Colonel Gustaf Bouveng diary – from the Western Front

I am reading the diary from the Swedish Colonel Gustaf Bouveng. It is an interesting book with notes from a period during 1914 to late 1915, when a Swedish military delegation went to the Eastern Front, to follow some German and Russian tactics and doctrines.

During their trip they visited parts of Eastern Prussia, Poland, Lithuania, Wolhynia (Today western part of Ukraine), Western Front and Munich.

I have decided to give you some small glimps of the chapter about the Western Front, and below you will see my transcription in english. In the future I will also try to give you some content about the other areas as well.

Source: Colonel Gustaf Bouveng – Diary from the Eastern Front. Stockholm 1928 – Otto Ahlströms Boktryckeri.

During the time when the War broke out in Europe, Colonel Bouveng was the commander of Svea Royal Lifeguards in Stockholm Sweden. During 1901-1902 Colonel Bouveng was working in the German War College in Berlin. He was also during his time the Commander of The Swedish War College Karlberg in Stockholm.

The contacts he established in Berlin made it easy to give hime the assignment to do this trip during the war. It became natural to spend most of the time at the Russian front. The diary only contain half of the content he wrote.

Ernst Linder

(Ernst did this when Gustaf already had passed away, but he had his permission from him to do it. I have also permission from the owner of the diary, a relative to Gustaf Bouveng, to make this small story)

November 14, 1914, Saturday.

Travel Valenciennes-Cambrai-St. Quentin-Laon. Nice weather. Nice country. Large waves in the landscape, not to much hilly, very fertile landscape. Beets everywhere. Very fiendly people. The villages are poor and dark, made of stone and easy to use in fortification in close quarter fights. In St. Quentin, by the HQ of the II Army. (Freiherr v. Loë) and the Major in charge wanted to arrest me. (It doesn’t say why, but maybe the reason was that he went through a wrong area. Joacims remarks)

The commader for the 115. Regiment told me that he had participated in 26 battles and lost 3600 men. Laon – VII Army HQ. La Fére, an old but beautiful Fort. Laon is placed on a nice, hilly part of the terrain, and you see it from far away. Very beautiful.

First we went to the station and met a great mix of soldiers from different regiments (VII Army) who were make large purchases – mostly butter (1:60 mark /Kilo!). Then went up Armé Oberkommando VII.

I was presented to Generaloberst von Heeringen. Very alike the portraits I had seen of him. Also met the Chief of Staff Generalleutnant von Hänisch.

(In the book he here presents some photos from Antwerpen from his earlier trip Between Brussels and Antwerpen. – below)

After some food we went with Hauptmann Groth (Nachrichtenoffizier) over Bruyéres-et-Montberault – Chamouille. A lot of different huts dug into the ground and above was documented. Went further on to Vauclerés. An old monastry, in and around that monstry the Naval guns from the French side had made an awful mess. We left the car there. We went by foot to the Farm Hurtebise, where fearsome fights had taken place.

When the Germans came to this terrain, the French kept Hurtebise (von Heeringen told us that). The Germans charged and took some buildings. Apparently there are both German and French units here. The german worked their way forward and are now keeping the completely destroyed Hurtebise, and 30-40 m away are the French lines.

Through several trenches we went forward and passed small huts with the most funny inscriptions, but also very serious ones, to the most forward line, the front line. A lot of posts had the French in sight. It was a constant fire. We passed an Oberleutnant from the 8th company, was injured in the arm and in the head.

He showed us the french lines with a mirror, which we also earlier saw through a gap between the sandbags. The French opened immidiately fire. The company lost daily around 3-4 men, we just met a stretcher on our way up. By the oaks a man was working with the sandbags.

Suddenly a grenade hit an oak. A very special feeling over the whole area, one soldier who was on post became totally “kaputt”, was screaming and could not stand, probably shocked, nerv shock.

We left the area and went on again. Went the wrong way, went up to Laon again. Oberst von Blomberg met us. We talked tacticts with him. Then came Generaloberst von Heering, he was kind and nice. He told us that the soldiers could not understand why they could not charge. They should easaly break the first line but then the French would fire from the other lines, which they have everywhere, that a charge would not be worth it. Only if the Germans could charge all over the line at the same time.

The officers in the staff were very friendly. One of them have had an assignment to open up all the lockers at the War Ministry in Brussels, and he found really interesting things. (For example an order to an Belgian higher officer in the General staff, that in June this year go to General Joffre for some discussions)

November 15, 1914, Sunday.

Travel over Montaigu to Neufchatel-sur-Aisne (snow) to General von Emmich. Completely charming. Told us very interesting things about the charge against Lüttich (Liège). We were interupted by Hauptmann Groth, who told us it was time to go. I was supposed to visit her excellence Frau Gemahlin, if I ever go to Hamburg. Von Emmich was small, fat, ugly , bluered in his face, but his kindness made us forget everything else.

From Neufchatel to Brimont. All is destroyed! Castles, houses, churches, everything!

This is just some notes from his travel at the Western Front at this time.

Below I have gathered some photos from the chapter.

I have more photos from Dinant from when I was there in 2014, but I just find those two now. I think I can see some of the old buildings in Dinant, above, also in my photo below.

The text from the diary may not have been translated into the most perfect english, but I think you can follow the story.

Below you will find a rough picture over where they went and in which area they were in mid November 1914. The approximate route is marked with a red line.

Next time I will try to look more into their trip around East Prussia an Lithuania.

News from the past

During my research I now and then searching for names of Swedishg soldiers and other facts in the digital versions of old newspapers on internet.

I have found some places myself, but now and then I get some tips from visitors on my page, that sends me other links to the old newspapers, which I am very grateful for.

The other day I found some interesting facts that I didnt know anything about, it was an article from the American newspaper with Swedish text, the “Svenska Amerikanen”.

It told me about a visit that the former leader of the Social Democrats in 1918, Hjalmar Branting, who later on became the Swedish version of Prime Minister, “Stadminister”, when he was visiting the Swedish soldiers who fought in The American Expediotionary Forces at the Western Front in France, in 1918.

Really interesting article, and it leaves me wondering how he went down to France, which way he took, and how it felt for the soldiers to have a visit from their former country representative.

I will try to translate the text in the article into English. You find it below.


Hjalmar Branting visits the Swedes in the American contingent.
“Good boys.”

Hjalmar Branting has recently been to France and took the opportunity to visit the American troops. He stayed for three days in the American section of the Western Front. On his return to Stockholm, he told the Chicago Tribune’s correspondent James O’Donnell Bennett his impressions of the Americans.

He thus explains that the American soldiers gave him a depth. sense of esteem and confidence, the discipline is strict, stricter than in the French army. But at the same time, no one can fail to notice that a democratic spirit is asserting itself.

Branting felt particularly happy to find so many Swedish-Americans among the American soldiers. “Within a section, he found 15,000 Swedish Americans and a division consisted for the most part of Swedish-born or of Swedish descent,” the telegram states. It is probable that either Branting or the correspondent was wrong in this, for such a large number could not possibly be. “Next year, 200,000 Swedish Americans are expected to participate.” continues the telegram “the largest Swedish army ever assembled.” exclaims the correspondent.

Many of the Swedish-American soldiers have excelled in the battles on the western front, Branting said. He found several in the hospital, where they found the most caring host of American Red Cross paramedics. France has the highest admiration for this department. The most difficult Sufferers are those who have been exposed to toxic gases. One type of gas, mustard gas, attacks the skin, while another blinds the victims for a couple of three weeks.

One day Branting undertook a car ride of over 150 english miles and all the way, nothing but American soldiers and their barracks were seen. In some villages, where the Americans are housed, it was gratifying to see the American soldiers busy playing with the French children. For their kindness to children and women and consistent courtesy, Americans have made themselves known everywhere.

Branting praised the Swedish-Americans as good citizens and splendid soldiers, attached to their new homeland with a fidelity and affection that could serve as a role model.

“Good boys”.

During his visit to the Western Front, Branting paid a visit to General Pershing, of which he spoke very favorably.

More about Swedes in the AIF

I went back to the Australian archives to search for some more Swedes who fought for the Australian Imperial Forces at the Western Front in The Great War.

Here I will give you some information about one of those individuals, but also bring some light into the different paths I walk when trying to find and confirm the information.

When I search for for information in different archives I try to put in different search strings, and the most common I use at this link below at National Australian Archive (NAA) is “Sweden” or “POB Sweden” (Place of Birth), as I have learned from the texts that is presented in the search results.

Some of the results leading me to individuals who were registrated to AIF, but I also get other information connected to Sweden, not all leads to soldiers. Sometimes the other information can be interesting to though.

When finding an individual there is the amount of information who takes me further. Like in this example. I found the Individual Neil Nilsson, and the first page gives me som leads that this in an individual from Sweden. Place of birth and Next of Kin (NOK) can be good info to go further on with. In this picture below you can find some underlined text. One odd thing is that in these papers they only ask for age, not Date of Birth (DOB)

From this page I take with me:

  • Nilsson, Neil, (probably Nils, I will check this later)
  • 33rd battalion. This is his first unit, but they can also switch during their time in the Army and on the field)
  • Age 35 and 1 month, compared to the date they are registered above, then I get a clue of DOB. He became 35 in November or December in 1915, that could then mean born in 1880? In this case it did. But many times they just guess or dont know exactly, depending on when they emigrated.
  • Ystad. He lived there or was born there, but that can mean everything around Ystad, but works as a starting clue.
  • Father. Hohan? Johan? or Håkan? It turned out to be Håkan.

Before I take the above info with me for further search in other archives, I use to check the additional info, which is a lot. In This case I check if he fought on the Western Front in WW1 and if he survived or if he was killed. In this case he fought on the Western Front and fell near Ypres in Belgium. But how do I know that? We have to take the info we find further into other sources. Below some of the info that I get from the case of Neil. Luckily the info written with pencils are often later typed as well, or it can be hard to read sometimes. My skills are increasing for every time.

But first we have to check and connect Neil Nilsson to Sweden and Ystad, and also in a way try to see if 1880 is a correct conclusion. I use a service that I pay for in this case, the archives at Ancestry. Here it is very important not to “take corners” and assume that his name is Nils, we have to use the name he has stated, to find info connected to this. Below some results from Ancestry that takes me further.

We know the name Neil Nilsson and that he died June 8th, 1917 according to the papers above, and I also try to type in 1880, just to see what happens. I get the same info from Ancestry as I already know, and it also shows the name of the father is Hokan, and here in Sweden it is Håkan, and it also shows that he is commemorated at Menin Gate memorial, which gives that he has no known grave. I have to search more in other archives, to try to find his DOB and I am lucky! I use the same search engine, the NAA, and gets the Naturilazation papers which gives me his DOB. Perfect. That makes my search more narrow.

Adding November 5th 1880 to my facts, and goes to my other source, Arkiv Digital, a quite expensive archive service, but gives me almost everything I want to know so right now it is worth it. In this Swedish archive I search for Nils, not with Nilsson, for the reason that the kids are stated in the books with just their names, not surnames, which comes later. We also know November 5, 1880 and Ystad.

I get a few leads. I know that his father is named Håkan, and in Sweden kids sometimes gets their surnames from their father, so this is a lead. I also get Hedeskoga, the Perish where he is born. I use Hedeskoga in a new search in the same archive.

That gives me a lot more to look through. And in the results I find what I am looking for. This is the right person. It is hard to see in the picture, but the text states that papers from some officer in the British Army gives information about Nils death. In the margin the date of his death is stated. June 8th, 1917.

I also see that they have written his full name, Håkansson, Nils Nilsson. I decide to try to put that into Ancestry again, and here I find more information about his death, even if they here writes that he was killed in France, not Belgium. I can see the word “Messines” in the notes and we will check further into that.

Where were Nils unit when he was killed in June 8th 1917? We will look for the diary in some Australian archives. The archive I use for that is Australian Imperial Force Unit War Diaries. It turns out that his unit, 33rd battalion took part in the large offensive, the battle of Messines Ridge, which was at that time a success for the British Expeditionary Forces, in the attempt to flatten out a kind of a bulge in the front just south of Ypres, Belgium. The diary states that Nillson was killed in action in the battle, we find his name in one page in the 144 pages long diary. (Yes, I looked through all the pages) The 33rd Infantry battalion most likely fought within Second ANZAC Corps in the southern part.

If you want to find out more about The Battle of Messines Ridge, you can start at Wikipedia. You will find a lot of information.

We know that Nils today are commemorated at the large WW1 memorial in Ypres, Menin Gate Memorial, for the reason that he has no known grave, but can we find out more what happened to him? Yes we can. We will take a look in one other Australian Archive, Australian Red Cross Wounded amd Missing Files. From erlier we know his name and regimental number. I use his regimental number 1216 in the search for more info, and I get a hit. The name is correct, Neil Nilsson, number 1216.

It turns out that this archive contains more information about where he was buried right after where he fell. Probably that place is since long gone, due to that the war continued, but who knows? Maybe he one day he will turn up in any excursion, at the place he was buried. Below you can see some statements from his comrades.

I will continue to search for those Swedes who fought at the Western Front, and it is very exiting to follow the destiny of those Swedish born individuals that in the end gave their lives in the fightings in The Great War. May they rest in peace.

Swedes in the Meuse-Argonne offensive

In my aim to study and follow up Swedes who fought and fell at the Western Front I have now looked into those Swedes who emigrated to USA and entered the AEF and was sent to Europe to fight. I have so far found a few of them, and I hav started to put the them out on a Google Earth Map, as I have done with the other Swedish soldiers who fought for the commonwealth countries.

You can read more about it here