“Man & Machine: The German Soldier in World War I” offers rare insight.
Some of the most distinctive items included in the exhibition are:
- a Christmas cigar box that was given to soldiers with patriotic images of Kaiser Wilhelm II on the lid
- a handmade calendar for 1918
- a stoneware schnapps bottle and glasses
- a pull toy of a machine gunner
- a small Imperial German flag which was silk-screened on wool
- a collar for a German service dog
- a paper sign from a trench that warned “do not use this route”
At the beginning of the war, the common German infantryman still retained equipment and traditions from decades before. As the war progressed, many innovative changes occurred in the German infantryman’s equipment and uniform. Steel helmets replaced leather. Body armor, trench clubs, hand grenades, knives for close combat, and even submachine guns were used on the battlefield. Gas masks protected against the terror weapon of poison gas.
This exhibition is partially funded by the Kansas City, Missouri Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund.
Man & Machine – Insight through the German Soldier’s Own Words
How better to understand the experiences of one’s adversary than through their own words? These quotes, which are integrated into the exhibition, also give insight into how those fighting the war felt about the advance in technology.
“Life is one hell, death is a mere trifle; we are all screws in a machine that wallows forward, nobody knows where to.”
– German soldier Ernst Toller, 1916, describing service at the front
“After only ten minutes, the battle of the Somme was working away like a giant machine. Everything operated with a terrible rhythm. . . .Splinters clattered against our steel helmets but we took no notice. An attack absorbs all the senses. . . .”
– Unteroffizier (Corporal) Feuge, 6th Company, 68th Infantry Regiment, 1916
“Whose heart was not in his mouth at times during this appalling storm of steel? All were seized by a deep bitterness at the inhuman machine of destruction which hammered endlessly.”
– Landwehr Leutnant (Territorial Army Lieutenant) M. Gerster, 119th Reserve Infantry Regiment, 30 June 1916
“When I joined the army in the spring of 1916, I carried presumptions that the war would be fought like the 1870 War between German and France. Man-to-man combat, for instance. But in the trenches friend and foe alike suffer from the effects of invisible machinery. It is not enough to conquer the enemy. He has to be totally destroyed.”
– Reinhold Spengler, 1st Bavarian Infantry Regiment.