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Soldiers Describe Combat III: Hans Stegemann (1914)

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Another green coat. A corporal is on his way back. “Hey, what’s wrong?” “Not a single cartridge left!” “Good Lord! Here they are!” “Thank God!” “Hop on the wagon. Now show us the way.” We trot a little further, and then there they are. When they catch sight of me, they fire off their last ammunition. For now there is a fresh supply! I’ve got four thousand. Meanwhile things are starting to get serious; the man who was sitting on the wagon just a moment ago is now lying beside it with a smashed leg, which has since been amputated. I am still perched on my horse beside an ammunition column – six wagons as well as my cartridge wagon. The enemy has got the range, and now the fun begins: “sss . . . rrrr . . . sch!” it goes, as if a giant were beating the leaves of oak trees with a stick. All the horses of the fifth ammunition wagon – three on the right and three on the left – lie struggling, their legs in the air, while the next ammunition wagon is safe. The soldiers operating the wagons are crawling about on the ground. Many have been killed. A moment ago the column was safe and sound: now it looks as if somebody had brought an enormous flyswatter down on it. My wagon stops in the middle of it all. The whistling continues. For the moment I don’t dismount. “Whoever gets hit, gets hit!” my rifleman says and he is right. My men unload as calmly as if we were standing in the village square at Görlitz on a Sunday. They count slowly: one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, and so on, as they pile up the packages. The riflemen come and calmly fetch the little pointed things: the English won’t go anywhere, and nothing upsets the composure of a Holsteiner. When a “heavy” comes whistling over they grin and whistle, imitating the sound. Upon seeing my pipe one of them says, “By gosh, that’s a good idea!” and pulls out a battered cigar and begins to smoke: “That pretty nearly got spoilt in my pocket.” They stay calm. One takes off his shako, which is full of bullet holes and looks at it: “Well, I hope it won’t let the rain in,” he says, and puts it on again. “Alright, now you’ve got cartridges.” Suddenly my horse sinks beneath the saddle and founders. I have no time to see to him right now; I am carrying cartridges to the firing line. When I come back he comes to meet me, whinnying quite gaily, and snuffles at me. Three bullets have grazed his back, but have only given him a fright. I have a bullet through my gaiters, in the same place as last time. I’ll have to buy another pair for the third time. A bullet has gone through the sleeve of my coat; that can be sewn up; my precious skin is unharmed.

Source: Hans Stegemann, in Philipp Witkop, ed., Kriegsbriefe gefallener Studenten [War Letters from Fallen Students]. Munich, 1928, pp. 211-14.

Translation: Jeffrey Verhey

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