Oberj. W. Weckwerth

Kriegstagebuch geführt vom Oberj. W. Weckwerth

n.p. n.p.. 1914.

A diary kept by Oberjäger W. Werkberth a Corporal in the 4th Company Garde-Jäger-Bataillon covering the period 2nd August to 9th September 1914. Handwritten in pencil in a small notebook bound in half black linen with paper covered boards. There are sixty-eight numbered leaves with Weckberth's diary entries on both sides. The first leaf (unnumbered) has the title and year with, on the verso, a list of dates and places beginning with "15.8.14 Dinant" and ending with "8.9.14. Bois Tronces. Gefangen...1.30 nachm", indicating his being taken prisoner at 1.30 in the afternoon. In total there are 138 pages of handwriting. As one would expect from a wartime diary the handwriting shows signs of haste, Weckberth clearly keen to record his experiences as speedily and freshly as possible. Helpfully, there is, in a separate small notebook, an English translation although this is an edited version as some quite long sections of the German diary do not appear in the English version.
The first entry, dated 2.8.1914 and written in Potsdam describes the political events leading up to the outbreak of war culminating with Germany's declaration of war against Russia on 31st July 1914. Weckberth describes the mobilisation of the troops beginning on 2nd August, his initial role at the barracks and the large number of volunteers (250) who appeared. 2nd August concludes with a curse on the French. Two days later the Company leaves Potsdam, marching to the station past thousands of supporters. On 4th August Weckberth notes that England has declared war. By 6th August, they are in Belgium and their war begins in earnest with a battle at Dinant. They then cross the border into France and the next major encounter is at Soissons where Weckberth's diary spares us few details. He describes the fires engulfing the suburbs thanks to a benzine store and recalls the horrific sights of a man with his brain splattered against a wall and another with the top of his skull blown off. Weckberth has a nice line in understatement, noting, on 3rd September that one is forced at times to take "violent measures". Following Soissons, the Company then proceeded south, quickly covering a large area before coming to a halt at the tiny village of Courtacon east of Paris. Weckberth's entry for 6th September is a long one describing, in a tense narrative, the reality of being surrounded by the enemy and having to decide whether to fight or surrender. Realising that to advance would mean death, he surrendered to a group of English soldiers from the Worcestershire Regiment. With admirable sang froid, Weckberth notes that what annoyed him most was that his pipe and tobacco were taken from him. The diary concludes on 9th September 1914 with a march to join a group of about sixty other German prisoners. It is, presumably, at this point that Weckberth's diary is confiscated.
What Weckberth describes, in these later entries, is the Battle of the Marne. He was part of a breakaway German unit under General von Kluck which pushed south from the main German advance in an attempt to force a double-pronged attack on allied troops east of Paris. This failed and the battle was lost by the Germans, von Moltke, the Chief of the General Staff ordering a withdrawal on 9th September, too late to save Weckberth.
Almost nothing is known of our diarist after his capture save for a Walter Weckberth appearing in two lists in German newspapers. In the first he is described as "in englischer Gefangenschaft" (in English captivity) and in the second (dated April 1918) he is noted as being in prison in Rotterdam. The Netherlands was neutral during WWI and the Dutch took prisoners from both Britain and Germany, some being employed in the Rotterdam shipyards. Weckberth may have been one of them and, happily for him, it seems that he survived the war. What happened after that we cannot say, but he would have made a good journalist. He captures well the atmosphere of these febrile few months: his diary is alive with sharp powers of observation, a sense of humour and an eye for the fine detail picked out against the broader picture.

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