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The EK1

Extensive use was made of messengers. Either on Horseback, foot or bicycle the messengers went out while others were safe in their bunkers, they had to cross unfamiliar terrain in rain, snow or barrage.

A messengers whose Service is covered rather extensively on the site can be found here

The messengers were men who carried out their tasks alone, without comrades, and who had to find their way across featureless battlefields.

Wilhelm Michael Schneider, a highly decorated Bavarian Infantryman, describes a journey as a front line messenger in his book “Infanterist Perhobstler”:  

There was no way to hide; it was as if the almighty himself had called.  

“Go to the left," he said casually, "see if we have contact with the neighboring battalion.". Between our positions and the neighboring battalion lay about 200 meters... and a curtain of shrapnel. By 1914 standards the barrage would have been considered impenetrable, but nowadays… well, I was to test the impenetrability.  

Before starting across I looked around, experience told me that there would be some kind of trench line, and there it was, the remains were still visible. I began to run its length. The ground was very uneven and the going was difficult, it was like running in a marsh. Every now and then a flare went up, the English were lighting the way for me. Flares, the occasional bullet whizzing low across the ground and the shrapnel raining down around me.  

Suddenly I reached the neighboring Battalion, or so I thought.

The shrapnel bursts had ceased as I approached but now a flare shot up, right under my nose it seemed. I hit the ground and found myself lying face to face with a corpse. His face was black with two rows of shining white teeth. I lay frozen until the flare flickered out. I realized now why the ground had been so difficult to walk on; I had been walking over bodies. I jumped out of the trench and began to move along it. Out in the open I saw the shapes of men. Relieved I ran towards them, happy to have found the way. About 10 meters from the figures I stopped, my heart beating in my throat. It was quiet here, the men were talking and working, they were making barbed wire obstacles. Instinctively I dropped to the ground. Another flare went up and I saw what a close call it had been... in front of me were Englanders! 

Right: An award document to the Messenger of the Reserve Infanterie Regiment 223

I lay still, playing dead, only my right hand moved, feeling carefully for my pistol. As the next flare lit up the surroundings I stared hypnotized at the figures that crouched ahead of me, unmoving. But ahead of me there were more soldiers lying on the ground! For a second my heart stopped... it began to beat again, slowly, as I realized they were corpses and those who were crouching were a work party. In their hands they held no rifles, just wire, posts and hammers. In the meantime my hand had found my pistol. Hidden among the bodies, realizing the men in front were workers, I began to feel a small dose of courage returning. At least enough courage to give me hope.  

I did not think of escape yet. The dead men gave me a strange feeling of security, I was able to relax a bit and take stock of the situation. The immediate dangers became clearer. Ahead of me someone spoke. Until then I had not heard anything, only seen. Now I could clearly hear. I did not understand the words, but I knew what they were saying. Any infantryman, no matter what language he spoke would have understood... they were cursing.  

I would have liked to stand up and walk over to join in the cursing but I had no way of knowing how they would react. It somehow felt like the most natural action, to go over to the working party for a chat. They stood there, ordered to make wire barricades against men they did not know, all the time aware of the fact that they could get a bullet in the belly at any second.  

But at that moment I felt a surge of courage, I got up and ran.

  I later remember hearing a shout, but it did not register at the time. Something landed ahead of me and I dived away from it, my head in the mud. Another object landed...Hand grenades! They exploded one after the other then I jumped up and ran a few more paces... I had no idea where to run. I dropped to the ground again. In that instant a flare went up. God! Two men were standing, looking for me! In the half light of the flare I fired a few panicked shots at them, and ran.  

I had lost all orientation. In the distance shrapnel was bursting, I ran towards it. It did not take long to reach the area that was under fire... but I had no idea what to do when I got there. What DID I do... I don’t remember exactly, but an hour later I found that my magazine was empty. I must assume that I had hidden within the barrage and in a kind of impotent fury had emptied my pistol in the general direction of the working party, which was about 100 paces away. A pathetic, stupid action.  

Now that so many people have written about how they had moments of weakness, moments of cowardice, I feel no reticence in recounting my own. Actually, it was no big deal, but for one who always prided himself on his fighting prowess, I felt ashamed that it could happen to me. I had almost become sentimental... until they had thrown the grenades. My feeling of international brotherhood had been dealt a death blow, and that angered me. Like a fool it made me bear a grudge for a long time to come. I think that is the worst that came out of my experiences that day. It incited me to actively look for opportunities for revenge. After that night Sgt Weihel and I would spend much time clambering around on the Hohenzollern redoubt looking for chances to kill the enemy. But the other side also had its Penobstlers and Weihels, and they in turn did their best to hunt our men. It in no way made our actions any better, but necessary.  

That night I did not find my way back. I did not think anyone would miss me. I arrived the next morning and reported to my commander, frost residue still on my trousers.  

"Thank God, little Kirsch was beginning to worry you had bought it," he greeted me. My friend Adam Kirsh danced for joy when he saw me. "Ya know Penhostler, the worse thing about it would have been trying to find your body amongst all the others out there!" I silently drank the coffee he had given me.

To return to the Main page on communication troops click HERE