from ‘The War Illustrated’, 23rd March, 1918
'My Memories of Bukarest and a Brave Queen'
A Wanderer in War Lands
by Hamilton Fyfe


Rumania a Victim of Unreadiness

German troops in Bucharest


WHEN I went down to Rumania from the Russian front in August, 1910, I went in good spirits, believing that the Rumanian Army would be able to help towards the ending of the war.

I left the country four months later, having seen that Army broken to pieces, the richest part of the kingdom over-run by the enemy. Now, left in the lurch by Russia's refusal to go on fighting, Rumania sees herself compelled to give in. Looking back to-day, one is almost tempted to. ask if it was not a disaster for her, for us, for the world which longs so wearily for the war to be over, that Rumania ever took up arms ? And yet no other course seemed open to her at the hour of decision.

I remember walking up and down the platform of the frontier station on a sunny afternoon in harvest-time, thanking goodness that I was getting out of Russia again.

In another few hours I should be in a Latin country, instead of one which based its system of Government and, in large measure, its civilisation upon Latin remains. I was sick of that. It had taken a week to get my passport arranged, and I was under orders to go "at once." Even on that railway-station there were still formalities to be gone through, and one could never feel quite sure until they had been completed that some difficulty might not be raised.

Yet four months later, when I left Rumania, I was glad to be getting into Russia again.

Coming of Gloom

The Rumanian people are all right. The peoples everywhere arc all right. Troubles arise from their being governed badly. M. Bratiano governed Rumania a long time, and he made a terrible mess of it. This could not be said while he was still Prime Minister, but now that he has been succeeded by that excellent soldier and honest man, General Avarescu, I need not hesitate to say that it is M. Bratiano who will have to bear, according to the verdict of history, the blame of leading Rumania astray.

Somehow I felt as soon as I reached Bukarest that a shadow of coming evil lay across what once gay and dissipated little capital. The railways were in a state of confusion which made me uneasy about the management of the war. Instead of leaving the frontier in the afternoon, and reaching Bukarest at night, I had to spend the night at Jassy, little thinking how well I was to know this dirty town later on, when it became the seat of Government.

Next morning the train left about eight. I hoped to get to Bukarest towards evening, but we dragged on all through the hot day, and half through the night as well. We did not pull into the dark station of the capital until half-past two o'clock.

Station dark, streets dark, not a cab to be found.. Terror of the air raids had already gripped the population. Nothing for it but to walk to a hotel, hiring a rapacious fellow to carry one's baggage. Fifteen francs (12s. 6d.) was his charge. Take it or leave it. Plenty of passengers ready to take it if I did not. I paid gladly enough. Sometimes there were no men to carry luggage even. A friend of mine, who arrived some weeks afterwards, had to leave his and walk to the hotel, pyjamas in one pocket of his overcoat, toothbrush and slippers in the other.

Tea and Gossip Shop

From being the "racketiest" of pleasure places Bukarest had transformed itself in the first days of war into the most gloomy. Everything closed at nine o'clock, all taxis and almost all horse-cabs "gone to the war." No one allowed to be out after nine without a special permit. Windows had to be darkened on this wise :

At half-past seven an hotel servant would march into my room, shut the outer windows, pull a Venetian blind over them, shut the inner windows, which had blue paper pasted on them into the bargain, then lower a thick green blind. Imagine what rooms so sealed up were like on a hot September evening !

There was a famous tea-shop in the main street of Bukarest. They made really good tea there; which could not be said of any other tea-shop. The secretary of the British Legation had once gone down into the kitchen and shown them how to make it. This was both a fashionable resort and a great place for gossip among politicians. Suddenly it was closed.

The Government were afraid of gossip, even over the teacups, after the reverse which the Rumanian troops suffered in the south at the hands of the Bulgarians. After this nothing went right for them.

Very soon it became evident that, instead of being prepared for war, as the British and French nations had been encouraged to believe, the Rumanian Army was not in any state to undertake even an easy campaign. M. Bratiano had either deceived himself or misled the Allies. He had no heavy artillery for his troops, no aeroplanes to speak of. He sent old generals to command at the front, men who were unfit for any position of responsibility. The soldiers even lacked such necessaries for campaigning under today's conditions as nippers to cut barbed-wire ; there were in some units not enough spades for digging positions.

Terrible Mismanagement

I saw a good deal of the hospitals in the early days. They showed plainly that the war had- not been prepared for in a medical sense. The Army Medical Service had studied what ought to be done. It was the only branch of the Service which had done this. It had sent officers to the front in France to make reports, and as a result the Rumanian field hospitals were good. But here again misfortune befell. The idea of M. Bratiano was that the invasion of Transylvania must be easy, the Austrians being, as he thought, exhausted and the Germans having no assistance to spare. The medical service was, therefore, all up at the front. There many hospitals had nothing to do, while in the rear, at Bukarest and in other cities, the wounded men were pouring into the improvised hospitals, and the difficulties of taking care of them caused a terrible number of deaths and a tragic amount of suffering which better management might have avoided.

I remember visiting in Craiova a hospital where four hundred sick and wounded were under the charge of one heroic woman surgeon with a few junior students to help her. She was a young woman, and very strong, she declared, but she admitted the strain was telling on her.

How could it be otherwise ? A French doctor, one of a very fine party of able and self- sacrificing men, told me the number of wounded Rumanians sent back to the Army after treatment was only ten per cent. It sounded unbelievable. But I am afraid it was not far from being literally true.

Queen Marie had in the Palace one of the best hospitals of Bukarest. As she said to me one day : "Of course mine is all right. I can get anything that is to be had." But it was well managed, too, which was more than could be said for most ; and there was no stealing. A lady who had a hospital, the mother of a Rumanian friend of mine, told me her doctors were aggrieved because she would not let them take away meat and vegetables to their homes. They said “all other hospitals allowed it."

Rumania's Brave Queen

The Queen is not only the most beautiful of her class, but I should think the most capable, too. She has none of the shyness and gaucherie which so often make Royal personages, and those who are presented to them, uncomfortable. She made me feel after I had been talking to her for ten minutes as if we had known each other for years. She was perfectly frank and natural. "It has been difficult for the King and me," she said. "He is a German. I am English. But We have never let difficulties stand in our We are both Rumanian. That was our safeguard."

She has been through hard times, sue h times as neither she nor her cousin, the Empress of Russia, ever dreamed of going through until misfortune fell upon them. But Queen Marie has never flinched or faltered. She has sometimes said, "It is hard on the children." But not a complaint will she make about what she herself suffers. I hate to think of what she must be feeling in her brave English heart in this dark hour of Rumania's humiliation, brought, upon that unhappy country by political incapacity and intrigue.


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