Robin and Sarah King's Account of Producing An English Version of Karl Kirchner War Diary
Karl Kirchner wrote in what is called Zütterling script, which is no longer used and illegible to most Germans today. Fortunately, his daughter Friend Gertrud Quast can read his handwriting. Friends Elke Scheiner and Robin and Sarah King translated the German into English.
Examination of a Michelin road atlas, which also shows military cemeteries and railways makes it possible to follow Kirchner's route through France to the Marne. He wouldn't always have seen the name of the towns he passed and wrote down what he heard. Kirchner also noted the time and distance he marched. His average marching speed was 3.5 km per hour.
Michelin Map - Click Image to enlarge Image source Michelin Maps - not to be reproduced
One of the old 60 cm military Feldbahn tracks, just south of Albert at Foissy, is still used. Le P'tit Train de la Haute Somme takes travellers along the route throughout the summer. There is an excellent Great War train museum next to the station there that visitors to Lochnagar Crater would enjoy visiting.
The area east of Reims where Kirchner fought is flat and visibly barren on Google Earth. Several villages such as Tahure once thrived there. More than 100 sq.km is technically a military terrain but is so devastated that nearly 100 years later it is still sealed off and virtually abandoned. The Michelin atlas shows more German than French military cemeteries in the surrounding countryside.
Navarinferme, where Kirchner awoke 14th July is a ruin now but Ferme de Navarin has become a landmark. It is the site of a huge Great War memorial in the shape of a pyramid with a statue of three soldiers on top: French, British and American. The remains of some 10,000 soldiers, most of them unknown, are contained in the ossuary at its base.
Kirchner moved on 24th July 1918 to Pontavert, on the Aisne River northwest of allied-held Reims. He moved back and forth between the camp and the front line during the next month. As older comrades told him after 11th November 1918, when he wanted to fight on: "Be happy that it is over and you still have life and limb." Thanks to Karl Kirchner's good luck and the generosity of his daughter, we have a rare view of the life of a very young German solder in the Great War who survived the Second Battle of the Marne.