Ernst Jünger

Portrait of Ernst Jünger in military uniform.

Rank

Private

Roll title

73rd Hanoverian Fusilier Regiment, Imperial German Army

Convoy ship

Jünger (second right) in 1911 as a 16-year-old member of the Wandervögel, a back-to-nature youth organisation that emphasised freedom, self-responsibility and the spirit of adventure.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Ernst Jünger was born in Heidelberg, Germany, on 25 March 1895 to a middle-class family. He ran away from his Hanover home in 1913 and joined the French Foreign Legion, serving in Algeria before his father brought him back. When war broke out he immediately volunteered in the Imperial German army, enlisting on 1 August 1914, at age 19. He was assigned to the 73rd Hanoverian Fusilier Regiment.

Jünger, the French Foreign Legionnaire, 1913.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger as a recruit in the 73rd Hanoverian Fusilier Regiment, 1914.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

German troops attack through a cloud of gas.

© Hulton Deutsch Collection/ Corbis Images

The German army was a formidable opponent – and so, it turned out, was Ernst Jünger.   Jünger was a cool, courageous and ruthlessly efficient soldier. Wounded 14 times, and twice decorated for bravery, he fought at the forefront of his regiment’s battles for the entire war. These included Les Éparges, 1915; Guillemont, 1916; Passchendaele, 1917; March Offensive, 1918; Rossignol Wood, 1918; and Cambrai, 1918.

In December 1914, Jünger was deployed to a quiet sector of the Western Front at Gauda, Champagne. After front-line garrison duty, on 23 April 1915, Jünger and the 73rd attacked the French at Les Éparges. In The Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-Troop Officer on the Western Front, Jünger recounts the moment that he first confronted battlefield dead:

At our first glance of horror … we stare[d] again and again at these things that we had never seen before, without being able to give them any meaning. It was too entirely unfamiliar. We looked at these dead with dislocated limbs, distorted faces, and hideous colours of decay, as though we walked in a dream through a garden full of strange plants, and we could not realise at first what we had all round us.

Trench life

Jünger was promoted to ensign in September 1915 and commissioned lieutenant on 29 November 1915.  In late 1915–early 1916, shortly before the Anzacs arrived on the Western Front, he and the 73rd Hanoverian Fusiliers were stationed on the German side of the front line near the French village of Monchy.

Listen to Jünger describe trench life.

[Narrator] Lieutenant Ernst Jünger, of the 73rd Hanoverian Fusiliers, was manning the German side of the front-line near the French village of Monchy in late 1915-early 1916, shortly before the Anzacs arrived on the Western Front. Passages from his wartime diary describe the routine, conditions and lethal nature of trench-life, which was common to both sides. [Jünger] Thus it was that our days passed in a fatiguing monotony, broken only by the short spells of rest at Douchy. Yet there were many pleasant hours even in the line. I often sat at the table of my little dugout, whose roughly planked walls, hung with weapons, had a look of the Wild West, and enjoyed a pleasant feeling of being comfortably tucked away, as I drank a cup of tea, read and smoked while my batman was busy at the tiny stove and a smell of toast rose in the air. No one who fought in the trenches has missed this mood. Outside, along the fire-bays went the stamp of heavy, regular steps; a challenge rang out in monotone when someone passed along the trench. The dulled ear scarcely detects the never-ceasing rifle-fire, or the short whack of a bullet striking, or the Verey lights that sizzle near the opening of the air-shaft. It was then I took out my notebook from my map-case and wrote down in brief the events of the day. [Here are some entries]: 7 October – Standing at dawn near my section’s post on the fire-step opposite our dugout a rifle bullet tore one of the men’s caps from front to back without hurting him. Just at this time two pioneers were wounded on our wire. One shot through both legs. The other shot through the ear. During the morning the left-flank post [sentry] was shot through both cheek-bones. The blood spurted in thick streams from the wound. To finish the bad luck, [when] Lieutenant Ewald … turned to get down off the fire-step a shot shattered the back of his head. He died instantly. 19 October – The sector of the middle platoon was shelled with 15-centimetre shells. One of the men was blown against the boarding of the trench. He suffered severe internal injury, and a splinter cut the artery of his arm. In the early morning mist, while repairing our wire in front of our right flank, we found a French corpse that must have been months old. In the night we had two casualties wire-carrying. Gutschmidt was shot through both hands and one thigh, Schäfer through the knee. 30 October – Owing to heavy rain in the night the trench fell in many places, and the soil mixing with the rain to a sticky soup turned the trench into an almost impassable swamp. The only comfort was that the English were no better off, for they could be seen busily scooping the water out of their trench. As we were on higher ground, they had the benefit of the superfluous water we pumped out as well. … With the beginning of March we had the worst of the mud behind us. The weather was dry and the trench freshly revetted; and now and then we had an hour or two of leisure and comfort. I sat every evening in my dugout at my little writing-table and read, or talked when I had a visitor … Those pleasant hours in the dugout outweigh the memory of many days of blood, dirt and exhaustion. They were, too, only possible during the long periods of, comparatively speaking, quiet trench warfare.

Gas and shell-fire

On the Western Front, both sides were subjected to the lethal horrors of modern warfare. Foremost among these were gas, machine-gun fire and artillery shelling. Artillery fire was to kill more men in the war than any other weapon. 

Listen to Jünger, in the front line at the village of Monchy, describe surviving gas and shell-fire during the week-long preliminary bombardment to the 1916 British Somme offensive:

Next morning I was roused from sleep … [M]y batman, Paulicke, appeared at the top of the dugout steps and shouted down, ‘Gas attack!’ I snatched up my gas-mask, pulled on my boots, buckled my belt, and, running outside, saw an immense gas-cloud hanging in heavy white swathes over Monchy … As most of my platoon were in the front line, and as an attack was very probable, there was only one thing to be done. I jumped over the entanglement in front of the reserve line and was soon in the middle of the gas-cloud. I put on the mask, but quickly tore it off again. I had run so fast that I could not get enough air through the intake. The eye-pieces, too, were misted over in a second, so that I could see nothing. As I felt pains in the chest I tried at least to get through the cloud of gas as quickly as I could. On the edge of Monchy I had to pass through a barrage ... A literal storm of shrapnel was breaking over it. Showers of bullets, splinters, and fuses whistled through the air, swept through the branches of the orchard trees in the garden wildernesses, and crashed against what remained of the ruined walls … [T]he bombardment slackened, and [so I] went on to the front line by No. 6 communication trench … [Suddenly] I was caught in a fresh and even wilder outburst just fifty metres from the company dugout ... By good luck I saw a little shelter that had been dug out in the side of the trench for despatch-riders ... So there I crouched and let the storm go over me. It seemed to me that I had chosen the hottest corner. Light and heavy ‘toffee-apples’, Stokes bombs, shrapnel, ‘rattles’, shells of every description … came droning, moaning, and crashing all round me … I was utterly dazed by a single, absolutely hellish crash accompanied by a sheet of flame … Shrapnel exploded by the dozen, as prettily as crackers, scattering their little bullets in a heavy shower, with the empty cases whizzing after them … The brain links every separate sound of whirring metal with the idea of death, and so the nerves are exposed … without a pause to a sense of the utmost menace … And so this bombardment as well came to an end, and I was able to set out again, this time at top speed … As there was no movement of the enemy, I withdrew my platoon. In Monchy I saw a number of gas casualties sitting in front of the first-aid post. They were pressing their hands to their sides and groaning and choking, while water ran from their eyes. Their condition was no laughing matter, for some of them died a few days later in frightful agony. We had had a gas attack of pure chlorine to go through. It has a corrosive and burning action on the lungs. I resolved from that day onwards never to go out without my mask, as I had done [up to then] ... over and over again ... with incredible folly.

Ypres, 1917

Jünger and the 73rd Regiment fought twice at the Third Battle of Ypres. At Langemarck in late July 1917, he was lucky to survive. His regiment endured the allies’ preliminary bombardment and helped halt their advance, but in so doing was largely destroyed. In October his reinforced unit was in action again north of Passchendaele, not far from the 6th Battalion, AIF, to the south. Mud was all-pervasive:

Now and then one of us sank in mud above the hips and would certainly have drowned but for rifle-butts that the others stretched out to help … a wound would drown one for certainty in a shell-hole. A suffusion of blood on the surface … here and there showed that many a man had vanished thus.

1918 - The German Spring Offensive

In March 1918, Jünger and the 73rd Hanoverian Fusiliers took part in the massive German Spring Offensive. They were assigned to break through the allied line between the villages of Ecoust-St.-Mein and Noreuil. On March 19–20, Jünger lost two thirds of his company to shell-fire while approaching the line. Jünger’s nerves were shaken. Nevertheless, their spirits were revived by the massive German bombardment that preceded the 21 March attack, which he vividly described:

At once a hurricane broke loose. A curtain of flames was let down, followed by a sudden tumult such as was never heard, a raging thunder that swallowed up reports of even the heaviest guns … and made the earth tremble. This gigantic roar of annihilation from countless guns behind was so terrific that, compared with it, all preceding battles were child’s play. What we had dared hope came true. The enemy artillery was silenced, put out of action by one giant blow … We looked with wonder at the wall of fire towering over the English lines and the blood-red clouds that hung above it… In front stood a blind wall of smoke, dust and gas… The very laws of nature seemed to have lost their validity. The air shimmered as though on a day of summer heat … objects danced to and fro … One could scarcely hear the thousands of machine guns in our rear that swept the blue sky with swarm upon swam of lead.

The significance of what was to be Germany’s last major offensive of the war did not escape him as they waited:

I climbed out on top after a few minutes followed by the men. ‘Now we’ll show what the 7th Company can do! … We drew our revolvers and crossed our wire … I looked to the left and right. … in shell-holes in front of the enemy lines … the attacking battalions were waiting massed in companies, as far as the eye could see … The decisive battle, the final advance, had begun. The destiny of nations drew to its iron conclusion, and the stake was the possession of the world. I was conscious, if only in feeling, of the significance of that hour; and I believe that on this occasion every man felt … he had his part to play by which history would be made.

Nerves stretched to fever pitch, the attack finally began:

The great moment had come. The fire lifted over the first trenches. We advanced. The turmoil of our feelings was called forth by rage, alcohol, and thirst for blood as we stepped out, heavily and yet irresistibly, for the enemy’s lines … I was far in front of the company … In my right hand I gripped my revolver, in my left a bamboo riding cane. I was boiling with a fury now utterly inconceivable to me. The overpowering desire to kill winged my feet. Rage squeezed bitter tears from my eyes.

The opposing British offered resistance but were shattered by the massive bombardment and the scale and intensity of the attack. According to Jünger:

The English jumped out of their trenches and fled by battalions across the open. They stumbled over each other as they fled, and in a few seconds the ground was strewn with dead. Only a few got away … one cry was on everybody’s lips: “On!” Every man went straight ahead.

On 22 March, pushing on to the Vraucourt Line, near Noreuil, the regiment was strongly opposed by Scottish troops. Pinned down by heavy fire and feeling cold in the exposed trench, Jünger donned a British great coat. Eventually the Scots were overwhelmed but in a final attack, Jünger was shot at close range through the chest above the heart, probably by his own troops, mistaking him for the enemy. Taking off the coat and retiring back along the trench he was shot again in the head but survived. He was assisted by two wounded British prisoners, the three managing to obtain a lift to the rear in an empty ammunition wagon. Along the way he had sharp words with the commander of the ammunition column, who wanted to toss the two British prisoners out of the wagon. After stays in several field hospitals he was eventually hospitalised in Berlin. 

New Zealanders

Jünger returned to the 73rd Hanoverian Fusiliers on 4 June, 1918.  They were posted to the front line at Puisieux-au-Mont. In late July 1918, Jünger and the 73rd engaged in days of fierce fighting, unsuccessfully resisting ‘English’ (Otago Regiment, NZEF) attacks, at Rossignol Wood near Hébuterne, France. Jünger described a failed counter-attack:

With heads bent we made jumps from one traverse to the next … The English fled to a line behind leaving one dead … When passing the mouth of a trench to the left … [I] found myself faced by a powerfully built Englishman lobbing a bomb … Shouts rose on all sides. They were coming over the top to cut us off. I drew forth my bomb, my only weapon, and dropped it at the feet of the Tommy. Then I took to my heels in the direction of our lines.

Awards and wounds

Jünger, an outstanding company commander, fought at the forefront of his regiment’s battles for the entire war. He experienced the worst horrors and dangers of trench warfare and was decorated for outstanding service and bravery. In January 1917, after the Somme, he received the Iron Cross, 1st Class. Later that year, following his company’s success in the German counter-offensive at Cambrai, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Crossed Swords. On 22 September 1918, the Kaiser awarded Jünger the German army’s highest award for outstanding valour, the Pour le Mérite (‘the Blue Max’) for leading an undermanned attack at Favreuil on 25 August.  Jünger was shot twice through the chest in this attack, the last of many serious wounds he suffered during the war. He described his last attack as follows:

My last storm

It was our last storm … Again the carnival of carnage beckoned. We left the sunken road … [and I] suddenly found myself far in front of the first wave.

Isolated rifle-shots rang out in front of us. My cane in my right hand and revolver in the left, I tramped on ahead … A machine gun spat out its bullets at us. A sense of aimlessness took hold of me. Nevertheless, we began to charge at the double. In mid-jump over a piece of trench a piercing shock through the chest took away my breath. I spun head over heels with a loud cry and fell stunned to the ground.

I awoke with a sense of great misfortune. I was pinned between narrow walls of earth, and along a row of crouching figures the cry was taken up: ‘Stretcher-bearers! The company commander is wounded.’

An elderly man of another company was leaning over me with a kind expression, loosening my belt and opening my tunic. Two blood-red circular marks shone out on the middle of my right breast and on my back. I was crippled and chained to the earth, and the close air of the narrow trench bathed me in sweat. My good Samaritan revived me by fanning me with my map-case. My hope as I struggled for breath was for darkness to come soon, so that I could be carried back … I had a clear consciousness that I was done.

Above rose a cry of horror and ran from mouth to mouth: ‘they’re through on the left! We’re surrounded!’ This gave me back my old strength again. I … pulled myself to my feet, while blood poured from my mouth. With bare head and open coat I stared, revolver in hand, into the fight.

From the rear there were men coming forward with their hands up … We were surrounded by a circle of Germans and English and called upon to throw down our weapons. I urged those nearest me in a weak voice to fight it out to the death … Among us there was heard a tumult of voices. ‘It’s all up! Throw away your rifle! Don’t shoot, Kameraden!’

There was left only the choice of being taken or being shot. And now the moment had come to show [that] … the fighting spirit was more than empty phrases. I crawled out of the trench and staggered off …Two Englishmen who were taking a haul of prisoners … barred my way. I shot the nearest one … he collapsed like a dummy figure. The other blazed his rifle at me and missed. These quick movements caused the blood to be driven clear of the lung in deep pulsations. I could breathe more freely, and set off at a run over the open beside the trench … The continuous loss of blood gave me the lightness and airiness of intoxication. One thing only bothered me – that I might collapse soon. At last we reached a half-moon shaped earth work … whence half a dozen heavy machine guns were pumping lead on friend and foe … A NCO of the Medical Corps … tore off my tunic and advised me to lie down at once, otherwise I might bleed to death in a very few minutes.

The men of Jünger’s company attempted to carry him under intense fire to the rear, during which two were killed. He was eventually rescued from bullet swept open ground by Sergeant Strichalsky of the Medical Corps, who carried him on his back to safety. For Jünger, the war was over.

Dead bodies litter a French trench at Les Éparges, 1915. Jünger was wounded in this battle.

Courtesy www.premiere-guerre-mondiale-1914-1918.com

Ready for combat: German soldiers, armed with Mauser rifles and wearing gas masks in containers around their necks

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P01322.012

A sea of mud surrounds the ruined Zonnebeke Church, Passchendaele area, October 1917.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E00836

Jünger, with a fellow Sturmtrupper (storm trooper) officer of the 73rd Hanoverian Fusilier Regiment equipped for a trench raid, 1917. They wear the storm trooper’s trademark bags of stick grenades.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger (standing), home on leave with his siblings. Jünger’s brother Fritz (seated left) was seriously wounded at Ypres in July 1917 fighting near to the 73rd. His life was saved when he was carried to a first-aid post by Jünger’s men.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger (right with cigar) drinking with fellow officers of the 73rd behind the lines, 1917.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

German troops advancing during the Spring Offensive, 1918.

© Imperial War Museums (Q 47997)

New Zealand troops prepare a meal in trenches near Rossignol Wood, 25 July 1918.

Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand 1/2-013413-G

German machine-gunners, late 1918

© Imperial War Museums (Q 23709)

Jünger in 1919 wearing the Pour le Mérite, conferred on him by the Kaiser shortly before the end of the war.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger, the entomologist, pictured at his microscope in the inter-war period. He was an active entomologist all his life. Six species of beetle and a government prize for entomology are named after him.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

In 1920 Jünger wrote a graphic account of his wartime experiences in his famous book, The Storm of Steel. He remained in the German army until 1923. From 1923 to 1926 he studied zoology, geology and botany in Leipzig, but chose to pursue a writing career. In 1925 he married Gretha von Jeinsen and had two children.

In the Second World War Jünger again served in the German army. In occupied France, he helped plan the aborted invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion, and after 1942 served on the Russian Front. After the war he resumed a successful writing career. He published more than 50 books and in 1982 was awarded the Goethe Prize for Literature. He died on 17 February 1998, in Riedlingen, Upper Swabia, Germany, aged 102.

References

Godshall, K 2010, http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Storm_of_Steel
The German Army Handbook of 1918  2008, Frontline Books, London

Jünger, E 1985 (1920), The Storm of Steel: From the Diary of a German Storm-Troop Officer on the Western Front, Zimmerman and Zimmerman, New York

Nevin, T 1996, Ernst Jünger and Germany: Into the Abyss, 1914-1945, Duke University Press, Durham

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-wwi-diary-of-ernst-juenge...

Jünger, standing with fellow Wehrmacht officer, Colonel Eberhard Wildermuth, on the roof of their Paris hotel, 1942. He was dismissed from the German army after being associated with the failed July 1944 plot to kill Hitler.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger in the library at his Wilfingen home, Germany, 1955.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger receiving the Goethe Prize for Literature in Frankfurt, 28 August 1982.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger (second from left) stands with French President François Mitterand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at the Franco-German reconciliation ceremony, marking the 80th anniversary of the First World War, Verdun, September 1984.

Courtesy of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach

Jünger’s funeral in his home town of Wiflingen, 21 February 1998.

Courtesy of Alex Rathjen/Horizont

Anonymous

Dear Ernst Junger, In doubt we beckon you but in love we remember you...

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Anonymous

WE WILL REMEMBER YOU ALWAYS, UNCLE AROHA NUI. YOUR GREAT NIECE. XX

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Anonymous

What an astonishing life - truly a man of many parts and achievements.

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Russell

War is not always the answer but brings the best and worst out of people. Good to hear you survived and told your stories.

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JOHN NEW AUSSIE

To have gone through all of that and lived to be 102. Amazing achievement!!

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Anonymous

Inspirational story!

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jessika

I hope you got home alive. xx

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Anonymous

Survived two world wars, brave but lost. A born survivor living to reach 102.

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Anonymous

May have been the enemy, however he seemed an exceptional man.

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an aust woman

What a tragic loss of human and animal life. It would be awesome if we could learn from our mistakes.

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Saxon

Thank you for fighting for your country. R.I.P. From Saxon.

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ryan

Brave enough to go through both wars.

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matilda lawton

Thank you for protecting our land and helping others.

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Anonymous

I LOVED HOW YOU CAME BACK HOME AND LIVED TO 102 YEARS OF AGE.

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mia

Thank you for fighting for our country. xx

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Anonymous

I am glad I met you and I'm glad you survived the war.

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taylor family

Rest in peace and God bless.

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Anonymous

God certainly had plans for you, serving in 2 wars and accomplishing so much in your 102 years. Thank you for fighting for us so that we could be free.

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Anonymous

Thank you for risking your life so that we could be free. You were so brave.

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Ethan

Well done. Good job.

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bree

You are loved, thank you.

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Anonymous

Good job surviving 2 wars and trying to kill Hitler!

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Anonymous

I would like you to R.I.P. FOR ALL YOUR BRAVERY. R.I.P. FROM TOBY.

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JORDYN

THANKS FOR SAVING OUR COUNTRY! AND EVERYONE.

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ben

Lest we forget.

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centry

Sad for you.

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R.I.P

SORRY.

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rrrrrrrs jon

Lest we forget your life as we remember.

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Anonymous

Hi. I like to learn about you in person and I would like to meet you in person.

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William

It must have been a horrible time in the war. You were so brave to join the German army.

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Anonymous

WELL DONE FOR FIGHTING FOR YOUR COUNTRY.

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Elena

Rest in Peace.

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Anonymous

Wow. It was amazing to hear about what you had to go through during the war. I can't imagine what it was like.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service as one of the original ANZACS. Never forgotten. May you forever Rest In Peace.

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Anonymous

He tried to kill Hitler.

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Anonymous

Wat een indrukwekkend leven. Verselijk om 2 wereld oorlogen in het leger mee te maken. Hoop nog steeds op wereldvrede. Maar Junger was een dapper mens.

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Alison

Rest in peace.

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Anonymous

Rest in peace.

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Anonymous

Thank you for being brave.

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Anonymous

You deserve all the awards you won. Thank you for serving in the great war. May you rest in peace and thank you.

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Anonymous

I SALUTE YOU. REST IN PEACE.

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mitchell

Sorry for your loss. RIP.

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joel

What an astonishing life! Truly amazing work that you have done.

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owen

You are a hero!

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Anonymous

You were brave. I hope you have a good time.

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Stephen Morrow

Thank you for sharing your story with me. Regards, Warrant Officer Class Two.

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Daniela

Ruhe in Frieden.

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RENSIE WEIMANN

EINE UEBERRASSSCHUNG IHN AUCH HIER GEFUNDEN ZU HABEN!

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Anonymous

You are a brave soldier.

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ollie les

Very brave man for your side, to live through 2 world wars and die at 102. Incredible story.

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