Musketeer Hermann Wrubel fell in Flanders September 1917, sixty years later I traced his personal history using the contents of his wallet.
Musketeer Hermann Wilhelm Wrubel 1898-1917
When one reflects on the Great War 1914-1918, one of the first names that springs to mind is that of Passchendaele, bloody, deadly Passendaele. A battle in which over three thousand artillery guns were used, on an average one gun for every six yards using a total of four and a quarter million shells!
The Passendaele area of Flanders had been reclaimed from marshland and Flanders farmers faced an heavy fine if they failed to keep the drainage clear. The preliminary artillery barrage succeeded in destroying the drainage system and turned the whole area into a swamp. As a result, hundreds of men drowned in the mud during the offensive. One general staff officer inspecting the battle area for the first time (General Kiggell?) started crying and asked "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?!"
Some of the contents of Hermann Wrubel´s wallet, even his pencil is still there.These items have been in my collection for over thirty years
TRACING HERMANN`S FAMILY
Sixty years on I was able to obtain the personal wallet of one of the German soldiers who served in the campaign. His wallet contained some most interesting items, including pay book (Soldbuch), photographs, address book and money. So complete were the contents that it was worthwhile to trace the wallets original owner and answer some of the most immediate questions: Who was the soldier? Was he still alive? How did a German soldiers wallet turn up in a Brighton militaria stall in 1977?
Hermann´s brother, Feldwebel Heinrich Wrubel
The first few weeks of the research were spent reading and translating the documents, which was a difficult task in this case, as I only learnt German years later. The next step was a letter and donation to the Imperial War Museum. My letter was sent on to Mr D.B.Nash, then Deputy Head, Department of Printed Books, who sent me a wonderful account of the soldiers Regimental history. Mr Nash was able to inform me that Hermann Wrubel had fallen on 20th September 1917, the letter from the IWM was post marked 20th September 1977, exactly 60 years to the day when he was killed!
The wallet cloth cover, clearly marked "Wrubel" and 10th Company (C.10)
Followed closely by a further letter on 3rd October 1977, giving me the address of the German War Graves Commission in Kassel, to which I promptly wrote. Regretfully, Kassel had no record of Hermann Wrubel, but promised to pass my letter on to other departments and gave me their warmest thanks in showing an interest in one of the German fallen soldiers. Our younger readers should note that in those days there was no internet and everything had to be done via post from department to department.
The address book, several of the fallen comrades have been crossed out.
Having drawn a blank, my next step was to write to the municipal council at Hermann´s home town, the problem being was that his home town was now in Poland. At this time my research reached a low, I was a serving member of HM Forces at the time and this excluded any contact by me with any Polish government departments as a private person. Unaware of developments, I later discovered that my letter had been passed on to the Heimatortskartei, a tracing service run by the German church.
Photo of Musketeer Hermann Wrubel with a comrade, (Hermann is on the right judging by the resemblance to the photo of Heinrich)
In December 1977, I received a letter from the Church Tracing Service, stating that my letter had now been passed to their branch in Hannover, which is the Records Office for Germans who once lived in what is now Poland. The letter said however that whether anything can be established there is questionable, since the office dealing with the Polish expulsion zone only register those persons resident on 1st September 1939 or who have subsequently been born there, i.e. during WW2.
Soldbuch or pay book, money was paid out three times a month, notice that the pay receipt coupon for the second part of September has not been removed (He was killed in action on 20th September)
Two weeks later on 29th December 1977, a welcome letter from Hannover! My correspondence had received further consideration and I was informed that no bearers of the name Wrubel could be located in connection with the soldiers birth-place. However, bearers of the name Wrobel could be established, and a letter would be sent to find out if there was any kinship with Hermann.
A further three months passed and in March 1978 a further letter arrived from the Church Tracing Service and what wonderful news! A relative had been found. As Hermann was not married the only dependants that could be found were those of his brother Heinrich. Heinrich had two daughters called Emma and Auguste (Auguste appears in Hermann´s address book), Emma in turn had a daughter named Hertha, it was Hertha that the church had contacted. The task had seemed almost impossible, but someone had indeed been found. Hertha who was still alive in the 1970s, lived in Friedrichshafen near the Bodensee. I wrote to Hertha in 1978 and asked if she wanted her uncles wallet returning, no answer was received and I never discovered if she in turn had any children…. So the wallet remains in my family now.
The front cover of the Soldbuch, or pay book
HERMANN`S MILITARY SERVICE
Let us now turn to Hermann Wrubel´s military service. From the documents one can deduce a great deal. His date of birth for instance indicates that he was part of the class of conscripts that should have been called to the colours in October 1918. Because of the manpower shortage in Germany, conscription was accelerated and the 1918 class was enrolled into the army between September 1916 and January 1917.
Hermann joined the army on 17th November 1916 and trained with the 57th Reserve Infantry Regiment at Sennelager, before transferring to the Reserve Infantry Regiment 15.
BACKGROUND TO THE 15TH RESERVE INFANTRY REGIMENT
The Res.Inf.Regt.15 had stayed on the Somme area and had participated in the fighting from the beginning to the end of the 1916 battles. After the fighting had died down the regiment remained on the Somme and was involved in the retreat of March 1917. It lost heavily in the Siegfried Line fighting in March and April 1917, fighting again in the Arras area from April to July 1917.
The regiment was in fact in a state of constant combat for a period of almost a year. The casualties suffered by the regiment were large; in the 10th Company alone, 65 men were killed from August 1916 to May 1917 and the number of wounded must have totalled several hundred. The regiment was to get no rest and in July 1917, was sent into the Third Battle of Ypres.
The name of Hermann´s niece, Auguste, mentioned in the text
MUSKETEER HERMANN WRUBEL JOINS THE 15. RES. INF. REGIMENT
Whatever the date of Wrubel´s transfer, we know that he was serving with the 10th Company of the Reserve Infantry Regiment 15 on the 13th September 1917 when it went into the line to the west of St.Julien in the Ypres Salient. On the 20th September the British Army launched the second phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the battle of Menin Road.
Opposite the British V Corps stood the German 2nd Guards Reserve Division, of which 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment was a part. The 15th stood in the path of the 55th West Lancashire Division. The Regiments positions were held by the 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th companies, Wrubel served in the 10th Company.
The word Sennelager can be clearly read in Hermann´s address book. Sennelager, where Hermann did his training, everything in the wallet matches the information sent by the IWM
Under cover of a barrage the British advance began at 5.45am. Opposite Wrubel´s Regiment was the 164th Brigade which came under heavy fire as soon as it went over the top. After vicious trench fighting the German frontline was taken, but the resistance was such that the attack failed to achieve its objectives.
The history of 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment notes in the list of the fallen, that Musketeer Hermann Wrubel, born on the 2nd October 1898 at Surmin b. Gr.Wartenberg, fell on the 20th September 1917 whilst serving in the 10th Company.
Hermann´s wallet may have found its way to England by one of the men of the West Lancashire Division, perhaps he had the intent of returning it to his family? Perhaps it was just kept as a sad reminder of that war? Whatever reason, I was able to purchase it in 1977 whilst at a militaria market in Brighton.
One of several letters from the Imperial war Museum during the research
The wallet also includes a pamphlet in English about "Health on Field Service" which may have been slipped into the wallet by the soldier who found it. With the belongings were two photos, an address book, pay book, his last pay in a greaseproof envelope and a small bible.
These must have been the typical belonging of the average soldier in the Great War on both sides and should therefore stand as a mighty monument to all the young men who lost their young lives at St.Julien on that wet and muddy day in 1917.
Researched by Bill Medland and compiled from correspondence from September 1977 to April 1979.