Josef Kolbe was a man of his time, though in certain respects a man before his time. He was born into the strict, hard-working ethos of the settlers of the northern borderlands of the then Austro-Hungarian Empire, where loyalty to the Empire, Emperor and, in his case, to the wider concept of Germanness was the overriding virtue.
As a professional soldier he took an active and enthusiastic part in both World Wars, leading his loyal troops from the front and putting their welfare first. He endured hardship above and beyond the call of duty and expected it from others. His professional life was imbued by the military to such an extent that, when circumstances required him to leave the army and venture into business, he found it difficult to adapt.
Josef Kolbe also led a full and active life outside the army. He was equally at home in the natural world, hunting, hiking and cycling, as he was at his desk, writing books and poetry and composing music.
As the granddaughter of Josef Kolbe who was born in England five years after the end of the Second World War, and was indeed one minor consequence of it, the only experience I have of the momentous upheavals that took place in the first half of the 20th century is through what I have heard and read. I have tried, 140 years after Josef Kolbe’s birth, to paint as impartial a picture as possible of his life and times, despite the vast distance that separate us in time, place and world view.