When the First World War broke out, Lersch volunteered to join the German Army. The refrain of his poem “Soldiers' Farewell” “Soldatenabschied” confirmed his reputation as a war poet in 1914: “Deutschland muss leben, und wenn wir sterben müssen!” "Germany must live even if we must die!"
Invalided out of the Army due to ill health in mid 1915 after being buried under earth when a shell explosion collapsed his trench, Heinrich ran his father's boiler-maker’s shop until 1924 and then gave it up because of bronchial disease.
As a result of his illness, Heinrich made several trips abroad: 1926 to Davos, 1926 to 1928 and 1931 to the Island of Capri and 1931 to Greece.
Along with the German poets Max Barthel and Karl Bröger, Heinrich became a well-known ‘worker poet’.
Heinrich died in Remagen on 18th June 1936.
Author Jack Sheldon has kindly translated one of Heinrich's poems for us:
Brüder / /Brothers
Es lag schon lang ein Toter vor unserm Drahtverhau
A dead man had been lying outside our wire for days
Die Sonne auf ihn glühte, ihn kühlte Wind und Tau.
Cooled by wind and morning dew; warmed by the sun’s bright rays.
Ich sah ihm alle Tage in sein Gesicht hinein
Each day that passed I stared at him, and strained to see his face
Und immer fühlt ichs fester: Es muß mein Bruder sein.
And ever felt more certain; my brother lay in that place.
Ich sah in allen Stunden, wie er so vor mir lag,
Throughout each day I stared at him and never ceased
Und hörte seine Stimme aus frohem Friedenstag.
And heard his voice call out to me, from happy days of peace.
Oft in der Nacht ein Weinen, das aus dem Schlaf mich trieb
At night there often came a cry which jerked me from my rest
Mein Bruder, liebe Bruder – hast du mich nicht mehr lieb?
My brother, my dear brother, do you now not love me best?
Bis ich, trotz allen Kugeln, zur nacht mich ihm genaht
Till I, despite the bullets, crawled out one night to see
Und ihn geholt. – Begraben – Ein fremder Kamerad.
And brought him in - and buried him - a man unknown to me.
Es irrten meine Augen. – Mein Herz, du irrst dich nicht:
My eyes, they did deceive me. – My heart it knew its place:
Es hat ein jeder Toter des Bruders Angesicht.
For, on every fallen soldier, I see my brother’s face.
Translated by Jack Sheldon author of numerous books about the German Army. Sheldon is the leading authority on the German Army in the First World War. A retired soldier he lives in France and is fully engaged researching and writing. For a list of his works please see https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Jack-Sheldon/a/511#:~:text=Jack%20Sheldon%20is%20now%20firmly,fully%20engaged%20researching%20and%20writing