The writer was Wilhelmine (Mimi), the 33 years old wife of Ludger (Louis) Boos. Louis was employed as the “Station Master” of Gladbeck Railway Station, working for DB Deutsches Reichsbahn and the family lived in a house overlooking the main railway lines.
Gladbeck is a town located near to the city of Oberhausen, to the north of Essen and in 1914, was in the heart of industrial Germany. The Krupp industrial empire, world leaders in iron/steel production and associated manufacturing industries such as armaments, was situated along the banks of the River Ruhr. It is close to the Dutch border and rail links from northern Germany into the Ruhr and beyond went through Gladbeck.
c.1914 The Krupp Works, Essen
Military service was compulsory in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany and on reaching the age of 20, men could expect to serve 2 or 3 years of training or active service, followed by a longer period in the reserve. By maintaining a large pool of trained men, the German army expanded from 700,000 to 3.8 million in the first 12 days of the war. Although, it might be considered that Louis’ civilian occupation was essential to the war effort, he was compelled to serve in the army upon the declaration of war.
Mimi had just given birth to their 4th child Johannes (Hans), a brother to Fritz, aged about 10, 8 years old Heinrich (Heine), 3 years old Gertrud (Gerda). At this time, it is clear from entries in her diary that she was struggling with the emotional side of child birth. In today’s terminology, one might assume that she was suffering from post-natal depression. The family was staunchly catholic and were regular church goers.
The following extracts will concentrate on her feelings towards the war and evidence of how it affected everyday life.
August 1st, 1914
I reach for my pen and choose a few hours of time to write about my experiences of being alone… My beloved husband has gone to Essen to buy a few things and I am sitting here alone full of the deepest foreboding and fears. I do not know where to begin. I go from room to room pacing unable to settle. I do not know if mobilisation has started already…I have recently given birth. I can barely stand on my legs. My husband comes home and I still sleep very badly. I think it is because I have been doing too much. I hardly sleep at all the whole night from pure fear.
August 2, 1914
My husband is in church. I get up and wake the children so they will be ready in time for church. Then my husband comes and tells me he has to report for duty on August 3rd…It is like a terrible blow to my stomach as if I would never see him again. Those were my only thoughts. It was all I could think of as I love him so dearly. I would give up everything, everything if only I can have my husband back again. I send my eldest home and inform the parents of the news. Father and brother Arnold also come immediately to make their farewells. Sunday is very sad. Only the bare essentials are packed and then it is early to bed. The train leaves tomorrow at 5 am. The train which takes my husband, my most-dearest love away. Again I do not sleep at all. I cry all the time. Anything else is impossible for me.
August 3rd, 1914
At 4 am we all get up for a heart-breaking farewell. The two boys and I go with him to the station…I only pray that god will return him to me. I pray with my whole heart. The whole day I sit at the window and try to think I might catch a glimpse of him in the crowds of soldiers but there are so many it is impossible to pick out any individual, one train after another.
August 5th, 1914
All you can see and hear are soldiers and they are all so joyful over what to me is so terrible, so terrible it cuts through my heart.
In the afternoon I visit Father Dechant. He was surprised to see me again so soon. He said he would read a few masses for my good husband to come home safe and healthy. He was very kind and concerned and asked after everyone. He will say the first mass tomorrow at 6.30 am so I can also go then. We went straight into church so I could do confession and be all ready for communion tomorrow.
August 6th, 1914
This morning Fritz and I went to holy communion so god will keep my beloved husband safe. And I realise now just how much I love him. Please, please god do not punish me and take him away from me so soon. I pray every hour to god to keep him safe.
Friday 7th August, 1914
Early this morning Fritz and I went to Holy Communion. Then that is the only thing I can do for my husband is to pray and hope we will win. When I see so many soldiers sent out to fight it does not seem possible to believe we could lose. Today Frau Hausmann was here and said the whole of the west was also secure.
Saturday 8th, August 1914
Waiting in vain for news. Peters said they could not write. The letters are not being forwarded. I am full of anxiety – how this will all end? The food prices are fixed and because of this the shops are all closed. Everything is much more expensive but not as bad as on August 1st.
Sunday 9th, August 1914
At 7 am we went to Holy Communion. Then I got dressed with the children and we travelled to Gladbeck. But it was not very easy getting there as the trains were only for the military…Arnold showed us receipts for flour. 8 days ago a sack cost 29 marks. Now it is 49 marks. No wonder the loaves have gone so small…At 9 in the evening we were all back home and still no postcard from my beloved husband. He must not be able to write otherwise he would certainly have done so.
Monday 10th, August 1914
Again still no postcard. Please God let him still be alive. So many have died already and terrible things are happening. I heard someone was found with 6 fingers with the rings on in his pocket. That is hardly to be believed but I hope they are all justly punished and do not escape punishment. I pray to God every hour that we will win and that God will be gracious and merciful.
Wednesday 12th August, 1914
This morning I go early to mass. There is a holy high mass for the fallen soldiers. In these hard times the church is always full. And again I still have no news. I am worried I am never going to have any news. My head is so heavy and I have terrible headaches. I want to cry the whole day and think of nothing. Today I paid for the photos that I sent to him last week. I am sure he is well in need of them…The children do not understand much about it at all. They hardly ask now about their father. I send them every day to church to pray for his safety…The trains are not running so much now…I am thinking what is Louis doing now, if he has a bed and if he gets anything to eat regularly. Every time I have to eat I cannot eat. Nothing tastes good at all and I think of him being hungry and cannot eat at all. Oh if only these cruel times were over. Please God guide us to a good outcome.
August 13, 1914
Still no news today. It seems like half an eternity has already gone by and it’s only been 10 days since my beloved went away…Surely after all these hours a letter should soon come and news should at last arrive.
August 14th, 1914
How is this all going to end? Everyone goes about as usual…Today there were goods trains again. I do not know if the transportation is finished now. I don’t hear anything and there is nothing much written in the newspapers.
Friday 15th August, 1914
This morning at 7 am Fritz and went to Holy Communion. I pray God hears my prayer and keeps my beloved husband safe…At last a card from my beloved. He had sent it on the 5th and I’m only getting it on the 15th. But such joy at this at last news from him. And only 5 minutes later I received a telegram with his address. At first I had a terrible dread but then it quickly turned to joy. Now at least I know where he is and that is well…God has heard my prayers after all. I went straight away to the PO to telegraph back and say we are all well and overjoyed to have word from him. I hope my telegram arrives quickly. Perhaps the big delay is due to it being checked by the military…Father Derchand told Fritz to tell him of any news when we received it. I will send Fritz tomorrow with it.
Saturday 16th August, 1914
Today I am somewhat calmer as I at least know where my heart is. There is no more news and I am angry about the war. It is nothing but the authorities doing it. It is terribly stressful when you are waiting and waiting and wanting to hear. The stress is giving me constant headaches but terrible people just say whatever comes out of their mouths and afterwards it is all falsehoods…God knows in this long time no matter how terrible it is if only my husband could please come back then all this agitation could stop. God has to care for the women left behind and comfort them through all their tears.
August 17th, 1914
Today at 7 am I went to Holy Communion to pray for more strength…Today it is really busy here. Everyone is going to the station to give gifts (rations/packages) out and to go and see what is happening. But there are fewer trains…I saw Erkart and daughter and also Shulte Moriz. They were all there distributing and only god knows how much it is needed. And if we will hear anything from them again. My father and Lene were also there distributing and we all had to go to the station. They had made up lots of packages. They said the people in the trains came from the Russian border and are going now to France…They are all so full of joy and courage I can hardly comprehend it. Each time it cuts through my heart when I see them and I cannot hold back my tears…God knows what verses they all wrote on the carriages and they were all decorated with garlands.
German Soldiers heading for the Western Front
Today a parcel arrived from my beloved husband. I am very sad the push is here but the main thing that was worrying me was if my most loved would ever come back and that is quite another matter. Already so many are dead but God will protect me from the worst. To live alone without my beloved seems to me impossible and if only I had a dear letter in the parcel I would have been so joyful even only for a few lines.
Tuesday 18th August, 1914
The joy of the day when I came down I found 2 cards from my dearest heart, one written on the 6th and one on the 12th. How long it all takes to get here but thank God he is healthy and in good spirits that is the main thing.
This afternoon there was a train with soldiers and it is shocking how many were in the train. I could hardly believe it.
Tuesday 19th August, 1914
Louis wrote he is together with Franz now. Today I met another woman from our building and her husband has not written yet but that reassures me it is a sign no one is able to write now.
Today at the market there is hardly anything to buy. No vegetables, no fruit. The children would have loved to eat something like that but 50 pfennigs for a pear is far too expensive. It all goes to the military trains. Tonight at 12.30 more came through. I wonder where all these people come from. And they are all so sure of victory. They have already taken Liege and today they have won another battle.
On Sunday 2 trains full of prisoners came through Oberhausen from Liege. The mayor and his son had them in chains. An eye witness said 4 soldiers had a prisoner and they dragged him and assaulted him saying here stands the man who took out both the eyes of a German officer.
August 21, 1914
Today I went to the market and bought potatoes. One bag was 6 marks. The fruit is so expensive no one can buy any of it. I hope it will soon get cheaper
August 22, 1914 & Sunday 23rd August, 1914
We went to the photographer to have our photos taken and we had to wait until everyone was settled and that took a long time. I will be really happy when the photo is ready.
August 1914, The family photo Mimi sent to Louis.
It shows Mimi holding Hans, Heine to the left, Fritz to the right and Gerda seated
Thursday, August 27th, 1914
One postcard from Louis saying his money had been stolen…There was another card asking if I could send something to eat and I will do this first thing tomorrow morning early as it is too late today.
Friday, 28th August, 1914
This morning went to the market and bought a piece of Speck. I could hardly get anything. I bought beans for 20 pfennigs which I will bottle then at least we will have something to eat. I bought cucumber and onions. Then I made a parcel ready for Louis and went to the post office. It cost 50 pf as it was 0.5 kilo too heavy.
Saturday, 29th August, 1914
Today I got 2 cards from Louis. Always the same. Great joy our fighters have won a great battle. If only it could be done and over. For me the time is eternally long.
Sunday, 30th August, 1914
Today it is 4 weeks since my husband left and who knows how long it is still to last. I am so sad and have been crying already even though there may be an end soon…I hear the recruits up to the 14th have to go out now. Then our Johann will have to go out too…At 9 more trains came and more soldiers who are needed in Russia.
Monday, 31st August, 1914
Today train after train full of soldiers travelled throughout the whole night through. Yesterday word was given out that everyone should go to the station with sandwiches for the soldiers. They must come from France. Some of them have French uniforms and flags and others have something similar. The trains are stuffed and soldiers are hanging from the carriages.
Tuesday, 1st September, 1914
Today is the same as any other day…There was no more news. I feel like a trapped bird. My heart has not written and I don’t know if he has received the money or the parcel.
Wednesday, 2nd September, 1914
Today I received a card from my husband and he posted it on the 31st. And it is here already today. That was really fast.
Thursday, 3rd September, 1914
Again another day like all the others. Today I sent the boys to Gladbeck. They can stay there for a few days. There is not much to do here.
If only this war was finally over. Louis still not has written to tell me if the has the money or the parcel.
Friday, 4th September, 1914
Today I received a postcard from my husband. He has received the money and that has made me very happy. I had another parcel to post and went to the post office to send it…Hundreds but hundreds of soldiers lay all over and they had to bury them. And also that afternoon he had to shoot a grave robber dead and he could not describe how terrible that made him feel. They are located in a castle and there is gold and silver and very good clothing and washing everywhere. The whole castle was deserted. Not a single person to be seen and the village it belonged to was also deserted. The people had to leave all their belongings and they just fled.
What a shocking terrible thing this war is. Tonight all the bells were ringing as our troops have taken Rheims. It is good we won the battle but at the same time shocking how many men lost their lives and the children and women wait.
Saturday, 5th September, 1914
This morning I got a letter from my heart and he said in it he received my parcel…At lunchtime Herr Franzen was here with Peters and gave me many greetings from Louis. And it made me so happy hearing that he is healthy and in good spirits. I have never felt as well as now hearing this. It would be so good if only my husband could come back God willing.
Many thanks to Caroline Kemp for sharing her grandmothers’ diary. You could change the country and the personalities but the feelings would be exactly the same.
Louis survived the war. He and Mimi had another 3 children. Tragically, Heine was murdered in 1919. Louis continued working on the railways, celebrating 50 years of employment but died shortly after, in 1940, aged 64.
Ludger (Louis) Boos 1876 – 1940
Louis’ son Johannes (Hans) is Caroline’s father. During the Second World War, he was in the German Navy, serving on a minesweeper. He was captured, being held in a POW Camp in Scotland.
Johannes (Hans) Boos 1914 – 1989
After the war, Hans decided to stay in the UK. Caroline was brought up in Scotland and now lives in Tynemouth. By coincidence, Caroline is a friend of, “In the Pink” producer Rosie Anderson.