The Schellenbaum & Tambourstock…

Perhaps one of the most characteristic and instantly recognisable feature of the German military band was the Schellenbaum (literally ‘Bell Tree’), which, like the military bands themselves, could also be traced back to ancient Turkey. Nick-named ‘Jingling Johnny’, the Schellenbaum began its life as an actual instrument that could be shaken and rattled in percussive fashion; however, somewhat reminiscent of the standards carried by the Roman legions, it gradually evolved to carry a small banner at its top and so became the symbol of command in the Janissary armies of the period…

Having been appropriated by Turkey’s enemy Austria in the 18th century, the Schellenbaum became a feature of the armies of Poland and Russia. Ultimately adopted by the German army, the Schellenbaum was to eventually be regarded as the formal and official standard of the German military band under orders to be paraded, wherever and whenever it performed, and was to be seen in many differing forms and designs, until a form of standardisation took place in 1932, followed by a formal specification being laid down by the German High Command in 1936 shortly after the creation of the Third Reich’s new Wehrmacht in 1935…

Paraded with the band and displaying its name or unit designation, the Schellenbaum was often bought by the local military veteran’s organisation or indeed by the townsfolk of the band’s garrison or shore-based naval establishment and given as a gift to the band to cement the bond between band and the local population.

Despite a Wehrmacht order of 1936, which attempted to rationalise Schellenbaum design, individual ornamentation continued to vary from unit to unit and between the differing branches of service. However, the standard Schellenbaum consisted of an eagle & swastika, made from an aluminium-coloured, light alloy known as helumin; suspended on a hanger from the eagle’s beak hung the unit or garrison banner, whose individual decoration was left up to the unit concerned. Normally this small banner was made of silk and was elaborately decorated on the front by hand, with the town’s coat of arms or the branch of service eagle and swastika emblem, together with the name of the town or garrison hand-embroidered in gothic letters to the reverse.

Under this was fixed a large hollow sun in polished tombac with either a swastika or Kriegsmarine/Heer/Luftwaffe emblem in the centre. Under this hung a crescent, also produced of tombac, with an eagle’s head made of silver coloured argentine at either end. From both these beaks hung trails of brightly coloured red, white & black horse or buffalo hair, whilst hanging from the lower edge of the Halbmond was a row of silver-plated brass stars or swastikas, and under the Halbmond hung a large bell in tombac from whose argentine rim hung another set of small silver-plated stars or swastikas.

The whole affair was mounted on a long handle of black polished wood and whilst not heavy, the full Schellenbaum was certainly unwieldy. Therefore, the carrier had to wear a 2 inch wide black leather carrying strap over the right shoulder with a small cup at the front, into which the lower end of pole could be placed in order to keep the whole structure steady.

Due to its height, the Schellenbaum holder was usually a non-musician chosen from amongst the tallest men in the regiment; in the case of Adolf Hitler’s SS Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte, it was an SS-Mann by the name of Gerhard Staubel, who measured in at an awe-inspiring 6’8″ tall! As unofficial members of the band, the holders were not allowed to wear the musician’s swallowsnests, though the author has seen photographs where they were patently being worn against regulations!

Variations to the 1936 official regulations on design included that of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, whose Schellenbaum was patterned on an older version used by the Imperial German army which sported an eagle holding lightning rods in its talons in place of a swastika, and those of some ship & shore-based bands who paraded Imperial German Navy Schellenbäume, displaying the Imperial naval eagle at the top instead of the eagle & swastika, together with an anchor to the centre of the sun instead of a swastika.

Other variations, (including this superb Luftwaffe example, left), included an eight-pointed star in place of the sun; but it was not unusual for a Schellenbaum to be paraded, unadorned, without the garrison or shore-base banner being displayed from the top eagle, (as in during musikkorps marching practice).

Not strictly a flag or banner, the Tambourstock was both a ceremonial mace & signalling device by which the drum-major issued orders & movement directions to the band under his command and it is an instantly recognisable feature of the German musikkorps.

The body of the Tambourstock was composed of a 51 inch length of brown Bengal cane, with a weighted ball and neck at one end and a point at the other, both of which were made of polished Argentine. Heer, Waffen-SS & Luftwaffe Bataillonstambourstöcke were decorated with two cords black/red/white wool each ending in a tassel with a fringe whilst the Kriegsmarine version was decorated with cords and tassels of a golden-yellow colour

During the pre-Nazi era, the army of the Reichswehr limited the use of the Tambourstock to military parades, guard duties and ceremonial tattoos (Grosser Zapfenstreich). At all other times the battalion drum-major would use his signalling bugle, held out in his right hand at arms length.

However during the Third Reich, the Tambourstock became a more regular and more commonly used item, though with its increased popularity came more stringent rules on its usage, with the German High Command ordering that it should only be used with ‘full military dignity’. Any ostentatious use, such as throwing it up into the air and catching it, was definitely frowned upon and resolutely discouraged!

The era of the Third Reich saw some drum-majors continuing to use older Imperial army, Imperial navy or Reichswehr Tambourstöcke, whilst several Prussian regiments were known to carry similar staffs that were captured from French regiments during the Franco-Prussian wars of the Napoleonic era.

In the German army bands of the new millennium, modern versions of both the Schellenbaum and the Bataillonstambourstock are paraded with pride and élan, as was captured here in the UK in October 1996 when the Bundeswehr’s Heeresmusikkorps 10′s Schellenbaum was paraded at Pembroke Castle, as a part of the military ceremonials marking the German Army’s Panzerkorps withdrawal from their long-time base at the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Ranges down at Castlemartin in South Wales…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014