CHAPTER ONE - Introductions
5th January 1918
Mein Name ist Gerhardt Rupp und das is mein Skizzenbuch.
A Skizzenbuch? Well not exactly, but that is what my mother intended when she gave it to me. I joined the military to seek adventure and serve in the new colonies being established in Africa. She knew I wanted to be an artist and this gift was a promise to return home to her someday and pursue that goal.
But then the Herero Wars came and for eight years in the desert, I saw how cruel my country could be. We gathered the local cattle herders and put them into camps. As a camp guard, I watched over their slow starvation and soon forgot what the sketchbook was for. It sat at the bottom of my kit bag untouched.
Until now that is.
By the time I returned to Germany my mother was gone and rumors of a “great” war were everywhere. After the assassinations in Sarajevo, I knew I would not be heading home anytime soon. Now I am an “old campaigner”, too young to be sent home, too old to be sent to the trenches. So here I sit, behind a desk in this old rail yard, just outside the town of Beauvin, the Unteroffizier for Jasta 77.
I record the names in the duty book of young pilots when they arrive, their eyes full of adventure and patriotism. A few weeks later, I pull their broken bodies from the wreckage and draft letters home to their families for the Hauptmann to sign. It bothered me at first, all those names, but after a while, it is just a job. I have become numb to the death around me and my country’s zeal to rule the world.
I focus on my survival.
My mother taught me to read and write in English in hopes that we might find happiness across the Atlantic someday. I use it now to hide my notes from the prying eyes of the simple farm boys they send here to die.
You see, it has become clear to me that there will be no happy ending to this war. So I do what I need to do. I spy for the Hauptmann, smuggle in brandy for the officers, sell pictures of the local girls who are willing to pose.
This skizzenbuch is my record of what goes on at Jasta 77. I keep it for my advantage in hopes that I can find a way to survive this godforsaken war. And the sketches? I use them to distract me from the pounding artillery when I can’t sleep at night.
You see, I am no artist. I broke that promise to my mother long ago.