From Germany to Manchester

Following from my previous post (see here), I thought it would be interesting to further explore the links between Germany and Manchester during WWI.

I was surprised and interested to come across a number of photographs in the Documentary Photographic Archive at the Greater Manchester County Record Office that documented WWI from a German perspective. My first questions were, how did these images come to be held here in Manchester, and what might they tell us about WWI?

The story begins with the photograph (below) that initially caught my interest.

Erich Katz

Above: Wilhlem Schmalz, left, with another soldier at the convalescence hospital for wounded soldiers in Oranienburg, Germany, c.1917 (source)

Wilhelm Schmalz was the German grandfather of a Manchester resident, who kindly donated family documents to the archives in the 1980s. The Schmalz family originally lived in Gnesen, Poland; an area which was once part of Germany. Wilhelm was apprenticed as a wine distiller and later owned a shop which sold wines, spirits and groceries.

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Above: Mr Schmalz outside his shop in Tremessnerster, Gnesen (source)

Stood with Mr Schmalz are his two children – Martin and Kathe. Martin later moved to England, providing the Manchester link, and his sister became a renowned yoga teacher, eventually settling in Baden-baden; a spa town in southern Germany. Pictured below is Kathe as a young girl, who, with her classmates, gave a concert in Gnesen, 1917, to entertain German soldiers wounded in WWI. Kathe is in the middle row, fifth from the right.

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(source)

I wonder if her father was one of the soldiers in being entertained? Wilhelm was aged over 40 when the war broke out, and was wounded shortly after being called to battle in 1916, around when the above photograph was taken.

Interestingly, at the volunteer induction meeting a few weeks ago, we were introduced to a Manchester school log book, in which one entry described a huge amount of cigarettes, gathered by children, to send to soldiers serving on the front line. The above photograph echoes this sentiment, but from the ‘other’ side.

During WWI, Wilhelm Schmalz sent his children Martin and Kathe to stay with their Uncle Albert Katz; a jeweller and watchmaker in Berlin. Martin remembers eating bread toasted on a stove and hot chocolate for breakfast. Again, through the images in the Documentary Photographic Archive here at the Greater Manchester County Record Office, and the stories they tell, a more human and sensitive depiction of the then ‘enemy’ emerges.

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Above: A rather stern looking Albert Katz (source)

Below: An image of Kaiser Wilhelm, inspecting German troops (source)

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I wonder what it was like, for Wilhelm Schmalz, to fight in WWI? He was not a young man, and he had a wife and children to support. One imagines that he was worried and afraid for himself and his family. As for most men then, duty obliged him to serve his country, although unlike many others, he was fortunate enough to survive, as did his photographs.

Thanks to the generosity of Wilhelm’s descendents, photographs such as these have ended up here in Manchester. They provide valuable resources in understanding life from the ‘other side’, and a reminder that soldiers and their families cannot solely be judged on the basis of which side they fought for.

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