Family Portraits and Photos from the Front Lines
I have assembled this page as I conducted genealogical research into the military service of members of my dad's side of the family in the Great War, now known as World War One. None of the men pictured below left any significant information about their years in the war, other than a few postcards they sent home from the front; for me, until recently this chapter in their lives was blank. They almost never spoke about what they experienced, even with their own family; given what we now know about the effects of long-term exposure to combat, it is not hard to understand why. While their military service clearly had a lasting influence on their lives, I do not intend that this page be seen as anything more than a tribute to their courage and tenacity under fire. They were the lucky ones...they came home.
Emanuel Stern, in his uniform, while assigned to the 47th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Battery; this photo was taken in either 1915 or early 1916. Emanuel Stern is my grandfather. Written on the reverse of this card:
'Als ich 14 ausrückte' Translation: Me (as I was) when we moved out in 1914.
Feldartillerie (a.k.a. Field Artillery) wore the mounted troops belt, boots, spurs, and carried a sword in the field. He is wearing a Vereinfachte Feldrock, or what is termed a 'Simplified Uniform' that came out in 1915. He has cloth Mannschaften (Other Ranks) straps, no NCO lace or collar buttons, indicating that his rank was Private. His Pickelhaube, or spiked helmet, was a pre-war M95 Kugalhelm with 'brass furniture'; it would look like this today:
(Images courtesy of Chas. in the Pickelhaubes Forum, found here: http://www.pickelhaubes.com/forum/)
Emanuel Stern's Militärpaß
This is a complete, official record of his service...the only such record that exists. Emanuel's army records all were destroyed during the Blitz. Emanuel gave his Militärpaß in when he enlisted, and it was held for him, and filled in at headquarters until he was demobilized after the Armistice, whereupon it was returned to him. You can look inside his Militärpaß, here:
I also have his Soldbuch:
Unlike his Militärpass, Emanuel carried his Soldbuch in his pocket every moment of every day from enlistment until the day he demobbed...and it shows eveny minute of his time on the Eastern and Western Fronts. His Soldbuch fleshed out information in his Militärpass but also contains all his medical records and is a detailed record of any time he was hospitalized in the course of the War. You can see what is inside his Soldbuch, here:
The Official Unit History for Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47
Emanuel Stern's Record of Service
November 3, 1914 – Emanuel Stern, age 18, joins the Royal Prussian Army, and is given the designation of ‘kr.Frw.’ (kriegsfreiwillige), meaning a Private who was a war volunteer, rather than a conscripted Private. His registration number (Truppen-Stammrolle) is Nr. 896 of 1914. He is initially assigned to II. Ersatz-Abt., Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47, based in his hometown of Fulda, Germany. It is with this unit that he received his basic training and preparation for combat.
December 5, 1914 - Emanuel observes his 19th birthday with his fellow soldiers at the barracks for Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 in his hometown in Fulda.
January 30, 1915 - Once he had completed his basic training, he was assigned to the II. Abt., Reserve-Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 57. His rank was ‘Kanonier’; his role would have been to look after the horses and move the ‘limbers’ and shells around. A ‘limber’ is a two-wheeled cart surmounted with a framework for holding an ammunition chest.
The Reserve-Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 57 was assigned to the 75th Reserve Division. Emanuel’s unit was immediately mobilized and deployed to the Eastern Front in late January, 1915.
February 4-22, 1915 – Emanuel’s unit is in the vicinity of Augustowo, Poland and takes part in the Winter Battle of Mazurian Lakes. The 75th Reserve Division took heavy losses.
February 23-27, 1915 – Emanuel and his unit take part in a minor battle by the Bobr
February 28-March 3, 1915 – Emanuel and his unit engage in some positional warfare near Lomsha-Osowiec. At the end of February, the 75th Reserve Division occupied the front near Chtabin.
March 3, 1915 – Four months after mobilization, Emanuel Stern is still with the Light Ammunition Column, II. Abt. Reserve-Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 57. On this date, he is admitted in the Military Hospital, Johannisburg, Russia as he has become ill; Emanuel is initially diagnosed with Enteritis. The day after his admission to the hospital, the 75th Reserve Division attacked north of Ostrolenka, Poland and marched to Ossowiec.
March 22, 1915 – Two weeks after his initial hospital admission, Emanuel’s health seriously deteriorates, and as a result, he is moved to Reserve-Hospital, Bartenstein, Germany and diagnosed with Typhoid.
Typhus fever is transmitted from one person to another by the common body louse Pediculus humanus -- the bane of armies throughout history The louse becomes infected with typhus fever by biting an infected person (or a rat) who has the disease. About six days after eating his meal, the louse becomes infectious. Rickettsia prowazeki multiplies in the louse's gut and is excreted in large amounts when the louse defecates. When dry these feces retain their infective power for a considerable time. Man can be infected when the dry feces are rubbed into the skin, fall on the eye, or is inhaled in the lungs. Once in the victim's blood stream Rickettsia prowazeki begins to multiply. About twelve days after infection, the clinical symptoms of the disease begin. The onset is sudden, with a high fever, headache, chills, numbness, generalized body pains and marked prostration often leading to delirium, coma and cardiac failure. The most characteristic symptom consists of reddish spots (pettechiae), looking like flea bites which rapidly darken in color and in severe cases may become confluent, involving the whole body. Before antibiotics, the fatality rate varied from 10-80%.
May 20, 1915 – After almost two months, Emanuel is still recovering from Typhoid. He is moved into Reserve-Hospital Hochwasser, Danzig, Poland.
July 10, 1915 – Emanuel has finally recovered from Typhoid, after nearly four months in three different hospitals. Deemed capable of serving, he is dismissed from the hospital in Danzig to the II. Ersatz-Abt., Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47, in Fulda. He was retrained, re-equipped and then assigned to Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47, 4th Batterie. In July 1915, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 was a part of the 22nd Infantry Division, which was stationed along the Eastern Front.
July 10 - July 16, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 is engaged in pursuit operations along the border between Poland and Galicia.
July 16 - July 18, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 is engaged in the breakthrough battle at Krasnostaw, with subsequent operations in the area until July 28th.
July 29 - July 30, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 is engaged in the breakthrough battle at Biskupice.
July 31 - August 10, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 is engaged in pursuit operations from the Wierprz to the Bug.
August 11 - August 12, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 is engaged in battle along the Ucherka.
August 13 - August 17, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 is engaged in the Battle of Wlodawa.
August 18 - August 24, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 took part in the assault on Brest-Litovsk.
August 25 - August 26, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 took part in the capture of Brest-Litovsk.
August 27 - August 28, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 was engaged in pursuit operations towards Kobryn.
August 29 - August 31, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 made its way through the Prypet marshes.
August 31 - September 1, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 took part in the battle of Horodec.
September 4 - September 6, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 took part in the Battle of Drohiczyn-Chomsk.
September 8 - September 15, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 was engaged in pursuit operations to Pinsk.
September 17 -September 23, 1915 - Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 was engaged in the Battle of Pinsk and Logischin.
September 23, 1915 – Emanuel is still with 4. Batterie, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 south of Maniewicze, Russia. On this day, he is shot through his left lower leg, and is immediately sent from the Reserve Military Hospitals to the Reserve Military Hospital Fraustadt/Posen, Poland. A photo is taken of Emanuel in a hospital bed recovering in what appears to be a German hospital, surrounded by three German nurses; the exact date of the photo is unknown. The battle of Pinsk and Logischin would continue through October 10, 1915.
November 2, 1915 – After nearly two months in the hospital, Emanuel recovers enough from his leg wound to be dismissed from the Reserve Military Hospital Fraustadt/Posen, Poland to the II. Ersatz-Abteilung, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47. Emanuel has been transferred from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.
December 5, 1915 - Emanuel Celebrates his 20th birthday back in his hometown of Fulda, Germany.
In 1916, Royal Prussian Army Field Artillery Batteries utilized 4 guns, rather than 6; this allowed for the creation of more Artillery Batteries. Each Battery had 4 officers, 112 NCOs and ORs, 101 horses, 4 guns with limbers, 4 munitions wagons, 1 observation wagon, 4 other wagons, and 1 field kitchen.
February 9, 1916 – Emanuel is transferred from II. Ersatz-Abteilung, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 47 to the Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 43, and assigned to the 4. Batterie.
February 10, 1916 – September 30, 1916 - Emanuel is transferred to and serves with the II. Abteilung Leichte Munitions Kolonne, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 43.
February 21, 1916 - The Battle of Verdun begins. As the German siege of Verdun began, a War Correspondent for the ‘Niewe Rotterdamsche Courant’ described the German Field Artillery he saw in the area:
August 23, 1916 - While serving with the II. Abteilung Leichte Munitions Kolonne, Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 43, Kriegsfreiwilliger Emanuel Stern sends home a photo postcard:
Emanuel (who appears on the left hand side of the photograph above) wrote:
Beifolgend sende Euch
ein Bild vom 8ten Wagen
+ bin ich auch darauf. Schön ist
es nicht, aber mieß.
Später mehr. Gruß + Kuß
der der neben mir steht mit
der Schirmmütze ist unser Zugführer
I'm sending you a photo of the 8th wagon,
& I am on it too. It's not nice [i.e. not a nice photo]
- it's rotten. More later.
Love & kisses,
The man standing beside me
with the peaked cap is our section commander.
October 31, 1916 - Emanuel is classed ‘Capable of Serving; and returned to duty.
Emanuel Stern's entry in the Official Regimental History of the 43rd Field Artillery Regiment. He was listed under the 4th Battery in the Regimental History at the time he was wounded.
The notation 'Kr.Frw.' stands for "Kriegsfreiwillige", meaning he was a war volunteer. This indicates he joined the Army voluntarily rather than being conscripted, i.e., he volunteered for active service before his year was called. The term also denotes his rank as a Private. He would have been considered to be of a higher rank than a conscripted Private.
The notation 'l. verw' stands for 'leicht verwundet', meaning lightly wounded.
The notation 'b. Vilosnes' stands for 'bei Vilosnes', meaning he was wounded 'at Vilosnes'.
Though by this time Emanuel had been wounded twice in action, and was therefore eligible to receive the Prussian Army's black Wound Badge, apparently there was an administrative oversight, and the badge was never applied for, and thus was never received by Emanuel. This is what the black Wound Badge looks like:
Also in October, 1916 came the specter of the Judenzählung. Faced with the need to explain their lack of success in the war effort to that date, the High Command attempted to place the blame with the Jewish members of their own Army. According to author and historian Amos Elon,
"In October 1916, when almost three thousand Jews had already died on the battlefield and more than seven thousand had been decorated, War Minister Wild von Hohenborn saw fit to sanction the growing prejudices. He ordered a "Jew census" in the army to determine the actual number of Jews on the front lines as opposed to those serving in the rear. Ignoring protests in the Reichstag and the press, he proceeded with his head count. The results were not made public, ostensibly to "spare Jewish feelings." The truth was that the census disproved the accusations: 80 percent served on the front lines."
After Emanuel departed 4 Batterie, they would lose an additional 35 men between October 17, 1916 and February 1, 1919. In addition, 71 men would be wounded in that same period. Two of the casualties occurred after the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918.
Back in action with the 43rd, Emanuel was again very lucky; on December 16th, 1916 the French began a massive offensive with resulted in the 14th Infantry Division suffering a 65% casualty rate.
December 5, 1916 - Emanuel observes his 21st birthday on the Western Front, at Verdun.
March 3, 1917 – Emanuel and his unit (9 Batterie) were operating in Forges-Sur-Meuse, approximately 8 miles from Verdun. Emanuel sends a picture postcard to his sister, Amalie (Mally) Stern, of an exploded piece of French artillery. While his unit is deployed in Forges-Sur-Meuse, one man in his unit is wounded.
This is what was written by my grandfather on the back of
the above photo postcard, dated March 3, 1917:
Beifolgend sende dir eine Aufnahme eines Rohrkrepierers + zwar - ist diese Auf-nahme von der Mündungsseite aus gemacht. Sonstiges brieflich. Mir geht es gut + hoffe gleiches auch von Euch allen.
Herzl. Gruß + Kuß,
I'm sending you a photo of a burst gun barrel; this photo was taken from the muzzle end. Further details [or simply "other news"] by letter. I'm fine and I hope the same for all of you. Best wishes & kisses,
Emanuel also take another photograph, this time of the devastated town of Forges-Sur-Meuse:
The captions on the photo marking the ridgeline say 'Zum toten Mann', meaning The Dead Man (commonly known as Dead Man's Hill) and 'Gänserücken', the Gooseneck. Both are features North West of Verdun.
April 14, 1917 – The 14th Infantry Division was relieved and withdrew; on April 20 they entrained at Sivry Sur Meuse and Vilosnes, whereupon the 14th Infantry Division was sent to Aisne. While stationed in Aisne, Emanuel visits the Vauclair Abbey in Laon and takes a Picture postcard of the interior.
'Kloster Coucy Innenansicht'
Translation: "Coucy Monastery, interior view"
While Emanuel had labeled the photo as 'Kloster Coucy', it is actually a photo of Abbey Vauclair, a 12th century Cistercian Abbey founded by Saint Bernard in 1134.
Abbey Vauclair is located in Laon, France.
*Enter "vauclair" under 'Nom de l'edifice'
At the time of its destruction, the German Army was using the Abbey as an ammo and supply dump, and supposedly the French blew it up during the Nivelle offensive. Sadly, Abbey Vauclair was reduced to ruins in the the course of the offensive of April 1917.
Another photo my grandfather took of Abbey Vauclair:
April 19, 1917 – On this date, for the injuries he sustained in battle, he was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class (EKII). You can see the ribbon sewn in his button hole in some of the pictures on this page. Usually, the actual medal was sent home to family. The whereabouts of his medal is currently unknown, but it would look like this today:
Clev. Feld-Artillerie Regiment Nr.43
Vorläufiger Ausweis über den Besitz des Eisernen Kreuzes
Dem Kriegsfreiwilligen Kanonier Emanuel Stern - 9. Batterie - geboren am 7. Dezember 1895 zu Fulda, Kreis Fulda wurde, unter dem 19. April 1917 im Namen Seiner Majestät, das Eiserne Kreuz II. Klasse verliehen. Das Besitzzeugnis über die Auszeichnung wird nach der Demobilmachung durch die königliche General Ordenskommission ausgefertigt werden.
Im Felde, den 23. April 1917
Signed by the commander Major von Herrmann
May 7, 1917 – The men of the 14th Infantry Division took their place in the Western Front on the line, replacing the 1st Guard Division; they remained on the line through May 12, whereupon they were sent to rest east of Laon.
May 14, 1917 – Unit (9 Batterie) was operating in Bièvres. They may have operated in this area through July or August. While in Bièvres, 5 men are killed and 11 men are wounded.
Emanuel Stern, 43rd Field Artillery Regiment, now with the 9th Battery (Second from Left). This postcard was dated May 14, 1917.
This is what my grandfather wrote on the back of the postcard above:
Regards from your brother,
May 20, 1917 – Emanuel is promoted from ‘Kanonier’ to ‘Gefreiter’, or Lance Corporal.
June 7, 1917 – Emanuel is transferred to the Staff Headquarters, III. Abteilung, FAR 43.
May 5, 6 and 7, 1917: Major Battle
June 7 – August 2, 1917: Position fighting at Chemin de Dames
June 25 and 26, 1917: Fighting on the mountain top in Hurtebise-Ferme
June 25 and 26, 1917: Storming the French positions on the Chemin de Dames Cerny to Hurtebise-Ferme
August 3-September 14, 1917: Emanuel and his unit rest. While resting in Laon, Emanuel takes a picture postcard of the Cathedral in Laon in September 1917.
'Kathedrale vol Laon en September 1917'
Translation: 'Laon Cathedral (France) in September, 1917'
You can read more about Laon Cathedral here:
Not long after the picture above was taken, the 14th Infantry Regiment was in for some terrible fighting. According to the book "Histories of Two Hundred and Fifty-one Divisions of the German Army which Participated in the War (1914 - 1918)",
In late 1917 – early 1918, Royal Prussian Army Field Artillery Batteries used 4 guns (9th Batterie, unlike 4th Batterie, was using heavier, long-range 105 mm howitzers) and had 6 officers, 130 NCOs and ORs, ? horses, 1 bicycle, 4 guns with limbers, 4 munitions wagons, 1 observation wagon, 4 other wagons, 1 field kitchen and 2 machine-guns.
September 15 – October 22, 1917: Position fighting at Chemin de Dames; a note in Emanuel's Soldbuch, which he carried with him, states that he was granted home leave from October 9th through the 18th, 1917.
October 23, 1917: Battle of Chavignon. The Allied armies go on the offensive against the 14th Infantry Division, inflicting heavy losses on the Division with what they termed ‘preparation fire’. In its haste to retreat, the 14th Infantry Division leaves behind much of their artillery, 1,763 men and 43 Officers, who are captured by the French. The remaining men of the 14th Infantry Division, about 1,400 strong, manage to escape and regroup; to give a sense as to how dire their circumstances were at this point in the war, their numbers were replenished with walking wounded and troops borrowed from other parts of the German Army.
October 24 – November 2, 1917: Rear Guard actions in and south of Ailette. On October 26, 1917, Emanuel attends and takes a picture postcard of Yom Kippur services in Laon.
November 1917 - Emanuel takes a photograph of the damaged Chateau de Pinon.
'Chateau de Pinon im September 1917'
Chateau de Pinon was subsequently destroyed during the remainder of the Great War.
November 3-21, 1917: Emanuel and his unit rest.
November 16, 1917: A photograph is taken of a French plane that had been shot down near Thiacourt. Emanuel obtains a copy of the photo, and labels it.
November 22, 1917 – January 15, 1918: Fighting between the Meuse and Moselle (Fighting between Flierey and Richecourt)
December 5, 1917 - Emanuel passes another birthday, his 22nd, on the line in France.
December 25, 1917 - Emanuel and his comrades have a little fun and observe Christmas in the Command Post in Euvezin, France. Emanuel is in the center of this photo, pretending to make a phone call.
Another photo taken that same day, inside the HQ:
'Weihnachten 1917 auf dem Gefechtsstand bei Euvezin'
Christmas 1917 at the command post in Euvezin (Emanuel Stern is standing in the rear of the photo to the right) .
January 16 – March 23, 1918: Emanuel and his unit rest.
March 24, 1918 – April 6, 1918: Great battle in France
March 25-31, 1918: Tracking battles at Montdidier-Noyon
April 1-28, 1918: Fighting on the Ancre, Somme and Avre. Eight men from his unit are killed and 14 are wounded
April 24-26, 1918: Battles of Villers-Brettonneux at the Luce and Avre
April 29 – May 21, 1918: Period of training behind the Second Army Front
May 22 – May 26, 1918: Emanuel and his unit rest.
May 27 – June 13, 1918: Battle of Soissons and Reims
May 28 – June 1, 1918: Tracking battles between the Oise and Aisne
May 30 – June 13, 1918: Attack fighting west and south of Soissons. During this period, fourteen men from his unit are wounded and two are killed.
June 14 – 30, 1918: Position battles between Oise and Marne. While operating in Dommiers, three men from his unit are wounded and one is killed.
July 1-4, 1918: Emanuel and his unit rest.
July 5- 17, 1918: Position fighting west of Soissons. While operating in Aisne, one man from his unit is killed, and while operating in Chateaux Thierry, three men from his unit are wounded. While operating along the Marne, one man from his unit was killed.
'Waisenhaus St. Felix bei Taunbuin (Soissons)'
Translation: “St. Felix Orphanage by Taunbuin (Soissons)"
The 14th Infantry Division (of which Emanuel's unit was a part) took part in the defense of Soissons, France in July 1918. The Battle of Soissons, waged from July 18th to July 28th 1918, was significant for a number of reasons; it was the first time that the French army used a large-scale attack with tanks supported by a surprise artillery bombardment, and it was the first time that full-size US divisions went on the offensive, incorporated in the French army. Most importantly, it was the opening of the Second Battle of the Marne. It was not known at the time, although suspected by many, that this battle was the death-knell of the German army.
July 18 – 25, 1918: Defensive battle between Soissons and Reims
July 26 – August 3, 1918: Moving defensive battle between the Marne and Vesle
August 4 – 16, 1918: Position battles between Oise and Aisne
August 17 – 27, 1918: Defensive battle between Oise and Aisne
August 28-August 31, 1918: Emanuel and his unit rest.
September 1 – October 15, 1918: Defensive battle on the Champagne and on the Meuse. Emanuel takes a picture postcard of the Cathedral in Laon sometime in September 1917.
October 12 - October 26, 1918: Emanue is granted home leave, and spends time with his family before returning to the Western Front. During his leave, on October 21, 1918, Emanuel is transferred from the 9th Battery to the 3rd Battery of the 43rd FAR.
October 28, 1918 – Emanuel and the 3rd Battery were engaged in battle in and around Hermannstellung, or the ‘Hermann Line’ in Flanders; it was the last major defensive system west of the Rhine. The Hermannstellung was described in "Battlefields of the World War" by Douglas Wilson Johnson, and it gives you an idea of what it was like for Emanuel in the final days of the war:
November 11, 1918 – Armistice is announced, and formal hostilities cease. Emanuel is in Englefontaine with his unit when the Armistice is announced.
December 5, 1918 - Emanuel observes his 23rd birthday in France. Though hostilities have ceased, he is still attached to his unit. He is anxiously awaiting his demob order, which will come in 11 days.
December 16, 1918 – Emanuel is discharged from the Royal Prussian Army. Sometime between May 20, 1917 and the end of the war, Emanuel is promoted once again to Unteroffizier; the exact date of his final promotion was not recorded in his service record.
In his discharge papers was noted the following:
Responsibility of Ersatz-Unit
II. Ersatz-Abtelung F.A.R. 43
born Fulda, 7.12.95
Discharged from army service - Send to Fulda
Boots, jacket, trousers, cap, coat, underwear
Did not get money for marching.
Did not get money for discharge.
Stamp of Königlich Preussisches Clevesches Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 43
Signature Sand Leutnant der Reserve und Batterieführer
for Unteroffizier Stern: III. class
Thus, after nearly four years of loyal military service on both the Eastern and Western Fronts, and after nearly dying of Typhoid and being wounded twice in the line of duty (by bullet and by poison gas), my grandfather was sent back home to Fulda with empty pockets and the clothes on his back, sent by train in a 3rd Class seat.