Yes, I know, right now you’re wondering what is so surprising about that. Apparently there has been a myth that German Aces of the Air were disciplined and dignified and only the British side kicked it up.
I am not sure how this myth can subsist, since — having studied the biography of the Red Baron for an eventual book — it is mentioned that Freiherr von Richthofen was unusually disciplined by refusing to unbutton his uniform or behave unseemly while in the officer’s mess.
So, this article from The Telegraph and the pictures (there are more pictures with the original article) did not surprise me at all when it said:
The black and white snaps depict the men in uniform having a roaring and raucous time in their mess, far removed from the hell and misery of the trenches on the Western Front.
The officers of the Imperial German Flying Corps are seen smoking cigars and cigarettes and having a good old knees up.
It did however raise some thoughts. The Telegraph also says:
It is thought the album was seized as a souvenir by a British serviceman after the Germans surrendered in 1918 and was kept in his family.
It is being sold by Essex auctioneers Reeman Dansie and has a pre-sale estimate of £1,500.
James Grinter, of Reeman Dansie, said: “I have never seen anything like this photo album before.
“If it was a Royal Flying Corps album, then it would be rare but to have a German one from the same period is unheard of.
“The survival rate of these flyers was terrible and it looks like these men lived life to the full while they had the chance.
I beg to differ from James Grinter of Reeman Dansie. These men were not living life to the full. They were enjoying themselves as much as they could because they knew most of them would not get to live life to the full. They’d never get to have spouses or children, or experience the joy of growing old and respected. The fleeting happiness of champagne and songs were what they could have instead.
Equating revelry with “living life to the full” is what leads to songs about the joys of dying young and with the — sixties — notion of living fast and leaving a beautiful corpse. (All corpses are the same. Dead.)
What is important to remember is that whatever consolations these men — and their British counterparts — sought, they were volunteering to give their lives in service of an ideal each believed bigger than themselves.
And knowing that, I’m glad they got to enjoy a bit of champagne and song along the way.