Born the son of farmers in Gisseltshausen near Rottenburg an der Laaber in 1892, Simon Gammel started performing his military service in the Royal Bavarian 16th Infantry Regiment in Passau in 1913. The Passau regiment marched to the Western Front one week after the German Empire’s declaration of war in August of 1914. Following combat in Lorraine, the young soldier experienced the war’s complete brutality in the trench warfare of the Somme. Torn up by countless shell holes and furrowed by barbed-wired trenches, the front in Flanders resembled a moonscape. The front had been stagnating for months and the soldiers had dug in. French barrages were raining down on the Bavarians’ positions when Simon Gammel was hit in the forehead in his dugout. Shrapnel shredded his leather Pickelhaube, penetrated his skull, exited out the back of his head, and pierced his helmet a second time.
As if by a miracle, Simon Gammel had survived, albeit he remained severely traumatized after healing externally. Once he had mended, he was made a drill instructor and later sent to the Western Front again. Following several weeks of entrenched warfare along the Aisne, Simon Gammel was brought with apparent flu symptoms to the military hospital in Ahrweiler on the Rhine where a physician finally realized that his persistent shaking was not chills but combat fatigue. Gammel was consequently transferred to a garrison company in Nördlingen and then discharged to his home in Lower Bavaria. He married his fiancée. The couple had two children. Simon Gammel was a town council member and active in many clubs. He was unable to forget his war experiences. Simon Gammel declined to take part in a trip to former battlefields on the Western Front organized by the veterans’ association with the words, “I’ve been there and I didn’t like it there.”
Simon Gammel died in 1977 at the age of eighty-four. His granddaughter Christa Rott, who provided information about her grandfather, and local historian Franz Moises are not only preserving an interesting object with the Pickelhaube but also keeping a bit of Bavarian history alive for posterity with their accounts of Simon Gammel’s experiences.
Information kindly contributed by Christa Rott and Franz Moises.