Singing in the Camp

The POWs at Raikeswood often had the opportunity to make and hear music.  Here, the authors of the diary have the opportunity to compare the musical abilities of the Germans and the English.

“Jubelnd erklangen in der Frühe des 1. Mai die Stimmen unserer braven Sänger über das noch stille Lager dahin und kündeten Freund und Feind den Jubel der Menschenbrust über die wachsende Frühlingslust. Die Tommies am Draht ließen die drohenden Gewehre sinken und waren ganz erstaunt über die „wilden Huns”. Wie zum Dank boten auch sie uns eines Sonntags einen musikalischen Genuß. Freilich erhoben nicht die waffenstarrenden Kriegsleute ihre rauhe Stimme: liebliche Mädchen säumten den Waldrand und sangen uns unter Lautenklang allerlei unbekannte Lieder. Es war die Heilsarmee, deren Gottesdienste sich uns schon an manchen Sonntagen in den englischen Mannschaftsbaracken durch lauten Posaunenschall angekündigt hatten. Wir gewannen überhaupt den Eindruck, daß das britische Volk voll reger Sangeslust ist. Die englischen Posten vertrieben sich oft die Langeweile durch mehr oder minder anmutige gesangliche Selbstfreuden.” (p. 104)

On the morning of the 1st May the voices of our good singers sounded jubilantly across the camp, which was still quiet, and heralded to friend and foe the joy in the heart of man about the growing pleasures of spring. The Tommies by the wire dropped their menacing guns and were completely astounded by the ‘wild Huns’. As if to thank us, they also offered us a musical treat one Sunday. Of course, the men of war, bristling with weapons, did not lift their own harsh voices: instead, delightful girls lined the edge of the forest and sang various unfamiliar songs to us, accompanied by music. It was the Salvation Army, whose sounding of trombones on numerous Sundays to herald their church services in the English troop barracks had not escaped our notice. In general, we gained the impression that the British are enthusiastic singers. The English guards often relieved their boredom by delighting in the joys of singing, with varying degrees of charm. (ED)

It’s interesting to compare this description with the comments of British pilot Arthur Hollis, who was held prisoner in Graudenz (now Grudziądz, Poland) from March to November 1918:

‘Graudenz being a garrison town, we continually had borides of troops marching past outside, who were always given orders to sing as they marched past our camp, so as to give us a good impression of their morale.  They sang rather well, but they only did so when they were ordered to and never from sheer lightheartedness.’

(Arthur Hollis, Dear Girl, I Escaped. Experiences in the Great War, Bristol: Redcliffe, p. 59.)