Last German soldier to fight in WWI dies without fanfare
Three British WWI Vets Survive
By ALAN HALL - Daily Mail, London
Last updated at 23:20pm on 23rd January 2008
The last German veteran of the First World War has died without fanfare or recognition at his home in Hanover aged 107.
An undated photograph of Mr. Kaestner, taken some years after WWI.
Erich Kaestner's passing went unrecorded on New Year's Day and was revealed only in a remembrance notice published by his family.
The death of the infantryman who later became a judge means that there are only four Great War veterans left from the major powers of Europe - three British and one French.
Kaestner was a middle class boy who answered his country's call in July 1918.
German commanders had committed an exhausted army to one last push on the Western Front to try to break the Allied defences. Called Operation Michael and launched in April that year, it failed.
As a member of Sonderbattalion Hauck, a group of highly-trained recruits named after a prominent commander in the Imperial German Army, Kaestner served in the ranks trying to halt the Allies as they pushed the Germans back, causing great losses.
In November 1918, shortly before the Armistice and before Kaiser Wilhelm II went into exile in Holland, Kaestner was among a number of troops reviewed by him.
Surviving WW1 veterans: William Stone, 107, Harry Patch, 109, and Henry Allingham
He ended the war back in Germany and became a lawyer.
The death notice says he was a retired judge and had earned the Lower Saxony Cross of Merit for distinguished public service.
The German army's Military Research Institute was unable to shed more light on his military career.
"In Germany such an event doesn't have the same kind of significance as it does in other countries," said institute spokesman Bernhard Chiari.
"Any form of commemoration of military events is seen as problematic here.
"Our veterans only take part in public ceremonies when they are invited abroad to join commemorative events with veterans from other countries.
"World War I is seen as part of a historical line that led to World War II."
Two million Germans were killed in WW1 and Britain and her empire lost a million men
Three of the last four survivors are British - front-line soldier Harry Patch, 109, Royal Naval stoker William Stone, 107, and Royal Naval Air Service flier Henry Allingham, 111.
The fourth survivor is Frenchman Lazarre Ponticelli, 110.
Mr Patch was a 'Tommy' who fought at the bloodbath of Passchendaele - a battle that cost more than 400,000 Allied and German lives with a gain measured in yards.
The veteran, who lives in Wells in Somerset and who served with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, last year visited the site where his trench was located when the battle began in 1917.
Henry Allingham is Britain's last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, the sea clash between the British and German fleets that cost 7,000 sailors their lives.
He flew as a spotter for the battleships in a Sopwith plane.
Mr Stone was a stoker who was called up but was still in training when the war ended.
He served on many warships in the war, surviving sinkings and other near-misses.
While Erich Kaestner's passing went un-noticed, the death last Sunday of Louis de Cazenave, the last-but-one French survivor, made headlines around the world.
He took part in the Battle of the Somme and died aged 110 at his home in Brioude in central France.
He was fiercely anti-war, having served in the slaughter on the Chemin des Dames on the front - a place where men bleated like sheep as they filed into the trenches because they knew they were lambs being led to the slaughter.
"His death is an occasion for all of us to think of the 1.4million French who sacrificed their lives during this conflict, for the 4.5million wounded, for the 8.5million mobilised," President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a tribute.
De Cazenave is survived by Ponticelli, a French Foreign Legion veteran wounded in the Battle of the Frontiers when the Germans stormed into France in 1914.
He was discharged from the Legion and later joined the Italian Army in 1915 and was wounded again fighting the Austrians who were on Germany's side.
Hit in the head by artillery, he astonishingly survived.
My own observation: How sad that Germany does not honor its veterans. However, I certainly understand their reluctance, based on the terrible history of World War Two.