My father, Karl Kirchner

Gertrud Quast, Friend of Lochnagar


Karl aged 18.Karl aged 64
Karl Kirchner aged 18 and 64
Images courtesy of Gertrud Quast © 2010

Karl Kirchner was born on 16th September 1899, the son of a farming family in Gaugrehweiler, a small village in the Palatinate. He and his sister attended school in the village. On 12th September 1917, he was drafted into the 2nd Bavarian Foot Artillery Regiment, the 2nd Recruit Depot and trained as a gunner. He became the foot artillery team leader.

Kirchner's daughter Gertrud remembers that her father told her about the war when she was 8 or 9 and she regrets that she remembers so little of what he said. She does remember that he rescued a comrade from the frozen Somme by sliding a long pole across the ice so his comrade could grab it and be pulled out. He deserved a Iron Cross Class II for that.

Once when walking down a street, a low-flying aircraft shot and killed his comrade walking beside him. When he had a severe case of pneumonia in France in the winter of 1917, a French woman gave him a bed in her barn and took good care of him. He always spoke of her with the greatest respect because he was the enemy and she had a son at the front. Father wondered why he survived so many dangerous situations and kept his good health and happiness. He wondered whether the Lord protected him.

When the Germans surrendered, he was still deep in France with his unit and could have cried that the war was lost. But only young soldiers wanted to continue fighting. The older ones scolded them: "Be happy that it is over and you still have life and limb." Such patriotism and national pride is difficult to grasp today. Kirchner would have liked to have stayed in the military. His battery commanders, Orth and Homm, always said: "Kirchner, remain with us. You have a great future ahead of you." But he listened to his parents, especially his mother, who said: "Du kriesch die Beitsch in die Hand und wersch Bauer" Literally: "You'll take up the whip and become a farmer." What his mother meant was: "You'll become a farmer like your father before you." So Kirchner then became a farmer and succeeded in that profession too.

According to his army book, Kirchner was demobilized on 30th November 1918 at Grafenwöhr in the Upper Palatinate and given 50 marks severance pay and 15 marks march money.

Kirchner married in 1926 and his son, Kurt, was born in 1929. Kurt studied to become a teacher but was unable to find work during the turmoil of the postwar period. He became a farmer and a staunch liberal politician and was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit. His son, born in 1954, became an anesthesiologist.

Kirchner was mobilized in September 1939 and sent again to France to fight in World War II. He said that he felt that he had to join up. His daughter, Gertrud, was 10 months old when he left for France and waved to him from her mother's arms. In 1940, farmers became exempt from military service and he was sent home and ordered to grow food for the German people. His closest friends during the war were Peter Eymann from Alsenbrück and Ernst Steitz from Würzweiler.

Gertrud was born in 1938 and remember the hardships of the war and postwar period. She was unable to attend secondary school because there was no transportation. She helped on the farm from an early age and later studied home economics. Her father was conservative and strict, but fair. Her mother, a warm, wonderful woman, died in 1979 at the age of 78. Kirchner had a stroke six years later and came to live with Gertrud and her husband Walter. Father and daughter became closer then than they had been during his long life. He died on Christmas Day 1988.

His motto was:
Wer mit dem Leben spielt, kommt nie zurecht;
Wer sich nicht selbst befiehlt, bleibt immer Knecht.

Master yourself, or a slave unto others you will be;
be not wanton, or you'll end in misery.

Click this link to read the diary.

Click this link to see Robin and Sarah King's account of producing an English version of Karl Kirchner's war diary.

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