WWI German Soldiers Celebrate Christmas 1916
This is a photograph from my personal collection. On the back, written in pencil, are the words: "Pa 1916." There is no indication which soldier is "Pa." There is also no indication as to where the photograph was taken
A soldier to the right plays music on an old piano. He is accompanied by another soldier playing the violin. The soldiers are drinking dark beer and smoking cigars and cigarettes. The soldier on the left is holding a rag or perhaps it is an apron. It could be that he is the bartender for the group.
A huge, elaborately decorated Christmas tree looms in the corner, and the walls are festooned with evergreen branches. No doubt about it; it's a Christmas scene. These soldiers are lucky. While they are not with their families, at least they are gathered with comrades and friends around a warming stove and not freezing in the trenches.
The hand-lettered sign in the lower righthand corner of the photograph translates literally as "2nd War Christmas". It is possible that "2te Kriegs=" is an abbreviation for "2te Kriegs-Nummer," which might be German for "2nd Battalion." Once again, I owe a big thanks to my flickr friend, Zelle, for the translation.
I'm guessing the soldiers are members of the German Ulan regiment Graf Haeseler (2. Brandenburgisches) Nr. 11 (Saarburg)
I think Graf (Count) Haeseler means that they were associated somehow with Count Gottlieb Ferdinand Albert Alexis von Haeseler. (From 1879 he headed the military history department of the general staff, and from 1890 to 1903 he was General of the Cavalry and head of the 16th Army Corps in Metz. In 1905 he received the rank of a General Field Marshall.) I don't know if he commanded them or not. (He would have been in his 80s during WWI.) I think it means that they were named in his honor and/or perhaps he is the one who originally raised the outfit.
The word Brandenburgisches I think refers to the German state of Brandenburg, where Von Haesler was from. Saarburg is a city in the Rhineland-Palatinate state of Germany, and perhaps that is where this outfit was based.
(I'm guessing at all this. My local library has very little material on German military history, and what information I have has been gleaned in little bits and pieces off the internet.)
Here's how I arrived at who I think they are:
By the style of their tunics (double-breasted with a plastron front), I'm pretty sure they are Ulans (light cavalry). Re-enforcing this supposition is the fact that the the fellow with his back to the piano player is wearing spurs, and the soldier on the extreme left has a leather lining on the inside of the legs of his breeches to prevent wear on his trousers from hours in the saddle.
Additionally, the number 11 is visible on the shoulderboards of some of the soldiers. That was the final clue.
Ulans (in Polish: "Ułan"; "Ulan" in German, from Turkish oğlan) were originally Polish light cavalry soldiers armed with lances, sabres, pistols, and rifles. Later, Ulan units were organized in Prussia and Austria. Similar troops also existed in other European armies, where they were instead known as "lancers."
The German Ulans in WWI
In 1914 the Imperial German Army included twenty-six Ulan regiments, three of which were Guard regiments, twenty-one line (sixteen Prussian, two Württemberg, and three Saxon), and two from the autonomous Royal Bavarian Army. The senior of these was Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander III. von Rußland which was first raised in 1745. All German Uhlan regiments wore Polish style "czapkas" (those "mortarboard" helmets, the original purpose of which was to deflect sabre blows to the head, also spelled as "tschapka") and tunics with plastron fronts, both in colored parade uniforms and the field grey service dress introduced in 1910.
The lance carried by the ulans (and after 1889 the entire German cavalry branch) consisted of a ten foot and five inch long tube made of rolled steel-plate, weighing three pounds and nine ounces. The lance carried below its head a small pennant in differing colors according to the province or state from which the regiment was recruited. The four edged spear-like point of the shaft was 12 inches in length and made of tempered steel. The butt end of the shaft was also pointed so that (in theory) the lance could be wielded as a double-ended weapon.
After seeing mounted action during the early weeks of World War I, the Ulan regiments were either dismounted to serve as "cavalry rifles" in the trenches of the Western Front, or transferred to the Eastern Front where more primitive conditions made it possible for horse cavalry to still play a useful role.
All twenty-six German Ulan regiments were disbanded in 1918 – 1919.