born 1884 – killed in action 1914
Wilhelm Schwabe’s deployment to the war began on the 10th of August 1914. He describes the wartime events on a duplicate block of writing paper. To ensure that his bride Erna could share in what was happening, he regularly sent her the original pages. On the 19th of September 1914, he wrote one last time. The next day, he was killed in action and buried in France. What has come down to us is a little leather-bound book designed by Erna in memory of her lover. She kept it for the rest of her life. It contains photographs and a hand-written copy of the original diary, which has not survived. She concludes her memorial book with these words:
Love is stronger than death – that is the motto I had them put on your gravestone in Courtecon (France).
This was Wilhelm Schwabe’s final diary entry:
In the trench, on the 19th of September, 3:30 in the afternoon.
In a moment, I’ll go and check up on Heinrich again, that is, if I manage to get out of the firing line, if the enemy artillery fire isn’t too heavy. Perhaps I’ll also manage to pass on my letter to Erna. This morning, things went fairly well in the trench: it’s not raining! That says it all. At the moment, our most urgent desire is for it to stay dry – or turn dry.
When I came back from Heinrich today, they were handing out mail. I heard there were several items for me, and was almost beside myself with joy when the sergeant confirmed that in answer to my question. He handed me the items, and I felt dreadfully disappointed. A money order for ten marks from Uncle Wilhelm in Colenfeld, and a card from Frida Feldmann, and another card from Heinrich Ahrens in Bückeburg. That was all I received. – Of course, I was pleased about all that, I’m heartily grateful for it all. But – Erna, there was nothing from you, from you, my all, or from home. How come that your letters and the letters from Heidorn don’t arrive, or only arrive so slowly and unreliably? A postcard, a letter and two parcels, that’s all I’ve received so far, and you, dear Erna, must have sent something almost every day.
My longing for letters from you is so great, there are no words.
I’ll happily endure everything – but I must be in touch with you, hear from you. Above all, make sure you write Reserve-Division 13 clearly on everything you send, in bold letters and underlined in red. We have another patrol tonight. One officer, two corporals, two lance-corporals and 12 privates. That’s genuinely better than spending the night in the trench.
I’ll finish quickly for today. The staff orderly wants to take the letters with him from here.
God bless you, Erna! Give my best regards to your dear Mama. Pass on my regards to all my nearest and dearest in Heidorn, and, my sweet, let me send you a hearty embrace and kisses from your, eternally your, Wilhelm.
All depictions: © Gerhard Seitz, Das Deutsche Tagebucharchiv e.V.