Fighting "With the Russian Army"
On the Austrian Front
Told by Bernard Pares, Official Observer with the Russian Army


The Colossal Struggle of the Slavs

two cover pages from a Russian war-time magazine - 'Lukomorie'


Fighting with the Russian Army

This is one of the most important narratives in the records of the War; it is an invaluable witness of the-colossal struggle waged on the Eastern battle front. The author was granted official privileges awarded to no other non-combatant. He passed through the first Warsaw Campaign, the crucial battle of Dunajec, and the Russian retreat. When Germany declared war on Russia, he volunteered for service and went to Petrograd and Moscow, where he was appointed official correspondent with the Russian Army, traveling with the general staff. He later joined the third army as an attaché. Here he was given written permit by General Radko Dmitriev to visit any part of the firing line. "We were the advance guard," he says, "of the liberation of the Slavs . . . the retreat of the army to the San and to the Province of Lublin. We were driven out by sheer weight of metal ... it was a delight to be with such splendid men as the Staff of the Russian Army. I never saw anything base all the while I was with the Army. There was no drunkenness, everyone was at his best, and it was the simplest and noblest atmosphere in which I have ever lived."

His experiences have been gathered into a volume entitled, "Day by Day with the Russian Army," from which the following incidents are retold


Russian cavalry


I — War Stories from the Russians

It is wonderful how little effect the war seems to have made on the body of Russia. On the other hand, the atmosphere of nervous tension begins to disappear the moment one begins to get really near to the front. In the Red Cross offices at Kiev I found the same straining toward the front as elsewhere, only much calmer because these were people who had a big war work to do. Hospitals meet the eye in the streets at every turn. Once in the train for Galicia it was again the war atmosphere and simplicity itself. The talk was all of people engaged directly or indirectly in it. A graceful old lady with a very attentive son was on her way to get a sight of her husband, one of the generals. A young officer, whose wound has kept him out of it for three weeks, is on his way to the front before Cracow. A fresh-looking young man, at first unrecognisable to his friends with his close-cropped bullet head, tells how he went on a reconnaissance, how he came on the Austrians, bow their first line held up their muskets and when the Russians had passed on fired on their rear, how nevertheless practically all came back safe and sound. It was told with a kind of schoolboy ingenuousness and without suggestion or comment of any kind on the conduct of those concerned. Then followed an account of a war marriage, at first put off and then carried out as quietly as possible. All the friends of every one seemed to be at the war.

At the old frontier some of the buildings near the station were wrecked by artillery fire, and the railway was lined with a succession of solid hospital barracks, with the local commandant's flag flying over one of them. There was plenty to eat at the station; and though we moved on very quickly, every one from our crowded train managed to find a place in the Austrian carriages, chiefly because every one was ready to help his neighbour. The corridors jammed with passengers and kits, we moved on through the typical "strips" of Russian peasant culture, a pleasant wooded country, passing a draft detachment on the halt which waved greetings to us. My companion, Mr. Stakhovich, a phenomenally strong man and imbued by a fine spirit, was talking of the indifference of the Russian peasant to danger; he regarded it as an indifference to all sensations; anyhow they go forward, 'whatever the conditions, as a sheer matter of course. With the ordinary educated man the mind must be kept occupied with work if unpleasant possibilities of all kinds are to be kept out of it; but General Radko Dmitriev, to whom we are going, will jump up from a meal, however hungry, when there is a chance of getting under fire.

II — In the Conquered City of Lvov

We draw up in the great station at Lvov. To the right of us stretch endless lines crowded with wagons, especially with sanitary trains. In the lofty passages and waiting-rooms are sleeping troops with piled muskets, some wounded on stretchers tended by the sisters of mercy who are constantly on duty here, and a crowd of men, all soldiers, coming and going. One passed many Austrian prisoners, of whom another enormous batch was just announced to arrive; and elsewhere a Russian private explained to me the excellent quality of the Hungarian knapsack, which he and his comrades had turned into busbies. One man was asleep inside the rail opposite the ticket office. He did not seem to mind how often he was awakened.

In the town everything is quiet, and life goes so naturally that no one could take it for a conquered city. In the country this might have been expected because far the greater part of the population is Little Russian; but in Lvov the Russians are only about 17 per cent. And the predominant element is the Polish (60 per cent.), the rest being Jews (20 per cent.) or Germans (3 per cent.). Lvov is taking on more of the character of a Russian town. Many of the Jews have left. The Russian signs over new restaurants, stores, etc., meet the eye everywhere. Of the Little Russian party which supported the Austrians, many have now returned and are making their peace with the new authorities. The Russian soldier is quite at home in Lvov, as one sees when the singing "drafts" swing past the Governor- General's palace; the Austrian prisoners in uniform, who are allowed liberty on parole, seem equally at their ease. Numbers of Russian priests are pouring into Galicia, but not fast enough for the Uniat villages which have embraced Orthodoxy; as soon as they arrive, peasants come with their carts and take them off to their parishes, without waiting for any formal distribution. The Uniat creed and ritual are practically identical with the Orthodox, so that the difference between the two was purely political. At the new People's Palace of Nicholas II, I saw a number of children, principally from families that had suffered severely at the hands of Austrian troops, receive Christmas presents on the day of St. Nicholas, who is the Russian Santa Claus. Archbishop Eulogius, in a very effective little address, told them that the biggest Christmas present which they were receiving was the liberty to speak their own language and worship in their own way in union with their Russian brothers.

Starting for the army, I spent a night of strange happening in the great railway station, as our train was delayed till the morning. At one time I went, in the frosty night, to look for it at the goods station, where there were endless rails and wagons, and found it after a long search. In the big restaurant four little boys made great friends with me, one of fourteen in uniform and spurs who had been serving as mounted scout with a regiment at the front, and one of thirteen who had attached himself in the same capacity to a battery. Both were small creatures, and the first was a remarkable little person, with all the smartness and determination of a soldier, relieved by an amusing childlike grace and courtesy.

He said to me in a confidential voice, "I see you are very fond of little children," and he ordered with pride lemonade and chocolates for us both. He said the men at the front could last a week to ten days, if necessary, without any food but sukhari (army biscuit), so long as they had cigarettes. His imagination had been caught by the aeroplanes over Przemysl, and also by the Carpathians, which he described with an up and down movement of the hand. He had a great disgust for anything mean and a warlike pride in the exploits of the soldiers of his regiment. His model was a boy, now a young man, who had been through the Japanese War.

"If a general comes past," and he made a salute to show the extreme respect felt for his hero. Many a time in that long night, while the weary heads of doctors and sisters of mercy were bent in sheer tiredness against the tables, he would come and sit by me and ask me to read the war news to him, or to tell him about the English submarines. He left me with the smartest of salutes in the early hours of the morning.


photos from a Russian war-time magazine - 'Lukomorie'


III — Tales Told on an Army Train

Our train is an enormous one with endless warm carriages (teplushki) for the wounded. The staff of sanitars and sisters, working for the Zemstvo Red Cross, live in a spotlessly clear carriage, and there are special carriages for drugs, stores, kitchen, etc. They are simple and interesting people, and, as I am now in the Red Cross and have many interests in common with them, they kindly made me up a bed in their carriage, where we discussed Russia in all its bearings.

We carry a group of passengers who have all made friends after the Russian way. A colonel and his wife are going to fetch the body of a fallen comrade. Another colonel, a delightfully simple man with close-cropped hair, thin brown face and bright; clever eyes seems to know all the Slavonic languages and has much to say of the Austrians. He has seen twenty of them surrender to a priest and his clerk who came on them in a wood, made the sign of the cross and told them to come with them. In another place twenty-two Austrians were captured by two Russians. The Austrian officers put quick-firing guns behind their own rifle pits for the "encouragement" of their men, on whom he has seen them fire.

They make their gunners fire every two hours in the night as a kind of exercise. He has seen them form their men in close column under fire and march them about up and down along the line of the Russian trenches. The Austrian artillery seldom takes cover; the Russian directs its fire on the enemy rather than on his batteries. In one place, heavy Russian artillery at a range of seven miles demolished an Austrian field train and two battalions who were lunching in the square of a small town. He is full of life and confidence, and all that he says breathes of fresh air and of work.

Our train made its way through to the furthest point up. We had to stop several times to let through the ambulance trains already charged with wounded, which take precedence. We had to go very slowly over several repaired bridges; and this was no simple matter, as we had twenty-seven long and heavy coaches. Some of these repairs were complicated pieces of work, as the bridges were high above the level of the rivers. At point after point, and especially on the Austrian sides of the rivers, we passed lines of carefully prepared trenches, and in one place there was a masterpiece of artillery cover, with every arrangement for a long stay.

The damage done by the artillery fire was sporadic — here a smashed station building, there a town where several houses had suffered. But there was nothing in- discriminate ; and the Polish population, which showed no sign of any hostility to the Russians, seemed to find the war conditions livable.

As in other parts, I was specially struck by the easy relations existing between the inhabitants, the Austrian soldiers and their Russian captors. There were exceptions. I had some talk with a few Austrian Germans from Vienna. They were simple folk and seemed to have no grudge against the Russians; and the circumstance in their position which they felt most — they were only taken the day before yesterday — was that this was Christmas Eve, the "stille Nacht, hellige Nacht" of the beautiful German hymn, and that they were far from home among strange people. They kept apart as far as possible not only from their captors but from their fellow prisoners from Bohemia and Moravia. These last seemed at least quite comfortable, smoking their long pipes and leisurely sweeping the platforms. They were quite a large company. They understood my Russian better than my German.

When I asked them how they stood with the German troops, instead of the sturdy "Gut" of their Viennese fellows, they answered with a slang word and a gesture. When asked about the Russians, they replied in a quite matter-of-course way: "We are brothers and speak the same tongue; we are one people." For any difficulties, the Poles often prove good interpreters. It is very different for the Austrian captive officers, who often cannot understand their own men.

These Czechs confidently assured me that any Russian troops that entered Bohemia would be welcomed as friends; and they claimed that not only the neighboring Moravians and Slovaks but also the Croats further south were to be taken as feeling as they did. The Bohemians and Moravians seem to be surrendering in the largest numbers of all; and though the Viennese claimed that large numbers of Russians had also been taken, I cannot regard as anything but exceptional the enormous batches of blue uniforms that I passed on the road here. I asked these men about their greatcoats and was not at all surprised when they said they felt cold in them. It is nothing like such a practical winter outfit, whether for head, body or legs, as that of the Russian soldier.

We came very well over the last part of our journey. I was sorry to part with the friendly sanitars, who all seemed old acquaintances by the end of the journey and invited me to take up my quarters permanently with them. Theirs was more than ordinary kindness, as they had shared everything they had with me, including their little sleeping apartment. The bearer company under their orders is all composed of Mennonites, a German religious sect from South Russia which objects to war on principle and, being excused military service even in this tremendous struggle, seems to be serving wholesale as ambulance volunteers.

As there were none but soldiers about, these men helped me out with my luggage; and through the window of the First Aid point in Tarnow station, I saw another acquaintance waving me a welcome. This is the last point that the railway can serve; and my friends will go back with a full burden, which will keep the medical staff busy day and night all the way. One of my new companions, who has been out to a village to get milk for the wounded, has seen the shrapnel bursting; and the guns are sounding loud and clear near the town as I write this. It is here that the most seriously wounded must be treated at once, as a railway journey would simply mean death for them. This is brought home to one, if one only looks at the faces of the workers. Yet with this huge line of operations, and the assaults which may be made at any point of it, at any moment the nearest field hospitals may need to send off any wounded who can be moved without delay. Though the work is being done with danger all round, less thought is being given to it than anywhere that I have been yet. .


two pages from British magazines - 'the War Budget' and 'the War Illustrated'


IV — Christmas in an Austrian Hospital

Christmas Eve: peace on earth and good will toward men. And all through "the still night, the holy night," the sound that means killing goes on almost continuously. How can any one say prayers for a world which is at war, or for himself that is a part of it? May God, who knows everything, help each of us to bear our part and not disgrace Him, and make us instruments to the end that He wishes.

Christmas day I spent in the hospitals. In one ward, at a local Austrian hospital, and full of wounded, I found that almost every one of the line of patients was of a different nationality. Going round the room, one found first a Pole of western Galicia, then a Russian from the Urals, next a Ruthenian (Little Russian) from eastern Galicia, next a Magyar from Hungary, and against the wall a young German from Westphalia. After him came an Austrian-German from Salzburg, a Serbian from southern Hungary, another Ruthenian, an Austrian-German from Moravia, an Austrian-German from Bohemia, and a Moravian from Moravia.

I spent a couple of hours here, talking sometimes with each of the patients, sometimes with all. The Pole knew only Polish and the bearded Russian, who had a bad body wound, was too tired to talk much. Of the Ruthenians one was a frail, white-faced boy from close to the Russian frontier who seemed, like most of his people, subdued, and confused with the strangeness of his position in fighting against his own people; the other was a lumpish boy without much intelligence. The thin, bearded Hungarian, who knew no German but a little Russian, was mostly groaning or dozing. The Salzburg Austrian was dazed and drowsy, but at intervals talked quietly of his pleasant homeland.

The German stood out from the rest. He was a bright, vigorous boy of twenty, had gone as a volunteer and was tremendously proud of the spirit of the German army. He had fought against the French during four days of pouring rain, mostly in standing water. The Bavarians, who seemed to have quarrelled with the other troops in that part, were making war atrociously, he said, knifing the inhabitants, insulting the women and destroying all that came in their way. He was later moved to the Carpathians, where one German division fought between two Austrian ones. They advanced in snow without field kitchens, and were not allowed to touch the pigs and poultry that they passed. However, they had enough to eat; and they were hoping to surprise their enemy, when the Russians fell upon them and left only the remnants of a regiment, many of the officers also falling. He himself was wounded in both legs, and was brought here in a cart.

Every German soldier has a prayer-book and a song-book. They constantly sing on the march, and find it a great remedy against fatigue. Songs of Arndt and Korner are very popular, and there is a new version of an old song, which is perhaps the greatest favorite; it begins —

"Oh Deutschland hoch an Ehren, Du heil'ges Land der Treu."

and it goes on to speak of the new exploits in east and west. There are any number of volunteers in Germany; the women are all joining the Red Cross; and the population is busy with every kind of work for the army; but when I asked whether the people were keen for the war, he answered with astonishment, "The people ? The people thought that the war was not to be avoided; but that was at the start; now it is different." He asked if there were many other Englishmen in Russia, and when I answered that there were some, he said, to my surprise, "The English are everywhere, they are a fine people — nobel." He also asked me on the quiet whether, when he was well, he would be sent to Siberia. He had been told that the Russians were terrible, but had written home to say that he had found them nothing of the sort.

Much of our talk turned on the Austrian army. The German said that it didn't stand firm "unless it was properly led, by Germans." In Bohemia and Moravia the regiments were mixed, Slavs and Austrian-Germans, and according to the Moravian soldiers, were constantly quarrelling ; all the officers were Austrian- Germans, and even some of the Hungarian regiments seemed to be commanded by Germans. The young Serbian spoke of frequent quarrels and even brawls between Serbian and Hungarian fellow-soldiers. The great wish of all was that the war should end. When I said that the end was not in sight, the German exclaimed, "More misery, more misery;" a second said, "Oh, Jammer, Jammer" (lamentation), and a third had tears in his eyes.

In another ward I heard more of the Bohemians. There Prussia is the antipathy. There appear to be Czech officers only in the reserve. After the outbreak of war, the Austrians made wholesale arrests among the educated Czech's, quite apart from party politics, and were particularly severe on the gymnastic volunteer organizations (sokols), which are popular among all the Slav nationalities of Austria. The Bohemians had not had time to find their legs under the new possibilities created by the Russian successes, but the Russian troops would be sure of a cordial welcome there. The whole of my informant's regiment had surrendered en masse; and even in the mobilization of 1909, a Prague regiment had refused to march against Russia and several of the men had been shot. I was told that the Austrian army was much weaker in reserves than the Russian.

V — How the Russian Soldiers Die

I ended the day at the railway station, where the Russian wounded just brought in were being attended to while the cannon sounded from time to time not far off. Several lay on stretchers in the corridors and others on pallets in the ambulance room, all still in their great-coats and with their kits lying beneath them. I had no conversations here; there was too much pain, one could only sit by the sufferers or perhaps help them to change their position. First aid had been given elsewhere, but this was the stage when the wounds seem to be felt most. There was wonderfully little complaining. Most were silent, except when a helping hand was needed. One man shot through the chest told me that "By the grace of God, it was nothing to matter." It was always a satisfaction to the men that they had been wounded while attacking. A general walked quickly round, distributing cigarettes, which he put in the men's mouths and himself lighted.

In the night the cannonade sounded close to the town, but seemed farther off again next morning. To-day I also went round a hospital with the dressers. The work was quickly executed, but much of it was very complicated. One does not describe such scenes, not so much because of the ugly character of many of the wounds, nor because of the end impending over many of the patients. To this last the Russian soldier's attitude is simple — gilt es dir, oder gilt es mir. He will speak of it as "going to America," the undiscovered country. But all these things come to be forgotten in -the atmosphere of work. Here all the resources of life are going forward in their own slow way, for they can have no quicker, handicapped and outpaced in their struggle to keep up with the work of death.

General Radko Dmitriev is a short and sturdily built man with quick brown eyes and a profile reminiscent of Napoleon. He talks quickly and shortly, sometimes drums on the table with his fingers, and now and then makes a rapid dash for the matches. The daily visit of the Chief of the Staff is short, because, as the General says on his return, simple business is done quickly. Every piece of his incisive conversation holds together as part of a single and clear view of the whole military position, of which the watchword is "Forward."

It is only the heavy rains that have saved the retreating Austrians from further losses. The roads are so broken up and so deep with mud that any quick movement is impossible. This gives the occasion for a useful rest. The cold weather — and it is freezing now — will be welcomed on this side; and the Russian winter kits, which have already been served out, are immeasurably better than the thin blue greatcoats of the draggled and demoralized Austrians.

Numbers of Austrian units are so reduced that they are only shadows of what they were, and some seem to have disappeared altogether. The ordinary drafts came in some time ago and are now exhausted — such is the testimony of Austrian officers. The new Russian recruits, on the contrary, will join the colors shortly.

From the beginning of the war, Bosnians, who are really Serbians, surrendered in large numbers. Then the Poles began to come in, and now the Bohemians. The Hungarians are sure to go on to the end; but the Roumanian and Italian soldiers of Austria have also come over very easily. In front of Cracow a Russian officer under fire came on a whole number of Bohemians who were singing the "Sokol" songs and shouted a greeting as they came into the Russian lines.

These wholesale surrenders have, I think, an extremely interesting political significance. When governments turned the whole people into an army, it was clear that the army was also being turned into the people; but it was not clear how the people could express itself when under army discipline. These surrenders, in their general character and in their differences of detail, are a picture of the feelings and aspirations of the various nationalities which are bundled together under the name of Austria.

At this Staff, as at the General Staff, life was very simple. We all met twice a day for a plain meal without any alcohol; there was plenty of conversation, but it was that of men engaged in responsible work; any news from outside was welcome, especially from the western allies, and there was full appreciation and sympathy for their hard task.

There was plenty of news from other quarters of the Russian front and one could have a much juster and fuller perspective of how things were going than anywhere behind the army; the two things which stood out even more here than elsewhere were, on the one hand, the immensity of the sacrifices which have been asked and are being cheerfully made by Russia and on the other hand, the sense of quiet confidence as to the ultimate result.


pages from a British magazine - 'the War Budget'


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