There has been a great deal of interest on Twitter over the last few days in some amazing interviews with German veterans that have been translated by Rob Schaefer. This reminded that several years ago I acquired a First World War letter written by a German soldier to his family. As well as giving an indication of what conditions were like at the front it also highlights some of the hopes and fears of the soldiers in the trenches.
Thanks to a member of the Great War Forum, an approximate translation is provided below. The sender was Reinhard Gleitsmann of Reserve Ersatz Regiment Nr.2, 16th Armee-Korps, 27th Division.
Argonne, 24 November 1915
My dear Friedel, Heinz and Parents,
Sending you my very warmest regards. I am still well for the time being. It is very cold, even during the day. It is about 6-7 degrees, but that’s bearable enough. At least it’s more pleasant than the filth that sucks your boots off.
As I’ve already written, I have refused father’s kind offer with thanks. Each soldier has now received the following as gifts: 1 pair of wrist-warmers, 1 belly-binder, 1 pair of mittens, 1 woollen shirt and underpants, and also 1 pair of socks. You could say we won’t freeze to death at any rate, but you could send my fingered gloves, and I don’t know what else. A balaclava would be useful for when it’s very cold. You could make one, but make sure the wool is not too thick so that I can pack it in my backpack. My parcels without letter numbered 79, 80, 81 and 82 are on their way. Others to follow. I silently enclosed my fondest regards.
The day before yesterday we had the opening ceremony for our cemetery in the Argonne, in the midst of shell-blasted beech trees. Present at the service were General Schmidt, one platoon (strength approx. 50-60 men) from each company of our regiment, and two padres – protestant and catholic. A deeply moving service, in a place where any one of us might end up. To start with, the grave mounds of five men adorn the site. Together with ours, there are seven cemeteries in this sector, where so many a determined German head “has lost its crown”.
I must also report that I have received many kind parcels, from the Reusdorf parents (1 can of rabbit stew, and from you 1 parcel of Kermesse cakes which I happily consumed on 21st November in honour of our wedding anniversary. I hope you celebrated it appropriately too). I also silently remembered you, my parents, on your birthdays. May the Lord keep you well until we meet again. I have received a parcel of cigars from you.
In response to my request for little Heinz, please act as you see fit. One little toy horse and cart will bring him great pleasure. Do as you will, but ask my parents what would be best.
The fact that we will naturally have to celebrate Christmas in the Field again is too much for some of the men. Who could have expected it? The war has already cost so many brave German warriors, and will continue to do so.
With regard to galoshes for wearing inside the boots, the price is very expensive. Perhaps you can try, my dear Friedel. It is nice to have dry feet. Who knows if you can get these in Altenburg?
Farewell my dears at home
Fondest regards from your son and father
Give little Heinz a kiss from me
The German Volksbund database lists a Landsturmmann Reinhard Gleitsmann, who was killed on 8th August 1916 and is buried in Cheppy German cemetery, 20 miles north west of Verdun. Could this be the same man?