from 'The War Illustrated’, 29th September, 1917
'Off After the "Steam-Roller" '
By Hamilton Fyfe

 

An Adventurous Journey to Russia by a British Journalist

from a French magazine : a view of Russian cavalry marching through Warsaw

 

OCTOBER of 1914 was a week old when my work with the French Red Cross came to a sudden end.

The agreeable and adventurous young man who was lending me his Rolls-Royce and driving me was solemnly warned by the same Captain "Goldschmidt" whom I have mentioned before, that it was unwise for him to associate with one who was "wanted' by the British War Office. I crossed to England to find another car. An hour after I reached London I was under orders to go to the Russian front.

I went to the office straight from the station.

"How soon can you get your kit together and be off ?" the editor asked me.

"Is it urgent ?"

"It is."

"Three or four days. Getting, my passport will take all that, I expect."

In five days I was off.

"Vonderful vedder," said the captain, looking out over a grey desert of water with scarcely a heave in it. "Seldom do I remember the North Sea such in October month.'

"Neither do I, too," corroborated the first officer And then he added quietly, "Too good for dose dam German submarines."

Like all real seafaring men, these two listed the new scientific method of seafighting. Like all Norwegian sailors, they took sides with us.

An Eerie Crossing

“What madness made you barter away Heligoland, made you give it away for a pestilent strip of scorching Africa ?" A Scandinavian acquaintance asked me the question, standing on deck by my side. I had no reply to give him. "You English !" he said. "You are too honest. You do not believe people mean to rob you, even when you find their hands in your pockets. To be so honest as you are does absolutely not pay."

For all we saw as we crossed that grey desert of water there might have existed no state of war in the North Sea. We knew that the British Navy made it safe for us. We knew that not far off there were active scouts hunting, swift cruisers patrolling, battleships cleared for action moving slowly and vigilantly round. We had the sense of them with us all day. and we woke in the night to look out of port-holes for some large bulk floating near by. It was a strange, eerie feeling this, of unseen monsters keeping watch, ready to tear and rend. In the wireless cabin we could hear them ceaselessly talking to one another. Click click, click-click-click — -their language unknown, even to, the Marconi operator. .But it gave one comfort to know they were talking, moving night and day in concert, telling each other what they knew.

There was a Finn on board, a Finn with a fine old Scottish name, who listened to the wireless with especial satisfaction. The Baltic was not safe like the North Sea. He had been in "a Russian steamer on the Baltic. At midnight there was a shouting. Out of the darkness came a voice, "We are Germans. We are-coming aboard !"

Down ran the Finn to his cabin, sought hurriedly for some papers he carried, could not recollect which bag they were in, threw all his bags overboard — lost everything, he said.

"One quarter of an hour," said the Germans, "then we blow the ship up !" Imagine the scene — the scurrying to dress, to fill hand-bags. "Five minutes more !" Haste became frenzy. At last all were in the boats, then packed on board a destroyer. A dull roar, a spurt of flame ! End of that ship ! "Civilisation !" My Finn friend seemed to bite the syllables off and spit them out. He laughed — not merrily, but bitterly. "To this has civilisation brought us. The mania to destroy !"

Heroism of a Finn

Taken on board a German cruiser, the passengers from the burned ship found forty Englishmen there, seized from three British vessels. The Germans would have liked to steam into the Gulf of Finland and bombard a. town or two. They suggested to the Finnish .pilot from the Russian ship that he should steer the cruiser into the gulf.

"Do you take me for a swine ? " he asked in anger. " Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing ?" How the old Bible phrase rings in the memory !

The Germans threatened.

"You can shoot, me if you like," he said, "but you cannot shoot what is in me here." And he struck his breast, where his great heart beat more quickly than usual, but unconquered, unafraid.

They did not shoot him, but they set him to dig potatoes at Danzig and when they let the other Finns go, because they aimed at setting Finland against Russia, they kept him digging still.

"Chivalry gone along with civilisation," growled the Finn who was with us.

From Bergen, where we landed (one of the places scarcely heard of before the war which have since become known to every newspaper reader), the train took me over the mountains to Christiania. A few hours in that neat, compact, self- conscious little capital ; a night's journey to Stockholm. All that was straight- forward and simple. Then the question had to be answered: How was I to continue my journey to Petrograd ?

I wanted to embark in one of the steamers still plying across the Baltic. and reach my destination in twenty-four hours. The British Consul, kind an I fatherly, would not hear of this. I should probably be caught, he said, and sent to Danzig to dig potatoes.

In the Gulf of Bothnia

I had to decide, therefore, to travel by train up to the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, cross the narrows in a steamer, drive to a railhead in Finland, and journey down the opposite side of the Gulf to Petrograd. This could not be done in less than four days.

Luckily I. fell in with. two other Englishmen — one a diplomat, the second a sea captain — both having urgent business in Russia. We left Stockliolm early in the evening. We dragged on all next day and got to Lulea. at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, towards midnight. Anxiously we looked about for our steamer. "Over there," we were told, and saw at the quayside a boat about the size of those which ply in Paris on the Seine, not nearly a big as a Thames penny steamboat. She was to start at six in the morning with a crowd of Russian reservists aboard.

The sea captain had been eyeing her doubtfully. As soon as he heard of the reservists, he asked if there was a hotel in the place,

"You don't think we'd better try that boat ?" asked the diplomat.

"I certainly do not," was the sea captain's reply.

He explained that squatting on deck for eight hours would be hideously uncomfortable, and if a southerly wind blew there would be danger as well.

We walked dejectedly into the clean little Swedish town to grope for the hotel.

 

 

from 'The War Illustrated', . October 13th, 1917
'From Lulea to Petrograd'
By Hamilton Fyfe
 

Quaint Experiences of War-Time Travel

 

WHEN we renounced the steamer trip across the Gulf of Bothnia we knew that we had lengthened our journey. We could get no train until the morning, and then we should have to go north almost as far as the Arctic Circle before we could turn south towards Petrograd — a two-and-a-half days' journey in peace time stretched itself under war conditions to a week.

Luckily the hotel at Lulea was clean and comfortable. "The Swedes must be a go- ahead people," I reflected, "to build and support an hotel with modern conveniences in so out-of-the-way a place as this." Best of all it was warm. We needed warmth, for, although the month was still October, it was freezing hard.

At six o'clock next morning, when we were awakened from luxurious slumber, the day was frosty and the outlook uninviting. It was then we discovered how casual are Swedish hotel manners. Chambermaids and porters walked into our rooms without knocking, to bring us tea or ask if our bags were ready. I knew that in Sweden you have to barricade yourself in the bath-room to keep out old. women who insist on trying to get in and wash you. I now learned that, to avoid embarrassing intrusions, it is necessary to keep one's bed-room door locked as well.

At seven when we started it was a deliciously Christmas-card sort of morning — blue sky, bright sunshine, white frost. Later thec sky clouded, and when we came to Karungi, the end of the railway line, a fog was creeping over the unlovely landscape, damp and horribly cold. We had telegraphed for a motor to meet us. No motor was there. "Send for one," suggested a young man of the American- English-speaking variety which so often turns up in Scandinavian countries.

In Dreary Haparanda

But the hour was then past two. The light would be gone soon after five. We had no fancy for being out on those roads after dark. Besides, the frontier closed at eight, and a Russian frontier was, in those days, a barrier which, when it closed, did not open again.

There were several carts outside the little station. We sized them up, picked stout ponies, made bargains with their owners to get us to Tornea by six o'clock. Our luggage was packed in one cart. We three — the diplomatist, the sea captain, and I — sat squashed together in the front of another. The owner up-ended a soap-box, sat on it in the after-part, and tried to drive over our shoulders.

This did not last long. Pretty soon the diplomatist and I were taking the reins by turns, and we got that little horse along in a quite wonderful way. I had always heard Finnish ponies praised, but I did not know from experience until now what sturdy legs and good hearts they have. With a little persuasion, gentle handling of the reins, and the mere shaking of a small switch, we induced him to keep up a steady trot, and we drove into the town of Haparanda before the promised time.

Glad enough we were to arrive and find another warm hotel. We were chilled to the marrow. The dreary town, with its wide featureless streets and mean buildings, was wrapped in the bitter fog, sullen and silent. When we left the warmth and started out to find the Custom-house we naturally lost our way. We made a tour all round that place, following a cart laden with our luggage, the driver trying to find someone who spoke a language in which we could explain where we wanted to go.

The Finns are obstinate about keeping up their speech and their coinage, and all that is theirs and no one else's. Perhaps "obstinate" is unjust. But between London and Tornea we had handled five different kinds of money and been forced to wrestle with four foreign languages. A traveller's irritation at these frequent changes and the frenzied arithmetic they entail must be pardoned.

The diplomat boiled over.

A Magic Passport

"It's' perfectly absurd," he said. "I can speak Russian, the captain talks Swedish, you (meaning me) know French and German. Yet we can't make anybody understand us."

When we found the Custom-house at last the diplomatist's special passport won respect for us all, and no boxes or bags were opened. I may say that we also used the universal language with the Russian gendarmes, the speech which is silvern and is everywhere understood.

We left Tornea that night in a train called "express." I have been in slower trains, but not often. However, the stops, which were frequent and protracted, gave us chances to walk about, and the meals provided at the station buffets were both satisfying and funny.

The food is all set out on long tables. Around these the hungry passengers struggle, striving to transfix with their forks whatever their appetite fancies. The scene reminded me of a pack of hounds being given their dinner. Each hound seizes the best piece it can find. carries it into a corner, and eats it apart. So did men and women fill their plates with porridge, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, sausage, rissole or cutlet. fish or savoury stew, and then seek a seat where they might devour what they had taken, as fast as their jaws could work.

Then, standing up at another table, they swallowed coffee and sweet cakes, the charge for the whole being somewhere about two shillings. The plan adopted to secure payment from all the guest a is this. When you pay, you are given a disc of wood or metal. A boy stands at the door collecting these discs. Without giving one up to him you cannot get out.

The slowness of the journey was mitigated too, by the interesting mixture of passengers on board. There were Russians, Russian Jews. Armenians, Caucasians, Japanese, British, French, and an Italian or two. A travelled young man from Moscow, belonging to one of the rich commercial families there, represented the "intelligentsia," as the Russians call their small educated and enlightened class (education and enlightenment do not always go together).

Then there was a rich Jew, of quite another type. He had been up and down the world also, but with his eyes turned only in one direction — the direction of profit. He wore an overcoat which he told us had cost him 120. He was accustomed to put up at the most expensive London and Paris hotels. But he had abandoned his real name for one which sounded less Jewish, and although he was known to be charitable to his fellow Jews, he had few ideas beyond money.

A Cheerful Singer

An Armenian family travelled in princely style, being clearly of great wealth also. They had kept me company all the way from London. Among several children one small boy especially amused me. He was always singing quiet little songs to himself. I say "always," and mean it. He sang through meals. He sang morning, noon, and night. When I last saw him in the station at Petrograd towards midnight, he was still crooning a dear little tune.

I drove to the Hotel de France, and was told that I could get nothing to eat or drink except mineral water. "Hallo," I thought, "this is a change from peace time. This used to be the liveliest time in Petersburg hotels." However, I did not mind. I was glad to tumble into bed, and to miss the jolting of the train.

Yet just as I was dropping off I felt as if something were missing. What can it be ? I asked myself. Then I recollected; I missed the quiet singing of that fat little Armenian boy.

The War Illustrated, 15th December, 1917

Joy-Bells in Petrograd

Light on the Legend that the Germans were " Lured" to Warsaw

Those first dark days which I spent in Russia at the end of October and the beginning of November, 1914 after my three months on the French front, were lightened by a great joy.

In the train, on the last day of our journey, an officer had given us news of victory. The Germans who threatened Warsaw had been driven back. Just in time strong columns of Siberian troops had arrived. The enemy had been misled by a trick into believing that no attempt would be made to hold the Polish capital. After a council of war, at which the Grand Duke Nicholas had announced his intention to evacuate the city, he had sent secret messages to his generals ordering them to prepare for an attack, and explaining the apparent vacillation by the curt remark that "walls can hear." The attack had been made, the Russian officer in the train told us, and the enemy were in retreat.

I was surprised to find, when we arrived in Petrograd, that the news was true. In time of war it is as well to make a rule :

Believe nothing you hear, and very little that you read. Lying is as much a part of war as fighting. Generals fear the truth no less than officials. The whole truth is not known about any war. About this war very little will be made public in our time.

"War in a Fog"

For a long period generals were allowed to control news absolutely. What they did not like they suppressed. "War in a fog," Mr. Winston Churchill said at -the start, "that is what this war is going to be."

The phrase was Lord Kitchener's not his own. It described the policy which Lord Kitchener tried to follow. Whether the fog ever concealed from the enemy anything that he wanted to know, whether such tales as that of the Grand Duke's trickery were any of them true, is doubtful. But the fog will certainly conceal — from this generation, at all events — the course that events really took.

The fiction that General Joffre "drew on" the Germans until they were near Paris will be repeated by patriotic Frenchmen with an industry so untiring that it will take its place in history. Along with it will probably go an equally misleading version of the first German approach to Warsaw.

"The Grand Duke laid a trap for the enemy," I was assured frequently. "He allowed them to come nearer and nearer, and then fell upon them with masses, of fresh troops."

When those who spoke in this way seemed to be capable of argument, I used to say, "Have you read Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' ? There you will find a masterly refutation of the claim, which is always made on behalf of generals, that they foresaw and directed the course of battles. No general ever orders a retreat on a wide front if he can help it. When they cannot help it, they set about — or their sycophants set about for them — some story to 'save their face.'"

War is a simpler matter, so far as the directing of it is concerned, than most of us believe. The strategy of campaigns, even the tactics of engagements, are often invented by historians after they have been fought. What little opportunities existed for the handling of troops disappeared with the creation of enormous conscript armies and with the invention of the flying machine. It would have been difficult, even had aeroplanes remained the dream of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, to manoeuvre hundreds of thousands of men. Air-scouting makes it impossible.

Coming of Hindenburg

All that generals can do nowadays is to hold their ground and hammer the enemy wherever possible. Fanciful accounts of their "luring him on" should be treated with polite contempt.

I have no doubt the Grand Duke was himself politely contemptuous of the fiction that he lured the Germans to the gates of Warsaw. Had he been able, he would, of course, have kept his armies on Prussian soil. He had responded to The cry of France for help by a vigorous offensive. Unhappily, the Russians, as usual, pushed on too impetuously. They did not know the ground they were fighting over. They fought with courage and enterprise, but without brains.

Opposed to the dashing but careless Samsonoff was the old German general who had been pulled out of his retirement to direct operations in the marshes he had studied so closely. In Hanover, Hindenburg was a joke. He used to sit of an evening at a certain cafe and demonstrate how he beat the Kaiser in manoeuvres among the dreary wastes of sand, water, and monotonous forest which compose the East Prussian landscape. All his life he had pondered the problems of attack and defence in this region. He had made himself a nuisance by insisting upon the importance of his studies. Now he was given the chance to prove that he was not merely an old fool with a "bee in his bonnet," which had been the view of the General Staff, and of the Kaiser after his beating in manoeuvres.

Wild Anticipations

The victory which Hindenburg won at Tannenberg in September, 1914, was complete and crushing. Samsonoff and his army disappeared. The killed alone numbered more than a hundred thousand. At the time the losses were concealed. Only long afterwards did France and England learn the size of the calamity. It was kept as long as possible from the Russian people. When they came to hear of it, they exaggerated, as their habit is. To the appalling losses suffered by their armies, and hidden from them, the frame of mind which led to the Revolution and to the present chaos was in very large measure due.

However, at this time, in the autumn of the first year of war, there was no talk of Revolution, no widespread discontent. That there would be "changes after the war" was said by all who hoped for changes. Those who hoped against them believed that a victorious war would so strengthen the aristocracy that all ideas of Constitutional government would be stifled.

The people generally had no doubt that the war would end victoriously for them. Soon the enemy were in retreat along the whole front, from East Prussia to the Rumanian frontier. Thanksgiving Masses were sung. Wild anticipations of a march on Berlin through Dresden were joyously indulged in.

Life in the cities, and in the villages, too, was normal at this time. The prevalence of uniform was nothing new. Russia was a country of uniforms. From the earliest boyhood the Russian of the comfortable class put on a peaked cap and a jacket with brass buttons and a military greatcoat. That was the regulation costume at school. He wore much the same at the university or the technical college. Then, if he entered the Government service, or became an engineer or a schoolmaster, he was uniformed for the rest of his life.

"Tag-Days" and Tips

Nor was the succession of "tag-days" for the benefit of the soldiers such a nuisance as it would have been elsewhere. Almost every day boxes were rattled in the streets and restaurants. Until you had two or three little labels in the lapel of your coat you couldn't hope to be left alone. But putting one's hand frequently in one's pocket was so regular a proceeding in Russia that no resentment was felt, even though it was said cynically that “probably the collectors kept a bit for themselves."

The paying out of small sums was a habit which everyone had to acquire. Every office in Russian cities kept a hallporter. He was called the "Sveitzar" (the Swiss). All who went in were deprived by him of overcoat, hat, and rubber overshoes, which for eight months in the year are universally worn. For his custody of these articles the Swiss had to be paid, according to the gorgeousness of the uniform he wore.

Every visit to an office, and most visits to private houses, cost one from four pence to a shilling. Often I have thus spent from three to five shillings a day. The "taggers," therefore, found us an easy prey. The hopeful, cheerful atmosphere helped them also. All wanted to show the soldiers who were doing so well that their efforts and their sufferings were appreciated.

 

 

from 'the War Ilustrated', 29th December 1917
'the Rumbling of the Storm'
 

How Russia Entered the War in a Spirit of Brooding Unrest

the Czar and Grand Duke Nicholas

IN all countries during war "there are the same peculiarities to be noted.

The sentiment of nationality becomes more urgent. It is translated into action under many forms. There is the same hero-worship, the same absurd readiness to believe nonsensical stories, the same gloomy apprehension of evil when news is bad, the same expectance that small successes will quickly end the campaign.

In Russia, the country of extremes, I found these peculiarities in several directions more marked than elsewhere. St. Petersburg had all-each changed its name to Petrograd (both names mean "the city of Peter"). It was doing its best to prevent German being spoken, although that was the only language that large numbers of .Russian subjects could speak. In shops, theatres, restaurants, and public places generally were hung placards :

PLEASE DO NOT SPEAK GERMAN.

German had been the business language of Petrograd, as of Moscow. It used to lie heard far more than French, except among diplomats and Russians of wealth and position who had travelled. It was not easy to stop it all of a sudden. Two German daily newspapers continued to be published up to the end of 1914. All the time I was in Russia it was usual for strangers who did not speak Russian to be taken into inner chambers in banks and business houses, and conversed with in the forbidden tongue.

Trust in "Nicolai"

An order was made that German subjects should all be sent away, but a great many remained, and German businesses were carried on, and spies went about freely. The explanation ? Bribery. Bureaucracy and bribery. Why do they go together ?

In hero-worship Russians excel, though they arc cynically changeable, too. They worshipped Nicolas Nicolaievitch, or, as he is called outside Russia, the Grand Duke Nicholas. Everywhere I saw his portrait displayed in a large frame, side by side with that of the Emperor in a small one. They trusted him as they would have trusted no other man in his position. N0 other commander-in-chief, they said, could command honestly and vigorously enough to prevent subordinate generals from squabbling and intriguing as they intrigued and squabbled during the war with Japan. They called the mobilisation which made war certain at the beginning of August, 1914, "Nicolai's mobilisation." Many of them thought of it as "Nicolai's war."

The Grand Duke was truly a man who, from a distance, at all events, had a heroic air. He was immensely tall, gaunt, and angular. A ragged grey heard gave his face a weather-beaten appearance. His language was terse, emphatic, and oathfull. When he gave orders be made it clear that he expected them to be obeyed immediately and exactly. He could talk, upon occasion, to generals as if they had been privates. Yet when he received the foreign war correspondents, his hand shook while holding the manuscript of the little speech of welcome that he had to make, and he betrayed all the symptoms of extreme shyness.

How many of the stories about him were true ? What does it matter ? Tell me the anecdotes current about prominent men or. women, and I will tell you, correctly in ninety cases out of a hundred what manner of men and women they be. Did he address to a gathering of Army contractors the laconic warning, "You steal, I hang'!"? Did he strike a general whose pusillanimity had lost a battle, first on one cheek, them on the other ? Did he ask a party of aristocratic Red Cross nurses which they would prefer to tend, officers or privates, and send home at once all who said "Officers, please" ?

A Soldier Among Soldiers

I say again, what does it matter ? The stories told one the character of the man. Seeing that he had lived in the public eye ever since Russia's war against Turkey in 1878, they were not likely to be fantastic imaginations, he was a soldier by choice and temperament. "A good Guards officer," I was told soon after I arrived in Russia. I never saw or heard anything to cause me to dissent from that view. Not intellectual, not in the least "clever," he was only happy among soldiers, doing a soldier's work. He had no wish for war, save as the professional soldier must always want to be doing in earnest what he spends his life in learning to do. He knew that Russia was ill-prepared to fight, yet he mobilised, in order to show Germany and Austria that she was not to be bullied again. He stubbornly kept Russia in the war when Russian friends of Germany would have had her -break with France and Britain and conclude a separate peace.

Another story which circulated .in those days was that when the Tsar hesitated to sign the order calling upon the reserves to mobilise, the Grand Duke warned him, "If you give way now, there will be a .Revolution !" The Tsar was supposed to have said, "That can hardly be. There is no one to head a Revolution." And the Grand Duke to have retorted grimly, "There is me !"

The light which shines from that anecdote illuminates both speakers. It shows how little the Emperor was regarded in those days of stress and peril which brought out the characters of men. The anecdote is probably not true. But it would not have passed from lip to lip if Nicolai Nicolaievitch had not been in the public esteem a big man and the Tsar a very small one. Already the shadow lay across the path of him whom we all spoke of as "The Little -Man."

Harmful Contrast

Up and down the country he went, crossing himself before holy places, listening to Masses, kissing miraculous pictures. Now the newspapers would announce, in the affected antiquated phraseology of the age of Louis the Fourteenth, that his Imperial Majesty had deigned to visit the Army ; now that he had condescended to return to his palace at Tsarskoye Selo. His goings out and comings in made no stir. He was of no importance. War was the business of the moment. He had no part or lot in it. A photograph taken while he was paying one of his visits to the front showed him a puny, insignificant figure beside the high heroic Grand Duke. It did him much harm.

Already he was spoken about with distrust, because he “had a German wife," and had set men with German names in high places around him. By the Moscow "isvostchiks" (cabdrivers) who are the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time," the Emperor was openly derided and abused. When it became known that a number of German electricians and plumbers had been kept on in the palace, a story ran round of a wireless installation on the palace roof. The German company which supplied part of the capital with electric light was believed to be allowed to carry on its undertaking because the Imperial Family owned blocks of its shares.

There was a very amusing tale related of the little Tsarevitch, the heir to the throne which was never to be his. A gentleman of the Court was supposed to have met him in a corridor crying. "What is the matter ?" the courtier asked. "Oh, it's the war !" was the boy's answer. "Whenever we win a battle mamma cries, and whenever the Germans win one .papa cries—and I have to cry all the time to keep them company !"

The New Spirit Ignored

The idea that there had been no premonitory symptoms of Revolution is very wide of the truth. I wrote in 1915:

"The near future in Russia is hidden by a threatening cloud-wrack. A new Revolutionary movement had been in preparation for some months before the war. It will certainly reappear if bureaucracy pursues its usual path. It will with equal certainty exhaust itself in futile violence unless the new spirit prevails."

Neither I nor anybody else was allowed to give any hint of this drift of events. All the English and French newspapers went on praising the Tsar and speaking of his magnificent Army, when everyone acquainted with the facts knew that even in the first days there were not enough rifles to go round, and that the supply of shells per gun was disastrously insufficient. It was not the newspapers which were at fault. Many of them knew that, unless the Tsar changed his counsellors, there would surely be trouble. The new spirit, born of the open air and living rough, and feeling that stuffiness is unwholesome and dissipation silly, and that no pleasure in life can compare with the pleasure of being fit and energetic and clean, in that spirit which was replacing the old spirit bred of drink and indolence and aloofness from reality, though with a strain in it of genuinely noble desire for better things — in that new spirit lay Russia's one hope. Alas ! it had not time to do its work sufficiently. That is why the Revolution became a disaster instead of the blessing which it seemed to be at first.

 

 

from 'The War Illustrated', 6th January, 1918
'How I Was Arrested as a Spy'

by Hamilton Fyfe

 

Experience Three Times Undergone During Russia's Spy-Fever

 

HOW it would feel if one were a spy I cannot tell, for I have not included spying among my accomplishments. But I am well qualified to describe the sensation of being arrested for this offence when innocent, since this has happened to me three times.

Now I look back on my arrests as experiences with amusement and no indignation. At the time I was indignant enough, though I took care not to show it. I affected to laugh at the odd mistake which had been made. I was effusively friendly with the officials, which always paid in Russia. Shaking hands all round and offering cigarettes was the short cut to a sympathetic consideration of your business.

But I felt, behind my friendly smiles, that it was no laughing matter to live under a system which places the personal liberty of individuals in the hands of incompetent and foolish men. War intensifies that system where it exists already, and creates it even in lands where personal freedom is supposed to be secure. That is one of the reasons why I am in favour of putting an end to war.

Spy-fever raged in Russia with special virulence. Ignorance spreads it. Fussy officialism intensifies it.

I was three times arrested on suspicion in Russia — once with good reason, on the other occasions for no reason at all.

My first adventure befell at Peterhof, where the Tsar had his Summer Palace.

Denounced by a Gardener

One Saturday I started tor Peterhof with Perceval Gibbon, the novelist, and with Alan Ostler, who. after a short experience as a "special" in Poland, went home and took a commission in the New Army. We were not sure of our road when we got out into the country, and we stopped in a park belonging to some grand duke or other to consult our map, also to watch some small boys playing ice-hockey, and to thank God that all the world over the young human animal is the same, unaffected by differences of race, language, or creed.

We spoke a language which was not Russian, we were not dressed as Russians dress (two of us wore knicker-bocker suits). We had in our possession a map. What need had a young gardener, employed by Grand Duke Something or other, of any further witness ? We were beyond all question German spies. Off he went to warn the Peterhof police of the approach of three dangerous characters.

A force estimable and picturesque, the Russian gendarmerie, but not strong in the head. The Peterhof brand of it acted at once upon the young gardener's hint. As soon as we reached the town we were taken charge of by police. It was inconvenient, for we were hungry. Also there are pleasanter ways of making acquaintance with a place than being marched through its main street under escort, with a crowd following to see whether the "spies" would be hanged, or only shot.

However, out of the crowd came our deliverance. Among those who ran out of shops, attracted by our procession, was a uniformed official — at least, in our eyes he appeared an official — with gold-rimmed spectacles and a helpful expression. Between the three of us we had at that time not much more Russian than would serve to order meals and ask our way. I called out to Gold Spectacles:

"Do you speak French ? " Happily he did, a little only, but his little sufficed. Courteously he accompanied us as far as the police-station, and to the police captain he explained what we wanted to say.

A Flimsy Excuse!

I must here explain that, if the policemen who arrested us had doubted the rightness of the young gardener's judgment, they would have considered his suspicions to be fully confirmed by the explanation which we offered of our presence at Peterhof. We said we were "out for a walk." You must have lived in Russia to understand why that simple statement caused such sceptical merriment. To pretend that we were walking from one place to another simply for the pleasure of walking and for the stirring-up of our livers — that was too flimsy an explanation. That settled it. We were spies.

I could sec that, although Gold Spectacles wished to believe we were harmless, this story about being "out for a walk" gave his faith in us a rude jolt. He offered it apologetically to the very worried police captain before whom in a dingy office we appeared. The police captain, I think, had been inclined before this to wave the accusation away as groundless. "Out for a walk," indeed ! We must be poor hands at spying not to have a tale ready better than that.

He tried to test our British nationality by telephoning to the British Embassy, the Consulate, the Foreign Office. No replies. He pored over my passports. The other two had no papers with them, not a letter or a card even. Then in a frenzy of indecision he turned the whole business over to his superior officer, the colonel of gendarmerie. If only we had known there was a colonel on the premises we should have appealed to him. It is so difficult in Russia to know who's who.

Behind Fixed Bayonets

When Gold Spectacles said, "You are, no doubt, surprised to see me, a schoolmaster, wearing uniform ?" I replied, "Nothing, monsieur, is capable of surprising me in your drole de pays." But we thanked him warmly at parting. He had been very kind. He again interpreted for us with the colonel, who quickly let us go. The only point to be settled was whether Gibbon and Ostler had passports. I suggested that a gendarme should be sent with us to Petrograd to verify their identity. To this the colonel at once agreed. We were allotted a gendarme in plain clothes, whom we at once nicknamed Fido, to whom we stood tea at the railway station (tea was the strongest drink on sale, and one always welcome to a Russian), and who returned quite satisfied and jingling five roubles in his pocket.

My next arrest was at Krasnoe Selo, the Russian Aldershot. A friend and I took the train thither, not to see soldiers (we were sick of them), but in order to walk to a place called Duderhof, where is the only decent hill in all this part of Russia. Some soldiers stopped us — rightly, I think — and we produced our passports ; but they could not read. They stopped a little officer, very young he was and pink, and he carried in his hand a small pot of cineraria, carefully wrapped in blue paper, which he was taking, I suppose, to his sweetheart. He glanced at the police endorsement (in Russian) on our passports, but did not seem to take it in. Reluctantly he marched with us (two men with fixed bayonets following behind) to an office in the camp. where we soon made friends with a cheerful Staff captain, and were told by him where we might walk and where not. "Here," he called to the little officer, who was sneaking off, as he hoped, unnoticed, "you take them and put them on their road !"

The third time I was arrested I owed the attentions of the gendarmerie — who were separate from and more of a military force than the police, though even city constables carried revolvers and swords — to a tokin-ovnih, or Government official, with a meddling, muddled mind. He saw me with Wilcox, of the "Daily Telegraph" and another friend walking on a winter afternoon near the shore of the Gulf of Finland. He argued from the same point of view as the young gardener.

Woman Spy's Ingenuity

The tokin-ovnik took the trouble to have the gendarmerie, at the railway station to which we returned from our walk, warned that we were suspicious foreigners. They arrested us and fetched an officer, who wrote down many things on large sheets of paper, and then bade us depart without a stain upon our characters.

There were many like episodes in the carnival of idiocy and ill-nature which in all countries breaks loose during war. On the Fourth of July a party of Americans, celebrating Independence Pay in the country, were arrested, taken to Petrograd, and detained for some hours on suspicion of signalling with fire-crackers to Germans in the Gulf of Finland. They had first aroused suspicion by playing games, which the observers said could not be games, because games were only played by children ! The fire-crackers made their spy-character plain to the simple-minded Russians who were watching them. In their innocent minds it appeared certain that spies would do all they could to attract attention.

How easy must be the task of those who are really spies !

There were numbers of them in Petrograd, as well as in the actual fighting zone. One of the cleverest disguises was worn by an ingenious young woman, who passed for a wounded Russian officer. "He" put up at the smartest hotel, made friends rapidly, hopped about on "his" crutches all day and all night, picking up the gossip that floated about ; was loudest in calling for the band to play the Russian National Anthem ; and then one day was removed, walking firmly without "his" crutches, and — thereafter appeared no more.

 

from 'The War Illustrated', 12th January, 1918
'Why Were We Misled ?'
By Hamilton Fyfe

 

Some Light Upon the Corruption and Ineptitude in Russia

wounded are brought to hospital in cattle cars : photo by Donald Thompson

 

HOW it can ever have been supposed that Russia could put up any kind of useful fight against the German military machine I do not understand. By those, I mean, whose duty it was to study Russian organisation and the Russian character ; by those who were paid to perform that duty by the deluded British and French nations. Who invented the "steam-roller" theory? Who said that Russia must be the sword, while the western front acted as buckler and merely parried the enemy's blows ?

From the very beginning the Army was ill-equipped. There were never enough rifles. The allowance of shells per gun was proved immediately to be far too small. Yet no adequate effort was made In supply these deficiencies. It is for this neglect that General Sukhomlinoff, "the Kitchener of Russia," as he was called before the war, is in prison for the rest of his life; not for treason, which was never even seriously alleged against him.

The silly stories about his supposed treachery were largely accounted for by his having a Jewish wife. It is one of the effects of the loss of mental balance caused by war that the cry of "treachery" is raised whenever things go ill. So far as I can judge, we have suffered 95 per cent. from incompetence for every five per cent loss that treachery has inflicted upon us. It is often the incompetents themselves who .raise the cry, in order to put the public on the wrong scent and escape the punishment they know they have deserved.

Policy of the "Pogrom"

The Jews in Russia were certainly better disposed, for the most part, towards the Germans than towards the system which had treated them as an inferior kind of humanity, done its best to prevent them from getting themselves educated, and organised riots in which they were massacred, their houses set on fire, their women violated, their children horribly mutilated. These riots were, it is known, arranged by the police, acting under Home Office instructions. The Russian people are not really haters of Jews, but they are so weakly emotional that they can be worked upon to commit any kind of atrocity. Of this the authorities took advantage. I could never take surprise at the Jewish lack of enthusiasm for the Russian cause. But I knew many — Madame Sukhomlinoff amongst, them — whose natures would have revolted from betraying the country they lived in, even had opportunity come their way.

There are many others who ought to be in prison if it could do any good to lock them up, which seems doubtful. Old Goremykin, President of the Council of Ministers — with his silky manner and his carefully-tended white whiskers and his habit of going to sleep at Cabinet meetings — was the criminal, or imbecile, if you prefer, who refused to do anything towards organising the country for war. He said war was the business of soldiers. He would have nothing to do with it.

Yet Goremykin was the natural result of the system under which Russia was supposed to be ruled. He, as President was, like other Ministers, responsible personally to the Tsar. He, like the rest, was anxious above all to avoid making mistakes or giving offence in high quarters.

Bribery had been traditional in the Russian public service for centuries. In 1912 the money collected in England to relieve the sufferers from the burning of Moscow was cruelly misappropriated by the officials through whose hands it was supposed to pass. It did not pass — it stuck. Efforts were made over and over again to abolish the evil, but they met with too stiff an opposition. Numbers of officials were so miserably paid that they could not exist without "graft."

Growth of Extravagance

Everybody knew that a great many people were robbing the nation. Officers and their wives enlarged their style of living. There was much talk about particular cases of extravagance, such as that of the colonel in the Caucasus who telegraphed to the store called the English Magazine in Petrograd to send him a woman's knitted silk golf jersey by special messenger. The jersey was priced at several pounds, the return fare cost several pounds more, and the messenger got twenty-five roubles for himself. The comment on such incidents was "His hand has been in the till."

This war, being a "motor war," and motors being expensive things to buy, far more profitable to the thief-in-office than carts and horses, it was natural that the buyers of them for the Army should make the most of their opportunity. The corruption in this line of business was fantastic. I should not have believed what I heard if I had not heard it from persons actually concerned. Even the Red Cross and the Zemstvo organisations were cheated. A man I knew — an Englishman, I am sorry to say — boasted openly that he had made 5,000 out of a deal with the Union of Zemstvos for seventy-five cars. This same man told me he was given 500 odd for a journey from Russia to rthe United States and back. The cost of it could not, upon a very liberal estimate, have been more than half that amount. It appeared that the amount allowable for expenses was still calculated, as in the old days of travelling by road, according to the distance to be covered and the number of horses that would be needed. To have looked up the fare to the United States would have been easy, but too modern.

Some Fantastic "Deals"

The Navy was not much better than the Army where "rake-offs " were concerned. A car was wanted for the Ministry of Marine. The Minister saw it, and approved. Then an adjutant called and said he was to inspect it. Next, a go-between (with a German name) called and asked, on the adjutant's behalf, for a bribe of 2,300 roubles. This was considered too much. Finally 1,400 roubles was agreed upon as a compromise.

Several negotiations for motor-lorries, so necessary to the Army for transport, fell through simply because the greed of the officials interested passed all bounds, not only of decency, but of sense. One deal had to do with a thousand lorries. In this the business was opened by a Russian who went to a motor firm and said he knew the brother of a friend of a high official. This high official was a colonel. The agent asked for five per cent. to be added to the price of the lorries, so that he might make his commission. Then the friend of the colonel wanted five per cent., and the colonel could not take less than five per cent. himself. But this was not all, for it appeared then that there was another high official to be consulted, and. of course, bribed. This would have added twenty-five per cent. to the cost of the lorries. The motor firm refused to supply them at a price which would be known to be monstrous. The bargain was off.

The same result attended a deal for five hundred lorries, which were to cost 3,500 roubles each. The financing of this purchase had been entrusted by the Ministry concerned to a bank. This bank said to the dealer who was prepared to sell the lorries at this price, "You are not charging enough. This is a matter we understand better than you. You had better sell the lorries to us at your price, and we will then resell them at our own price to the Government." The difference would have been 250,000.

Municipal officials were equally anxious with those of the State to drag something for themselves out of the orgy of corruption which they felt was likely to be the last that Russia would know.

Weakened by Corruption

There is the history of one municipal deal. Lorries were wanted by a certain town council. A member of a motor firm, whom we will call A, heard of this, and asked an acquaintance, B, if he would put an order in the firm's way. B met in a street car a certain C, who mentioned that he could influence the ordering of the lorries. B then told him that he had an acquaintance who was offering lorries, but did not give him A's address until he had made sure that A would give him something for introducing C. This being settled, C was told that the lorries could be supplied at 6,500 roubles each. This figure was at once put up to 8,000 roubles in order to allow for "commissions." Then there came upon the scene an official whom we will call D. He said 8,000 roubles was too low a price. The motor firm must pretend to charge the council 11,500 roubles for each lorry.

"But," objected the motor firm, "that is nearly double the list price."

"That," said the official, " can be made to look all right. I will get two friends of mine to submit offers to the council, one at 12,000 roubles per lorry, and the other at 14,000. Then your tender will be the lowest, and will appear to be all right."

Everyone who lived in Russia knew the rottenness of the system. How came it that the Governments of France and Britain were so foolish as to suppose a country so weakened by corruption and ineptitude at the top could stand up against Germany ? That is a question which ought not to be allowed to drop,

 

 

from 'The War Illustrated', 19th January, 1918
'Graft and Bribery in Russia'
By Hamilton Fyfe

 

Memories of Some of the Terrors of a Poisonous System

the Czar and his general staff

 

WHEN I reached Russia there was still an idea in the minds of the more hopeful that, with the Grand Duke as Commander-in-Chief, there would be very little of the bribery and theft which had disgraced the Russian Army during the war against Japan, and which was one of the principal contributing causes to the attempted Revolution of 1905.

I had been there but a short time before I began to find proofs that almost everyone engaged in buying for the Army was “looking after himself." The "graft" was, if possible, worse than ever. Bribery was part of the old system. It cannot be abolished by a single Act of Parliament. The people have grown so used to it that they cannot be cured of this cancer in the body politic by any means save gradual reform. But I have no doubt that this gradual reform will, in less time than is to- day thought possible, sweep away the corruption which has poisoned the life of Russia.

When he is decently treated, and taught to recognise honesty as the best policy, the Russian will be as honest as other peoples are. I do not suggest that this will raise him to an ideal height of incorruptibility. I have yet to make acquaintance with the country where bribery is unknown. But I have certainly never lived in a country where it was so frankly recognised, and accepted as part of the necessary machinery of Government, and of private business also.

Queues for Railway Tickets

It was difficult, often impossible, to transact the simplest business of everyday life in Russia under the old system without spending money on bribes or "tips." Take an example. Suppose you wanted a place in the train. You could not buy one in the ordinary way at the railway-station booking-office. This booking-office did not open until a short time before the departure of the train. Unless you had the leisure and inclination to stand in a queue for at least an hour, frequently more, you were obliged to take your ticket somehow in advance.

I say "somehow" because it was not by any means a matter of plain, straight- forward buying and selling. There did exist offices for the sale of tickets and places (you must for any long journey reserve a seat for the daytime and a berth for the night), but the usual reply to inquiries at these offices was that all places were sold. What you did, then, was to go to someone who worked in connection with the ticket-offices and pay him to get you what you wanted.

Usually these go-betweens were to be found at hotels. When I had to go to .Rumania from Petrograd, at the moment of Rumania's entry into the war, I bought my tickets through an obliging person who frequented the Hotel de France, and paid him five roubles (10s.) for his trouble. I assume that he shared this with the ticket-office. In Kieff I had to take further tickets. Again I employed an hotel tout. Calling upon a friend, who is in business in Kieff, I was asked by his head clerk, "Have you got your place in the train ? If not, I can get it for you." Of course, if I had employed him, he would have expected his "commission" as a matter of business.

Russians who were accustomed to travel in Europe grumbled at the methods of their railways, but did nothing to change them. It would have been hard for them to know how to begin. All the abuses were part of the system. They could not be got rid of piecemeal. An order was issued by the Minister of Railways during the war that there should be no traffic in tickets and place-cards, but no attention was paid to it. The officials were far too strong for the weak man who was then Minister.

How to Get to the Opera

It was little less difficult to buy seats for the Imperial Opera in Petrograd. Tickets could only be taken three days in advance. Often, when some very popular performance was to be given, hundreds of people waited all night for the box- office to open. There was no reason whatever why it should not have been possible to take tickets weeks in advance, as can be done elsewhere. No reason, that is to say, save dunderheaded officialdom. If you knew anyone connected with the opera, you could get tickets at any time. I once asked a friend who had invited me to her box : "How did you manage to make sure of your tickets ?" She told me that her washer-woman had a daughter who was a great friend of some minor official about the Opera House, and that she could always count upon getting whatever seats she wanted. The minor official and the washerwoman's daughter shared a few roubles between them for their pains.

In Petrograd it was sometimes hard to find a room in an hotel without bribing the hotel-porter. This sounds absurd, I know, but I affirm it from personal experience, and all who have been in Petrograd at moments when the city was full will add their testimony to mine. When I readied the capital from Rumania, at the end of 1916, the pressure upon space at the hotels was severe.

"Never do Business Straight"

Everywhere the reply was the same : "Full up !" But by slipping five roubles into the ready hand of an hotel-porter it was almost everywhere possible to hire a room. One might suppose that, in their own interest, the hotel proprietors would have put an end to this kind of extortion. But custom has been very strong in Russia, and custom said : " Never do business straight-forwardly if you can do it in a roundabout, underhand way."

Whatever small business one had to do with the police, or the other small officials who dealt with passports, cost one a certain amount in "tips." I went in one day to sec one of the British officers who were assisting the Russian authorities in this matter, and found him furious against some minor "tchinovnik" who had collected seven roubles apiece off a party of British subjects who were going to Siberia. The passport officer had warned them against possible extortion, but they had been too anxious about their permits to refuse what was demanded.

One felt oneself so entirely at the mercy of these stupid, dirty, rapacious officials that one was glad to pay and be done with them. They were, I am bound to add, usually good-humoured if they were spoken to with deference and smiling cordiality. But the time they made one waste, and the blunders they committed, and the frowsiness of their offices, and the power they possessed of putting obstacles in one's way, made them detestable even to foreigners. As for the cringing behaviour of Russians before the "tchinovnik," the fear that could he clearly read in their faces, the humble manner in which they allowed themselves to be bully-ragged and browbeaten, these are among my most painful recollections of the country.

A people thus damnably inured to the giving and taking of bribes could not be expected to pass through a war without being robbed on a more than customary scale. All peoples are robbed during war. Some of the greatest fortunes that Europe has .known have been founded by arms-contractors. But whereas in more western countries thieving has been made difficult both by public opinion and by the severe punishment of thieves maladroit enough to be caught, in Russia neither of these checks was in operation so long as the old system endured.

Curse of "Commissions"

Much harm was done by the bad plan which allowed regimental officers to buy stores and transport required by their own particular units. I heard of many cases in which this plan led to prices being raised. Here is. one. Three officers, with two engineers, who were supposed to give them technical advice, arrived in a certain city to buy a motor-car for their regiment. They saw one which appeared to suit them. The price was 5,500 roubles (550). What they proposed was that they should be given a receipted bill stating the price to be 10,000 roubles. He-agreed to make the bill out for 8,000 roubles. The purchasers thus pocketed live hundred apiece.

Men of business came to Russia from England, France, or the United States, anxious to sell to the. Army at moderate rates the material which it needed so badly. They found in numberless instances that they were obliged to put their rates up in order to give those who were buying, in most cases Army officers, their "rake-off." Thus a man came from England to sign a contract for Army great- coats. A general called on him and told him plainly that his "commission" would be so much, naming a sum which would have added something, though not a great deal, to the price of the greatcoats. The Englishman refused to pay. Next day when he went to the War Office he was told that he must not expect to get the contract signed for some weeks, and was referred to the very general who had called upon him to ask for a bribe. The Army did not get those greatcoats. The Englishman went away in disgust.

 

from 'The War Illustrated', 26th January, 1918
'Theft & 'Protectsie' In Russia'
 

Some Evils of the Old Regime as I Saw Them

from a French magazine : well-supplied Russian soldiers
not always the case in Russia

 

A REPRESENTATIVE in Russia of a British company, one of the most famous armament firms in the world, found great difficulty in getting his business through. He met with delay after delay. There was some obstacle in his path which he could not see. Then he was told: "If you are wise, you will go to a certain agent and offer him a large sum of money to tell you who are the right people to bribe." He did this, got the information, paid the bribes, and settled everything up in quick time. The agent was, of course, employed by the highly-placed officials who had the contract in hand.

At a time when the Russian Army needed rifles very badly, when men were being sent to the attack armed only with sticks and with orders to pick up a rifle when they saw a properly-armed comrade fall, there was a Frenchman in Petrograd offering to the Government a vast quantity of rifles which he had opportunity to bring from South America. The number was, according to his statement, a million and a half, with a thousand rounds of ammunition each. He was well known to a great many people in Petrograd, and he was kept there three and a half months without an answer, for so other reason, so far as could be seen, save the difficulty in settling how many people should have "pickings" and how much each should get.

A 2,000,000 Bribe

An Englishman was offering two million pairs of boots on behalf of the Boot Federation. He spent three weeks talking to officials in the Army Supply Department. He did not offer any bribes, nor was he directly asked for any, but when he went, expecting to receive the order for the boots, he was told :

"We have already made a contract with Americans for three and a half million pairs." Presumably the Americans had known what to do.

One "remarkable citizen" of the United States was said to have arranged to pay two million pounds in bribes. I treated this as a silly exaggeration until he confirmed it himself. He said he was making a contract to supply goods over a term of years, which would cost in all 20,000,000. The bribes, he assured me, would amount to ten per cent, which made the two-million pound bribe story accurate enough.

More detestable, because it was liable to affect the soldiers' lives as well as the nation's property, was the corruption which flourished in connection with railway transport. In the allotting of trucks, bribery played a leading role. Stationmasters refused to find trucks, even for material urgently needed by the troops, unless their "palms were greased." Sometimes smaller employees were able to grant favours if they were well paid. The Postal Censorship came across a letter from a young woman in the service of one of the railways, telling how she had received furs and jewellery for arranging that some private person should have the use of trucks out of his turn. One stationmasler was hanged for turning out a load of poison-gas apparatus that was on its way to the front, and hiring out the truck to the payer of a handsome bribe. The authorities ought to have hanged a great many more, including the one who refused to supply trucks for a consignment of 50,000 pairs of army trousers, which were wanted in a hurry. The contractor had orders to forward them as quickly as possible. When he received the reply that no trucks were available, he began to fear that lie might get into trouble. He made inquiries, and was advised to leave 500 roubles upon the stationmaster's table. He was at once provided with the trucks he required.

Root of the Evil

There were not enough trucks, it is true, for the needs of the country. The Government was guilty of criminal negligence in not ordering more at the very outset of the war. Here, again, the delay was said to be due to difficulty in coming to an agreement about the exact amount of "graft" that should be paid. But, allowing for the number being too small for all needs to be met, there were certainly sufficient trucks, if they had been honestly and competently handled, to supply the Army and to save the town populations from going short of food.

Had the authorities resolutely punished and prevented traitorous thieving, half the difficulties which Russia had to meet would have been turned aside. Many would never have presented themselves. It is not too much to say that by their listless inaction the Government positively encouraged bribery.

The root-cause of this evil was the underpayment of the mass of State servants and officials of all kinds. A friend of mine told me he felt hot with indignation when a captain in the Army called at his place of business to collect five per cent commission upon an order which he had placed for war material. But when he learned that this unfortunate captain was only paid 122 roubles (12) a month, he was no longer angry with the officer, he was angry with the system.

Stealing by Tradition

How can railway engineers in the Government service be reckoned above suspicion, seeing that their scale of pay begins at 75 roubles (7 10s.) a month ? A policeman who receives only nine roubles a month is compelled to rely upon bribes and blackmail. It is shocking to hear of a clerk in a State Department employed in checking purchases turning to the seller and saying :

"Why don't you give me a hundred roubles and add a good bit on to your prices.”

But when one reflects that this clerk is obliged to try to bring up a family upon a salary quite inadequate to meet necessary expenses, one feels that the blame should properly be laid not so much on him as upon those who failed to pay him a living wage.

Even among the official class there was dislike for and resentment: against the taking of bribes. The nation felt that it was a nuisance and a robbery. Many were ashamed that their country should be so degraded. Yet under the old regime nothing was done towards removing this stain on the national honour. It was a tradition of very long standing that officials should steal. The Empress Catherine is reported to have said of an honest official who remained a poor man :

"The ass ! I have led him to the manger and he refuses to eat."

Even in our own time, the Baroness Fredericks, wife of Tsar Nicholas's Court Chamberlain or, as he was called, Minister of the Court, was surprised to find that an English housekeeper she engaged for her country house one summer had not robbed her. She was not pleased about it. She did not engage the housekeeper again.

The Russian often appears "to like being robbed. I was in a big shop in Petrograd one day, a shop much frequented by Russians because it keeps English wares. A man came in and asked to be shown some silk handkerchiefs. He handled those which were offered to him contentedly enough until he- heard their price. It did not seem to him that they. were sufficiently dear. He asked for others at a higher price. Another box of the same handkerchiefs was produced. He was told that these cost half as much again. He bought them at once.

"Protectsie"

All who have done business with Government offices in Russia know how needful it was to distribute the amount of money to which officials thought themselves entitled.

Bribes would have been much more difficult to extort if there had been any proper system in the public service. Where everything goes by favour and there is no effective supervision, the way lies open for all kinds of abuses. If one knew the right person to apply to, one could often get what one required and save one's money. Thus, a Russian who had a gun-shop at Riga and whose sporting firearms were all seized by the Artillery Department, spent five months trying vainly to get them back through the ordinary channels. They were no use at all to the Army, but nobody took any notice of his petitions until one day he met by chance a friend of the general in whose decision the matter lay. This friend spoke to the general. The property unjustly detained was given up.

To -make use of what the Russians called "protectsie," in other words of a personal "pull," was almost always the most direct method of getting business with any public office or department through. While the railways were at their worst, a big mill near Petrograd, which was working on Government war contracts, could not get the raw wool it needed. The wool was being consigned to it, but did not arrive. A clever Jew who had once been employed at the mill heard of the difficulty. He offered to go round and see all the station-masters on the lines over which the wool had to travel, and pay them to pass it through quickly. In three weeks he had secured it all.

 

from 'The War Illustrated', 2nd February, 1918
'Trying to Understand Russia'

Some Sidelights on the Temperament of the Slav

the Czar and his generals

 

THAT first winter of the war passed quickly for me in Russia. The moves in the Polish campaign were so rapid and so fraught with change. There was so much to observe and study, no less in the rear than at the front. There was the hope buoying us up that the spring would see the end of the war.

Yes, that was the hope in Russia, and the hope of a great many in France and England, too. The British Army was to be ready for a powerful offensive by the end of winter. Belgium would be cleared of the invader; Germany forced to ask for peace.

"Foolish hope," we can say now ; yet perhaps it was just as well we had it to cherish. No one can be blamed for the illusion. The soldiers in high place gave no countenance to it. The only guilt lies at the door of the politicians, who were warned by the soldiers that the war must be long and stubborn, and who, in spite of the warning, refused to adopt the measures which a stubborn and long war demanded.

There were a number of war correspondents gathered in Petrograd those early days, and I sometimes feel ashamed of the cheerful views which prevailed among us. We thought we knew something about war. What a lot we had to learn !

Visionary Idealism

And we had to learn it by our own unaided efforts. The Russian authorities gave us no help. At the beginning there was a personally conducted tour for a small number of newspaper men. It was carefully arranged that they should see — nothing. The most warlike scene visited was a biscuit factory employed in manufacturing for the Army.

On the evening of that famous visit, Professor Pares proposed that each correspondent should relate what he considered to be his most thrilling adventure. When the turn came round to Ludovic Naudeau, the gentle, witty giant who then represented the Paris "Journal," he spoke as follows : "I came to this vast, wonderful country to describe how its soldiers make war. I travelled thousands of versts. I prepared myself for hardships and perils. And all that I have seen is — a biscuit factory !"

Pares is professor of Russian at Liverpool University. Ho had spent years in the country, studying its political parties. He might perhaps have gained more insight into its probable future if he had studied the character of the people. The idea which he and so many other Englishmen formed, and which was at the back of the programme of the Constitutional Democrat Party (the Cadets), was that "Liberal institutions " would entirely satisfy Russia's aspirations for a change of system.

Very few people, whether Russian or English, understood how little the Russian people were impressed by methods of government which in Western Europe are considered the last word of political wisdom. Very few had plumbed their strange, visionary — yet always practical — idealism.

That sounds to us like a contradiction in terms. We think of ideals as lying beyond the bounds of action. We talk about "hitching our waggon to a star," but we know that Emerson used this as a figure of speech. The star is in the sky, we are on the earth. So far as possible, we like to keep our ideals and our practice separate.

One Thought at a Time

But the Russian, however far from actual conditions his ideal may be, hopes always to turn it into a reality. His simple, matter-of-fact mind finds no profit in contemplating the unattainable. "Whatever is desirable should be grasped at." Thus, if a Russian becomes convinced that it is more blessed to give than to receive, he starts giving all that he possesses, and goes on until he has nothing left.

Not many years ago, preachers belonging to a sect called the Dukhobors persuaded large numbers of men and women that God would be better pleased if they gave up wearing clothes. They gave them up then and there. Naturally, there was trouble with the police.

It is this impulsive doing of whatever seems to him to be pleasant or profitable which explains a great deal in the Russian character that puzzles Western people, among whom I reckon the people of the United States. Theory and action, precept and practice, the Western mind keeps in different compartments. The Russian mind has only one compartment. It only thinks one thought at a time. Here is the explanation of what is happening in Russia now.

Epictctus, the Roman philosopher, used to tell his pupils that “everything has two handles. For example, your brother offends you — one handle is that you are angry with him ; the other handle is that he is your brother. Consider well in every case which handle you will take hold of."

The Russian temperament drives head-long at one handle and forgets all about the other. I found the Petrograd custom of paying visits between ten and eleven at night difficult to fit in with my work next morning. Talk or card-playing, with innumerable glasses of tea, served with biscuits, sweetmeats, jam, savoury sandwiches, and the like, went on often till three or four o'clock.

Living for the Moment

One handle to this was the pleasantness of it; the other handle, that late hours cause "that tired feeling" in the daytime. But my Russian friends urged me not to think about to-morrow. If I insisted on leaving early, they declared it must be because I was not enjoying myself. "Do whatever you are inclined to do at the moment," was their rule of life, and in that- they were typical of their race.

Following this rule made many Russian officers and officials idle and ease-loving.

But upon many others it had the opposite effect. These latter seemed to have no interest in life but their work. Colonel Matchulski, for instance, head of the Intelligence Department in the War Office, used to be at his desk fourteen hours a day. To him we had to apply for information. He was always polite and amiable, but never seemed to know anything.

By some this was regarded as a sure sign of his deep. Machiavellian cunning. I myself believe that when a man says nothing, it is, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, because he has nothing to say. Matchulski delivered a little lecture every night on the official news ; but the foreign correspondents soon found they learned nothing from him, so his audience was composed of Russian newspaper men, who took down what he said in some weird kind of shorthand, and usually got it all wrong.

Perceval Gibbon, who is now distinguishing himself by his picturesque messages from the Italian front, was in Petrograd then. So was Alan Ostler, who later joined the R.F.A. Gibbon talked Russian pretty well, but Ostler's efforts were very funny. I recollect one afternoon hearing an English correspondent lean across the bar in the Hotel de l'Europe where we were having tea, and ask the large lady behind it, "Have you any progeny ?"

 

tea instead of vodka being issued to Russian soldiers

 

"It is Better So"

Gibbon and I roared. The lady's eyes rolled suspiciously. What the correspondent wanted to know was: Had she any cakes ? The Russian word for cakes is "pirozhni," and he thought he had got quite near enough.

There was little in the life of the capital to remind people of the war until the supply of liquor was cut off. Spirits, wine, beer, all were forbidden. They could be had sometimes at enormous prices — two sovereigns for a bottle of whisky, one sovereign for wine that had been sold usually at eighteenpence. But sensible folk put up with the deprivation, and most of us found we could get along quite well.

The change which the suppression of vodka made in the villages and the poorer quarters of towns was rapid, and from every point of view an improvement. There was more health, more wealth, more comfort. The savings banks deposits increased enormously. Sometimes a peasant or a workman would grumble. A good few poisoned themselves with furniture polish and other horrible substitutes for alcohol ; but the great mass, even of those who had been formerly drunkards, approved.

When vodka was on sale they had only one thought about it — it stilled the craving for "fire in the belly" ; it made them forget. Therefore they drank it. But they knew it was bad for them, and when it could be bought no longer they told one another, "It is better so."

There you have the Russian temperament again.

 

 

from 'The War Illustrated', 9th February, 1918
'Why I Still Believe in Russia'

 

New Light on the True Inwardness of Bolshevism

red flags in Moscow : photo by Donald Thompson

 

All the time that I was in Russia the kettle of Revolution was getting; hotter. It began gradually. Not until the spring of 1915 was its singing to be heard in the open. All opinions unfavourable to the Old System were for a long time beaten down, as one can beat down The first names of a prairie fire running swiftly now in this direction, now in that. Then came the demand of the Progressives, the intelligent business and professional men of the country, that the carrying on of the war should be entrusted to more capable hands.

It was the refusal of that demand coming on the top of the appalling losses suffered by the Russian armies and of the knowledge, filtering through the country, that the disasters were caused by corruption and muddle-headedness — these were the two chief causes of the Revolution.

If the Tsar had been a man of any sense or capability, if France and England had told him plainly that he was heading towards catastrophe, if among his Ministers there had been two or three, or even one, courageous enough to proclaim aloud the follies and crimes that were being committed, the war would be over, and Nicholas Romanoff would be reigning happily as a constitutional sovereign like our King George.

But “against stupidity the gods themselves fight vainly." Stupidity was the defect which brought Charles the First to the scaffold, and lost James the Second his job, and put Louis the Sixteenth's head under the guillotine. Stupidity. ruined Nicholas the Second.

I remember, in the days when the food queues began in the big cities, walking past one with an acquaintance, who said, "There is the beginning of the end."

Hunger Breeds Revolution

All revolutions of the people have been caused by hunger. The English people have never been hungry, therefore we have never had a popular revolution. Ours have been managed by the aristocracy and the middle class. The Progressive Party in Russia, made up largely of noble and middle-class men, hoped to accomplish their Revolution in the same way. But theirs was the fault of "the untrimmed lamp and the ungirt loin." They could never make up their minds to act. My acquaintance was right. It was hunger that brought about the end of the Old System, hunger due to the incompetence of the ruling class.

The Progressive ideal, transformation by peaceful means of autocracy into constitutional monarchy, was the ideal of almost all the more enlightened, educated people in the country. Only now and then was a rumble heard which suggested the possibility of more drastic change.

"Bolshevism," which means Extremism, was not a new faith, but it could not be openly preached. All the more famous of its prophets were in exile. I confess that I never thought the Progressives would be so feeble and faint-hearted as to lose their grip through indecision. When Revolution was talked of, no one took Bolshevism into account.

"There are no pages in history more instructive, and few more humiliating and depressing, than those which record the judgments of great thinkers and politicians on the verge of the changes that have most profoundly affected the destiny of mankind," wrote Lecky in his "History of the Eighteenth Century."

Now if may be thought an exaggeration to call Bolshevism a "change that is likely to affect profoundly the destiny of mankind." Yet that is what I do firmly believe it to be.

It had been plain for many years that changes were preparing; changes in the political, in the social, in the economic order. How they would come, whether gradually, or with a rush, was not plain. Suddenly when the Russian system collapsed, the ideas of change began to pour out over the world.

Bolshevist Integrity of Purpose

You must not think of the Bolshevist leaders, the writers and thinkers, disciples of Tolstoy, who have been preaching this new religion in obscure lecture-halls, in badly-printed periodicals which were never seen on the bookstalls anywhere— you must not think of these men as hooligans, as self-seeking adventurers, as men unfit to take part in the business of government. They are "fanatics" in the worldly sense. The world claps this label on to all who pursue without flinching some aim which is not merely that of personal aggrandisement, of "getting-on." But they are neither scoundrels nor fools.

They are determined, if they can, to establish in Russia the rule of those who have hitherto been the downtrodden, and to spread this change into all countries. They say that up to now the people have everywhere been humbugged by ruling classes, that government has nowhere been in the interests of the people but for the .benefit of the ruling classes.

Among the consequences of this, they contend, have been the degradation of the great mass of the people, wars in which the people have always suffered and never gained, industrial anarchy, shamefully unequal conditions of life, and wage- slavery winch is more cruel than the older form of slavery, since the old slaves had to be kept in pretty good condition, whereas the wage-slave can be thrown out when he is exhausted and easily replaced.

Putting Theory Into Practice

I have heard these doctrines expounded often in Russia. They were the doctrines of those who tried to make the Revolution of 1905, and failed because they had not got at the mind of the peasant. Between 1905 and 1917 the peasant and the city workman were converted. , Pamphlets by Tolstoy, preaching the new religion, were distributed by millions.

The first step towards improvement, the Bolshevists consider, is to get rid of the old gangs drawn from the ruling classes. They have done that.

The next step is to persuade the people everywhere that in all countries their interests are the same. Then they will never be deluded, as the Germans were, into making war for the benefit of a ruling class, or, as the Russians have often been, to uphold the prestige of a monarch. They will quickly learn that war is out of date. When a monarch could say, "L'etat, c'est moi," it was natural enough that kings and emperors should make war on one another for reasons of greed or spite. But as soon as it is made clear that the State is the people, then wars become unnecessary and absurd.

No people ever wanted to oppress another people, nor to take any territory from them, nor to prevent them from governing themselves as they pleased. These acts were once the "common form" of monarchs, and they are still looked upon as legitimate by bat-eved governing persons who do not yet realise that the old order has passed away. But in countries which are supposed to enjoy "Government of the People by the People for the People" even the talk of such acts. should be meaningless. The. Bolshevists base their foreign policy on that.

As for their proceedings at home, these are governed by their conviction that the land and the means of production must be the property of the people. It will be instructive to watch the production of those factories which have been taken over by the workers in them. Some have kept the owners or managers on to manage under the direction of a committee. That the Russian people will do well on the land I havec no doubt.

Idealism of the Russian People

You can understand the attraction of the Bolshevist programme for the peasant and the workman. Its idealism appeals to them not less than its practical side. When men have nothing to lose, they are always inclined to side with those who promise them some gain. A friend of mine just returned from Petrograd asked a porter why he was in favour of the Bolshevists. The man said : "You see these trousers, and tills blouse ? They are the only ones I possess. Any change may make me better off. It can't make me any worse off."

That is the attitude of many, but there is a strong idealist side to the Russian character, and theirs is an idealism which calls for action. They do not keep their ideals and their practice in separate compartments. It they arc convinced that any course will be advantageous, they want to follow it at once.

You may say that idealism is hard to square with the horrible crimes that have been committed by "Bolshevists." With these crimes, however, the real Bolshevists. the leaders, have no more connection than Mr. Lloyd George had with the recent sand-bagging of soldiers in a London street. Unfortunately there are always men of criminal instinct ready to commit atrocities under shelter of new religions, and in disturbed times.

Bolshevism may suffer for these detestable acts, and it may be overthrown for the moment. But I find it hard to believe that its doctrines will disappear permanently, either in Russia or anywhere else.

 

mutinous soldiers commandeering a truck : photo by Donald Thompson

 

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