Collecting Third Reich Signalhorns…

I must admit that, many years before I penned my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of AH’s Third Reich 1933-45, I’d always had a bit of soft spot for the German signalhorn or bugle having, in my own time, been a bit of a whizz on my old Potters of Aldershot cadet bugle when I was a Petty Officer in the Royal Naval Section of the CCF back at my old Grammar school in Winchester. As such I could often be heard belting out a fair rendition of Reveille or The Last Post through my bedroom window, (embarrassingly much to my poor old neighbour’s on-going distress!)

But it was to be many moons while later, when I had graduated to the world of documentary  Film & TV and was running Tomahawk Films here in Twyford that the alluring aspect of historical German military music would fully emerge ’front & centre’ in my professional life and the engaging world of the bugle would happily re-appear on my radar in the shape of the German Infantry Signalhorn from the Third Reich and the earlier era of the Kaiser and the Great War of 1914-18.

So it was that over the last 20 years or so this lovely but often overlooked battlefield signalling instrument from the German military inventory became something of a passion for me and, as a result of acquiring all of the stunning Third Reich-era military musical instruments that can be seen in my book, many of the infantry signalhorns have since gone into my own personal collection, where today they take pride of place on display in Tomahawk Films’ production offices here on the UK’s beautiful South Coast…

Indeed the whole office used to be crammed full of Third Reich military-musical militaria as I sought out anything & everything in Germany to photograph and illustrate in the instrument chapter of my book, though many of those wonderful instruments now happily grace similar  enthusiastic Musiker collections here in the UK, over the Channel in France and with a number of great collecting mates ‘across the pond’ over in the US where they are similarly treasured as the terrific historical artefacts they undoubtedly are…

But the long search in various nooks, corners & crevices of Germany, (and their subsequent handling by myself and others), over many years has certainly added to my own personal compendium of knowledge of this, hitherto, unsung area of militaria collecting. For it is a matter of recorded fact the military band of the Third Reich was certainly well placed in terms of equipping itself, for not only was that nation renowned for its expertise in the manufacture of certain specific and highly technical items such as optical instruments and cameras, but Germany was also, historically, a major designer & producer of high quality musical instruments.

Indeed the modern brass instrumentation of today’s military bands the world over can be traced directly back to the Germany of the 16th & 17th century, and in particular to the ancient town of Nuremberg which boasted some twenty to thirty small companies who were actively involved in the manufacture of brass musical instruments and their accessories; whilst around Markneukirchen in southern Saxony, a whole host of musical instrument and associated parts makers also thrived. Other towns and cities operating similar thriving instrument ‘cottage industries’ included Augsburg, Vienna, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich, Dresden, Breslau, Leipzig, Graslitz (now post-war Kraslice), Linz, and Adolf Hitler’s beloved Berchtesgaden.

The highly skilled manufacture of musical instruments in Germany was very much a family-run affair, often handing down skills and expertise over three and four generations of craftsmen, all working in small companies, many employing no more than eight or nine employees, each producing the various different parts and components, such as valves, bells & decorations required to produced the finished instruments, often put together elsewhere.

Not only was Germany credited with producing the first true brass musical instruments, but it was also the nation that, in the late 18th century, started their mass-production at about the same time that many German instrument-manufacturing families began to spread their wings and move across Europe and further afield to the United States. Kohler and Metzler were two such instrument families who chose to move and they set up businesses in England, where they continued the strong tradition of excellent instrument workmanship, before sadly finally going out of business altogther in the early 1900′s. 

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the instrument families and their cottage-industry continued to flourish, with Kruspe of Erfurt excelling in the manufacture of the ‘Rolls Royce’ of all trombones, cornets and trumpets, whilst Germany’s oldest brass instrument manufacturer, Gebrüder Alexander, established in Mainz in 1782 by Franz Ambrose Alexander, concentrated on producing superior examples of flugelhorn, French horn, tuba & euphonium, creating and introducing many of the skills and techniques that continue to be utilised in instrument manufacture today. Tragically some of these old companies, like signalhorn-maker Oskar Ullmann of Leipzig, were literally blasted out of existence by the Allied bombing campaigns of the RAF & USAAF in the years 1943 to 1944…

Historically, probably the most famous of all musical instrument producing dynasties was the Denner family of Nuremberg, though similar other large scale family firms followed hard on their heels including the Moritz family of Berlin, (manufacturers of desirable and very high quality signalhorn for the Imperial Army of Kaiser Wilhelm), the Heckel & Grenser families of Dresden and the Adler family of Markneukirchen and Leipzig.

Of the many innovations in musical instrument production credited to German craftsmen, perhaps the most revolutionary was the rotary-valve, which they employed with great enthusiasm on their all trumpets, trombones, cornets, French horns and Wagner tubas. So whilst the bands of other European military armies evolved with the piston-valve, German military bands stuck rigidly to their beloved and, some say, superior rotary-valve. This is a very good rule of thumb when trying to identify German military musical instruments from a photograph or at a some distance! 

In addition a great many German-made brass instruments, particularly my beloved Deutsche Signalhorn, were often distinguished by the manufacturer’s practice of embellishing their instruments with the addition of an inch wide nickel silver plated brass collar or band around the bell-end, known as a ‘Girlande’ or garland.

Traditionally a Bavarian and Austrian deluxe adornment, this metal reinforcement fulfilled two roles: that of strengthening the bell of the instrument in the days when metals and manufacturing techniques could not always guarantee a consistent thickness of the bell, so giving a more ‘rigid’ sound to the instrument as a result, and secondly, providing an area of the instrument, upon which engravings or personal and regimental details could be etched by the manufacturer or the musician himself.

So whilst many brass instruments encountered sporting a garland will be of German & Austrian origin, a number of nations took note and subsequently copied this design feature, including early French produced instruments. Indeed, in American musical circles, the addition of a garland on instruments produced between 1920 and 1940 was considered a rather swanky personal customisation, and was a sure sign of the owner’s affluence!

However, on close inspection of a garland, those emanating from German craftsmen will traditionally be seen to have the lower edge of the silver band actually wrapped around the rim of the instrument’s bell to become slightly tucked under. Non-Germanic garlands will generally be affixed in the opposite manner with the rim or lip of the bell rolling back over the garland and effectively holding it down. In addition, certain manufacturers could be identified by the specific ornamentation and engraving etched onto their garlands.

Another sign of Teutonic origin is that all German-produced silver used in the manufacture of garlands & instrument parts contained a much higher nickel content in their alloy mix; as a result Germans refer to nickel-silver simply as ‘German silver’ even today.

Apart from making the material much stronger, this had the beneficial effect of giving the silver finish a much brighter, polished feel, whilst other manufacturers around the world using a lower nickel content in the mixes had to make do with their silver-plated instruments having more of a greyish quality in their finishes. Thanks to their stronger nickel-silver mixes, German manufactured musical instrument parts, particularly nickel-silver tubing used for the sliding parts, were very much in demand the world over, especially from American manufacturers… and this is very much the case today.

The actual range of instruments in a Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS military band, (as opposed to just the bugles, fife & drums of the spielleute), depended primarily on the overall manpower of the band in question, and on whether it was employed on standard & ceremonial duties or required to perform in a concert situation. These further matters I detail in my Tomahawk Films’ published book: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

A Soldier’s Grave…

I first stumbled across it by chance..!   It was tucked away in the corner of the churchyard surrounding Twyford’s beautiful Parish church and, being off the main pathway, it had long given up the struggle against ivy and long grass. I think it was the shape that caught my eye as I wandered absent-mindedly through that tall grass and I stopped, picked away at some of undergrowth that had attached itself to the headstone and, underneath years of neglect, there appeared some metal lettering affixed to the concrete face…

It read:  ‘Private John Douglas Small of the London Regiment ‘Kensingtons’. Son of Albert and Emmie Small of Elfords, Hastings. Died at Hazeley Down Camp, Twyford September 29th 1916 aged 18’.

The words said everything, yet told me nothing. Who was this young soldier who had been stationed at the big First World War pre-embarkation camp in the village? That, in the third year of that terrible conflict, this soldier, not long out of basic training, had died at such a young age was obvious… but how and why?

Had he made it to the Western Front and returned to die of his wounds? Had he been taken ill awaiting the move to the trenches of Flanders?… or was there a more sinister story behind this innocent headstone? More intriguingly, why did this soldier’s grave have a private headstone whilst other soldiers who’d died at the camp, and were also buried here in Twyford’s churchyard, have the instantly recognised white official military headstone with Regimental badge?  So many questions, but where to begin to find the answers?

Having lain undetected for so long, the answers were not to be eventually found locally, however a letter to a local newspaper in the Hastings area appealing for information brought a breakthrough for me. Several Hastings residents remembered the family of John Douglas Small, then came the big tip-off: ‘Douglas’, as he was apparently affectionately known, had a younger sister who was actually still alive and living in a nursing home in Battle and, armed with this information, I made my way to Sussex to meet Constance ‘Connie’ Small.  A former school teacher and now in her nineties, this lovely old lady was as bright as a button and, obviously touched that I had taken over the tending her late brother’s grave, she talked to me about his tragically short life.

Douglas was her favourite older brother and on leaving school at 16, he took a job in his father’s motor-vehicle garage. Called up at 18, he enlisted in Chichester as 6120 Private Small in the 13th Battalion, the London Regiment,  a Territorial unit known colloquially as the ‘Saturday Night Soldiers’. Following basic training, his Regiment was despatched to Hazeley Down, Twyford, in preparation for its transfer across the Channel to France and the Western Front.

But on the morning of the 26th September 1916, as the lads were called to muster at 7am ready for the ‘off’, Douglas could not be roused from his bed; the camp doctor was called and he was transferred to the military hospital at Haslar in Gosport down on the South Coast, where meningitis was diagnosed. Tragically he died three days later and his body was returned to Twyford and the Hazeley Down camp.

By his untimely death, Douglas Small  was spared the horrors of the Western Front, but I asked Connie how her brother came to be buried in Twyford: “My father made that decision. In those days getting around the country was not easy and as Douglas loved Twyford and was a popular figure around the village, my family thought it would be fitting for him to be buried there and a private headstone was bought”.

The ‘War Casualties’ listing in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer on 7th November 1916 confirmed her brother’s popularity: “Private John D Small was buried with full military honours in the Twyford Village churchyard. There was a very large attendance at the graveside: about a thousand military and civilians being present, including the Officers, NCO’s and men of the Regiment and the Regimental Band”.

Sadly, today very little remains of the 105 acres of this enormous camp other than a distinct echo of military boots, barked orders, and the long shadows of thousands of young men on their way to an horrific war from which they would never return. A scene belying its previous frantic activity, lines of impressive trees now mark where the camp’s roads once ran, whilst the odd First World War-constructed hut still lines the grassed valley of our very historic village.

The Ministry for War first commandeered this rich farming land, owned by the Best family, in 1915. Work immediately began to build a massive wooden military complex to house the young ‘Pals Regiments’ on their way to the docks at Southampton to join the vast Allied armies at war with the Kaiser’s army in France. To this day some elderly villagers still remember the vast khaki columns as they marched from Hazeley Down into Twyford, either to pick up the troop trains at close-by Shawford railway station or to continue through the village on a full route-march down into the Port of Southampton.

In addition to Douglas’ London Regiment, (known fully as Princess Louise’s Kensingtons), Hazeley Down Camp was also home to the 14th Battalion (London Scottish),  15th Battalion (Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles), 16th Battalion (Queen’s Westminster Rifles), 17th Battalion (Poplar & Stepney Rifles), 20th Battalion, (Queen’s Royal West Kent), the Royal Garrison Artillery, The Tank Corps and, representing the British Commonwealth, Canada’s Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Finally the Great War came to an end on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 and Twyford’s Hazeley Down, the scene of much hectic war-time activity, became a holding base, garrisoned by a few ‘old salts’ of the regular army until 1921. Then the entire camp and its contents were sold off by auction on the orders of the Ministry of Munitions in that year and the land reverted back to its peaceful and most beautiful of pre-war farming days.

Hazeley Down briefly hit the headlines again in the Second World War when a Luftwaffe Junkers 88 engaged in bombing Southampton docks, overshot and was attacked by a marauding Spitfire on August 15th 1940, at the very height of the Battle of Britain. Struggling to stay in the air, the pilot, (who, incredibly, studied at nearby Winchester College before the war, so knew exactly where he was!), eventually jettisoned his entire bomb-load across fields around the site of the former camp and crash-landed in the valley, the crew being rounded up by Twyford’s local Home Guard detachment and escorted away as Prisoners of War… their war over!

Having located these impressive bomb-holes in my youth, some years later I was given a large piece of the original perspex from the JU-88’s cockpit canopy; thence a few years on, a former crew member’s summer Luftwaffe flying suit was located in the shed of a former Home Guard member and this was also gifted to me.

Other souvenirs were spirited away at the time, for the Canadian fighter pilot who despatched this German bomber, circled the crash site before carefully landing his Spitfire on the grass-strip alongside where the stricken bomber made its wheels-up landing. Then in front of the astonished Twyford Home Guard members, the fighter pilot jumped down out of his Spit’s cockpit, ran over to the JU-88, leaned inside its now canopy-less cockpit and, with a practiced twist of his wrist & a flick of his fingers, unscrewed the bomber’s dash-board clock, stuck it in his flying jacket pocket, ran back to his idling fighter and took off, never to be seen again..!

In addition, I had long heard that the pilot’s Luger pistol was still lurking somewhere in the village, having been surrendered to the Home Guard; but despite my regularly pumping the elderly locals for gen, ( at least once a week), in our former local, The Dolphin Hill, despite many winks & ‘knowing-nudges’ of each other, I never got a straight answer as to its whereabouts. So one lightly-used Luftwaffe-issue Luger is still sitting hidden somewhere here in my village of Twyford and that, sadly, is how it will probably stay… unless I get lucky and someone weakens under my ceaseless interrogation!

Meanwhile back to Hazeley Camp, where today an imposing cross, erected by the Best family as a memorial to the tens of thousands of young men who passed this way, can be seen, set back from the Hazeley Road amidst the few remaining wooden barracks from the First World War that still dot the hillside…

As for the grave of her brother that Connie never got to see, it is now lovingly cared for in Twyford’s little Parish church, by myself and latterly the War Graves Commission, its sad history now finally known!

Connie died shortly after I visited with my photos of her beloved brother’s grave and I take comfort knowing I was able to show her where ‘Douglas’ was laid to rest and assure her his grave was now looked after and that each November a British Legion Red Poppy is placed upon it…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Military Music of Hitler’s Reich – A Review by Brian L Davis

When I was about 13 or 14 I think, I was given Brian L Davis’ terrific book: ‘German Army Uniforms & Insignia Uniforms’as Christmas present: my first really exciting and in-depth look at the actual kit that the German Army wore in World War Two…

I still remember how thrilled I was to get this fabulous tome as I was suddenly a collector with ‘real knowledge’ and I jealously guarded it and read it at every opportunity.  For years this single reference book was my bible..still is in many respects.. and the author,who is a brilliant and very well-known military expert across a number of differing areas of expertise, (both in print and as a film advisor), became something of a hero to me back in my days as young German militaria collector… and he still is today!

It was therefore even more of a ’schoolboy dream’ and certainly incredibly flattering & highly enouraging for me when later on, when it became ‘my turn’ to go into print some 30 years on from reading that Brian’s book, that the great man himself so kindly offered to write a very generous appraisal of my work, the product of some 6 long years of my in-depth research on this very particular and hitheto uncovered subject of German military history: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945:

“This book is a delight to both dip into and read: it is landscape in format with a hard, laminated cover. The text is contained on 320 pages and its content and production has obviously been a labour of love, a task that took the Author six years.

The book contains a plethora of fascinating information, contemporary photographs – 386 by my reckoning, some in colour, the rest being contemporary black & white photos, the majority of which have never before been reproduced together with masses of items, mostly illustrated in colour and many of which are of military, para-military and political insignia.

It tells the story of the development of German military music from the time of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, through the Great War, through the period of depression in Germany in the 1920s, the rise of national Socialism in the 1930s, through the Second World War and onto the post-war divided Germany and up to the present time.

It covers subjects such as the training of musicians of the Third Reich, the Musikkorps of both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS, musical instruments, personal documents, sheet music and song books. The subject of the German radio, records and propaganda aimed at the German Home Front has a chapter to itself. Details of composers, lyricists and performers are set out accompanied by photographic illustrations of these people.

There are photographic illustrations of post cards, in particular those with the words of popular and patriotic tunes, song sheets,  song books, performance and concert programmes, posters, actual gramophone records, musicians wings known as Swallow Nests, musical instruments of every kind (even mouth organs).

Army, Navy and Air Force, SS, Waffen-SS, SA, RAD and HJ insignia including items such as musicians shoulder straps, collar patches, cuff-titles, arm bands, trumpet banners, kettle drum drapes, flags and banners, contemporary commercial adverts for musical instruments, steel helmets and their insignia, various forms of headdress, rubber stamps, sleeve chevrons, breast eagles, naval cap ribbons, basic military equipment, medals, decorations and war badges awarded to Bandsmen together with their printed citations, campaign arm-shields, various sports and merit badges, pay books, Wehrpasse and Soldbuch, identity discs, identity cards both SS (SS-Ausweis) and military (Truppenausweis), personal weapons, side arms and their hangers.

A bonus to any potential reader/purchaser the book has two sections on military musicians outside the historic period covered by the title of the book. In addition to the music and musicians of the Third Reich, Brian Matthews has devoted a section each to the musicians and bands including their uniforms and related insignia, of the West German Bundeswehr and the East German Volksarmee.

On the final pages of this work are the words to 79 songs, mostly military, some political, but all popular, marching or sentimental songs. Those  that I can recognise are the Horst Wessel Lied  which became the anthem of the National Socialist Party and which was always sung in conjunction with the Deutschland Lied, the German national anthem and Stille Nacht a most evocative song frequently sung on Christmas Eve.

Lili Marleen as sung by Lale Andersen, a song that was popular throughout Germany and which became a firm favourite of both the Afrikakorps and the 8th Army fighting each other in the Western desert; other tunes I can recognise such as Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden  and Das Engeland Lied…

I commend this book highly and suggest that you place an order for your copy now as privately published books have a habit of selling out fast and once sold they seem to disappear from the book world and then you kick yourself…”

To have one of your author-heroes that you have grown up with so generously take up his pen to both appraise & recommend my ‘first go’ at a really big, definitive military reference work is something  I could only have ever imagined… the fact that it then actually happened later on in life, is quite something… and not only am I very grateful to Brian, but I shall certainly treasure his support through his smashing write-up for many years to come, that’s for sure..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013