The End for the Reich’s Musicians…

First-career military bandsmen were not usually employed on the front-line, (except in the case of those transferred back to their secondary duties as infantrymen, combat medics or despatch riders), and so were not normally in danger of being captured during the early years of the war.

However, with the North African campaign in the Western Desert in 1942 and 1943 and the routing of the Afrikakorps at the hands of Montgomery and the Desert Rats of the 8th Army, complete German divisions began to fall into the hands of the British & Commonwealth forces, bandsmen included…

Former allied veterans of the desert campaign have since stated that the continued mood of defiance and arrogance of many of these young soldiers and musicians going into the bag, still convinced of ultimate German victory, was very noticeable, with many of these DAK prisoners lustily singing out of sheer defiance at every opportunity!

In addition Afrikakorps bandsmen captured, along with their instruments, were allowed by Allied camp commanders to continue to practice and perform and so give occasional concerts, before being transferred to the permanent Prisoner of War camps in the UK, Australia and Canada.

However after the end of the campaign in the Western Desert, full-time German military bandsmen prisoners were something of a rarity until after D-Day on June 6th 1944, when the Second World War began to turn slowly but surely against the Third Reich.

With the Allied forces massing on the Western borders of Germany and the Russians closing in on Berlin from the East, manpower throughout the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS was very much at a premium and those military bands that had survived the 1939 ‘cull’ now found themselves being dramatically cut back as unit commanders demanded all musicians to be pressed into service as supply troops, signal operators, medical orderlies, stretcher-bearers and cooks!

In the Kriegsmarine, the naval ratings, including ships’ company musicians attached to the big battleships & battle-cruisers that had been bottled up in the northern German ports of Kiel and Wilhelmshaven by Allied naval & air activity for most of the war, now found themselves transferred to shore-based roles and often into the Waffen-SS as combat infantrymen.

Many career military bandsmen dusted down only on annual two-week refresher courses, swapped their musical instruments for rifles and Panzerfäuste, and were thrown directly into the front-line as combat infantrymen, a role which many were not really prepared for and tragically many were subsequently killed as a result in the ensuing final battles raging across the Reich.

As far as Music Schools were concerned, in 1944, after a devastating air-raid on Brunswick which damaged both buildings and musical instruments, the SS-Musikschule Braunschweig was moved to Bad Saarow in Brandenburg. When the school was finally closed in January 1945, all of the young students were sent home to their parents. Meanwhile across the Reich, other Wehrmacht music-schools quietly shut their doors with all staff and military personnel being effectively demobilised or returned to their units for combat service.

But with so many German military bandsmen having been transferred to other duties, other musicians found themselves at the surrender on May 8th able to slip away quietly and return home to their families. Many other less fortunate found themselves rounded up and taken prisoner, minus their instruments, which in some cases they had manage to hide in various places (often in the barns of local farmers), in the hope of coming back at some point in the future to reclaim them!

Sadly however, many highly talented German career & part-time military musicians were killed at their home garrisons as Allied air-raids took hold from 1943 onwards, whilst 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) were to be tragically killed in action. As a result many musical careers were to be cut short in a swift & brutal fashion!

Across north-west Europe, in the last 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. Though totally exhausted and dejected at the final annihilation, many were quietly grateful to have survived such a destructive war, and for them, ‘Ich hatt einen Kameraden’ was a constant reminder of comrades who weren’t so lucky!

At the capitulation of all German Forces on May 8th 1945, just over seven million soldiers of the Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS laid down their arms and found themselves prisoners of the Allies. However, unlike their comrades taken in combat during the earlier years of the war, this enormous mass of military man-power was classified as disarmed personnel’ so as to distinguish them from their comrades, many by now already languishing in POW camps in Canada and Australia.

Those soldiers who surrendered in the West were processed through the numerous POW clearing stations set up by UK & US forces, before being transported to the French coastal ports for the short trip by tank-landing craft to the main South coast ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. From here the enormous convoy of field-grey was moved by train under Military Police guard to the large handling camps across the UK, such as the huge ‘cage’ set up on Kempton Park racecourse. At these massive pens, all prisoners were de-loused and cleaned before their despatch to the various camps right across Britain.

Not surprisingly, the defiant singing of the Marschlieder, as witnessed by Afrikakorps prisoners ‘going into the bag’ in 1942 and 1943, was not in evidence now, as the men were sent to converted hotels, former stately homes, colleges and old army barracks, in addition to the newly constructed camps specifically built to house this huge influx of men, locations such Kingsfold Camp in Sussex, Henllan Bridge Camp in Cardiganshire and Eden Camp in Yorkshire.

Camp leaders known as Lagerführer were appointed at each camp, and German military discipline was very much enforced. With much of Britain’s manpower still in uniform, some 158,000 of the good-conduct German POW’s were put to work on the land, taking care of hedging & ditching and harvesting under the watchful eye of the Military Police and local army units, or handed over to the responsibility of the individual farmers concerned. Nearly 100,000 other POW’s were seconded by the War Office for coastal defence clearance, dismantling of prisoner-of-war camps no longer needed, and generally being put to use helping to re-build the infrastructure of our Britain’s shattered nation and its economy.

However, whilst a number of prisoners continued to be transferred to Canada and America, some 394,000 in the UK soon found themselves eligible for the first wave of repatriations back to Germany, which began in September 1946 and as true non-combatants, many career military musicians were actually amongst the first wave to be released.

Those not eligible for this early repatriation settled down to a regular routine and a weekly food ration probably better than those which they had been receiving whilst still in the German Armed Forces towards the end of the war: 14oz of meat, 3oz of bacon, 4oz of margarine together with 8lbs of bread and 9lbs of potatoes. ‘

The prisoners also received token wages in return for their labours off-camp (around 3 shillings for a 48-hour week), which could only be spent in the camp canteens on personal effects and toiletries such as cigarettes and razor-blades.

Entertainment was limited though individual Allied Camp Commanders often decided that performances by German bandsmen would aide the morale of their fellow POWs and so allowed the musicians to perform with scrounged or borrowed musical instruments.

Christmas 1946 saw a sea-change of opinion towards these young German prisoners, now a regular sight in the local communities, and a series of reconciliation church services took place across the county at which many thousands of POWs were invited to take part and by the New Year of 1947 saw the majority of restrictions on German prisoners lifted; British guards no longer oversaw working parties, barbed wire around the camps came down, and many young Germans were actively welcomed into British homes.

With a number of these ex-soldiers falling for local girls and feeling that Soviet-occupied Germany was nothing to go home to, many opted to stay in the UK, keep their farming & labouring jobs, marry and eventually take out British citizenship, several military bandsmen included. For many, however, being allocated to a Release Group and so obtain a Form D-2, the prisoner-discharge certificate, was all they could think of, and by Christmas 1948, all of the so-called parole-prisoners had been given a new German passport, some measure of back-pay and a ticket home to their families and loved ones after so many long years apart.

In Russia, sadly the picture was much grimmer. Having lost over 16 million of its citizens during the course of the Second World War, Russian treatment of its German POWs was so appalling that of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers taken prisoner on the Eastern Front, many were to die in captivity. Just over 45,000 survived for eventual release and a return home to Germany in the early 1950s.

Such was the vengeance wreaked by the Russian authorities for the many millions of its citizens that Motherland lost during the Second World War, that some former Waffen-SS soldiers, including medics & musicians, were made to suffer the deprivations of the terrible Soviet P.O.W camps right up until the early 1960s. 

More photos and an extended chapter looking at how the war ended for so many fine German military musicians can be found in my book:The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45…

Copyright Brian Matthews @2013

 

Songs of the Waffen-SS Veterans…

During my career as a producer with Tomahawk Films I have been blessed to receive much help & generous support for my on-going work with the German Soldier Song, not least of which was from the Waffen-SS Old Comrades association in Germany, a very proud organisation unashamed of both its musical inheritance and tradition of being widely regarded as the finest fighting soldiers the world has ever seen.

Sadly it is no longer as once was and despite there being no specific German military musical veterans associations in place today there were, when I last specifically checked, just 33 surviving musicians from the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler‘which was quite some number, given their ages…

Obviously a number have passed away since I began my work and studies including, at the end of last year, their spiritual leader Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS 1.Generalstabsoffizier der 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” Hubert Meyer, but of the remainder who are still with us, some are still able to meet up each year to relive the old days when they served as bandsmen in the Hitler’s elite SS-Bodyguard Division. In fact a number of former SS-LAH bandsmen went on to have post-war musical careers in West German theatres and orchestras, though none of them play today, for as late SS-Musikmeister Gustav Weissenborn remarked to me during our time together in Germany, “their teeth are now like the stars, they come out at night…!”

HIAG, the official German umbrella organisation of the Waffen-SS Veterans Association, though no longer active, very much strove to keep the musical aspect of their short military history alive and back in 1975 their SS Veteran’s Soldatenchor in Minden, comprising former soldiers with the elite Waffen-SS units ‘Das Reich’, ‘Germania’, ‘Wiking’ ‘Der Führer’, ‘Totenkopf’, ‘Deutschland’,Hitlerjugend’ and the SS-Leibstandarte’ Adolf Hitler’, all under the driving leadership of Willy Casselmann, set about recording on tape some of their most favourite Waffen-SS Marschlieder in their true, unaccompanied fashion.

During the research for my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45, Willy kindly shared their story with me:

‘At the age of 76 I have been chairman of the Minden HIAG Association for some 45 years, and as much as my age permits, I manage to hold & keep all the comrades drawn from former Waffen-SS units (and many now in their eighties) together. In addition, and along with the late editor of the German Munin publishing house, I was the main driving force behind the making of our record  ‘Lieder die wir einst sangen’ (Songs we used to sing).

Over the years, and with the help of amateur choir-masters, we rediscovered our love for military songs and at the end of almost every monthly meeting of our Waffen-SS Old Comrades Association there would be an informal sing-song, and again whenever we met up in the beer hall. However, it took us a while to gather up all of our courage before we were able perform our songs for the entertainment of other old soldiers’ associations!

It took many hours of practice, discipline and hard work before we were able to raise our singing to a recordable quality, but we did and then found ourselves gathered in a small room above a beer-hall in Minden to record some of our favourite old songs. Mind you, the function room above the beer hall had a creaking floor, so no-one was allowed to move their feet during the recording; we were also very nervous and our amateur choir-master present had some difficulty in getting the fifty veterans present under control!

However, we were very fortunate that we had with us on that day, along with our Munin editor, a musical expert in the shape of SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Bunge, who was not only the former Chor-und Musikmeister with the elite Waffen-SS regiment ‘Deutschland’, but had written the Munin-published book ‘Musik in der Waffen-SS’. He took charge of the session; all went smoothly and everybody was very happy with the end recording, which we released on a limited record run under the title ‘Lieder  die wir einst sangen…”

Sadly Fritz Bunge died shortly after that famous recording session in the room above the beer-cellar, but several choir members, despite their great age, are still singing just as lustily today!

That original recording was to lay untouched for many years until 1998 when, by chance I unearthed an old copy and, re-naming it ‘Die Waffen-SS Alte Kameraden Singen!, was able to have it digitally re-mastered by the legendary Simon ‘Woody’ Wood up at Dubmaster Studios and released, by kind permission of Willy Casselmann and the SS-Veteran’s Soldatenchor Minden, first as a 14 track cassette and thence onto to CD through an exclusive arrangement with the Tomahawk Films World War Two German Archive.

This then led to a second Veteran’s recording that Tomahawk Films were additionally granted exclusive rights to. Released under the title: Soldatenlieder und Hornsignale der Waffen-SS it featured more superb acapella choir recordings interspersed with original Waffen-SS bugle calls performed by former SS-Hornist Arthur Schulte.

In addition, following the SS-Veteran Soldatenchor’s local success with their recording venture,  Willy Casselmann and his Minden comrades placed an advert in the Waffen-SS Association’s in-house magazine ‘Der Freiwillige’ (The Volunteer), appealing for readers and fellow old comrades to send in any German Marschlieder lyric & music scores they might still have in their possession.

Their plea was well received, and from the numerous replies received, the HIAG Association was able, through their publishing company, Munin Verlag of Osnabrück, to compile, print and publish their own individual and very personal song-book (also entitled ‘Lieder, die wir einst Sangen’, after their record title), a copy of which I was given during my book research and which, Tomahawk Films were given kind permission to re-print in 2000.

Interestingly the preface written by Karl Cerff  read: ” The collected songs of a nation are an expression of its attitude to life. The Germans are amongst the most song-loving of peoples and their treasure of songs is varied, widely known and sung wherever German people live.

The soldier’s song plays an important role within these songs as it represents a part of the soldier’s life. It recalls memories of comradeship, of home and family, of a soldier’s love and a soldier’s death. Those who have been in the armed forces themselves will particularly know the strength of a soldier’s song. Such a song had the power to raise a whole company after a great action and enable them to renew their efforts. Ex-servicemen will also remember many a day in the barracks, in the quarters, in the field or on exercise, that was brightened by both sad and cheerful songs.

Of equal importance as the soldier’s song is the folk song. It reflects the soul of our people, it is part of traditional lore & the beauty of the German mother tongue resonates from its verses & melodies: natural cheerfulness or pensive earnestness, joy of life or deep sorrow. They all find expression in folk songs as the feelings of a people from the same way of life.

Even if the hardship of the past decades has dampened the joy of singing, we are encouraged by a re-awakened longing, which in print one only dares to refer to as nostalgia, to publish this small collection of songs that we once sang.The collection is incomplete and worth completing.

We would like to thank all our comrades and friends for their co-operation and we hope that the Songbook will give some pleasure and that it will become indispensable at old comrades’ meetings, at celebrations, on hikes, even at gatherings of friends or families. Let song become a bridge between generations..!”

Looking through it, all the old classics were there: ‘Im Feldquartier’, ‘Deutschlandlied’, ‘Lebe wohl du kleine Monika,’ ‘Mein Regiment, mein Heimatland’, ‘Ich hatt’ einem Kameraden’, ‘Wenn alle untreu werden’, ‘Im Grünen Wald’, ‘Es ist so schön, Soldat zu’ sein’, ‘Drei Lillien’, ‘Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuss’ and ‘Jawoll das stimmt’ (which appears under a different name as ‘Nordsee’).

Certainly the former members of the Waffen-SSand indeed those  of Germany’s equally famous Afrikakorps need no encouragement before bursting unselfconsciously into song at any given opportunity. But the question often arises in my mind: what happens when the last of the World War Two German veterans are no longer with us to carry on this fine military musical tradition..?

                    Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

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