The Red Fighter Pilot - Webpage 27, pages 253-264


The Homecoming

By Bolko, Baron von Richthofen


Page 254 is blank


In the Homeland

In the middle of the year 1925 our family decided to bring the mortal remains of Manfred von Richthofen back to Germany and to reinter him in the soil of the homeland. We intended to bury Manfred's coffin next to the graves of his father and his brother, Lothar, in the Schweidnitz cemetery. However prominent members of the German Empire, foremost among it the Imperial Defense Ministry and the various flight organizations, spoke of the urgent desire to have his remains relocated to the Invaliden Cemetery in Berlin, where so many other German heros and field generals had found their eternal rest. The family agreed with the sentiment that memories of Manfred were not theirs alone but rather belonged to the German people as a whole. The necessary and time-consuming negotiations with the French officials were set in motion and in the middle of November I drove to France in the district where Manfred's grave was located. It was not the original gravesite


because his body was moved after the war to Fricourt, a small village eight kilometers away from the once hotly-contested area of Albert. There was a German war cemetery there.

The authorities assigned a man by the name of Lienhard to me. He completed the necessary formalities with the French officials and supervised the exhumation. I came from Amiens on November 14, 1925 and met with Monsieur Lienhard in Albert. I found him to be very prudent and eager man in apparent agitation because although the French authorities had been duly informed about the exhumation they had done next to nothing about it. After a few attempts we managed to find an elderly man who was an sergeant during the war and now acted as the administrator of the cemetery. We took him with us in the car and the three of us went to Fricourt. The German war cemetery there was a truly shocking sight and it was very difficult to express in words the impression it had made upon me. According to the cemetery administrator there were around six thousand individual graves and around twelve thousand buried in huge mass graves.


There was not a single green leaf let alone the occasional wreath to give this sad and heart-wrenching place a sense of amicability. There was a simple steel wreath on the mass grave where perhaps a little old mother commemorated the death of her son for the fatherland along with thousands of his comrades. In the first years after the war the bodies of German heros were placed here from thirty separate cemeteries. The location of the cemetery might still not have been the final one. Since then the People's Association for the Care of German War Graves may well have taken over the final resting places of dead warriors and hopefully today they offer a more smoothing and attractive vista.

The cemetery at Fricourt was not prepared for the exhumation. We had to hire individual laborers and it took nearly three hours before the exhumation could take place. We found a zinc plate on which was written in English and German Manfred's name and date of death. This plate, which was attached to the coffin, was from the Englishmen who had first interred him. It's now in my mother's possession in Schweidnitz. After the exhumation all of Manfred's mortal remains were packed in a zinc coffin we had brought with us.


We took the coffin to Albert, where it was shipped via railroad to Kehl on the German-French border according to the instructions of the French authorities.

On Monday, November 16th around midnight the French locomotive of the French Northern Line slowly rolled over Kehl's Rhine Bridge. The train had only one coal tender and one freight car. The whistle blew and as the small train reached the German railroad station the few railroad employees on duty took their caps off. Manfred's earthly remains had reached his homeland. The next morning the rough-hewn board coffin was lifted into a baggage compartment of the German Imperial Railroad and laid out under pine branches and flowers. All of Tuesday was taken up with negotiations between the German authorities in Kehl and the French occupation commandant, who could not decide whether to grant a permit for a patriotic ceremony in front of Manfred's coffin at the railway station. However he had not properly understood the intentions behind the request and by early evening the Occupation Commandant granted the request for the ceremony. All the bells in the small Baden town began to chime. The fire brigade was alerted to raise and light the torches.


The populace, from the oldest man to the youngest child who could walk, respectfully gathered around Manfred's body in final farewell. On Wednesday at six in the morning the wagon from Kehl went to Appenweiler and from there attached to the Frankfurt D-Train. From then onto Berlin where Manfred had his final triumphant journey through Germany's most beautiful regions. You would rarely find their equal. Bells chimed in all the towns and villages. Flags were lowered, airplanes escorted the train. In accordance with the wishes of the populace the doors of the baggage compartment remained open. Inside the compartment fighter pilots of the former army held the vigil. On the railroad embankments groups of expectant men, women and children stood hoping to see the coffin as the train went by. The train stopped in Baden-Oos, Rastatt, Karlsruhe, Durlach, Bruchsal, Heidelberg, and at each stop committees and social groups stood at the station and greeted the coffin with patriotic songs. There was no difference between the individual parties and the social groups who were there. Veterans associations, Officers' clubs, paramilitary organizations, steel helmet militia, Organization Escherich, the United Jewish Soldiers of the Front, Werewolf, Young German Order and whatever other groups that existed under various names — they were all there in a unique show of unity to honor the dead hero who was returning home.


Piles of wreaths reached up to the mountains and between them rested small bouquets and single blossoms. Even those who had few pennies to give did not neglect to show their gratitude and respect for the great fighter pilot. Those of us who accompanied Manfred's body truly felt that the populace understood that his return home to the fatherland had symbolic import. Not all those hundreds of thousands who gave up their lives for Germany and now found their resting place on foreign soil could be brought back to the homeland. Perhaps in greeting our dead Manfred the masses gained insight into the nature of the German hero's sacrifice and this led them to honor their own sons and brothers, who had sacrificed themselves for the fatherland.

On Wednesday, November 18th at around ten in the evening the train arrived in Berlin. There was a ceremonial reception at the Potsdam Station at which the Association of Pilots and the Traditions Kompanie were present. Members of the First Ulan Regiment, in which Manfred served, carried the coffin to the funeral car, which carried him to the Gnadenkirche [Grace Evangelical Church] on the Invalidenstraße. Police had to be dispatched to the Potsdam location because an enormous crowd of hatless people had assembled who quietly observed the funeral procession.


Hindenburg at Richthofen's Final Resting Place in the Invaliden Cemetery in Berlin


The public viewing of the coffin took place in the Gnadenkirche on Thursday morning. The zinc coffin was now housed in a brown oak coffin. Swords and an Uhlan Tschapka plate were placed on top. The wooden cross, which had designated Manfred's grave in Fricourt, stood before the coffin. It only contained his name and the number 53091. The honor guard was made up of former officers of his fighter squadron and the First Ulan Regiment. In an unbroken procession the people of Berlin passed by the coffin the entire day.

The burial took place on the afternoon of November 20th. Crowds of people had already begun to amass by noontime. Then Reich's President Hindenburg arrived. He greeted my mother and me. He was accompanied by Reichs Chancellor Luther, Defense Minister Dr. Gessler, General von Seeckt at the head of the entire Berlin General staff plus Admiral Zenker with Marine officers. The ceremony at the church was dignified and brief. Then eight pilots, recipients of the Pour le mérite, lifted the coffin onto the gun carriage supplied by the Second Prussian Artillery Regiment. A company from the regimental guard placed itself at the front of the procession and amid the deafening sound of the drums it went onto the street congested by a countless number of groups and associations and out to the Invaliden Cemetery. A former regimental comrade, now an officer in the Defense Ministry, placed all the medals that Manfred had been given during his lifetime onto the lid of the coffin.


Above the cemetery planes with black banners circled and three times the honor guard fired the final salute. The coffin was lowered into the ground as the Defense Ministry's band played the song of the good comrade. The Defense Minister spoke these words:
"As we give the mortal remains of Manfred von Richthofen back to the earth we make this solemn promise that we belong in faith and hope to our fatherland, for which he died."

Among the countless participants in this burial ceremony there was no one who would not in his heart agree with this statement. And so Manfred von Richthofen found his final resting place in the middle of the empire's capital city. The endurance of his memory in the hearts of the people can be shown by the thousands upon thousands of people who visit his grave year in and year out, especially on Sundays and festival times. Even today they come in no fewer numbers to mourn and reflect, at the same time filled with patriotic pride that they are akin in spirit to the chivalrous German hero of the sky.

*                   *

*


Ernst Udet

My Life as a Pilot

"Above us — Aviation!" was the law when Udet joined. "Above me — Aviation!" is his motto to this day. In 1907 the eleven-year-old built his first airplane model. Two years later with other young men his age he established the Munich Aero Club of 1909. In the first days of world war he joined as a volunteer motocycle driver. A year later he was with the pilots. Two years later he received the award "Pour le mérite" and by the end of the great clash of nations he was the most successful fighter pilot to survive the war. These external developments correspond to an internal maturing that Udet describes with unheard-of openness.

He tells further tales of the great journeys and flying expeditions in Africa and Greenland. In America he was celebrated as the most successful stunt pilot in the world. Over there he did a lot for the German cause because the German, "Ernest" won the hearts of the masses. Udet talks like a soldier, simple and straightforward, with a sympathetic wink of the eye. It is a sincere, brave and manly book, a book for young men who will become men and a book for women, who love men.

*

100th Thousand. With 80 illustrations
Paperback 3 meters, 50 centimeters. Hardcover 4 meters, 80 centimeters.

At Ullstein Publishing, Berlin.


Gunther Plüschow

The Exploits
of the Pilot from Tsingtau

My Experiences on Three Continents
673rd Thousand

Gunther Plüschow is dead but his memory lives on in the hearts of his people. Be spellbound once again by his fresh and pleasing narrative. Experience his rousing tales of escape and his adventures on the high seas.

        General Anzeiger [a German newspaper], Ludwigshafen

*

Silver Condor
over Tierra del Fuego

with a Cutter Rig Sailboat and an Airplane in the Realm of my Dreams

75th Thousand

I just read this book for the third time and hope that everyone — especially young men — read it at least once. Gunther Plüschow embodies the essence of being German, the German drive to investigate and undertake, courage and bravery in an exemplary manner.

        Arbeit und Staat, Berlin

*

Each volume richly illustrated

Paperback 2 meters, Hardcover 2 meters, 85 centimeters

At Ullstein Publishing, Berlin

Printed at House Ullstein, Berlin


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This is the end of The Red Fighter Pilot, February 25, 2017.


Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks