Corporal Hitler and the Great War 1914-1918: The List Regiment

By John F. Williams | Go to book overview

9

HUGO GUTMANN AND THE GOOD SOLDIER MEND

On 25 September 1915, the British launched an attack near Fromelles, designed to act as a feint to draw attention from their main offensive by La Bassée. This began with mine explosions and an artillery barrage, which first zeroed in on regimental headquarters. Indeed this came under such heavy fire that the staff was forced to find shelter in the orderlies' dugout. Finally, Hitler was sent out with Schmidt to reconnoitre the situation. The two men raced towards the trenches 'in the face of horror and death. Across the open land, progress by jumping, running and diving is all that was possible.' They returned safely, but with the news that the enemy had brought large cylinders to the Front. With the breeze blowing towards the Germans, a gas attack seemed imminent. 'Shall I describe the terror', wrote Brandmayer, 'the confused search for cover so that we might save our tiny lives? No, I prefer not to cloak it in words!' These Bavarians had no experience of gas, but had heard rumours that made it into a terror weapon against which the deepest dugout was no defence and a hideous death seemed a likely fate. Mend, riding from Fromelles to Fournes, became aware of 'a severe itch in the nose and difficulty breathing'. It had drifted into the house of Black Mary, who asked how her 'boys' - 'the scrawny black one (Hitler) and the blonde (Schmidt)' - were making out in Fromelles. 'Black Mary must also have sniffed a little gas.' She pleaded with Mend 'to give her a mask. Unable to help, I could only tell her to hold her nose.' Her discomfort did not last long, for the breeze had shifted and 'already behind Fournes the gas was gradually dispersing'. 1

From the staff dugout at Fromelles Hitler was again sent out to reconnoitre, this time with Brandmayer. The gas by now offered little threat, but British gunners were still active. On the return leg, the two dispatch runners found themselves in the middle of a counter-barrage.

Stones and iron fragments whizzed above our heads. We bent low, racing across open country. I could scarcely lift myself from the ground any

-128-

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