My Life in War
by Manfred, Baron von Richthofen
|Page 26 is blank|
Naturally I could hardly wait to be recruited into the army at Eastertime, 1911. Immediately after passing my junior officer exams I went to the Front and arrived at Ulan Regiment No. 1, Kaiser Alexander III. I had sought out this regiment. It was located in my beloved Silesia and I had acquaintances and relatives to whom I was recommended.
Serving in my regiment pleased me enormously. To a young soldier being a cavalryman is the greatest thing to be.
I have little to say about my days in the war college. They reminded me too much of the Cadet Corps and thus are not very pleasant memories.
I remember one amusing event. One of my war college teachers bought himself a nice, fat mare. His only mistake was she was rather old. When he bought her she was fifteen years old. She had rather thick legs but she was an excellent jumper. I often rode her. She went by the name "Biffy."
About a year later my regimental commander, v. Tr., a sports-loving man, told me he had bought a plump jumping horse. We were all very curious about a chunky horse with the same odd name, "Biffy." I didn't think about my war college teacher's old mare. One beautiful day behold the wonder horse arrived and you can image the astonishment when the same old "Biffy" was found in the stall of v. Tr. as an eight-year-old. In between times she had changed owners a few times and her price had risen significantly. My war college teacher had bought her for fifteen hundred Marks and a year later v. Tr. bought her as an eight-year-old for three thousand, five hundred Marks. She no longer won jumping competitions but she had found another buyer — and died at the beginning of the war.
Finally I got my epaulettes. It may have been my proudest moment the first time I was addressed as "Herr Leutnant" [Lieutenant.]
My father bought me a very beautiful mare named "Santuzza." She was a pure and indestructible wonder horse.
She could perform military manoeuvres like a lamb. I soon discovered great ability to jump in her. I immediately decided to make a jumping horse out of this good, brave mare.
I found great support and understanding in my comrade von Wedel, who had taken home many beautiful prizes with his charger, "Fandango."
So the two of us trained for a jumping competition and cross country race in Breslau. "Fandango" did magnificently and "Santuzza" put forth great effort and achieved great things. I had intentions of competing with her. On the day before she was to be transported I couldn't resist the urge to jump all the barriers in our jumping arena. We slipped. "Santuzza" fractured her shoulder and I cracked my collarbone.
In training I had also wanted nice and plump "Santuzza" to build up some speed and I was astonished when she beat von Wedel's thoroughbred.
Another time I had the good fortune at the Olympiad in Breslau to ride a beautiful chestnut horse. The race began and by the second third of the course my gelding was still perky, which gave me hopes of winning.
We came to the last hurdle and from afar I could see that something unusual must be in place since a large crowd of people were assembled there. I thought to myself, "Have courage, things are going to get tricky!" Around the bend in the road there was a dam with fence hurdle. The public indicated with a nod that I should not ride so fast but I didn't see or hear anything. My chestnut jumped the fence over the water and to my great surprise the Weistritz River was on the other side. Before I could react the horse jumped in one great leap. Both horse and rider disappeared into the river. Naturally we went head over heals. "Felix" fell to one side and Manfred to the other. When it came time for the weigh-in after the race everyone was astonished that I hadn't lost the usual two pounds but rather had added ten pounds of weight. Thank God everyone didn't see that I was soaked to the skin.
I also owned a very fine charger and this unfortunate animal had to do everything. It ran races, did cross-country and jumping competitions, performed military manoeuvres. The long and short of it was that the good beast was trained for everything. She was my brave "Blume" [Flower] and I had great success with her. My last award was the Kaiser Riding Prize of 1913. I was the only one who had
conquered the course with no errors. I had an experience not easily forgotten. I was galloping in a meadow and found myself suddenly upside down. The horse had stepped into a rabbit hole and I broke my collarbone in the fall. Notwithstanding, I rode sixty kilometers and didn't make a mistake plus I did it in excellent time.
In all the newspapers nothing was more widespread than thick reports on the war. But after a few months people became accustomed to the war cries. We had packed our service bags so often that we soon found it tedious and no longer believed in a war. But we soon after believed in it when were first went to the front and became the "Eyes of the Army" as our commanders had designated us cavalry patrolmen.
During the prior evening on high alert we sat with the detached squadron, ten kilometers from the front in our officer's mess and played cards for a while. We were quite content. As they say, no one thinks about war.
A few days before Wedel's mother made us feel apprehensive. She arrived from Pomerania in order to see her son once more before the war. Seeing us in good moods and concluding that we were not thinking about the war
she could not resist inviting us to a decent breakfast.
We were extremely put out when the door suddenly opened and Count Kospoth, the county commissioner from Öls stood at the threshold. He had a flabberghasted look on his face.
We greeted our old acquaintance with a Hello! He told us the reason for his trip, which was specifically to personally inspect the border to see if the rumors of impending war were true. He was certain that those near the border would know. He was somewhat astonished by our peaceful presence. We learned from him that all the bridges in Silesia were being watched and people were prepared to secure several individual places.
We quickly convinced him that war was out of the question then we continued our celebration.
The next day we were back in the field.
Ostrowo, August 2, 1914
With great haste these are my last lines. I send you greetings. Should we not see each other again, you have my heartfelt thanks for everything you have done for me. I have no debts. In fact I have a few hundred Marks more than I took with me.
A hug for each one of you.
Your grateful and obedient son and brother,
The word "War" was quite familiar to the border cavalry. Each of us knew exactly what he had to do and what he should not do. But none of us could imagine what would play out next. Every active soldier was eager for the chance to show his courage and ability.
Go to pages 34-41
Return to Index
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks