Thursday, April 12, 2018

In a lonely forest

Rancourt German Cemetery
In August of 2017, the World War One Centennial Commission blog shared Patricia Hammond’s story of a haunting First World War song and the search that led to the identification of the forgotten composer’s body and his reburial. Hammond is a British musician who has performed and recorded  songs of the Great War with Matt Redman, such as “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “Over There,” and “Roses of Picardy.”*  Wanting to include German songs on a CD they were preparing, they purchased from a German antiquarian a 1917 collection of forgotten tunes, Weltkrieglieder (World War Songs),  and were immediately struck by the beauty of one tune: “Bald, allzubalde” (“Soon, all too soon”).  The sheet music provided the information that the melody had been written on April 20, 1916 by Ernst Brockmann, who was killed at the battle of Verdun just weeks later, on June 7, 1916. 

Hammond’s search for the composer’s grave led to the discovery by the German War Graves Commission (the Volksbund Deutsce Kriegsgräberfürsorge) that while Ernst Brockmann had no known grave, a soldier with the same death date and the initials E.B. had been buried outside Verdun.  Exhuming the grave led to the positive identification of the unknown soldier; he was Ernst Brockmann, and in 2016, he was reburied in a ceremony at which Hammond and Redman sang the tune he had composed.

Soon, all too soon (Bald Allzubalde)                                     

From Josef Rust's photo album
Alone in the woods, a flower blooms red
Soon all too soon, I too will be dead.
Flying somewhere is a small piece of lead
Coming to take away all my care
Today or tomorrow, all is the same. 

Far down in the valley three spades are digging
A stone-cold grave for a soldier who’s gone.
In the distance of twilight lies a small town
Where a young girl weeps in her lonely room,
Alone in the woods a flower blooms red
Soon all too soon, I too will be dead.†
            —music by Ernst Brockmann, 
                lyrics by Josef Rust

But what of the song’s lyricist, Josef Rust?  I contacted Patricia Hammond, who said that she had found mention of a Joseph Rust (spelled with a “ph” and not a “f” as on the sheet music) on the German village of Eissen’s website, where he was referred to as a “teacher, writer, and poet” who had lived from 1895 – 1981.  The dates seemed right, and the village of Eissen lies in northern Germany, not far from Paderborn, the area where Brockmann was from and where the 1917 book of war songs was found— but there was no conclusive evidence linking this man to the song. 

Josef Rust
I began my own search and discovered that the website Europeana Transcribe lists a German soldier by the name of Josef Rust and provides 186 images from his photo album, as well as a handwritten copy of his war-time diary.  It was encouraging to find in the diary’s preface the note, “This is a war diary; my poems, insofar as they have been published, are intentionally omitted” – but if the poems had been omitted, so too might be any evidence linking this Josef Rust to the song “Bald Allzubalde.” And yet this man was almost definitely the Joseph Rust that Patricia Hammond had found on the Eissen website: while the names were spelled differently, the photo album of Josef Rust includes a telegram with several mentions of “Eissen,” and a typed timeline of his war service gives the dates of his birth and death: 1895-1981.  And so the outlines of this German soldier-poet began to appear: a studio image of a stern young soldier, as well as a more relaxed photo of a young man leaning against a hedgerow, carrying a small book and pen (perhaps his diary).  But was this the same man who had written “Bald Allzubalde”? 

The diary records that on August 8, 1915 after completing three months of training, Rust left Berlin and crossed the Russian border.  His first impression of the war was of mass graves and transports of the wounded. Over the next two months, he and his unit fought the Russian army in what is now Poland and Belarus.  From August 22nd until the 24th, Rust and his unit were caught in a fierce battle near the town of Orla: fired on by both the Russians and their own artillery, Rust records that “bullets whined like hornets, shells exploded, and every second man was a casualty.” Officers fell and group leaders were wounded, while Rust attended to a dying officer from his hometown, transcribing the man’s last words so they could be sent home to his parents.  In the same diary entry, Rust writes, “One year later, I sent to the young recruits of the 2nd Guards Res. Rgt. 6 a keepsake – a poem about the events of 24 August 1915 that had been printed in Garde Feldpost: “Einsam im Wald.”  The title of Rust's poem is the first line of the song “Bald Allzubalde.”

Josef Rust
In September of 1915, Rust and his men endured a grueling march from the Eastern Front to the trenches of the Western Front.  Stationed at Cambrai— if any doubt remains that this is the Josef Rust who authored the lyrics—he records in his diary, “In October I wrote, ‘Einsam im Wald’ (‘Lonely in the forest’).††  On April 20, 1916, my well-known colleague wrote a suitable melody, and afterwards it was sung repeatedly. J. Hatzfeld took the song in his collection: ‘Tandaradei,’ see page 143.”  And in pencil, appearing above the words “well-known colleague,” is written E. Brockmann. Here was the lost lyricist. 

Echoing the words of the song/poem, Rust’s diary in November of 1915 describes a solitary walk he took in Cambrai. Alone in the city, looking through the weak rays of November sun toward the battlefield, Rust saw rain clouds gathering, a harbinger of the bullets and death his comrades were facing and which he was convinced would soon find him. He thought of his home, his loved ones, and the former days of peace and happiness that had been sacrificed to the bloody war, and he gave himself over to an "All Soul’s mood" of despair. 

Rust’s diary preserves an astonishing and frank account of the war. He writes of the Somme in October of 1916, “It's raining. Tomorrow is our third time to the Somme. We sing only songs of dying.”
Josef Rust

But Josef Rust, unlike his musical collaborator Ernst Brockmann, survived the war.  Seriously wounded in early June of 1918 in Belleau Woods near Chateau Thierry, Rust spent over four months in hospital, returning to military service only to witness Germany’s surrender.  Though he frequently longs for peace in his diary entries, when he learned of his country’s defeat, he writes that he cried bitterly: his unit had endured four years of war; their commander had lost an arm, yet officers were required to surrender their weapons and remove the insignia that denoted their rank. Rust wrote, “I will not forget the day and this shame,” and commented, “The world, if it can free herself from the burden of this war, can be redeemed only with love, but not by force.”
* Patricia Hammond’s CD recording Songs of the Great War is available on her website, as well as on Amazon and iTunes.
† Translation by Danita C. Zanré. Here is the original German:
Einsam im Walde blüht wohl ein Blümlein rot, bald, allzubald bin ich tot, bald, allzubalde.
Fleugt wo ein Stückchen Blei, nimmt mir mein Sorgen. Mir ist halt einerlei: heut oder morgen.
Weit, wo das Tal hinab graben drei Spaten, graben ein Kühles Grab für ein Soldaten. Drüben im Dämmerschein, allwo im Städtchen weint wo im Kämmerlein irgendein Mädchen. Blüht wohl ein Blümlein rot einsam im Walde, balde, gar bald bin ich tot, bald, allzubalde.
†† It appears that the song was sometimes referred to by the poem’s title “Einsam im Walde”: in its 14 September 1934 issue, London’s Wireless World magazine reports the song “Einsam im Walde” was broadcast from Hamburg on Sunday, September 9th, 1934 (page ii).

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Spring Morning

It’s a Spring Morning
It’s a Spring morning, and April, and the world over
Beautiful girls and their lovers wake and laugh with the sun,
And flowers lift their heads, and thrushes call from the gardens,
And the War, the War, is done.

They buried her soldier-lover, heaped the earth over,
Beautiful girls and their lovers wake, but he does not stir,
They buried him cold at night with Love and Youth and Laughter,
And the sad, sad heart of her.
            —May Wedderburn Cannan*

“It’s a Spring Morning” appears in The Splendid Days (1919), the book of poetry May Cannan dedicated to B.B.Q.-C., her fiancé, Bevil Brian Quiller-Couch.  May and Bevil had known each other nearly all their lives, as their fathers were close friends, but they didn’t become engaged until after the war had ended. 

Quiller-Couch had entered the Great War in its early days, and for four years saw some of the heaviest action, fighting with the Royal Field Artillery at Mons, Aisne, the First Battle of Ypres, Festubert, the Somme, the Third Battle of Ypres, and Cambrai. In the first letter he sent to May in early 1915, Bevil wrote, “Things are very quiet now after the strenuous days of the Aisne and Ypres… I hope we shall be dancing together again this time next year.” A year later, he was still in France, and wrote to her from the Somme: “The noise is deafening day and night without even ten minutes peace … we are digging like moles … you should see me, black with dust and dirt, burnt with the sun and always hot.”  In 1917, May sent him a copy of her first published book of poems In War Time, and Bevil replied,
If a heathen can be grateful for a work of art, I feel he must write and thank you for the pleasure it gave to read these poems.  Out here I have read more books than during the rest of my life, not perhaps saying much.

Quiller-Couch’s battery fired their last shots of the war on November 5, 1918. Bevil had earlier written to May, “I shall put in for Paris leave as soon as this is over and just blow into your office”** (she was working with British Intelligence at the War Office in Paris), and on November 13th, he arrived.  May wrote in her autobiography,
… he fetched me from the Office at one and we walked down to the Pont d’Alma, and there, looking down into the waters of the Seine, hurrying by and having known other wars and other lovers, he asked me to marry him.***
Their reunion lasted five days, during which time they visited Versailles and shared riverside picnics, long walks, and meals in French cafés.  She preserved the memories in the poem “Paris Leave”:
Do you remember, in Paris, how we two dined
On your Leave’s last night,
And the happy people around us who laughed and sang,
And the great blaze of light.

And the big bow-window over the boulevard
Where our table stood,
And the old French waitress who patted your shoulder and
Told us that love was good. 

Bevil confessed to May that he had intended to propose to her before leaving for France in 1914, but after his request for leave was denied, he had come to think the better of it, reasoning that “if my family had to suffer because I was out here it was right that no more should.” May protested his decision, for as she saw it, “In thinking to save me anxiety, dear Heart, he had deprived me of the precious right to be anxious. Going alone to his war he had left me lonely in mine.”º

Required to rejoin his regiment, Bevil marched with them to Germany, where they had been assigned to post-war occupation duty. He wrote of his engagement to his father: “I know one thing—you all love May and will know that I am luckier than I deserve … I was perhaps more in luck in the whole fall of events than any man ought to be.”ºº  As Bevil was scheduled to be demobilised at the end of February, the couple set their wedding date for June 3, 1919.  On February 2, Bevil wrote to May,
I have visions of being with you about the 25th of this month…. I am writing this in bed as I am very lazy, having caught a small chill.  I have stayed in bed for breakfast; when one lived in holes in the ground I never caught chills which seems rather silly.  It must have been the sudden change.°°°
He died the morning of February 6th, a victim of the Spanish flu pandemic.  May was with his parents in Cornwall at their family home in Fowey when she learned of Bevil's death; she and his father were denied permission to travel to Germany for the funeral.  May wrote,
Fowey War Memorial
I think the whole town mourned for him. They had known him as a small boy in a red beret rowing his dinghy about the harbour, going fishing with Groze the boatman, sailing with his sister and his Oxford friends.  He had a smile, they said, and a greeting for everyone, and in the war when he came on leave, a man grown and with responsibilities heavy upon him and the knowledge of war, there was still the same smile and the same kindly question of how things were with them; the same invincible cheerfulness. 
          The wind blew in salt from the sea, and at night, looking from my window, I could see the riding-lights of the ships in the harbor…. The stars came out and hung above the hill, and dawn came and the ships put out their riding-lights, and the windows went blank and the stars faded—and he would never come home any more.†

Apart from her poem "Rouen," Cannan’s war poetry is seldom included in modern anthologies. Her poems do not bear eye-witness account to combat, nor does she protest the war.  In her autobiography, Cannan explained,
A saying went round, “Went to the war with Rupert Brooke and came home with Siegfried Sassoon.” I had much admired some of Sassoon’s verse but I was not coming home with him.  Someone must go on writing for those who were still convinced of the right of the cause for which they had taken up arms.††

* Other poems by May Wedderburn Cannan appearing on this blog include “Since They Have Died,” “France,” and “Paris, November 11, 1918.”
** Bevil Quiller-Couch letters cited in Tears of War, edited by Charlotte Fyfe, Cavalier Books, 2000, pp. 39, 54, 67, 88.
*** May Wedderburn Cannan, Grey Ghosts and Voices, Roundwood Press, 1976, p. 139.
º Cannan, Grey Ghosts, pp. 140, 141.
ºº Bevil Quiller-Couch letter cited in Tears of War, p. 92.
ººº Bevil Quiller-Couch letter cited in Tears of War, p. 115.
† Cannan, Grey Ghosts, p. 146.
†† Cannan, Grey Ghosts, p. 113.