Poetry and music are very much part of the British story of the Great War. But what did the Germans sing?
I found Walter Flex in “The Lost Voices of Word War One, An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights,” by Tim Cross. (Bloomsbury) ISBN 0-7475-0276-5 Flex said he wrote it whist on sentry duty in Lorraine, and it was first published in 1916 in his book “Between two Worlds“
1.Wildgänse rauschen durch die Nacht
Mit schrillem Schrei nach Norden –
Unstäte Fahrt! Habt acht, habt acht!
Die Welt ist voller Morden.
2.Fahrt durch die nachtdurchwogte Welt,
Fahlhelle zuckt, und Schlachtruf gellt,
Weit wallt und wogt der Hader.
3.Rausch’ zu, fahr’ zu, du graues Heer!
Rauscht zu, fahrt zu nach Norden!
Fahrt ihr nach Süden übers Meer –
Was ist aus uns geworden!
4.Wir sind wie ihr ein graues Heer
Und fahr’n in Kaisers Namen,
Und fahr’n wir ohne Wiederkehr,
Rauscht uns im Herbst ein Amen
This is translated as
1. Wild geese are rushing through the night,
With shrill cry, northbound rangers.
Hazard awaits, take care your flight
And world is full of dangers.
2. Fly through the night-filled air my friends,
You squadron grey and mighty.
Dawn breaks as battle cry extends
Far o’er the lands below ye.
3. Fly on, rush on, you grey-winged flight,
Rush on to Northlands safety.
When you fly south again some night,
What will my fate have made me?
4. We are, as you, a gray-clothed pack,
The Kaiser’s fighting yeomen.
Should our flight end with no way back,
Fly south and sound our Amen.
Tr. Frank 2002 http://ingeb.org/Lieder/wildgans.html
There are parallels with Flanders Fields in that it was written in the field and contrasts the war with nature. It touched a Germanic nerve for romanticism when coupled with the tune by Gotz and is claims to be the most popular soldiers song of the German army of the Great War.
After the Great war the song was adopted by the Wandervogel movement of ramblers and hikers and other youth organisations – and the the Hitler Youth. It was a standard of the German soldier-songbooks of the Wehrmacht – with the references to the Kaiser changed..
The same song passed across frontiers. and has been adopted by French youth movements and the French Army’s airborne forces
and the school of quartermasters!
French Lyrics here:- http://musique-militaire.fr/parachutistes/les-oies-sauvages
Of course the song fits the ethios of the Franco-German Corps
Is there any other song of the Great War which is still sung?
4 thoughts on “Walter Flex and his Rushing Wild Geese”
Thank you so much for posting this! You have probably seen Walter Flex’s poem that was inscribed in the Langemarck Halle at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Stadium Bell Tower complex:
” Ihr heiligen grauen Reihen
Geht unter Wolken des Ruhms
Und tragt die blutigen Weihen
des heimischen Königtums”
Hitler apparently loved that, hence its addition in huge letters on one of the end walls of the chamber.
I haven’t ever visited the Langenmarck Halle. This is the last verse of “My dead German Soldiers” from “Christmas with the 50th Regiment” I think Walter Flex appeals to the romantic streak in German culture which seems at odds with the stereotypical German.
Although ” Ihr toten deutschen Soldaten ” appears as a song in the short story, a quick trip around the Internet hasnlt revealed any music for the words.