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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 17:26
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I'll mak siccar
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When I was a child in the late 1930s and early 1940s I would meet Old Gentlemen who had served on the Western Front in World War 1. They were all Scottish or Irish men of the working-class, labourers and the like, easily identified at a glance: each of them not very tall; each with an “Old Bill” moustache; each with a short clay pipe (OK; maybe one or two briar) with a little metal lid of sorts over the bowl; each smoking “thick black” tobacco which they cut off a “twist” with a knife and kneaded between fingers and thumb for the match which was either “Swan Vestas” or “Scottish Bluebell”; each with erect bearing; not a cigarette among them; all legacies of the BEF.

I thought they were wonderful and I have seen nothing since to suggest I was wrong.

I cannot remember exactly what tales they told me, but I occupied the place of Raleigh in that famous painting “The Boyhood of Raleigh” by John Everett Millais [to digress, Millais also painted that child portrait, later widely used as an advert for Pears’ Soap under the name “Bubbles”. The model for the child was a small boy whom my father met much much later in the model’s life, by which time he was Admiral James, RN (ret’d)].

The boy Raleigh sits on the ground, spellbound by a veteran who holds forth about the glorious days that are gone. I was not sitting on the ground, but I was as enthralled as Raleigh. I almost felt that I too had been there in France, much as the Prince Regent used to infuriate the Duke of Wellington with his recollections of Waterloo, at which the Duke had certainly been present but the Prince just as certainly had not.

Anyway one recurring theme for my old gentlemen was what they called “Thur Youlans” or as the Germans called them “Uhlanen”. The Uhlanen had made a big impression.

[A further opinion, unrelated to the Uhlanen, but voiced unanimously was that we had been fighting with the wrong allies: they all thought well of the Germans and all detested the French.]

Do any of the military historians here have anything to offer, or to suggest as a source, on the part played by the Uhlanen on the Western Front, 1914 ro 1918?

My own ill-informed impression is that they were light cavalry of Prussian origin, and I cannot readily envisage contact in trench warfare between them on the one hand and Scottish and Irish infantry regiments of the line on the other.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 17:54
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I seem to recall that Dr Hasselbacher in Graham Greene's novel Our Man in Havana was a former Uhlan. He had a Pickelhaube helmet and mentions being inspected when on manoeuvres by the Kaiser in June 1913. He fought the Russians at Tannenberg.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 18:37
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Davaar,Wiki, on the subject has a comprehensive history and some links to further reading. your description of the old soldiers reminded me off my Grandfather who spent one day in the trenches before receiving a Blighty Wound. After recuperating he was given the choice of going back down the pit or returning to the trenches. He chose the safety of the pit.

Robert W. Service wrote this, Country Joe McDonald later set it to music. I don't know if it's true.

Jean Desprez
Oh, ye whose hearts are resonant, and ring to War's romance,
Hear ye the story of a boy, a peasant boy of France,
A lad uncouth and warped with toil, yet who, when trial came,
Could feel within his soul upleap and soar the sacred flame;
Could stand upright, and scorn and smite, as only heroes may:
Oh, hearken! Let me try to tell the tale of Jean Desprez.

With fire and sword the Teuton horde was ravaging the land,
And there was darkness and despair, grim death on every hand;
Red fields of slaughter sloping down to ruin's black abyss;
The wolves of war ran evil-fanged, and little did they miss.
And on they came with fear and flame, to burn and loot and slay,
Until they reached the red-roofed croft, the home of Jean Desprez.

"Rout out the village one and all!" the Uhlan Captain said.
"Behold! Some hand has fired a shot. My trumpeter is dead.
Now shall they Prussian vengeance know; now shall they rue the day,
For by this sacred German slain, ten of these dogs shall pay."
They drove the cowering peasants forth, women and babes and men,
And from the last, with many a jeer the Captain chose he ten.
Ten simple peasants, bowed with toil, they stood, they knew not why,
Against the grey wall of the church, hearing their children cry;
Hearing their wives and mothers wail, with faces dazed they stood.
A moment only ... Ready! Fire! They weltered in their blood.

But there was one who gazed unseen, who heard the frenzied cries,
Who saw these men in sabots fall before their children's eyes;
A Zouave wounded in a ditch, and knowing death was nigh,
He laughed with joy: "Ah! here is where I settle ere I die."
He clutched his rifle once again, and long he aimed and well ...
A shot! Beside his victims ten the Uhlan Captain fell.

They dragged the wounded Zouave out; their rage was like a flame.
With bayonets they pinned him down, until their Major came.
A blond, full-blooded man he was, and arrogant of eye;
He stared to see with shattered skull his favorite Captain lie.
"Nay do not finish him so quick, this foreign swine," he cried;
"Go nail him to the big church door: he shall be crucified."

With bayonets through hands and feet they nailed the Zouave there
And there was anguish in his eyes, and horror in his stare;
"Water! A single drop!" he moaned, but how they jeered at him,
And mocked him with an empty cup, and saw his sight grow dim;
And as in agony of death with blood his lips were wet,
The Prussian Major gaily laughed, and lit a cigarette.

But mid the white-faced villagers who cowered in horror by,
Was one who saw the woeful sight, who heard the woeful cry:
"Water! One little drop, I beg! For love of Christ who died ..."
It was the little Jean Desprez who turned and stole aside;
It was the little barefoot boy who came with cup abrim
And walked up to the dying man, and gave the drink to him.

A roar of rage! They seize the boy; they tear him fast away.
The Prussian Major swings around; no longer is he gay.
His teeth are wolfishly agleam; his face all dark with spite:
"Go shoot the brat," he snarls, "that dare defy our Prussian might.
Yet stay! I have another thought. I'll kindly be, and spare;
Quick! give the lad a rifle charged, and set him squarely there,
And bid him shoot, and shoot to kill. Haste! make him understand
The dying dog he fain would save shall perish by his hand.
And all his kindred they shall see, and all shall curse his name
Who bought his life at such a cost, the price of death and shame."

They brought the boy, wild-eyed with fear; they made him understand;
They stood him by the dying man, a rifle in his hand.
"Make haste!" said they, "the time is short, and you must kill or die."
The Major puffed his cigarette, amusement in his eye.
And then the dying Zouave heard, and raised his weary head:
"Shoot, son, 'twill be the best for both; shoot swift and straight," he said.
"Fire first and last, and do not flinch; for lost of hope am I;
And I will murmur: Vive La France! and bless you ere I die."

Half-blind with blows the boy stood there, he seemed to swoon and sway;
Then in that moment woke the soul of little Jean Desprez.
He saw the woods go sheening down, the larks were singing clear;
And oh! the scents and sounds of spring, how sweet they were! how dear!
He felt the scent of new mown hay, a soft breeze fanned his brow;
O God! the paths of peace and toil! How precious were they now.

The summer days and summer ways, how bright with hope and bliss!
The autumn such a dream of gold ... and all must stand in this:
This shining rifle in his hand, that shambles all around;
The Zouave there with a dying glare; the blood upon the ground;
The brutal faces round him ringed, the evil eyes aflame;
That Prussian bully standing by, as if he watched a game.
"Make haste and shoot," the Major sneered; "a minute more I give;
A minute more to kill your friend, if you yourself would live."

They only saw a bare-foot boy, with blanched and twitching face;
They did not see within his eyes the glory of his race;
The glory of a million men who for fair France have died,
The splendor of self-sacrifice that will not be denied.
Yet ... he was but a peasant lad, and oh! but life was sweet ...
"Your minute's nearly gone, my lad," he heard a voice repeat.
"Shoot! Shoot!" the dying Zouave moaned; "Shoot! Shoot!" the soldiers said.
Then Jean Desprez reached out and shot ... the Prussian Major dead!

Last edited by Lon More; 22nd Dec 2012 at 18:40.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 18:51
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As Lon More says, these seems to be reasonably good info on Wikipedia and Google generally about the German Uhlan regiments.

Interesting stuff - I remember reading about them at school (lots of Biggles, Buchan and "Sapper").

German Uhlans

Prussian Guard Uhlans about 1912

1st Brigade of Polish Uhlans of WWI

In 1914 the Imperial German Army included twenty-six Uhlan regiments, three of which were Guard regiments, twenty-one line (sixteen Prussian, two Württemberg and three Saxon) and two from the autonomous Royal Bavarian Army. All German Uhlan regiments wore Polish style czapkas and tunics with plastron fronts, both in coloured parade uniforms and the field grey service dress introduced in 1910. Because German hussar, dragoon and cuirassier regiments also carried lances in 1914 there was a tendency among their French and British opponents to describe all German cavalry as "uhlans".


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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 19:12
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spellbound by a veteran who holds forth about the glorious days that are gone
My grandfather was at the third battle of Ypres (or Wipers as he always used to call it) and my great uncle at Passchendaele. From what they told me there wasn't much glory around.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 21:16
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Lancers. Interestingly I have a mild fascination with the Uhlans too. Well I remember a ghost story of a clash with French Dragoons ? and German Uhlans in 1914. Later the subject of a fascinating story from a former British officer who visited the battlefield and witnessed the ghostly clash of the two armies years after the event.

I remember converting an Airfix model of a British Hussar into a German Uhlan wearing a gas mask. Appropriately enough my model met it's demise in a muddy spot in the garden.

The only WW1 veteran I knew was also a WW2 veteran. Taught me how to stand to attention and at ease. He was my friend's grandad. Living in Ireland of the 1970s the veterans didn't say much about their experiences. How I would love to talk to that man again.

Although I believe both my Grandfathers served in the Great war. Both were long dead before I was born.

Last edited by bluecode; 22nd Dec 2012 at 21:17.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 21:58
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I'll mak siccar
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Thanks to all. I read once or heard of from my Dad that in WW1 the aristocrat Franz von Papen as a young staff officer left some highly confidential staff papers behind him in a taxi. Von Papen later became the Chancellor, who thought he would be the puppet-meister pulling the strings of that low-bred puppet whippersnapper Hitler. Now that was a laugh!

I know I am off in detail, but OK I think as to the gist of the story.

The loss of the papers caused great commotion, and word eventually reached the ears of the Kaiser, the All-Highest.

"To which regiment does this young officer belong?" asked the Kaiser.

"To the First Regiment of Uhlanen of the Guard", came the reply.

"Ah!", said the Kaiser, "Then all is explained!"
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 22:14
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my grandad was wounded on the somme then spent the rest of the war on salsbury plain looking after sick and injured horses, he told my father the only good germans where uhlans because they knew how to look after nags!
perhaps now its a bit clear- thanks

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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 23:40
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I'll mak siccar
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thing ... I have a bound copy of the original "Wipers Times".

Last edited by Davaar; 22nd Dec 2012 at 23:41.
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Old 23rd Dec 2012, 02:34
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IIRC Manfred von Richthofen began his military career in the Uhlans.
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Old 23rd Dec 2012, 02:50
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In 1939, I had learned to say little more than, Ga Ga, so I'm not really much help with the thread. Despite this, I nominate Post 1, the thread start, with post of the year, 2012.
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Old 23rd Dec 2012, 03:10
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When I was a child in the late 1930s and early 1940s
Hello sir, why you never said you were 80 years old (like my grand pa!!!) I would have been much more polite the few times I spoke to you... I believe we had some kind of argue before...
I feel a bit ashamed now...
I don't know why but when I discuss with the JB posters I always think the person behind the keyboard is in his 30s, a bit like me (internet generation?)...

Loose Rivets, 73 years old? I have never checked before neither...
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Old 23rd Dec 2012, 06:11
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Yup, can't believe it. 73, with the sense of humor of a 12 year old.

Just can't get the hang of being sensible.
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Old 28th Dec 2012, 15:43
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My grandfather was taken prisoner on the Western Front in, I think, late 1917 or early 1918. The story was that the German soldiers they were fighting had recently arrived from the Eastern Front and were far more chivalrous and likely to take prisoners than those who had been on the Western Front for the duration of the war. He certainly put this down to his survival.

My grandfather's war diary is still in the family, so I will find out if it was the Uhlans he was fighting.

Keeping a diary whilst a prisoner of war was not permitted by the Germans, so it was quite a risk having it.
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Old 28th Dec 2012, 19:59
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Sorry to break the spell but I seem to remember that early WW I recruiting poster had illustrations of the Uhlans butchering women and children as they swept across Belgium. Probably a pack of lies, like most propogander posters but there may have been an element of truth.

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Old 28th Dec 2012, 20:34
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Not altogether lies, If I recall correctly the Germans expected to pass through Belgium with little trouble but they were harried by snipers shooting from houses, or so they claimed,so they got a little rough on civilians,we of course took full advantage of the propaganda opportunity this offered to paint them as the dastardly Hun committing atrocities on innocent nuns and children.
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