Tag Archives: Germany

by Roger Smither, IWM Research Associate

On holiday in Germany in September 2012, I noticed the St Georgsbrunnen, a striking war memorial fountain in the city of Speyer: water flows into a stone basin from a large metal bowl surmounted by an obelisk topped by a statue of St George slaying the dragon. Although St George is strongly identified as England’s patron saint, he is also one of Germany’s; he is also associated with soldiers and chivalry, so the use of his image on a German memorial should not be considered particularly surprising.

Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

It was not just the memorial that caught my attention, however, but also the fact that the authorities had put up a plaque nearby offering a kind of apologia for it. Translated, this says: ‘The fountain was erected in 1930 as a memorial to the fallen of the First World War. The inscriptions and reliefs are an expression of the spirit of that time.’ It then notes that ‘The city of Speyer’s memorial for the victims of war and violence has, since 1985, been located in the northern Cathedral Garden.’

This struck me as sufficiently unusual to invite a closer look. Do the inscriptions and reliefs on the fountain obviously invite controversy or demand an apology?

There are four inscriptions on the stone basin of the fountain, three of which were originally illustrated by accompanying relief sculptures.

The main inscription readsUNSEREN GEFALLENEN ZUM GEDACHTNIS UND UNS SELBST ALS STETE MAHNUNG 1914+1918’, which may be translated as ‘In Memory of our fallen and as a reminder to ourselves’ – a common sentiment for a war memorial, and scarcely contentious.

The other three inscriptions are all quotations from songs or poems.

St George and the dragon, Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

St George and the dragon, Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

One offers the first two lines of Der gute Kamerad (The Good Comrade), a poem written by Ludwig Uhland in 1809 – ‘ICH HATT EINEN KAMERADEN, EINEN BESSERN FINDST DU NIT’ (I had a comrade, you won’t find a better one). Set to music by Friedrich Silcher In 1825, the poem long pre-dates the ideologies of the 1930s, and remains the traditional mourning song of the German Army. The accompanying relief illustrates the line – one soldier falls wounded in a marching group.

The second reads ‘DEUTSCHE FRAUEN, DEUTSCHE TREUE’ (German women, German loyalty), and is taken from the second verse of the Deutschlandlied – ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ – written by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841. This verse is little known these days, but it is ignored more because of its male chauvinist tendencies than because of its nationalism: it equates women with wine as inspirational pleasures of traditional Germany. This time, the accompanying relief shows two women digging in a field, to symbolise the home front war effort.

The third inscription reads ‘DEUTSCHLAND MUSS LEBEN AUCH WENN WIR STERBEN MÜSSEN’ (Germany must live, even if we must perish), which is the closing line of each verse of a 1914 poem, Soldatenabschied (Soldier’s Farewell) by Heinrich Lersch. This does sound quite nationalistic, but English readers will recall Rudyard Kipling’s very similar line ‘Who dies if England live?‘ which comes at the end of verse 4 of his poem For All We Have and Are, also written in 1914. On the fountain in this case the accompanying relief is missing, but it is possible to find reproductions of old postcards on the web, where it appears that the sculptor had depicted two soldiers in a trench.

Modern inscription near the Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

Modern inscription near the Speyer First World War memorial, Germany (©Roger Smither).

None of this seems hugely controversial. A search of the IWM’s War Memorials Archive database finds over 60 memorials in the United Kingdom with ‘Who dies if England live?’ as part of their inscription, and it is hard to imagine that the relevant local authority has thought it necessary to add an explanation or apology in any of those cases. As an example of even more overt nationalism on a British memorial, Frances Casey, Project Manager of the Archive, has drawn my attention to the one at Brierley Hill, which includes – without any hint of apology – the following text:


Brierley Hill First World War memorial (IWM WMA 17472,  ©G A Cox)

Brierley Hill First World War memorial (IWM WMA 17472, ©G A Cox)

With the help of Christa Rinner, a researcher based in Karlsruhe, I have learned that the memorial fountain in Speyer is the work of the architect Karl Latteyer of Ludwigshafen and a British-born sculptor named William Ohly, who both attended its official inauguration on 29 June 1930, and that – although there does not seem to have been any specific event in Speyer to prompt it – the explanatory plaque was added in 1996, when the need to replace some of the piping led to a full-scale restoration of the fountain.

There may not have been such an episode in Speyer but it remains true, of course, that war memorials can be controversial, and they have undoubtedly been the focus of protest elsewhere. Demonstrators in the former Eastern Bloc have often targeted Soviet war memorials with either hostility or derision, including an episode in Bulgaria in 2011 when a street artist painted the figures on the Soviet memorial in Sofia to represent American comic-book characters.

The Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003 prompted a French protestor to spray-paint ‘Rosbeefs Go Home’ and other slogans on the cross of a CWGC cemetery at Etaples, and there was outrage in India in 2012 when protestors in Mumbai were photographed attacking the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial which commemorates two Sepoys executed during the 1857 uprising.

More recently, the Animals in War and Bomber Command memorials in London were subjected to graffiti following the murder outside Woolwich Barracks of Drummer Rigby, 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I wonder, do war memorials present political statements in themselves? Why are they used as sites of protest? How often do civic authorities try to defuse objections before they are raised? It strikes me that the politics of war memorials could be an interesting topic for further research.


By Michael Gordon, Project Assistant

The 16th and 17th of May this year mark the 70th Anniversary of Operation Chastise, better known as the “Dambusters” raids. These raids saw 19 modified Avro Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron embark on a daring mission to destroy the dams within the Ruhr valley, in an attempt to cripple German industry.

Derwent Dam today (14270 and 14271 ©IWM, 2012)

Derwent Dam today (14270 and 14271 ©IWM, 2012)

617 Squadron was formed for the specific purposes of this mission and was equipped with a bespoke weapon, the now famous Bouncing Bomb codenamed ‘Upkeep’, designed by Barnes Wallis. This highly specialised mission required training and preparation unlike anything the crews had previously experienced. To prepare, the crews were sent to practise their technique at suitable locations within the UK.

Although the crews did not know the specifics of their mission during the training phases, it was quite obvious that they had been selected for a unique task due to the very specific topography of the practice locations. The crews were sent to four different locations to practise low level flying over water and precision targeting. We have recorded three memorials to these events which are located on the practice sites.

Eyebrook Reservoir in Stoke Dry, Rutland was mocked up with canvas towers to resemble the profile of the German targets. It was also used beyond the raids for further training with the ‘Upkeep’ bomb. A plaque at the site commemorates the reservoir’s importance in preparing the crews for the raids on the Mohne and Eder dams in Germany.

617 Squadron, Derwent Dam (14270 and 14271 ©Roy Branson, 2010)

617 Squadron, Derwent Dam (14270 and 14271 ©Roy Branson, 2010)

At Derwent Dam (14270) in Derbyshire, chosen because of its close resemblance to the Ruhr dams, there is a stone tablet inside the gatehouse recording the use of the dam by 617 Squadron.  In 1988, a further tablet was added, commemorating those who died during the raid. In 2008, a 65th Anniversary event was held at the Derwent Dam, involving a flypast by a Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which made low level passes over the dam at 100ft.

The exploits of 617 Squadron during Operation Chastise inspired their famous title of the Dambusters, and earned them a reputation as a precision bombing squadron for future operations.

The names of the 204 men of the Squadron who died in raids during the Second World War are inscribed upon the memorial wall to the Squadron at Royal Gardens, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. The wall has been purposely shaped to resemble a dam.

617 Squadron, Woodhall Spa (20485 ©Rachel Farrand, 2012)

617 Squadron, Woodhall Spa (20485 ©Rachel Farrand, 2012)

article by UKNIWM office volunteer Gabrielle Orton


   After my trip to Ypres some weeks back, I have been looking at the different national attitudes of Britain and Germany to commemoration, in terms of the layout and formation of the military cemeteries.


In the Ypres Salient alone, there are over 137 British military burial grounds, ranging from those like Ramparts cemetery, with only 200 graves, to Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth War cemetery in the world, with almost 12,000 graves and a memorial wall to the missing.  The vast number of British built cemeteries is partly due to the Belgian’s willingness to give the Allied forces, who fought for Belgium’s freedom, land to commemorate their war dead.  But the number and nature of British cemeteries throughout Europe also reflects the British public’s wish for a physical expression of the sacrifice made during war, a demand which was met by an official, uniform and sympathetic response from the British government, through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


For the first time, nearly every local community in Britain was deeply affected by the devastating loss of human life from a single war.  The cemeteries and war memorials in Ypres emphasise this modern concept of sacrifice, for instance through the ‘cross of sacrifice’, designed by Blomfield, which can be found in every CWGC cemetery worldwide.  The sword on the cross associates the Christian symbolism of hope born from suffering, with the military role of the soldiers in the surrounding graves.  Even the Menin Gate in Ypres, which is a form of triumphal arch and has overtones of Imperial victory, does not lose sight of the deaths of individuals by the incised list of 54,896 names of missing WWI casualties.


The uniformity of the rows and rows of white gravestones in the CWGC plots, regardless of the casualty’s rank or place of birth, illustrates the development of equality during WWI.  Although the recognition of lower ranked soldiers can be seen in Boer war memorials, the ‘citizen’ nature of the army in WWI and the introduction of conscription in 1916 contributed to a change in attitude of society towards the treatment and commemoration of war dead.  This change can be detected in the British government’s policy of April 1915, to retain all bodies of casualties in France and Belgium, regardless of the rank or wealth of the families concerned.  In all, it is no coincidence that after ¾ million British soldiers died for their country, every man obtained the right to vote in 1918.


In contrast, Langemark German military cemetery has a strikingly different layout and atmosphere.  Though the land was originally leased for only 30 years, it was later granted on a permanent basis, as one of four German cemeteries in the Ypres Salient.  Starting as a small group of graves in 1915, it became a ‘collecting cemetery’ in 1954, eventually bringing the total number of burials to 44,234 (nearly 4 times the number at Tyne Cot.)


It is therefore partly due to the limited space available that the cemetery seems to lack the focus on the individual that the CWGC gravestones give; for example 8 soldiers are buried in each plot.  But it seems that it was almost part of Volksbund’s (German equivalent of the CWGC) policy; it was not until 1971 that grave markers were changed to give personal dates (before they had just grave numbers) and not until 1984 that Volksbund began researching and identifying some of the ‘unknown soldiers’ in the mass grave at the entrance.


But elements of the cemetery such as the mass grave known as ‘Kameraden Grab’ or Comrades’ Grave, seem to show more equality amongst soldiers.  For instance unlike the CWGC headstones, the still uniform grey granite grave markers in Langemark do not refer to regiments; instead there are divisional memorials at the sides of the cemetery surrounding the graves, giving an impression of a united German army, even in death.


Although the thick, dark, free standing tablets and the towering oak trees (traditionally symbolising strength) create a powerful image, there is inevitably an element of defeatism in the cemetery’s appearance.  Unlike the grand German memorial at Walhalla temple, made in the late 19th century, with its heroic busts, the Langemark cemetery has only the bronze statue of ‘Four Mourning Soldiers’ by Professor Emil Krieger. Though appropriate for such a sombre setting, the slightly abstract figures and the squat crosses dotted around the graves, seem to offer little hope for the future compared with say the elegant ‘cross of sacrifice’ or the smooth curves of the ‘stone of remembrance’ found in CWGC plots.


Although my trip to Ypres provided only a limited insight into these two countries’ attitudes to commemoration, it is clear from the architecture and layout of the cemeteries that they are very different, influenced obviously by the outcome of WWI and in Germany’s case the consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, including the prohibition of Germany from maintaining German military cemeteries outside their borders.  For Britain, WWI was part of the country’s gradual emergence as a modern democracy and one of the last wars of both Imperial and local importance.  But for Germany, WWI dealt a short term humiliating blow to its international strength and respectability and following WWII, many may have wished to forget commemoration, along with its military associations.


What other impressions have people of the British and German cemeteries?  I wonder if there is a marked difference in attitudes towards commemoration between the different countries in the allied forces as well?


Today’s blog post was written by one of our volunteers, Richard.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’

Wilfred Owen ‘Strange Meeting’

The reference in an earlier blog post to memorials to nationals of enemy countries may seem strange, although in recent times new memorials have been erected with inscriptions intended not to cause offence by referring to all victims of war or conflict.

While such inscriptions may seem colourless, if well-intended, they do recognize that the advance of technology during the twentieth century rendered civilian populations in wartime vulnerable to an unprecedented extent. So for example small children killed in Dresden or Hiroshima were as blameless as their counterparts in a Poplar school killed in a German air raid on London’s docklands in 1917. (Click to see memorial record)

Distinct from this, there is the recognition that it’s advisable for all concerned for there to be some constraints on the conduct of war, and part of this is the respect, including war memorials, paid to the enemy’s dead: some examples were quoted previously.

Another example is the memorial to French prisoners of war at Norman Cross on the A1 in Cambridgeshire. Significantly this was not unveiled until nearly a century after Waterloo, not long after the Entente Cordiale and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Some Napoleonic memorials, however, are rather earlier such as the one at HM Prison, Dartmoor, and one now at Chatham. On this one part of the inscription refers to ‘...many brave soldiers and sailors who…have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune.’

From the First World War a German teacher is commemorated on a memorial at Manchester Grammar School. At Oxford at the insistence of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner (he of the spoonerism), a tablet to three German students was unveiled in the 1920s, amid some controversy. 

Recent research has established that Gerhard Brumund, included on the Great Central Railway’s memorial at Sheffield was born in Germany. He was killed when that company’s steamship SS Leicester hit a mine in the English Channel and sank in 1916.

The last moments of the the German Army's airship, SL 11, in flames above HertfordshireSome enemies died in the skies over Britain. In the First World War, SL11 a German Army airship, was shot down over Cuffley in Hertfordshire in 1916 by Lt William Leefe Robinson. He was awarded the VC for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ in attacking the first German airship destroyed on British soil. The crew of SL11 were buried with full military honours at Potters Bar, the vicar of Cuffley having refused them burial. The photo opposite shows the last moments of SL 11, in flames above Hertfordshire. In 1967 the graves of Germans who died in Britain during the two world wars, including the crew of SL11, were concentrated at the Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.

At King’s Somborne in Hampshire is a small memorial to the crew of a Luftwaffe plane downed in 1940. A more substantial Second World War memorial at St Peter’s Italian church in central London commemorates enemy aliens, both Italian and German, lost when the Arandora Star carrying them to internment in Canada was torpedoed in 1940 by the German submarine U47. As a reminder that political alliances are not necessarily unchanging, the same church has a memorial to its members in the war of 1915-1918 (sic) killed at a time when Italy was one of Britain’s allies.

Erich Kaestner, the man who was believed to be German’s last surviving First World War veteran, has died at the age of 107.  Kaestner left school in 1918 and fought on the Western Front for 4 months before the war ended.  He also saw service during the Second World War as an officer in the Luftwaffe.

Kaestner’s death went almost unnoticed in Germany – he actually died on 1 January this year.  In noted contrast to the way many other countries mark the deaths of their First World War veterans, Germany keeps no official records of its war veterans.  Kaestner’s son is reported as saying, “In Germany, in this respect, things are kept quiet – they’re not a big deal.”  Similarly, the BBC reported that “the shame of the Nazi genocide and memories of two world war defeats still cast long shadows“.

Read more from BBC News

There are many memorials on UK soil that commemorate German service personnel.  A wooden cross marks the site of a Luftwaffe crash site in Donnington, North Yorkshire.  A plaque notes the following:

“The cross was dedicated to those who died. A wreath was laid by Herr Herbert Thomas of the Luftwaffe Night Fighter Association and Mr Arthur Tait of the Doncaster Air Gunners Association, bringing together old wartime enemies in friendship and showing the futility of war.

A stained glass cross in Bangor Cathedral bears this explanatory inscription:

“The cross was made by Herr Franz/ Bonnekamp, an artist in stained/ glass, who was a prisoner of war in/ this country./ He created it in gratitude for the/ kindness and care received at the/ old C&A Hospital, Bangor, when he/ was seriously ill in 1946./

A plaque at Eden Camp Museum, North Yorkshire, records the following:

“This plaque/ commemorates/ S/Sgt James Joseph Wadley, Sgt. Ronald Montague Cramer/ and the 10 German prisoners of war/ who were killed when their lorry was in collision with a/ train at Burton Agnes level crossing near Bridlington on/ the 17th September 1947/ also all Axis power P.O.W.’S who…/ “…worked in our fields and have gathered our harvest. We/ thank them for the work they have done in our land for us.”/ Rev. N. A. Vesey/ Bridlington/ Council of Churches 22.9.47