it, was that here, lying on top of this builders’ skip was a stunning musical record that had also survived the upheaval of the First World War, the Allied saturation bombing of World War II and then the post-war Russian Occupation of Eastern Germany and the Fall of the Berlin Wall..!.

Returning to the UK, clutching his treasure trove close to his chest, Tony alerted us to his find and  now, almost 100 years on, Tomahawk, Tony & myself were able to take these beautiful schellacks over to ‘Woody’ at Dubmaster Studios and, after painstaking restoration using the latest versions of Cedar Noise Reduction and the updated Sadie-DEW audio-editing systems, we produced perhaps one of the earliest & rarest CD collection of recorded Imperial German military music from Kaiser Wilhelm’s Army..!

Now offering the rarest insight into German Instrumental & Bandstand Music of the Great War, these incredible old schellacks were originally recorded before Spring 1916 and so are representative of the 78rpm records that German officers played on their wind-up gramophones in the trenches, so reminding them of the ‘golden years of peace’ before August 1914 and the ensuing horrors of the Western Front in Northern France & Belgium between the years 1914 and 1918! A real testament to history!

Working with such ancient & antique recordings of bands playing ‘live’ into a large horn onto wax cylinders, some very old faults cannot be remedied without physically altering the integrity of those records (something ‘Woody’ & I were certainly keen to avoid!).

So in places the odd, click, hiss or tiny section of distortion will still be apparent, but remembering their true age & rarity of these marvellous recordings, (now almost 100 years old),  true collectors & aficionados of old recorded military music can only marvel at the stunning job that ‘Woody’ has done to bring these recordings back to life!

The Kaiser’s Musikkorps of the Great Warnow offers 16 instrumental tracks including: Marsch des 1. Bataillons-Garde - Mussinan Marsch - König Karl Marsch - Parademarsch im Galopp - Fridericus Rex Grenadiermarsch - Töne Jubel Marsch - Sternengefunkel - Johann Marsch mit Frohsinn - Trabmarsch des 1.Garde-Ulanen and the Kaiser Friedrich Marsch and all performed by a superb array of elite Imperial German army bands, including Musikkorps der Garde Pioniere Berlin, Garde-Kürassier Regiment, Musikkorps des 106. Inf.-Regt.“König Georg”,  Kaiser Franz Garde Grenadier Regiment and the Musikkorps der Kaiserl. II Seebataillons, Wilhelmshaven…

What a find..and what a lucky day for Tony, (who was on his last journey behind the Iron Curtain), in Quedlinburg… for just another few minutes and this wonderful collection would have been finally covered with builder’s rubble and so lost to the collecting world forever… and if only these 78rpm schellacks could actually speak, what a story they would be able to tell..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Converting Nazi-era Military Music to Tomahawk Films’ CDs…

At the risk of ‘teaching Grandma to suck eggs’, not all collectors will be familiar with the art of digitally re-mastering old & highly precious 78rpm schellack records into a modern playable format, (some now actually over 100 years old), and yet, even in today’s digital age, some still believe it is simply a case of whacking a much-loved schellack onto an old wind-up record player, sticking a microphone in front of the speaker..and hey presto..job done!! (…and yes, we have seen that done!).

Happily for us, all of Tomahawk Film’s archival 78rpm German recordings are digitally renovated & repaired, (where needed) and then remastered by the superb archival audio-engineer Simon Wood (or ‘Woody’ as he is known by everybody), at his superb recording studio, Dubmaster, deep in the heart of our beautiful southern county of Hampshire.

Using the very latest and updated technology available to the world of audio-dubbing, Tomahawk has enjoyed a fabulous 25 year-plus relationship with Woody and on many an occasion we have called on his considerable expertise as both a television location sound-recordist & studio audio-producer to recover, preserve & then re-master some of our original audio material that has come in directly from all four corners of Germany… and some of it quite often in various states of disrepair..!

Whilst some of these beautiful and very rare schellacks have been found by us in Germany in almost pristine condition, (thanks to careful handling by the previous owners), and so often look & sound as if actually produced in recent years and thus need only a minimum of the love & care Woody lavishes on them, nevertheless it is the case that some of our original material now goes back as far as 1910 and has required a bit more in the way of TLC..!

Our unique Imperial German release: The Kaiser’s Musikkorps of the Great War 1914-1918  (for which many thanks to our friends at Eagle & Lyre for their additional help & expertise in this earlier field of German military music), being very much a case in point. This earliest of CD’s in our Archive actually started life as a wonderful collection of some of the first schellacks around that were actually found, by accident, in the former Eastern Germany, when a house was being demolished and a large, carefully bound album of these old records was found amidst the lathe & plaster of the attic as it collapsed around the builder’s heads..!.

When you come to think of it, it really is quite amazing that here was an original schellack record collection that had survived the the 5 years of World War One, the Weimar Republic, the Rise of the Nazis & The Third Reich, heavy Allied bombing of Germany’s cities and her industrial areas in 1943-44 and then, post-war, Soviet Occupation and the ultimate Fall of the Berlin Wall… talk about ‘if only a collection could tell a story’..!

Amazingly these schellack 78rpms also cleaned up beautifully in Woody’s studio and so Imperial German Military music, that would have been played on wind-up gramophones in fox-holes & trenches of the Western Front, can now be enjoyed by collectors & enthusiasts on CD some 100 years later!.

Working with schellacks that have actually been quite this old was something of a nervous one-off for Tomahawk as the majority of our German music releases are from the Third Reich/Nazi-era and so Woody ‘only’ has to go back some 75-odd years. However the recovery & restoration of this wonderful music still requires the same skills & studio equipment and Woody’s professional lightness of touch, (or ‘magic’ as I still call it!), in re-mastering this historical material to CD and so successfully preserving The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive of Third Reich/Nazi-era music for many years yet to come..!

As far as the actual sound quality of our original old recordings themselves are concerned, many collectors will know that an original historical schellack 78rpm record had a beautifully inherent and very distinctive low-level hiss & rumble, (even when brand-new in the 1920s, 30s & 40s); and whilst Woody has faithfully brought many of these lovely old records ‘back from the brink’ and digitally cleaned them up to give a markedly enhanced listening experience, in so doing he has also successfully managed a superb ‘historical balancing act’ to leave enough of that original light hiss & rumble in the CD transfer in order to preserve the integrity of the original medium…

The end result is that our listener is happily aware that he is listening to an original & historical schellack recording and not some ‘antiseptically over-worked recording’ that sounds like it was merely lifted yesterday and as such has absolutely no atmosphere left to it whatsoever! With his incredible sense of hearing, (and his hands a blur over a studio dubbing-console that looks more like Concorde’s flight-deck!), Woody has ensured that in Tomahawk Films’ audio recordings you are listening to the high quality that original German audiences would have also listened to on schellack 78rpm, either on their gramophones or on radio via the early radio recording services of The Third Reich..and even earlier!

It also has to be said that Woody himself has a long and very distinguished television & recording studio background, (including television drama & documentaries as well as studio & location recording of anything musical from modern rock bands to classic orchestral ensembles), and such is his expertise in audio-art that this year he found himself much in demand in a supervising audio-recording role on the UK Television sound coverage of the Olympic Games staged here in London in 2013. So Tomahawk Films count ourselves very lucky to still have all of that audio & studio recording  expertise at our command along with Woody’s sensitive ears..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012