[Image]  The Rev. Dr. DANIEL HÖRNEMANN, OSB  

"I only hope that this terrible war will finish soon”

Newly discovered postcards written by and to Theodor Hörnemann

When I thought I had finished my research into Great-Uncle Theodor’s fate in February 2003 I never expected anything else to turn up (See my earlier article on this site). But never say never! Very unexpectedly there did turn up, several field postcards written by and to Great-Uncle Theodor. When I contacted the wife of a distant relative by pure chance, she told me that she still possessed old mail from the Great War; she did not have the heart to throw it out. She kept bundles of letters and cards from both World Wars together in an old shoe box.

For me it was like opening a treasure chest. The oldest postcard dates from December 23rd 1914. Theodor was called to arms on December 10th to the barracks and training centre of the Königin- Elisabeth-Garde-Grenadier-Regiment No.3 at Schloßkaserne Berlin-Charlottenburg: The rather kitschy motif shows an aeroplane with soldiers gathered round the Christmas tree inside.

"How I’d love to hurry to stay with you for Christmas,
alas from a distant place I can only send greetings and fond words".

Theodor himself wrote:

Dear relatives! Many greetings for Christmas from your son and brother Theodor. I’m still healthy and I’m forced to celebrate the Christmas feast with the Prussians.

On New Year’s Eve he wrote to his brother August (my grandfather):

Here at the barracks there won’t be any celebrations.

An unnamed friend of him expressed his “friendly feelings” on another card:

I’ve heard from your sister that you are now in Berlin. I do hope that you too will help to beat up the French!

In February 1915 Theodor wrote home from the middle section of the Western Front:

Dearest relatives, I’m still healthy and jolly as I expect the same from you. I received your parcels and can make good use of them. Butter costs 2 Marks over here.

His little niece Elisabeth was always concerned about her uncle and sent many cards:

Dear Uncle! As you have not written to me I’ll send you some lines. I do hope that you are still well. If you need any underclothing or socks, please, do tell me. I’d love to send you something if only I knew what you need most.

On March 15th 1915 she wrote:

As I have seen you are now wounded. How are you? Do you have to stay in bed all the time? How serious is your wound? Do write to me about it. Over here everything is as always. Now farewell. Hoping for a happy reunion, your niece.

On March 29th 1915 Theodor (now Wehrmann Th. Hörnemann, 6. Comp. Landw. Inf. Reg. 53, IX. Armeekorps) wrote to his mother, addressed as “Widow Hörnemann, Coesfeld”:

My best greetings from France. We just had three weeks of repose. Now we’ll have to go back to the trenches. A very happy Easter to you all.

Theodor’s brothers August (with the navy on SMS Nürnberg) and Bernhard (working in a signalbox at Welkenraedt, Belgium) assured him of their wellbeing whenever they wrote. It was obviously very important to send messages of “still being alive and alright” to one another in the closely knit family by post - without any other means of communication. The post office worked very fast in those days though.

In April 1915 Theodor was back with the 7. Comp. 2. Garde-Division, Gardekorps, Königin-Elisabeth-Regiment. His niece Elisabeth wrote on April 27th:

Are you still down in the trenches? I only hope that this terrible war will finish soon.

On June 20th 1915 his mother and his sister Maria were worried that Theodor had not received any of their food parcels. His brother August wrote from Lingen/Ems that he had been to a military examination and was considered fit for either the navy or the Garde-Infanterie. Theodor answered on July 28th 1915 (postcard stamped at Breslau-Mittelwalde station):

In very good health I send you many greetings from the hospital train.

Despite being wounded he wanted to sound reassuring. From the Königliches Reserve-Lazarett Elmshorn (Royal reserve military hospital) he wrote on August 5th to his family at Coesfeld and thanked them for a parcel with cigars and money. A family Potthoff from Coesfeld wished him a speedy recovery: “If your wound is not so dangerous, still you are away from the bullets at least for a little while. We do hope to see you again in our midst once you are well again.”

Postcard from the Royal Reserve Hospital, Elmshorn, in which Theodor told his family on August 14th:

Liebe Mutter und Geschwister! Endlich komme ich dazu, um Euch ein paar Zeilen zu schreiben. Das Paket habe ich am 14. erhalten. Meine Wunde ist wieder am heilen und kann schon wieder etwas herumgehen. Viele, die mit mir gekommen sind, die sind schon wieder entlassen. Viele Grüße aus Elmshorn sendet Euch Euer Sohn und Bruder Theodor. Dear Mother and brothers and sisters! At last I can write you a few lines. I received the parcel on the 14th. My wound is now healing and I can already walk about a little. Many of those who arrived together with me were already discharged. Many greetings from Elmshorn, your son and brother Theodor.

On August 31st Theodor thanked his family for a pair of shoes as they were walking about a lot in the hospital grounds. On September 5th his niece Elisabeth expressed her hope that he might get leave and see her before he was sent back to the front. On June 6th Theodor told his family that he received every ten days the “enormous” payment of 1 Mark. On September 22nd he thanked them for all the mail he had received:

Tomorrow I will be discharged and sent to garrison. I have got my papers as ‘able to do service in a garrison’.

On his journey to Berlin he sent a card from Hamburg harbour on September 23rd. The next day he wrote from Charlottenburg:

I have happily arrived in Berlin und I’m now staying at the depot for the wounded (Verwundetendepot Charlottenburg).”

On November 5th he told them his new postal address “Grenadier Hörnemann. 4. Comp. Rgt. Elisabeth, Charlottenburg.“ On November 18th he congratulated his mother on her name day, but had to regret:

I’m not sure about any leave though I still have five days due. I’m now fit for service at the front and will have to join another company.

On November 24th he wrote:

I’m still in good health and hope the same from you all. I received your parcel with butter and bacon. Unfortunately there is no chance of leave. Next year we will see each other again and the joy will even be greater. If I’m lucky I might meet Bernard.

The next card in chronological order dates from December 22nd 1916, his brother Bernhard wished his mother and sister a happy Christmas and confirmed a postcard from Theodor.

Theodor's last remaining postcard – just a plain scene showing the river Oise with a stone bridge - dates from May 25th 1917:

Dear Mother and sister! I’m still in good health and do hope the same from you. I received with thanks the parcel with butter. Now I’ll have to close. Many greetings for Pentecost from your son and brother Theodor.

August Hörnemann (the author's Grandfather) on the left.
The man on the right is believed to be his brother,
and the subject of this article, the author's
Great Uncle Theodor. There is no-one still living who
can identify him for certain.

This greeting card is his last sign of life. Due to the continuous fighting at the Western Front Theodor was probably only able to write these few lines – despite the conditions in the trenches still in his neat and somewhat tiny handwriting. During the fierce battle at the infamous Winterberg he was severely wounded by artillery fire on July 21st 1917 and died on the 24th at the field hospital at Chivres-en-Laonnois. He was first buried at the German military cemetery at Liesse-Notre-Dame, but after the Great War his mortal remains were moved to the Deutscher Kriegsgräberfriedhof at Sissonne, where I found his grave after 83 years.

For a direct link to the author of this article, email Daniel Hörnemann

Text and photographs Copyright ©  The Rev. Dr. Daniel Hörnemann, OSB, September, 2008

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