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My Leuthen journey - TSC 55
Roy Palmer tells of how a chance discovery at the London Show led him (and his wife) to a churchyard in Poland.
I guess you could say my journey to Leuthen really began last year at the March London Toy Soldier Show. I was browsing the JJD UK Stand when amongst all the fine products on display a single figure caught my eye. I think it was the colouring and the pose - striding purposely forward, a look of determination on his face. Whatever, there was just something about him..
He was a Prussian Grenadier, the first release in a new series by John Jenkins called 'Leuthen'. Based on the famous painting by German Artist Carl Rochling called 'Die Schlacht Von Leuthen' (The Battle of Leuthen). The series will evolve to eventually allow you to recreate the painting as a small diorama in 1:30 scale.
I was very impressed but as I knew nothing about 18th century warfare (completely outside my collecting interests) I did not purchase him. My interest piqued however, I discovered that the Battle of Leuthen took place during the Seven years War on December 5, 1757. A Prussian Army led by King Frederick II won a spectacular victory over an Austrian army twice its size. The painting by Rochling depicted one of the key actions in the battle, the Storming of the Catholic walled churchyard, which was heroically defended by units of the Rot Wurzburg (an Imperial force attached to the Austrians) until it fell to the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Prussian Grenadier Guard.
Over the next few months I saw the arrival of the next few Grenadier releases. Each as impressive as the first. Then came the first preproduction photos of the Leuthen gateway, corner turret and wall section. I felt the same powerful tug I experienced when I saw the first Grenadier. I was hooked!
It all followed seamlessly from there. From purchasing all the releases as they came out, searching for books on the battle, buying a print of the Rochling painting, trawling the internet for pictures and info on the church and churchyard to receiving the very welcome gift from two very good friends of a DVD of the old 30's German movie: 'Der Choral Von Leuthen'.
I decided to model the whole of the gateway wall. It took the gateway, two corner turrets and five pieces of wall to complete. The length was estimated by studying various photos and an overhead view from Google Earth (quite hard to do given that in 1908 a large school building took up part of the wall).
Realising that the official figure releases were going to look a little thin on my emerging diorama (2' 6" x 5') I thought I would try my hand at converting a Grenadier figure. I tried a simple re-positioning of one figure on its stand. It was surprisingly effective. Up to now I have done 15 conversions, some a little more complex with more to come. I surprised myself. It seems I have a bit of a natural flair for them!
Eventually I knew I had to visit the churchyard. I floated the idea to a few people who seemed a little aghast at the idea. A bit of a 'dodgy trip' I've seen the photos in the books" seemed to be the general consensus. Of course that meant I really did have to go!
My wife Debbie and I were discussing it one night. I thought no more of it but when I got home the next evening she said: You're not going to believe this but I've done a little research on the internet and there is an airport about three miles from Leuthen (now called Lutynia) and there are low cost flights to there from Stansted! (just 10 miles up the road from our house.) Well.!
Suffice to say, although being apprehensive about the trip herself. Debbie agreed to go with me on the provisos that it would be for a weekend (literally a 'flying trip'). We would invite my sister Tracey and partner Gary (safety in numbers) and we would be based in a nice Hotel in Wroclaw.
After a fruitless search for a local driver/guide, Debbie contacted Tomasz the concierge at the Hotel. Everything sorted! A local guide/driver booked who would do the airport runs and take us to Lutynia and back.
Our Plane took off on Friday morning August 16, 2013, and after a two hour flight landed at Wroclaw Airport, apparently a Luftwaffe airfield in WWII. We exited the plane to a glorious, hot summer day. After clearing customs in the very nice new terminal we were met by our driver 'Jack'. He turned out to be a real gentleman with a great sense of humour.
Jack pointed out various interesting sights to us on our way to our Hotel in old town Wroclaw (previously known as Breslau). He dropped us off to a very warm welcome from the concierge Tomasz, who turned out to be a very smart good looking chap. As he approached the car to meet us, I was almost trampled by my wife and sister in their rush to get to him first!
Booked in and a quick meal taken, Jack returned to take us to Lutynia. It was about a 40 minute trip through lovely small villages and countryside. We all found it very reminiscent of parts of Norfolk. I did spot one or two derelict houses which still showed signs of battle damage (possibly from WWII?).
Jack finally stopped the car at a T junction. To the left led the way to the village of Sagschutz and to the right Leuthen. We could see the spire of the Catholic Church here at last! It was a fantastic feeling to realise this was the very ground the main Prussian attack fought over into Leuthen. We got out took some pictures and had a good look around. Then back in and we started out for Leuthen village.
As we came down the road - wow! The Church began to loom towards us. I shut my eyes and could almost feel the Prussian Grenadiers along side us..
Jack parked against the South wall near the Gateway. The churchyard is completely walled with a turret at each corner. As we were exiting the car it became apparent (much to my wife and sisters delight!) that a wedding was taking place. The service was over and they were all congregated around the front entrance for the photos.
I spent a few moments just gazing up at the Gateway then we all went into the churchyard through the open small wall. I was the last through and for some reason looked straight to my right. My jaw must have dropped! There was another small gate finished in the same style as the main one. It was connecting the end turret to the North wall. None of the books or articles I have read make mention of it. Neither have I seen it included in any of the many Dioramas around. Result!
I looked around to tell the others but they had all wandered up to the front of the Church to take a look at the wedding party. It hit me then. Here I was on a bright sunny day, the sounds of merriment drifting to me from the wedding party everything just so. Back on that bitter December day many years ago this very place was packed with desperate men engaged in a grim hand to hand, bloody melee. A life or death struggle amongst this grave yard.
I shook myself out of my reverie and proceeded to look around. I took many photos and was careful not to intrude on the wedding party. The Churchyard is very well cared for. In fact I think it has been renovated quite a bit since the photos in the books I own were taken. A lot of work has been done on the walls and Church. Unfortunately, (for me) this means I could not find any signs of battle damage on my cursory inspection. Nor were there any of the old grave stones I was expecting to find. There was however a metal cross mounted on a round Stone pedestal with the inscription: Heldengrab vom 5.12.1757. (a rough translation Heroes Grave.) I believe it commemorates actual bodies from the battle buried there. There were many vision slits dotted around the walls and turrets. The walls were approximately 2.5 metres high. The ground inside the Churchyard seemed higher than on the outside.
I then walked the outside of the walls again no obvious signs of battle damage. The large battle commemorative cross is on the South wall, which is one of the two points at which the Prussians broke into the churchyard. The public information board is to its left. Only in Polish and German though! I do not want to repeat a lot of what is already 'out there' but there is just over the road a building that used to house a small museum dedicated to the bBattle. It opened in 1921 and closed down at the end of WWII, now sadly it stands derelict. The public information board does have a tantalising photo of the interior of the museum - a diorama, various pictures etc. If only..
By now the wedding was over, guests departed, and we were allowed to view the interior. An honour. Such a lovely place. Jack was hustling us up as we had to get on for the monument to the battle on the Schonberg. They managed to get me into the car at last and we headed off a couple of miles along the main road. We could see it clearly before we got there. It was very impressive. I had been expecting a much smaller thing. The Russians had tried to destroy it as they came through in WWII but only succeeded in damaging it.
The view from there was wonderful. We could make out the two spires of Leuthen on the skyline. For the first time it brought home to me the huge amount of ground this battle was fought over.
Well, time to go. Jack took us all safely back. As we relaxed in our hotel room I browsed my camera. Oh No! I'd forgotten to get any pictures of myself there. Gutted! I told my wife who sportingly agreed to go back with me the next day for a quick visit to take photos of me. Gary and Tracey declined politely and decided on a river trip instead.
Luckily Jack was free so job done the next day. While we were taking the photos Jack found out where the Priest lived and we went to see him in the hope he may have some information on the church's history. I also wanted to make a donation to the church for its upkeep.
The priest turned out to be a lovely chap. He did not speak English so Jack translated for us. Apparently he had just taken over the church and knew nothing of its history. The older Priest he replaced knew quite a bit about it. Oh well.
The Priest seemed quite bemused at my interest in the church and churchyard. As indeed did Jack and all the other Polish people we met. At the time of the battle Leuthen was in Silesia not Poland. So it is not really a part of their history. We said goodbye I gave him a donation and I took his picture that really threw him! Then back we went to Wroclaw. Jack picked us up on the Sunday morning and we returned home.
This trip was a real eye opener for all four of us. We loved Poland and its people. The city of Wroclaw is stunning and steeped in history. I am sure a lot of you WWII buffs would also find plenty of interest there. But best of all, anyone can enjoy it as there is so much to see, do and enjoy.
It was the perfect trip and satisfied everyone. The weather was great and the Hotel wonderful.
I owe a great debt of thanks to Debbie my wife for being instrumental in pulling the whole show together and Tracey and Gary for being such good company. As for me I came back with lots of information to help me with my ongoing diorama. I now have to scratch build my discovered gateway! I paced the gateway wall, then measured my pace and converted the numbers into 1:30 scale. It seems I was pretty much right in my estimate for the length of my model wall.
I also have a much greater understanding of the complete battle and the distances involved. I will certainly go back. Lots more to find out yet .my collection will growIt's all about the journey isn't it?
Img_1) A simple conversion of one of the figures in set LEUT-07 (original figure on the left)
Img_2) The South wall and church. The public information board and the battle memorial are in the centre of picture
Img_3) Behind the famous gateway. The Prussians broke down these doors at about the same time the breach was made in the South wall
Img_4) The 'Unknown gateway', a source of great excitement for me!
Img_5) The monument to the battle on the Schonberg
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