The role and experiences of female nurses in the German medical services during the Great War is something that seems to have slipped in our knowledge of the period. There appears to be very few, if any, memoirs of German nurses, compared to similar ones by British nursing staff. There also does not appear to be any form of official history of German nursing during this period and few mentions of them in German soldier memoirs.
So this photograph is as much a question as an answer. It shows German nurses in a building on the Eastern Front taken over as a hospital and dates from around 1916.
We end this month’s Winter War series with a photograph from Christmas Day 1914. It shows men of the 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (1st Southdowns Battalion) having Christmas Lunch in their wooden hut at Cooden Camp, just outside Bexhill-on-Sea. The lunch was paid for by the man who had raised the Southdowns, the county of Sussex’s equivalent of ‘Pals’ battalions, Lieutenant Colonel Claude Lowther MP. The men are still in their ‘Kitchener’s Blues‘ uniforms; enough khaki not having yet arrived to equip more than handful of recruits.
The 11th would last the longest of all the wartime raised battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment. It’s war would take it finally to France in 1916, and then in almost every major engagement up to the end of the conflict on the Western Front and in late 1918 to Russia where it would stay well into 1919 fighting against the Bolsheviks.
For these Sussex worthies it was the first Christmas of a long war; how many of them in this photo would come home when the battalion was finally disbanded?
Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Russian entered a period of Civil War which continued until 1922. The so-called ‘White Russians’, loyal to the Tsar and Russian Royal Family, fought the Bolhseviks and were supported by the Allies. From 1918 British troops began to arrive in Russia and participated in the fighting as part of the North Russian Relief Force. They stayed until late 1920 when the last units left.
This image shows White Russian troops on board a Royal Navy ship off of Archangel in 1919. As well as ground troops the Navy was in support and units from the Royal Air Force also flew in Russia. This campaign was never recognised with its own medal but men who fought here, some of whom had never served on the Western Front or other Forgotten Fronts, were awarded campaign medals, in this case the British War and Victory medals, in recognition of their services in Russia after the guns had fallen silent in the West.
An image from the collection of German Gunner Leo Rosenthal was published yesterday. This image also comes from his album and shows Russian peasants in an unknown village on the Eastern Front in 1916. Germans like Leo, who came from Cologne, had never seen the sort of poverty they encountered in Russia. There is no evidence that the sort of atrocities committed in WW2 happened in WW1, and although Leo’s album shows him and his comrades engaging with the locals and playing with children, the looks on the faces of those in this image says it all. Leo noted that this was one family; the mother on the left and all her children, some of whom would no doubt have encountered men in field grey a generation later.
By the close of 1914 the German Army found itself facing it’s worst nightmare – a war on two fronts; facing the Allies in the West and the Russians in the East. The Eastern Front during the Great War tied up millions of German troops between 1914 and 1918 and a huge amount of resources that would have clearly given Germany an advantage if it had been available in France and Flanders. Although combat was not as brutal as it would be a generation later, but by the close of fighting there was an estimated 2 million battlefield casualties.
From an album owned by a German Gunner this photograph shows the album’s owner, Leo Rosenthal (left, with binoculars), in a forward Observation Post close to the Russian lines. The soldier with the optics is a fellow German, but the other two are members of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Their involvement in the campaign in Russia is almost forgotten. Leo served with an Field Artillery Regiment in the 48th (Reserve) Division. He joined them from his home in Cologne in 1915 and served for three years in Russia before he was killed in France in 1918.
The photo gives a good insight into the trenches used by the Germans in Russia, almost identical to those on the Western Front.