• 30 years of war and peace, 1916 to 1946

    In November 1916 Herbert Sulzbach was fighting in the German artillery at the Battle of the Somme. By then, he had been involved in trench warfare, defending front line positions near Noyon, for four months as the battle ebbed to and fro between the two sides. After a week of intense action at the end of November, once a halt had been called to the fighting, he went back to trench warfare in the same area until mid-February 1917.

    Although the German army can be said to have survived this battle, thousands of soldiers from all sides were killed and injured in the fighting. It was an experience that most never forgot. After Germany was defeated in November 1918 and Sulzbach led his men back home, his time wearing field grey remained a vivid and important memory.

    After the war, he became a director of a factory in Neubabelsberg, near Potsdam, and travelled frequently to France, England and Belgium. In November 1926, ten years after his time on the Somme, he happened to be in London on business. Stepping out of his hotel on the Strand at 11 o'clock on 11 November, he was astonished – and very moved – to see everyone and all the traffic stop. Men removed their hats and everything came to a standstill for two minutes in commemoration of the war dead of 1914 – 1918.

    Just over a decade later, in November 1937, he was living in London as a refugee from the country for which he had previously fought. He joined the crowds at the Cenotaph for the Armistice remembrance – little knowing that a few years later he would be wearing the uniform of a soldier in the British army, fighting the Nazism that he hated.

    Thirty years after the Battle of the Somme, and a few months after a Second World War involving both Germany and Britain, Herbert Sulzbach was discussing Remembrance Day with German officer PoW. At his suggestion, they devised their own ceremony.

    'At 10.55 I went into the main guard room, where the German PoW trumpeter was waiting. At a sign from me, at 10.58 he began to play. Wherever a PoW went or worked, he stood to attention and took his cap in his hand, until 11.00 when the trumpeter ceased. It was simple and wonderful: we honoured the dead in every country.'

    (photo: Armistice Day at the London Cenotaph 11 November 1937)

    ©text: Ainslie Hepburn, with quote from Sulzbach papers. ©photo Yvonne Klemperer


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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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