- from the Sphere, February 10th 1916
- Train de Bargigli
- a Unique Organization on the Russian Front
described by Scotland Liddell, special correspondent of the Sphere in Russia
The Story of a Great Undertaking
"There are trains in the United States, for instance that have their dining-rooms and drawing-rooms and smoking-rooms and barbers' shops and observation cars and, if you read their handbills, "other attractions too numerous to mention." But there never has been a train like that of Colonel de Bargigli on the Eastern front. If you are an officer or soldier in Russia, you must know the train. Probably you owe it a debt of gratitude. If you are not a Russian soldier you ought at least to know of the wonderful work done by Colonel de Bargigli's organisation.
Let me explain one thing in the first place. Not far from the point where I sit writing this you can see a railway line that cuts the trenches in half. On this railway line is the train. It rests as near the trenches as the authorities determine. The locomotive is always ready for duty at a moment's notice, and there are enough waggons to carry off 500 wounded men as well as several hundred unwounded officers and soldiers.
What the "Train de Bargigli " is
The train is everything that the ordinary train is not. It is a Red Cross hospital with a staff of sisters, an operation waggon, and all conveniences. Part of it transports wounded men to the nearest sanitary train which goes to the base hospitals in the cities. It is a dentist's parlour where aching teeth can be removed and threatening molars stopped in time. No fees charged, of course. It is an hotel where tired officers can have a bed and breakfast and lunch and supper too if they care to stop. It is a café with an ever- flowing pot of tea and an ever-boiling samovar. If you prefer coffee, say so, and you will have it tout de suite. It is a restaurant in which one need not tip. The meals, like the service, are also free of charge, and there is no extra price needed for a second helping.
"Mojno ?" the little sister says when an empty plate is seen. "May I ?" she asks, meaning may she fetch more food. There's hospitality for you ! Not "Shall I ?" but "May I ?"
Post Office, and Tea and Tobacco Shop
The train is a post-office to which letters may be given. No stamps are required. They are franked free of charge. The soldiers' letters are censored also, the names of places being struck out. If a soldier cannot write, a sister will be his secretary and write his humble message in the Tsar's Russian and add a lot of nice things the soldier wants to say but cannot. And there are tea and food for the man afterwards, just as there are tea and food for every hungry and tired simple soldier who comes along. Machorka, the chopped-up roots of the tobacco plant, which the soldier prefers to that part of the weed that is open and above ground, is also given free of charge to those who have no money.
There is a stable on the train with real live horses in it, and there are cows and poultry that earn their keep. Pigs also are there, promising to pay when they have grown up and out. There is a laundry, with peasant women refugees as laundry maids. There is a tailor who will make you a suit but please bring your own cloth.
The Peasants' Appreciation of the Train
Peasants come daily for their meals. No other food is to be had, but Colonel de Bargigli gives ample satisfaction to the hungriest. The train is Liberty Hall. The youngest peasant or soldier or officer has the same welcome and treatment as a commanding general or the military chief of an army staff, and both the young and important men turn up each day. A very young peasant arrived a week or two ago, but his choosing to be born on the train was almost a taking advantage of the liberty for which the train is noted.
One of the waggons is a shop. Tobacco, and sugar, and white bread, and soap, and note-paper even the fancy kinds on which young soldiers write their billets-doux and sweets, and cheese, and tinned foods of varied kinds, and kodaks, and even films and photographic chemicals and supplies are all to be had. A pretty sister will serve you. Her smiles alone are worth a visit. Her eyes . . . You will have eyes for nothing else. The profits of the shop store prices, by the way go to the Red Cross, and, besides that, the train is entirely self-supporting.
There are other things the train is, but the most important is that the train is the last train of all, just as it is surely the first. During the tragic weeks of the great retreat the train of Colonel de Bargigli kept right in the battle zone and never moved with its freight of wounded until the final moment. The last wounded man was lifted carefully into a waggon before the train steamed off. But the train never went very far. It discharged its load into a sanitary train, then returned to the firing zone again. The enemy's cavalry were clattering through the streets of "-----" before the train left. And so in all the other places in the weeks that followed. On several occasions the train left at the same moment as that of the sappers who blew up the bridges and points.
Colonel de Bargigli and his Train in the Retreat
Colonel de Bargigli's train was one of the few oases in the desert of a terrible retreat.
"Still here ?" an officer would say, riding up on horseback. "There are wounded coming.
We're waiting for them," would be the reply.
"But the enemy-----" The Red Cross flag that fluttered above the railway trucks was all the answer needed.
At one time it seemed that the train and all its crew must surely fall into the enemy's hands. Indeed, they said further east that the train had been captured. The line in front was cut; the line behind was occupied by the German-Austrian forces. Safety could have been reached on foot, but no one walked away. Perhaps some wounded men would come. . . . The enemy was repulsed, and the train was saved. And that was the end of the retreat.
Things are quieter now on the Eastern front, but the train is still the nearest to the battle- line. The battle sounds are ever to be heard. Colonel de Bargigli is not a Russian by birth; he is a member of an old Italian family. For twenty-one years he was an Italian subject. In peace time in days of national peace he is a judge, but it is for his work with the Russian Army that he will be long remembered.
- colonel de Bargigli on the left
- Scotland Liddell on the right
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