The things one may have carried

Author: Markus Brunner

I will begin this article by stating that I do not claim to be an expert or authority on German personal items of the second world war. I consider myself to be a guy with fairly decent attention to detail, and someone who is passionate about the material culture of the period. In this article I would like to give the reenactor a bit of a cerebral experience. Personal items are just that, personal. In this article I will share my own approach to personal kit. I invite you to comb through your things the next time you pack, and question what you are bringing, and why.

For the sake of simplicity I will restrict this article to the most common denominator- the German infantry soldier from Germany. I portray a second line infantryman. I began my service as a light towed artillery soldier whose battery was destroyed by rocket counter fire in Russia, 1942. As a disclaimer: the static nature of my impression allows more creature comforts than should be carried by a regular line infantryman. I am not going into captured items or items picked up on the battlefield. Each reenactor is the master of his own impression and may agree or disagree with my approach and conclusions.

Below is an exploded view of the contents of my trouser pockets. Among them, you will find a variety of identity documents and tags that have been issued to me, and a small field post paper chess game that has seen better days. A few Marks in pocket money, a few photos of friends from the past. Handkerchief, my pipe, tobacco pouch, a small tool for cleaning it, and a lighter.

Everything packed up in its configuration to go into my pockets. I use a handkerchief from back home, and keep the army ones with my rucksack. The army issued ones are scratchy and I don’t like using them, but I will remain accountable for everything in my clothing issue.
The contents of my Feldbluse pockets. These things are items I feel important enough to have with me all the time. I have my sewing kit, some ammunition, a battery. A small flashlight that is handy for finding things in the dark, some earplugs to retain what is left of my hearing after the Russian artillery took most of it. Ointment, a comb, my knife, keys, and some writing instruments.
Rucksack contents. Everything in here is only useful to me when I am bedding down for the night or when I am need to do some maintenance/hygiene. In here you will find my hygiene kit, some bathing soap, my leather care gear, spare socks, some extra food and tobacco, my Esbit stove and some candles.

All of these items have been chosen by me to best represent a German soldier utilizing German items. There are some items that are not present. Handy civilian items that have been picked up in foreign lands are obviously a real thing, this is impression/scenario based and, if used correctly, can greatly enhance an impression. For captured/ acquired items, I focus on consumables- things that you use and throw away. Cigarettes, tobacco, matches, and food are small items that can broaden your vignette portrayal of a German soldier in foreign lands. But you can never go wrong with the German standard.

I choose not to go overboard with carrying around food. You received your rations, you ate them, and continued with your day. Why carry around something that you could have enjoyed and not lugged around? How long will you carry that chocolate bar?

Paperwork for a living history impression

Reenactors interested in the finer details of an impression often ask what would constitute an ideal set of paperwork for a first-person persona. The answer is always that the best paperwork that a reenactor can carry is paperwork that he understands and that he can relate to his portrayal. The Soldbuch is the crux of personal paperwork and knowing what is written in there and what everything means is a key step in a first person impression. The flap in the back of the Soldbuch is a good place to keep things like reproductions of period photos, most are small and fit in there easily. Anything that a reenactor can understand and explain and build a story around will be better to carry than even perfect reproduction paperwork if one doesn’t know what it means or how it relates to the character being represented.

In the realities of war, there were an endless number of variables regarding what paperwork was carried. There were regulations, of course, but these regulations seem to have been more or less widely disregarded, and much of what was actually carried on a day-to-day basis seems to have depended heavily on such variables as personal preference, unit or type of unit, area of operations, etc. It seems like there were few hard and fast rules as to what was carried and what was not, what was retained and what was discarded. The Wehrpass was not supposed to have been carried by the individual soldier but some soldiers went into captivity carrying these so this must have happened at some times, for some reasons.  Having said all that, here are our conclusions based on studies of more-or-less untouched paperwork groupings. Others may have come to different conclusions.

SOLDBUCH: As stated, this was the basic individual ID and is the cornerstone of personal paperwork from a reenactment perspective. Some soldiers were issued Merkblätter which were small leaflets about topics including gas warfare and various ailments, these leaflets were supposed to have been glued into the Soldbuch but the majority of original Soldbücher, including many books issued early on and carried throughout the war on all fronts, do not have these (even when other various documents are still associated with the Soldbuch) and so their issue was either rather limited or the mandate to keep these in the Soldbuch was widely ignored.

OTHER ID DOCUMENTS: Soldiers were issued many different kinds of lesser ID documents which were issued right down to Kompanie level in some cases. This category can include things as simple as small signed and stamped paper scraps attesting that the soldier belonged to a particular unit, as well as various kinds of photo IDs such as the military driver’s license or the Dienstausweis, and all kinds of passes and permits.

TRAVEL DOCUMENTS: Soldiers do seem to have retained various kinds of travel documents such as the Dienstreiseausweis or the Wehrmachtfahrschein even when the travel was completed, for whatever reason. There were also documents that permitted soldiers more or less free travel in specific areas for specific purposes, these also seem to have been retained. There were also passes to enter certain cities, some of these were valid only for a specific occasion, others were valid for longer periods.

AWARD DOCUMENTS: Some have stated that award documents were to be kept in the Soldbuch. Based on our studies, we do not believe that award documents were carried in the Soldbuch most of the time. No doubt they were carried in the field for a period immediately after issue, but the official entries in the Soldbuch would seem to make carrying the associated documents redundant.

LETTERS FROM HOME: Regulations stipulated that letters from home were not to be carried in the field to deny the enemy any intelligence contained therein. In reality, soldiers did keep and carry these, sometimes accumulating large numbers of them when circumstances permitted. Feldpost was second only to ammunition in the supply system, and getting mail from home was an important feature of the life of the Landser.

PERSONAL STUFF: By this, we mean really personal. Many soldiers carried small booklets in which they would record addresses or keep records of mail sent and received. Some soldiers kept journals in these small notebooks. They seem to have been very common. Photos of loved ones were also carried by very many soldiers.

EPHEMERA: We find lots of stuff in paperwork groupings that were intended to be discarded but that were kept for whatever reason. A page from a calendar, a little piece of newspaper, a blank form or a receipt for hay or for cabbage, perhaps these were used as bookmarks, perhaps they had some personal significance known only to the soldier, or maybe it was just pocket trash. Some companies would even send advertisements in various forms to soldiers at the front and sometimes the recipients would hold on to these.

CIVILIAN STUFF: Many soldiers seemed to have carried documents related to their civilian lives, even when these documents would seem to have been useless at the front. Insurance cards, post office box receipts, paperwork regarding bank accounts, or similar stuff.

The paperwork that you can carry is limited only by your imagination. We have held many untouched paperwork groupings as carried by German soldiers and have never found one loaded with Reichsmarks and porn as carried by so many reenactors. It is far more common to find a couple of plain-looking pictures, a local provisional ID or travel permit, perhaps a letter from home or a certificate relating to the soldier’s civilian life, and a scrap of paper with seemingly random notes, their significance lost to time.

Sicherungs-Regiment 195 Year in Review 2014

2014 was the first year of our reenactment group. With the year ending, we want to reflect on our progress and also to share our best photos from this year of reenacting.

 This unit was started by experienced reenactors looking to try something new. To our knowledge, there never had been a reenactment group that portrayed security troops. Dissatisfaction with the lack of authenticity inherent in mock battles led us to something more cerebral than a grown-up’s version of Cowboys and Indians. It was important to be a field-based impression; an impression with a second-line focus, less oriented toward combat, and more toward basic camp and field life. We settled on a Sicherung unit after discussing many options.

At first, the learning curve was steep. We began research to forge this new impression. Initially, only a few sources yielded information. From the very start, however, the information discovered strongly validated our impression choice. We had not realized how thinly spread Sicherung units were. Sparsely-manned outposts were used to garrison vast swathes of countryside in the rear areas of the various Army groups. This historical reality meshes perfectly with our small unit model. From this, we devised a standard model of an “outpost”-based scenario for field deployment.

Selecting the exact unit to portray was also a challenge. We quickly identified a number of Sicherung units with interesting histories. Sicherungs-Regiment 195, however, was an obvious final choice. Elements of unit were actually deployed both in the West and in the East simultaneously. From a reenactment perspective, we were very pleased to choose a unit impression that offers such vast versatility.

Our first event was an immersion/training scenario. More than anything else, this event served as a test of our new concept and approach to the hobby. We were the only people on the site, there was no need for an “enemy” to fight against. All of our members attended and it was a total success. We planned and prepared for the event, then deployed to a farm where we conducted patrols, searched for partisans, did some training on language and tactics, prepared rations, and cleaned our rifles. Everything went just as we hoped, and we all enjoyed some incredibly realistic experiences. The lessons learned from this event paid dividends throughout the year.

With initial training complete, we were ready to deploy to the field at a regular tactical. When the combat troops moved out, we moved into the rear to perform observation and security details. Rifle fire echoed in the distance while we guarded a road and set up observation positions. Again, the end result was an incredibly realistic-feeling experience. We had proven the value of our concept and it was very gratifying.

As the year wore on, we made some changes to reflect new information about the historical reality of how Sicherung troops were equipped. Many of our existing late-war uniform and equipment items were replaced with mid-war equivalents. This served to reflect the low supply priority of under-equipped rear-area troops, who were unlikely to have been issued the newest equipment. German K98 rifles were replaced, in part, with Czech VZ24s. Members also obtained a mix of paramilitary-type, and obsolete, gear as we dialed in to our new impression. 

The unexpected discovery of an original Soldbuch from Sicherungs-Regiment 195 provided very encouraging validation. The soldier was issued a captured foreign rifle and bayonet. He was also issued a Tornister and a HBT uniform, both items we had decided to include in our portrayal. All of this fit perfectly with what we learned about the wide variety of weapons and equipment that these troops were issued. Further research led to some additional primary sources, which were very helpful. We now have an ever-growing body of documentation to work with, as we settle into our impression.

The response from others in the WWII reenactment community has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received positive feedback from all over the world. We also had the opportunity to take to the field with our like-minded friends in 3. Panzergrenadier-Division, and the Finnish JR7 unit (which debuted this year). We attended new events that none of our members had ever participated in before. In the process, we had a lot of fun, and made a some new friends. At some of 2014’s events, we were the largest attending German unit. We are proud to support local events, and especially Eastern Front scenarios. We continue to share information via this blog, Facebook, and on our web site (upgrade coming soon).

Things look bright as we head into 2015. Our year will begin in February with our annual planning meeting. We expect another busy and successful season.