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November 11th 2014
Leutnant Pepi and Captain May

In a most interesting presentation to mark the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Walter Klier and Heinz Payr read extracts from the letters and diaries of two officers involved: the Austrian Leutnant Pepi Prohaska and the English Captain Charlie May.
Although they fought on opposing sides in completely different areas of war, close similarities are expressed in their descriptions of the tedium of day to day life and the terror of action, in the respect and affection for comrades and the longing for loved ones at home.
Pepi Prohaska, who was Walter Klier’s grandfather, was a lawyer in Innsbruck before he joined the war. He was first posted to Kronstadt, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Brasov Romania. Initially the war was a ‘Gaudi‘, ‘ganz lustig‘ but after the death of his brother and wounds received in campaigns in Galicia and Belorussia, his enthusiasm decreased. In his diaries and letters, descriptions of mutilated bodies are set alongside mundane details of daily life and a love affair with the German Fräulein Anna.
Between campaigns he was occupied as a ski instructor near Kronstadt and in amusing anecdotes, described the attempts of his pupils. Transferred to a totally different war scenario, Leutnant Pepi fought the Italians near Pasubio and battled against frost and avalanches on the glacier front on the Ortler Range. By 1918 he was feeling ‚‘seelisch und körperlich sehr elend‘.
Captain Charlie May, a former businessman with a wife and small daughter, enlisted in November 1914 with the 22nd Manchester Pals Battalion. He was posted to France where he served on various sectors of the British Front. In 1916 he was in the Albert sector, neighbouring the French and spent time in and out of the trenches from March to June of that year.
In his diary he described everyday life in the trenches: the organisation of latrines and ablutions, the disposal of rubbish and the constant battle with mud and water. He spoke of the bravery of the men and mourned the losses. He also noted the deceptive peace of a frosty morning with a lark singing above. ‘This war’ he quoted a senior officer, ‘is one long boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme terror’.
In a note to his wife Maudie, which was to be his final, he wrote of ‚‘the greatest bombardment the world has ever seen … banging and booming away‘.
Leutnant Pepi survived the war and returned to practise law in Innsbruck. Captain May was one of the thousands killed on July 1st during the Somme offensive. In his last entry he records that on this day they will ‘go over the top’…

We thank Walter and Heinz for an interesting, informative and moving talk in this year of commemoration 2014.

Lynne Hilber

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