Division

South Netherlands Philharmonic
Ruben Hein | Vocal Ensemble Markant

Composition: Jesse Passenier
Conductor: Karel Deseure

Recording:
Opening Concert | November Music 2019
November 1, 2019, Verkadefabriek, Den Bosch

“Dat instrumenteren een kunst én een vak is,
bewees Jesse Passenier met Division, een wereldpremière waarmee de bevrijding van Den Bosch herdacht werd. Passenier, jong maar gelouterd arrangeur, liet de blazers schitteren in een staalkaart aan stijlen. […] vooral in de meeslepende tussenspelen, overtuigde Division ten volle.”

– Joep Stapel, NRC Handelsblad (3 november 2019)

NL

Met de compositie Division geeft Passenier het woord aan de bevrijders van de stad ’s-Hertogenbosch, die 75 jaar geleden 6 hevige dagen strijd leverden om vrede te brengen, waarin wij sindsdien hebben mogen leven. Dit waren de soldaten van de 53rd Welsh Infantry Division, een legerdivisie met vooral Welshe soldaten, waarvan enkelen hun emoties uitten en ervaringen beschreven in dichtvorm. Door deze gedichten en citaten op muziek te zetten wil Passenier herinneren aan, danken en aandacht vragen voor hun belevingen en daden, die voor ons nu nog altijd van levensbelang blijven. Naast vertolking van deze gedichten brengt zanger Ruben Hein ook een persoonlijk verhaal mee, want ook hij schreef een gedicht voor Division, waarmee hij de onderbuikgevoelens van de onderduikbeleving van zijn vader vanuit diens perspectief wil vangen.

Movement I: Into Battle behandelt een anoniem gedicht van een onbekend lid van het 81ste veldregiment (onderdeel van de 53ste Welshe Infanteriedivisie), geschreven tijdens de zeereis onderweg naar de kust van Normandië. Humor en pijn wisselen elkaar af, de emoties lopen op. Muzikaal zijn er verwijzingen te vinden naar Welshe grappende volkszang, maar tegelijkertijd naar de Amerikaanse muziek die destijds populair was geworden: jazz.

Aaneengesloten gaat Division verder met de volgende delen. In Movement II: Bedford Three Tonners krijgt John A. Ottewell het woord en beschrijft dezelfde gruwelijke reis naar Normandië over het water. Muzikaal gevangen in een diepgaande Passagaglia wachten zij, het poor bloody infantry, af wat er komen gaat met een ongemakkelijk, anticiperend gevoel.

Aangekomen in Frankrijk beschrijft Movement III: Men of the Black Flash* gevangen in humoristische muziek alle pijn en ellende die we ons kunnen inbeelden bij deze grondtroepen. Nattigheid, ziekte, omgeven worden door overweldigende explosies en de schrale troost van de aankomende post…

Met de woorden van Ruben Hein in Movement IV: Hide From Face to Face wordt het persoonlijk. We krijgen een kijkje in het familieverhaal van Hein en beleven vanuit de denkbeeldige gedachten van zijn joodse vader het gevoel van onveiligheid, de onzekerheid en verlorenheid mee, gedurende zijn, steeds onderbroken, talrijke verblijven bij gastgezinnen. Vragen rond identiteit spelen op, gevangenschap in een voor een jong kind niet te begrijpen situatie. Pas na de oorlog leerde Heins vader zijn eigen ouders kennen.

Division sluit met Movement V: Salute the Soldier af met dubbelzinnigheid. Het koor brengt een saluut aan de soldaten, maar het dichterlijke sarcasme resoneerde blijkbaar dusdanig met de emoties van het P.B.I. (Poor Bloody Infantry), dat Korporaal Bert Isherwood het gedicht kort voor de bevrijding van Den Bosch citeerde in de regimentsorders. Het origineel was op 26 maart 1944 gepubliceerd in de Britse krant the Sunday Graphic, geschreven door dichter Sir Alan P. Herbert – overigens interessant om hier te vermelden dat Alan de codenaam was van de operatie waarmee Den Bosch werd bevrijd.

Verdeeldheid, de dubbelzinnige betekenis van de titel Division, maakte na de bevrijding plaats voor vrede en voorspoed, waarvoor eeuwige dank aan deze 53ste Welshe Infanterie Divisie.

 

* Black Flash: Koninklijke Welshe Fusiliers

EN

With the composition Division, Passenier gives the floor to the liberators of the city ‘s-Hertogenbosch, who fought for peace 75 years ago, in which we have been allowed to live since then. These were the soldiers of the 53rd Welsh Infantry Division, an army division with mainly Welsh soldiers, some of whom expressed their emotions and described experiences in poetry. By putting these poems and quotations to music, Passenier wants to remember, thank and draw attention to their experiences and actions, which remain vital to us today. In addition to the rendition of these poems, singer Ruben Hein also brings a personal story, as he also wrote a poem for Division, with which he wants to capture the gut feelings of his father’s underbelly experience from his imagined perspective.

Movement I: Into Battle handles an anonymous poem by an unknown member of the 81st Field Regiment (part of the 53rd Welsh Infantry Division), written during the sea voyage en route to the coast of Normandy. Humour and pain alternate, emotions are rising, musically there are references to Welsh jesting folk song, but at the same time to the American music that had become popular at the time: jazz.

Division continues with connected parts. Movement II: Bedford Three Tonners offers a platform for John A. Ottewell, who describes the same gruesome journey to Normandy over the water. Musically trapped in a profound Passacaglia they, the poor bloody infantry, await, wondering what’s to come with an uncomfortable, anticipatory feeling.

Arriving in France, caught in humorous music, Movement III: Men of the Black Flash* describes all the pain and misery we can imagine in these ground troops. Wetness, illness, surrounded by imposing explosions and the cold comfort of the arriving mail…

With the words of Ruben Hein in Movement IV: Hide From Face to Face it becomes personal. We get a glimpse into Hein’s family story and experience from the imaginary thoughts of his Jewish father the feeling of insecurity, the uncertainty, and loss throughout his always interrupted, numerous stays with host families. Questions about identity surface, imprisonment in a situation impossible to be understood by a young child. It wasn’t until after the war that Hein’s father met his own parents.

Division closes with Movement V: Salute the Soldier, concluding with ambiguity. The choir brings a salute to the soldiers, but the poetic sarcasm apparently resonated in such a way with the emotions of the P.B.I. (Poor Infantry Bloody), that Corporal Bert Isherwood quoted the poem shortly before the liberation of Den Bosch in the regimental orders. The original was published on 26 March 1944 in the British newspaper the Sunday Graphic, written by poet Sir Alan P. Herbert – interesting to mention here that Alan was the code name of the operation with which Den Bosch was liberated.

After the liberation, discord, the ambiguous meaning of the title Division, gave way to peace and prosperity, for which we remain eternally grateful to this 53rd Welsh Infantry Division.

 

* Black Flash: Royal Welsh Fusiliers

T h e L y r i c s

   A n o n y m o u s m e m b e r o f 8 1 s t F i e l d R e g i m e n t  |  F u s i l i e r J o h n A . O t t e w e l l  |  R u b e n H e i n  |  S i r A . P . H e r b e r t

I – Into Battle

It was early in the summer –
And no summer could be glummer
Than the summer was in 1944 –
We received an invitation
To take part in the invasion
And join a party going off to the war.
Oh, the war!
Yes, the war!
It was just the sort of exercise that we were waiting for,
You’d spent five years cleaning brasses
And sitting on our arses
So that soldier was getting quite a bore.

​Before we met the Jerries,
Someone checked the necessaries
And made us sign 1954,
We paid for damaged roofing
Did a little waterproofing
Then we started to get organised for war,
Oh the war!
What a war!
You have never seen such chaos in the Quartermaster’s store
Last we gave our love and kisses
To somebody else’s missis
Then we rode away like knights in days of yore.

[…]

[…]

Now, the man who runs the Navy
Said the Channel was too wavy
For the likes of you and me,
So he stuck us at the mouth end
Lying off the port of Southend,
To admire a most delightful piece of sea,
Oh the sea!
The open sea!

[…]

[…]

The operation seems to be a fascinating stunt,
Now we’re going like a comet
Without satchels anti-vomit,
To catch up with the NAAFI in the hunt.


‘Into Battle’ is a poem written by an anonymous member of the 81st Field Regiment
​during the sea voyage to Normandy as found in WO171/1356

II – Bedford Three Tonners

Bedford three tonners, all bumper to bumper
‘White-starred’ and camouflaged, bound for the shore
Heavily laden with men and materials
All off to Normandy, ready for War

[…]

Soon aboard transports and landing craft, Infantry
Packed in like sardines, above and below
Spewbags and vomiting, still on the harbour swell
Poor bloody infantry, waiting to go


Samark, June, 1944 — Fusilier John A. Ottewell

83 Field Regt embarked on SS Port McPherson, Frank Lever and Samark and arrived off Arromanches beach on 24 June.
Fusilier (and poet) John Ottewell, D Coy 7 RWF described their journey to the invasion fleet in this poem.

III – Men of the Black Flash

Men of the Black Flash, sospan and Dragon,
Wading through bayonet wheat, knee-high and wet,
Mortars and eighty-eights playing their overtures
Spandaus and Schmeissers are waiting and set.

Up to the hill enshrouded in mortar smoke,
Tellermines, S mines, a mushroom the slope,
Tiger tanks, panzerfausts blasting our carriers,
Air burst exploding like bubbles of soap.

Now cross the singing Guighe into the alder wood,
Remnants of companies merged to platoon,
Screams for the stretchers with Mother and Jesus
“steady old son. . . . we'll have you out soon.”

Men of the Black Flash, sospan and Dragon.
Limping it back. . . . all haggard and pale,
Two hundred dead for handful of prisoners,
Just one consolation, “They've brought up the mail.”


Evrecy, July, 1944 — Fusilier John A. Ottewell


“In the period 12-26 July the Division lost 290 killed in action, and 405 additional battle casualties. Corporal Bert Isherwood 13 FDS wrote in his journal:
Thursday, 20th July. A constant never ending stream of wounded passing into our FDS. There must be one hell of a battle raging in the area of Evrecy. The stretcher cases tell me of a maze of concrete and guns and remorseless enemy counter-attacks with Tiger tanks, with well thought out patterns of crossfire from heavy MG, nebelwerfers mortars and 88s coming down on road junctions and other keypoints.

Greenline was over.”

Note: Black Flash — Royal Welch Fusiliers
     sospan — 4th Welch (Llanelli)
     Dragon — 2nd Monmouthshire

IV – Hide From Face to Face

From door to door
from face to face
From room to room
from place to place

I am like barter
But not a bargain
I’m costly with an alias
my real name is darkened

I’m a secret
I am unknown
I am non-existent
to those who need not know

I run from door to door
I hide from face to face
I sleep from room to room
I am no longer safe

I’m never safe
never and nowhere
I’m a child with a star
stuck in warfare

I don’t know the names
of those who try to help
while my mother and father
are hiding somewhere else

But one day I guess I’ll see their faces
which I do not remember
will I then feel safer
or will I never?


Amsterdam, August 22, 2019 – Ruben Hein
(from the imagined perspective of his father)

V – Salute the Soldier

  Choir:
  
Hail, soldier, huddled in the rain,
  Hail, soldier, squelching through the mud,

      Tenor:
      
New men, new weapons bear the brunt;
      New slogans gild the ancient game:

  Choir:
  
Hail, soldier, sick of dirt and pain,
  The sight of death, the smell of blood.

      ...

      Tenor:
      
The infantry are still in front,
      And mud and dust arc much the same.

  Choir:
  
Hail humble footman poised to fly
  Across the West, or any, Wall!

      Tenor:
      
Proud, plodding, peerless P.B.I.–
      The foulest finest job of all.


Hammersmith, West London, March 26, 1944 – Sir Alan Patrick Herbert

Corporal Bert Isherwood, 13 FDS (Forward Dressing Station), a poet in the Ox and Bucks cited 'Salute the Soldier', published in Regimental Orders
(source: Red Crown & Dragon by Patrick Delaforce)



Note: P.B.I. — Poor Bloody Infantry

Copyright © 2017-2020 Jesse Passenier