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event in the life of a German boy is his confirma-
tion, and the second his first week as a soldier. A
huge red placard appears one day on the bill-posting
tower so familiar to German towns. It contains a
list of the names of all the young men in the district
who have reached military age, and his is among them.
He has been expecting it,and he knows that the author-
ities never forget. Already he and his parents have
decided one important question regarding his service,
and that is, whether he shall enter as an einj'dhrige
freiwillige^ or volunteer to serve for one year only, or
whether he must take the full service of two years.


66 Seen in Germany

It is safe to say that every German boy has an ambi-
tion to be a freiwi/Iige, hut with the greater majority
of them it is an impossibility. For 3. freiwil/ige must
have had a certain amount of schooHng, or his men-
tal training must be sufficient to enable him to pass
a specified examination ; and then, more difficult
still, his parents must be financially able to support
him while he is in the service, even to the extent of
paying for his board and clothing. It is the demand
of the government that every boy must serve, be his
family rich or poor, noble or common ; but the gov-
ernment assumes that the bright, capable boy will
learn the drill and the instructions more quickly than
the dull peasant boy, and, besides, the freiwillige
system relieves the government of the support of
a large number of soldiers, and, as I shall show later,
economy is a cardinal virtue in the German military

The physicians reject great numbers of the bovs
the first year, because they are not yet large or strong
enough to bear the rigors of the service, and they are
called again the next year. Boys with serious physi-
cal defects, such as the loss of the trigger finger, or
color-blindness, or curvature of the spine, are rejected
entirely, usually to their keen regret. A few others
also escape — cases in which a boy is the sole support
of a widowed mother, and similar instances. But
the authorities always keep a jealous eye on those

The German Private Soldier


who slip through, and should
their conditions of lite per-
mit, within a reasonable num-
ber of years, they must do
their service with the others.
So few Germans escape ser-
vice entirely that it is a
matter tor mild suspicion and
inquiry when a man says he
has not served. The first
question that a would-be em-
ployer asks a man is, " Have
you done your service, and
where?" If the answer is
in the negative, the next ques-
tion is, "Why not? " for it is
argued that if this man es-
caped he must have some
grave physical defect or else
he must be cumbered with
a family to support. Indeed,
the sentiment of Germany is
strongly against the man who
has not served his time, and
the boy who finds himself
rejected by the examining
physicians for any reason is
frequently heart-broken, al-

Present Arms

68 Seen in Germany

though, of course, there are many who would will-
ingly escape with any excuse.

Under certain conditions the freiwiliige men and
sometimes the two-year men may choose the regiment
in which they wish to serve, for some regiments are
more aristocratic than others, and they may some-
times select the branch of the service which they pre-
fer, whether infantry, cavalry, artillery, or engineers,
although the great proportion of the men are assigned
at the will of the officers. Service in the cavalry
and artillery requires three years but there are men
who are fond of horses and who choose the cavalry
because it is schneidig, a word best translated in Eng-
lish slang " swell," although the work in the cavalry
is more severe.

A regiment is never made up entirely of new men.
In the first place there is the skeleton framework of
the noncommissioned officers (I am not considering
here the commissioned officers) and usually a large
residue of men who have already served one year. To
these the new draft, awkward, callow, apparentlv
hopelessly stupid, is added, and the officers are con-
fronted with the discouraging task, old as armies,
of beating this raw material into shape. The new
recruit spends his first few weeks pretty closely in
barracks. His old suit of clothes is packed up,
labelled, and stored away, to be kept and returned to
him when he finishes his service. He is fitted from

The Gooie Step

JO Seen in Germany

among the oldest uniforms in the possession of the
regiment, and he is set to such dispiriting tasks as clean-
ing barracks and other duties quite as disagreeable to a
boy who has been brought up in fairly good surround-
ings. Such tasks as these are anything but a pleasant
introduction to military life, but here comes in the
national spirit of order and obedience to authority,
and he obeys. The greatest man in the world to
him just now is his corporal, whose business it is to
knock off his rough corners, and none too gently.
His first sergeant, the " mother of the regiment," is a
planet as yet a little out of his orbit, and his captain
is a fixed and distant star to be looked upon with awe
and wonder. One of his first duties is to learn the
" soldier marks " — the distinguishing uniform of
his officers and how he must salute his superiors.
In Germany, the code of etiquette as between officers
and men is very rigid. The private is taught that
he must obey every order of a superior absolutely
and unquestioningly, and that he must invariably
salute in exactly the proper way. Any one who
visits Germany will see this saluting process on any
corner. A sentinel comes to present arms, and fol-
lows his officer with his eyes like a faithful dog until
he is out of sight. A marching squad goes through
that difficult, and, to the uninitiated, that amusing
performance known in olden times as the " goose step.'
Each man in the line raises his legs, thrusts out his

The German Private Soldier


foot vigorously in front, and brings it down with a
sharp stroke on the pavement. And thus " goose
stepping," he marches until the officer has dis-

Company Tailors

The recruit is also taught the purpose of each
article in his uniform and how it must be kept, and,
what is more, he is held strictly responsible for
every damage. Every button is looked after in a
way which would astonish an American regular, who,
by the way, is the most costly and careless soldier

72 Seen in Germany

in the world. One has only to watch a coat or
boot inspection which sometimes lasts for an hour,
and to see the officers examine every seam and
wrinkle, to be persuaded of the care taken. Not
only are there regimental tailors and shoemakers de-
tailed from among the men of those trades, but each
young soldier is taught how to mend his clothing
and to patch his boots, so that they always look well.
Many regimental commanders take so keen a pride in
preserving the uniforms of their men that they pile
up great stocks of clothing in store. I heard of one
regiment that possessed six complete uniforms for
every man. As a consequence of this rigid supervis-
ion, there is no soldier who looks neater and cleaner
on all occasions than the German ; and I think it has
had a profound effect on the whole German nation,
for it is rare in Germany to see an untidy, ragged, and
dirty man, however poor, whereas such specimens
swarm the poorer districts of London and New

After the recruit has become familiar with his bar-
racks, his uniforms, and his officers, he is ready to
begin active drilling, at first without a rifle. And
this is hard work. Many of the boys are fresh from
farm labor, and are already more or less stiff and awk-
ward ; and frequently those from the cities, while
more active, are not so strong. The exercise con-
sists in throwing back the arms violently, expanding

The German Private Soldier 73

the chest, lowering and elevating the body by bend-
ing the knees, and many similar movements calcu-
lated to strengthen and render supple all the muscles
ot the body. Then there is the famous " long step."
A whole company may be seen strutting across the
parade ground, rising on one foot, and balancing
there with the other leg extended until the order
comes. Then down with the suspended foot in as
long a step as possible, and up with the other. This
seems simple enough, but when a recruit has been at
it half an hour or more he wishes devoutly for some-
thing else. The long step is said to make the Ger-
mans good marchers, to assist in giving them that
quality of strength and endurance which, during the
Franco- Prussian war, " marched the French to death."
It is a favorite punishment for petty misdemeanors
to force a soldier to go through these exercises for so
many minutes or hours.

A little later, and, indeed, all through the service
of the German soldier, there is constant drilling in all
manner of athletic feats, particularly in jumping and
climbing. I saw a squad of recruits practising the
running high jump. They were all clad in old canvas
uniforms of cheap make, their working clothes, and
they stood in a line and jumped at the order of the
officer. Everv one of them was a strapping, round-
faced tellow of evident strength, and yet some of
them actually could not jump over a string two feet

Drill oti the Horizontal Bar

The German Private Soldier y^

high. They had had no training, and they possessed
no idea of how to utiHze their muscles. But with
a year or two of steady training they make good
jumpers. More advanced squads are set to work on
the horizontal bar; the training here is very practical,
with little attempt to teach the high swings and fancy
movements. Then there are vaulting exercises and
scaling exercises, in which a squad of men are sent
charging at a sheer board wall fifteen or twenty feet
high, made to represent a fort, and up they go on
one another's knees and backs, rifles and all, until
every man is on top ; and it is astonishing to see
how well and how quickly it is all done. In watch-
ing these men at their work, one is impressed with
the sober earnestness with which every task is per-
formed. There is rarely a smile, never anything like
a cheer, and no apparent appreciation of the fact that
these exercises are sometimes practised as sport. To
these men it is a serious duty, not especially enjoy-
able, but endurable. No recruits in the world are
worked so hard as the Germans ; for hours they are
kept at this physical training, one exercise after an-
other. Some men it has killed by its severity, but
most of them thrive under it, so that at the end of a
year many a frail stripling of a lad has become a
brawny, bronzed-faced soldier, able to stand any
hardship. There can be no doubt that this vigorous
military training has had a profound effect on the

76 Seen in Germany

German people. The German is by nature physic-
ally indolent : he has little love for violent sports such
as the Englishman and the American enjoy ; he pre-
fers to sit quietly in some little back-yard forest of
evergreens growing in tubs and sip his beer. The
military training in a measure stirs him out of this
lethargy, and gives him the physical strength that he

After several weeks of preliminary training, the re-
cruit is given his rifle. He is required to learn every-
thing about it, the purpose of each part, and how it
should be cleaned and kept. Then begins the long
training in the manual of arms, a branch in which the
Germans are especially proficient. The drill is car-
ried even to practice with the bayonet and bayonet
tournaments, the bayonets, of course, being rendered
harmless by a clot of cloth wound around the point.
1 have seen two men, shielded with breast padding
and cage masks, fight with much vigor and precision,
and give each other some pretty vigorous thrusts. If
a modern battle should by any remote possibility
reach the point of a face-to-face bayonet struggle,
these big German soldiers, trained as they are, would
unquestionably make short work of their adversaries.

And now comes the drill in formation, which is
not unlike that in other countries, except, probably,
in its minute thoroughness. Indeed, thoroughness
is the very essence of the German training. Not

Bayonet Practice

yS Seen in Germany

long ago I read a criticism in an Knglish paper, anent
the South African war, to the effect that the KngHsh
commissioned officers left too much of the prelim-
inary training, and indeed of regular drill work, to
their subordinates, the sergeants and the corporals.
In the German army this is not the case; the com-
missioned officer is never far off, and he is constantly
at work with his men, teaching and training them.
A familiar sight on a German drill ground is a cap-
tain or a lieutenant talking to his company to the
length almost of a lecture, advising and instructing.
The casual visitor in a German city, who sees the
German officers strolling about of an afternoon in
their fine uniforms, with their sabre scabbards mirror-
bright in the sunshine and their spurs clinking, is
quite likely to set these men down as " tin soldiers,"
rich men's sons who have found an easy and showy
career in the army. But if this visitor takes pains to
inquire, he will find that most of these officers were
out at five o'clock in the morning or before, and that
by the time the ordinary citizen is out of bed, they
have been for hours at hard work.

Indeed, it is the principle ot the German military
system to work its men hard, to inure them to all the
hardships of war, so that in case they are called sud-
denly into the field, a forced march will not send
them all to hospital. One hot June day I saw
several companies go charging across a drill ground

Pontoon Bridge Biiildi?ig

Seen in Germany

in heavy marching order. They were clad in blue
flannel, with metal helmets, and they must have
carried at least fifty pounds each on their backs.
Every man was dripping with perspiration and chok-
ing with dust, but no mercy was shown. They were
carrying every pound that would have been carried
in a campaign, and they were being trained by
hard service to stand it.

Besides the company, battalion, and regimental
drill, which is kept up constantly during the entire
time of the soldiers' service, there are, every year and
sometimes oftener, great gatherings of soldiers from
all parts of the empire at what is known as the spring
or tall maneuvers. The Kaiser himself, than whom
there is no more enthusiastic soldier in the empire,
is fond of the pageantry of these great gatherings.
Here the men are trained as though on an active
campaign, maneuvered in divisions and corps, often
in sham battle, some fighting from trenches, some
skirmishing in the open, others bridging rivers and
effecting crossings as if under fire. The three arms
of the service are trained together, so that the in-
fantry will work in perfect harmony with the cavalry
and the cavalry with the artillery. In no other army
in the world, perhaps, is so much attention paid to
training the men, and especially the officers, in these
great and necessary evolutions. Many officers can
handle a regiment perfectly, but when it comes to

The German Private Soldier 8i

disposing a division in a masterly manner they fall
short. And in the German army the ideal soldier is
Von Moltke, " the battle-thinker," the man who can
dispose great forces with wisdom, not the daring hero
who rides recklessly at the head of his men and
foolishly risks his life. In this respect the Germans
are totally different from the French or the Anglo-
Saxons, who dearly love the hero — the man of great
personal bravery — and who are quite likely to clamor
that such a man be rewarded with a high command
regardless of his fitness as a " battle-thinker."

It has been said by critics that the weakest point
in the German army is its marksmanship. Thou-
sands of German boys entering service, perhaps a
majority of them, have never touched a rifle until
it is placed in their hands for drilling. In general,
a German is not born with the love of a gun, like
an American ; and he rarely has an opportunity to
use a rifle outside of the service. In America every
farmer's boy begins to shoot rabbits as soon as he
can hold the old shot gun without wobbling ; and as
he grows older the love of shooting grows with him,
but in Germany there is no such natural training,
and the military training is limited, owing to the
very great cost of ammunition. And still, the Ger-
man soldier does much target shooting. He begins
with a specially made rifle, in weight and general
appearance exactly like the Mauser, but so arranged


Seen in Germany

that it fires a small cartridge, having a bullet hardly
larger than a pea. A miniature target is set up only
ten to twenty feet away from the ftrer, and here he

Rifle Practice

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Online LibraryRay Stannard BakerSeen in Germany → online text (page 4 of 15)