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In a Lonely Forest: Josef Rust Found

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In a Lonely Forest: Josef Rust Found
Connie Ruzich Uncovers Lyricist for Ernst Brockman's "Soon, All Too Soon"

RancourtGerman graves in the SommeRancourt German Cemetery

In August of 2017, the World War One Centennial Commission blog shared Patricia Hammond’s story of a haunting First World War song and the search that led to the identification of the forgotten composer’s body and his reburial. Hammond wrote further about her personal experience for WWrite this winter. Hammond is a British musician who has performed and recorded  songs of the Great War with Matt Redman, such as “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “Over There,” and “Roses of Picardy.”*  Wanting to include German songs on a CD they were preparing, they purchased from a German antiquarian a 1917 collection of forgotten tunes, Weltkrieglieder(World War Songs),  and were immediately struck by the beauty of one tune: “Bald, allzubalde” (“Soon, all too soon”).  The sheet music provided the information that the melody had been written on April 20, 1916 by Ernst Brockmann, who was killed at the battle of Verdun just weeks later, on June 7, 1916. 

RUSTFrom Josef Rust's Photo Album 

Hammond’s search for the composer’s grave led to the discovery by the German War Graves Commission (the Volksbund Deutsce Kriegsgräberfürsorge) that while Ernst Brockmann had no known grave, a soldier with the same death date and the initials E.B. had been buried outside Verdun.  Exhuming the grave led to the positive identification of the unknown soldier; he was Ernst Brockmann, and in 2016, he was reburied in a ceremony at which Hammond and Redman sang the tune he had composed.


Aug 29, 2017

Soon, all too soon (Bald Allzubalde)                                     

 Alone in the woods, a flower blooms red

Soon all too soon, I too will be dead.

Flying somewhere is a small piece of lead

Coming to take away all my care

Today or tomorrow, all is the same. 


Far down in the valley three spades are digging

A stone-cold grave for a soldier who’s gone.

In the distance of twilight lies a small town

Where a young girl weeps in her lonely room,

Alone in the woods a flower blooms red

Soon all too soon, I too will be dead.†

            —music by Ernst Brockmann, 

                lyrics by Josef Rust

But what of the song’s lyricist, Josef Rust?  I contacted Patricia Hammond, who said that she had found mention of a Joseph Rust (spelled with a “ph” and not a “f” as on the sheet music) on the German village of Eissen’s website, where he was referred to as a “teacher, writer, and poet” who had lived from 1895 – 1981.  The dates seemed right, and the village of Eissen lies in northern Germany, not far from Paderborn, the area where Brockmann was from and where the 1917 book of war songs was found— but there was no conclusive evidence linking this man to the song. 

JRUSTJosef Rust

I began my own search and discovered that the website Europeana Transcribe lists a German soldier by the name of Josef Rust and provides 186 images from his photo album, as well as a handwritten copy of his war-time diary.  It was encouraging to find in the diary’s preface the note, “This is a war diary; my poems, insofar as they have been published, are intentionally omitted” – but if the poems had been omitted, so too might be any evidence linking this Josef Rust to the song “Bald Allzubalde.” And yet this man was almost definitely the Joseph Rust that Patricia Hammond had found on the Eissen website: while the names were spelled differently, the photo album of Josef Rust includes a telegram with several mentions of “Eissen,” and a typed timeline of his war service gives the dates of his birth and death: 1895-1981.  And so the outlines of this German soldier-poet began to appear: a studio image of a stern young soldier, as well as a more relaxed photo of a young man leaning against a hedgerow, carrying a small book and pen (perhaps his diary).  But was this the same man who had written “Bald Allzubalde”? 

 JRUST2Josef Rust

The diary records that on August 8, 1915 after completing three months of training, Rust left Berlin and crossed the Russian border.  His first impression of the war was of mass graves and transports of the wounded. Over the next two months, he and his unit fought the Russian army in what is now Poland and Belarus.  From August 22nd until the 24th, Rust and his unit were caught in a fierce battle near the town of Orla: fired on by both the Russians and their own artillery, Rust records that “bullets whined like hornets, shells exploded, and every second man was a casualty.” Officers fell and group leaders were wounded, while Rust attended to a dying officer from his hometown, transcribing the man’s last words so they could be sent home to his parents.  In the same diary entry, Rust writes, “One year later, I sent to the young recruits of the 2nd Guards Res. Rgt. 6 a keepsake – a poem about the events of 24 August 1915 that had been printed in Garde Feldpost:“Einsam im Wald.”  The title of Rust's poem is the first line of the song “Bald Allzubalde.”

In September of 1915, Rust and his men endured a grueling march from the Eastern Front to the trenches of the Western Front.  Stationed at Cambrai— if any doubt remains that this is the Josef Rust who authored the lyrics—he records in his diary, “In October I wrote, ‘Einsam im Wald’ (‘Lonely in the forest’).††  On April 20, 1916, my well-known colleague wrote a suitable melody, and afterwards it was sung repeatedly. J. Hatzfeld took the song in his collection: ‘Tandaradei,’ see page 143.”  And in pencil, appearing above the words “well-known colleague,” is written E. Brockmann. Here was the lost lyricist. 

Echoing the words of the song/poem, Rust’s diary in November of 1915 describes a solitary walk he took in Cambrai. Alone in the city, looking through the weak rays of November sun toward the battlefield, Rust saw rain clouds gathering, a harbinger of the bullets and death his comrades were facing and which he was convinced would soon find him. He thought of his home, his loved ones, and the former days of peace and happiness that had been sacrificed to the bloody war, and he gave himself over to an "All Soul’s mood" of despair. 

 Rust’s diary preserves an astonishing and frank account of the war. He writes of the Somme in October of 1916, “It's raining. Tomorrow is our third time to the Somme. We sing only songs of dying.”

JRUST3Josef Rust

But Josef Rust, unlike his musical collaborator Ernst Brockmann, survived the war.  Seriously wounded in early June of 1918 in Belleau Woods near Chateau Thierry, Rust spent over four months in hospital, returning to military service only to witness Germany’s surrender.  Though he frequently longs for peace in his diary entries, when he learned of his country’s defeat, he writes that he cried bitterly: his unit had endured four years of war; their commander had lost an arm, yet officers were required to surrender their weapons and remove the insignia that denoted their rank. Rust wrote, “I will not forget the day and this shame,” and commented, “The world, if it can free herself from the burden of this war, can be redeemed only with love, but not by force.”


* Patricia Hammond’s CD recording Songs of the Great War is available on her website, as well as on Amazon and iTunes. This post has been reposted with courtesy of Connie Ruzich from the Behind Their Lines blog.

† Translation by Danita C. Zanré. Here is the original German:

Einsam im Walde blüht wohl ein Blümlein rot, bald, allzubald bin ich tot, bald, allzubalde.

Fleugt wo ein Stückchen Blei, nimmt mir mein Sorgen. Mir ist halt einerlei: heut oder morgen.

Weit, wo das Tal hinab graben drei Spaten, graben ein Kühles Grab für ein Soldaten. Drüben im Dämmerschein, allwo im Städtchen weint wo im Kämmerlein irgendein Mädchen. Blüht wohl ein Blümlein rot einsam im Walde, balde, gar bald bin ich tot, bald, allzubalde.

†† It appears that the song was sometimes referred to by the poem’s title “Einsam im Walde”: in its 14 September 1934 issue, London’s Wireless World magazine reports the song “Einsam im Walde” was broadcast from Hamburg on Sunday, September 9th, 1934 (page ii).

+++ All photos courtesy of Behind Their Lines

Author's bio

Ruzich Fulbright PhotoConnie Ruzich is a University Professor of English at Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has published on aspects of language, culture, and identity, and has lived and taught in the U.S., Italy, and the United Kingdom. Ruzich was a 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholar at the University of Exeter, where she researched the use of poetry in British centenary commemorations of the First World War. Her blog, Behind Their Lines, shares lesser-known poetry of the First World War, providing discussion and research on international lost voices, poems written by those on the home front, and poetry that has been neglected in modern anthologies. Her research can also be followed through her twitter feed (@wherrypilgrim). 


Robert Frost, WWI Poet

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Robert Frost: A poet for whom life and war were trials by existence

By Jim Dubinsky

FrostpictureRobert Frost in 1943. (Eric Schaal/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images). Courtesy

When scholars write of war poets, few consider Robert Frost. Certainly, if the definition of a war poet is one who has experienced the turmoil and vicissitudes of combat, Frost does not qualify. However, if one is willing to consider poets who offer insight into connections between war and the human condition, then Frost surely fits the bill.*

Reading Frost’s poems, essays, letters, and gaining insight from a range of biographical perspectives has led me to understand a key component of his personal philosophy: Robert Frost believed in the inevitability of violence. For him, violence and war were natural.  He often made statements reflecting this belief. In his private letters to his friend Louis Untermeyer, he argued that  “Life is like battle” (285) and “War is the natural state of man” (373).  

Read more: Robert Frost, WWI Poet

The Break of Day - Poet Isaac Rosenberg

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The Break of Day - Isaac Rosenberg

BreakofDayScene post-WWI battle courtesy

This post follows up on Mike Schuster's The Great War Project report about Easter 2018 featured on the WWI Centennial News Podcast for April 6, 2018.  In the context of the stalling German offensive in the spring of 2018, Schuster discussed the WWI British poet, Isaac Rosenberg, who died on Easter Sunday.

"Break of Day in the Trenches"

Isaac Rosenberg's "Break of Day in the Trenches" provides one of the most disturbing examples of the dark, macabre humor found in the later WWI poetry that sought to demystify the virtues of honor, glory, and patriotism associated with combat. The speaker in the poem –presumably a WWI soldier in the trenches– begins by conversing with a rat as he looks out to no man's land from the trenches with the rising dawn:

The darkness crumbles away.

It is the same old druid Time as ever,

Only a live thing leaps my hand,

A queer sardonic rat,

As I pull the parapet’s poppy

To stick behind my ear.

Read more: The Break of Day - Poet Isaac Rosenberg

"This Loneliest Hour" - Vera Brittain

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On Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, and Extract from Chapter 9, "This Loneliest Hour"

Testament of Youth PosterTestament of Youth film adaptation poster

In 2016, The Guardian journalist, Robert McCrum listed Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as the 42nd best non-fiction book of all times. What follows are extracts from his article and a passage from the Testament of Youth's Chapter 9:

"Testament of Youth was written by Vera Brittain, a woman approaching 40 who had spent some 17 years coming to terms with her singular experience of the first world war – as a girl, a fiancee, a feminist, a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and, finally, as the sorrowing victim of intolerable grief. Brittain’s is one of several memoirs inspired by the fighting in Flanders, but it made a lasting impact through the raw passion of its anti-war message and its rather modern confessional candour. 

Read more: "This Loneliest Hour" - Vera Brittain

Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

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Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

by Margaret Thomas Buchholz

Jo fancydressJosephine Lehman Thomas. She writes in her diary: "June 1918: The gowns were of the real evening variety. I have gotten entirely over being shocked by such a display of arms and necks. After I have some new glad rags I am going to have some large pictures taken to astonish the Ionians by the general absentness of the upper part of my gown." Photo courtesy of Margaret Thomas Buchholz.

My mother, Josephine Lehman Thomas, who spent the last half of her life in Harvey Cedars, NJ, was a “government girl” in Washington DC during World War I. She lived as a determinedly modern young woman who relished the wartime excitement of the nation's capital – with its soldiers, movie stars, and international celebrities. She kept a detailed diary from 1917 until the late twenties, when she was a researcher and ghostwriter for Lowell Thomas. Her entries offer a lively record of city life at the time. The following is excerpted from her story which appeared in Washington History, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Fall/Winter, 1998/1999) and was later expanded into my book, Josephine: from Washington Working Girl to Fisherman’s Wife. ( The captions to the photos in this post also come from her diary.

Read more: Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father

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Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father 

by Adrian Bonenberger

Belarus Soviet Monuments 2 Brest Hero Fortress 12Brest Hero Fortress. Photo courtesy

 One of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century—perhaps ever—Vaslav Nijinsky was born to Polish parents in what is now Ukraine, was at the time Imperial Russia (and for a brief six-month period, was a puppet-state of Imperial Germany). He is supposed to have thought of himself as Polish, for whatever that’s worth. He married a Hungarian woman and raised his children as Polish. He spoke Russian.

NijinksyjumpDancer Vaslav Nijinsky jumping. Photo courtesy

One of the elements I find so extraordinary about Brest-Litovsk, personally, is the assumptions that the Germans made about how populations and peoples worked, what identity meant at the dawn of the 20th century. Although Germany had expended great military, financial, and political capital in annexing or expanding its influence at Russia’s expense—a fact that they hoped would be to Germany’s financial and political benefit—to the people who lived within that territory, Germany’s sovereignty must have seemed like a distant abstraction, a matter of architecture and linguistic preference. As intellectually similar and similarly modern as even the most cosmopolitan people of that time were to people today, they were, nevertheless, different—there was a kind of existential freedom to choose one’s path, to pick an identity, rather than having it forced upon one.

Read more: Brest-Litovsk: Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Father


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