4th of july decorations
Image by joerookery
from Peter F.

Germany’s Oldest War Volunteer.


Recently my distant correspondence friend, Colonel Joe, drew my attention on the above photo from his collection: a sepia print of a Saxon soldier, as seen already on an advanced age, and certainly older than the average soldier of the Landsturm. The special caption is of course intriguing: "Feldzug 1914 – Prof. Dr. Gregory, Ritter ältester Kriegsfreiwilliger pp.”(1) In this photo, taken in 1914, this war volunteer, Prof. Dr. Gregory, is already 68 years old.
Another forum member, Robert, alerted me to the book of Karl Josef Friedrich, an intimate friend of Gregory. in 1920 Friedrich wrote a laudatory biography with an even more intriguing title: "Volksfreund Gregory, Amerikaner, Pfadfinder, Urchrist, deutscher Kämpfer". (2)
Only the title made me wonder what the Original Christian, an old man, who nevertheless was American by birth, has inspired to voluntarily report to the Imperial Army for active service at the front. To find some answers, I wrestled through a tough book with Gothic letters of the uncritically admiring Friedrich.

The American.

Who enlists for service at his 68th year has of course a whole life behind him. The pre-war life of Professor Gregory is a life of a versatile man.
Caspar René Gregory was born on 6 November 1846 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a state where many religious groups and sects then settled, like for instance the Quakers. Gregory’s parents would have liked, their son, Caspar, would become a vicar. Gregory decision in 1865 however was to study theology at the seminaries of the Presbyterian University of Pennsylvania and, in the period from 1867 to 1873, at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Original man of Christ.

On May 10, 1873 Gregory emigrated to Germany to continue his studies at the University of Leipzig by Constantin von Tischendorf. After the death of von Tischendorf in 1874 Gregory manages his scientific legacy and continues his work, critical examination of the manuscripts and the texts of the New Testament. From 1876 until 1894 Gregory gives College and is working on a book about von Tischendorf’s studies and his own studies. In 1894 the Leipzig Theologische Fakultät rewards him with an honorary doctorate. In his life, the Professor Doctor acquires 5 international PhDs in philosophy and theology.

People’s Friend.

In 1881 Professor Dr. Gregory "elected" the Saxon citizenship. Although from 1871 Gregory spoke fluent German and even though he has during his life written at least ten scientific books in German, "he always retained his American accent". In the academic circles of Leipzig and elsewhere Prof. Dr. Gregory acquireg soon quite a high reputation. He is soon known as a "ausgesprochener Menschenfreund". (3) By participating in the politics of the Leipzig Social Democrats, the professor even has become "property of the people". (4) The popular professor in Leipzig was known as a bit eccentric, a bit American, endless warm, concerned and loving".
Thirty-three years later Gregory would say about his love for Germany: "Ich war ein fremder Mann, aber Ihr hat mich freundlich zu einem der Eurer gemacht. (5)

The Pathfinder.

During his years at the Leipzig University, the Professor made many study travels. But from 1902 he started a series of long distance travels, which would bring him to Mount Athos and Macedonia, and the following year to St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev, where he also spoke to the Russian author, Tolstoi. In 1904 he visited Paris, Athens and London. In 1905 and 1906 Gregory travels for 16 months to many places, amongst "to Athens, Patmos, Cairo, Sinai, Jerusalem, Smyrna, Constantinople, Odessa.” In 1911 and 1912, the professor made a tour around the United States and Canada giving guest lectures at universities.
The American German professor had at the outbreak of the war not only behind him a religious life, but he has also been living for 41 years in Germany with a varied and busy life, full of social contacts and adventurous travels.

1914 – The German Warrior.

At the outbreak of war the 68-year-old professor was for ten days long and with feverish impatience looking for a way, how he could help the German war effort. From August 11, 1914 Gregory is enlisted in Leipzig as "Kriegsfreiwilliger" of the Saxon "1. Ersatzbataillon des Infanterieregiments 106”.
After his training in Leipzig Gregory was soon promoted to Gefreiter (Corporal -9 October 1914) and Unteroffizier (Sergeant – October 27). In between, he also found time each Monday to give lectures in uniform.

1915 – To the front of Reims.

In 1915 the professor departed to the front. On May 22, 1915 he is added to the staff of the “47. Verstärkte Ladwehrbrigade ". He was first stationed in Boult northwest of Reims, where he is employed by the “Adjuntantur". After only two months, on May 17, 1915, Gregory’s urgent desire is to be "deployed in the trenches” for Fresnes near Reims, Vitry and Courcy. But he still resides mainly in Boult, where he deals for the “Adjuntantur" with the construction and maintenance of cemeteries and keeping administration of the burial records. The summary information about his rapid promotion and decorations shows that Gregory did have a good fighting spirit in the trenches. On July 21, 1915 Gregory promoted to Vizefeldwebel (Staff Sergeant). On 22 September 1915 he was decorated the Iron Cross second class.
On October 23, 1915 Gregory returned reluctantly to Leipzig to give lectures during the winter half year. During his ceremony two days before of his farewell from the front, the by soldiers and officers popular Vizefeldwebel was awarded the Friedrich August Medal. During this winter in Leipzig, he fulfils his duties with the Ersatzbataillon with services as night watches.

1916 – Again to the front.

On March 1, 1916 Vizefeldwebel Gregory turned back to the front of Reims in the 106th regiment. At Fresnes, Grande Brimont and Boult served as Zugführer (platoon commander) in the trenches, and he is again engaged in the administration of the cemeteries. On September 27 he promoted to Offizieraspirant. On October 13 he was appointed Grabenverwaltungsoffizier (Graves Administration officer) of the 47. Landwehr Division, stationed in Neufchatel sur Aisne north of Reims, where he holded office in a former cafe restaurant. On November 16, 1916, the 70-year old Grabenverwaltungsoffizier promoted to Leutnant and even did get his own command, “ Kommando Gregory".
On January 27, 1917 Leutnant Gregory received a high award, the Albrechts Order second class with swords. (6).
Moreover, this morbid job is not safe. With some regularity, the seekers and grave diggers of Kommando Gregory are shot at or bombarded during their work "by the enemy".
On March 22 he gets seriously injured his left knee, which sat oppressed by the body of his killed horse, Nina.

April 9, 1917 – Gregory killed.

While restless Gregory, still wounded in the leg, had to keep the bed in "his" bar restaurant, the French begin on March 29 a series of violent artillery bombardments, "Trommelfeuer", in Neufchatel-sur-Aisne region.
A few days later, on April 9, 1917, around half past four in the afternoon, Gregory gets seriously injured by the impact of an artillery shell, a direct hit on his quarters. There, he made his last words to his keeper: "Lift my stuff carefully.". Shortly after he lost consciousness and died at night around 20.00hrs from his injuries in a hospital in Neufchatel-sur-Aisne. On April 12, 1917 a military funeral has been held with 4 gun shots at the previous day opened Lazarettfriedhof in Villers devant le Thour in grave number 27. Today, however, Gregory is buried a few miles to the south, at the German cemetery of Asfeld la Ville in plot 7, grave 88.

Soldiers Friend.

My main source, Friedrich, is unfortunately too economical to provide details of Gregory’s fighting achievements. The exact reasons for his awards Friedrich leaves unnamed. His friend Friedrich writes very extensively about Gregory’s cordial relationship with the staff of the division officers and ordinary soldiers, loved by young and old, his high sense of duty, doing even the simplest tasks of his “Bursche”, no duty was him too low, his fiery passion and idealism, with which he fulfilled his service in the trenches, and how he was always helpful for another. Inevitably, he also maintained his deep religious piety in the trenches.

Concerns by the Division Leadership.

Whoever reads Friedrich properly, the picture arises that all these befriended Division officers have been put up a bit with a knot in their stomachs of concern for this enthusiastic, but very aged Leutnant. Perhaps Gregory could not always keep up with the tempo of the youngsters, or maybe the officers wanted to keep him alive because of the propaganda value of an American fighting German? On those questions I get no clear answer. But a certain Major R. yet ever expressed his concern to Gregory himself: "He hopes that those “Strapatsen” (crazy activities) are not too much for me. I must as soon as possible notify him, when some task is too heavy for me. "
Friedrich cites Gregory’s field diary, though without specifying any date: "Today I told the Hauptmann L. (Captain) I wanted to go on patrol. He said that he could not take responsibility, because otherwise the French would make a big scandal about the deployment of 70-year-old people, when they would take me prisoner. "
The same captain allowed him some days later the choice: or he returns to the trenches as Vizefeldwebel, or he is promoted to lieutenant for service in the Fatherland. Of course the stubborn Vizefeldwebel then replied: "I don’t care for a promotion, it is to me the job, that counts, and I will return to the trenches".
Perhaps the Division Leadership hoped therefore that the function of Grabenverwaltungsoffizier, working behind the lines, would secure him better? In that case, this decision could ultimately have been a major contribution to the event of Gregory’s death.

Gregory’s Motivation.

On my main question, what this old man inspired to voluntarily report to the Imperial Field Army for service in trenches at the front, I did find some answers. In his field diary in November 1916 entitled, "Why I joined the German Army and why I’m staying in”, Gregory describes extendedly his motivations.
It was for him not his purpose to do a psychological field study, or "to travel or to have fun, and not to wear a uniform just to satisfy my ambition". No, Gregory writes: "I became a soldier, because I consider it my duty."
Then next follows a more detailed description of his reasons, which mainly reflects Gregory’s hatred for England. If the war had been limited to Russia and France, he had not thought at all about going into service. But Britain is also involved in the war, and now that is a whole different story for the professor, and he spits bile telling about England: "But when England was involved in it (the war) – the mighty England, England, that ruthless land, that England has massacred Boer women and children, England, which for centuries acts cruel against Ireland, England, that sucked out India and starved it to death – when England came into the war, I knew it was going to be about the whole big picture."
Gregory goes on about his experience with the brutality of the British colonial soldiers, about his experience with these "herkulische Gestalten", that were going to attack, to end with his conclusion to go into active service, “Because everyone who can carry a gun, has to join now.” (7)
But the religious faith was again another, major motive: "The loving mercy of God" and "Only his Christian charity moved him to the field."

Gregory lamented of course that his ancient homeland, the United States, was to participate in the war. But after 41 years of his stay in Germany, he "felt thoroughly German and he thought politically and completely German. (…) he WAS a German."
February 6, 1917 when he heared that the "ridiculous Wilson" broke up the diplomatic relations with Germany, he is angry but not surprised. Nearly one year earlier, on April 5, 1916, Gregory draws a sketch in his journal, which should represent America. He draws no peace dove, nor the American Eagle, but a "Vulture". Amongst others he writes: "America has only sense of success. No other reasons could tear down the web of lies. We have to hold our enemy with both shoulders on the ground and ask him: “Now you do listen. Now this is how it all works."

Last words.

It is for me still not entirely clear why Leutnant Gregory precisely entertained such a personal hatred for England, a reason, which may explain his caustic vehemence. Without psychologizing or wanting to speculate, l presume those motives probably go back to his origins. It has perhaps also a lot to do with his background, as he originated from a French family (Gregoire) of Santo Domingo, of which a descendant, his father, moved to Pennsylvania, where in those days an anti-colonial, so anti-British, attitude flourished. Obviously, the news in the German press during his life about the imperialist wars, his travels, and his personal experiences, also may have influenced the shaping of his worldview and his hatred for England.

Nevertheless, we now know thanks to Joe’s photo and Prof. Friedrich’s tough book, that Dr. Caspar René Gregory was not just a silly, strange world war volunteer, but an almost hyperactive, intelligent, confident man of the world with a busy life. Germany’s oldest Kriegsfreiwilliger was a multifaceted, complex man with a remarkable opinion about the world and perhaps even more qualities than just "Volksfreund, Amerikaner, Pfadfinder, Urchrist, deutscher Kämpfer.


(1) Free download internet in pdf format, see Sources.
(2) "Campaign 1914 – Prof. Dr. Gregory, Knight (distinguished in 1908), oldest volunteer war ".
(3) "A genuine friend of human beings".
(4) His uncritical friend, the biographer Friedrich, is not clear on the date of the entry of the accession of Gregory citizenship nor in the Leipziger Politics. He only writes about the latest "Between all the scientific work by …".
(5) "I was a strange man, but you have made me kindly to one of Yours."
(6) In 1908 Gregory had already received the Albrecht Order first class for his scientific achievements.
(7) Of course these words of an American German Christian soldier possessed high propaganda value. Therefore the “Algemeinen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirchenzeitung” decided on December 15, 1916 to put in their newspaper Gregory’s first comprehensive motivation and to distribute the text later as a pamphlet.


– Karl Josef Friedrich: “Volksfreund Gregory, Amerikaner, Pfadfinder, Urchrist, deutscher Kämpfer – Mit Bildern von Ernst Müller-Gräfe und unter Benutzing der Feldtagebücher Gregorys”, 1920, second edition. Free to download on the Internet in pdf format, click HERE.
– Lemma’s in English and German Wikipedia.