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The Kaiser's Reluctant Conscript (ePub)

WWI 1914 1915 1917 1918

By Dominik Richert, Translated by David Carrick Sutherland
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 1.6 MB (.epub)
Pages: 280
ISBN: 9781783469871
Published: 5th November 2012

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As a conscript from Alsace, Dominik Richert realised from the outset of the First World War that his family would be at or near the front line. While he saw no alternative to performing his duty, he was a reluctant soldier who was willing to stand up to authority – and to avoid risks - in order to survive. This thoughtful memoir of the conflict gives a lively picture of major events from the rare perspective of an ordinary German soldier.

In 1914 Richert was involved in fighting on the French border and was then moved to northern France where he was in combat with Indian troops. In 1915 he was sent to the East and took part in the Battle for Mount Zwinin in the Carpathians and the subsequent invasion of the western parts of the Ukraine and of eastern Poland. In 1917 he took part in the capture of Riga before returning to the Western Front in 1918, where he saw German tanks in action at the battle of Villers-Brettoneux.

No longer believing in the war, he subsequently crossed no-man's land and surrendered to the French, becoming a 'deserteur Alsacienne'. The book ends with his return home early in 1919.

This superb memoir gives a fascinating insight into the War as experienced by the Germans, and into the development of the author's attitude to it. Yes, Richert fights to survive, but he feels little respect for, or allegiance, to his own army or the society which sent him to war.

The translator, D. C. Sutherland, has indeed done exceptionally good work. Richert’s German is rendered in clear and readable English. The text is also accompanied by a map of Europe tracing Richert’s movements throughout the war. This is exceptionally useful for the reader, and a very welcome inclusion. Except for the fact that the book lacks an index, it is a superb production in every respect. Overall, while Richert’s work will never become part of the canon of Great War literature, it will nevertheless serve as a useful account of the First World War for anyone interested in the perspective of a member of Imperial Germany’s Alsatian minority. The work will also interest anyone seeking to understand the experience of the individual German soldier on the Eastern Front.

Read the full review here.

The Western Front Association, Mason Watson

A publishing rarity.

Stand To - Western Front Association

This superb German war memoir...and is a remarkable book...so this was extremely welcome. It is an honest and remarkably candid account...The translation has been handled superbly and this is a fascinating account by anyone's standards. An absolute must-have. 10/10.

The Great War Magazine

When the First World war started, conscript Domonik Richert, from German-governed Alsace, went off to fight singing Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.

When the terrible war ended five years later, he was in French uniform shouting Vive la France.

During those intervening years, the Kaiser’s unwilling conscript fought the French as well as British and Indian Troops and took part in Baltic operations “pacifying” the Bolsheviks.

The story In this strange book, Kaiser’s Reluctant Conscript (Pen and Sword £19.99), is built on Richert’s wartime diary and charts the thousands of miles he marched from one battlefield to another, witnessing the death on many comrades.

One of the most dramatic events during the five and a half years he was away from home is a description of how he deserted from the German army in 1918, crossing no-man’s land to join the French who eventually put him in French uniform. Not many weeks earlier he had been trying to shoot them.

Richert’s experiences on both the Western and the Eastern fronts demonstrates the futility of war and the destruction it brings to so many communities.

At one stage he was engaged in trench warfare not far from the French coast, not that many miles from Dover and Folkestone, fighting Indian troops allied to the British and French. All the time he was detesting the war and trying to understand why he was fighting the Kaiser. He fought to survive, but with little respect for his own army of the society that sent him to war.

His story, translated by David Carrick Sutherland, highlights and problems of those who, at the time, lived in Alsace, once owned by France but taken by German in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War. It returned to France after Germany’s defeat in 1945. The Alsatians have suffered a perplexing life.

Dover Express & Folkstone Herald

Chris Baker has given a good account of the narrative of the book and there is no need for me to repeat it.

The tussle for control of the areas of Alsace & Lorraine is taught in school history classes and my memory is of a political story. Rickert's book takes it to the unfortunate effects the political struggle had on individual real people like Rickert.

Mr Sutherland is to be congratulated first for finding this book and for producing a well written, accessible translation. I do wonder why it was not translated before?

This is a good read and very informative about this particular aspect of European history and WWI in general.

Lewis (Amazon Review)

This is an unusual, educational and absorbing memoir of an infantryman's Great War and I recommend it. Translated from German, the writing is at times a little brusque and staccato in style but my goodness what an interesting tale. The writer Dominik Richert came from Alsace, that hotly contested region that between 1871 and 1918 was held by Germany. He spoke German and was conscripted for service in the Kaiser's army in 1913, but once war came found himself unable to return home. In 1918, exhausted by his experiences and increasingly disillusioned by the war he deserted to the French forces and found himself welcomed.

Richert served in some of the most important engagements of the war: the "Battle of the Frontiers" in Lorraine in autumn 1914 (in which he witnessed a German General ordering his men not to take French soldiers as prisoners but to kill them); in costly attacks against the British at Violaines in the Battle of La Bassee in October 1914; being raided by Indian troops in the trenches near Festubert; cold, hunger and madness as German troops are flung into suicidal frontal attacks against the Russians on the Eastern Front; the innovative and successful attack at Riga in September 1917; chaos in the Baltic states as Russia collapses after Lenin's revolution, and finally back to France where he witnesses at first hand terrific British superiority in material and firepower at Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. He was back in Lorraine when he decided with others from Alsace to get out of the war and go across to the French, an act for which he was condemned to death by Germany. Richert describes these affairs at ground level: the weariness, hunger and loss of friends. He makes few comments about tactics or the higher conduct of the war but comes to a clear belief that it is not being conducted in the interests of the ordinary soldier or people at home. We come to see him as a serious but likeable fellow, with a great love of family and his Alsace home but no great allegiance to Germany or the army in which he is fighting.

For the technically minded, Richert served with the 112, 260 and 332 Regiments of Infantry, as a machine gunner with the latter. He mentions many comrades by name including a number who were killed in action and, no doubt, whose graves could be traced.

The book would have benefitted from the addition of an index an a few maps (particularly for British and Commonwealth readers, of the Lorraine and Eastern Front actions simply as they are less familiar) but for all that it is a most valuable addition to our understanding of the war.

Richert and his wife were deported to do forced labour in Germany in 1943.

The Long, Long Trail

About Dominik Richert

Dominik Richert was born in Alsace close to the Swiss Border. He was called up to the German Army in 1913 and fought throughout the War. He died in 1977.


About David Carrick Sutherland

David Carrick Sutherland is a highly qualified scientist who is fluent in German having worked in Germany and Switzerland. He now lives at Oxted, Surrey.

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