from the book 'Antwerp to Galipolli'
'Cannon Fodder'
by Arthur Ruhl, American journalist

an American Journalist Visits Austro-Hungarian Hospitals

photo from 'Krieg dem Kriege'


AT the head of each iron bed hung the nurse's chart and a few words of "history." These histories had been taken down as the wounded came in, after their muddy uniforms had been removed, they had been bathed, and could sink, at last, into the blessed peace and cleanness of the hospital bed. And through them, as through the large end of a telescope, one looked across the hot summer and the Hungarian fields, now dusty and yellow, to the winter fighting and freezing in the Carpathians.

"Possibly," the doctor said, "you would like to see one of these cases." The young fellow was scarce twenty, a strapping boy with fine teeth and intelligent eyes. He looked quite well; you could imagine him pitching hay or dancing the czardas, with his hands on his girl's waist and her hands on his, as these Hungarian peasants dance, round and round, for hours together. But he would not dance again, as both his feet had been amputated at the ankle and it was from the stumps that the doctor was unwrapping the bandages. The history read: While doing sentry duty on the mountains on March 28, we were left twenty-four hours without being relieved and during that time my feet were frozen.

The doctor spoke with professional briskness. He himself would not have tried to save any of the foot — better amputate at once at the line of demarcation, get a good flap of healthy tissue and make a proper stump. "That scar tissue'll never heal — it'll always be tender and break when he tries to use it; he has been here four months now, and you can see how tender it is."

The boy scowled and grinned as the doctor touched the scar. For our English and those things under the sheet he seemed to have much the same feeling of strangeness: both were something foreign, rather uncomfortable. He looked relieved when the bandages were on again and the white sheet drawn up. "We had dozens of them during the winter — one hundred and sixty-three frozen feet and one hundred frozen hands in this hospital alone. They had to be driven back from the front in carts, for days sometimes. When they got here their feet were black — literally rotting away. Nothing to do but let the flesh slough off and then amputate."

We strolled on down the sunny, clean-smelling wards. The windows were open. They were playing tennis in the yard below; on a bench under a tree a young Hungarian soldier, one arm in a sling, and a girl were reading the same book. Sunday is a very genial day in Budapest. The café tables are crowded, orchestras playing everywhere, and in dozens of pavilions and on the grass and gravel outside them peasants and the humbler sort of people are dancing. The Danube — beautiful if not blue — - flows through the town.

Pest is on one bank and Buda on the other, beside a wooded hill climbing steeply up to the old citadel, somewhat as the west bank of the Hudson climbs up to Storm King.

I first came on the Danube at Budapest in the evening after dinner and saw, close in front of me, what looked to be some curious electric-light sign. It seemed odd in war time, and I stared for a moment before I saw that this strange design was really the black, opposite bank with its zigzag streams of lamps.

Few cities have so naturally beautiful a drop-curtain, and, instead of spoiling it with gas-works' and grain-elevators as we should do, the Hungarians have been thoughtful enough to build a tree-covered promenade between the Danube and the string of hotels which line the river. In front of each of these hotels is a double row of tables and a hedge, and then the trees, under which, while the orchestras play, all Pest comes to stroll and take the air between coffee-time and the late Hungarian dinner.

Hundreds of cities have some such promenade, but few so genial and cosey a one as that of Budapest — not the brittle gayety of some more sophisticated capitals, but the simpler light- heartedness of a people full of feeling, fond of music and talk, and ready to share all they have with a stranger.

The bands play tunes from our musical comedies, but every now and then — and this is what the people like best — they swing into the strange, rolling, passionate-melancholy music of the country. Wherever the tzigany music comes from, it seems Hungarian, at any rate — fiery and indolent and haphazard, rolling on without any particular rhyme or reason, now piling up and now sinking indolently back as the waves roll up and fall back on the sand. People will listen to it for hours, and you can imagine one of those simpler daredevils — a hussar, for instance — in his blue-braided jacket, red breeches, and big cavalry boots, listening and drinking, and thinking of the fights he has won and the girls he has lost, getting sorry for himself at last and breaking his glass and weeping, and being very happy indeed.

There is a club in Budapest — at once a club and a luxurious villa almost too crowded with rugs and fine furniture. When you go to play tennis, instead of the ordinary locker-room one is ushered into a sort of boudoir filled with Chippendale furniture. It is a delightful place to get exercise, with tea served on a garden table between sets; yet, when I was in Budapest, the place was almost deserted. It was not, it seemed, the season that people came there, although just the season to use such a place. For six weeks they came here, and nothing could bring them back again. They did things only in spurts, so to speak: " They go off on hunting trips to the ends of the earth, bring back animals for the Zoo, then off to their country places and — flop! Then there is a racing season, and they play polo and race for a while, then — flop!"

I have never seen such interesting photographers’ show-windows as there are in Budapest. Partly this is because the photographers are good, but partly it must he in the Hungarians themselves — such vivid, interesting, unconventional faces. These people look as if they ought to do the acting and write the music and novels and plays and paint the pictures for all the rest of the world. If they haven't done so, it must be because, along with their natural talent, they have this indolence and tendency to flop and not push things through.

It was this Budapest, so easy-going and cheerful, that came drifting through the hospital windows, with the faint sound of band music that Sunday afternoon.

On all the park benches and the paths winding up to the citadel, in a hundred shady corners and walks, soldiers, with canes and bandages, were sitting with their best girls, laughing with them, holding hands. The boys, with miniature flower-gardens in their hats, tinselled grass and red- white-and-green rosettes, could sit with their arms round their sweethearts as much as they wanted to, for everybody knew that they had just been called to the colors and this was their farewell.

I looked over more of the histories — not in the ward, where one was, of course, more or less a nuisance, but in the room where they were filed in hundred lots. Some of the men were still in the hospital, some had died, most of them gone back to the front. There were many of these foot cases:

"While on outpost duty in the Carpathians during a snow-storm I felt the lower part of my body becoming powerless. Not being able to walk, was carried back and put on train. Next day we were stopped, because Russians were ahead of us, and obliged to leave train. Waited two days without food or medical attention; then put on train for Budapest."

"My regiment was in the Carpathians, and on or about January 20 my feet refused to obey. I held out for four days and then reported ill. Toes amputated, right foot."

"I belong to German Grenadier Regiment No. — — . On February 6, while sleeping in open snow, I felt numbed in feet. Put on light duty, but on 8th reported ill and doctor declared feet frozen."

"March 12, during heavy snowstorm, Russians attacked us. One of my comrades was shot in stomach, and I took off my gloves to bandage him. All at once our regiment sounded ‘Storm!' and I had to rush off to attack, forgetting my gloves. I had both my hands frozen."

"I am field-cornet of the — — German Grenadiers. I was, since the beginning of the war, in Belgium and France, and at end of November sent to Russian Poland and January 1 to Carpathians. On February 6, while retiring to prevent the Russians surrounding us, I was shot In thigh at 1,500 yards distance and fell. Within a few minutes I got two more shots."

"That's just like a German," commented the nurse. “They always begin by telling just who they are and what they were doing. A Hungarian would probably just say that he was up in the mountains and it was cold. These soldiers are like big children, some of them, and they tell us things sometimes. . . ."

"While in Carpathians on January 20 I reported to my lieutenant, feet frozen. He said dig a hole and when you are quite frozen we will put you in. I stood it another seven days, then we had to retreat. I went myself to the doctor; my feet were then black already. Debreczen hospital six days, then here. Both amputated."

The feet were gone, at any rate, whatever the lieutenant may have said. We returned to the German field-cornet.

"He came in walking — a fine, tall man. We had only one place to bathe the men in, then: a big tank — for everything was improvised and there was no hot-water heater — and one of the doctors told him he could use his own bath up-stairs, but he said no, he'd stay with his men. He seemed to be getting on all right, then one morning the doctor touched his leg and he heard that crackling sound — it was gas infection. They just slit his leg down from hip to knee, but it was no use — he died in three hours. Practically all the wounds were infected when the men came in, but suppose he could have picked up something in that bath? . . . He came in walking."

Through most of the German histories one could see the German armies turning now this way, now that, against their "world of enemies," as they say: "I belong to — Regiment German Infantry and am stationed since March 1 in Carpathians. I am in active service since the start, having done Belgium, France, and Russia."

"While at battle of Luneville, with troop of about forty men stormed battery, capturing them, for which decorated with Iron Cross. Shifted to Carpathians. After march in severe cold, fingers and feet frozen."

"While in France attacking I was hit in head by shrapnel. In hospital fourteen days, then sent to Carpathians on December 7 with Austro-Hungarian troops. Wounded in arm and while creeping back hit five times in fifteen minutes. Lay all afternoon in trenches."

"I think those are the three who came in together one night, all singing ' Die Wacht am Rhein'; they all had the Iron Cross. They were a noisy lot. They all got well and went back to the front again."

Here were three pictures from the Galician fighting:

"Wounded by shrapnel near Przemysl, bandaged by comrade, and helped to house; only occupant old woman. Lay on straw two days, no food. Called to men passing; they had me moved in cart seventy miles to hospital. Stayed eight days; started on train, then taken off for three days, then to Budapest."

"During fighting at Lupkow Pass I was wounded by two pistol-shots. First one, fired by Russian officer, hit me in chest. Ran back to my company and in darkness taken by one of our officers for Russian and shot in arm."

"While digging trenches struck by a rifle-bullet in two places. Lay in trench two hours when found by Russian infantrymen, who hurriedly dressed me and. put me out of firing-range on horse blanket in old trench. Later found by our soldiers, carried to base, and dressed there, then to field-hospital, then in cart to railroad station. Went few kilometres by train, but became so ill had to be taken off for two days, then sent to Budapest. Seventeen days. Two months in hospital; returned to front."

"We called that man 'professor,'" said the nurse. "He was a teacher of some sort. There was a boy here at the same time, a Pole, but he could speak English: just out of the university — Cracow, I think. He was in Serbia, and was shot through the temple; he lost the sight of both eyes."

Several in the Serbian fighting had struck river mines. One, who had been ordered to proceed across the River Save near Sabac, remarked that he was "told afterward" they had struck a floating mine and that seven were killed and thirteen wounded. The Serbian campaign was not pleasant. The Serbians do not hold up their hands, as the big, childlike Russians sometimes seem to have done. They fight as long as they can stand. Then there was disease and lack of medical supplies and service. ' "They came in covered with mud and with fractures done up with twigs — just as they had been dressed on the field. Sometimes a fractured hip would be bound with a good-sized limb from a tree reaching all the way from the man's feet to his waist."

Yet the wonder is what nature and the tough constitutions of these young men will do with intelligent help. We came to what they call a "face case." "Wounded November 4 in Galicia by rifle-fire on right side of face and right hand; dressed by comrade, then lost consciousness until arrived here. ('He probably means,' explained the nurse, 'that he was delirious and didn't realize the time.') Physical examination — right side of face blown away; lower jaw broken into several pieces, extending to left side; teeth on lower jaw loose; part of upper jaw gone, and tongue exposed. Infected. Operated — several pieces of lower jaw removed and two pieces wired together in front."

From the desk drawer the nurse picked out several photographs — X-ray pictures of little round shrapnel bullets embedded in flesh, of bone splintered by rifle-bullets and shot through the surrounding flesh as if they had been exploded; one or two black feet cut off above the ankles; one of a group of convalescents standing on the hospital steps.

"There he is," she said, pointing to a man with a slightly crooked jaw — the man whose history we had just read. "We saved it. It isn't such a bad face, after all."

The worst wounds, of course, do not come to a hospital so far from the front as this — they never leave the battle-field at all. In Turkey, for instance, where travelling is difficult, very few of those shot through the trunk of the body ever got as far as Constantinople — nearly all of the patients were wounded in the head, arms, or legs. On over a thousand patients in this Budapest hospital the following statistics are based: Rifle wounds, 1,095; shrapnel, 138; shell, 2; bayonet, 2; sabre, 1; hand-grenade, 1; frozen feet, 163; frozen hands, 100; rheumatism, 65; typhoid, 38; pneumonia, 15; tetanus, 5; gas infection, 5. Deaths, 19 — septicemia, 7; pneumonia, tetanus, typhoid, 1. It was dark when I started down-stairs, through that warm, brooding stillness of a hospital at night. The ward at the head of the stairs was hushed now, and the hall lamp, shining across the white trousers of an orderly dozing in his chair within the shadow of the door and past the screen drawn in front of it, dimly lit the foot of the line of beds where the men lay sleeping.

Nothing could happen to them now — until they were sound again and the order came to go out and fling themselves again under the wheels. The doctor on duty for the night, coat off, was stretched on his sofa peacefully reading under a green lamp. And, as I went down-stairs past the three long wards, the only sign of life was in a little circle of light cast by a single lamp over the bed of one of the new patients, lighting up the upturned profile of a man and the fair hair of the young night nurse bending over him and silently changing the cloths on his chest.

We dined late that evening on an open balcony at the top of the house. People in Vienna and Budapest like to eat and drink in the open air. Below us lay the dark velvet of the park, with an occasional lamp, and beyond, over the roofs of Pest, the lights of Buda across the river.

Up through the trees came the voices of men singing. I asked what this might be. They were men, my friends explained, who had had their legs amputated. There were fifty-eight of them, and the people who owned the big, empty garden across the street had set it aside for them to live in. There they could sit in the sun and learn to walk on their artificial legs — it was a sort of school for them.

I went to see it next morning — this Garden of Legless Men. They were scattered about under the trees on benches two by two, some with bandaged stumps, some with crutches, some with no legs at all. They hobbled over willingly enough to have their pictures taken, although one of them muttered that he had had his taken seventy times and no one had sent him a. copy yet. The matron gathered them about her, arranging them rather proudly so that their wounds would show. One looked to be quite all right — because he had artificial legs, boots and all, below the knee.

"Come," said the matron, "show the gentleman how you can walk." And the obedient man came wabbling toward us in a curious, slightly rickety progress, like one of those toys which are wound up and set going on the sidewalk. At the matron's suggestion he even dropped one of his canes. He could almost stand alone, indeed, like some of the political arguments for which millions of healthy young fellows like him obediently go out to fight.



The Augusta Barracken Hospital is on the outskirts of Budapest — a characteristic product of the war, wholesale healing for wholesale maiming — 1,000 beds and all the essentials, in what, two months before, was a vacant lot by the railroad tracks. The buildings are long, one-story, pine barracks, just wide enough for two rows of beds with an aisle down the centre. The space between the barracks is filled, in thrifty European fashion, with vegetable-gardens, and they are set on neat streets through which the patients can be wheeled or carried to and from the operating and dressing rooms without going up or down stairs. Trains come in from the observation hospitals near the front, where all wounded now stay for five days until it is certain they have no contagious disease, and switch right up to the door of the receiving-room.

The men give their names, pass at once to another room where their uniforms are taken away to be disinfected, thence to the bathroom, then into clean clothes and to bed. It is a city of the sick — of healing, rather — and on a bright day, with crowds of convalescents sitting about in their linen pajamas in the sun, stretcher-bearers going back and forth, the capable-looking surgeons with their strong, kind faces, pretty nurses in nun-like white, it all has the brisk, rather jolly air of any vigorous organism, going full blast ahead.

We had been through it, seen the wards of strapping, handsome, childlike Russians, as carefully looked after by the Hungarians as if they were their own, when our officer guide remarked that in an hour or two a transport of four hundred new wounded would be coming in. We waited in the receiving-room, where a young convalescent had been brought out on a stretcher to see his peasant family — a weather-beaten father, a mother with a kerchief over her head, two solemn, little, round-faced brothers with Tyrolean feathers in their caps. Benches were arranged for those able to sit up, clerks prepared three writing-desks, orderlies laid a row of stretchers side by side for fifty yards or so along the railroad track.

The transport was late, the sun going, and I went down to the other end of the yard to get a picture of some Russians I had seen two days before. We had walked through their ward then, and I remembered one very sick boy, to whom one of the nurses with us had given a flower she was wearing, and how he had smiled as he put it to his face with his gaunt, white hand. "It doesn't take long," she had said, ''when they get like that. They have so little vitality to go on, and some morning between two and five — " and sure enough his bed was empty now.

A troop-train was rushing by, as I came back, covered with green branches and flowers. They went by with a cheer — that cheer which sounds like a cheer sometimes, and sometimes, when two trains pass on adjoining tracks so fast that you only catch a blur of faces, like the windy shriek of lost souls.

Then came a sound of band music, and down the road, outside the high wire fence, a little procession led by soldiers in gray-blue, playing Chopin's "Funeral March." Behind them came the hospital hearse, priests, and a weeping peasant family. The little procession moved slowly behind the wailing trumpets — it was an honor given to all who died here, except the enemy — and must have seemed almost a sort of extravagance to the convalescents crowding up to the fence who had seen scores of their comrades buried in a common trench. Opposite us the drums rolled and the band began the Austrian national hymn. Then they stopped; the soldier escort fired their rules in the air. That ended the ceremony, and the hearse moved on alone.


photo from 'Krieg dem Kriege'


Then the convalescents drifted back toward us. Most of them would soon be ready for the front again, and many glad of it, if only to be men in a man's world again. One of the nurses spoke of some of the others she had known. One man slashed his hand with his knife in the hope of staying behind. Even the bravest must gather themselves together before the leap. Only those who have seen what modem guns can do know how much to fear them.

"For a week or so after they come in lots of them are dazed; they just lie there scarcely stirring. All that part of it — the shock to their nerves — we see more of than the doctors do. When the word comes to go out again they have all the physical symptoms of intense nervous excitement, even nausea sometimes." The train came at last — two long sections of sleeping-cars. An officer stepped off, clicked his heels, and saluted, and the orderlies started unloading the men. Those who could walk at all were helped from the doors; the others — men with broken hips, legs in casts, and so on — were passed out of the windows on stretchers held over the orderlies' heads. In the receiving- ward they were set down in rows before the three tables, most of them clutching their papers as they came. Each man gave his name and regiment, and such particulars, and the address of some one of his family to whom notice could be sent. It was one clerk's duty to address a post-card telling his family of his condition and that he was in the hospital.

These cards were already ruled off into columns in each of which the words "Lightly wounded," "Wounded," "Severely wounded," "Ill," "Very ill" were printed in nine of the languages spoken in Austria-Hungary. The clerk merely had to put a cross on the proper word. Here, for instance, is the Lightly wounded column, in German, Hungarian, and the other dialects: "Leicht verwundet, Konnyen megse-besult, Lehce ranen, Lekko raniony, Lecko ranenki, Leggiermente Jcrzto, Lako ranjen, Lahko ranjen, Usor ranit."

A number were Russians — fine, big, clear-eyed fellows with whom these genuine "Huns" chatted and laughed as if they were their own men. On one stretcher came a very pale, round- faced, little boy about twelve, with stubbly blond hair clipped short and an enchanting smile. He had been carrying water for the soldiers, somebody said, when a piece of shrapnel took off one of his feet. Possibly he was one of those little adventurers who run away to war as boys used to run away to sea or the circus. He seemed entirely at home with these men, at any rate, and when one of the Hungarians brought him a big tin cup of coffee and a chunk of black bread, he wriggled himself half upright and went to work at it like a veteran.

As soon as the men were registered they were hurried out of their uniforms and into the bathroom. At the door two nurses in white — so calm and clean and strong that they must have seemed like goddesses, in that reek of steam and disinfectants and festering wounds — received them, asked each man how he was wounded, and quickly, as if he were a child, snipped off his bandages, unless the leg or arm were in a cast, and turned him over to the orderlies. Those who could walk used showers, the others were bathed on inclined slabs. Even the worst wounded scarcely made a sound, and those who could take care of themselves limped under the showers as if they had been hospital boarders before, and waited for, and even demanded, with a certain peremptoriness, their little bundle of belongings before they went on to the dressing-room.

Discipline, possibly, though one could easily fancy that all this organized kindness and comfort suddenly enveloping them was enough to raise them for the moment above thoughts of pain.

As they lifted the man on the dressing-table and loosened the pillow-like bandage under his drawn-up thigh, a thick, sickening odor spread through the room. As the last bit of gauze packing was drawn from the wound, the greenish pus followed and streamed into the pan. The jagged chunk of shell had hit him at the top of the thigh and ploughed down to the knee. The wound had become infected, and the connecting tissues had rotted away until the leg was now scarcely more than a bone and the two flaps of flesh. The civilian thinks of a wound, generally, as a comparatively decent sort of hole, more or less the width of the bullet itself. There was nothing decent about this wound. It was such a slash as one might expect in a slaughtered ox. It had been slit farther to clean the infection, until you could have thrust your fist into it, and, as the surgeon worked, the leg, partly from weakness, partly from the man's nervousness, trembled like a leaf.

First the gauze stuffed into the cavity had to be pulled out. The man, of an age that suggested that he might have left at home a peasant wife, slightly faded and weather-worn like himself, cringed and dug his nails into the under side of the table, but made no outcry. The surgeon squeezed the flesh above and about the wound, the quick-fingered young nurse flushed the cavity with an antiseptic wash, then clean, dry gauze was pushed into it and slowly pulled out again.

The man - they had nicknamed him "Pop" — breathed faster. This panting went into a moan, which deepened into a hoarse cry, and then, as he lost hold of himself completely, he began a hideous sort of sharp yelping like a dog.


photos from 'Krieg dem Kriege'


This is a part of war that doctors and nurses see; not rarely and in one hospital, but in all hospitals and every morning, when the long line of men — '"pus tanks' we called 'em last winter," muttered one of the young doctors — are brought in to be dressed, There was such a leg that day in the Barracken Hospital; the case described here was in the American Red Cross Hospital in Vienna.

Such individual suffering makes no right or wrong, of course. It is a part of war. Yet the more one sees of it and of this cannon fodder, the people on whom the burden of war really falls, how alike they all are in their courage, simplicity, patience, and long-suffering, whether Hungarians or Russians, Belgians or Turks, the less simple is it to be convinced of the complete righteousness of any of the various general ideas in whose name these men are tortured. I suspect that only those can hate with entire satisfaction and success who stay quietly at home and read the papers.

I remember riding down into Surrey from London one Sunday last August and reading an editorial on Louvain — so well written, so quivering with noble indignation that one's blood boiled, as they say, and one could scarcely wait to get off the train to begin the work of revenge. Perhaps the most moving passage in this editorial was about. the smoking ruins of the Town Hall, which I later saw intact. I have thought occasionally since of that editorial and of the thousands of sedentary fire-eaters and hate-mongers like the writer of it — men who live forever in a cloud of words, bounce from one nervous reaction to another without ever touching the ground, and, rejoicing in their eloquence, go down from their comfortable breakfasts to their comfortable offices morning after morning and demand slaughter, annihilation, heaven knows what not — men who could not endure for ten minutes that small part of war which any frail girl of a trained nurse endures hour after hour every morning as part of the day's work.

If I had stayed in London and continued to read the lies of but one side, I should doubtless, by this time, be able to loathe and despise the enemy with an entire lack of doubt, discomfort, or intelligence. But having been in all the countries and read all the lies, the problem is less simple.

How many people who talk or write about war would have the courage to face a minute, fractional part of the reality underlying war's inherited romance? People speak with pleasant excitement of "flashing sabres" without the remotest thought of what flashing sabres do. A sabre does not stop in mid-air with its flashing, where a Meissonier or a Detaille would paint it — it goes right on through the cords and veins of a man's neck. Sabre wounds are not very common, but there was one in the Vienna hospital that morning — a V-shaped trench in which you could have laid four fingers fiat, down through the hair and into the back of the man's neck, so close to the big blood-vessel that you could see it beat under its film of tissue — the only thing between him and death. I thought of it a day or two later when I was reading a book about the Austrian army officer's life, written by an English lady, and came across the phrase: '"Sharpen sabres!' was the joyful cry."

Be joyful if you can, when you know what war is, and, knowing it, know also that it is the only way to do your necessary work. The absurd and disgusting thing is the ignorance and cowardice of those who can slaughter an army corps every day for lunch, with words, and would not be able to make so trivial a start toward the "crushing" they are forever talking about as to fire into another man's open eyes or jam a bayonet into a single man's stomach. Among the Utopian steps which one would most gladly support would be an attempt to send the editors and politicians of all belligerent countries to serve a week in the enemy's hospitals.


from an Austrian newsmagazine


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