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Title: In the Russian Ranks - A Soldier's Account of the Fighting in Poland
Author: Morse, John Torrey, 1840-1937
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Russian Ranks - A Soldier's Account of the Fighting in Poland" ***

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[Illustration: RUSSIA'S RENOWNED CAVALRY ON THE MARCH]



  IN THE RUSSIAN RANKS

  A Soldier's Account of the Fighting in Poland

  BY

  JOHN MORSE


  _Englishman_

  ILLUSTRATED WITH
  REPRODUCTIONS OF PHOTOGRAPHS

  NEW YORK

  GROSSET & DUNLAP

  PUBLISHERS


  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



  CONTENTS


        CHAPTER

      I THE OUTBREAK OF THE GREAT WAR
     II THE SCENE AT KALISZ ON THE 2ND AUGUST, 1914
    III THE EVENTS PRECEDING ACTUAL HOSTILITIES
     IV THE FIRST FIGHT
      V THE FIGHTING UP TO THE 26TH AUGUST
     VI THE CAVALRY FIGHTING BEFORE KOENIGSBERG
    VII THE FIRST INVASION OF EAST PRUSSIA, AND THE RETREAT
   VIII THE KAISER NOT A SUCCESSFUL GENERAL
     IX CHIEFLY PERSONAL MATTER
      X THE FIGHTING ON THE VISTULA IN THE MONTH OF OCTOBER, 1914
     XI THE RETREAT OF THE GERMANS FROM THE VISTULA
    XII AN INFANTRY RECONNAISSANCE
   XIII THE BUTCHER'S BILL TO THE END OF 1914
    XIV "DO NOT FIRE ON YOUR COMRADES"
     XV SMALL AFFAIRS AND PERSONAL ADVENTURES
    XVI A NIGHT ATTACK ON A BRIDGE-HEAD
   XVII THE FIGHTING NEAR SKYERMEVICE ON THE 3RD, 4TH, AND 5TH FEBRUARY
  XVIII CHIEFLY GOSSIP
    XIX THE FIGHTING BEFORE PLOCK
     XX HARD MARCHING AND DESULTORY FIGHTING
    XXI RECONNAISSANCE AND TRENCH FIGHTING
   XXII FROM THE TRENCHES OF PRZASNYSZ TO THE CAMP OF MAKOW
  XXIII A RIDE TOWARDS OSTROLENKA
   XXIV A PRISONER IN GERMAN HANDS
    XXV ADVENTURES DURING THE EFFORT TO ESCAPE
   XXVI MY LAST DAYS IN RUSSIA



AN ENGLISHMAN IN THE RUSSIAN RANKS



CHAPTER I

THE OUTBREAK OF THE GREAT WAR


On the 1st July, 1914, if I could have seen one step ahead in my life's
course, this book would not have been written. On the day named I
crossed the German frontier west of Metz; and, for the first time,
beheld the territory of the Hun.

Always a student of military matters, at this hour I loved war, and all
that pertained to war; now I loathe it with an ineradicable hate and
disgust, and hope never again to see ground crimsoned with blood.

But at this time I had heard no hint of war in the centre of Europe and
of civilization, and no thoughts were farther from my mind than those of
martial contention.

My object in going to Germany was business; but also to spend a holiday
in a country I had heard friends praise for its beauty and hospitality;
and particularly I wished to visit places renowned in history, art and
romance. Little I dreamed that I was to see a horrible blight, a foul
leprosy, settle on much that had a hallowed past for every cultivated
intellect.

I arrived at Metz from Paris via Chalons and Verdun; and, as my time and
means were both limited, I went on, after only two days' delay, to
Mayence and Frankfort, and thence to Leipzig, where I had some business
to transact. On the 16th July I was at Dresden; on the 20th at Breslau;
and on the 22nd I arrived at Ostrovo, a small German town barely ten
miles from the Russian frontier, and not more than twelve, English
measurement, from Kalisz, which is the capital of a Polish province of
the same name.

At Ostrovo I went, by previous invitation, to the house of a German
friend, from whom I received the most kindly treatment, and to whom I
owe my liberty and possibly my life. It will be obvious that I cannot
reveal the name of this person, nor the nature of my business with him.
It was my intention to remain a month at Ostrovo, which was a convenient
place from whence to make excursions to some of the most interesting
Prussian towns.

I loved the sight of armed men; and during my journey, as opportunities
occurred, I watched the soldiers I saw in the various cities I passed
through. I could not fail to notice the great difference in the military
forces of the two countries--France and Germany. On the Continent one
expects to see a more prominent display of soldiers than is usually the
case in our own quiet island home; but there was no great parade of the
military element in any of the French garrisons I passed through. In all
the large towns a force of some kind was stationed; but in so important
a place as Verdun there did not appear to be a stronger military
garrison than one would see at such stations in England as Plymouth or
Chatham. In the French fortress I saw a battalion marching to the music
of bugles. The men did not exceed 600 in number. In another part of the
town about 150 infantry were drilling; and many artillerymen were
walking about; yet the numbers showed plainly that France was not
mobilizing at this time.

As soon as the frontier was passed I saw that quite a different state of
things existed. As I left the railway-station at Metz three battalions
marched by--two of a line regiment, and a battalion of riflemen, or
jagers, distinguished by wearing shakos instead of the nearly universal
_Pickelhaube_, or spiked helmet. These battalions were quite a thousand
strong in each case. In other words, they had their full war complement
of men. A regiment of hussars was 600 strong; and field-artillery, with
fifty-six guns, besides machine-guns, extended about a mile and a half
along one of the country roads. Everywhere in Germany the towns, large
and small, were crowded with soldiers. Cavalry and artillery and long
lines of waggons lined the country highways and byways. I remarked on
this to a fellow-passenger who spoke English. His reply was that the
troops were assembling for the autumn Manoeuvres. I was sufficiently
surprised to exclaim:--

"What! Already?"

"It is rather early, but they are probably going to have preliminary
exercises in the forest-lands," was the reply.

After this I perceived the passenger was regarding me with a peculiar
air; and, recollecting certain cautions I had received concerning the
danger of making inquiries about the movements of troops on the
Continent, I did not recur to the subject.

At Dresden a large number of troops, infantry and cavalry, were
departing northward by rail and road. At Breslau at least 20,000 men of
all arms were concentrated. These circumstances had no particular
significance to my mind at the time, but a very great one a few days
later.

Even when I arrived at Ostrovo and found the country-side crowded with
troops, impending war did not occur to my thoughts, though I did ponder
on the extraordinary precautions Germany seemed to be taking to insure
the inviolability of her powerful domain. Now I know, of course, that
the mendacious Hun, with the low cunning of a murderous maniac, was
preparing for a blood-feast, before a taint of it was floating in the
surrounding air; and if it is thought that I am putting the case
strongly, I shall have that to relate shortly which would make it
remarkable if I were not to use forcible language. Blood and lust: lust
and blood--this is the awful and disgusting story I have to tell--a
story set in military surroundings which, for skill and magnitude, have
never previously been approached; but military ability and the hugeness
of the operations have only intensified the hellish misery of this the
vastest struggle the world has seen. And that it may never again see
such must be the universal prayer to God.

In Germany it is the custom to billet soldiers on the people, and most
of the houses at Ostrovo were full of men whose behaviour, even to their
own countrymen, was sickening in its utter lack of decency. Complaints
against soldiers have to be very strongly corroborated before their
officers or the magistracy of the land take serious note of them.

In my friend's house some officers of the --th regiment were lodged. With
these I speedily became on friendly terms, and, through them, with
officers of other German corps, particularly with those of a Pomeranian
artillery regiment, one of whom was a quiet and affable little
gentleman. With him I thought I might venture to discuss military
matters, and on the 28th July the following conversation took place
between us. I should premise that I cannot read or speak German and that
I had not seen an English newspaper for more than a week previously.
Certain information had been communicated to me by my friend, but I had
not been given to understand that war was imminent between Germany and
Russia, or any other nation.

"All your units are very strong," I remarked. "Is it usual for you to
embody your reserves for the manoeuvres?"

"Our troops are not on manoeuvre. We are going to fight," was the
officer's reply.

"Fight!" I exclaimed, much astonished. "Whom are you going to fight?"

"The Russians and the French."

"The two most powerful nations in the world! Are you strong enough to do
that?" I said, amazed, and hardly able to believe that I had heard
aright.

"The Austrians are going to join with us, and we shall be in Paris in a
month."

I laughed--rather scornfully, I think.

"Are you joking? Is not what you say absurd?" I asked.

"Not in the least. You will see that what I say is correct."

"But is war declared? Has the matter been discussed in the Press?"

"In this country we do not permit the Press to make the announcement of
such things. War is not declared yet, but it will be on Sunday next."

"Against Russia, you mean?" said I, astonished beyond degree of
expression.

"Yes, and against France too," replied the officer.

"But why? I have not heard that France has given cause of offence to
your country."

"She has been a standing menace to us for years, and will continue to be
so until she is completely crushed."

This is how I heard that the Great War was about to begin. I hardly
believed it, but my friend read me certain passages from German
newspapers, and the following day I received a batch of journals from my
own country, which, together, showed that the political situation of
Europe was rapidly becoming serious.

On the 30th I noticed a change of countenance on the part of most of the
officers who had been friendly with me. The young artillery officer I
have mentioned and a Colonel Swartz, who was, I believe, a Landwehr
officer of the 99th regiment, continued their friendly behaviour towards
me. Swartz was shortly afterwards killed near Turek, where his battalion
was destroyed.

Early in the evening of the 31st, a lady came to my friend's house and
strongly advised me to quit the country without delay. She gave as a
reason that she had received a letter from her brother, an officer in
the foot-guards at Berlin, in which he declared that it was well known
that the Kaiser intended to send an ultimatum to England, and that a
rupture with this country was the almost inevitable consequence. My
friend backed the lady's advice, and my own opinion was that it would be
wise of me to return home at once.

But later that night Swartz and the young officer came and declared that
it was almost impossible for me to get out of Germany by any of the
usual channels before war was declared, as nearly all the lines were
required for the movements of troops and material. Swartz said that it
would take at least four days for a civilian to reach France by railway.
I suggested a motor-car, but he thought that all motors would
immediately be confiscated--at any rate, those driven by foreigners.

The above circumstances and the date, of the correctness of which I am
quite sure, show that the German Sovereign had preconceived war, not
only with France and Russia, but also with England, before the actual
declaration of hostilities.

Down to this time, and until several days later, I did not hear Belgium
mentioned in connection with the war, and for several reasons, not the
least of which was my ignorance of the German and Russian languages,
many facts relating to the operations of the Allies on the Western line
of hostilities did not become known to me until some time after they had
taken place. It must not be forgotten that this book is in no sense a
history of the Great War, but simply a narrative of my experiences with
the Russian Army in certain areas of the Eastern line of operations.
These experiences I purpose to give in diary form, and with little or no
reference to the fighting in other parts of the war area, of which I
knew almost nothing--or at any rate, nothing that was very reliable.

All day on the 31st July it was persistently declared at Ostrovo that
war had been declared against Russia and against France, and that it
would be declared against England on the morrow, which was Saturday, the
1st August. The persons who were responsible for these assertions were
the Army officers with whom I came in contact, and the people generally
of all classes. Not a word was said about Belgium.

On the afternoon of the 1st August the Kaiser is said to have ordered
the mobilization of the German Army. The German Army was already
mobilized so far as the Russian frontier was concerned, and had been so
for eight or nine days. On the line between Neustadt-Baranow, a distance
of about eighty English miles, there were concentrated five army corps,
with three cavalry divisions, about 250,000 men. These were supported by
two corps between Breslau and Glogau, two more at Posen, a large force
at Oppeln, and other troops at Oels, Tarnowitz, and places which I need
not name here. My calculation was that about 1,000,000 men were ready to
act on the line Neustadt-Tchenstochow. There was another 2,000,000 on
the line of frontier running northward through Thorn and East Prussia to
the Baltic, and probably a fourth million in reserve to support any
portion of the line indicated; and what was worth at least another
2,000,000 men to Germany was the fact that she _could move any portion
of these troops ten times more quickly than Russia could move her
forces_. It is officially stated that only 1,500,000 Germans were in
line in August. I think that my estimate is correct.

Meanwhile, conscious that I had not permitted myself to be over-cautious
in acquiring a dangerous knowledge, I was particularly anxious to leave
Germany as speedily as possible. Chance had brought me to what was to
become one of the most important points of the operations between
Prussia and Russia, and chance greatly favoured my escape from what I
began to fear was an awkward trap. Had I known what a nation of fiends
the Germans were going to prove themselves, my anxiety would have been
greatly increased. Thank God there is no race on earth in which all are
bad, all devoid of the attributes of humanity.

Late on the night of the 1st August (after I was in bed, indeed) the
young artillery officer I have several times mentioned came to my
friend's house. I do not think it would be wise or kind on my part to
mention his name, as he may still be alive. He was accompanied by Swartz
and a servant, with two horses, and recommended that I should cross the
Russian frontier immediately, as all Englishmen in Germany were in
danger of being interned. War with England was assumed by everybody to
be inevitable, insomuch that, being ignorant of the true state of
affairs, I assumed that an ultimatum had been sent to Germany by the
British Government. I was told that many leading German papers asserted
that it had been so sent.

I consented to leave at once, with the object of trying to reach Kalisz,
and from there taking train to Riga, where, it was thought, I should
find no difficulty in getting a steamboat passage to England. It is only
twelve miles by railway from Ostrovo to Kalisz, but the line was already
occupied by troops, "and," said the officers, "our forces will occupy
the Russian town before daybreak to-morrow."



CHAPTER II

THE SCENE AT KALISZ ON THE 2ND AUGUST, 1914


Had I not been under military escort I could not possibly have got along
any of the roads in the neighbourhood of Ostrovo--all were crowded by
Prussian infantry. I did not see any other branches of the service, but
I understood that the engineers were mining the railway-line, and about
half an hour after we started my friends declared that it would be
hopeless to try to reach Kalisz from the German side. They said they
must leave me, as it was imperative that they should rejoin their
regiments before the hour of parade. A road was pointed out to me as one
that led straight to the frontier, and that frontier I was recommended
to endeavour to cross. The horse was taken away, and, after shaking
hands with the officers and receiving their wishes of good-luck, I
proceeded across the fields on foot.

Pickets of cavalry and infantry were moving about the country, but I
avoided them, and after a two-hours' walk reached the low bank which I
knew marked the frontier-line. It was then after three o'clock, and
daylight was beginning to break. As far as I could see, nobody was
about. Some cows were in the field, and they followed me a short
distance--a worry at the time, as I feared they would attract attention
to my movements.

I jumped over the boundary, and walked in the direction of Kalisz, the
dome and spire and taller buildings of which were now visible some miles
to the northward. The country is very flat here--typical Polish ground,
without trees or bushes or hedges, the fields being generally separated
by ditches. It is a wild and lonely district, and very thinly peopled.
And I do not think there were any Russian troops in the town. If there
were, it must have been a very slender detachment, which fell back at
once; for if any firing had occurred, I must have seen and heard it. Not
a sound of this description reached my ears, but when I reached Kalisz
at 5.30 a.m. it was full of German soldiers, infantry and Uhlans--the
first definite information I had that war was actually declared between
the two countries, and the first intimation I received of how this war
was likely to be conducted, for many of the Germans were mad drunk, and
many more acting like wild beasts.

I passed through crowds of soldiers without being interfered with--a
wonderful circumstance. None of the shops were opened at that early
hour, but the Germans had smashed into some of them, and were helping
themselves to eatables and other things. I saw one unter-officer
cramming watches, rings, and other jewellery into his pockets. He was
quickly joined by other wretches, who cleared the shop in a very few
minutes.

Hardly knowing what to do, but realizing the danger of lurking about
without an apparent object in view, I continued to walk through the
streets in search of the railway-station, or a place where I could rest.
A provost and a party of military policemen were closing the
public-houses by nailing up the doors, and I saw a man only partly
dressed, the proprietor of one of these houses, I supposed, murdered. He
made an excited protest, and a soldier drove his bayonet into the poor
man's chest. He uttered a terrible scream, and was instantly transfixed
by a dozen bayonets. A woman, attracted by the fearful cry, came rushing
out of the house screaming and crying. She had nothing on except a
chemise, and the soldiers treated her with brutal indecency. I was
impelled to interfere for her protection. At that moment an officer came
up, and restored some order amongst the men, striking and pricking
several of them with his sword. He said something to me which I did not
understand, and, receiving no reply, struck me with his fist, and then
arrogantly waved his hand for me to be gone. I had no alternative. I
suppressed my wrath and moved away, but the horrible sight of the
bleeding man and the weeping woman haunted me until I became used to
such sights--and worse.

As I walked through the streets I heard the screams of women and
children on all sides, mingled with the coarse laughter and shouts of
men, which told plainly enough what was taking place, though I could not
understand a word of what was said. I was struck by drunken or excited
soldiers more than once, and kicked, but to retaliate or use the weapon
with which I was armed would, I could perceive, result in my instant
destruction; so I smothered my wrath for the time.

Many women rushed into the streets dressed in their night-clothes only,
some of them stained with blood, as evidence of the ill-usage they had
suffered; and I passed the dead bodies of two men lying in the road, one
of which was that of a youth. These, there can be no doubt, were the
first acts of war on the part of Germany against Russia--the slaughter
of unarmed and defenceless people.

In one of the principal streets I found two hotels or large
public-houses open. They were both full of German officers, some of whom
were drunk. At an upper window one man was being held out by his legs,
while a comrade playfully spanked him, and a wild orgy was going on in
the room behind. Bottles and glasses were thrown into the street, and a
party of German prostitutes vied in bestiality with the men. I saw the
hellish scene. Had I read an account of it, I should at once have
stamped the writer in my heart as a liar. I am not going to dwell on the
filthy horrors of that day. I do little more than hint at what took
place, and only remark that at this hour no act of war, no fair fight or
military operation, had taken place on any of Germany's borders. She
showed the bestiality of the cowardly hyena before a fang had been bared
against her. This was the information I afterwards obtained from Russian
sources. On the morning Kalisz was sacked, not a shot had been fired by
the Russian soldiers.

My needs compelled me to take risks. All the belongings I had with me
were contained in a small bag which I carried in my hand. I had some
German money in my pocket, and a number of English sovereigns. The
remainder of my luggage I had been compelled to leave behind at Ostrovo.
Entering the quietest of the two hotels, I found the proprietor and
several of his servants or members of his family trembling in the
basement. I was stopped at the door by a sentry, but he was a quiet sort
of youth, accepted a few marks, and while he was putting them in his
pouch permitted me to slip into the house.

I have already intimated that I am no linguist. I could not muster a
dozen words of German, and not one of Russian; so, holding the
proprietor to insure his attention (the poor man was almost in a state
of collapse), I made motions that I wished to eat and drink. No doubt
they took me for a German. One of the maids literally rushed to the
cellar, and returned with two large bottles of champagne of the size
which our great-grandfathers, I believe, called "magnums," containing
about two quarts apiece.

But champagne was not what I wanted, so I looked round till I found a
huge teapot. The face of the maid was expressionless, but she was not
lacking in intelligence. The Russians are great tea-drinkers, and I soon
had a good breakfast before me, with plenty of the refreshing beverage.
A Russian breakfast differs much from an English early morning meal, but
on this occasion I contrived to obtain bacon and eggs, which, in spite
of all doctors and economists say to the contrary, is one of the best
foods in existence for travelling or fighting on.

Before I had well finished this meal one of the riotous officers came
downstairs. He made a sudden stop when he saw me, and blinked and winked
like an owl in sunlight, for he had had plenty of liquor. He asked some
question, and as I could not very well sit like a speechless booby, I
replied in my own language.

"Good-morning," rather dryly, I am afraid.

"An English pig!" he exclaimed.

"An Englishman," I corrected.

[At least 50 per cent. of German officers speak English quite fluently,
and an even greater number French, learned in the native countries of
these languages.]

"Bah-a-a-a!" he exclaimed, prolonging the interjection grotesquely. "Do
you know that we have wrecked London, blown your wonderful Tower and
Tower Bridge and your St. Paul's to dust, killed your King, and our
Zeppelins are now wrecking Manchester and Liverpool and your other fine
manufacturing towns?"

"Nonsense!" I said.

"It is true, I assure you," he replied.

The news sent a terrible thrill through my nerves, for I did not yet
know what liars Germans could be, and I did not think a Prussian officer
could stoop to be so mendacious a scoundrel as this fellow proved to be.

"Then there is war between England and Germany?" I asked, wondering at
its sudden outbreak. "When was it declared?"

"It is not declared. We have taken time by the forelock, as you British
say--as we mean to take it with all who dare to oppose us. You are a
stinking Englishman, and I'll have you shot!" he concluded furiously.

Going to the foot of the stairs, he began to call to his companions,
reviling the English, and declaring that there was a spy below. As his
drunken comrades did not hear him or immediately respond, he ascended
the stairs, and I took the opportunity to put down some money for my
breakfast, catch up my bag, and escape from the house.

At the top of the street the road broadened out into a kind of square or
open space, and as I reached this spot a large number of soldiers
brought eight prisoners into the centre of it. Three of them were
dressed in what I took to be the uniforms of Russian officers, three
others were gendarmes or policemen. The other two wore the dress of
civilians. All were very pale and serious-looking, but all were firm
except one of the civilians, who I could see was trembling, while his
knees were shaking so that he could scarcely stand. A German officer of
rank--I believe a Major-General--stood in front of them and interrogated
one of the Russian officers, who looked at him sternly and did not
reply. The German also read something from a paper he held in his hand,
while six men were ranged before each one of the prisoners. I saw what
was about to take place, but before I was prepared for it the German
stood aside and waved his hand. Instantly the firing-parties raised
their rifles and shot down the eight prisoners. They were not all killed
outright. One man rolled about in dreadful agony, two others tried to
rise after falling, and a fourth attempted to run away. A sickening
fusillade ensued; at least a hundred shots were fired before all the
victims lay stark and quiet. Nor were they the only victims. The officer
in charge of the firing-party took no precautions, uttered no warnings,
and several of the spectators were struck by the bullets, while there
was a wild stampede of civilians from the square.

Let it be noted that these ferocious murders took place before a shot
had been fired, so far as I know, between the armed forces of the two
nations.

I never heard who the slain men were, or why they were put to death; but
from what I afterwards read in English newspapers I suppose that the
Mayor of Kalisz was one of them.



CHAPTER III

THE EVENTS PRECEDING ACTUAL HOSTILITIES


Why were there no Russian soldiers in the neighbourhood of Kalisz in the
beginning of August, 1914? The answer is simple.

Kalisz is an open town, with a single line running to Warsaw,
140 miles, via Lodz and Lowicz. The nearest branch lines are the
Warsaw-Tchenstochow on the south, with nearest point to Kalisz about
ninety English miles away; and the Warsaw-Plock line to Thorn, with
nearest point to Kalisz, also about ninety miles. So far as transport
was concerned, the Russians were not in it at all.

For on the German side of the frontier there is a complete and very
elaborate network of railways, so that the Teuton could mass 1,000,000
men on Kalisz long before the Muscovite could transport 100,000 there.
This is what harassed the last-named Power--want of railways. Wherever
they tried to concentrate, the Germans were before them, and in
overwhelming numbers. It is her elaborate railway system that has
enabled Germany to get the utmost from her armies--to get the work of
two or three corps, and in some cases even more, out of one. Her
railways have practically doubled her armed force--this at least.

The Germans are masters of the art of war, and have been so for fifty
years; the Russians are hard fighters, but they are not scientific
soldiers. The Germans have consolidated and perfected everything that
relates to armed science; the Russians have trusted too much to their
weight of numbers. Yet the Bear, though a slow and dull animal, has
devilish long and strong claws; and, like another animal engaged in this
contest for the existence of the world, has the habit so provoking to
his enemies, of never knowing when he is beaten.

The reason, then, that there was no sufficient force, if any force at
all, near Kalisz when the treacherous Teuton suddenly sprung hostilities
upon her on the 1st August, 1914, was that the Muscovite, through apathy
inherited from his Asiatic ancestors, combined with a paucity of money,
had no railways, while his opponent had one of the most complete systems
of locomotive transport for men and material that is to be found in the
whole world.

It was its isolated situation and great distance from a base that made
Kalisz the weak point on the Russian frontier, and the German Eagle saw
this and swooped on it as a bird of prey on a damless lamb.

But the Russian base, if distant, was strong, and the force and material
at Warsaw was powerful and great, and was in ponderous motion long
before the Vulture had picked clean the bones of her first victim.
Russia has no great fortress on the German frontier. This is another
serious fault of defence. Railways and fortresses are the need of the
Northern Power to enable her to control effectually the bird of ill omen
which has so long hovered over Central Europe, unless that bird is to
die for all time, which is what should be, and which is what will be,
unless the folly of the nations is incurable.

After witnessing the terrible scene described in the last chapter my
feelings of insecurity and uncertainty were greatly increased. By means
of a plan in my possession I found my way to the railway-station. It was
in the hands of the German troops, thousands of whom crowded the
building and its vicinity, and a glance was sufficient to show that I
could not leave Kalisz by means of the railway. According to my plan,
there were stations further up the line in an easterly direction, some
of them at no great distance from Kalisz; but I felt sure these would be
occupied by the Germans before I could reach them.

Personal safety required that I should make an immediate effort to
escape. More than once I had noticed Teutonic eyes regarding me with
suspicious glances--at least, so I thought--and I quite realized that
delay would be dangerous.

Re-entering the town, which is a place of about 25,000 inhabitants, I
reached the open country to the north through back streets, resolved to
endeavour to reach Lodz by making a wide détour from the line, which was
sure to be occupied by the hostile troops. What reception I should meet
with from the hands of the Russian soldiers I could not tell, but I
felt sure that it would not be worse than that I might expect from their
foes.

By this time it was past midday, and the streets of Kalisz were nearly
deserted. I saw only one or two male fugitives hurrying along,
apparently bent, like myself, on escape. As soon as I reached a retired
spot I tore my maps and plans to shreds and threw them away. I had no
doubt what it would mean to be caught with such things on me.

Patrols of cavalry, Uhlans and hussars, were scouring the country in all
directions. Peasants in the fields were running together, and the
hussars beat many of them with their sabres, but I do not think they
killed any at this time. The Uhlans wounded some by tearing them down
with the hooks with which the staves of their lances are furnished, and
I saw a party of them amusing themselves by rending the clothes off a
poor old woman who was working in one of the fields.

Perceiving that it would be impossible to avoid these cavalrymen, I
looked about for a hiding-place. There was a range of low buildings
about a quarter of a mile from the ditch in which I was crouching. The
place seemed to be a farm, with a number of barns or sheds on one side
of it, some of which were scattered about irregularly. I reached the
nearest of these without attracting notice, and found there a weeping
woman and two men, one of whom was bleeding badly from wounds on the
head and face. They looked at me, and the unhurt man said something
which I did not understand. A party of hussars was riding towards the
shed. As a forlorn chance of escape, I lay down on the floor and pulled
some straw over me as well as I could. Apparently the men and woman ran
away, and by so doing diverted the attention of the hussars from the
shed. I lay there till dusk, when the unhurt man and the woman came back
carrying a bowl of milk and some coarse bread, which they gave to me. I
was very glad of it, having tasted nothing since the morning. They
spoke, but chiefly together, as they perceived that I could not
understand them.

Soon afterwards, expressing my thanks as well as I could, I left the
shed and proceeded on my way towards Lodz. There was sufficient light to
enable me to preserve a general direction and to avoid the numerous
parties of German cavalry which were patrolling the country, but long
before the night was over I had got beyond these. I do not think they
extended more than ten or twelve miles beyond the points at which they
had invaded Poland.

During the night I met with no adventures more serious than floundering
into several water-courses and falling into a couple of ditches in
endeavouring to jump them, for the ditches are very wide and deep in
this country. To avoid such accidents, I afterwards kept to the roads.
These are not bounded by hedges or fences of any kind, and there was
nearly an entire absence of bridges. Arriving at a brook, the traveller
might or might not find stepping-stones. In the absence of these, one
had to wade through the water, which in one case I experienced at this
time came nearly up to the knees.

I could not know, of course, if the people knew that a state of war
existed, but I saw no watchmen or police about the few hamlets and the
villages I passed through. Once I was attacked by a couple of very
fierce dogs, and was compelled to kill one of them to get free; but
until after four o'clock the next morning no men appeared. A few of
those who saluted me seemed surprised that I did not make a reply, but I
could only raise my hat, and by doing so I perhaps occasioned greater
astonishment than I would have done by entirely ignoring them.

There were hardly any trees in this country. The farms and isolated
houses were usually marked by a poplar or two and a clump of willows,
and there were some willows along the courses of the streams. The
buildings, except the churches, were generally very low-pitched, and
there was a singular paucity of chimneys, since stoves were the nearly
universal means of warming the rooms; indeed, I saw stoves in this
country which were almost rooms in themselves, with sleeping-places
above the flues. Turf was the chief fuel used, and the dried droppings
of horses and cattle.

There was a shower of rain during the night, but the morning broke clear
and bright, and it was daylight long before I was as far beyond the
reach of the Huns as I could have wished to be. The country seemed to be
very sparsely peopled. The peasantry were early risers, and most of
them seemed to be in the fields before five o'clock. The crops were to a
great extent cut, and some were in process of cartage in heavy waggons.
It was a very hot day.

About ten o'clock I stopped at the door of a farm and made signs that I
wanted food and drink. I was afraid to offer German money, though this
would probably have been better understood than the tender of an English
sovereign. The man took the coin, looked at it, bit it, and rubbed it,
and handed it to a group of women and girls--his mother, wife and
daughters, I thought. The image of His Majesty King George was evidently
taken to be that of the Czar; but the denomination of the coin puzzled
the farmer and excited great curiosity amongst the women. However, my
wants were understood, and I obtained butter, bread, tea and cheese of a
kind I had never previously eaten, and also some excellent honeycomb,
but no kind of meat. The farmer wanted me to take back the sovereign,
but it was so evidently coveted by his wife that I pressed it upon her
until she pocketed it. In return I brought away as much provision as I
could carry.

Before midday I thought I had walked about thirty miles, though not in a
direct line. By this time I had arrived at a river which I knew must be
the Warta. It was not very wide, but the banks where I struck it were
deep, and crumbling away; and the stream was unfordable. Not knowing
what else to do I turned southwards along its banks towards Sieradz,
hoping to reach a village where I might be ferried across; but just as
I was about to enter a small hamlet, I was confronted by two policemen.
They jabbered at me and I jabbered at them; but if ever "No nonsense"
were seen in a human countenance I saw it in that of policeman No. 1. I
produced my passports. One of these gave me permission to cross the
Russian frontier; but as it was obtained in Germany I would, under the
circumstances, have gladly suppressed it. Unfortunately it was folded up
with the English-German document, and I was not sharp enough to separate
them before No. 1 sighted the document, and demanded it with an
impatient gesture. This he could read, but the other puzzled him; not
that this circumstance interfered with the promptitude of his action. I
saw with half an eye that I had to go somewhere with this Russian
policeman: and the "somewhere" proved to be the lock-up in a tiny hamlet
the name of which I never learned.

This wretched hole was three-parts under ground, about seven feet long,
and scarcely four wide--a den evidently designed for torture: for one
could not turn round in it without difficulty; and how to sleep in such
a place puzzled me, though I was spared the ordeal of having to do so.
For a few hours after I was incarcerated I was fetched out and handed
over to the charge of five mounted cossacks, the leader seeming to be a
corporal. I was handcuffed to the stirrups of this gentleman and one of
his comrades, an arrangement which gave me the option of walking or
being dragged along. All the party carried villainous-looking whips in
addition to rifles, sabres and lances. But they did not force the pace,
and when we had gone about five miles we overtook a light cart, which
the corporal stopped, and placed me therein. We then travelled at the
rate of eight or nine miles an hour, halting at a roadside inn for
drink, which I paid for with another English sovereign. Again the coin
excited much curiosity, but the corporal saw that I obtained a fair
amount of change in Russian money and I was civilly treated on the
whole.

In less than two hours we arrived at the small town of Szadek, though I
did not know the name of the place at the time. It is only twenty
English miles (twenty-seven versts) from Lodz, and here for the first
time since crossing the German frontier I saw Russian troops in force. I
did not have the opportunity of seeing the strength of these troops; but
Szadek was full of infantry, and we passed a great many tents before
entering the town. It was nightfall when we arrived; but I was
immediately taken to an hotel and questioned by an officer of General
rank. Finding that I could not speak Russian, he tried German, and I
said, in the best French I could muster, that I was an Englishman. I am
not sufficient master of the polite language of Europe to carry on a
conversation in it, so the officer sent for a Russian Major, Polchow,
who spoke English fluently, and he acted as interpreter.

My story was listened to with great interest, especially those parts of
it which related to the movements and conduct of the German troops and
the murder of citizens at Kalisz. I underwent a lengthened
cross-examination, and, I suppose, the nature of my communications
becoming known, the room was speedily crowded by officers, most of them
evidently of high rank. It was after midnight before I was dismissed,
having, I could see, made a favourable impression on all those who were
present. It was then I learned, to my great relief, that the German
accounts of the destruction of London, etc., were falsehoods. "As yet
there is no war between Germany and England; but there will be in a few
days," said the General.

Speaking through Major Polchow, the General further said, "You have come
to Russia for help and protection: you shall have them. What do you
wish?" In reply I said that I desired to return to my own country as
speedily as possible, but that if the Germans, being near at hand, came
up before arrangements could be made for my departure, I should be glad
to use a rifle against them.

It was then explained to me that all the inn accommodation in Szadek
being taken up I could be offered only a tent lodging, but that every
endeavour would be made to render me comfortable. Then Major Polchow
offered to look after me, and I accompanied him to a private house where
he was billeted.

I much regret that I have forgotten the name of this obliging officer
before whom I was examined, which name, a very unpronounceable one, was
only casually mentioned, and was forgotten in the excitement of the
events which immediately followed.

Polchow was an artillery officer, attached to a South Russian regiment,
but afterwards to an East Russian regiment, which lost all its
officers--with one or two exceptions at any rate. I was entertained by
him most royally.

On the following day I underwent another long examination before an
Adjutant of the Grand Duke Nicholas and a large number of Staff
officers, and was much complimented on my adventures and the value of
the information I was able to give. These matters I must ask to be
excused for passing over with bare mention. I expected to have had an
interview with the Grand Duke himself; but he departed that evening
without my having seen him.

The offer was made to send me on to Riga or Libau, or any port I might
choose; and to facilitate my departure to my own country; but I am an
Englishman, thank God, and I was not inclined to turn my back on my
country's foes until I had seen the whites of their eyes and let them
see mine. For by this time we were beginning to learn something of
German dirt, and German cruelty.



CHAPTER IV

THE FIRST FIGHT


It became necessary to know what the Germans were doing, or appeared to
be going to do. Fugitives from Kalisz and the country eastward of it
reported that thousands of Germans were pouring over the border, and it
was known to Headquarters that they were gradually pressing onwards to
Lodz.

On the 6th, 7th, and 8th August, the 4th Cossacks of the Don, and five
other cavalry regiments, with some light guns, were engaged in
reconnaissance, and the result was to ascertain that the Germans were
entrenching themselves on a line from Kalisz to Sieradz, covering the
railway; and also extending their earthworks right and left along the
banks of the Warta, thus forming a strong point, on Russian soil, for an
advance on Warsaw. I was riding in the ranks of the 4th, and can say,
from personal observation, that the works mentioned were of a formidable
description, and armed with heavy guns.

On the 8th the Zeithen Hussars charged the 4th, which fell back; and the
hussars were taken in hand by the 12th Russian Dragoons and very roughly
handled. I counted forty dead bodies; but the Germans advanced some
infantry and guns, and saved their wounded. Their total loss could not
have been less than 140 men. The dragoons had two men killed and about
a dozen wounded, mostly by the fire of infantry. The general idea that
the Germans are good swordsmen is erroneous. They are very poor
broadswordsmen; and the Russians are inferior to the French in the use
of this weapon.

I expected that the affair would develop into a general action, but it
did not. The force of German cavalry was much inferior to that of the
Russian, and they soon fell back, trying to lure our men under infantry
and artillery fire. In this they did not succeed; but I believe that on
our extreme right they did some execution with long-range shell fire.
Why the Russians did not bring up infantry and artillery I am unable to
conjecture. It is my opinion that there was something behind which did
not appear to a spectator in my position. The Germans had certainly
prepared something resembling a trap; and possibly the Russian commander
saw, or suspected, more than was perceptible to the ordinary eye. At any
rate he held his men back at a moment when I expected to see them
advance and outflank the enemy. The fighting which followed was
decidedly desultory and without important results. There was much
artillery firing from guns which were, I think, four or five English
miles from that part of the Russian position where I was. It did so very
little execution that I considered it was a mere waste of ammunition.

In this combat the Russians seemed to be superior in strength of all
three arms, which was the reason, I suppose, that the enemy did not make
a decided advance. He was probably waiting for reinforcements, which
did not arrive until late in the day, if they came up at all. On the
other hand, there was a force of German infantry lying in wait, and this
body of troops may have been stronger than appeared.

I can only be responsible for what I saw, though I feel at liberty to
repeat what I heard where probability of its truth may be inferred. I
have also looked through files of English newspapers; and I cannot
attempt to veil the fact that I must often be, or appear to be, in
contradiction to accounts that were published about the time the
narrated incidents were recorded to have taken place. Naturally, first
records were imperfect, or needed explanations; but some things appeared
in English papers which it is difficult to understand. For instance, it
is said to be "officially reported from Petrograd" that the frontier was
not crossed by the Germans in the neighbourhood of Kalisz, and that no
fighting took place until the 14th or 15th August. (I am not sure which
date is meant; or whether the old or new system is intended.) Both these
assertions are incorrect, and could not have emanated from an "official"
source. The Russians are our allies, and personally I received great
kindness from the hands of many of them; but the only value of a
narrative of the kind I am writing is its correctness, and I intend to
record the truth without fear and without favour. I cannot perceive that
it would be any advantage to them to make a misstatement. The assertion
is probably an error. At any rate I can state, and do positively state,
that the frontier was crossed by the Germans at Kalisz; and that
fighting took place at several points before the 14th August. Possibly
the accounts were published before correction.

At this time I learned that there was a line of strong posts from Dabie
to Petrikau, a distance of, roughly, eighty versts. These, probably,
outflanked the Germans; and reinforcements were daily arriving in vast
numbers, prolonging the line in the direction of the Vistula some
seventy versts north of Dabie. The country between Dabie and the named
river was patrolled by an enormous horde of cavalry--at least
20,000--and infantry and artillery were coming up by march route, there
being no railway except the Kutno-Warsaw narrow-gauge line, which was
used chiefly for the transport of ammunition and stores. This line runs
direct to Thorn, one of Germany's strong frontier fortresses; and the
Russians tried to push along it as far as possible; but the Germans sent
flying parties into Russia as far as Wroclawick, fifty versts from
Thorn, and completely destroyed the line. In doing this they suffered
some losses, for a Russian force crossed the Vistula near Nieszawa and
attacked one of the working-parties. They claimed to have killed and
wounded 300 of the enemy, and they brought in ninety prisoners, four of
whom were officers.

The only fighting I saw during these operations was between two cavalry
pickets. There were thirty Cossacks on our side. I do not know how many
Germans there were, but they were reinforced continually during the
fight until they compelled us to fall back. They held the verge of a
pine-wood, while the Cossacks sheltered themselves behind some scattered
trees, fighting, of course, dismounted with their horses picketed a mile
behind them and left in charge of a trumpeter.

So far as I could see, the fight was a completely useless one. It
resulted in the death of two men on our side, and six wounded. The
firing lasted nearly three hours and would probably have gone on much
longer had not our men run out of cartridges. In this little skirmish I
shot off a hundred rounds myself, with what result must be left to the
imagination; for, as the distance was 900 yards, I had not even the
satisfaction of seeing the branches of the trees flying about. The
German bullets cut off many twigs from our trees, and the trumpeter
afterwards reported that several of their shots fell amongst the horses
without doing any damage. It showed the great range of the German
weapons, and also the very bad shooting of the men.

We drew off, and some of the hussars came out of the wood, mounted their
horses, and looked after us; but they did not attempt to follow us.
Enterprise was not a prominent attribute of the German cavalry, nor,
indeed, of the mounted force of our own side, though the Cossacks
sometimes showed considerable boldness. Often I longed for the presence
of a few regiments of British or French cavalry, for some splendid
opportunities were let slip by the Russian troopers; not from want of
bravery, but simply from the lack of that daring dash which is a
distinguishing feature of all good horsemanship.

Yet, notwithstanding the want of energy on the part of the Russian
mounted men, they were continually on the move, and, as I soon
discovered for myself, were gradually moving to the north, apparently
covering the advance of an ever-increasing mass of infantry and
artillery. Polchow's battery was attached to the brigade of Cossacks of
which the 4th was one of the units. The reason that I connected myself
with this particular corps was because one of its officers spoke a
little English; but it was so little that we frequently had much
difficulty in understanding each other. I soon learned the Russian words
of command and the names of common things and objects, and I often acted
as officer of a squadron (or "sotnia," as the men call it); but I felt
that I would rather be with Polchow, and I soon became attached to his
battery as a "cadet," though I was the oldest man in the unit.

It was a "horse" battery; but the horse artillery in the Russian service
is not a separately organized body as it is in the British Army. The
guns are simply well-horsed, and the limbers, waggons, etc., rendered as
light and mobile as possible. The batteries have not the dash and go of
English horse-artillery; and I should be very sorry to see a Russian
battery attempt to gallop over a ditch or other troublesome obstacle, as
I can foresee what the result would be. The Russian horse-artillery is a
sort of advanced-guard of the gunnery arm and has no special training
for its duties. In several important particulars its equipment and
organization differs from ours.

At this time there were said to be several Englishmen, two Frenchmen,
and Swedes, Norwegians and Dutch, in the Russian service. I never met
any of them, but I know there was a German, born and bred in
Brandenburg, an officer in the 178th line, who was permitted to remain
in the Muscovite Army; and who fought with invincible bravery and
determination against his countrymen. There was a mystery about him, the
actual nature of which I never learned; but it was said that he had
received some injury which had implanted in his breast a fierce hatred
of the land of his birth.

For two days after I had joined the artillery we were making forced
marches to the north, and on the 16th we crossed the Vistula at Plock.
The next day we were in front of the enemy between Biezun and Przasnysz,
with our left flank resting on a marshy lake near the first-named place.
Beyond the lake this flank was supported by a very large body of
cavalry--twenty-four regiments I think, or not less than 14,000 men.
This large force effectually kept off the much inferior German cavalry.
It suffered a good deal from shell-fire, but our artillery prevented the
Prussian infantry from inflicting any losses on it.

The country had been raided by the Germans before our arrival, and they
had committed many atrocities. The young women had been abused, and the
older ones cruelly ill-treated. The hamlets and isolated farms had been
burnt down; in some cases the ruins were still smouldering; and what had
become of the inhabitants did not appear. Some at least had been slain:
for we found the body of one woman lying, head downwards, in a filthy
gutter which drained a farmyard; and on the other side of the building,
two men hanging from the same tree. The woman had been killed by a blow
on the head which had smashed the skull, and her body had been treated
with shameful irreverence. The gunners of the battery buried these three
poor creatures in the same grave while we were waiting for orders to go
into action.

Afterwards, while searching the ruined house, the men found the body of
a bed-ridden cripple who had been murdered by bayonet-thrusts; and,
under the bed, were three young children half dead with fright and
starvation. There was also a baby of a few months old, lying in its cot,
dead from want of food and attention, we supposed, as there were no
marks of grosser violence on the little mite.

These sights and others seen in the neighbourhood had a terrible effect
on the usually phlegmatic Russian soldiers, and afterwards cost many
Germans their lives: for I know that wounded men and prisoners were
slain in retaliation, and civilians too, when portions of the frontier
were crossed, as will be found recorded later on.

We were puzzled what to do with the children, for it would have been
inhuman to leave them in a plundered and wrecked home; the oldest
appearing to be not more than six years old. It was remembered that we
had seen a woman at a cottage two miles to the rear, and so, accompanied
by an orderly, I rode back with them. We found several women taking
refuge in the house, and, though we could not understand one another, it
was evident that we were leaving the poor little creatures amongst
friends, as I could see by the attitude of the orderly.

When we got back to the farm we found that the battery had been
advanced, and we had some difficulty in finding it. I had to leave that
work to the orderly, an old non-commissioned officer named Chouraski,
who afterwards acted as my servant.

The battery, with the rest of the regiment, and several others, about
200 guns in all, was massed behind a sandbank--not a wise arrangement.
Other batteries were bringing a cross-fire to bear from distances which
I computed to be two and three miles from our position. The Germans were
evidently suffering severely, and so were we. One of our batteries had
all its guns dismounted or put out of action, and many other guns were
destroyed, though in some cases the gunners got them on fresh wheels, or
even limbers. All the men were cool and brave beyond praise, though the
effects of the fire were very terrible. One shell burst as it hit the
body of a gunner, who was literally blown to pieces. Another shot
smashed away the head of a man standing close to me. He threw up his
hands, and stood rigid so long that I thought he was not going to fall.
The sight of the headless trunk standing there with blood streaming
over the shoulders was so horrible that it was quite a relief to the
nerves when he dropped. The gunners, who had stood still paralyzed by
the sight, resumed their work; but they had not fired more than a round
or two, when a shell smashed the gun-shield and wiped out the whole
detachment. A piece of this shell entered the forehead of my horse and
it fell like a pole-axed ox, dying with scarcely a quiver of the
muscles.

Although the shield was destroyed the gun was not put out of action, and
I got a couple of men from another gun, and we continued to fire it.
This went on hour after hour, until all the shells (shrapnel and common)
were expended. Twice a fresh supply was brought up by the reserve
ammunition column men, and altogether about 500 rounds per gun were shot
off in this part of the field, or about 100,000 in all. As there were at
least 600 guns in action it is probable that 500,000 shells were thrown
against the enemy; an enormous number; and nobody will be surprised to
learn that the slaughter was terrible. Many of our guns were cleared of
men over and over again, reserve gunners being sent up from the rear as
they were required, the men running up quite eager to be engaged, and,
generally speaking, taking no notice of the casualties which were
constantly occurring close to them.

I strove hard to draw the attention of every officer within reach to the
faulty position of the guns; but all were very excited, and my
unfortunate ignorance of their language prevented me from making myself
understood. I did not know what had become of Major Polchow, but late in
the afternoon he came up with a staff officer, and I pointed out to him
the unnecessary slaughter which was taking place owing to the exposed
position of the guns. He said that the error had been observed long
before, but that it was considered to be unwise to retire them. Now,
however, so many of the artillerymen had fallen that dozens of the guns
were silenced, so an attempt was made to draw back the most exposed of
the batteries. The horses had been sheltered in a hollow a hundred yards
in the rear, yet even in their comparatively protected position so many
of them had been killed and mangled that it was only possible to move
back three guns at a time.

The Germans observed the movement, with the result that men, guns,
waggons, and horses, were smashed to pieces in a horrible and very
nerve-trying confusion. Many of the incidents were almost too horrible
to be described. The leg of one man was blown off by a bursting shell.
He saved himself from falling by clutching a gun-carriage; but this was
on the move and dragged him down. The bleeding was stopped by a roughly
improvised tourniquet; he was laid on the ground with his coat under his
head and left to his fate.

When the guns were drawn back to the new position very few casualties
occurred; but at this time the Germans made a determined onset with huge
masses of infantry in close columns of companies--an amazing formation,
but one which I was prepared to see executed, knowing their general
tactics as practised on peace manoeuvres.

At this moment we had only twelve shells per gun left. These twelve cut
great lanes deep into the advancing masses, but did not stop them, and
orders were given to retire. Two of our guns were drawn away by the
prolonge (that is, by means of ropes manned by men on foot), and two
were abandoned. We should certainly have been overtaken and destroyed;
but about a thousand yards to the rear we found three regiments of
infantry halted in a slight hollow of the ground. These 12,000 men
suddenly rushed forward and opened a tremendous fusillade on the
advancing masses, bringing them down so fast that the appearance of
falling men was continuous and had a very extraordinary effect. But they
were not stopped, and our infantry was compelled to fall back with the
guns, losing heavily from the fire which the Germans kept up as they
advanced.

Our infantry, like that of the Germans, kept much too close a formation,
and the losses were therefore appalling. Thus, early in the war, all the
Russian units were at full strength; infantry four battalions per
regiment--fully 4,000 men. The three regiments behind us lost half their
strength, equal to 6,000 men, in twenty minutes; and the remnant was
saved only by reaching a pine-wood about a mile in length and some 300
yards in depth. This enabled them to check the Germans; and two
batteries of artillery coming up, evidently sent from another division
to support us, they were compelled to halt, lying down on the ground
for such shelter as it afforded, to wait for their own artillery. This
did not come up until it was nearly dusk. Before it opened fire we began
to retreat and we were not pursued.

We fell back on two small hamlets with a farm between them, and here we
entrenched ourselves, putting the buildings into a state of defence.
Distant firing was heard all night, and we received a fresh supply of
ammunition, and heard that 150 of the guns were saved. As we had thirty
with us it was estimated that about twenty had fallen into the hands of
the enemy besides twenty or thirty machine-guns.

Outposts reporting that the German division which had pursued us had
retired northwards, I proposed, as soon as it was light enough for us to
see our way, that a party should go out to look for the wounded men of
our battery. These brave fellows had done their duty as only heroes do
it--without a moment's hesitation, or the least flinching at the most
trying moments; and with scarcely a groan from the horribly wounded,
whose sufferings must have been excruciating.

Although unable to understand a word I uttered, all who stood by, when
informed by Polchow of what was proposed, volunteered to accompany me. I
took about thirty men with stretchers, which were mostly made of hurdles
obtained at the farm.

It was about three English miles to the spot where the batteries had
been first posted and the whole distance was thickly littered with dead
bodies of Germans and Russians intermingled. All the wounded except
those desperately hurt had been removed, but none of the enemy were
about. They appeared to be kept off by strong patrols of our cavalry,
which could be seen in the distance; and, doubtless, the German horsemen
were in view, as desultory shots were fired from time to time.

[Illustration: RUSSIAN ARTILLERY GOING INTO ACTION]

Dying men made piteous appeals for drink. One poor fellow expired while
we were in the act of attending to him. The horribly inhuman nature of
the Germans was evinced by the circumstance that they had made prisoners
of all the wounded who would probably recover, and count in their lists
of capture; but had left the mortal cases (even their own) unattended,
to linger out a dreadful and agonized end. Their lack of feeling was
fiendish. They had not even endeavoured to alleviate the sufferings of
the men thus abandoned: for we found one German groaning, and seemingly
praying for succour, pinned down under a dead horse. He was not even
dangerously hurt, and would, I think, recover under the treatment he
would receive from the Russians. For though these northern men were
often barbarous enough on the field of battle, they were never cruel to
their prisoners, or to injured men, unless these were known to have been
guilty of atrocities.

The sights of that battlefield, and others which I afterwards witnessed,
will be a nightmare to the end of life. I had often read of rivers
"running red with blood," and thought this simply poetic exaggeration;
but when we went to a brook to obtain water for some gasping men, I
noticed that it was horribly tinged with dark red streaks, which seemed
to be partly coagulated blood. Some light fragments which floated by
were undoubtedly human brains; yet at their urgent entreaty we gave of
this water to poor creatures to drink, for no other was available.

This horror was not comparable to what we witnessed when we arrived at
the spot where the artillery slaughter had taken place. The ground was
covered with dark patches--blood blotches. Fragments of flesh, arms,
legs, limbs of horses, and scattered intestines, lay everywhere about
that horrible "first position." On the ground lay a human eye and within
an inch or two of it, a cluster of teeth; all that remained of some poor
head that had been dashed away. Where the body was that had owned these
relics did not appear. The force of impact had probably driven them
yards and yards; and it was a mere chance that they met my view. Close
to one of our guns, too badly broken to be worth carrying away by the
enemy, were two brawny hands, tightly clasping the handle of the sponge
with which their owner had been cleaning the piece when they had been
riven from his body. The man was close by, a mere mass of smashed flesh
and bones, with thousands of beastly flies battening on his gore, as
they were on that of all the corpses. The sight was unbearable. Sick and
nearly fainting, I had to lean against a broken waggon to recover
myself.

Our wounded had been murdered. There could be no question of that. For
we had not left any behind who were capable of fighting, yet a dozen had
been finished off by bayonet wounds--and German bayonets make awful
jagged wounds because their weapons have saw-backs.

One bayoneted gunner was not quite dead. At long intervals--about a
minute it seemed to me--he made desperate efforts to breathe; and every
time he did so bubbles of blood welled from the wound in his breast, and
a horrible gurgling sound came from both throat and breast. There were
two doctors in our party, but they looked at each other, and shook their
heads when they examined this miserable man. Nothing could be done for
him except to place him in a more comfortable position. War is hellish.

We found another of our men alive. His plight was so terrible that it
was hardly worth while to increase his suffering by carrying him away.
We did so: but he died before we had gone two versts. On that part of
the field which the Germans had been compelled to cross without waiting
to carry out their fell work, we found more survivors, and took back a
dozen, of whom three were Germans. There happened to be no Red Cross men
with our division just then; but we sent them to the rear in empty
provision waggons.

This is what I saw of the battle of Biezum, if this is its correct
designation. According to Polchow the Russian centre was at Radnazovo, a
town, or large village, eleven versts further east; and the whole front
extended more than thirty versts, though the hottest fighting was near
Biezum. It was afterwards reported that 10,000 Russians were killed in
this engagement, and 40,000 wounded. The Germans must have lost heavily
too. I saw thousands of their dead lying on the ground near Biezum
alone. The fight was not a victory for the Russians, and scarcely could
be claimed as such by the Germans. The two forces remained in contact,
and fighting continued with more or less intensity until it developed
into what modern battles seem destined to be, a prolonged series of
uninterrupted operations.



CHAPTER V

THE FIGHTING UP TO THE 26TH AUGUST


There appeared to be nearly 300 men in Polchow's battery when we went
into action: only fifty-nine remained with the four guns we saved at the
close of the day, and not one of these escaped a more or less serious
hurt, though some were merely scratched by small fragments of shell or
bruised by shrapnel bullets. At least twenty of the men would have been
justified in going to hospital; several ultimately had to do so, and one
died. Even British soldiers could not have shown greater heroism.
Chouraski, the non-commissioned officer who had attached himself to me,
had a bullet through the fleshy part of the left arm, yet he brought me
some hot soup and black bread after dark; whence obtained, or how
prepared, I have no idea. I was much touched by the man's kindness. All
the soldiers with whom I came in contact were equally kind: and I have
noticed that the men of other armies with whom I have come in contact in
the course of my life, even the Germans, seemed to see something in my
personality which attracted them, and to desire to be friendly. Perhaps
they instinctively realized that I am an admirer of the military man; or
perhaps it was the _bonhomie_ which is universal amongst soldiers.
Certainly I got on well with them all, though some time elapsed before
we could understand a simple sentence spoken on either side.

For two days I was not fit for much: then I went to the front with a
detachment of sixty gunners which had arrived from Petrograd via Warsaw.
I found the battery and the rest of the regiment encamped to the
westward of Przasnysz.

Heavy fighting was going on somewhere in front; but the contending
troops were not in sight. The whole country was full of smoke, and the
smell of burning wood and straw was nearly suffocating. The Germans had
set fire to everything that would burn, including the woods. During the
night heavy showers of rain fell, and these extinguished most of the
fires and saved a vast quantity of timber.

I could see that the Germans had been driven back a considerable
distance; and the Russians claimed to have won great victories in the
neighbourhood of Stshutchen and Graevo, and to have already passed
500,000 men across the German border. That they were making progress was
obvious; and on the 20th August I witnessed some desperate infantry
fighting.

The Germans came on, as they always did, in immense columns, literally
jammed together, so that their men were held under fire an unnecessarily
long time. The usual newspaper phrase, "Falling in heaps," was quite
justifiable in this case. Thousands fell in ten minutes; and the
remainder broke and fled in spite of the efforts of their officers to
stop them. I was well in front and saw what took place. The German
officers struck their men with their swords and in several cases cut
them down; and I saw one of them fire his revolver into the crowd. I did
not actually see men fall, but he must have shot several.

The Russians, too, adopted a much closer formation than was wise, and
suffered severely in consequence, but they never wavered. The Germans
came on again and again, nine times in all, and proved themselves
wonderful troops. Four out of the nine charges they drove home, and
there was some desperate bayonet fighting in which the Teutons proved to
be no match for the Muscovites. The last named used the "weapon of
victory" with terrible effect, disproving all the modern theories about
the impossibility of opposing bodies being able to close, or to come
into repeated action on the same day.

On the contrary, it may be taken as certainly proved that men's nerves
are more steeled than ever they were, and that the same body of men can
make repeated and successive attacks within very short periods of time.
In the above attacks fresh bodies of troops were brought up each time,
but the remnants of the battalions previously used were always driven on
in front. I noticed this: on three occasions the 84th regiment (probably
Landwehr) formed part of the attacking force.

"Driven on" is the correct term. The German officers invariably drove
their men in front of them. Arriving in contact with their foes, the
soldiers fought with fury. It was the preliminary advance that seemed to
discompose them: and, indeed, their losses were dreadful. They
certainly left at least 30,000 dead and wounded on the ground on the
20th. The greater number were dead, because those who lay helpless
received a great part of the fire intended for their retreating
comrades, and thus were riddled through and through.

The Russian artillery played on the masses both when they advanced and
retreated; but the fight was chiefly an infantry one. The full effect of
the guns could not be brought into play without danger of injury to our
own men. In the end the Russians chased the enemy back and the artillery
was advanced to support them. Considerable ground was gained; but four
or five versts to the rear of their first position the Germans were
found to be strongly entrenched. The day's fight was finished by a
charge of a large body of Cossacks and Russian light cavalry. They swept
away the force of German horsemen who ventured to oppose them, and also
drove back several battalions of infantry. That part of the Russian Army
which had been engaged bivouacked on the ground they had fought over.

The cries of the wounded during the night were terrible to hear, and
came from many different points and distances. Hundreds must have died
from want of attention, and hundreds more, on both sides, were murdered.
The Germans, who were hovering about in small parties, persistently
fired on the Red Cross men, so little could be done for the dying; and
the cruelties which were perpetrated, and which were revealed (so I was
told) by the shouts, entreaties and imprecations of the sufferers,
aroused a nasty spirit in the Russians, and particularly in the
Cossacks, and led to fearful reprisals, so that in one part of the field
I know that not a German was left alive. I am bound to add that after I
had seen two Russians brought in with their eyes gouged out, and another
with his nose and ears cropped, and his lacerated tongue lolling from
his mouth, I had not a word of protest to utter against these reprisals.
The Germans were finished fiends, and deserved all they got from a body
of men notorious for their fierceness; and they _did get it_. I will say
this, though: that throughout the campaign no instance of a Russian
injuring a woman or a child came under my notice; nor did I hear of any
such cases. But I was told that three Prussian girls, who were seen to
be on friendly terms with some Russian soldiers, were nearly flogged to
death by their own people; and the horrible treatment the Polish women
received from the hands of the Germans has already been mentioned, and
was ever recurring during the whole of the time I spent with the Russian
Army.

I would here make mention of the quality of the Russian and German
soldiery. Conscription sweeps into the ranks of an army numbers of men
who are totally unfit for a military life and a still further number who
abhor it. In the present war, hatred and vindictive feeling generally
has run very high on the northern side of the fighting area; and this
circumstance seems to have greatly increased the war-like instinct of
the masses, and consequently decreased the number of what I may term
the natural non-combatants. In the Russian ranks, and I believe in the
German also, this class is weeded out as far as possible, and relegated
to the organizations which have least to do with the fighting line--that
is, the administrative services, and troops organized to maintain the
lines of communication. But these fellows--the natural non-combatants,
or haters of the soldier's life, I mean--are, when found in the fighting
ranks, the most detestable scoundrels imaginable; and I believe the
greater part of the atrocities committed may be laid to their charge.
They lose no opportunity of indulging in lust and murder; and as in
civil life they are mostly wastrels, thieves and would-be murderers,
they find in war an opportunity to indulge in those vices which,
practised in time of peace, would bring them to the prison and the
noose. In other words, the scum of the big cities is brought into the
army, and often proves as great a curse to its own administrative, as it
does to that of the enemy. Not all the Germans were fiends--not all the
Russians saints.

Early in the war many of the German regiments were composed of
exceedingly fine-looking men. There was a decided deterioration later
on, but this was more in appearance than quality: they still fought with
determined, or desperate, courage; I am inclined to think, often the
last-named. They were taught that the only way to escape the brutality
of their officers was to face the courage of their foes. They chose the
latter. Often hundreds--whole companies together--rushed over to the
Russians, threw down their arms, and surrendered themselves prisoners of
war. No such instance ever occurred in the Russian ranks. The Russian
soldier is a very pious man, and, like the North Aryan stock from which
he has sprung, is a great worshipper of ancestry and his superiors. His
commanding officer, like his Czar, is a Father, or a Little Father--a
sacred being--his priest as well as his temporal master. The consequence
is that officer and soldier are one, a conjunction that is of great
value from the military standpoint.

This is never the case in the German Army. The Teutonic officer is a
brute and a slave-driver, and his soldiers fear him if they do not hate
him. I doubt if any German soldier ever gets through his training
without being repeatedly struck by all his superiors from the
unter-officer upwards. Feathers show how the wind sets. A Prussian
regiment (the Pomeranian Grenadiers) was route-marching. One of the
musicians blew a false note: the bandmaster immediately turned and
struck the man a stinging blow on the face. I believe the German Army is
the only one in the world where such an incident could occur. Like
master, like man. One brute breeds another.

Taken on the whole the old adage that "one volunteer is worth two
pressed men" is true; but an army of ten or twelve millions could not be
successfully met by one of a million or two. Numbers must count when
they are excessive; though things militate against this rule sometimes.
If an army has not its heart in a contest very inferior numbers may win.
In the present case it soon became clear to me that both the great
nations had their hearts in the war: the surprising thing is that Russia
with her huge hordes has so far done so little--Germany hard pressed on
all sides effected so much.

These words will reveal that I do not take the general view that Russia
is progressing as fast and as well as she might reasonably be expected
to do.[1] Yet I am unable to point out very clearly where her principal
defect lies. She brought up troops very rapidly; and by the 20th August
she had an enormous army in the field on the East Prussian frontier. At
this time, and later on, I learned that her lines extended throughout
the German border and far along that of Austria to the Bug; and she was
said to have at least 5,000,000 men massed in these lines. The Germans
had not nearly so many--probably not more than 2,500,000 or 3,000,000;
but they had the power, by means of their railways, to concentrate on a
given point very rapidly, and so equal, or more than equal, the
Russians, who, being without adequate railway communication, could not
take advantage of their superior numbers. If the last-named saw a
weakness in any part of the German defensive and attempted to take
advantage of it, before they could bring up an adequate number of troops
the Germans had discovered their intentions and rushed up a sufficient
force to secure the threatened point: and this they did by bringing men
from positions so numerous, and so distant, that they nowhere materially
weakened their line; or, if they did so, they were enabled to conceal
the fact.

[1] This paragraph was written four or five months ago.

Europe, Austria and Germany, is surrounded by a ring of armed men,
extending, roughly, a distance of 1,500 miles, and defended by a force
of about 14,000,000 men, or some five men to the linear yard. This is,
in modern war, a sufficient number for effective attack or defence, on
ordinary ground; but it is not too many, and in prolonged operation may
prove to be too few on some descriptions of terre-plein. Yet, after ten
months of the fiercest and most destructive fighting the world has ever
seen, this ring of armed men has not been broken, though persistently
attacked by three of the most powerful military nations on earth.

My estimate of the number of German and Austrian troops actually in the
fighting-line at the beginning of the war is much in excess of the
numbers stated in English newspapers. I note this; but do not think that
14,000,000 is an exaggeration. I have information, and am not merely
guessing. Nor are the losses of the enemy overstated by me.

Down to the present date the losses of the Germans and Austrians amount
to about 3,000,000 men; but it must be remembered that quite two-thirds
of these would be wounded men who would recover, and go back to their
respective fighting-lines; so that the actual number of men permanently
put out of action is about 1,000,000, including those accounted for by
the French, British, and Belgian armies. The losses of the Russians are
nearly 2,000,000 men. Of these the greater part fell in the fighting I
have described and am about to describe, fighting which may be called a
prolonged battle for the possession of Warsaw on the one side and its
defence on the other. The importance of this combat will be recognized
when it is considered that the taking of Warsaw is the first necessary
step towards the occupation of Petrograd.

The vision of one man, especially in war, is limited; and I did not see
everything that took place in the region in which I was. I heard a good
deal, and was ever on the watch to learn and verify, but it could not be
otherwise than impossible to be always sure--always correct; and without
doubt there are many errors in my narration. What I saw, I saw, and this
may be relied on: what I guessed, or was told, I have advanced with
caution. Taken as a whole I think my account of the fighting in Poland
and East Prussia is as reliable as that of any one man can be: and let
it be remembered that I held no official position which could help me in
gaining knowledge.

On the evening of the 20th, and morning of the 21st, many rumors reached
our corps of Russian successes in the neighbourhoods of Gumbinnen and
Suvalki, places which were said to be but little more than 100 versts
from our position. The first-named is an open town in East Prussia
twenty-five versts over the border; and the news gave great joy to our
troops, as it proved that Germany was actually invaded. My informants
of the details were Major Polchow and two or three officers who spoke a
little English and French and were able to make themselves understood to
me.

There was said to have been desperate fighting, with heavy losses, the
capture of many German prisoners, and the complete annihilation of a
whole division of the enemy.

The occupation of Gumbinnen was of great importance because it is on the
Prussian direct line to Vilna, one of the most important railway centres
in this part of Russia and perhaps in the whole empire. Although the
Russians could not maintain their hold of it, its temporary occupation,
no doubt, had an important effect, and possibly helped more than seems
to have been seen in saving Warsaw from the enemy's hands. For had they
succeeded in seizing Vilna, the Russian force in Poland would have been
deprived largely, if not entirely, of reinforcements and supplies in
general. It was one of the peculiarities of the war in Poland and East
Prussia that neither side seemed able to keep an important position for
any length of time. Places were seized which had a telling effect for
the moment, and which one would have thought would have greatly
influenced the fate of the campaign; and yet they were soon retaken or
rendered untenable and the advantages of their seizure lost. In fact the
fighting swayed to and fro. Here to-day, there to-morrow, the battle was
lost or won. It was all a question of railways.

On the 21st the Russians crossed the frontier between Janow and
Chorzellen, and advanced towards Ortelsberg, driving in a force of
Uhlans and smashing a battery.

The next day they were met by a force of Villenberg, which partially
outflanked us. Desperate fighting ensued, the Germans suffering terrible
losses: but they had an object to effect--to hold the Russians until
reinforcements arrived. These were run down rapidly from Koenigsberg and
the Russians outnumbered and forced back. The fight was lost because the
Germans had a network of railways behind them, while the nearest Russian
line was 45 versts away. These facts require no comment. A Russian
railway at Chorzellen would have saved the day, and led to the
investment and probable fall of Koenigsberg. It would have made the
occupancy of Tilsit and Memel permanent, and would almost certainly have
changed the results of the campaign in this region.

As it was, we had to fall back; but we did so fighting stubbornly, and
giving ground very slowly, reinforcements hourly arriving by
march-route. Finally we made a stand at Chorzellen, and the Prussians
tried their usual tactics of repeated attacks in masses. They left
10,000 dead before the town (it is scarcely more than a big village),
and then entrenched themselves at a hamlet called Straffenberg, several
miles in a south-westerly direction towards Unterberg: and then a
terrific artillery duel commenced. I calculated that 30,000 shots an
hour were fired from both armies. The air, the ground, everywhere and
everything, seemed to be alive with bursting shells. The roar of guns
and explosions was incessant and quite drowned the sound of the infantry
firing. Afterwards many men were deaf; I myself could hear no sounds for
two days.

I do not know how many guns were in action, nor the calibre of them. On
our side only field guns were used, and if the Germans had any of larger
size they were, at this time, few in number. Hundreds of machine-guns
were used on both sides, and yet the slaughter was not at all in
proportion to the amount of ammunition expended. As in all battles,
according to my experience, the principal part of the destruction was
due to infantry fire. Of course the loss of life was very great. I can
only say the ground was heaped with dead and dying. At each successive
assault the Germans mounted the heaps of corpses to get at our men and,
falling on their comrades, caused the slain to lie in heaps and ridges
in an extraordinary and dreadful way. The wounded in the underlying
layers must have been suffocated; and the blood ran down the slopes in
streams.

This fearful form of fighting went on from the 22nd to the 28th August
without any intermission, except occasionally a few hours in the
night-time, rarely even then. I, like others, sometimes slept the sleep
of utter exhaustion; but during the wakening hours I do not remember
that the firing ever entirely ceased. Generally the sound of it was a
continuous roar. The heavens were lit up by the reflections of
discharged guns and bursting shells, and the pandemonium was dominated
by a shrieking sound, probably occasioned by the rush of projectiles
through the air. The terrific noise affected my brain so that for weeks
afterwards I was afflicted with a head-noise resembling a loud hissing,
almost intolerable to bear as it interfered with necessary rest.

The front of this terrific battle was very extensive--200 versts I was
told; and the Russians claimed to have had 3,000,000 men in action. At
the same time fighting was going on in Galicia, and there were some
isolated contests, south and west of our position. The fortune of the
contending parties varied greatly; in some places the Prussians were
forced back, in others the Russians. Neither side had a decided victory
in any part of the field, and the ground lost or won never exceeded a
verst or two in extent and was often less than a hundred yards. So it is
proved that close and hand-to-hand fighting are not things of the past,
as many have thought them to be. On the contrary, close fighting is more
often and more extensively resorted to than ever it has been previously,
even in the open field; and I think, more fiercely contested. At any
rate I saw several battalions on each side so nearly destroyed that they
were practically wiped out. A battalion of the 9th West Siberian
regiment on our side, and a territorial battalion of the 59th Prussians
met with such a fate. Not fifty of the Russians nor more than a dozen of
the Germans came out of the scrimmages. They were greatly outnumbered,
and some of those lost were probably taken prisoners; but I can say,
from actual sight of the incidents, that in each case the men fought
with desperate bravery and evinced no desire to surrender.

There was some cavalry fighting too; but, generally, the Russians were
numerically superior to their foes; and the Germans, more often than
otherwise, avoided proffered battle. In a few instances squadrons and
regiments charged one another, the Germans always getting the worst of
it, and in one case at least being much cut up. The Russian cavalry even
attacked infantry, but though they got away without serious loss, it is
pretty evident that only in exceptional instances can cavalry now
successfully contend with modernly armed foot soldiers.



CHAPTER VI

THE CAVALRY FIGHTING BEFORE KOENIGSBERG


The battery to which I had attached myself was destroyed on the 26th. It
was overwhelmed by an opposing fire which nothing could withstand, and
an attempt was made to withdraw it. It was found impossible to limber up
the guns: all the horses were killed, and only five or six of the
drivers left. All the guns, too, were damaged; and Polchow, the
commanding officer, gave the order for the few men left to endeavour to
save themselves. As the words were being spoken a shell burst full on
him, and, riddled by shrapnel bullets, he dropped dead without a
struggle. About 20 men only got away and no horses were saved. My own
was shot the moment I mounted it, and pinned me to the ground by its
weight. I was exposed to the full blast of the German guns for nearly
two hours. Partly shielded by the carcass I escaped injury, though my
clothes were torn to rags by shrapnel bullets. The escape was
miraculous. By-and-by the Germans fell back, after suffering murderous
losses; and I was rescued from my perilous position by some infantry
soldiers of the 70th regiment.

The loss of Polchow was a serious one to me, although I had known him so
short a time, to say nothing of the shock of losing a friend from whose
hands I had received many kindnesses. Other friends, too, were lost in
these terrible fights, but the non-com. Chouraski escaped, though he was
standing near one of our ammunition-carts when it was struck by a shell
and blown up.

After dark a party went out to bring in the bodies of Major Polchow and
two other artillery officers who had lost their lives during the day. It
was raining heavily at the time; but the Germans heard us, and opened a
sniping fire, by which we lost one man killed and another wounded.

We returned the fire, but had nothing to aim at except the occasional
flash of a rifle; so we retired, carrying the bodies of our dead
comrades with us, and buried them in the middle of a small pine-copse,
with rough wooden crosses at the heads of the graves, on which we hung
their caps and accoutrements after the custom prevailing during this
campaign. The Russians always scrupulously revered German graves so
marked: I am sorry to record that the Germans were not so humane, but
hurt the feelings and aroused the ire of us all, men and officers alike,
by their beastly indecencies on the graves of brave men, the very
meanest of whom would have blushed to be so dirty-minded and cowardly.

The battery was ordered to be reformed, men, guns and horses being drawn
from some reserves which, I believe, came via Petrograd; but as I would
not have cared to serve under the officer appointed to command it, I
sought and obtained from a Staff Officer a permit, signed by the Grand
Duke Nicholas, enabling me to go practically where I liked. For a time I
was with the 11th Corps, then with the 5th, and afterwards with several
detachments and corps. It was a fortunate thing that I followed this
course, as it enabled me to see much more and learn more than I could
have done had I remained attached to a small unit.

On the 27th and 28th there was very severe fighting in the direction of
Villenberg, at which I was not present. At least 20,000 prisoners were
brought to the rear, together with a number of horses, guns and waggons.
There can be no doubt but that the Germans received a severe defeat on
these two days and were compelled to retire a great distance in a
disorganized condition.

During these two days enormous reinforcements came up on the Russian
side, including four cavalry divisions. There was great enthusiasm in
our ranks, because news came to hand that the Russians had the Austrian
army in a trap, and we might expect to hear of great things before the
week had run out.

On the 29th I rode with the 5th division of the Cossacks of the Don, and
by midday we had arrived in front of Allenstein, which is a junction of
five or six railway lines and is situated about 70 English miles from
Koenigsberg.

The people flew before us terror-stricken, and a regiment of German
hussars was destroyed. I am afraid there were some atrocities on the
part of the Cossacks. Without defending them I must remark that the
Prussians had set them a very bad example, and they were not slow to
imitate it. Villages were burnt and some civilians slain, and there were
some other lamentable occurrences.

A German brigade of heavy cavalry fell back, and the railway-station
together with a considerable part of the town of Allenstein were
destroyed, partly by fire, partly by being blown up; while the lines
were torn up in every direction; but this does not mean that the
destruction was as great as it would be under similar circumstances in
France or England, for the district is not a country of many culverts
and bridges. The ground is marshy, with numerous pools and lakes of
considerable size, which afforded good shelter to such German troops as
were seen, and enabled them to retire without much loss; in fact there
was scarcely any fighting on this day, and it became evident that they
were waiting for reinforcements before venturing to attack the
overwhelming mass of Russian cavalry, which was the largest body of
horsemen I have ever heard of as acting in one huge corps. Probably they
mustered 40,000 lances and sabres, and they covered the whole country on
a front of quite 100 versts, extending from Allenstein to Goldapp near
Suvalki.

The whole of this region is a swamp with a crescentic line of lakes and
ponds--a difficult country for cavalry to act in; but the Cossacks crept
in everywhere, and fire and lance did some fell work.

In some places there was fighting. On the 30th we came in contact with a
division of Prussian infantry with 60 guns. Our men, consisting of
dismounted Cossacks, dragoons and chasseurs, with 30 horse-artillery and
machine guns, took cover amongst some reeds and scattered farm buildings
and inflicted some loss on the enemy, who did not make a stand but soon
withdrew behind a marshy lake, their guns taking a made road where they
offered a good mark, so that a couple of them were knocked over, horses
and all, though the enemy saved them under cover of darkness.

At night the railway-station at Bischofsburg was destroyed and the line
torn up for a distance of four versts east and west of it; and we
learned that our patrols had demolished the stations at Sensburg,
Rastenburg, Latzen and Nordenburg, and had pulled up many versts of the
line. We ourselves blew up the station at Seeburg, or Seeburg Road as it
might be called, for the town is situated several versts from the
railway. Altogether we seemed to be having a walk-over in this region,
and when news arrived on the 2nd September that the Russians, after a
week's fighting, had crushed the Austrian Army and occupied Lemberg, the
excitement and joy in our division were such as I never before thought
the phlegmatic Muscovites to be capable of, and I began to entertain the
belief that the campaign would be a short one, and that the boast of the
Russians that we should be in Berlin in two or three weeks' time was no
vain one.

On this day our videttes were at Friedland, and we learned that the
Prussians had come out of Koenigsburg in force, and that there had been
severe fighting ending in the enemy retiring to the shelter of their
forts. The Russian commanders, however, do not seem to have thought it
advisable to pursue the foe to within range of their guns. On the 3rd we
approached near enough to be able to see two of the outlying forts of
the great stronghold. Many parties of Germans watched the dozen troopers
composing our advanced guard; but there was no exchange of shots. We
satisfied ourselves that certain dispositions of the enemy were intended
as a lure to attract a considerable body of our troops within
destructive range of their concealed parties. We smelt the trap and
declined to be led into it, but one of our officers, Lieutenant
Pitchchiff, with great temerity rode up to an eminence which gave him a
great command of view and was less than 200 yards from a company of the
enemy. He was not shot at, but a number of mounted men rode towards him,
and to avoid being taken prisoner he had to come away at a hand gallop.
I do not think the information he gleaned was of much importance.

The officer I came most in contact with was Captain Rudovka of the 16th
Dragoons, but acting as intelligence officer to the commander of the 5th
division of Cossacks. His bad English and my worse French enabled us to
understand one another, and his duties, carrying him as they did over a
great deal of ground, made him a very desirable companion. I had
permission also to keep the artilleryman Chouraski with me. He was an
excellent servant.

The Russian officer is usually a splendid fellow; jovial, polite,
generous and frank in a high degree. He is not so well versed in the
history and theory of his profession as the German officer, and not a
patch on his British comrade, who, after all is said and done, is the
finest officer in the world. As to pluck and courage, there is not an
appreciable difference in any of the armies. I witnessed some
magnificent instances of bravery in both Germans and Russians; and truth
to tell, acts of devilish cruelty in both nations--acts which I do not
believe it is possible either French or British officers could commit,
however great the provocation.

There are peculiarities in all peoples; and one of those of the Russians
is the number of females serving in their ranks, many of them as
officers. Indeed, I heard that one lady commanded a regiment of
Cossacks! This seems to me on a par with a General nursing a baby! But I
never was "a lady's man," so perhaps I had better reserve my opinions.
All I say is that I am glad the lady referred to was not the Colonel of
any regiment under the wings of which I fought; and I should imagine
that any "mere male" brought before a court-martial of Amazons would
stand more danger of being spanked than shot.

I saw some of these female soldiers--quite a score in all. There was
nothing particularly romantic in the appearance of any of them. Most of
them had the appearance of big, lanky raw-boned boys; faces oval,
features "puddeny," and complexions pale. One girl, said to be only
eighteen years old, was quite six feet high, with limbs that would fit
a grenadier. I noticed that all those I saw were dark-haired women. They
are said to have been enlisted as men and to have remained in their
regiments some time before their sex was discovered. When this event
took place the woman was allowed to remain in the service. I was a
little curious to know where these ladies lodged, as accommodation is
always limited enough in the tented field. I found that, in the case I
was so rude as to pry into, the girl slept amongst the soldiers, but was
relegated to a tent occupied exclusively by married men. My admiration
was great. The wisdom of the East still reigns in Muscovite brains.
Where else would one find the wisdom of the serpent combined with the
harmlessness of the dove but in a tent full of married men unless,
indeed, it would be in a tent full of married ladies?

The Northern nations are not prudish in the matter of housing the sexes
together. Men and women sleep promiscuously in one compartment in their
cottage, farms, etc.

For some days the centre of fighting was in Austrian Poland and Galicia,
of which we could see nothing. There was also a powerful advance across
the German frontier in the direction of Breslau. More weight was given
to these evolutions than they deserved. For a time the Russian attacks
were irresistible, but the Germans invariably succeeded in stemming
them. The reason lies in a nutshell. The enormous weight of millions
forced the enemy back; but he always retired slowly, doggedly; and when
he had collected a sufficient force made a determined counter-attack
which never failed, because man for man the German is by far the better
fighter. It may be unpleasant to many to hear this; but it is true; and
no man is more sorry than I am that it is so. The German is, generally
speaking, a ferocious brute, but he is possessed of the bestial courage
of a tiger, and, like that fierce animal, has an insatiable taste for
blood. To say that the German Army is an organized band of criminals, a
trained body of thieves and murderers, may seem to be far-fetched and
exaggerated to some persons; but if they had witnessed what I have
witnessed they would not say so.

Young Polish girls were forced to drink until they were helplessly
drunk, and in this dreadful condition were outraged to death. The body
of an aged female (no doubt a matron) was found hanging from a tree by
the feet, disembowelled and trussed as a hog, with this notice pinned to
her, "An old sow left to be salted." A whole company of Prussian
infantry abused one poor woman who died in our camp. In one village
about 150 men and male children, down to the age of nine or ten years,
were burned alive. In another place, a small hamlet near Shiplishki, we
heard the screams of burning people, and afterwards saw the charred
remains of them. These are not isolated instances: they were of everyday
occurrence, but I do not dwell on them for fear of exciting disgust. The
murder and mutilation of the wounded was invariable when the enemy had
time to effect it, and we became to some degree hardened to such
commonplace occurrences.

On the other hand, the Russians retaliated; and I say, what wonder that
they did so? I believe in retaliation. It is a powerful weapon to fight
with. It frightened the Germans and afterwards, to a very marked extent,
put a check on their atrocities. I stood by and saw 10 officers and 100
soldiers hanged; and as I did so I remembered that the first murders I
witnessed in this horrible war were those of Russian subjects by the
Germans at Kalisz; and if by holding up a thumb I could have saved the
life of any one of these 110 scoundrels, I would not have lifted it.
These were all clearly guilty of murder, wounding, torturing, female
abusing, and plundering. Still I must say, with regard to the
Cossacks--they are terrible fellows.

I have mentioned as a peculiarity of the Russian forces the number of
women found in their ranks and welcomed there. The great peculiarities
of the German Army, apart from its fiendish brutality, are the
prevalence of suicide and insanity in it. Some months later than the
time I am writing of, a captured German officer, a Lieutenant, I
believe, of a Landwehr regiment, told me that down to the end of
February, 1915, at least a thousand men had destroyed themselves; and he
mentioned it as a curious fact that hardly any of these miserable
creatures belonged to the artillery branch of the service. The reasons
for destroying themselves were rarely left behind by the victims of this
terrible infatuation. Some of our prisoners destroyed themselves; and I
saw one man shoot himself on the battlefield. But in this latter
instance horror at the sights around him was the probable cause of the
deed.

Insanity is even more frequent amongst German soldiers than suicide. At
the battle of Darkehmen a man, quite naked, foaming and gesticulating
wildly, rushed towards us. The astonishment this excited caused a lull
of the firing at the spot, and he dashed along for 500 yards at a
tremendous speed, leaping and springing like a stag. He made straight
for our ranks, where he was knocked down by a soldier and secured. He
bit very badly several of his captors before being carried to the rear.
I do not know what became of him; but hundreds of our prisoners were
raving when captured.



CHAPTER VII

THE FIRST INVASION OF EAST PRUSSIA, AND THE RETREAT


By the 4th or 5th September it was pretty generally known, in that part
of the Russian Army where I was, that something was going wrong with us.
Great masses of infantry and artillery were formed eastward, behind, and
on the right flank of the cavalry; and yet we made no further advance or
progress in any direction. Some thought that our commanders were afraid
of the garrison of the Koenigsberg forts, which was believed to number
150,000 men. I, and others engaged on outpost and scouting work, knew
that German reinforcements were coming up rapidly, and that a large army
was collecting on the Vistula between Marienburg and Thorn. These
reinforcements, we knew, were coming from Belgium and the Western
theatre of war, and also from the interior of Germany.

On our side reinforcements were coming up in great numbers; but at this
period the chief fighting was on the Austrian-Russian frontier; and
daily, and often almost hourly, news came to hand of the great victories
which were being gained. It was asserted that in one day as many as
130,000 Austrian and Prussian prisoners were taken. The truth of these
reports I had no means of ascertaining: nor of the many other rumours
of the crushing victories of the Allies in the West, where the Germans
were said to be retreating on all parts, and in many places, in
disorderly rout. Now, eight months later, are they retreating at any
point? Evidently mistakes were made; and it was not realized that the
enemy was preparing a ring of defences which it would take many months
to force. It was also said that the Germans were beginning to run short
of ammunition. We soon had painful evidence that the Germans were short
of nothing.

On the evening of the 5th September, they trapped one of our cavalry
regiments and destroyed it, together with the greater part of a squadron
of dragoons. Many of the men, including all the wounded, were taken
prisoners.

On the 6th the enemy began to advance in force. The fighting consisted
mostly of artillery duels at long ranges. While we were watching the
action of some guns posted about two English miles away, a shell smashed
to atoms the head and shoulders of an officer in the midst of our group,
and we were splashed all over with his blood and brains--not a pleasant
experience. The man must have been killed instantly, yet his hands and
feet continued to twitch for some minutes after he was struck. It is
remarkable that only one man was hurt, as we were standing close
together under some trees, where we felt sure we were quite safe.

On the same day we began to retire, but slowly, and with much stubborn
fighting. Nearly all the cavalry was drawn back from the front, and
much of it must have been sent right away, as I never saw it again. The
5th Cossack division, however, remained; and for a long time was engaged
in covering a portion of the 11th Army Corps.

[Illustration: RUSSIAN COSSACKS ON THE GERMAN FRONTIER]

On the 7th the artillery fight continued without apparently decisive
results on either side, though our retreat continued, as it did on the
8th when the bulk of the Cossacks (about 1,500 men) were at Deutsch
Eylau, with orders to fall back on Soldau, a town seventy or eighty
versts east of Thorn. There followed a number of movements which I did
not understand, and about which I could glean no information. My
difficulties were so great that it was not until this day that I learned
we were under the direct command of General Rennenkampf, whom I had only
seen on one occasion, and then had scarcely more than a glimpse of him.

The little I learned with certainty showed that the Russians were
obtaining great and important victories over the Austrians, with whom
were combined a considerable force of Germans, and that the Prussians
were becoming exceedingly nervous about their progress. In consequence,
they withdrew a great many units from our front; and the Russians, too,
sent a great force to the south, including, I suspect, most of the
cavalry that had suddenly departed. Both sides, also, but the Germans
principally, began to form extensive systems of entrenchments; and two
new devices came into use in modern warfare--viz., hand-grenades and
armour breastplates.

The grenades were peculiar things, not at all resembling the weapons
which gave our Grenadiers their name; of a kind of elongated pear-shape,
these were iron cases divided into segments, and attached to a stick
which fitted the barrel of a rifle and enabled them to be shot, at an
acute angle, into trenches. They were, also, thrown by hand, and were
nasty viperish things, often doing a great deal of damage.

The shields were a kind of iron breastplate, roughly made, and held in
the hand by means of metal handles; so that the men had to drop them
when they fired their rifles, or used their bayonets: but afterwards
they were attached to the body by means of straps. Except at short range
they were bullet-proof. The method of use was for the front rank in a
mass of close columns to hold them up, protecting themselves and
comrades until they closed with the foe, when they were thrown down that
their bearers might use the bayonet. Hundreds of them were taken by the
Russians; but the contrivance was too clumsy, and was soon abandoned by
both sides. Before the men could drop them and unsling their rifles they
were heaps of corpses. The grenades, however, held their own, and were
much used in trench warfare.

There was frequent and much rain at this time; which was a great
inconvenience, and caused the ground to become in a very bad state for
the passage of cavalry and artillery, not to mention the misery of
bivouacking in drenching showers. The weather was often very hot; but
there was a singular absence of disease amongst our troops, though one
got to know that typhus and other fevers were appearing amongst the
enemy's troops, though not spreading to any extent; and probably no
campaign on a large scale was ever conducted with less loss to the
troops from disease.

Much of the scene of the operations I have been describing was very
beautiful country, studded with homesteads and farms that, in normal
times, must have been quiet and peaceful places, occupied by well-to-do
yeomanry and peasantry, living happy and contented lives. Orchards were
numerous, but the fruit had entirely disappeared, either prematurely
removed by its owners to make what they could of it, or plundered by the
passing troops. Frequently we rode by cornfields that had been burned;
and potato-fields had been dug up and wasted, thousands of potatoes the
size of marbles lying on the ground. Our raiders got hold of many fowls
and pigs; and for a week or two pork was always to be had at two or
three meals per day.

Most of the people had fled from this country; those that remained
seemed to fear their own countrymen as much as they did our Cossacks,
and remained in hiding while we were passing. Generally speaking they
were not ill-used when our men discovered them; but scant respect was
shown to the rights of womanhood by the Germans themselves, who had
become brutal. No doubt many of the German officers made great efforts
to maintain order; but the license of war is notorious, and many
opportunities for wrong-doing must necessarily arise in countries under
its influence.

Houses and whole villages were wrecked and burned. We were constantly
passing through smouldering ruins, and at night the land resembled our
"Black Country" for blazing fires, and reflections of fires. We saw
bodies of civilians who appeared to have been executed by shooting; and
in one wrecked and smoke-blackened street, a couple of our own Cossacks,
and another Russian soldier, were seen hanging to lamp-posts--probably
marauders who had wandered away from their ranks, and fallen amongst the
Philistines--a fate such people often meet.

Acting on orders, the cavalry spread out into a vast screen, covering
the movements of the infantry, and gradually fell back before the enemy.
The movement was described as being strategical, for the purpose of
drawing the Germans into a favourable position for attack; but this
assertion was probably made to keep up the spirits of our troops.

The enemy fired at us a good deal; but as they could not bring their
guns to bear on a group of men, very little execution was done. There
were some charges between small parties, always much less than a
squadron in strength: and in all these that I saw or heard of the
Germans got the worst of the fight; and besides those cut down, in three
or four days, our men captured more than 200 prisoners, half a dozen of
whom were officers. I believe that the Germans claimed to have captured
some of our soldiers, but I much doubt if they secured as many as a
score.

The Cossack has a strong disinclination to be taken prisoner; and I knew
of several of them sacrificing their lives rather than fall into the
hands of the Germans, who heartily detest these men, and usually
murdered such as they succeeded in catching--and murdered them after
preliminary tortures, according to reports which reached us. The country
people certainly showed no mercy to stragglers falling into their hands.
They usually pitch-forked them to death; and this lethal weapon was a
favourite with the ladies on both sides of the border, many a fine
Teuton meeting his end by thrusts from this implement. For in some of
the fights the peasantry, including women of all ages, took part, and
showed that farm instruments are as deadly as any kind of "arme
blanche." ("Arme blanche" is the term used by military scientists to
include bayonets, lances and swords of all descriptions. Perhaps the
nearest English equivalent is "cold steel.")

Riding through a burnt village near Neidenburg, half a sotnia of our
fellows fell into a Prussian trap and had a third of their saddles
emptied in a few seconds. The survivors were equal to the occasion;
and charged so vigorously that they completely routed their
opponents--about 100 of a reservist corps with the figures 239 on their
shoulder-straps.[2] Two of these men were impaled on the same Cossack
lance, an almost incredible circumstance. The Cossacks are in the habit
of lowering their lances as they charge without removing them from the
buckets. Holding them loosely by the lanyards they kick them into their
enemies with such irresistible force, aided by the speed of the charging
horse, that to parry the weapons is impossible. In the case mentioned,
the men must have been standing one close behind the other, and the
lance was driven right through bodies, packs and all. It was some time
before one of the men died: in fact, not before the Cossack drew his
sword and finished him off by a sabre cut. The soldier could not
withdraw his lance, so firmly was it embedded in the bodies, a
circumstance which much aroused his ire, for all Cossacks are much
attached to their weapons.

[2] 239 Reserve are said to have been in Flanders. There may be various
explanations; but it is certain that this small party of men wore the
number 239.

Having crossed the border, we fell back in the direction of Przasnysz,
hearing that Soldau was evacuated; but I did not myself enter that town.
We found that a long line of trenches had been made stretching towards
Lomza and said to be extended quite up to that place. The lines were
full of infantry; and redoubts were constructed at intervals in which
heavy siege artillery was placed; an encouraging sight, as it seemed
certain that these defences must effectually check the Germans.

We were not long left to ponder over the possible effects of an assault
on our position. On the 14th the Germans opened fire with their
field-guns, and at daybreak made a violent assault in their usual close
formation. The result was horrible. Whole sections of them were blown
away, the air being filled with showers of human fragments, dismembered
by the big shells from the siege guns. At the same time they were
subjected to a withering rifle fire and they soon broke and fled,
suffering terribly as they rushed madly away.

Perhaps the heavy guns were a surprise to them. They generally made
repeated assaults, often as many as seven or eight in quick succession;
but on this occasion they were fairly frightened: they even suspended
their artillery shooting until late in the afternoon, and made no
demonstration against the parties which went out from our lines to
examine the battlefield.

Of all the awful sights I had seen, or saw afterwards, none exceeded
this. The enemy could not reach the guns, on account of the skilful way
in which they were placed well in the rear, and protected by strong
cross-fire; but they had succeeded by superhuman bravery in forcing the
first line trenches. They held none of their gains longer than five
minutes, at most; but in that time lost so heavily that the pits were
filled with corpses flush with the ground outside of them. In some spots
the dead and the dying were lying in heaps eight or nine deep. The
shells which had been used appeared to weigh from 150 to 200 pounds
(English weight) each; and hundreds of bodies were rent to pieces. Arms,
heads, legs, entrails, pieces of flesh, were lying about in all
directions; and the proportion of dead to injured was very high--more
so, I think, than in any other action that had taken place, though in
some instances nearly all the casualties were caused by artillery fire.

We brought in about 7,000 wounded; and I calculated that at least 12,000
dead were left lying on the field. The Germans sent a flag of truce
asking for permission to bury their dead. A reply was sent that we would
do that job for them. But no attempt was made to bury the enemy's dead
until the 16th. There was rain in the interval, followed by a hot
morning: not more than half the bodies were disposed of until the 17th,
and by that time the stench from the field was sickening.

During this interval there was no firing worth mentioning. The Germans
were slyly waiting for their heavy guns to come up. However, on the
night of the 17th they made an attempt to surprise us, but went home
with a flea in their ear, leaving another 1,000 men behind them. At this
time so many men had been withdrawn to the Austrian front, that,
imitating the example of the British and French in the West, our cavalry
were dismounted and fighting in the trenches. So I had full opportunity
of seeing what was going on and taking a part in the operations. Often I
wished that I could move about even more freely than I contrived to do.
For the sounds of heavy firing miles away showed that our little hamlet
was not the only centre of a fierce fight. The name of this hamlet,
situated about twenty versts to the east of Przasnysz, by-the-by I never
heard. It had endured the horror of a visit from the Germans, and was a
heap of blackened ruins. It had occupied a slight eminence, and a
battery was now placed in front of it. Further back were some
gravel-pits and a scarped bank, where the Cossacks picketed their
horses, and a reserve of ammunition was kept, though it was not
altogether safe from the enemy's shells.

All through the 18th there was very heavy artillery firing, in which the
Germans got much the worst of it, as their guns were light; but on the
19th they had some heavy pieces in position which did us some damage,
blowing in many yards of trenches, and destroying hundreds of men. We
had, however, no experience of the terrible "Jack Johnsons," nor had we,
so far, heard of those monstrous pieces of artillery.

General Jowmetstri, our immediate commander, did not care to sit still
and endure this galling fire, which our guns were unable to subdue; and
on the evening of the 20th he ordered a general advance with the
bayonet. The Germans did not seem to be prepared for this, if they were
not actually taken by surprise. Our charge was a very fierce one and the
enemy was driven out of his trenches, and a large working-party which
was busy cutting parallel lines of defence was annihilated. The enemy's
troops at this point were evidently of inferior quality. Many of them
threw down their arms, and some begged piteously for mercy. Their
officers were furious, and cut and stabbed at their soldiers, as well as
fired their revolvers at them. I saw one fellow throw his arms round his
officer and literally howl for mercy, while the man of authority swore
and struggled to free his sword arm. Both men were taken prisoners. The
whole force was swept from its defences and compelled to retreat,
closely followed by our men. A sharp rifle-fire was kept up all night.

About ten o'clock in the morning the enemy joined a fresh force, and we
were compelled to halt. We could hear that very heavy fighting was
taking place to the right of our position, some of the sounds of
artillery firing being distant, in the opinion of experienced soldiers,
at least thirty versts; and the front of the battle must have extended a
much greater distance than that.

I was much perturbed about my horse, and those of the Cossacks with me,
numbering about fifty men, all that was left of the sotnia (or
squadron). I had not seen Rudovka for three days; and, in fact, never
saw him again, nor did I meet with anybody of whom I could make
inquiries concerning him. Chouraski was still with me; but communication
between us was chiefly by means of signs, though I was beginning to pick
up the names of a few things in Russian; and Chouraski knew what I meant
when I asked for "bread" (biscuit), "cheese," "water," "wash," "dress,"
etc.

Some of the articles indicated by these words were very different from
what an Englishman would expect them to be. Bread was a species of "hard
tack" compared with which dog-biscuits are fancy food: cheese was a
wretched soft mess resembling wet putty, sour and peculiarly flavoured.
Meat was plentiful and good, especially German pork, and fowls, many of
which were large and fleshy.

The fifty Cossacks had no officer left and only one corporal, and they
looked to me for guidance. Assisted by Chouraski I contrived to lead
them very well for five days, when they were taken charge of by a Staff
Officer, and, I suppose, sent back to their regiment. Whether they
regained their horses, or what became of mine, I never heard. I say
"mine"; but really I do not know to whom the animal, or the one
previously killed under me, belonged. Both had been found for me, no
explanations being asked for or given. I was lost without a horse, but
had no money to buy one. At this time all the cash in my possession was
£20 in English sovereigns, and I had nobody to whom I could apply for
more. I wrote several letters to friends at home; but none of these
reached their destination; nor did I receive a line from anyone during
the whole time I was with the Russian Army.

Campaigning is rough work. I had come into the country with a small
gladstone bag only; and now I wanted many things badly, including boots
in particular. But just now I had fighting to attend to, and that under
strange circumstances because, like George Washington, I seem to suffer
from a natural inability to become a linguist. Most of the Russian
officers are good French scholars; and I found the most facile way of
communicating with them was to pencil down in French what I wished to
say. "How was I to get a horse?" "Take one from the Deutschman," came
the ready reply. I resolved I would if I could. Boots and shirts were
another matter, and these were generously given me, together with an
officer's uniform of the 80th regiment.

The swaying backwards and forwards of the battle, so to speak, seemed to
be occasioned by the necessity the Germans were under to rush their
troops about to save the many threatened positions. They strove, often
with success, to pin the Russian troops to one spot while they sent
reinforcements to help their friends the Austrians. Their Allies set
right, back came the relieving force, and a fresh attack was made on the
Russians, too often with success, or partial success. I have already
repeatedly said that it was their splendid system of railways that
enabled the Germans to effect these rapid and confusing movements.

That the railways were the means by which they obtained their victories
was proved by a curious fact. When the Russians were beaten back so far
that the Germans could not command their railed lines of communication,
and were thus placed on an equality with the Russians, they began to
lose ground, and Russians to gain it. This accounts for the "swaying
backwards and forwards" of the contending forces to which I have several
times alluded.

In the present fight, however, I think they had a narrow escape of a
serious disaster, and I was disappointed that the Russians did not
evince more dash and push their enemies back on Berlin. They proved to
be not strong enough to do this; nor do I think they will succeed in so
doing, until the British and French make a decided turn in the Western
campaign. It is in the West that the fate of the German Empire will be
decided.

Germany too is full of strong fortresses; and the Russians have been
unable to threaten seriously any of these, and are, I feel sure,
incapable of taking any of them. They lack the necessary artillery, for
one thing; and I was never greatly impressed by the engineering skill of
their sappers. The Germans are masters in this branch of the service;
and that is a circumstance which is sure to tell both in field-works and
in fortress warfare.

That there was much anxiety amongst the commanders of both armies at the
end of September was betrayed by the movements of the troops, and the
disinclination which was shown by both Russians and Germans to take a
bold initiative before the arrival of strong reinforcements. There was
firing every day, it is true, and sometimes heavy firing; but no
attempts at those vigorous attacks in masses of columns which were so
expensive in life; and, I might add, so ineffectual that it is amazing
the Germans persisted in making them.

Attempts may have been made to conceal the arrival of reinforcements:
they were not successful. We learned of every battery and battalion that
arrived in the German line: and their prisoners, of whom we daily
captured hundreds, could tell us all about the fresh arrivals in our
camp. Something was learned through scouts and patrols; but there must
have been numerous spies in both camps. None of them were discovered to
my knowledge; but the Germans were continually hanging or shooting
suspected persons. The slightest suspicion of a stranger in their lines
was sufficient to insure his destruction. They shot first and inquired
afterwards, if they inquired at all.

Almost simultaneously it was announced in our camp that the Czar was
coming to command us in person, and the Kaiser to place himself at the
head of the enemy. The Germans were evidently most anxious to drive back
our armies, in order to have the greater part of their force at liberty
to deal with the French and British in the West: their prisoners
admitted this, and were not at all reticent concerning details, often
giving information which showed them to be little better than traitors
to their country. The Saxons, particularly, were communicative, and many
of them openly expressed their disgust at the war and the cruelties
perpetrated by the Prussians, who, with the Bavarians and Würtembergers,
were undoubtedly the cruellest men amongst our foes, as they are the
most brutal amongst themselves. The roughs from Wurzburg,
Frankfort-on-the-Rhine, Berlin, and Hanover, were notorious for
wickedness, even in their own ranks; and prisoners from the other States
would often refuse to associate with them.

I moved about very freely amongst the German prisoners at the request of
several of the Russian commanders, for the purpose of gleaning
information. While at least 40 or 50 per cent. of the German officers
could speak French and English fluently, hardly any of the Russians had
a knowledge of the latter language, though they ware nearly always good
French scholars. On the other hand, German officers rarely understand
Russian. The German rank and file contained hundreds of men who spoke
English almost like natives of Britain; and no big batch of prisoners
came under my notice which did not contain men who had resided in our
Islands. Their officers were more reticent than the men; hence the use I
could be to the Russian authorities; and though spying is not to my
taste, I acted willingly enough on these occasions for what, I hope, are
very obvious reasons. I have been told by some pious people that the
meaning of the present universal imbroglio is that the end of the world
is imminent. I am convinced that it would soon be so if the wretched
Tyrant of Prussia won the day: and to prevent such a catastrophe I would
willingly stoop to meaner work than spying.

Sometimes the prisoners mistook me for a German; and I did not always
undeceive them. Many of them were miserably ignorant creatures; and I
formed the opinion that State interference with the education of either
the Classes or the Masses is not such a benefit to the people of a
country as many meddlesome faddists would like us to believe. Probably
there are very few Germans who cannot read and write; but these are
qualifications which may be much perverted if they are not "founded upon
a rock."

A great many of the prisoners taken by the Russians were men who would
better be described as deserters than prisoners. Lots of them hated the
military service, and had taken the earliest opportunity to run away
from it--into the arms of their enemies. "I have a wife and six children
in Magdeburg. If I'm killed who will look after them?" said one man.
Another fellow remarked: "I was married about three months before I was
called to the colours. I don't want my wife to be grabbed up by somebody
else." These, and other remarks, show that all the people in Germany are
not patriots. A soldier of the 54th regiment declared himself to be a
Socialist, and said he did not like killing his fellow-men. Another
declared that the only men he wished to kill were his officer and his
sergeant-major, who had been cruel to him; and he added: "I came away to
save myself from being killed by them." A large number of Jews
surrendered because they would not fight against their fellow Jews, who,
they had heard, were enlisting in large numbers in the French and
English armies.

The loss of men of these descriptions would not weaken the German Army;
but many thousands of the genuine prisoners were inveterate in their
hatred of Britain and everything British; and, strange as it seems,
these were the men from whom I gained the most useful information. They
were boastful and threatening: "Our Kaiser will be in your dirty country
on such and such a day; and then you'll catch it!" "Nonsense," I would
reply; "he hasn't got men enough to fight on this front, and invade
England as well." "Oh yes, he has. All our best troops have gone to
crush the English. Any men are good enough to defeat these red-snouted
pigs. The Guard Corps has gone to destroy your Guards;" and then the
fellow would go on to say where the various German corps were stationed,
which was valuable information. In this way I first learned that the
English Guards were in France; and many important details of the
fighting there--details which it was troublesome to verify, but I did
verify them: and so various and important was the information I gathered
that I was, for a time, much employed in this work by the Russian staff.

Much that I learned was at variance with what I afterwards read in
English newspapers. Evidently Germany was not so short of foodstuffs and
munitions of war as newspaper-men and politicians often fondly imagined
they were. I obtained clear proof that, in the early stages of the war,
and as late as February or March, both food and copper were sent in
large quantities by neutrals through neutrals, and also metals and
munitions. The Americans, I firmly believe, were generally antagonistic
to Germany and her policy; but there is in the United States a very
large body of people of Teutonic birth or descent, many of whom are rich
and influential tradesmen, and no effectual steps were taken to prevent
these persons from supplying their compatriots on the European Continent
with stores of goods of every description. They even did so on credit
and under promise of rich reward when that golden apple, Albion, had
dropped into the Kaiser's maw. Items of interest which I gained from
German prisoners were very numerous, and of intense interest. I heard
much about the brutal treatment of our prisoners, and the destruction of
our towns by airships; information which, I know, required to be
accepted with caution; but I verified it by cross-questioning and other
means, to the extent of learning certainly that places on our island had
been wrecked by aeroplanes, and many lives lost. The circumstantial
details given were too clear to leave a doubt on one's mind. Most of
those from whom I gathered information were men who had resided in
England.

Concerning the food-supply of our enemies, I learned what steps they
were taking to husband their stores, and I am satisfied that with what
they have got, and what is still leaking into their country, they can
probably hold out for two years at least. If they are beaten sooner it
must be by force of arms, not by starvation, though this will be their
ultimate fate if the war is much prolonged; for Germany is not
self-supporting, and as her troops are driven back, the area from which
she can draw supplies will be rapidly curtailed.



CHAPTER VIII

THE KAISER NOT A SUCCESSFUL GENERAL


The movements of the German troops were amazing. Some of the men we took
prisoners had been rushed up from Belgium, back again, sent into
Austria, and brought back to East Prussia; and all this in less than two
months. I mean that the entire corps, or divisions, to which these men
had belonged had been so shifted about. The Prussian Guards were smashed
up at Ypres by our splendid "British Grenadiers" (we soon learned this),
and then came and faced us, when they did not fare much better. Probably
it was the recruits who replaced the first lot who came to make the
acquaintance of the Russian bayonets. As to their Kaiser, he was
reported to be in a dozen places at one and the same time. He was
certainly at Soldau, or in its neighbourhood, during the last week of
September; but I did not learn the exact date of his arrival in the
East. Like most exalted potentates of his stamp--compounds of arrogance
and blasphemy--he seemed to have some fears for his personal safety, and
to be endeavouring to secure it by shrouding his movements in a certain
amount of mystery. By the shouting and hymn-singing, we knew he was at
Soldau on the 24th; but on the 27th we received definite information
that he was at Suvalki, which is thirteen versts over the German border
and in Russian territory. This was also the first intimation we had that
our forces had evacuated the Spirding See, the Lake region; and it was
not received as pleasant news, though anger rather than depression was
the prevailing passion amongst us. Reports, confirmed by the admission
of prisoners, stated that a quarter of a million men had been quietly
collected at Koenigsberg and were now being rapidly drafted into Poland.
Though the Kaiser was said to be in personal command of the new army, a
General von Hindenburg was mentioned as being the real director of its
movements. This was the first time we had heard of him.

At this period one of the gravest of Russia's mistakes was, in my
opinion, an undue attention to the Austrian section of the big
battle--for the fight really raged along the entire eastern and northern
frontiers of Germany and Austria. Troops were massed in front of the
Jaroslav-Lemberg line, who could have been more usefully employed in
forcing back the invaders in East Poland. But Russia has had her eyes on
Galicia for years, and, like a dog with a bone, has instincts for
nothing but her prey. She and her friends thought her huge masses would
swamp everything that attempted to oppose them. This has proved to be a
mistaken opinion, just as Germany's idea that rushed masses would carry
everything before them has turned out to be an error. In modern war huge
masses mean appalling death lists and vast numbers of prisoners. An army
such as even Napoleon hardly ever saw is now imprisoned in Russia; and
another, scarcely inferior to it in numbers, is interned in Germany. Men
deployed may fall back and escape; a mass of columns under direct
artillery fire must surrender or be annihilated. This is the reason that
troops have been captured in bodies of thousands on both sides. It is
also the chief reason that the slaughter has been so excessive.

On the night of the 28th, at about 10.30, we were aroused and paraded. I
was excessively tired at the time, hardly able to keep my eyes open, and
was under the impression that fighting was about to take place in our
immediate neighbourhood; but after standing in a drenching rain for
about half an hour we were marched off--I could not tell where or in
what direction.

The night was dark, the rain falling in torrents, and the ground a
quagmire; but the men marched quickly and in perfect silence. They were
not permitted to smoke, an indulgence which was usual on marches.

I marched with an East Russian regiment from Perm, which had already
seen such hard service that it was reduced in strength from 4,000 to
less than 2,000 men. There were other regiments in the division which
had suffered even more severely. The men were cheerful, recent accounts
of great victories on the Austrian frontier having much raised their
spirits.

We plodded on till eight o'clock the next morning, when we were halted,
and each man, including officers, was handed a mug of coffee and two
large biscuits, commissariat carts passing down the ranks for this
purpose. It was still raining. During the night we had passed through
two towns and two villages, but I had no idea where we then were. After
waiting two hours till about 10 a.m., we resumed our march, and after
proceeding four or five versts arrived at Ostrolenka railway-station.
Troops were leaving this place by train, and we were placed in carriages
about noon, and departed eastward. I shared a compartment with six
officers and was able to hold a little communication with them. Their
opinion was that we were going to Grodno, about 150 versts from
Ostrolenka. After smoking a cigar or two they all went to sleep and
within a few minutes I had followed their example, and was so dog-tired
that I did not awake until I was aroused at Grodno, where we arrived at
six o'clock in the evening. The sound of heavy artillery firing was
heard as we stood on the platform; but no information could be gleaned
about what was going on, and in a short time we were placed in another
train and sent off in the direction of Suvalki, the capital town of a
province of the same name. At ten o'clock we were detrained on the line
near to a large sheet of water, probably at Otschauka.

A big battle was going on some eight or ten versts away. We could hear a
tremendous sound of firing, and could see the red reflection in the sky
for many miles on either hand. Without delay we were marched towards
this scene of conflict, and at once began to meet long lines of wounded
men and prisoners. The Germans were reported to be getting the worst of
the fight, but the Russians stood in need of reinforcements.

We hurried on, the men marching at a very quick step, but often
floundering through slush and mud. The ground was very soft and marshy,
and full of ponds and streams with steep banks. Troops were in front of
us, and others behind; and judging from a spluttering rifle-fire, I
thought our flank was being protected by a cavalry skirmishing line. It
was the first serious night-fight in which I had been engaged. As we
advanced it became more and more evident that it was a battle of an
extensive and desperate description; and enough could be seen to show
that its front extended at least twenty versts, and probably much more.

At length we were halted and deployed into line; and I thought other
infantry regiments were coming up on both flanks; but the night was too
dark to enable one to make sure of much. While we were thus engaged a
cavalry regiment rode into us--it cannot be said that it charged--and I
have always been of opinion that they made a mistake of some kind. Half
of them were killed, the rest surrendered; and I tried to gain
possession of one of their horses, as I had been recommended to do. I
was disappointed. Some unmannerly rascal took it from me just as I was
trying to get into the saddle, and time and circumstances made an
argument both difficult and dangerous.

We were within long range of artillery fire, and stray shells burst
over our heads and fell amongst our ranks; and an order was passed that
we were to lie down. The ground was sodden, and most of us were very
damp if not wet through; but there we lay for two hours until about 1.30
a.m., when we were suddenly ordered to advance.

We had not gone 1,000 yards when there was some wild shooting in front
of us, and to my astonishment I found that we were close upon the enemy.
It must have been a surprise to them, or they would never have permitted
us to close without riddling us with rifle and cannon shot according to
their usual tactics; and either desperation lent them energy, or they
were getting used to the handling of their weapons, for I never saw a
fiercer bayonet fight on the part of the Germans. They burnt flares, or
a similar contrivance, which threw a lurid light over the fiercely
struggling mass of human furies, and benefited us as much as it did
themselves; and that was a good thing, for otherwise it would have been
almost impossible to distinguish friend from foe, and accidents must
have been of frequent occurrence.

The enemy appeared to have made some shallow rifle trenches, but many of
them fought on open, flat ground; and their losses were terrible. The
fight lasted, furiously, desperately, for about a quarter of an hour;
then the Germans gave way and ran for their lives, closely followed by
their foes. As they ran they unbuckled their knapsacks and let them fall
to the ground. Many fell on their knees and held their hands up, not
always with success in obtaining mercy, though hundreds of prisoners
were taken and secured by the reserves which were following us in
support. Some threw themselves flat on the ground and thus often escaped
immediate death.

The officers on both sides lost control of their men. I could hear the
Germans shouting and threatening and saw some of them throw themselves
before the soldiers in a vain attempt to stop the headlong flight; while
our men were so excited that the commands of their officers were quite
ignored--a very unusual thing amongst Russian soldiers, whose reverence
for their commanders resembles that of saints for their priests.

I believe the Germans suffered something from their own artillery fire,
their shells bursting amongst friends and foes alike. One fell close in
front of me and the explosion made me shiver; but though it killed at
least half a dozen men I escaped without so much as a scratch, though I
afterwards found my clothes torn by projectiles of some kind.

The pursuit went on for hours. When daylight broke it had not diminished
in vigour, and, the country being an open marsh, the enemy, deprived of
the trenches in which they love to fight, could find no point of support
and were kept on the run. Many of them, far too heavily accoutred, fell
from exhaustion, and soon they began to surrender in squads and
companies.

Cavalry on our left front made a demonstration, but the ground was so
rotten that they could not charge; and we soon began to come up with
guns embedded in the mud. Gunners and horses were bayoneted, and the
guns afterwards fell into our hands. I was told that hundreds were
taken; certainly whole batteries were left behind, the majority of the
horses having been worked to death in an endeavour to drag them away. I
saw them lying dead harnessed to guns and waggons. Some were still
dying, groaning pitifully, and not a few were put out of their misery by
men whom the fiercest passion could not deprive of some sense of
compassion for innocent suffering. I came upon a German gunner engaged
in this praiseworthy work, and gave him a friendly nod. He returned the
nod with equal friendliness before hopping after his comrades with a
couple of pounds of mud clinging to each boot. Ah! war is a sad, sad
business. It must be bred of the devil: for one would rather lose his
soul than fail to sabre or stab the foe in front of him; and yet when
the fierce rage of the fight is over, one would give the whole world not
to have done such a thing.

The Prussians must have had reserves in the field, but we saw nothing of
them. Either they were dealt with by other bodies of our troops, or,
seeing that the day was lost, took the hint and did not wait. Our men
kept up the pursuit until nearly noon the next morning, when the
majority of them were so exhausted that they threw themselves on the
ground and slept where they lay, with the rain pelting down upon them.

This action was known to the Russians as the "Battle of Suvalki," and
was the nearest approach to an old-fashioned fight that had taken
place. It was a tremendous affair, fought on a front of nearly thirty
English miles; and was a complete, unqualified German defeat. They lost
about 30,000 killed and wounded, and nearly as many more taken
prisoners. The Kaiser was in personal command throughout the action; and
is responsible for the precious mess made of it. About 300 field-guns
were captured, but some of them were so firmly embedded in the mud that
they could not be dragged off, horses being scarce. According to my
estimate at least 8,000 of these poor beasts perished in the fight.
There is no exaggeration in these estimations. One column of prisoners
alone which I passed on its way to the interior of Russia was five miles
long, the men marching without a break, in double file, or six abreast,
according to German formation. (The German file is usually three men
deep, and not two, as it is in most other European armies.)

Both sides were thoroughly exhausted by this tremendous struggle; and
there was no fighting on the latter part of the 1st and the whole of the
2nd of October; at any rate by the troops which had been engaged in the
main battle. On the 3rd we resumed our advance into Prussia, but late in
the afternoon were ordered to halt, and the remainder of the day was
spent in taking up an alignment facing due north towards Tilsit. The
object of this movement was not clear to me; but there can be no doubt
that our position was sometimes almost critical. The force which fought
the Battle of Suvalki was outflanked both to the north and to the
south, and had we suffered defeat the disaster would have been a
terrible one. The Russians had not only a huge marsh in their rear, but
also a large and deep river (the Niemen), and what that might have meant
may be gathered from the fearful losses of the Germans when they were
forced, as a part of the movement I have been describing, over it to the
north of Suvalki. Not much about this disaster seems to have leaked out
as yet, but it cost the Germans at least another 20,000 men, nearly all
of whom perished by drowning; in fact, the passage of the Niemen is
second only, as a military _débâcle_, to that of the Beresina in
Napoleon's days. Eye-witnesses, whose veracity cannot be questioned,
amongst them being General Rennenkampf, asserted that whole companies,
and batteries of artillery, were swept away, the heavy rains having
greatly increased the current of the river. Heavy siege guns, destined
for the bombardment of Warsaw, were lost; and several of the bridges
constructed by the German engineers collapsed under the excessive weight
forced upon them; while two of these structures were demolished by the
Russian shell fire, being crowded with men at the time. In fact,
whatever the outcome of the campaign, the Germans will never forget the
dressing they got at the passage of the Niemen below Tilsit.

The effect of the battle of Suvalki was very great. The German objective
had been Warsaw, and they tried to seize it, as they tried to seize
Paris, by a rapid and impetuous advance. They had reached Suvalki and
Rovno in the north, and their advanced parties were on their way to
Wilna, the capture of which would have cut the communications of Warsaw;
while southwards they had reached Radom, 140 miles over the border, and
two-thirds of the way to Warsaw. Suvalki saved Warsaw; for it compelled
the Germans to fall back north and south and evacuate West Poland. It is
beyond all measure the most important victory the Russians have gained;
for though the loss of Warsaw would not necessarily mean the loss of the
war, it would be a nasty blow to the Muscovite prestige, and might
entail the loss of Petrograd. As one of their most fervent well-wishers
I heartily rejoice that they won Suvalki. It must have been a knock-down
blow for Wilhelm der Grosse, as it showed conclusively that if he is a
Napoleonic tyrant he is not a Napoleonic genius. Like the little man
with the large head he is a big scoundrel; but, unlike the Corsican, he
is not a great soldier.

A wonderful army, though, is this German Army. After suffering a
crushing defeat and losing, with those drowned in the Niemen, from
70,000 to 80,000 men, they drew off in fairly good order, and in a few
days were again a formidable host. They did not sustain a "rout." No
fair, impartial account of what really occurred can go so far as to say
that. A crushing defeat it was, but not a rout.

These operations cost the Germans, in addition to their loss of men,
about 700 guns of various descriptions and 18,000 horses. About 850
waggons and carts fell into the Russian hands.



CHAPTER IX

CHIEFLY PERSONAL MATTER


The Russian soldier is a splendid fellow: I do not go so far as to say
that he is a first-class fighter. It is really difficult to describe him
correctly. He has been represented repeatedly as a dogged being; so he
is. His courage, too, is unimpeachable; but it is not a very intelligent
courage. The Russian soldier must be led, and the better led he is the
better he will fight. He has, as I have already hinted, an almost
religious reverence for his acknowledged superiors; and he is a
religious man. Perhaps it would be better to say, a superstitiously
religious man. He nearly always carries a relic or a little ikon of some
kind, and to this he frequently prays, kissing it at the same time. He
has an intense reverence for the Holy Virgin, and a common form of
greeting is, "Brother, Christ is risen," to which the comrade addressed
replies, "He is risen, indeed." Faithful, true-hearted and generous, he
never forsakes a friend; and, on the other hand, I am afraid he never
forgives an enemy. He can be dreadfully cruel to those he hates; yet, in
his ordinary mood, it would be difficult to find a man who has a
stronger natural dislike to shedding blood. He makes a good husband, is
passionately fond of children; but is not a merciful man in his dealing
with dumb animals. He is pudding-headed, but not obstinate in the usual
acceptance of the word; and his friend, or his officer, can lead him
anywhere. In a fight he dies like a Roman, and never abandons his
leader. It is difficult to imagine him a revolutionist or a King-killer,
though history has recorded that he can be either; and some terrible
things have occurred even in the reign of the present Czar.

That part of the Russian Army with which I was mostly in contact was
composed almost entirely of Siberians, people who retain very markedly
the features of their Mongolian origin. They are Asiatics, as, indeed,
are many Russians. At any rate, this seemed to be perfectly clear,
judging from their features and other indications; though, I must
confess, I am not learned on the subject of the origin of nations. Their
habits, too, are largely Asiatic, and there was a considerable admixture
of Tartar blood in some of the regiments; and in others many of the men
would easily have passed as Chinese. Some of the regiments were composed
of Kirghiz; and one, at least, of Mongolians pure and simple.

I fell into some confusion concerning the numbering and naming of the
regiments, because there seem to be several distinct armies in the
Russian services. The Siberian is one of these armies: and some of the
regiments were only known by their territorial designation, while others
had both name and number. The army from "All the Russias" seems to be
considered the élite troops; but in my opinion the Siberians are not in
any way inferior to them, and the Tiflis Rifles is one of the finest
bodies of light infantry I have ever seen.

The physique of the men, generally, is magnificent, and their powers of
endurance unsurpassed by that of any soldiers in the world. They can
march and fight, too, on rations so scanty and coarse that I much doubt
if any other European soldiers would tolerate such food. Many of the
regiments for days had no better diet than tea and biscuit. Milk was not
drunk in the tea, but sugar was used when it could be obtained. The
troops were supposed to have a ration of sugar, and also salt. Some
years ago the sugar ration was abolished, but the health of the men
deteriorated so much that it was again served out to them with
beneficial results; so it would seem that sugar is necessary to human
health. "How did people do when there was no sugar?" "When was that?"
"Before sugar honey was universally used; and honey is certainly a
natural sugar." The faddist is a very tiresome person anywhere; above
all things he should be kept away from armies and navies, where he may
do much mischief. Now the non-alcoholic idiot is getting the sway. What
a pass things are coming to! Waterloo was fought on beer, and Trafalgar
on rum; but I remember at the "Battle of Dorking" a Staff-Officer "came
between a poor cove and his grub," who nearly got himself shot for
complaining--the "poor cove" I mean, not the Staff-Officer.

The victory at Suvalki had far-reaching effects. Even at the few
posts where the Germans were not forced back they were compelled to
retire. Some of their cavalry made an effort to check the pursuit, but
it was unavailing. What appeared to be parts of two regiments, hussars
and dragoons, had the temerity to charge a battalion of our regiment.
The greater part of them went down in a heap, men and horses together.
On our side a regiment of Cossacks (said to be the 3rd of the Don)
charged a battalion of Prussians and dispersed them, taking 100
prisoners, including a colonel. During the retreat of the Germans many
small fights occurred which had no particular results on the campaign.
By the 3rd October whole corps of Russians were on Prussian soil.

[Illustration: RUSSIANS HURRYING AMMUNITION TO OPERATING LINES]

It was unfortunate that heavy rains again began to fall, as they
prevented so close a pursuit as would otherwise have harassed the enemy.
The country west of Suvalki, naturally a marsh, was rendered a huge
lake. The water was not deep enough to prevent the advance of cavalry
and infantry; but guns could not be dragged through the mud, and without
them it would have been unsafe to advance very far. Many of those
captured from the Germans were lost owing to the state of the ground,
but I do not think they were recovered by the enemy. They sank into the
morass and so disappeared.

I was very glad when a halt was called and we were ordered to find what
shelter we could, the regiment being far in advance of the main body.
The Germans had sadly devastated the country. We passed over many miles
of country in which scarcely so much as the shell of a house was left
standing: all were charred and blackened; and men, women and children
were found murdered. The bodies of two young boys under twelve years of
age lay on the roof of a low outhouse. They had been bayoneted and
thrown there, nobody could surmise why. Some bodies were burnt to
cinders, and others had been torn and partly eaten by swine and dogs.
The dogs, by-the-by, were numerous, and very fierce brutes.

In some spots, where the Germans had bivouacked, the heads and offal of
pigs showed that they had shot some of these animals, and also killed
ducks and fowls, for food, and cooked them at open-air fires made of the
belongings of the peasantry. Chairs and tables were left outside, just
in the positions in which they had evidently been used. A dish-cover was
left on one table, and when it was raised it revealed two pairs of human
hands severed at the wrists. The men to whom these hands had belonged,
and a woman, were found shot in the farm-house. All were old people, as
nearly all the murdered persons were, except some young women and
children. Besides the two boys already mentioned, a younger child and a
little girl of about fourteen years were seen lying on the ground. The
cause of the death of the girl did not appear, and it was probably
caused by fright. A woman clasping her baby had been shot. The bodies
had, in many cases, been treated with disgusting irreverence. Even a
hunchbacked man had been shot, and a poor old fellow with beard and hair
as white as snow. One sturdy dame seemed to have attempted to fight for
her life, for she held a hoe in her dead hands. Her body was riddled by
bullets.

To escape the rain I climbed up the half-burnt rafters of a cottage to a
room in which a portion of the floor and a corner of the roof were still
in position--I cannot say intact. Here, in imminent danger of a fall, I
slept the instant I stretched myself on the boards. Below were a score
of exhausted soldiers, too utterly weary to care a rap for danger from
falling walls: and long and soundly we all slept.

No food had been served out for two days, and when a commissariat waggon
came up only about half the men obtained biscuits. I was thinking of
cooking a pig's head left behind by the Germans when a soldier
generously gave me half a biscuit. Others followed his example, and in
this way I obtained a breakfast. The pigs which had escaped the
Prussians had all run away, but later in the day one was found and
killed, and about two pounds of its flesh found its way into my hands.
We resumed our march at 11 a.m., the enemy being known to be not far
off. During the afternoon we came up with one of their abandoned
waggons. It was full of champagne and hock! I am glad there were no
teetotallers about to witness the capture. What King Jamie meant by
being "fu'" I do not presume to know; but I am quite sure some of us
were "tight" before that waggon was done with, and I should like to see
the teetotaller, of exalted or humble rank, who would resist the
temptation of a good "swig" after forty-eight hours of such misery as
we had just gone through.

Apparently the Germans observed this capture; for they fired two shells
at us from a range of about three miles. One shot fell 200 yards from
us, the other came a little nearer, but neither interrupted the
interesting work in hand.

Notwithstanding the preconceived opinions of book strategists,
long-range firing does not seem to be productive of very destructive
results, even with heavy artillery. It was certainly not much resorted
to in this campaign. Even rifle shooting seldom took place at a longer
range than 1,000 yards; and much oftener at not more than half that
distance; while firing at point-blank range was frequent. The bayonet
did as much work as in any war that ever took place; in some fights half
the casualties were caused by its use. Cavalry, too, faced infantry fire
boldly and successfully. We were to have no more charges of masses of
cavalry according to the theorists. But on at least half-a-dozen
occasions bodies of over 4,000 horsemen made most telling charges. In
one case at least 10,000 cavalry took part in a charge, riding over the
Prussian infantry as they might have ridden over stubble. The Cossacks,
like the Uhlans, have hooks attached to the butts of their lances; and
with these they whipped officers from their horses, and men from the
ground in the most extraordinary way, sometimes pulling them up into
their own saddles and bringing them in prisoners. How they liked the
humiliation of this treatment may be gathered from the remark of one
officer made to me in English, "D----n it! I would rather have been
killed"; but he joined in the general laugh at his accident.

Perhaps I have no right to record mere impressions and ideas; and I
intend to avoid doing so generally; but there are some opinions and
beliefs which had a general bearing on what I did, and especially on
what I recorded; and I think I may be excused if I sometimes refer to
these.

As a case in point, I was generally very ignorant of what was taking
place in other areas of the war. German newspapers were pretty plentiful
in all our camps; but very few French or British found their way into
our hands. German accounts were not reliable in my opinion, but some of
their statements could hardly be altogether untrue. The news of the loss
by submarine torpedoes of the three battleships, _Aboukir_, _Hogue_ and
_Cressy_, perturbed me greatly. The reports in German newspapers,
combined with other rumours which reached us, made it clear enough that
the British Navy had met with a great disaster, though I was compelled
to rely on the translations of Russian comrades of these German reports.

The Russian cavalry made some attempts to penetrate East Prussia, and
get at the trains which were conveying troops from Koenigsberg
southwards; but none of these attempts were successful so far as I have
heard. A few isolated patrols got a long way into Prussia, but, I think,
in no case did they succeed in wrecking a train.

For a time I was out of action, though I tried to reach the scenes of
fighting I heard was in progress. The East Prussian frontier is a very
difficult country for military operations, especially those of an
offensive description. The marsh lands are very extensive, and there are
numerous lakes and ponds which greatly aid the defending force, while
much hindering those engaged in the attack. Lakes and marshes enable an
army on the defensive greatly to extend its front; which those engaged
in the assault cannot do without at any rate incurring great risks. The
Germans often threw up batteries between two lakes, or a lake and a
marsh situated near each other. As these could be approached only on a
narrow neck of land, they could be defended by a mere handful of men,
while the attacking force was not only compelled to advance a strong
party, but had, also, to keep others in hand to prevent being
outflanked.

Something of this kind of fighting I saw; but much of it occurred
further south, near the Vistula river, in a district where I was not
engaged at the time it took place.

These marshes and lakes greatly assisted the Germans and probably saved
them from the rout which they are supposed by some people to have
sustained. I do not know of any instance where they were forced to
evacuate such a defensive position as that I have described. In fact the
marshes of East Prussia saved the country from a serious invasion, and
certainly checked the Russian advance into the heart of the country. If
heavy siege guns could have been brought up they might have effected
something; but as it was, not even light field artillery could be moved
over the ground in any quantity. The amount of rain which fell was quite
abnormal, and was often almost incessant for days together. Then there
would be some signs of a clear up; but long before more than the surface
of the ground was dry it would begin to pour down again. I never saw so
much mud in any other country, nor such deep, tenacious stuff. Even men
sometimes stuck fast in it and had to be hauled out of quagmires with
the aid of ropes. I have recorded that the Germans lost many guns owing
to their sinking into it; some also were lost by the Russians, even when
they were not under fire; and the destruction of horses through being
smothered to death or by exhaustion was deplorable. In fact the mud
sometimes troubled the Russians far more than the foe did. It prevented
the commissariat and reserve ammunition waggons from coming up; but, on
the whole, lying in it, and being subjected to a continuous downpour of
rain, did not seem to adversely affect the health of the men. The field
hospitals were always crowded by wounded, but the sick from disease were
singularly few in number.

Amongst other things about which there were rumours in our army was the
destruction that airships and aeroplanes were causing. The Russians had
aeroplanes; but they were not strong in this kind of military force, and
we seldom saw one. The Germans, however, occasionally sent a few over
our lines, and on the 5th October I saw one shot down. It swerved a good
deal, and I expected to see it turn over and drop, but it came down
slowly enough to prevent the airmen from sustaining much hurt. The
"navigator" was one of the most irritable and arrogant rascals I ever
met. He was very angry at his accident, and fumed and swore incessantly
and had not the least fear of consequences before his eyes. He shook his
fist in the faces of the Cossacks and officers who first came up to his
wrecked machine, beat and kicked his unfortunate mechanic, and raved
like a lunatic. Even his captors seemed to be in considerable awe of
him. Some hours afterwards I saw this fellow eating a meal outside a
tent. He was devouring the food like what he probably was--a human hog.

Another astonishing trait in the German Army was the remarkable way in
which it frequently recovered lost ground. The Battle of Suvalki, and
the operations further south, had the effect of causing a general
retirement of the enemy's line; and amongst other places they abandoned
was Radom; but in a week or ten days they were back in this place, and
had even pushed much nearer to Warsaw. Our scouts ascertained that they
were in force along the Vistula from Ivangorod to Varko; and their Uhlan
patrols were seen at the hamlet of Vistikar, near Gora, not twenty
versts from Warsaw. Whether they ever got nearer to the ancient city I
do not know, but for a time we all expected and feared that it would
fall. Nobody believed that the old capital of Poland could long stand
against an investment by our powerful and cunning foes.

But, while recovering themselves in the south, the Germans did not, at
this time, do so in the Suvalki district, or in those parts near the
Spirding See where the recent severe fighting had taken place: Russian
soldiers still remained on German soil.

The weather grew worse, and seriously affected most of our important
operations. Gloom began to settle on the troops; especially when
accounts of adversity to our forces in Galicia reached us. These
generally came from German sources; but some of our own officers brought
news that progress was being stopped by floods, and the enormous
reinforcement the enemy had succeeded in bringing up. Often we did not
know what to believe; the reports were so contradictory that it was
evident one side or another was telling deliberate lies. A comical side
was once or twice given to the matter, owing to German, Austrian and
Russian "unofficial sources" giving diametrically opposite accounts of
the same circumstances. Willing as we were to believe our own side to be
the most truthful, it was not always possible to ignore the
circumstantiality of our opponents. It became evident that all three
sides were a little given to exaggeration--not to give it a harsher
designation.

The dreadful weather was more than I could endure, and I was obliged to
fall out. I was taken by rail to a convent hospital at Grodno, and there
so well and carefully nursed by the sisters, with whom were associated
many of the ladies of the town, that I quite recovered and was fit for
service again in less than a week.

I could not find my old regiment, however, and my adventures with the
Russians might have terminated at this point had I not happened to run
up against an officer with whom I had some acquaintance. Captain
Shalkotoff belonged to the commissariat department; and as he was going
south with a convoy he invited me to accompany him as far as Ostrolenka,
his first destination; and I accepted his kind proposal.



CHAPTER X

THE FIGHTING ON THE VISTULA IN THE MONTH OF OCTOBER, 1914


Shalkotoff had about eighty waggons and carts under his command, all
loaded with provisions which had come from Vilna, where there was a
magazine. He was travelling by march-route, the railway-lines being
fully occupied by troop trains, and in the conveyance of wounded men and
prisoners. Every night we camped in the mud by the roadside, unless
buildings or houses were available, which was not often the case. For
the Germans had destroyed so many of these that what were left were
crowded by homeless people herded together in dreadful misery, starving,
and possessed of nothing but what they stood in. We passed through some
districts, however, in which a German had not been seen; and in others
they had not been so brutal as the generality of their countrymen. Nor
are all Germans equally cruel. At a place called Mirno, near Jedvabno,
we met a band of 200 prisoners being marched to the railway-station at
Setshutchin for conveyance into the interior. Several of them were
officers, and one, a captain, expressed his disgust at the brutality of
his countrymen. He said it came to him as a terrible revelation that
Germans could be so cruel and wicked, and he was as much astonished at
it as any person in the world. Others, of all ranks, at different times,
expressed much the same opinion.

Perhaps nothing hurt Russian feeling more than the desecration of their
churches. The Germans too often evinced a bigotry and irreverence for
things that most people consider sacred similar to that which disgraced
our own Cromwellians three centuries ago. They stabled their horses in
the churches, littered the floors of the sacred edifices with filth, and
broke the images. Such conduct is deplorable; nothing can be more
revolting than to hurt a people through its religion, whatever we may
think of its bigotry and idolatry. Besides, the indomitable bravery of
the Greek and Romish priesthood in this deplorable war must ever command
the admiration of all right-thinking men; and this alone should have
protected them from insult.

It is about 120 miles from Grodno to Ostrolenka, and it took us nine
days to march this distance, so defective was the state of the roads.
During this time we fared pretty sumptuously; for the drivers and
officers helped themselves liberally to the provisions under their
charge. In addition to the coarse biscuit, cheese, tea, sugar and
coffee, which form the bulk of the Russian soldiers' daily food, there
was salt pork, rancid butter, potatoes, and a number of hampers destined
for officers whom they never reached. The broaching of such goods is
indefensible, but it is pretty general in all armies, not even excepting
the British: those who have been soldiers know what "old soldiers" are;
and, no doubt, I ought to admit that I require a brushful of white-wash
myself. For a dish of bacon, or a cup of wine, being placed in front of
one, what is one to do but relieve the craving of nature? The only
defence I can make is that we all do it, as circumstances occasion.

At Ostrolenka we were ordered on to Pultusk; and here we found a
division of infantry and another of Cossacks--about 14,000 men in all,
the units being reduced by the ravages of war. Among the Cossacks was
the celebrated 5th of the Don, with its woman colonel, who seemed to be
not more than thirty years of age. She had adopted male costume, and
rode astride like her troopers. She was a pleasant-faced woman, but not
a beauty, in my opinion; and there was nothing fierce or commanding in
her appearance. She was said to be of unflinching courage under any
circumstances, and to be almost worshipped by her soldiers. So it may be
surmised that her rule is gentle and just.

At Pultusk I had my first, and almost only, trouble with the people whom
I was trying to serve. A fussy officer wanted to know, rather too
minutely, who I was, and how the non-commissioned officer, Chouraski,
came to be travelling with me. I had certificates, and Chouraski a
permit, signed by a Staff Officer, and countersigned by General
Rennenkampf himself; but it was a long time before the interfering
colonel could be persuaded. He sent for a captain of the 40th Siberian
regiment named Lofe who could speak English, and ultimately was
persuaded to permit me to join the captain's company, and to retain
Chouraski as a servant. I was given no position in the regiment, but
simply served as a volunteer.

The same night, the 14th October, we made a forced march to the railway,
a distance, I computed, of at least twenty-four English miles. We
arrived at a spot where there was no station, and found troops
entraining and going off in the direction of Warsaw. There seemed to be
miles of trains by the roadside, and we got into one at a level-crossing
and immediately steamed away south, as the others had done.

A drizzling rain was falling, the day was close, and a grey mist
enveloped everything so that one could see nothing twenty yards beyond
the side of the line. In two hours we arrived at Praga, a suburb of
Warsaw, and found the line held strongly by infantry and field
artillery. We heard that heavy fighting was going on beyond Milosna, and
our train crawling on for another twenty miles, we could hear the sounds
of the battle ourselves. We were ordered to alight by the side of the
line, all the stations having been put into a state of defence and
turned into small fortresses.

The Staff Officer who posted us happened to be a friend of Lofe's, and
he told us that the Germans were making a strong effort to break through
to the line for a distance of at least ninety versts; and he believed
that fighting was going on at other points as far as Lublin. The troops
actually posted on the line were reserves; the fighting was taking
place at the passages of the Vistula sixteen versts away.

During the night the fog was so thick that one could not see the man
standing beside him. We bivouacked by the side of the line, which here
was laid on perfectly level ground. The next morning the weather was no
better; but when the rain began to fall faster the atmosphere cleared a
little, and we were ordered to advance about six versts and dig
trenches. We were engaged in this work all day, being assisted by 800
country people, half of whom were women, who displayed the utmost
anxiety to help us in resisting a hated enemy, from whose hands many of
them had received the deepest insult.

We saw nothing of the enemy, but heard the distant sound of battle; and
some carts bore a few badly wounded men past us. We were engaged in the
work of digging trenches and making emplacements for guns until the
20th, being assisted during this time by the peasantry: and fighting
went on continuously at the front. I was anxious to see something of it,
but loth to leave the side of Lofe, owing to the difficulty I had in
making myself understood by strangers; and after my dispute with the
officer at Pultusk I was a little nervous, being afraid I might be
seized and sent away.

Lofe was a very amiable fellow and I got on well with him, as I did with
all the Russians with whom I became well acquainted. Life in the
trenches was not to our taste. We applied for permission to go down to
the front to witness the fighting, but it was refused. So we had to
remain where we were and elaborate our defences. How many hundreds of
miles of wire we used in our entanglements I should not like to guess;
but if the Germans had ever reached them, I think they would have left a
good many dead in front of them. With the barbed wire "crow-nets," as we
called them, we intermixed a great many staked pits, and other amiable
devices for shortening the days of our enemies.

The battle was clearly for the possession of Warsaw; and more than once
rumours reached us that the foe had carried the city at the point of the
bayonet; but I do not think they ever got within sight of any part of
it, though many of their newspapers claim that they did, and even
occupied its suburbs. The last-named claim was evidently false; but the
place had a narrow escape of falling. The fight seems to have worn
itself out; or the Germans fell back: for all was quiet on the 21st,
though neither side had obtained a victory.

This was too frequently the sequence to a prolonged fight or series of
fights. The opposing force seemed to get tired out, and a lull ensued,
during which one would scarcely hear a stray rifle shot. On the 21st,
however, some of our troops at the front captured a German band! It
consisted of about forty musicians, though they said there had been
eighty of them when they first came to the front. Asked to give us some
music they played willingly enough, and very well. The Russian regiments
have bands, but I heard and saw very little of them during this war;
they seemed to have been sent to the rear to attend to wounded men. Some
of the Siberian regiments, and the foot Cossacks, have dancing men who
march at the head of the battalions, and dance, sing, and clash cymbals,
when moving from place to place.

It is hardly necessary to record that the Germans made desperate
attempts to cross the river during the fighting referred to just now. I
did not actually witness any of the fighting at this stage, but I know
that it all failed. I was told that they tried to pontoon the stream at
a place called Viegrod, abreast of Garvolin station. The pontoons were
smashed to pieces, and several hundreds of the enemy drowned. Small
detachments got over at various places, some in boats, others by means
of flying bridges; but they were all destroyed or captured. They did not
succeed in forcing any of the permanent bridges, which were defended by
_têtes-de-pont_. The Russians claimed that they completely wiped out
some of these detachments. I saw bodies lying together within very
narrow spaces of ground; and I have no doubt that the peasantry avenged
themselves by killing the wounded: and I know that the Russian infantry
bayoneted every man of one detachment of about 300. Still a good many
prisoners were taken, and sent by train to Warsaw.

The Germans used some aeroplanes for observation work; but on being
fired at these machines went out of range and kept there. It would have
been a great advantage to the Russians to have had some of these things;
but that they had few, or none, in this part of the field, shows that
aircraft cannot materially affect a foe who is without them. No doubt
aeroplanes have done splendid work for the Allies, and inflicted serious
losses on the enemy; but they do not often seem to be able to face an
army in the field.

It may give some idea of what is meant by "casualties" if I mention that
about 40,000 recovered wounded rejoined the Russian Army while we were
on the line of the Vistula. So a heavy list of losses does not
necessarily mean that a vast number of men are permanently disabled from
taking part in their country's services. Recoveries, too, are very rapid
when the men are attended by good surgeons and good nurses.

I obtained one glimpse of the enemy's position. Not a German was to be
seen; but puffs of smoke showed where their guns were placed. Smokeless
powder was used by both sides for their rifle cartridges; but not for
artillery; or at any rate, it was not efficacious when fired from heavy
guns.

Both sides entrenched themselves, according to reports, for a distance
of more than 300 versts. Afterwards I heard that trenches and earthworks
were made along the whole of the German and Austrian frontiers, a result
of both sides finding it impossible to make any material headway into
each other's territory. The battle degenerated into an artillery
engagement. The Russians brought up some heavy guns of about 6-inch
calibre, and a few that were a little larger, and with these bombarded
the German positions. The enemy, on their part, were similarly
provided; and so the see-saw went on--banging at each other without
noticeable results. Generally speaking, an artillery duel is the tamest
of all kinds of fighting from a spectator's point of view. The only time
when it becomes a little lively is when a shell happens to drop just
behind one. It usually causes a sudden start forward, or an Eastern
position of adoration, which is by far the safest to assume. The
wonderful "Jack Johnsons," of which I have heard and read so much, were
not used by the Germans in this region, though the nickname seems to
have been given to any large shell. The "Jack Johnsons," however, were
huge shells which appeared to have weighed from 1,600 to 2,000 pounds
each, when charged. It was useless waste to fire them against anything
but forts, and I much doubt if the Germans used them for any other
purpose. The guns, being howitzers, could fire about 100 of these before
needing retubing: so the shooting-power of the huge weapons was limited.
Every shot must have cost about £200, and it is not likely that the
Germans would waste them by shooting at trenches and small parties,
where the effect would be comparatively of little moment. Very high
explosives were used by the Germans, and some of their projectiles made
very large holes in the ground.

Watching the firing, I could not perceive that ours was doing much harm;
while that of the enemy certainly was not. Occasionally a few yards of
our trenches was blown in, and a man or two destroyed; but the
impression left on my mind was that trench warfare would go on for ever,
unless some more effective force than mere artillery fire were brought
to bear on an army so protected: and shelling a position is a very
expensive mode of warfare. I afterwards saw that to destroy a hundred
yards of trench cost 4,000 or 5,000 shells; and even then the defending
force nearly always contrived to make good a retreat to a second, or
third, line of defence. To shell an enemy out of a good defensive
position is, I believe, an impossibility; therefore permanent fortresses
should be constructed on the lines of a system of trenches, the guns
being placed in Moncrieff pits or other specially constructed
emplacements. I am quite convinced that unless guns are hidden, their
destruction is assured. Modern gunfire is as accurate as that of
rifle-shooting: it will, therefore, easily hit any mark which the
gunners can locate.

Everybody knows that patience is a virtue, and that it generally obtains
a reward. Our turn came. The 40th Siberians, better known to the men by
an unpronounceable name, which, never having seen it in print, I cannot
pretend to spell, were ordered to cross the Vistula on the morning of
the 20th October.

I expected that there would have been some fighting; but there was not.
The rain was falling in a steady downpour; and we could not see the
opposite bank of the river. Perhaps the wet damped the ardour of the
Germans. Certainly I should think that the autumn and winter of 1914-15
was the wettest ever known. The right bank of the river was bad enough,
but the left was the softest marsh we had so far experienced. No wonder
the Germans could no longer make much resistance: their trenches were
full of water. I slipped into one, and thought I was going to be
drowned. Fortunately for me a couple of the men stopped to assist me;
for there was six or seven feet of water in the wretched trench. Many of
our men met with similar accidents, and I am not sure that some of them
did not lose their lives. I saw the bodies of Germans floating in their
ditches, but these may have been men killed previously to the flooding.

It was entirely an infantry fight. We had crossed the river on rafts
towed by boats, and could bring no guns; while those of the enemy which
could be moved they were anxiously striving to save, and did not stop to
fire. Many of their heavy guns they destroyed to render them useless to
us, but a number of machine-guns were brought into action on each side.

For many miles the left bank of the Vistula is a deep morass, with
extensive woods, and a few scattered houses and hamlets. The inhabitants
of these were all gone, fled or murdered; and the Germans had pierced
the walls of their homes with loop-holes, and piled the furniture, carts
and farm implements together to form barricades. They failed, however,
to stop our advance. Position after position was carried, sometimes by a
withering rifle-fire, sometimes at the point of the bayonet. Brave as he
is, the German soldier is not ashamed to plead abjectly for his life
when he is driven into a corner. I saw men clinging to the bayonets that
were about to terminate their existences; and many actually screamed for
mercy. It was not much use making such petitions; the women and old men
who had been driven in, leaving a toll of murdered behind, had stories
to tell which inflamed the fiercest passions of the soldiers. I
contrived to save the lives of one or two of these wretched Germans; but
my own safety required that I should not interfere too strenuously; and
though, I hope, I should not fear to give my life in a just cause, or to
save a just person, I was not prepared to throw it away on behalf of
ravishers and child-stabbers.

In this fight I crossed swords with a German officer of the 2/94th
regiment (probably Landwehr), a portly gentleman who thought fit to
finish the encounter by an unconditional surrender. He took advantage of
my remissness in watching him, and tried to escape back to his own men.
Some of our fellows noticed this, and--well, he had not time to suffer
much. Dishonourable acts, and breaches of word, were very common amongst
the Germans; but it often got severely punished.

The enemy suffered most, I heard, at places called Sandomir and
Kozyniece. The latter place is close to Ivangorod, which was, for some
days, our headquarters, and the centre of our line. Further north, near
Bloni, and Vishgo, and at Novogeorgevsk, they suffered more severely,
and gave way sooner. By the evening of the 21st they were retiring at
many places along the entire line; but at some spots they stood firm
with remarkable tenacity, and suffered themselves to be almost
surrounded.

We passed the night in a hamlet of a dozen houses which had been
defended by a company of jagers (riflemen). Only forty-eight of them
survived our attack with the bayonet; and these we captured. They slept
in the same rooms with their captors, played cards with them, and sang
jovial-sounding songs, apparently quite unmoved by the fact that 120
dead bodies of their comrades lay in the gardens and courtyards outside.
Both the Germans and Russians are great card-players and inveterate
gamblers.

In the morning, before it was daylight, we made our prisoners dig graves
and bury the dead--129 of theirs, sixty-two of ours: we then sent them
to the rear under an escort, while we advanced towards Chinlin, and
began skirmishing with the enemy, who were only 600 or 700 yards in
front of us.

Both sides took shelter behind pine-trees; and very little execution was
done, though the firing went on nearly all day. At last the Germans took
post in a thick wood, and it became clear they had been playing with us
all these hours while their sappers placed this copse in a state of
defence. The discovery was rather humiliating; but these things occur in
war, and it was not the only occasion on which our cunning opponents
"came the old soldier" over their denser, slow-thinking foes. But in
spite of their slyness they were beaten. Some Russian battalions got
behind the wood, and its defenders were compelled to run for their
lives. They ran very well, but most of them were captured; and we
passed the second night in the nice, nest-like little hovels they had
prepared for their own accommodation.

The German dearly loves his comfort and good cheer. They never seemed to
be short of food, and we took carts laden with wine that had been made
in France and must have been sent hither at much trouble and expense
only to find its way down Russian throats in spite of the Czar's
teetotal proclamation. I think the German troops must be taught to make
bivouacks and huts, they are such adepts at the work; and render their
dens so comfortable by a hundred little devices that show they have
previously studied the art of adapting everything to their own welfare
and ease. Needless to say, the plunder of houses and cottages was
utilized for furnishing these temporary abodes.

There was now no doubt that the Germans were retreating; but they were
doing so in that leisurely way which indicated that their retirement was
anything but a rout; and I foresaw that it would not be long before they
turned again with renewed ferocity. I do not think that the troops we
had been opposed to were some of the best that Germany could put in the
field. In some battalions there did not appear to be a man under forty
years of age: in others they were all boys: and these last named were
amongst the best fighters. I passed over ground strewn with the dead of
one of these battalions, and not a lad of them seemed to be much over
twenty years; some were not more than sixteen or seventeen.

Many stories were brought to us of what had taken place in other
districts. All agreed that the Germans had not succeeded in entering
Warsaw; but it was reported that a fleet of aeroplanes had sailed over
the city and dropped bombs. Only private houses had been wrecked; not
much damage done, and the "hostile aircraft" had soon been driven away.
As nothing was said about the bringing down of any of these aeroplanes,
I felt pretty sure that they had all escaped the Russian fire. The
Germans had not left much for them to destroy in their retreat; and I
never learned from whence they had come, or whither they went when they
had completed their fell work. We saw nothing of them in our district.

On the 23rd we still continued to follow the enemy, keeping in touch
with them, and exchanging shots. About the middle of the day we were
joined by a large force of artillery and cavalry. Where these troops
came from I cannot tell. They were a welcome reinforcement; but as we
were moving through a wooded country they could not make much impression
on the enemy, except when the latter attempted to make a stand. The
trees were mostly pines, and the ground beneath them free of
undergrowth; and the destruction of them, after a few hours' cannonade,
was enormous. Whole forests looked as if they had been blighted, or
blasted by lightning.

The German jagers often took post in the trees, as affording a
favourable place for marksmanship; but when our gunners discovered them
we had an extraordinary sight as a small crowd of arms and legs came
tumbling through the air in every imaginable position. Those of the men
who were not killed by the shrapnel usually lost their lives by the
shock of the fall. Sometimes big trees were snapped clean in two when
the shell had made a direct hit before bursting. More generally the
branches were ripped to shreds by the flying shower of bullets. I saw
the dead body of one rifleman lodged amongst the boughs of a large pine.
He must have been killed instantly, for he was still clasping his rifle
in his hands.

There were some painful scenes. We came across a fine, handsome young
fellow raving over the body of another boy. It was ascertained that they
were brothers, and, "What will mother do? This will kill her," was all
he could say. I never saw a man more grief-stricken. A few hours
afterwards we found a man shot through the body. Blood was bubbling from
his mouth and nose, and he was dying fast; but he had struggled to his
knees, and leaning against a tree-trunk was praying--not for himself,
but for his wife and four little children. By chance I discovered that
this man could speak English. He had been a clerk in Liverpool. He was
distressingly anxious about his family, and begged we would not destroy
a letter addressed to his wife which he had in his pocket. "For," he
said, "I knew I should not come through this"--the war, I suppose, he
meant.

I assured him that nothing found upon him should be disturbed, and that
the letter should be sent to the German commander on the first
opportunity. We did what we could to relieve his suffering, and sent a
man back for the Red Cross men who were following behind; but the poor
fellow died before they arrived. War is a curse.

The rain ceased only for a few hours at a time. It generally commenced
to fall as evening came on, and continued to pour down steadily the
greater part of the night. Sometimes it rained night and day without
cessation, and the thickest overcoats became saturated with wet. I made
a kind of cloak from the remains of a rick-cloth which I found in the
outhouse of a burnt farm; and this was a great protection.

The country we were passing through was deserted. The Polish peasantry
are very poor, and what would become of the miserable people, who, like
the Irish of a former day, depended on their pigs, fowls and
potato-crops, it was painful to think. We supposed they had fled to the
towns; but every now and then we came across the bodies of some of them,
and it is certain that hundreds had been wantonly destroyed by their
cruel enemies.

For many miles we marched through a flooded country, and passed the
Pilica River by means of a bridge which was partly under water, the
reason, perhaps, that the Prussians missed it. We were guided to it by
an old peasant who had been in hiding; but the banks of the river were
quite hidden under water, and on this account many of our men, as well
as Germans, floundered into it and were drowned. Horses and waggons were
swept away, and some guns captured. Our own guns were forced to go
higher up the stream and were, I believe, passed over a pontoon bridge.
Hundreds of Cossacks swam their horses across, and gathered up some
prisoners. They sent a far greater number to their long account, and
seized an immense booty in food, stores, etc. For the Germans always
stripped the country they passed through of everything that was worth
carrying away. That which was too cumbersome to be moved they destroyed.

I never actually heard who commanded the Germans, or our own force. At
one time rumour asserted that the Kaiser himself was chief of our
enemies, and was personally directing their movements. When this surmise
exploded, we were repeatedly told that the Crown Prince was the
Commander-in-Chief. All that was known with certainty was that we were
immediately opposed, for a week at least, by a divisional commander
named Swartzenberg. On our own side Major Beke was the battalion
commander under whom I served. He was killed soon after we crossed the
Vistula, and was succeeded by an officer who was wounded and sent to the
rear on the same day he was appointed. His successor only held the
command two days when he was blinded by a piece of wood driven into his
face by the explosion of a shell. Krischelcamsk then became our leader.
Colonel Tunreshka was the regimental commandant. He disappeared the
night after we crossed the Pilica. The general opinion was that he was
drowned in the river; but he may have been taken prisoner.

One reason of the unusually rapid retreat of the Germans on this
occasion was that they had expended nearly all their ammunition, and
were unable to bring up more on account of the dreadful state of the
country--knee-deep in mud, and covered with water. It is an ill wind
that blows nobody any good; and the rain, which hampered the Russian on
one hand, helped to save Warsaw on the other.

We reached Skyermevice on the 24th. It is a town of some size, and the
people had not abandoned it. They crowded the streets to see us pass
through, and loudly cheered us. Flags sprang from somewhere, and
decorated all the windows and shop doors; and the women brought us food
and drink, which had been hid away. The inhabitants of the town had
suffered a good deal, and had been compelled, as usual when the Germans
occupied a place, to pay a heavy war-tax, or fine. A number of the
principal men had been dragged away as hostages; I never learned their
fate. Everywhere the Germans behaved like a band of brigands and
murderers. One instance of their paltry-mindedness may be recorded. At a
house where Captain Lofe and I spent the night, and from which some
billeted Germans had run away on our approach, these miserable creatures
had killed the little girl's canary, and she was inconsolable for the
loss of her pet. It was not the only occasion on which birds, cats and
pet dogs were wantonly and cruelly destroyed to vex their owners.

On the 25th while we were marching towards Lowvitz we encountered a
Prussian battalion which had been driven towards us by three sotnias of
Cossacks. They could not escape, and we charged them with the bayonet.
I must give them the credit due to them: on this occasion the Germans
fought well and determinedly. But our men had become very expert in the
use of the bayonet, and when the enemy had lost half their number the
remainder broke and fled. The Cossacks were waiting for them, and I do
not think that any of them escaped. No prisoners were taken: and this
often happened during the campaign. Both sides were equally guilty of
this cruelty--if cruelty it was. But really the Germans were so
fiendishly brutal, that, as I have previously said, I think reprisals
were justifiably resorted to. Be this so or not, and whatever may be
thought of the act, it is certain that, on many occasions, bodies of
both Germans and Russians were exterminated when they had the mischance
to become isolated and surrounded.

There was a great deal of bayonet work during this campaign. It is a
favourite weapon of the Russians; and proportionately disliked by the
Germans. The bayonet of the Russian soldier is never unfixed, except for
cleaning purposes. He marches with it, eats, works and sleeps with it
always ready for instant action. The German soldier is not so
particular; and I saw more dirty weapons amongst our prisoners than I
ever thought existed in any army in the world. Wounds from German
bayonets are peculiarly fatal, as the backs of them are serrated to
enable them to be used as cutting implements. For this reason the
soldier often has great difficulty in withdrawing his weapon after
stabbing a victim: and we found that in some cases, where the point of
the bayonet was forced through the body and embedded in the backbone, it
had been unfixed and left sticking in the wound.

As we approached the Prussian frontier the German resistance became
sterner, and they made more frequent attempts to rally. As I have said,
their retreat never assumed the character of a rout--very far from it.
Only straggling or isolated parties ever fell into disorder. Their
retirement was steady and orderly as far as their military movements
were concerned; but in the towns and villages they behaved like beasts.
We had plenty of evidence that nearly all their junior officers, and
thousands of their men, never lost an opportunity of getting drunk. The
Kaiser was said to be a teetotaler: the Crown Prince was often as drunk
as a lord--a German lord; and it is said that when in this condition he
beat his wife so badly that she left the palace, and took refuge in the
house of a nobleman. The story was told on excellent authority;
otherwise I should not run the risk of being thought a gossip-monger by
repeating it. I have, myself, seen the man in the company of courtesans;
and, apparently, under the influence of drink.

Though the Germans made attempts to beat back our pursuit, and to some
extent checked it, they could not altogether stop it; and I think the
gradual slackening of our endeavours to beat them quite out of Poland
was the outcome of the men's exhaustion.

The country was in a terrible state. The Germans had no time or
opportunity to bury many of their dead, and the whole district, for
hundreds of miles, was strewn with the bodies of men and horses,
sometimes half covered by water, often floating in it. Though the
weather was changing, and becoming colder, especially at night-time,
portions of the days were hot, close, or muggy. Consequently the corpses
soon began to decay, and the whole land stank revoltingly; and the men
kept their pipes constantly alight to counteract the offensiveness.
Owing to the state of the ground it was scarcely possible to bury many
of these bodies, and they were left to rot away where they lay, or
floated. Our own dead were conveyed to the cemeteries and
burying-grounds; but the people would not tolerate the desecrating
Germans in "God's acre." Amongst the enemy's dead were some Austrians,
showing that the troops of their nation had been engaged in this region.

On the afternoon of the 26th we came to a standstill near the River
Warta. The headquarters of the 40th were at a small village the name of
which I never clearly heard. Very few people were left in it; but others
arrived when they heard that it was in our hands. All those who had most
to fear from the enemy (that is, all those who possessed a rouble's
worth of property) had been in hiding in the woods, where some of them
had been living in underground burrows wherever they could find a spot
dry enough to construct them in.

Of the 40th not 800 effectives remained; and as the regiment had
commenced the war with a strength of 4,000 men, it will be seen how
terribly it had suffered. I heard the band of the regiment for the first
time in our bivouac on the 26th. It consisted of twenty-seven musicians:
three months previously there had been eighty of them. They had been
under fire many times, collecting and assisting the wounded, the chief
work of the bandsmen during fighting. The Russian bands of music, like
the Prussian, are much stronger than ours, and are formed on German
lines, as far as numbers and instruments are concerned. I cannot give
much praise to their style of playing.

[Illustration: RUSSIAN OFFICERS NOTING MOVES OF THE ENEMY]

On the 27th and 28th the enemy appeared to be massing on our front, and
the regiment was ordered to fall back towards Lodz. We were halted again
on the 29th, and joined by the Preobujensky regiment, at nearly full
strength, and the Troizki rifle battalion. With them came a battery of
eight field guns, which had been got through the marshes in our rear.

It would seem that our regiment, and a body of Cossacks, had been pushed
too far to the front, and had to be drawn back. As far as I could
understand the position, the Russian troops formed a crescent with the
horns at, or near, Radom and Lowicz. Beyond these points the lines
continued for hundreds of versts, right and left, but were, more or
less, thrown back. It was very difficult to learn the exact position,
because the enemy so frequently regained the ground he had lost only a
few hours previously. The Russians showed great bravery and considerable
dash; but they did not carry things before them quite so rapidly or
decisively as they sometimes claimed to have done. In the fighting
described in these October days, the Germans got very much the worst of
it. I am not sure that it would be safe to say much more than this.
Their losses were heavy, and their retreat beyond a doubt; but it is
ridiculous to talk of routs, as some newspapers seem to have done. I did
not see these accounts until after my return to England; and I have not
read very many of them. I am afraid a good deal of error was fallen into
by a too ready acceptance of first accounts.

I would also note that owing to the immense extension of the fronts of
the two armies, a victory in one place was often quite independent of
operations going on at a distance on either flank, and often led to a
dangerous advance, exposing the wings of the victorious force: and I am
surprised that neither side seems to have, on any occasion, taken
advantage of these too rapid advances and pursuits.



CHAPTER XI

THE RETREAT OF THE GERMANS FROM THE VISTULA


As is usual after severe fighting, a lull supervened; and we remained
quiet in camp for some days. "Camp," I say. It was almost the first time
since I had been with the Russian Army that I had slept in a tent; but
the time was coming when men could no longer spend night after night
bivouacked in the open air. Already the weather was becoming chilly, and
often very cold after sunset. There was less rain; but it still fell
long and steadily at intervals, and sometimes for a whole day without a
break.

About 1,900 recruits joined our regiment; and many other units had their
terrible losses made good; indeed, I heard that between 600,000 and
700,000 reservists and others joined the armies on the German and
Austrian frontiers; and yet they were not brought up to their full
establishments; a telling revelation of the fearful losses that had been
sustained; although according to Prussian accounts, they had taken
nearly a quarter of a million of prisoners from us. I am satisfied that
they captured a good many: as we also had done.

November came upon us in a typical way--damp and foggy, so that it was
impossible to see the face of the country. As surprises are peculiarly
liable to be attempted in such weather, we were much harassed by outpost
work; at least five times the usual number of men being engaged on this
duty. Fortunately we had a large body of Cossacks; and these rascals are
never surprised; and no kind of experience comes amiss to them, so long
as they have a chance of plunder and rapine. That is the truth, and it
may as well be told. During the November fogs they caught a good many
German patrols, who were attempting to play the game of hide-and-seek;
and very few prisoners were made. Many of the Russian troops were
becoming fierce-tempered; and none more so than the Cossacks. One of
these men displayed a bag full of watches and rings which he had taken
from slain Prussian officers. He was reported to have slain more than
fifty of the enemy with his own sword and lance; and he was notorious
for spearing wounded men as he rode over the battlefield, such crimes,
and plundering, not being punished as they are in most armies--the
German excepted, where murder and theft are rewarded with iron crosses,
and commendation from commanding officers. But these Cossacks are very
useful fellows; they fairly frightened our enemies; and in this way
probably saved us from a good deal of trouble and loss: and they
certainly always hampered the movements of the foe much more than
regular cavalry could have done. Probably they sometimes saved us from
disaster.

For it leaked out that, in our recent advance to the Warta, we actually
had a large force of Germans on our rear: and it is more than likely
that the Cossacks had the principal share in driving them back from
several impending attacks, of which we knew nothing at the time; and
which would probably have ended in our making the acquaintanceship of a
Prussian prison; or a still narrower place of confinement.

The rain ceased for a time, and both sides continued to entrench
themselves, the Germans in front of us being not more than a mile
distant, with their advanced posts much closer. They had contrived to
get up heavy guns; and there was a good deal of artillery shooting every
day, which blew in trenches, destroyed wire-entanglements, and did lots
of other damage, but did not kill many men. Sometimes an enormous shell
blew a poor fellow to pieces, sometimes wiped out half-a-dozen at once;
but I do not think we lost more than a score a day all along the line.
The freaks played by shells were sometimes extraordinary. One went just
over the head of an officer, killed a boy who was standing behind him,
went over the head of another man, and then sprang high into the air
before exploding. It is as impossible to give a probable explanation of
such strange action, as it is to say why a fragment of shell bursting
fifty yards away should kill three men, while one exploding right in the
midst of a group of twenty gunners should leave them all unscathed. It
is the law of chance--if chance has laws.

I should also mention (though I did not learn the circumstances until
some time afterwards) that the Germans had fortified several villages
and towns on the left bank of the Vistula, with first, second and third
lines of defence; and that the Russians, unable to take these in their
general advance, had masked them, and left them on their rear. The
garrisons could not have been strong enough to take advantage of this
circumstance; but it does not seem to be so dangerous to leave
fortresses behind in these latter days of the strange development of
war, as it formerly was.

Having little to do we amused ourselves, and one another, by repeating,
and studying, the various rumours and bits of news we heard. Russian
newspapers, of course, and a good many German ones, reached our
trenches; and a few French publications; but I never saw an English
paper of any kind. Those we obtained were generally illustrated; but the
pictures, as far as they related to the Russian seat of war, were mere
inventions; and I am afraid the same remark must be made with regard to
the news; though some of the papers had a fairly good notion of the
general progress of events. It was when they came to details that their
novelists got to work.

The unimpeachable items of news that were of most interest to us were
that the Grand Duke Nicolas was directing the operations against
Przemysl, and that the fall of that important place was imminent. It
seems, however, that the celebrated fortress proved a tougher nut to
crack than it was generally thought it would be. Personally, I am of
opinion that the Russians went the wrong way to work in invading
Austria; and Silesia, not Galicia, should have been their first
objective. I need not enter into details, or reasons, here, because I am
at variance with most critics on the conduct of the whole war. There are
people who would think it presumptuous on my part to presume to think
differently from the conductors of the Russian, French and English
forces: but I do think differently from them: and whatever the ultimate
issues of this gigantic war, the most titanic the world has seen, I do
not hesitate to say that not one of the contending parties has produced
a really great General--a Napoleon, or a Moltke. At the moment of
writing this paragraph the war has lasted nine months; and during that
time it has simply been a game of see-saw, a swaying backwards and
forwards, without one decisive, or even very important, action on any
side. The war might easily have been ended by this time: if it is
allowed to degenerate into a war of trenches it will end when the
Germans have spent all their money, and not sooner.

On the 5th November we suddenly received orders to occupy again the line
of the Warta. We advanced by forced marches, finding that the Germans
had abandoned their trenches during the night; and they were reported by
our Cossacks to be drawing off in the direction of Kutno, evidently with
the intention of falling back on Thorn, distant about four marches.

The next day we learned that there had been sharp fighting on the
Prussian frontier near the often-mentioned town of Kalisz; and that the
Russian troops had entered German territory. They were also said to
have invaded Prussia in the north, at Virballen; not far from which
place I had seen some heavy fighting, as narrated in a previous chapter.
What I subsequently saw and heard led me to entertain some uncertainty
as to the extent and actuality of these important claims. I do not know,
but I think it is probable, that these actions were little more than
Cossack raids. Villages and railway-stations were burnt, and the lines
destroyed in places. The results were not permanent, and it seems likely
that the Germans gave ground for the time, because they thought it
necessary to withdraw at least three corps to put against their French
and British opponents.

There must be considerable monotony in describing such a war as this I
am treating of. To a great extent land-fighting, like naval encounters,
has lost its picturesqueness, and has become little more than a
disgusting slaughter. A good deal of the action is similar to the
fighting of rats in a ditch. Trench warfare is horrible, with its
villainous grenades and bombs, which are quite different from these
devices in former days, and are no better than tools in the hands of a
butcher. It is useless to argue that a bomb is a bomb, and that it
cannot matter whether a man is blown to pieces by one of the ancient, or
one of the modern, type. It does matter a good deal--to the survivors,
at any rate. The effect of modern shell-fire is hellish, its
destructiveness is so great, its effects on its victims so awful,
compared with anything of the kind that was formerly in vogue. Where one
man died formerly from artillery fire, 500 go down now; and nearly all
of them are mutilated most horribly.

The advance of the Russians seems to have shown the Germans that they
made a mistake in withdrawing troops from their Eastern frontiers. They
came rushing back to Poland from somewhere, either France and Belgium,
or the interior of Germany. On the 8th November they were still in great
force to the north of the Warta; and our cavalry reported that they were
receiving strong reinforcements via Bromberg and Thorn. Afterwards I
found that this information was correct in most of its details; but it
must be remembered that I laboured in great disadvantage and
difficulties, especially in obtaining information from places far
distant from the spot where I happened to be at any given time. I
frequently applied for permission to go on scouting parties, or to join
the Cossacks in their raids; but this was not often given to me, or very
willingly conceded on the few occasions when I was successful in
obtaining it. I cannot tell why. The very few newspaper correspondents I
met with did not seem to have much more liberty of action than I had:
and when they learned that I was not a correspondent they gave me but
scant aid, if any at all.

I did not come much in contact with the commanding officers of my
division, and was unfortunate in the fact that many of those that I
became most friendly with were speedily killed, or wounded and sent
back. At this time an officer named Martel was in temporary command of
the division, Major-General Alexis Sporowsky having been taken
prisoner, and his immediate successor killed. General Martel was one of
the best officers I served under, and he willingly gave me permission to
join a cavalry reconnaissance in force which was made by four dragoon
and hussar regiments, and six sotnias of Cossacks.

We proceeded in the direction of Choczi, and met the enemy about sixteen
versts west of that town, which is situated on the frontier line. They
consisted of two regiments of cuirassiers (without their cuirasses) and
two of Uhlans. None of these regiments were of the same numerical
strength as ours. I put the German force at 1,800 men, and six light
guns. The Russians had 3,000, but no guns: and soon after we came into
action we discovered that the enemy was covering a battalion of jagers
(riflemen): so really they were much the stronger party.

The Cossacks spread themselves out like a fan, a movement which is as
old as the force itself, and was used with great effect against the
troops of Napoleon Buonaparte in 1812. They then rushed in on the
jagers, and, though suffering severely, occupied the attention of those
men, while we tackled the dragoons and the guns. The latter did not do
so very much execution, but the cuirassiers, big, heavy men, broke
through our dragoons, who are classed as light cavalry. The Germans,
however, are not good swordsmen, as I have previously stated, and while
they were in some disorder, occasioned by the shock of their first
charge, our hussars got amongst them and sabred them right and left in
fine style. I can say that the edge of the sword was mostly used, not
the point: while the Germans did use the point most, a mistake in
cavalry actions, as it often leads to the trooper breaking his weapon,
or losing it through being unable to withdraw it after stabbing an
enemy; besides, a "point" is easily parried, and is intended to be
mostly used against men lying on the ground, or against infantry.

The Uhlans remained in support of the guns, another mistake of theirs:
for before they could come to the rescue of the cuirassiers our dragoons
had rallied, and met them in a charge that badly routed them. They fled
right off the field, leaving behind about 200 of their number in killed,
wounded and prisoners. The Cossacks were equally successful. They nearly
annihilated the jagers, and the six guns fell into our hands. The
cuirassiers, too, were nearly all destroyed: for on account of their
weight they could not escape from our light horsemen; the Cossacks, in
particular, showing them no mercy. Man for man the German cavalry are
inferior to the Russian troopers, chiefly because they are bad
swordsmen, and are lacking of that enterprise and dash which are
essential to the making of good troopers.

The guns could not be taken with us, and we were afraid to send them to
the rear lest they should be recaptured: so they were destroyed by
smashing the breech-blocks and exploding charges of gun-cotton in the
muzzles. The caissons, also, were blown up.

The remnant of the enemy were pursued until our horses were too much
exhausted to follow them further, which was not until we had crossed
the German border. Those of the jagers who were not destroyed
surrendered as prisoners; but most of them afterwards escaped.
Altogether this was a brilliant affair. It cost the enemy more than
1,000 men; with a loss on our side of between 300 and 400. We lost 150
horses, but we captured 400 of those of the enemy, without counting the
artillery draught teams. We rode some distance into Germany, giving the
people a cruel lesson in war in retaliation of the wickedness of their
own fiendish troops. I was sorry for them: but really I do not see how
the sin of warfare is to be stamped out, unless we make it so dreadful
that the people of a land will no longer tolerate it--the policy, I
believe, of one of their own hard-hearted statesmen: and I imagine the
people of East Prussia will not be anxious to see the Cossacks again.
They came upon the miserable people fresh from sights they ought never
to have seen, and fierce with an anger that ought not to have been
provoked. Those that sow the wind reap the whirlwind.

On the 9th and 10th we were in contact with a weak force of the enemy's
infantry, supported by two or three batteries and some remnants of
cavalry regiments. The batteries had been a good deal knocked about, and
had not their full complement of guns, unless two batteries were split
up into three, for the purpose of deceiving us. As they did not fire we
guessed they had no ammunition left. Skirmishing went on, but was
productive of no material results. Some prisoners who fell into our
hands were without boots, and had been marching with bare feet: the
uniforms of others were very ragged. But on the 11th we were opposed by
fresh troops, well clothed, and evidently well fed; and it became clear
that reinforcements were arriving with food and supplies. Such a force
of artillery opened fire on us that we were compelled to fall back
rather hastily, and we took advantage of the smoke of some burning
houses to cover our retreat. As we passed near these houses some
civilians shot at us with fowling-pieces from the windows of a large
building, and blinded a Cossack. His comrades dismounted, stormed the
house, and hanged the men to telegraph-posts. There was a painful scene
when their women interfered to prevent the execution; and one man fought
desperately for his life; while the screaming of children added to the
horror of the surroundings. Only the men were punished: it was one of
the dreadful, but necessary, acts of war. No troops in the world would
tolerate to be fired on under such circumstances. The Cossack died a
lingering death.

We drew out of range of the infantry with slight loss; some of our men,
who had their horses killed, running by the side of their comrades, and
occasionally, in moments of great danger, riding behind them; but most
of these men were ultimately taken prisoners. Two squadrons of the
enemy's hussars had the temerity to charge our rear-guard. The Cossacks
made sad work of them; especially as they thought they could not be
burdened with prisoners during their retreat. Some three or four of
these hussars and their horses were knocked over by a shell from one of
their own guns--I presume accidentally.

When we had got out of range of gun and rifle we retired more slowly,
meeting hundreds of people fleeing towards the interior of the country,
evidently in fear of a general invasion by the Russians. They were
driving all sorts of conveyances, from motors to dog-carts: the latter
kind of vehicle, illegal in England, being very common in Russia and
Germany; and, I think, in all Continental countries. These people were
carrying what goods they thought they could save; but some of them got
overhauled by the Cossacks, and would have done better to have remained
at home, where, generally, they were not much interfered with.

Before we got back to the Warta we were joined by some more Cossacks,
and other cavalry, who had been reconnoitring in the direction of
Poweedtz and Piotrikow: and I may here say generally that I obtained
pretty clear information that the Russians nowhere penetrated German
territory more than from ten to twenty, or at most twenty-five, versts.
Sorry I am that I cannot make a better report. I saw clearly enough that
a revulsion, if not a reverse, was impending. Where the enemy's troops
came from I cannot always certainly tell; but come they did. Probably a
strong contingent was sent from Belgium and North-West France; and still
more probably the bulk of the reinforcements were newly embodied troops.
It must be remembered that nearly every man in Germany is a well-trained
soldier; therefore it is easy to raise new armies from the civilian
element.

Unfortunately, at this interesting moment I was put out of action for a
month. On the morning of the 16th November I was struck in the back by a
piece of shell fired at our position on the Warta, and was sent into
hospital at Warsaw. I was much vexed at the accident; but as I could not
stand, a temporary absence from the front was inevitable.

At the time I was incapacitated the Germans had at least partially
reoccupied the country west of the Warta, though not, perhaps, in force.
We were not there in any great numbers ourselves, and kept a position
further to the north than formerly. Both sides were again entrenching
themselves.

My life in the hospital was a very monotonous one, as I could not
maintain a conversation with anybody. About 300 badly wounded men lay in
a building which seemed to have been a school, or public institution.
There were only three or four doctors and about twenty attendants to
look after this lot, and the nurses seemed to be nuns. They were most
kind and attentive, but too few in number, as nearly all the cases were
those of desperately injured men, an average of nine or ten dying every
day. Their beds were immediately occupied by fresh arrivals, probably
brought from temporary resting-places. The sights and sounds were of the
most depressing description, especially when relatives or friends were
present to receive the last sighs of expiring men.

My servant Chouraski was not with me when I was struck down, and
possibly did not know what had become of me, or whether I was killed or
taken prisoner. I was not taken back to my billet, eight versts from the
spot where I was hurt, but was sent on at once to Warsaw in an
ambulance. I never saw Chouraski again, or heard what had become of him:
indeed, I met very few old friends when I returned to the front.

Semi-starvation, and a strenuous life in the open air, are good
preparations for hard knocks. No bones being broken, nor other serious
hurts incurred, my wounds healed rapidly; and in three weeks I could get
up and lend a hand to less fortunate comrades. By this time I could
speak a few words of Russian, sufficient to make my wants known; and the
medical men spoke French. The nuns, however, did not seem to be so well
educated as their class usually is in other countries.

However, I could make it understood that I wished to be discharged at
the earliest possible moment, and in spite of the persuasions of the
doctors, I left on the 18th December, having obtained a permit from the
commandant to return to the front. I was still rather weak, and was
disappointed in my endeavours to obtain a horse; but had very little
money left. In the first instance I went, with twenty other recovered
wounded, belonging to a dozen different corps, to Lovicz, there to await
orders.



CHAPTER XII

AN INFANTRY RECONNAISSANCE


Once more I must refer to Germany's railways. A line runs parallel with
the entire borderland at an average distance of about twenty
versts--that is, one day's march for an army. This parallel line is
connected with a highly elaborated railway system, extending to every
part of the German Empire: and there are scores of short lines, running
to towns on the actual frontier, where they terminate; with the very few
exceptions where they run on into Russia. Of course, these short lines
have a commercial importance; but their real value to Germany is that
they permit a fighting battle-line to be rapidly reinforced at many
points simultaneously. The Russians never successfully passed this
parallel border railway: that is, they never held it in force, and for a
considerable distance. It had, for Germany, a precisely similar value as
a defensive line that the Vistula had for Warsaw and the interior of
Russia. The railway-line stopped the Russian advance, as the Vistula did
that of the Germans, yet in different ways. The actual railway could not
stop the Russians; but the power of concentration it gave her opponents
did. On the other hand, the River Vistula did stop the Germans. They
could not force it, strongly held as it was by the Muscovite troops and
their heavy artillery. The contributary streams, with their deep, steep
banks, also hindered the attack, and greatly assisted the defence.

When I reached Lovicz I found the state of affairs much what it had been
two months previously, when the Russians were defending the course of
the great river against the Germans entrenched on the ground between it
and the Pilica. What extent of country was now reoccupied by the enemy I
had no means of learning with much exactitude; but it was certain that
they were again on the left bank of the Vistula, on the Pilica: and were
renewing their determined efforts to reach Warsaw. Lovicz was
threatened; but as this place is a railway junction, and of great
importance to Russia, preparations were in progress to defend the place
as long as possible.

I was in something of a predicament. At Lovicz I could find nobody who
knew me. The 40th Siberian regiment was said to be now in front of
Przemysl; and the Cossacks with whom I had been most frequently in
contact were departed, nobody knew whither. I could not see my way to
trying to rejoin the 40th; but it was necessary that I should have some
sort of official recognition, as it was contrary to regulation to have
loiterers about camp, to say nothing of the danger one would run of
being thought a spy and being dealt with accordingly. My friends, the
Cossacks, would probably put a wrong interpretation upon my inability to
give prompt and clear answers in their mother-tongue; and I should have
a similar difficulty with any officer who should happen to interrogate
me, besides running the risk of trouble with any civil officials I might
chance to meet.

So I began to look about me. I had papers, testimonials and a permit.
How could I utilize these?

Among the comrades with whom I had returned to the front was an officer
of the Tomski regiment. I applied to him, and he introduced me to a
Staff Captain named Muller. Muller, as we all know, is a very common
German name; but many Russians are of German stock. Muller, in spite of
his name, was a thorough Russian: and he stated my case to another Staff
Officer, Colonel Simmelchok, who proposed that I should apply for
recognition as a newspaper correspondent. The difficulty was that I
could not name any paper to which I was a contributor, or potential
contributor. Finally, the General commanding the troops at Lovicz was
applied to. Having expressed the opinion that I had better go home, he
refused to give me permission to join any Russian corps, and said that
if I remained at headquarters I must do so at my own risk. In view of
the excellent recommendations which I possessed from several Russian
commanders he would not positively order my departure: and in view of my
ignorance of the Russian language, he could not advise that I should be
given a commission in any Russian unit. I might enlist as a private if I
liked.

I saw at once that if I enlisted in a Russian regiment, my liberty of
action would be stopped immediately; and I should see no more of the war
than what the tip of my own bayonet could show: and I had serious
thoughts of departing, and trying some other commander. Colonel
Simmelchok came to the rescue. I might remain at my own risk. Very well:
Colonel Krastnovitz, commanding the 2nd battalion of the Vladimir
regiment was a friend of his, and would make me a member of their mess.
Nothing could have met my views better, except a remittance of ready
cash: but I was generously told that I need not trouble my head about
that: we were soldiers on campaign, and would mostly enjoy campaign fare
only; and so it proved. For we had few luxuries, except an occasional
fowl, or duck, obtained from the country-people, a batch of eggs or a
joint of pork. We never ran short of tobacco; but wine was almost
unknown in the mess.

There was a very decided change in the weather. The mud had disappeared
and the ground was frozen hard: the trees sparkled with frost particles,
and the ground was coated, every morning, with rime. The air was "shrewd
and biting," and we had some boisterous north winds which chilled me to
the marrow. Meanwhile desperate fighting was going on, and the Russians
seemed to be giving ground in several places. The ground was becoming so
hard that trench-making became difficult, and a good deal of the
fighting was in the open under old-fashioned conditions: the losses,
therefore, were exceptionally heavy, especially in killed and wounded.
More prisoners are taken in trench warfare than in any other form of
military action owing to the fact that if the men do not escape before
an assault takes place they have no chance of doing so when the enemy
is actually amongst them. The broad hind-quarters of a Deutschman
crawling over the crest of a trench affords a remarkably fine butt for a
bayonet thrust: and Huns usually prefer surrender to cold steel.

For several days we were left in doubt of what was taking place in our
neighbourhood, though daily glowing accounts reached us of the progress
of Russian arms in the Austrian area of the war. The general impression
seemed to be that matters were not going on so well in the West Polish
district as they should be.

On the 20th we made a night march to a village, the name of which did
not transpire. It was deserted, with the exception perhaps of a dozen
miserable starving creatures, and had been partly burnt down. We arrived
about four o'clock in the morning, at which time it had been snowing
heavily for two hours.

We remained hiding in the village all day, fires and even smoking being
strictly forbidden. There were about 800 of us: and I do not know if
there were other infantry detachments near us, but I heard from the
Colonel that a force of Cossacks was reconnoitring some eight or nine
versts in front of us; and we could hear the distant booming of heavy
guns, a sure sign that the contending parties were in contact, as
artillery do not fire at nothing.

The greater part of the day snow was falling, and though it cleared up
in the evening it was only for a few hours. We had brought three days'
rations in our haversacks. The food consisted of biscuit, and fat
boiled mutton, which is excellent diet for marching men. Our drink was
water only, which we had to procure where we could find it; not an easy
task, as the rivers were full of putrid bodies and carcasses of horses,
and the Germans had polluted many of the wells.

On the 21st we made another night march over an open plain on which were
many small pine-woods. We kept under cover as much as possible, and
finally halted in a pine-wood, where we hid ourselves all day, not
seeing a soul of any kind. In the afternoon a Cossack arrived, and
delivered a written message to the Colonel, the contents of which he did
not divulge; but at night he called for a dozen volunteers who, he said,
must be men of enterprise, not afraid to sacrifice themselves if
necessary. These men were placed under the command of a young officer,
Captain Folstoffle, and proceeded along the bed of a frozen brook, our
feet being muffled with pieces of sheep's skin. Naturally I supposed
that we were near the enemy; but Folstoffle spoke not a word of either
French or English, and no communication of any kind was made to me or to
the men: we were left to glean information from the "march of events."

The booming of the guns continued, at intervals, all night, and to the
north-west the sky was crimson with the reflection of a large fire--a
burning town, I imagined. The only sign of life I saw was a large animal
(a wild boar, I think), which rushed out of the cover of some rushes
when disturbed by our approach.

The whole country was covered with snow, which was loose, and about a
foot deep. This was a drawback, as we must have shown up darkly to an
enemy: at the same time it increased our chances of seeing the approach
of persons or soldiers, not clothed in white, though this hue was often
used by the Germans to conceal themselves when the country was
snow-clad. We had left our bivouac at about nine o'clock, and marched on
until 2 a.m., when Folstoffle decided to halt for a rest. The spot
chosen for this purpose was a clump of bushes with a small two-storied
farm-house about 300 yards distant. It was necessary to examine this
house, and I volunteered for the service, making myself understood by
signs and the few words of Russian I was now master of. I started alone,
but one of the men followed close behind me, holding his rifle at the
"Present," ready to fire instantly if need should require it, though it
seemed improbable that any of the enemy were in the house. As we
approached, however, I was astonished to see a man hanging out of one of
the windows, and another leaning over him from behind. Both were partly
covered with snow, and it hardly required more than a glance to show
that they were dead. A few yards nearer, and I could see that their
clothing was in tatters, and fluttering in the night breeze.

The weather had cleared up, and was now bright; and the reflection from
the snow enabled one to see objects with considerable distinctness,
though some distance away; and I noticed several curious-looking heaps,
or mounds, near the house, from which a horrible stink emanated, as it
did from the building itself.

The place had been subjected to a bombardment; all the windows were
smashed out, and one door lay flat on the ground; the other hung by a
single hinge only, and we had no difficulty in entering. The soldier had
a pocket-lamp, and he struck a light by means of flint and tinder, a
contrivance which is still in use in Russia. The body of a huge man lay
at the foot of the stairs. He was nearly naked, and much decayed; and we
could not tell if he had been friend or foe. The whole place was in much
confusion. There had evidently been hand to hand fighting in all the
rooms; and upstairs there were the remains of about a dozen men heaped
together in the apartment where the two corpses first noticed were
hanging out of the window. All were in an advanced state of decay, and
must have been dead weeks, if not months. The horrible fetor of the
place was unendurable, and we were glad to return into the fresh air,
the soldier being greatly upset. I thought it advisable to return and
report before making a further search of the house and its environs; and
Folstoffle decided to wait until the morning before examining the
neighbourhood.

The spot where this discovery was made was between Klodava and
Krasuyvice. No doubt there had been fighting all over this district, but
none of those composing our party had taken a part in it. In the morning
we found nearly a hundred bodies scattered about, and lying in two
heaps in what appeared to have been the garden and orchard of the farm:
but the place was completely wrecked. The sight was, on a small scale,
as dreadful as any I witnessed during the war. Many of the dead were
skeletons, or nearly so: animals, probably dogs and pigs, had been at
work on others; and all were pretty well in the last stage of putridity.
Many retained the positions in which they had died and stiffened. One
man, with no eyes left in the sockets of his skull, was holding one arm
straight up in the air; another had both arms and legs raised as he lay
on his back--a position which would have been comical if it had not been
so dreadful and tragical. In one heap were two men clasping each other
in what had evidently been a death struggle. Another still grasped the
bayonet with which he had killed a foe: and an officer had his sword
raised and his mouth wide open as if giving an order at the instant of
his death. The appearance of all was so extremely ghastly that it cannot
be described. Though mostly covered with snow I saw many faces which
were blue, green, black in hue, and had lost all resemblance to human
features. Russians and Germans lay there in about equal proportions; and
there we were compelled to leave them: for we had no tools, nor was the
ground in a condition for rapid grave-digging. There may have been more
bodies in some of the neighbouring ravines and woods; but we had no time
to look for them. From what I afterwards saw, I have no doubt that the
dead were often left unburied; a dreadful thing, for there is always a
host of ravenous dogs in Russian villages; and as many of these were now
ownerless, they had run wild. Besides these there were wild boars and
wolves, always ready to take toll of the battlefield; to say nothing of
the crow and the raven.

Folstoffle's orders had been to return before midday on the 23rd; but it
was after that hour before we turned to rejoin our main body. About four
o'clock we met a section coming to look for us, as Colonel Krastnovitz
had become anxious.

The object of the reconnaissance was said to be accomplished; we had
found that there were no enemies in that district; or, at any rate, in
our immediate neighbourhood; and this information was corroborated by
that of half a sotnia of Cossacks, who, it seems, had been acting in
conjunction with us, though we had seen nothing of them since starting
on our little expedition.

But our leaders must have had a belief that the enemy was at hand: for
we received orders to fall back on our deserted village, and put it into
a state of defence, which we did by loopholing what remained of the
walls, and digging trenches round the outskirts.

In cases like this the trenches are held and defended while the enemy is
using his artillery; but when the actual assault takes place, and he can
no longer use his guns for fear of injuring his own troops, the
defenders retire to the loop-holes as a second line of defence; and as
they can fire into the trenches, these are seldom tenable by the enemy.



CHAPTER XIII

THE BUTCHER'S BILL TO THE END OF 1914


We were strictly kept within our lines: I had no opportunity, therefore,
of ascertaining what other troops were in our neighbourhood. I took it
for granted that we were supported, as it was quite clear that our
battalion was acting as an advanced post. A battery of eight guns was
sent to strengthen our position; but no other troops showed themselves;
and the battery commander declared that he had come a distance of forty
versts by march-route without seeing more than a few detachments of
infantry and cavalry, the last named chiefly Cossacks.

Writing of numbers recalls certain remarks which I heard about this time
concerning the force, or supposed force, of ourselves and our enemies.
The Germans on the East Prussian front were put by our commander at
1,600,000 men, with another 250,000 or 300,000 in Austria. I am inclined
to think that these figures are an under estimation; though, on account
of the speed with which the Germans moved their troops about by rail, it
was very difficult to arrive at correct conclusions concerning their
numbers. At one time, however, when they considered there was a serious
fear of Germany being rapidly overrun by their ponderous foe, I am sure
there was more than 2,000,000 German soldiers on the Eastern front with
not less than 3,500 field-guns, and 1,000 guns of position, not
including machine-guns of rifle-calibre.

To oppose this vast force the Russians had about 3,000,000 men in
Poland, and West and South Russia, with 3,000 field-guns, and about 400
guns of position and siege-guns. They claimed to have another 3,000,000
mobilizing, and already on the move; and I do not think this was an
exaggeration. Russia could easily raise 12,000,000 _good troops_, if she
had the material and money to furnish them. That money is the sinews of
war is not a trite saying--it is an absolute fact. Without gold armies
cannot exist, any more than they can subsist without food. The output of
Russian soldiers is limited by the financial resources of the country.
She had 3,000,000 men at the front. When a quarter of a million of these
was wiped out, they were replaced by another quarter of a million; and
so on. The reason that no more than the 3,000,000 was ever present at
the front at one and the same time seemed to be that the number stated
was all she could supply in the field: and these were serving,
practically, without pay; and often on food that was scanty in quantity,
and coarse in quality. After the close of the year 1914 the Russians,
seeing that it was a stern necessity, made almost superhuman efforts to
bring up more artillery; and they increased the number of their heavy
siege-guns; and, in a lesser degree, those of the field and machine
classes of ordnance.

The Russians were always very strong in cavalry. I believe their mounted
Cossacks alone exceeded 60,000 men; and there was, probably, 40,000 line
cavalry in Poland--cuirassiers, dragoons, lancers, hussars, chasseurs,
etc.--to oppose which the Germans had certainly no more than 20,000
inferior horsemen. The Russian cavalry are not comparable to those of
England and France; but they are far superior to those of Germany: yet,
I must admit, the latter Power had to contend against superior numbers
in this arm. I believe that in every cavalry encounter which took place
the Russians had a numerical, as well as a tactical, superiority.

In reference to losses: the Russians put those of their enemies on this
front at about 1,000,000 men at the close of the first five months of
the war. This includes prisoners. It is said that 50,000 Austrians were
captured in the first fortnight of December. I was an eye-witness to the
awful slaughter which took place on many occasions; but, as I have
pointed out, the majority of the wounded men soon return to the ranks.
Still, I think the Germans had at least 400,000 men put out of action in
this region, not including prisoners.

The loss of the Russians I believe to have been quite as heavy as that
of the Germans, perhaps even more so. Their chief strength lay in the
fact that they could speedily replace every man they lost, which the
Germans could not do.



CHAPTER XIV

"DO NOT FIRE ON YOUR COMRADES"


Day after day we passed in our miserable bivouac, short of food, short
of news, short of everything. When news did come it was rather
disquieting: Germany was said to have a fleet of armed river boats on
the Vistula some thirty to thirty-five English miles to our right rear.
It would be rather awkward if these gunboats landed a force behind us,
specially as it seemed as if we were not supported in this direction,
except by a few sotnias of Cossacks. Our forces seemed to be very quiet
and unprogressive everywhere, except on the Austrian and Turkish
frontiers. We had the weather, perhaps, in part, to thank for this state
of things. It was simply atrocious. Near the end of the year there was a
partial thaw, followed by heavy rain, which quickly turned to a blinding
sleet. Then there came a dull, heavy day, with black, lowering clouds,
and bitter cold. The snow recommenced, and fell as one might expect it
to fall, in Russia and Poland. With a few intervals it continued to
float down in big feathery flakes for an entire week, and it drifted
round us as high as the roofs of the houses, or the charred eaves where
those roofs had once rested; and we could not leave the environs of the
village until we had cut a way through. Buried beneath the snow we did
not feel the icy wind so keenly as those did who were unavoidably
exposed to it when on outpost duty; of which, however, we all had our
share. There were, also, occasional reconnaissances on a small scale--a
dozen men, or so, in a party. I was always glad to accompany these, as
the monotony of life in a ruin, without sufficient food, and no
recreation except card-playing, was unendurable.

The object of these little expeditions was to ascertain if we were
likely to be attacked; or if the enemy was moving in our neighbourhood.
The whole country was deserted, except by pigs and dogs, and a few wild
animals. The pigs had been turned loose, I supposed, to get their own
living as best they could; and I am afraid that a good many of them were
carnivorous, as the dogs certainly were. These brutes were vagabonds by
choice, and it was a wonder to me that so many of them were tolerated in
the towns and villages of all parts of Russia and Poland I visited.

It was shocking to see the number of empty and destroyed houses, some
isolated and standing alone, others in clusters forming small hamlets
and villages. In the rooms of some, or in the courtyards, and sometimes
in the open fields, we came across the bodies of peasants and soldiers
who had not been buried. The remains of one man were hanging from a
tree. He was little more than a skeleton, and the eyeless sockets of his
skull had an inexpressibly horrid appearance. There were also the
carcasses of domestic animals lying about, wantonly killed. It is
really difficult to understand the state of mind of men who could be
guilty of such cowardly and monstrous cruelty. Isolated acts of
wickedness occur in all wars; but here we seemed to have a whole people,
multitudinous in numbers, afflicted with the madness of blood-lust.

Very little information was gleaned from these reconnaissances. The few
miserables who still lurked about the ruins of their former homes said
that no soldiers had been in their neighbourhood since the fighting
which led to the destruction of the country. One old fellow, with
mattock and spade, and accompanied by a faithful dog, was making it his
business to bury the abandoned bodies of his dead countrymen. He said he
had made graves for forty-five of them, and he was still very busy and
complained that he had to lose much time while he was looking for food.
We gave him all we had with us. He had been living chiefly on hares
which he tracked down in the snow. We had discovered, ourselves, that
this was an easy way of capturing them; and they often made an agreeable
addition to our poor fare. We also caught an odd sheep or two, pretty
lean for want of a shepherd's care; and pork was plentiful enough for
those who cared to partake of it, who became fewer every day, as it
became more and more evident that these omnivorous creatures were living
on carrion and the bodies of the unburied slain.

We gained some important bits of information, amongst them the fact that
we were not supported by other troops; and that reinforcements were
passing through Warsaw, day and night, in an unbroken stream. They were
proceeding mostly towards the Austrian frontier, and to the scene of the
fighting on the Vistula, or rather on its tributaries, the Pilica,
Bzura, Bug, and the Narew; a region extensively entrenched.

The fact that no troops appeared to be supporting our outpost greatly
disturbed the mind of Colonel Krastnovitz, who even expressed the
opinion that he was either forgotten, or cut off; and it really looked
as if something of this sort had occurred, as the officer had received
no orders, or supplies, for ten days; and the men were almost starving.
We sent out foraging parties every day; but the country had been cleared
of provisions to such a degree that it was almost a desert. In our
extremity we applied to a Cossack officer, and thenceforth he sent us in
a cart or two of food every day, consisting of bread (in biscuit form),
bacon, wheat, flour and oats. Where he obtained these supplies he did
not say; and nobody made it his business to inquire. Cossacks are free
and easy fellows; and they never starve. There is no instance in their
history of their ever having done so. If they cannot find enemies to
rob, they borrow from friends; and failing this, ten to one they take
toll of their own convoys. Do they get into trouble for such playful
pranks? All I can say is that I have never seen a dead donkey, nor a
court-martialled Cossack. The beggars may live on thistles, but they do
live.

I suggested to Colonel Krastnovitz that it was necessary we should get
into communication with the commander, as it was impossible for him
either to maintain his position or vacate it without orders. He quite
agreed: and twenty men under Captain Folstoffle were detailed to search
for the remaining battalions of the regiment. Our obliging Cossack
commander placed half a dozen of his men at our disposal, and was good
enough to give us a couple of old horses which he had picked up, and
which were worth, I suppose, their weight in--cat's meat. Still, the
snow was deep, the way was long, and the pilgrim not too young or
strong, and I was glad to throw my leg over the craziest old crock I
ever mounted.

Our Cossack friends were of a party having a roving commission, and
reporting direct to Warsaw, which was now encircled by trenches and
earthworks, the permanent forts being old and not to be depended on; and
I may add, on my own responsibility, woefully short of heavy artillery.
As far as the Cossacks knew there were no Russian troops nearer to our
position than the trenches at Skyermevice, where they were in pretty
close contact with the enemy. We heard that there had been fighting
quite recently; and daily we heard the reports of artillery in that
direction, the distance being less than thirty versts.

The Russians are marchers as well as fighters; but the roads were so
blocked with snow that we could rarely discern them, and we took a
direct route straight across the country. This was very well; but the
men sank in to the knee at every step, and progress was very slow, while
concealment was impossible. If only a small body of the enemy had
appeared we should have had no alternative but unconditional
surrender--not a pleasant lookout, especially for me, who could not hope
to pass for a Russian. In spite of strenuous exertion we could not
advance faster than two versts an hour (less than a mile and a half).
When, therefore, we came to a gentleman's house, we decided to remain
there and send on two of the Cossacks with a written message to the
nearest commanding officer they could find.

These men did not return until late the following day, bringing orders
for the battalion to proceed to a village called Samitz, near
Skyermevice. Captain Folstoffle decided to remain where he was and send
on the message to the Colonel.

We were in very good quarters at the house mentioned above. The family
had fled to a place of greater safety, leaving an old couple to look
after the mansion, and answer all German inquiries. Strange to say, and
very fortunately for us, the Germans had not visited this house; and
everything being intact we had plenty of food and wine, and good beds to
sleep in. There was a poultry yard with abundance of fowls, ducks and
geese; and a piggery full of fine porkers with no suspicion attached to
their recent diet, and--well, the Cossacks looked after this department,
not forgetting the respect due to their superiors when the roast was
ready: and I am afraid that the poor old woman had some doubts which was
most preferable--a visit from the Germans, or a self-invitation from her
compatriots; and I am not sure she did not say as much. She certainly
had a good deal to say; and I did not need to understand Russian to
perceive the temper and tone in which her speech was delivered. But her
protests were received with sublime indifference, and she was calmly
presented with receipts and bills which she was informed the Russian
Government would honour in due course.

The next day, the 8th January, 1915, the battalion arrived at this
pleasant halting-place, and cleared up the remnants of the poultry-yard
and piggery. It took us all day on the 9th to reach Samitz, which the
enemy was shelling vigorously. The village was a small place originally;
and half of it had already been reduced to something very like dust. The
only civilian I saw in the place was a woman, who was crying bitterly as
she sat on the threshold of a shattered cottage, quite oblivious, in her
terrible grief, of such trifling dangers as bursting shells. These are
the sights that upset men, even soldiers born, and cause them to hate
war. Even the dogs and the pigs had deserted this place.

The headquarters, and the other battalions of the Vladimir regiment,
were not at Samitz; and nobody could tell us where they were. We were
politely told not to bother our heads about our comrades, but to get
into the trenches at once. Fortunately we were with "goodly capon
lined"; for they had not the good manners here to give us a ration
before sending us on duty. But the service was pressing just then, as we
soon discovered.

Night was closing in when we became aware that a heavy mass of the enemy
was making straight for the trench we occupied. They were shouting
loudly something I did not understand; and orders were passed along the
trench that we were to lie quiet, and not fire until the foe was quite
close. I thought this a foolish order, but of course obeyed it, like the
rest of the men.

I afterwards read in an English newspaper of a dodge practised by the
Germans of running up dressed in English uniform, and shouting something
like this: "Ve vos not Shermans; we vos Royal Vest Surreys!"

A similar trick was played on us at this time. It appears the Germans
shouted: "We are a reinforcement of Russians; do not fire on your
comrades!"

We did not fire until they reached the wire entanglement which protected
the front of the trench: and then----. Well, they went down as if
blasted by a wind from Hades. Point-blank, quick-firing: and then, while
the groan of fright and horror was still issuing from their lips, came
the order, "Upon them with the bayonet--Charge."

There was no fighting: it was simply slaughter amidst yells, curses, and
abject screams for mercy. For the first time in this campaign I saw
German soldiers fairly and unmistakably routed. There was no mistake
about it this time. Old Jack Falstaff never carried his paunch as nimbly
as these Germans carried theirs in their run for their lives.

We took no prisoners: or, if any, only one or two odd ones; and we
scarcely lost a man, except afterwards, by artillery fire. For the
Germans, absolutely routed, sought vengeance by opening as heavy an
artillery shelling as they could; but it was little better than a waste
of ammunition, and killed more of their own wounded than it did of our
men.

When morning came, I calculated that 2,000 German bodies lay on half a
verst of our front. The groans and cries of the wounded were awful to
hear; but nobody could help them. Their own people made no overtures to
do so; and when our Red Cross men attempted to go to their assistance
they were fired on by the enemy in the most cowardly way. None of our
wounded lay outside the trench.

When darkness set in Captain Folstoffle, and an officer called Skidal,
with Drs. Wolnoff and Falovki, myself and a dozen stretcher-bearers of
the Red Cross Service, went out to try to be of some service to the
suffering and dying. It was a dark night; but the snow rendered objects
visible; and the miserable wail of the injured guided us to where they
lay thickest. Nothing could be more awful: one man with the top of his
skull blown off, and the brains exposed, was still alive, and most
anxious to be saved. He begged piteously to be first attended to; but
what could be done for such a case? We made him as comfortable as we
could under such dreadful circumstances, and left him: though his cries
to be taken away, or at least have somebody remain with him, haunted my
mind for many days afterwards.

It was puzzling to know where to commence work when so many required
attention. We gave first aid to a great many, and sent some to the rear
of our trenches; but it was obviously of no use to treat hopeless cases.
We removed them to more sheltered positions, and made them more
comfortable. One or two were groaning under heaps of their slain
comrades: we released these, and dressed their wounds. Some were very
grateful for the aid rendered. One man kissed the hand of the attendant
helping him; and another was very profuse in his thanks. Others were
cursing their Kaiser and their country, and even the Almighty, for
entailing so much misery upon them. One man was insane, probably as a
result of his fears rather than his sufferings.

Many corpses were broken to pieces, probably as a result of the German's
own shell-fire. When the arms of a dead man were taken hold of to
release another soldier pinned down beneath him, they both came away at
the first pull, owing to the body being completely shattered. Several
dissevered limbs lay about; and also headless bodies: and we discovered
one dead man, who had died in the act of holding his bowels in, the
outside of the stomach having been shot away. While we were attending to
these miserable men, a shell came from the enemy's line and killed
Lieutenant Skidal and two of the men, and so severely wounded Dr.
Wolnoff that he died a few days afterwards. Of course we abandoned our
work, and returned to the shelter of our trenches. In a similar way the
Germans often put a stop to the would-be good work our people attempted
to perform.



CHAPTER XV

SMALL AFFAIRS AND PERSONAL ADVENTURES


Throughout the night there was cannonading at intervals, some of the
shells weighing about 100 pounds. We had no guns so heavy in our lines;
and I attribute the fact that the Russians were never able to fully push
home their attacks to this cause. Their artillery, of all classes, was
decidedly inferior to that of their foes, and there was a sad lacking of
large pieces of siege ordnance, without which a modern army can hardly
hope to beat its foes out of well-constructed trenches.

On the following day the Germans did not make a direct attack on our
position; but they sent out a host of snipers and skirmishers, who fired
on us, causing many casualties, from snow-pits, and heaps of the same
material. At first sight it would seem that snow would not prove a very
efficacious defence; nevertheless pits and trenches made of it afford
splendid protection to infantry, and even to field-guns. We found it
impossible to dislodge these skirmishers by artillery fire alone; and
individually they offered no mark to our riflemen.

On the 14th January we attempted an assault of the German position, but
were stopped at their wire entanglement and shot down in such numbers
that we were compelled to retreat, leaving 1,000 men behind, mostly
dead and dying, but a few of them prisoners of war. In this attempted
assault we discovered that the enemy were using their iron shields,
fixed upright in the ground, as a protection behind which to shoot from.
At long range our rifle-bullets could not penetrate them; but they were
an indescribably clumsy contrivance to carry about in the way the
Germans first used them. They discovered that themselves, and abandoned
their use, except in trenches; nor were they of much use at close
quarters; for bullets would pierce them, sometimes at as great a range
as 500 yards.

Several little adventures happened to us while we were in these
trenches. For instance, one night I thought I saw several small pyramids
of snow moving about; and watching carefully I presently saw a man
clothed in white come right up to our trenches. He knew, or discovered,
the spaces left in the wire entanglements to enable us to sally out. His
movements were so regular and bold that I was afraid to shoot him,
thinking he might be one of our men, but went at once to Colonel
Krastnovitz's hut, and reported what I had seen. None of our men were,
at this time, clothed in white, or furnished with white cloaks, and the
Colonel at once went with me to the spot where I had seen the mysterious
figure. It had disappeared; but in about ten minutes several men,
scarcely distinguishable from the snow, were dimly discerned moving
about, and evidently examining our network of barbed wire. One of them
seemed to be looking for something among the dead (all the wounded were
very quiet by this time), and was seen to turn a corpse over.

Our men, dead beaten with excessive fatigue, were asleep in the trench,
a couple of sentries excepted; but several men were aroused, and the
Colonel whispered his orders to them. Several angry spurts of fire,
accompanied by sharp reports, and our prying Germans clothed in white
raiment were hurrying away across the plain, leaving two of their number
behind stretched on the ground. We went out to examine these fallen
heroes. One was past help: the other was only wounded, and that not very
seriously. He said he was willing to surrender, and hoped we would not
murder him: rather comical, I thought; but the Russian mind is slow in
perceiving a joke; and so his captors devoted all their attention to
examining his white cloak, or overall, and making notes of the same. The
young prisoner (he appeared to be no more than twenty years) was not
"murdered," had his wounds seen to, and was sent to the rear. We saw no
more of "the dashing white sergeants" that night, but afterwards became
well acquainted with them, and imitated their tactics, for whole
divisions of Russians wore white gaberdines when there was snow on the
ground.

On the night of the 15th a regiment of infantry, with our battalion
attached, and supported by a strong division of Cossacks, made an attack
of the German trenches on our right. We captured one of their advanced
positions, but were soon driven out by a shower of hand-grenades, not
the first time I had seen these very destructive missiles used, though I
never expected that they would be resorted to in modern warfare. That
their use should have died out is remarkable; for they are a most
effective weapon at close quarters. The poison-gas, of which, I am
thankful to say, I saw nothing, is a diabolical development of the
ancient "stink-pot," a contrivance to suffocate an enemy; but one that
was not particularly cruel, or effective.

In this second sortie, which cost us 400 men, we captured several of the
iron shields, before mentioned; and the Russian commanders thought it
worth while to have some made of the same pattern; but as I have already
stated, their use was soon considered to be a mistake and a failure, and
they were set up as a kind of bulwark in the trenches. They were of some
use in making barricades in narrow spaces where there was not room
enough for an earthen parapet.

We were not so discouraged by these little reverses as we might have
been had we not enjoyed a continual stream of good news. Great things
were reported to be occurring on the Austrian front; and the cavalry in
our own neighbourhood had several skirmishes with the enemy, in which
the Germans, as usual, had the worst of it.

The weather was again very bad; though, really, there had not been much
improvement in it for several weeks. Snow fell in immense quantities, in
the form in which the Americans call blizzards: that is, as I
understand the term, accompanied by storms of icy-cold wind. The snow
lying on the ground, however, was frozen hard, and therefore more easily
passed over. We could march with tolerable ease and rapidity. We were
often moved from one part of the trenches and back again, for no
perceivable reason; and on one occasion we were marched forty versts in
the direction of Plock, probably because a great battle was expected.
There was heavy fighting in this direction; but it was all over before
we arrived. By the pronoun I mean the body of infantry to which the
Vladimir battalion was attached, and which consisted of a division under
General Berenstoff. It was made up largely of battalions and detachments
which had lost a part of their effective force, or got separated from
their regiments.

Except perhaps in Austria, with which I have nothing to do, as my
experiences did not extend to that area of the war, there was little
progress made, and but slight reverses suffered, during the early part
of the year. The weather and the state of the ground may have had
something to do with this; but I think both sides were suffering
considerably from exhaustion. The men had been worked incessantly and
unmercifully, yet no great numbers had fallen out on account of
breakdown. Frostbites are not common amongst Russian troops, even in the
severest weather; but I had some trouble from this complaint myself. The
soldiers were provided with good warm clothing; but furs were not in
general use; and a few regiments, which had seen a great deal of hard
service, were almost in rags; yet their sufferings did not seem to be
greater than those of their comrades. The Russian soldier never
grumbles, by-the-by. Boots are the great desideratum of an army in the
field. Nothing will break an army up sooner than a lack of foot-wear:
and in respect of this necessary the Russians were generally well
provided, though I occasionally met detachments, if not larger bodies,
who had completely worn out their boots, and resorted to tying their
feet up in pieces of hide, or sheep's skin. These cases were so rare
that they scarcely deserve notice; but as the winter wore on the
clothing of the troops certainly began to show signs of wear.

Personally I had some difficulty in providing necessaries. Boots were
given to me; but underclothing was both difficult to obtain and to keep
clean. No article was scarcer than soap in the Russian camp--it never
found its way to the trenches, which were in a shockingly insanitary
condition. It could not be otherwise: for once in our position we could
not leave it, even for a few moments, until regularly relieved at the
appointed hour. In some instances the troops were in the trenches for a
week without intermission. There are said to be no fleas in Russia.
There are abundance of another kind of vermin, which revels in dirt; and
mice were so numerous in the fields that things had to be closely
watched to prevent them from being destroyed. The knapsacks of the
Russians, like those of the Germans, are made of undressed sheep's
skins; and these, and other leather articles, were often nibbled by the
mice; while food was sure to be spoiled if left in a tent, or hut, for a
few hours. Winter did not rid us of these pestiferous little rodents,
which lived, and prospered, in the snow.

I usually did my own washing and mending, taking advantage of the
facilities to be found in some of the deserted houses, where tubs and
pails and many other things had been left behind on the flight of the
inhabitants, and hot water was easily procurable, though I never found
any soap.

Baths are much in use in Russia, but more as luxuries and sources of
enjoyment than as means of cleanliness. The so-called "Turkish bath"
seems to be of Russian origin. It was made extemporaneously by the
soldiers in various ways. Sometimes they closed up a small room of a
house, and filled it with steam by sprinkling water on stones previously
heated to a white heat; but the favourite way was to make a small hut
with branches, and render this impervious by covering it with turf. In
such a hovel a soldier could pretty nearly suffocate himself in ten
minutes, the stones being heated in a wood fire outside. When a man had
parboiled himself to the hue of a lobster, he would rush out and roll
about, naked as he was, in the snow; the operation being finished off by
a good rub down.

The steam once raised, an occasional hot stone would keep it up for any
length of time; and man after man would use the same "bath." I tried
this curious operation myself, and found it both refreshing and
strengthening; and it is a fine remover of the pain and exhaustion
occasioned by excess of physical exertion. The snow, by-the-by, at this
time of year is what is called in Russia "dry snow." That is, it is
frozen so intensely that it does not readily thaw, may be brushed from
the clothing, does not cling to anything, and blows about with the
breeze like dust. I preferred this state of things to the fogs, which in
the autumn and early part of the winter were very troublesome, and
prejudicial to the general health.

During the latter part of January there was not much downfall of snow,
but the cold was intense, and the winds such as, to use a common
expression, "cut through one." The snow that was on the ground got a
crust that would easily have borne a man on snow-shoes; but these useful
inventions were not employed by the Russian troops.

Sometimes, when there were blizzards, the trenches were nearly filled
with drifted snow; and more than once, the men were buried above their
waists. This was an inconvenience from the military point of view; but
the men did not object to it as it kept them warm; and snow-huts were
much used during the winter, both because they were difficult to be
discerned by a distant enemy, and because they make remarkably warm
sleeping-places. The only inconvenience is that the heat of the body
causes the snow on the inside of the hut to melt and drip on the sleeper
until he is, sometimes, pretty well wet through, the Russian, as a rule,
being a sound sleeper.

The Germans, also, adopted these snow-huts, and their
reconnoitring-parties must have discovered ours; for one fine morning,
just as the sun was rising clear and bright, they opened fire on a small
village of these hovels which we had constructed behind our trenches.
The result was not pleasant; and I saw several poor fellows blown clean
into the air amidst clouds of frozen snow. On the evening of that day we
trotted out for a retaliatory expedition; but nothing much came of it.
We found the German position too strong to be meddled with; and after
the exchange of a few rifle-shots we fell back, and retired to our own
position. Fortunately for us, the Germans did not follow us; and we lost
only two men killed, and a dozen wounded, which we carried away with us.

We often displayed great temerity in attacking with small bodies of
infantry, and were seldom counter-attacked on these occasions, because,
we supposed, the enemy feared a trap. They had some grounds for these
fears. On one occasion, two companies of the 189th regiment, believing
that a trench of the enemy's was weakly manned, made an attack on it.
They caught a Tartar, and were chased by about 2,000 Germans, who, fully
believing that they were about to penetrate our lines, followed the
fugitives right up to the edge of the trench. It chanced, however, that
the officer commanding that section had his doubts about the wisdom of
the rash attack, and had moved up a full regiment to meet a possible
accident. So when the Germans arrived they were received with an
unexpected fusillade, which killed the greater number of them, and
terrified the others so much that they surrendered at once. Two men only
ran back; and, strange to say, they both escaped, though hundreds of
shots were sent after them. But in war I have noticed that temerity and
cowardice are often self-punished, and bravery rewarded. Not always so,
alas! I hate the Germans like sin; but I was not sorry to see these two
plucky fellows escape.



CHAPTER XVI

A NIGHT ATTACK ON A BRIDGE-HEAD


During the last few days in January we received strong reinforcements,
mostly recruits and reservists to bring up the regiments to their normal
strength, the losses of some of which had been very heavy: in fact, with
a fairly good knowledge of military history, I cannot recall that in any
previous war there have been so many instances of whole battalions,
batteries, and other units, being completely "wiped out," to use the
modern expressive phrase. In several cases it is said that entire
regiments of four battalions each (over 4,000 men at full war strength)
have disappeared. The 66th (probably Ersatz), and their 41st of the
regular line, are said to have met this fate: and many complete
battalions on both sides have been destroyed, or taken prisoners
wholesale. The first Russian unit to which I was attached, a battery of
horse artillery, was practically rendered non-existent; and other
batteries were lost on the actual field of battle, every man being shot
down, and the guns smashed, or taken by the enemy. Many Russian
batteries met such a fate as that described, as they were often
subjected to the fire of guns much heavier than their own; and, indeed,
it is useless to withhold the fact that the German artillery is
altogether superior to that of the Russians.

To return to the subject of the Muscovite losses. How terrible these
were may be guessed from the returns made by many regiments. I do not
purpose to give the names, or regimental numbers, of units, for reasons
which are more or less obvious. Taking twenty-three regiments,
contiguous in station to the position occupied by my division in the
middle of January, 1915, and having, at the commencement of the war, a
total combatant strength of 92,000 men, there were eight regiments which
could not parade 1,000 men each--that is, had lost three-fourths of
their strength. In the case of five of these regiments the bulk of the
missing men were known to be prisoners of war. One regiment could send
only 638 men to the trenches--less than two-thirds of a battalion. The
four regiments which had been most fortunate were each more than 1,000
men short of their proper complement; and to bring up the twenty-three
regiments to their original war strength 50,000 men were required! They
got 40,000 men; and at least 250,000 were sent to the Austrian area, and
to the district of East Prussia near Suvalki. Many of these recruits
came to the front without arms, and received those which had belonged to
the killed and to men in hospital. There was so great a shortage of arms
that some battalions were actually furnished with rifles and cartridges
taken from the Germans. I suspect that Russia would have much vaster
armies in the field if she could find rifles and cannon for them. It is
a very unpleasant fact, but still a fact, that Russia is outgunned by
her enemy to so great an extent that the Germans can place _five_ cannon
against her _three_; and that on any part of the front where the titanic
struggle is going on.

In one thing only is Russia the stronger of the two Powers, and that is
in her cavalry: and this force has not, to my knowledge, suffered a
disaster, even on a small scale. Not one of her mounted regiments has
been cut up, or even sustained abnormal losses; but they have certainly
destroyed more than one of Germany's cavalry regiments; and that in fair
open fight. The Russian cavalry has charged, successfully, all classes
of troops--mounted men, infantry and artillery. So much for the paper
tacticians who have asserted that the days of cavalry charges and
hand-to-hand fighting are over. They are clearly mistaken, as has been
shown East and West in this war, which I suppose all will admit is the
War of Wars.

Cavalry actions in the East have been almost purely cavalry actions. The
mounted rifleman, who played so important a part in the Boer War, was
singularly absent in all the actions I witnessed. It is true that the
cavalry was armed like the ancient dragoons, with a long fire-arm (the
"dragoon" soon gave place to the musket); but in all their charges they
relied on the lance and the sabre; and it was with these weapons that
the fights were decided. In some battles the German infantry was sabred
in hundreds; and the lances of the Cossacks accounted for thousands.
The Kaiser's men learned to dread both these instruments of death.

The receiving, and shaking into their places, of recruits occupied a
good deal of our time in January: and the Germans, on their side,
evidently received, not only a great many recruits, but entire divisions
of infantry, with immense numbers of guns, many of these being siege
pieces. Both sides had practically new armies in the field before the
end of the month; but while on the part of the Russians the men were
fine strong fellows of full military age (none of them seemed to be
under twenty years of age), hundreds of the Germans were immature lads
of very boyish appearance. We often got near enough together to see the
whites of one another's eyes--that is how I know what they were like.
These boys, however, fought like little vipers; and were, moreover,
amongst the cruellest scoundrels in a cruel army. Where boys fail in an
army is that they cannot bear prolonged physical strain.

It was reported that there was fighting on every part of our front, from
Caucasia to the Baltic; but I could not hear that any great battle had
been fought, or any important results obtained. The fighting with which
I was immediately concerned was a number of small affairs designed to
destroy the enemy's posts and advanced positions. They were pushing
forward a good many small parties, probably with an ulterior object; and
it was thought advisable to give them a check.

The first action was an artillery duel, which commenced at a longer
range than was usual. The Germans opened fire with a dozen or fourteen
guns at a distance of seven versts. The projectiles they used weighed
about 60 pounds, and annoyed us a good deal. They blew in about 30 yards
of trench, killing a score of men: and did much other damage. Our field
pieces failed to reduce their fire, and we sent to the rear for some
6-in guns, which were supposed to have been bought from a European
Power: they were certainly not of Russian make. We had also a very old
Krupp gun of about 7-inch calibre, which probably spoiled the beauty of
its old masters.

While these guns were being brought up and got into position, which took
some time, six batteries of field-guns made a gallant dash forward, and
got to within about 2,500 to 3,000 yards of the Germans, and galled them
so much that they were fain to turn some of their heavy pieces upon
them; by which a great many of the gunners were killed and three of the
guns knocked over. Other batteries, however, were pushed forward; and
when our heavy guns were brought into action the Germans began to suffer
visibly. Through glasses we saw one of their big pieces knocked up so
that the muzzle pointed to the sky. It remained in this position for
some time, but ultimately fell over on its side. Three other guns were
so badly damaged that they could not be fired; while the gunners flew
right and left, and upwards, a mass of smashed bodies and dismembered
limbs. In less than an hour we had put the whole battery completely out
of action: but we on our side had suffered severely. Horses, guns and a
great many men were destroyed.

The next day we received warning by field telephone that aeroplanes were
hovering over the Russian lines. One appeared in front of us at three
o'clock in the afternoon, and was repeatedly shot at. It braved the fire
in an impudent manner, and dropped some bombs which did no damage. Our
gunners cut away a ditch-bank, so that the breech of the gun could be
lowered until the muzzle was elevated fully 60 degrees, and sent a shot
very near the aircraft. It was amusing to see how quickly it bolted when
it found itself in danger. A great many rifle-shots were fired at it;
but it was too far away, and if it were struck at all, it was not
injured.

Considering how much these machines were used in the West (according to
the old newspapers which I have looked up) it is surprising that we saw
so little of them in Poland. After this time I heard that the Russians
had many aeroplanes, including some of the largest that have been made;
and I saw one of these huge things. It seemed to me to be very unwieldy;
but that might have been owing to the awkwardness of the navigators, who
never seemed to be so skilful as those of France, England and Germany. I
never heard of, far less saw, them doing much with this species of war
engine. They never, I think, bombarded any German fortresses or towns,
nor did the Germans do more in this quarter than occasionally drop bombs
on troops, and transports. The only exception I can recollect was a
visit of a number of machines to Warsaw.

Of course the rivers and streams in Russia are bridged; but not to the
extent the waterways of more highly developed countries usually are.
Many of the rivers are shallow, and fords are common, and more relied on
than bridges. Where bridges did exist, those of wood were frequently
destroyed by both armies; but the more elaborate structures of brick and
stone were sometimes defended by "bridge-heads."

A "bridge-head" in the old days of military engineering consisted of a
lunette, or a redan with flanks, constructed on the near side of the
stream, unless some peculiar features of the ground necessitated the
holding of the far side: and this form of construction was generally
followed by the Russians, with the addition of trenches and wire
entanglements and flanking works.

There were frequent desperate fights for these field-works; and more
than one of those engagements which may be denominated "battles"
commenced in attempts to capture a bridge-head, or endeavours to
establish one. I use the word "battles" advisedly, because battles in
this war have generally been prolonged struggles for the possession of
trenches, often lasting many days, and sometimes weeks. A battle, in the
sense of two armies meeting in the open field, and deciding the action
within the limits of a day or two, is a thing almost unknown, so far, in
this war.

Most of the bridge-heads were constructed by the Russians. A few,
generally small ones, were made by the Germans; and some were captured
by them, and the defences afterwards elaborated. In this last-named
case, they proved a decided annoyance, if not danger, to the Russians:
and, about this time, we had orders to destroy, or recapture, a number
of them. Most of these were situated on the rivers Vistula, Warta,
Pilica and Bzura. The numerous tributaries of these great streams had
many fords: bridge-heads were, therefore, useless on brooks and
rivulets, as they could be easily turned. The most important works of
this class were on the two first-mentioned rivers; and detachments were
generally sent out to make simultaneous attacks on a number of them, as
this method greatly interfered with, if it did not entirely stop, the
enemy sending supporting parties to any one point of the offensive line.

On the 27th of the month a number of detachments went out at night to
destroy as many of the enemy's posts as possible. These parties, in our
district, each consisted of a battalion at reduced strength (600 or 700
men), and about fifty sappers with hand charges of explosives. We had
been moved out the previous day, and destroyed a number of temporary
bridges for infantry on a stream the name of which did not transpire. We
were directed, when retiring, to break the ice behind us: for the
streams were all frozen over, though the larger rivers were not, having
only a fringe of ice on either bank. The real objective of our
expedition was three bridge-heads on the Warta protecting three bridges
constructed for the passage of infantry, cavalry and artillery. These
bridges were known to be not much in use at the time; but they were
likely to greatly benefit the enemy later on.

Though some snow had fallen during the day the night was clear and
bright, and there was more moonlight than we wanted; but the Germans
were evidently off their guard. The plank-bridges on the brooks had not
even been watched by a few videttes; and nothing seemed to show that
they knew we had been engaged in tearing them down. There was an outpost
near the first bridge-head on the Warta, beyond the village of
Nishkinova, and half a section was sent to try and get between it and
the bridge. The enemy must have taken this party for one of their own
patrols, for they took no notice of it.

The half-section found two sentinels on the bridge who were completely
surprised. One fellow dropped his rifle and held up his hands: the other
began to cry out, but was promptly stopped by a bayonet-thrust, and his
body put in the shadow under the parapet. The first man begged his life,
and was told that it would be granted him if he shut his mouth,
otherwise---- He took the hint: and we listened to hear if an alarm had
been given. Apparently it had not been, for we could hear men singing a
rousing chorus: and the white sheet of snow between us and the outwork
was unbroken by any perceptible object. To the right we could just
perceive the second division of the bridge-head: the third section was
further up the stream.

There had been no previous reconnoitring by any member of our
detachment, at any rate--and we had no knowledge of the numbers or
disposition of the enemy. Judging by appearances there would be at least
400 men in each work; and there might be 4,000 in reserve, somewhere
behind. I could see that we were taking a good deal on trust; and how we
were to pass the wire entanglements without great loss puzzled me. We
had no artillery to pave the way.

It had been arranged that the firing of a rocket should be the signal
for the simultaneous attack on the bridge-head, or three sections of the
head: for they were connected by an entrenched line. The bridge on the
left, the one we first reached, was an old stone structure; the other
two were made of planks supported by boats in place of pontoons. A
battalion, and a section of engineers, was detailed to attack each
bridge; but the arrival of the three divisions was not well timed, and
we had a long and anxious wait, being, I must admit, more fortunate than
skilful.

We observed that the German patrol we had evaded walked right up to the
main body of our battalion, and were quietly made prisoners of. They
evidently mistook our men for some of their own body.

It was not until two o'clock a.m. that we saw the rocket shoot upward
and heard the dull explosion of its head; and immediately we rushed
towards the earthwork in front of us, the apex of which was only about
200 yards from the foot of the bridge.

The surprise of the enemy must have been complete: for although we
heard rapid firing to the right of us, where the other two sections were
operating, we were suffered to rush right up to the wire entanglement
before a shot was fired at us, and we passed the obstruction and entered
the trench before a man of us dropped.

There were not many men in the trench, and these were all bayoneted in
less than a minute: but even in this short time the enemy in the
earthwork behind the trench recovered themselves, and opened fire on us
with both rifles and ordnance. Fortunately we were well spread out, and
our losses were not great; the chief, and most regrettable of them being
Colonel Krastnovitz, whose head was blown off. He was a very brave man,
and excellent officer; and his death was a great personal loss to us
all--to none more than to myself. I did not see him fall; but I soon
became aware that he was down. The Major was not with us, having been
previously wounded, and the command of the battalion devolved on a
Captain, quite a young man, but energetic and brave, and well acquainted
with his work.

The bridge-head, considering its strength, and the numerous supporting
works, fell into our hands with astonishing ease. Its capture did not
cost us more than 100 men. We killed 200, captured eighty, and about
1,000 ran away. The pontoon on the extreme right was also captured, but
with some difficulty and loss; while the defenders of the centre bridge
drove back its assaulters with the loss of nearly half their strength:
and it becoming certain that there was a strong supporting body in the
German rear which was fast coming up, we received orders to destroy all
we could, and retire.

There was not much time for destruction. We perceived at least four
battalions of the enemy close upon us; and their artillery began to fire
into the gorge of the work. So we destroyed the breach-blocks of some of
the guns we had captured, and ran for it, taking our prisoners with us,
though most of them afterwards escaped.

Our engineers had discovered that the bridge was mined; and they blew it
up so quickly after we had passed, that I am not sure one or two of our
men did not go up with it. I know that I had an unpleasantly narrow
escape myself, besides being half suffocated with dust and smoke. I
afterwards learned that one of the wooden pontoons was destroyed; but on
the whole the expedition was not as successful as it should have been.
It had been undertaken with too weak a force; and should have been
accompanied by artillery. We got away with a total loss to the three
columns of about 800 men, or more than a third of their number.

It was a night of curious adventures, and singular mistakes on the part
of the enemy. For we had not retreated more than four versts when a
squad of thirty Prussian hussars rode up to us, mistaking us for a
battalion of their own countrymen. When they discovered their mistake
they tried to escape by spreading out, and galloping away full tilt.
Twenty of them and a dozen horses went down before our fire: the rest
got away.

I understood that the Russian commander was not well pleased with the
results of this expedition; but nobody was so much to blame as himself
for not sending a stronger detachment, and for not adequately supporting
what he did send. The whole force was a flying detachment, and as such
ought to have been differently constituted. For instance we ought to
have had a strong body of Cossacks with us; and that very useful corps
ought to have linked us up with headquarters.

As it was we had to make a forced march well into the next day, bivouac
in the snow on short commons, and continue our march before we were half
rested. We passed through several towns and villages, in which we saw
groups of starving people. Many of them followed us, in dread of the
Germans whom they believed were closely pursuing us; but I think those
acute gentlemen were far behind, probably suspecting a trap; and I have
firmly believed that it was only the daring presumption and impudence of
our proceedings that saved us. Had the Germans known how weak we were,
and at so great a distance from our base, it is probable that we should
have tasted the delights of a German military prison.



CHAPTER XVII

THE FIGHTING NEAR SKYERMEVICE ON THE 3RD, 4TH, AND 5TH FEBRUARY


We rejoined headquarters in the early morning of the 30th, all much
exhausted for lack of food and rest; but there was no respite. News was
to hand that the Germans were closing in on us on all sides, and that we
must fall back on Lovicz without a moment's delay. At the same time I
learned that Lodz was in the hands of the Germans, had been for some
time, and was called Neu-Breslau by them. This, and other items of
information, tended to confirm what for some time I had suspected, that
our division had been nearly surrounded by the enemy: and that, for some
reason which did not appear, we had been kept in a position of grave
danger for several weeks.

The old horse I had obtained from a Cossack, as related on a previous
page, had disappeared--boiled down to soup by the men, I imagine; in
which case I had my share of him, and can bear witness to his gamy
flavour. In consequence of this little accident (or incident) of war, I
was again numbered amongst the footmen, and had to trudge with the
others to Lovicz. I started exhausted, and arrived nearly dead. All I
can remember of that dreadful march was that the road was crowded with
troops of all arms, and the snow which covered it was trampled and
churned into a thick sludge of a nearly black hue; marching through
which was a tormenting misery.

When we arrived in the vicinity of the town we were halted near a group
of barns, and told we might billet in them. I entered one with about a
hundred of the men, dropped on some dirty wet straw, and fell asleep on
the instant. How long I slumbered I do not clearly know. I was awakened
by the rough shaking and prodding of a soldier, who had a basin of
steaming hot coffee in his hand, and a great hunch of coarse bread,
which he offered to me. I swallowed them quite eagerly, for I was nearly
starved, and went outside, where the men were falling in.

The battalion was now so reduced that there were only about 300 men on
parade. What had become of the others I do not know; but I think that a
good many prisoners were taken during our retreat. There was only one
officer left with whom I could communicate, Lieutenant Sawmine; and only
two other subalterns that were with the battalion when I joined it. A
stranger, a Major in rank, had been put in command. He had been, I
believe, a Staff Officer. We were still attached to a regiment which had
lost one of its battalions _en masse_--as prisoners I heard.

Before we marched off the companies were equalized; which brought us up
to a little over 400 per battalion, or about 1,700 for the regiment, so
the losses had been terrible. Then another ration of bread, and 120
cartridges, were served out to each man, and we were marched to a
railway-station on the outskirts of the town and entrained. Sawmine said
that nobody in the regiment had the least idea where we were going; but
one of those vague notions which seem to instinctively invade the minds
of soldiers led the men to believe that they were destined for some
great enterprise.

[Illustration: A FIELD OF BAYONETS ON THE POLISH FRONTIER]

I was still so tired that I was no sooner in the train than I went to
sleep again, as I believe most of the men did. When I awoke the train
was merely crawling along, and the sound of heavy artillery firing came
in through the open windows. For we were packed in so tightly that the
men were compelled to keep the windows open for air, though the wind was
icy cold. Almost immediately the train began to run back; and often it
went on a few versts, stopped for half an hour, and then went on again.
Sawmine who sat beside me said that the train had been going thus for
many hours, sometimes advancing, then halting, retiring, and so on. He
had been asleep himself, and did not know how far we had come, or where
we were. Looking out of the windows we could see four long trains ahead
of us, and one about half a verst behind us. There were also two pilot
engines on the line, one of which had a large signal flag attached to
it.

The distant firing was heavy enough to shake the train; but we could see
nothing of the fighting. It was drawing towards dusk on the evening of
the 2nd February when we saw the men in the trains ahead of us getting
out: and presently our turn came. There was more than 1,000 men in each
train, the officers riding with their men. We soon discovered that we
all belonged to the same division; and we were formed up in the open
fields beside the line. Before this manoeuvre was completed it was nearly
dark; though as the moon was about the full it gave considerable light
through the clouds--at least when it was quite up; and we could see
dimly over the country across which we were marched.

We were kept on the march all night, with other columns ahead of us, a
circumstance which led to many short halts, and a good deal of "tailing
off." About four o'clock in the morning we were brought up into what
seemed to be a line of battalion columns at deploying intervals. We
could now see the bright red flashes of the guns; and occasionally a
shell fell in front of us. An officer who was known to Sawmine passed
along, and stopped to have a minute or two's chat with the Lieutenant;
and thus I learned that we were near the town of Skyermevice, and on
ground I knew something of. The Germans were said to be massing in vast
columns; but so far the fight was confined to the artillery; and this,
which we had supposed was on our front, was really on the left flank. We
were ordered to lie down and wait.

About six o'clock we were again ordered to advance; and after marching
six versts occupied a line of shallow trenches. These trenches had
recently been held by other troops--there could be no mistaking the
nature of the dull stain-patches on the snow: and though our dead and
wounded had been removed, there were hundreds of the enemy's slain lying
in front, as far as the eye could see them, when daylight came.

And when light did come the Germans were not long in discovering us; nor
were we in perceiving that there was a strong line of entrenchments in
front of us occupied by our forces. No doubt the men whose places we had
taken had gone forward to strengthen this line. The enemy was shelling
it vigorously, and devoting no small part of their attention to us; and
some of the projectiles which fell amongst us were enormous in size, and
terrific in sound when they exploded; but they did not cause very
appalling casualties. Sometimes a huge cloud of dust and black smoke
rose to a great height, and obscured the view; but when it cleared away,
though there might be a large hole in the ground, or 20 yards of trench
blown clean away, there were never more than two or three dead and
wounded. Once or twice an unfortunate man disappeared entirely, blown to
atoms. I should scarcely have realized what the fate of these men was
had not one of them stood close to me; and I noticed, directly after the
explosion, that I was covered with minute spots of blood, none of them
bigger than a pin's head. This man's body acted as a shield to me and
saved my life. The hot blast of the shell momentarily stopped my
breathing, and gave me a tremendous shock; but I was not much hurt. Two
men on the other side were instantly killed, one of them being
shockingly mutilated. Strange how these things are ordained! If I had
not been bending at the moment to insert a cartridge in my rifle, I
should probably have made a fourth victim.

These big shells were certainly more than a foot in diameter. One which
fell outside the trench, and did not explode, appeared to be about 15
inches in diameter, and a yard long. A good many of these big shells
were fired at us; but most of the projectiles were from field artillery,
each weighing 16 or 18 pounds only.

On the side of the Russians I did not see any gun bigger than a 6-inch;
but our artillery was well served, did great execution, and put many of
the German guns out of action. Motor-driven batteries were used on both
sides; and from what I saw of the action of guns so mounted, I think
they must soon largely supplant horse-drawn batteries, in open, flat
countries at least. People who love horses will be glad of this: for
artillery horses suffer frightfully in action; and it is not always
possible to put them out of their misery quickly.

When men are in trenches they see little of one another except their
immediate neighbours; but one gets to know the signs which indicate
anything unusual, even in these rat-burrows; and about ten o'clock we
became aware that the men in the advanced trenches were on the alert. We
could see nothing; but the terrific rifle-fire told its own story; and
above the almost deafening rattle of the musketry we could hear the
shouts of the Germans, and the counter-cheers of our own men as the
enemy retired. The firing did not last longer than ten minutes. In the
excitement of the moment many of the men in the second line crowded out
of their trenches to endeavour to see what was going on; and the
officers (much reduced in number, as I have already hinted) had great
difficulty in getting them to return to cover. The Russian soldier is
usually a most docile and obedient creature; but I never saw him in a
state of so great excitement as on this day. Rumour travelled from rank
to rank, that on the issue of the fight depended the fate of Warsaw: and
Warsaw is to the Poles, of whom there were thousands in this part of the
field, almost a sacred place. But Pole, or Russ, all were alike in their
eagerness to save the capital of Poland from the humiliation of the
hated German's tread. I do not know if the fact is quite realized in
England; but the Russian (including the Pole, and, especially, the
Cossack) is Asiatic in everything except his birth; and, like all
Asiatics, is extremely devout and extremely bigoted: therefore he is a
fanatic: and this present war, affecting, as it does, the liberty of his
country, is to him a sacred war--a contest for the safety of his
religion, and sanctified by the blessings of his priests. I emphasize
this point: so far as the Russian is concerned the war now devastating
Europe is a religious war. He will fight till he wins: and I am
confident that the victory will greatly strengthen and consolidate the
Muscovite Empire. Never before have the Pole and the Russ stood side by
side as they are standing now: never before have they fought for a
common cause and bled together for it; never before stood up to face a
danger as brethren. This war will make Russian and Pole _one people_. I
am quite convinced of it. Fifty years ago Polish women stood up with the
men to fight the Russian oppressor: in this present desperate struggle
they have fought side by side with the former oppressor. Not twenty
yards from me, in the trenches before Skyermevice, two sturdy Amazons
handled rifle and bayonet (weapons dropped by dead soldiers) with the
strength and skill of old soldiers; and others in the rear attended
Russian wounded with the same care and attention they lavished upon
their fathers and brothers.

About an hour after the first attack, a second was made on our position
by the Germans: and this was even more fierce and determined than the
previous affair. Forced on by pressure from the rear, the first ranks of
the enemy were actually precipitated into the trenches, and promptly
bayoneted by our men. So great was the number thus destroyed that the
trench was actually filled up in several places, a thing that occurred
more than once on previous occasions.

This was one of the most determined efforts the Germans made to break
the Russian line by sheer weight of numbers. The rear columns of the
enemy determinedly forced the leading companies on. I saw several entire
companies absolutely forced on to the Russian bayonets where they
perished to the last man. As on other similar occasions, it was not a
fight, but a massacre. The imprisoned Germans, sandwiched between their
own men and ours, and unable to escape, threw down their arms in
sections and begged for mercy. They put their hands above their heads;
went down on their knees, in some cases flung themselves prostrate, and
in others clung convulsively to the legs of their destroyers; but in
every case met the same fate: they were stabbed through and through.
Some few of them, including most of the officers, fought madly for their
lives: it only delayed their fate a few moments.

The first company down, that which had forced it forward was compelled
to take its place, and meet a similar tragical end. At least three
companies of one battalion were destroyed one after another in this way:
and I think the fourth company was very nearly annihilated; but I had my
own affairs to look after just at that moment, and did not see the
finish of that particular fight. The Germans were successful for a few
minutes; and hurried men so fast into the gap they had made that we of
the second line had to rush forward in parties without waiting for
orders; and we saved the day by a hair's-breadth only.

I had kept close to Lieutenant Sawmine from the moment of our leaving
Lovicz. As we closed with the enemy one of them forced the officer down,
and was only prevented from bayoneting him by his clinging to the man's
rifle. I sprang forward to save him, and was at once knocked down by a
big German. I saw the point of the bayonet poised over me as he kept me
down with his foot: my teeth closed tightly to meet the impending
death: then suddenly I was free of that iron foot, and for the fifth
time during this war covered with blood and brains which were not my
own. One of the Russian soldiers who had followed us very closely had
blown out the fellow's brains in the very nick of time. There really
must be a little cherub who sits up aloft!

Sawmine was badly bruised, but not dangerously hurt; and together we
pressed forward with seven or eight of our most devoted soldiers. There
are always some men in a company who have more heart in their work than
the others; and these are generally found close to their officers at
critical moments: indeed, these are the men who do most of the
hand-to-hand fighting, and to whom the victory is really due. One of the
heroic fellows who formed our little band slew at least twenty of the
enemy, I know; and very possibly double that number. I am sorry that I
cannot record the name of this brave man, an honour to his country; nor
that of others not his inferiors in bravery and self-sacrifice. Alas!
none of them answered the roll-call when the three days desperate
fighting was over. The bravest and the best--this is the treasure that
war costs a country.

An English officer I am not going to name--I have the greatest respect
for his name and his memory--wrote that two armed bodies of hostile men
cannot remain on the same ground longer than sixty seconds at most. He
made a mistake. Russians and Germans, on the occasion I am recording,
fought like bulldogs for two solid hours without a break: and it was
all bayonet work, scarcely a shot being fired. Then the Germans broke
and fled, as I had seen them fly on previous defeats. There was no
equivocation about it: they broke and ran, "bellowing like bull-calves."

Every nation, I suppose, has its peculiarities. I do not depreciate the
Germans. They can fight, and fight bravely--but not with the generous
bravery that most soldiers exercise one to another. They are cruel in
their desperation, vicious in the moment of victory; and they yell for
mercy in the hour of their defeat; the only soldiers I have known to
exercise this form of--I will not call it cowardice--Hudibrastic
caution.

In this battle the wonderful iron shields reappeared; and about 700 of
them were taken by the Russians, and used to form a breastwork; which
the next day was knocked to pieces by the German artillery.

The enemy was followed half-way to their own lines, and many of them
killed as they ran. Unfortunately no Cossacks were at hand, as there was
here a fine opening for their peculiar form of ability, which I have no
doubt they would have exerted to the utmost.

The number of killed in proportion to wounded was very great: I should
think quite one in every three, which is more than double the normal
number, even when many casualties are caused by artillery fire; but
bayonet work is the most deadly form of military execution.

The prisoners taken are not worth mentioning: the total of German
casualties was about 8,000 on a front that did not exceed two versts
(2,333 yards English measurement). They lay thickest in and about the
trenches. In the bottom of the advanced trenches there was a foot depth
of blood which had drained from the corpses. The holes dug at measured
intervals for the convenience of the troops (latrines) were full of it;
and the men occupying the position were compelled to stand in it
half-leg deep for several days until an opportunity came to clean the
trenches, when the congealed horror was removed in the camp tumbrels,
and buried by the ton in holes dug for the purpose. In one part of the
trench I helped to remove a heap of sixty-nine corpses, lying eleven
deep in the middle. No one of them had a breath of life left, though
some were not mortally wounded. They had been smothered under the weight
of their dead comrades, or trampled to death. Outside the trenches there
lay heaps of dead bodies, six or seven deep, and innumerable scattered
dead and wounded.

All the fighting that day was over before 2 p.m., and our Red Cross men,
and hundreds of volunteers, went out to succour the wounded. They were
immediately fired on by the German artillery and about twenty of them
killed or injured. A flag of truce was then sent out to inform the enemy
our sole object was to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded; and that
the German injured were receiving the same attention as our own men. The
flag was received at a farm used as an outpost by the Germans; and the
commander, a big, swarthy-faced man, declared he did not care a curse
what our intentions were, he would fire on anybody he saw walking about
the field of battle. I inquired the name of this officer and was told
it, and that he was a chief Staff Officer to Field-Marshal von
Hindenburg, who, it was declared, had personally directed the day's
fighting.

I believe a protest was lodged with this military churl, but, of course,
nothing could be done under his threat. After nightfall volunteers again
went out, and nearly a thousand wounded were brought in to the surgeons,
quite two-thirds of them being Germans. The total Russian losses were, I
should think, about 6,000 men.

While accompanying the flag of truce I used my eyes. About thirty
officers were receiving first-aid, or undergoing what seemed to be
preliminary operations, in the farm-house and yard; and I heard very
pitiful groans in some barns and outhouses, while down the road a string
of twenty Red Cross waggons was coming up. I concluded therefore that
the enemy had carried back a number of his wounded when he retreated.
There were pools of blood everywhere on the road: for the snow had been
trampled down so hard that it could not soak away; and it speedily
coagulated into great clots. Many horrible mementoes of the fight lay
about. Seeing what I thought was a good sound boot lying on the road, I
picked it up. There was a foot in it. I could fill pages with such
little stories. There were some collections lying about suggestive of
the Germans turning out their dead comrades' pockets. Several letters,
the photograph of a woman nursing a baby, and an elder child leaning
against her knee; a lock of fair hair--a little girl's, I thought--and
less pathetic objects: a pack of cards, a broken pipe, a bent spoon, and
some disgusting pictures, suggested many men of many minds--some of them
none too clean.

The night of the 4th February was very quiet until about four o'clock
a.m., when the steady rush of thousands of feet alarmed all who were
awake. The Germans were attempting a surprise. A few straggling shots
from the sentries along our front, accompanied by shouts of warning; a
blaze of rifle fire; the heavy booming of artillery, and, in one minute
from the alarm being given, the hell of battle was again in full fury.
Our engineers threw search-lights over the trenches and in front of
them, so that we could see what we were doing. The effect was very
weird, and heightened the horror of the scene; but it helped the enemy
as much as it did us.

The Germans used hand-grenades, or trench bombs, as I understand they
call them on the Eastern front of the war, but we were not provided with
these troublesome and destructive little weapons. However, there was
again much bayonet fighting, a species of combat which the Germans did
not relish, and in which they always got the worst of it. The Russians
had the advantage in the length of their bayonets--a trifle, but trifles
are not trifles in close fighting. Moreover, our men have a genius for
bayonet-fighting, and keep these weapons always ready for use: that is,
they are never unfixed, as I have previously explained, except to be
cleaned, and not always for that purpose. The Russian soldier shoots
with his bayonet fixed, which is not conducive to first-class
marksmanship; but then the German also is not a good rifle-shot. Still,
I wish I could induce the Russians to adopt the practice of unfixing
bayonets when shooting at long ranges.

This night fight was short and sharp. It cost the Germans another 2,000
men, and a good licking; and our men about half that number of
casualties, and the increased confidence engendered of another victory.

The Germans had no sooner run back to their own lines than their
artillery sought to inflict on us the punishment which their infantry
could not do. They opened a tremendous cannonade; it being calculated
that 500 guns were playing on our trenches for nearly six hours. Shells
were exploding twenty or thirty at a time, and sometimes quite in
showers. The effect was terrific. The air was full of smoke, and clouds
of dirt and mud from the trenches blown to pieces; but the loss of life
was not great. The section of trench which the enemy had made their
objective did not, as I have said, exceed a breadth of two versts; and
on this narrow front they concentrated all their efforts and all their
fire, though some of the last-named came from flanking batteries
situated a long way off. Each gun fired, on an average, a shot a minute:
consequently a shell fell on every seven linear yards of our position
sixty times an hour. Of course some fell short, others went over the
trenches, and some burst high in the air; but still the fact remains
that every minute a shell came in a section of our lines which was less
than seven yards wide. During the six hours that the bombardment lasted
the scene was like that of an inferno: and the noise so great that the
men were glad to stop up their ears with any substance they could find.
Many pulled grass from beneath the snow and used it for this purpose.
The wire entanglement was pretty well blown to pieces, curled up and
rolled into heaps which were knocked right over the trenches, and
sometimes into them, where it entangled our own men, and gave them much
trouble. The number of men killed by this apparently terrible
bombardment was fifty, and twice that number wounded.

An hour before dawn the Germans attempted an assault, rushing towards us
in great strength, and in their usual close formation; but they were
stopped by our artillery fire, and turned before they reached the edge
of the first trench, and fled in a panic. I saw our guns cutting great
lanes in the wavering masses; but they were soon out of sight, and the
dimness of the light probably saved them from more considerable losses.

We had reasons for thinking that the commanders of this host were unable
to get their men to make a second assault, and were obliged to send to
another part of their line for fresh troops. There was some commotion in
their ranks; and afterwards we could hear their bands playing merry
tunes, probably to keep up the spirits of the men.

It was after noon when they made their second advance; and our troops
finding they could not stop them with a withering fire, sprang from
their trenches, and met them with the bayonet. The fight was a short
one. At least ten thousand of the Germans were destroyed, and a thousand
prisoners were taken. We followed them right up to their lines; and for
a short time some portions of their positions were in our hands: but
they brought such a devastating artillery fire to bear on us that our
gains could not be maintained, and we had to retire; but we did so
slowly and stubbornly and with parade-like precision, the men firing in
alternate skirmishing lines, and completely stopping an attempted
pursuit. The Germans made two more assaults in the course of the day,
but could not drive either of them home; nor had they the pluck to stand
up to another bayonet fight. Their losses were appalling, and greatly in
excess of those of the two previous days: and certainly exceeded 20,000
men, besides nearly 3,000 unwounded prisoners. It was reported at the
time that no fewer than thirteen of their General Officers were killed
or badly injured.

The total losses of the Russians on this day alone was 7,000 men: 8,000
of the enemy's wounded, and all our own, were brought in after
nightfall, and many more were removed by the Germans; for this day they
admitted, and respected, a flag of truce. But the dead on both sides,
except in the case of officers, and a few others, were left to rot
where they fell. Some regiments buried their own dead, but only under
the snow; for the ground was frozen so hard, that it was most difficult
to dig graves. A number of bodies were burnt in pine-wood fires; but an
officer of high rank was so disgusted with the ghastly sight, that he
gave orders that no more were to be disposed of in this way; yet it
would have been better than leaving them to be mutilated and partly
devoured by the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. Amongst
these dreadful creatures were large numbers of those savage and
semi-wild dogs which infest all the Polish villages, and flocks of crows
and ravens; also wolves and wild swine. All these animals must have
scented the carrion from a great distance: and nobody could tell
precisely where they came from. The firing frightened them away for a
time; but an hour's quietude would always be followed by their
reappearance. In the early grey dawn, and in the twilight of evening, I
have seen the birds of prey pulling out the eyes of the slain men, or
contending for the entrails which the dogs had torn from the rotting
bodies. It is hardly credible that such horrid scenes should be
witnessed on a modern battlefield; but my own eyes were witnesses to it;
and I shot several wolves and many dogs that were engaged in such
dreadful repasts. All these animals became so used to the noises of
battle, even to the thunderous discharges of artillery, that they never
retired very far, though how they contrived to hide themselves is a
puzzle. I never saw more than a few odd ones in the woods and forests
we passed through; but the dogs harboured in the ruined villages where
once they had been owned by masters of some sort.

I have painted these scenes very faintly, for fear of exciting too much
horror and disgust; but how people professing to believe in a righteous
and sin-punishing God can tolerate the wickedness of war is astounding
to a thinking man. A God-fearing (!) ruler goes on his knees, prays to
God for the blessings of peace, and the honest prosperity of his people;
then goes forth and issues an edict which causes the marring of God's
image in hundreds of thousands! Perhaps he doesn't really believe that
man is made in the image of God. I hope he does not. Better be an
infidel than a wholesale murderer of the similitude of the Lord. I dwell
not on the misery of widows and orphans and aged parents.

Walking over the field one evening I came upon a raven perched upon the
face of what had once been a man. It had picked his eyes from their
sockets, and torn away his lips, and portions of the flesh of his face,
and turned leisurely as I approached, but did not fly away until I was
quite close to it. Then it flapped off slowly, with a sullen croak.



CHAPTER XVIII

CHIEFLY GOSSIP


The 5th February, 1915, closed with the heavy booming of siege artillery
used as field-pieces. What the artillery of the future will be we may
foresee from the experiences of the present war. It will be limited in
the size of the guns only by the endurance of the pieces, and the power
of man to move them. The howitzers used to throw the "Jack Johnsons" are
said to be pieces of 23-1/2-inch calibre: if they are so it is not
likely that they can throw more than fifty or sixty shells before it is
necessary to reline them. Huge guns are very speedily worn out, and are
not, therefore, of much value except for particular purposes--chiefly
the smashing of forts in siege operations. But 6-inch, and even 8-inch,
guns have been freely used in this campaign; and before such ordnance,
driven by mechanical means, no field-guns can stand, no field-batteries
exist. It is probable, therefore, that this is the last great war in
which horsed batteries will take a part. It will be one of the "lessons
of the war" that only heavy guns are of much use on the field of battle.

I am digressing a little. At first we thought the night cannonade of the
5th was a prelude to another attack; but about ten o'clock at night it
ceased; and save for the groans and cries of the wounded the night was
almost quiet. Our Red Cross men were out all night; and the German men
until a couple of hours before daybreak. We removed all our wounded that
we could find: the enemy left their worst cases to die on the field. The
Russians saved all they could; but strict orders were given to our men
not to approach near the German lines.

I should note, perhaps, that while in the West the Allies' and the
German trenches are said to often be within a few yards of each other,
this was seldom the case in the East. There was generally a considerable
space between the two lines: here near Skyermevice it amounted to 3,000
yards; but the Germans had advanced trenches in which they massed their
men when about to make an assault. Evidently trench warfare is not so
highly developed or so much resorted to in the East as it appears to be
in the West. The vast numbers of the Russians, and the circumstance that
the scene of actual fighting is constantly shifting over a very long
front, are the probable causes of this. Another cause was the extreme
hardness of the earth, which made it impossible to dig fresh trenches
during the winter-time.

It has been said that there is no such word as "impossible" in the
military vocabulary; but the forces of Nature are frequently not to be
overcome, even by military pluck and perseverance. Not even a soldier
can dig holes in solid steel; and the ground in Poland was hardly less
solid and difficult to work: hence trenches were not made after the
early days of December, nor the dead buried as a rule.

Field-works were made in various ways. Abattis, covered with barbed
wire, were very common; and batteries formed of sand-bags; but neither
were very successful. High explosive shells dashed the trees of the
abattis to atoms, and drove the fragments back on the defenders, causing
many casualties; and something similar occurred in the case of the
sand-bags, which were torn to pieces, and dashed right and left,
blinding many men. So during the winter, the rule was to stick to the
old trenches; or occupy those naturally formed by hollows of the ground,
or the deep banks of water-courses, the streams of which were usually
firmly frozen. As wet could not soak away through the frozen ground the
condition at the bottoms of those trenches which had been occupied for
any length of time was filthy in the extreme. Dirty water, blood and
refuse, was being continually added to the loathsomeness already
existing, and this, and the constant trampling of the men, prevented the
freezing of the mass; and I consider it simply wonderful that there was
no serious outbreak of sickness amongst us. But Russian doctors and
Russian officers are becoming fully conscious of the value of sanitation
amongst troops; and the soldiers were kept as clean and well looked
after as circumstances would permit. Moreover, the huge numbers of men
admitted of frequent changes of those serving in the trenches; and they
were never in these miserable burrows for any great length of time.

As the fighting seemed to be over for a time, I went to the rear with
the intention of obtaining some rest. The tiring nature of the work in
which we had been engaged may be inferred from the circumstance that in
rear of the trenches I found an entire regiment bivouacked, lying on the
snow fast asleep to a man, with their knapsacks for pillows. As they
were huddled close together they probably enjoyed an amount of mutual
warmth, though the day was a bitterly cold one.

I sought more comfortable quarters, and found them in an old broken-down
waggon and a handful of straw. Here I slept as only the utterly weary
can sleep, and did not awake until twenty-one hours had passed away.
When I did open my eyes I found myself wedged in between three soldiers
who had not seen letting me enjoy such splendid accommodation all to
myself.

I got up, shook myself together, and went in search of the battalion and
breakfast. Sawmine, not knowing what had become of me, had thought I
must be killed. He was rather downhearted: for the loss of the best men
and officers had been enormous; the survivors, however, were generally
cheering themselves with the hope that the Czar would shortly pay us a
visit, and distribute rewards to those who thought they had earned them.
He was known to be journeying along the front; and it was confidently
expected that he would appear amongst us within the space of a few days.

The scenes behind the trenches were simply awful. Transport was much
congested, and the majority of the wounded were still unremoved to
hospital. The field-tents were crowded to excess, the surgeons hardly
able to move about, and much impeded in their operations. Outside one
tent a great heap of arms and legs which had been amputated lay on the
ground; and I saw several men carried away who had died under the
operator's knife. Many of the injured men lay on straw in the open air;
others were stretched on the bare ground. These were considered to be
the milder cases, the most badly injured being allotted the first
attention and the best accommodation. But many of these mild cases were
bad enough to shock anybody with a tender heart; and I particularly
noted the great number of men who were suffering from injuries to the
head and eyes. Several had both eyes shot out, and scores had lost one.
These had received temporary dressing; but were mostly in great pain. Of
course I did what I could for them; but that was not much, as I was
without materials and instruments. Fortunately, in one of the tents
there was a doctor whom I knew by sight. I made motions to indicate what
I required, and he did not raise any objection to my taking a quantity
of bandages and other things. With the aid of these I succeeded in
making some of the waiting men more comfortable, being greatly assisted
by two countrywomen who were also helping these unfortunate men.

It evidently puzzled these people that a foreigner, who could not speak
their language, should be amongst them; but they soon decided that I was
an Englishman; I had acquired Russian enough to understand that; and
they were all very grateful, those that did not require attention not
the least so: for they all realized that what was done was done for
their beloved Russia--a holy land in the opinion of every true
Muscovite.

Some days elapsed before all the wounded could be removed, and sent back
to base hospitals. All, Russians and Germans, received precisely similar
treatment, and were seen to as they came to hand, without any
preference, national or otherwise.

One of the surprising events of this time was that several Russian
aeroplanes appeared over our lines, and troubled the minds (though, I am
afraid, not the bodies) of the enemy a good deal. They were useful for
two reasons, if for no other--they distracted the Germans, and caused
them a great waste of ammunition. I am sure tens of thousands of
rifle-cartridges were fired at them, and hundreds of rounds of big-gun
shells. They all missed the pigeon, and did not even hit the crow! It is
fair to add that I do not think that our dropped bombs did much hurt. It
is true we heard a good deal about wrecked troop-trains, blown-up
tumbrels, and half-annihilated battalions; but all these incidents
occurred at such great distances from our trenches that I was unable to
verify them.

For some days little occurred near our position, except a daily
bombardment at long range, mostly by the heavier guns on both sides.
What the object was I cannot tell: it seemed to me to be a mere waste of
big shells. If any advantage was derived from it, it was certainly on
the side of Russia, whose artillerymen made much the best practice. The
shooting was slow and the aim deliberate; but we lost only two men:
while a heavy explosion in the German lines seemed to show that we had
blown up one of their magazines. I watched their position long and
carefully through a good glass, but saw nothing except puffs of smoke
and an occasional flash of fire.

I was out several nights with reconnoitring parties; but the enemy was
well on the alert, and we gained no information; while a well-directed
volley from some hidden jagers knocked half a dozen of our men off the
roster. On the night of the 8th we captured a miserable old Polish hag,
busily engaged in robbing the dead who lay unburied. She had an apron
full of watches, rings and money, and was, I believe, shot in the
morning. I cannot say she did not deserve her fate; but I thought at the
time that not much good could come of terminating the existence of such
a wretched old creature. She could say, in her defence, that the Germans
had robbed her and destroyed her home, and perhaps murdered her
relatives.

The 10th was an exciting day for us. We received certain information
that a large force of the enemy was nearly surrounded by our troops; and
we were ordered to get ready to march immediately to an unknown
destination: but everybody was satisfied that it was intended that we
should take a part in the encircling operation; and it seemed like it:
for we marched off at two o'clock in the afternoon, a very unusual hour
in which to commence such a movement.

The force thus detailed was about 40,000 infantry and 150 guns; and
there was probably cavalry and more artillery on our right flank: but of
this I know nothing with certainty.

The enemy on our front was so quiet that in all probability he had
detached a strong force in aid of the threatened troops, and possibly
had vacated his position.

In my opinion, however, there were indications that the Russian
Commander was being out-generalled, or was rushing his troops into a
precarious position.



CHAPTER XIX

THE FIGHTING BEFORE PLOCK


On the second day of the march I ascertained that we were falling back
on Warsaw; and Sawmine, who had been made a Captain, agreed with me that
something must be wrong in the North. There were no Germans near us.
Trenches and earthworks in the neighbourhood were strongly held; but I
noticed that none of the guns of position appeared to exceed 6-inch
calibre, which was not heavy enough to resist successfully the huge
siege-guns which the Germans were sure to bring up if they invaded this
district.

No news reached us, and we were kept marching almost incessantly. We had
no tents, and seldom slept under cover, though the cold seemed to freeze
one's marrow. Sometimes the officers, and a few favoured men, slept in
beds in houses on the route; and sometimes hay and straw was thrown down
by the side of the road, and we rested on this in the best way we could.
Most of the troops we passed had tents, and some were hutted in hovels
made of pine-boughs, thatched with the leaves or twigs of those trees.

We did not enter Warsaw. About four versts outside the town we were
halted in two long ranks on either side of a road, and served out with
new boots, which we were sadly in need of. My own feet, like those of
many of the men, were nearly bare, and cut, frostbitten and bleeding. I
had not possessed socks or stockings for many weeks; and these were not
in general use in the Russian Army. At this halt I obtained a quantity
of tallow, which is an excellent thing with which to anoint the feet,
chilblains, cuts, or wounds, and bruises of any kind.

Biscuits and raw fish were here also served out. The fish was not cooked
in the least, but seemed to have been preserved in wet salt. So far from
being a revolting food, it was quite tasty, and I became very fond of
it. We had to eat this meal as we marched along; and that without any
other drink than water; and we were kept on the tramp until far into the
night. It was too dark to read a watch, and we were strictly forbidden
to strike matches or to smoke; but I suppose it was two or three o'clock
in the morning when we received permission to lie down in the streets of
a village. The people gladly received us into their houses; but we were
ordered not to undress, and to be ready to fall in at a moment's notice.
I lay down on the outside of a bed which a woman pointed out to me, and
immediately went to sleep; but I suppose she soon aroused me, and
presented a bowl containing about three pints of strong tea without milk
and sugar. I was almost too sleepy to drink it, badly as I wanted a
refresher; and the large parcel of food she gave me I put into my
haversack: then dropped asleep again.

It was scarcely daylight when I was again aroused. A military band was
playing noisily in the street, and the battalion was falling in outside
the door. The band did not belong to our regiment; but as it marched not
far behind, we had the benefit of its music, such as it was, consisting
principally of brass instruments and drums, with plenty of tinkling
cymbals.

Soon after midday we crossed the Vistula by the bridge at Novogeorgevsk,
and went along a road running, for a long distance, almost parallel with
the right bank of that river. The people in the town, and in the
villages we passed through, were in a state of extreme excitement, and
Sawmine said they were asserting that severe fighting had occurred at
Plock, and the Russians had got the worst of it, and were retreating.

Plock is a large town on the right bank of the Vistula, seventy-three
versts from Novogeorgevsk. There is no railway running between the two
towns, nor between Plock and the Prussian frontier, distant another 100
versts. Nothing can show the poverty of Russia more than this want of
railways: for the nearest station to Plock is Vroclavick on the left
bank of the Vistula, and distant fully fifty versts (two days' long
marches); yet Plock is in the centre of an important district on the
main road from Warsaw to the Prussian fortress of Thorn, a place of such
strength that the Russians have not dared to approach it.

On the 15th we met many thousands of Russians in retreat. They were in
good order, and under the perfect control of their officers; but still
they were defeated troops, and showed by their sullen demeanour that
they knew it. We were drawn up in quarter-column to let them pass, which
they took three hours to do. Towards the close of the day we came up
with 7000 Cossacks who were covering their retreat.

Up to now we had heard no sounds of battle; but on the 16th, at dawn,
the noise of heavy firing was audible a long way ahead. By order of a
Staff Officer, we hurried along in the direction of this sound; but by
nightfall it was not perceptibly nearer, though we met many small
detachments of cavalry and infantry, who had evidently passed through a
rough experience. Many were wounded and bandaged; many more had
undressed hurts which were still bleeding. Several were being led, or
carried, on the backs of comrades; and soon we began to pass long
strings of waggons full of injured, which left long trails of blood on
the road.

Then we came to a village where artillery were halted, and were ordered
to assist in putting the houses into a state of defence. The poor people
of the place had already fled, probably long previously. I never heard
the name of this village; none of our people knew it: and there was a
sad lack of maps. Few, except officers of rank and those on the Staff,
possessed them; and the few I saw in the possession of subaltern
officers were very defective, and did not give the names of more than a
third of the places we found on the ground. A good map which I obtained
with much trouble at Skyermevice was taken from me; and, acting on the
advice of a friend, I did not attempt to obtain another. The possession
of such papers was liable to be misinterpreted; and the spy-fever was a
complaint not altogether unknown in the Russian Army.

During the night we learned that it was the Russian Tenth Army which had
been very roughly handled by the foe. There was said to have been more
than a week's incessant fighting; and the exhausted appearance of the
retreating troops bore out the truth of the statement. They had with
them a great many wounded; and their general aspect showed that their
losses must have been terrible. Their depleted ranks proved that.
Probably a third of the entire army had perished, or been captured. The
defeat was the more galling, as it was asserted that the Germans who had
inflicted it were boys, and a scratch lot of invalids who were supposed
to have been finally discharged from service in the Prussian Army: and
this rabble lot was commanded by the Kaiser himself. I could hardly
believe this last assertion, as I did not believe William had got a
victory in him.

Some of the retreating troops, who had been in reserve, and were not
much shaken, stopped to share in the defence of the position we had
taken up. We got well under cover in spite of the hard frost; but there
was not much barbed wire available for the outer defences.

No Germans appeared near us until the 18th, when two regiments of
infantry and two of cavalry came and had a look at us, though they took
care not to afford much of a mark for our guns. It was the advanced
guard of a much larger force, though I am unable to state the numbers.
At least sixty guns opened on our village alone; and other artillery
could be heard in every direction for many miles around.

Nor do I know our own numbers. I heard that the entire Eighth Army was
in line, with the left flank resting on the Vistula. The village we were
defending was about thirteen versts from the river; and I can say that
the ground between us and the right bank of the Vistula was very
strongly held, its weak point being that effective trenches could not be
made in the time at our disposal; but this was a circumstance that hurt
the Germans as much as it did us, and perhaps more, as we shall see
presently. How far the line of battle extended to the right I do not
know. It stretched as far as a hamlet called Vilstick, and from thence
to Biatzun, seventy versts from the river bank. There must, therefore,
have been at least 300,000 men on this alignment; and more likely there
were nearly double that number. Circumstances occurred which rendered it
desirable that I should not be too precise in inquiring about numbers,
distances and names of places. These were often only known to officers
of rank and those high in command. Regimental officers were as ignorant
as I was, and, like me, had to rely on guessing, surmising and the use
of their own sharp eyes. More than once my "inquiring mind" would have
placed me in an awkward fix had not my hatred of Germany and things
German been beyond a doubt.

As to the Germans, I learned from prisoners, corroborated by other
evidence, that multitudes of them came over the frontiers through
Inowraklow, Golloob, Lauten, and particularly from Thorn. Their strength
was put at 500,000, and I am convinced that it was not under that
number. All these were new troops. It contained a corps of what were
called "Guards"; but the old guards were destroyed long before this
time; and though their ranks had been recruited they were not in this
part of the war area.[3] The new Guards were mostly students from
universities and schools, with a sprinkling of veterans who had been
from ten to thirty years out of the service, even as Landwehr. There
were regiments of old men, regiments of boys under twenty years; and of
these the lads were viperish little wretches, as thirsty for blood as
any of the older Huns.

[3] They were probably the "Guard Reserve Corps." They wore the
distinctive uniform of "Guards" when in parade dress.

The advanced guard of Germans having fallen back, we (in the village, I
mean) were subjected to a cannonade, the object of which seemed to be to
ascertain the range, or induce us to show our strength in artillery by
making a reply. A couple of hundred shells were thrown at us, and
knocked down a few houses, and set fire to two.

Our Cossacks seem to have discovered that these guns were not well
supported; for they charged them, and captured four, besides spearing,
or sabring, a lot of the gunners. That gave us peace for the rest of the
night.

There was a scarcity of water in the village, and we were compelled to
let the two houses burn out. It was with difficulty we prevented the
fire from spreading, and with still greater difficulty rescued a
bed-ridden cripple from one of the blazing houses. He had been left
behind when the inhabitants fled, and declared that there were three or
four children hiding in the house. If so they were burnt to death, poor
little creatures: not the only instance of the kind that came under my
notice during this horrid war.

Just before dawn, their favourite hour for delivering an assault, the
enemy rushed up to the village in great numbers; and, of course, in
closely formed masses. It was a surprise to our troops: for the Germans
were upon our outposts before they were discovered. The pickets fired on
them; and those that escaped ran in behind the barricades we had formed.
Hundreds of men were sleeping in the loop-holed houses; and these saved
the day: for the enemy could not get at them, and they were shot down in
great numbers by rifle and machine-gun fire, and from a building in the
centre of the hamlet (a public hall of some kind) which commanded the
cross-streets, and was admirably placed for defence. But the fight was a
long and stubborn one, lasting nearly three hours; and thousands of the
enemy came up to support their first line of assault. It was this really
that undid them: for the Russian Commander, perceiving that the hamlet
was becoming of great importance, and that its loss would probably mean
a defeat of the Russians, sent very strong reinforcements, as well as
opened a heavy artillery fire on the German supports. Finally, about
8,000 infantry charged through the place, killing most of the enemy who
had got into the streets, and driving off the whole herd of them, with a
loss of 10,000 in killed and wounded, and about 400 unhurt prisoners.

As the enemy retired, the Cossacks, with a regiment of dragoons, again
charged them; and destroyed some hundreds more. They went too far,
however, got under a fire of case-shot, and lost a considerable number
of men and horses.

The close of the day was devoted to a tremendous fire of artillery on
both sides, and not a house was left standing in our hamlet; and as we
had no trenches to take shelter in, our losses were severe. We were
ordered to fall back about a verst, though without breaking the line;
and took post behind a wood, the trees of which we felled to form an
abattis. In this we left a strong support, while at dawn we tried the
German tactics, and advanced to make an assault on their position.

We had, however, three versts to cover, and we found their outposts well
advanced; so that we did not succeed in surprising them. The alarm was
soon given; and they opened fire with shrapnel and case, sweeping the
plain with a storm of metal, and causing us great loss, though we did
not follow their foolish tactics of advancing in close columns. On the
contrary, we spread out fan-wise, in imitation of the Cossacks, closing
in gradually as we ran. Most of the enemy's outposts were overtaken,
and bayoneted to a man, notwithstanding their appeals for mercy. But
when we came to their lines, we found that they had piled up snow, and
beaten it down hard, to make a breastwork; and hidden a network of
barbed wire under loose snow in front of their position. We got on this
before we discovered it, and the results were terrible. It was
impossible to do anything, or to live under such a fire as was poured
upon us. The brigade, formed of the two regiments to which we were
attached, broke and fled, leaving two-thirds of their number behind.
When we got back to our own position, and saw how many friends, and
familiar faces, were missing, many of the men broke down and wept
bitterly. Captain Sawmine was wounded in three places; but he kept on
his feet, and refused to quit his company.

A great gloom settled on our division: for it became known, somehow or
other, that a great disaster had overtaken the Tenth Army (not _army
corps_); and that one entire corps of it had been cut to pieces. It was
said that a great gap had been made in our line, and that the Germans
were rushing forward to cut off 100,000 men. The news did not alarm us
so much as create anger. Nobody doubted the correctness of the rumour;
especially when the Germans shouted it to our outposts; and dropped
messages, containing the information, from aeroplanes.

It was further confirmed the next day by the orders which we received to
fall back as rapidly as was consistent with the safety of the division.
Four batteries of artillery and 1,500 Cossacks came to cover our
retreat; but the Germans pressed us so hard that we turned and fought a
desperate rear-guard battle. The foe had to meet "angry fellows" with a
vengeance; and they got such a lesson that towards evening they
permitted us to march off in parade order without daring to follow us
one yard. They had more than doubled us in numbers and guns; and it must
seem incredible to people who did not actually witness the operations
that such tremendous and frequent losses could be sustained by any army
which continued to exist in the field. I can only give my assurance that
I fully believe all I state; and think I understate, rather than
exaggerate, the given numbers of killed, wounded and prisoners. That
such terrible losses should not incapacitate the armies engaged shows
the enormous resources they had in men and material: and, so far as
concerns Germany, I am convinced, in money too.

From the first I considered it a pity that Russia could not put more men
in the field. She might have placed 12,000,000 young and vigorous men on
the Russian-Austrian frontiers; but she was quite incapable of finding
transport, food and material, or the proper proportion of artillery, for
such a vast host: and this is where she failed. More money, and a better
system of railways, and the end of Germany would have come within six
months of the outbreak of the war.

Nor is much to be said in favour of my own country. The wealth, and the
best blood of England, are being frittered away in partial operations.
We can effect no real progress with 250,000 or 300,000 men. At least
2,000,000 should be in the field--3,000,000 would be better. How are the
men to be got without conscription? Restore the old militia, which ought
never to have been abolished; and ballot for it. Press-gangs, if
necessary. Better do this than perish as a nation, which is what we are
in imminent danger of doing. The people who cannot see this will not see
it until, perhaps, they are forced to see it--a trifle too late.

England is not a military nation in the usual sense of the words.
Nowadays a first-class Power _must be a military nation_, or go to the
wall. What makes a military nation? Having millions of men, _fully armed
and equipped_, ready for action at _one hour's notice_. England will not
have this! Then some bad day she will go to the wall, and go there
pretty quickly. This is how nations will cease to be nations in future.
Ten billion shells, a hundred billion cartridges. "All dead stock," says
the financier. "What dreadful wickedness to waste so much money on
munitions!" says the economist. But when war comes on a large scale the
shells and cartridges have to be found at double and treble cost. It is
a sad way of spending huge sums of money; but it is the only real
"National Insurance": the only way of securing real peace and liberty.
And whatever happens, and whatever is the consequence, I, for one, will
not live under the régime of such a scoundrel as the Hell-Hound of
Berlin--a wretch who, while posing as a God-fearing man, has brought
heart-torment on millions of better men than himself. And these are not
the words of passion. I am not a fiery boy. I am an old man, a
grey-haired veteran. Read it with shame you young and able-bodied who
have failed your country in her hour of peril. Your best excuse is that
you do not realize how real and how near the danger is. Isolated acts of
heroism are not victories. Our little army is a splendid little army,
but it is a little army. One serious disaster to it, and in a week this
country might be in the hands of the enemy from Land's End to John o'
Groats. In such a case our only hope would be the Navy. Sole hopes, like
last shillings, are things to be deprecated.



CHAPTER XX

HARD MARCHING AND DESULTORY FIGHTING


We had no rest for thirty hours. During this time we marched and fought
incessantly, falling back about sixty versts to Novogeorgevsk, where we
were joined by the 233rd Reserve Regiment from Warsaw, where they had
arrived from Novgorod only a few hours previously. Other divisions also
received strong reinforcements, which were of great value to us, not
only by reason of their physical aid, but also because they greatly
revived the spirits of our worn-out fighting-men, many of whom dropped
from exhaustion the moment we were out of reach of the enemy and a halt
was called. I did myself; and believe I should have died had not a
soldier given me half a bottle of rum, and a loaf of rye bread. Where he
obtained them I do not know; but many of the men got food at
Novogeorgevsk which was not served out by the commissariat.

It was seldom that any spirits were obtainable other than vodka, which
is frightful stuff and has more than once fetched the skin off my gums
and lips. Rum, therefore, was simply nectar. Touching this subject: the
Russian soldier, and the Russian peasant, are often represented as great
drunkards. It is simply a libel on an abstemious and frugal people. The
whole of the time I was in Russia I did not see more than fifty drunken
people; and they were German officers and soldiers, who, occasionally,
when captured, were as drunk as lords.

During the retreat of thirty hours most of the men fired about 500
cartridges. These were brought to the firing-line by light carts, which
galloped along, and threw the packets on the ground for the men to pick
up.

The Germans sometimes pressed us pretty closely; but a bear robbed of
her whelps is an awkward customer to deal with; and notwithstanding
their superior numbers, they soon learned a great respect for us. Our
losses were heavy; theirs were not light. A pretty good sprinkling of
bodies was left on the road Novogeorgevsk; and when the artillery got a
chance they added heaps to the sprinkling.

Captain Sawmine was badly, but not dangerously, wounded. Red Cross men,
doctors and officers tried to induce him to get into a cart, and go to
the rear; but he would not. "I mean to die with my men," was all he
would say; and, indeed, I thought it was coming to that. He fainted
twice; and sometimes we were compelled to carry him a verst or two; but
as soon as he gained a little strength he insisted on marching like the
rest of us. We all carried rifles; and he shot off nearly as many rounds
as the men, and shot them well, too. It was not until we reached
Novogeorgevsk that his hurts were properly dressed.

We went back to our old lodgings, where we enjoyed the refreshment of a
good meal and a long sleep. Large bodies of troops were massed along
the Vistula, and away towards Pultusk, on the River Narew, a great part
of the garrison of Warsaw having come out to meet the danger. The
Germans were effectually checked by these fresh troops, which gave the
exhausted men a chance to recoup.

Also thousands of men were hourly arriving by train from Vilna and other
northern garrisons. Everybody knew that the enemy must be beaten back
immediately, or they would be in Warsaw in a few hours, although the
defences of the city were being daily strengthened.

At first a good deal of the fighting was skirmishing along the banks of
the rivers and streams, of which there are many small ones in this
region which are fringed with willows, and in summer half-hidden in beds
of thick rushes. Of course the rushes were now dead, or lying low, a
mass of withered vegetation; but the willows and bushes afforded
sufficient concealment to the marksmen to enable them to keep up a
continual skirmish. I am not sure that this kind of fighting is of much
use. It costs a number of lives on both sides, but really effects
nothing, unless it is used as a screen to more important movements.

Though some of the streams were fordable, and all the smaller ones
frozen over, the enemy made no attempt to cross any of them. They
appeared to fear a turning movement from the direction of Pultusk, and
retired in a way that was inexplicable to us at the time. We soon
learned, however, that they had been forced back from the line of the
Narew with great loss; and were in full and disorderly retreat. The
pressure must have been great: for the large forces in front of
Novogeorgevsk suddenly began to retire; and our artillery cut them up
cruelly. They had not a sufficient number of guns to make an effectual
reply, which seems to show that they had sent the bulk of their
batteries to the Narew. It is a common movement of the Germans when they
are hard pressed at any point, and also when they are gaining an
advantage, to bring up every gun they can move from other corps. This
sometimes gives them the victory; but occasionally brings disaster upon
them. The Germans are the gamblers of war. They seem ready to throw away
men and guns on the bare chance of winning--and losing, care not, but
hope for "better luck next time." Their officers certainly do not care
twopence for the lives of their men.

About this time, too, I noticed some deterioration in the quality of the
German troops. In the first part of the campaign they never sustained a
rout, as I have several times stated; but as the winter wore on their
retreats were often disorderly, as I have mentioned above.

Our division took no part in this fighting. Probably those in supreme
command thought we had had enough of it recently; and they were about
right. If ever a division deserved the name of "fighting division," it
was ours: and yet, strange as it may seem, I do not know precisely what
we were. At one time we were known as the Seventh Division of the Ninth
Army; and after a time on detached duty, as the Thirteenth of the Eighth
Army. Then again we were unattached. There is little doubt that the
division was made up of odd battalions and regiments, the remnants of
corps which had been practically wiped out. There was always a
disinclination to give me much information on the subject; and I thought
it unwise to be too persistent in my inquiries. It is certain that we
were made up, afterwards, of reservists, and were used to temporarily
strengthen other corps. Of the Vladimirs not a dozen of the original men
remained; and two of these were officers; and the battalion, though
still retaining its designation, was numbered the 3rd of the second
regiment. From time to time we received recruits, generally the remnants
of corps which had become "wiped out," a very frequent occurrence in
this war, when whole regiments were often destroyed, perhaps a company,
or a part of one, escaping. While we were at Novogeorgevsk a number of
cavalrymen who had lost their horses were sent to us, bringing the
battalion up to about 500 men. The whole division was under 3,000. Such
are the losses of war.

When the enemy showed signs of wavering, the fresh troops in our
neighbourhood made a vigorous attack upon them, with the result that
they gave way almost at once. Evidently their reverses further north had
demoralized them.

On the 26th, at night, we heard that the enemy had been crushed at
Przasnysz. The enemy must have heard it too: for they drew back their
right wing towards the north-west; and when our men pressed them hard,
retreated with more precipitation than I had ever seen them do on any
previous occasion.

Our division was following in support, and we had little or no fighting.
The ground over which we marched was chiefly fields and frozen marshes.
The artillery used the roads where they could discern them; but this was
no easy task, the country being one flat sheet of snow, with few trees,
and only ruins of houses: in fact, the country had been rendered
desolate, and the people had fled to the towns.

We passed by thousands of dead and wounded, scattered in all directions;
for there had been no defence of positions here, but a retiring fight in
the open. The Red Cross men picked up the hurt: the dead were left where
they lay; the usual custom in this campaign. Every now and then we met
parties of Cossacks and infantry, escorting prisoners to the rear. The
total losses of the enemy appeared to be at least three to one of ours.

There was no halt at night; and cavalry of all kinds--dragoons, hussars,
lancers, chasseurs, and the ubiquitous Cossacks--were constantly
overtaking us, and pressing to the front in pursuit of the flying enemy:
for flying they were. These German boys, who had fought so well in their
first onset, when tired out and exhausted by continuous exertion, broke
down completely: and there were some pitiful scenes: as, for instance,
when some twenty or thirty of them were discovered hidden in the cellars
of a wrecked house. One of them had the courage to fire his rifle up the
stairs and kill a Cossack as he sat eating his ration. This was
considered to be a murder by the Cossack's comrades, and
notwithstanding that the Germans immediately surrendered, the whole
party was hanged to the fruit-trees in the garden of the house--the only
ones in the neighbourhood.

I do not think any of these boys were more than twenty years old; half
of them certainly were not more than sixteen or seventeen; and they made
a terrible fuss over their fate, screaming and crying like small
children; and one or two grovelling in the snow, and begging for mercy
in the most piteous way. In vain. They were all strung up; and as no
drop was given to break their necks, some were a long time dying. I saw
one still struggling after he had been suspended twenty minutes; and
others were apparently not quite dead until a bystander put an end to
their suffering with revolver-shots. It is probable that these lads
would not have been discovered had not one of them shot the Cossack.

The hiding in cellars of small parties of the enemy was a frequent
occurrence. They would probably have often escaped detection had it not
been for their own folly. They did not seem to be able to resist the
temptation to fire on any of our men who chanced to enter the houses
where they lay concealed, probably thinking they were isolated squads,
and unsupported by stronger bodies.

Amongst other strange incidents was that of a motor-car which was taken
past us on the 28th. It was a closed carriage, and contained three
ladies, and a large quantity of articles of dress, jewellery, and plate.
The women were said to be officers' wives; and the goods, plunder: and
there were many stories prevailing amongst our troops of robberies of
houses by Prussian women of considerable social rank. It was quite a
common incident for us to recover cars and carts full of spoil which had
been taken from the houses of the Polish nobility of the district. What
became of the thieves I do not know; but in the case of women I believe
they escaped unpunished.

Other things we captured were carts, waggons, and conveyances laden with
provisions and clothing materials, which had been stolen from Polish
towns, villages and private houses. It was commonly reported that the
Germans were in great straits for food; and whether this was so or not,
they stripped those tracts of country which were overrun by them of
everything eatable. They even dug up the potatoes and turnips (in the
autumn, of course); and when they got the chance, reaped the cornfields,
sending this produce to Germany, unless we were fortunate enough to
intercept it. This action may have been dictated by want, but was more
likely to have been the outcome of economical provision for the future,
combined with their acknowledged policy of making war as frightful as
possible to the civil population of their foe's country. It entailed
terrible misery on the poor people, and was the cause of the towns and
villages of whole regions being abandoned by the inhabitants, many of
whom were said to have died of starvation. Others had to apply to relief
committees.

I have read descriptions of the state of Germany after the Thirty
Years' War. I should think it could not have been worse than many parts
of Poland now are. The enemy has turned whole districts into a desert,
destitute of everything that is necessary to the existence of man. They
have even wantonly cut down the fruit-trees, and filled the wells with
filth. Barns and storehouses have been burnt, as well as dwellings, in
many cases whole villages having been given to the flames. As a rule,
however, the towns have been spared, though I passed through a few that
had suffered severely, if they were not quite ruined. The enemy had
frequently emulated the "crop-ears" of our Cromwellian period, and
stabled their horses in the churches. Still more frequently they had
desecrated and wrecked the sacred edifices--one of the most unwise
things they could do: for to provoke a people through their religion is
equal to losing a battle, and a big battle too, to say nothing of what
the Most High may possibly think of it. This does not count with the
Germans; but it may possibly count in favour of their enemies, when the
day of reckoning comes!

The peasantry, rendered homeless and desperate, and enraged at the
violation of things they held to be in the highest degree sacred, were a
thorn in the side of Russia's foes. Living in the wood, prowling about
their burnt homes in the dead of night, they often came upon the enemy's
videttes and pickets, and made them prisoners. I do not think they
imitated the Cossacks, and often took the lives of the men they
surprised; but they did so occasionally. They made splendid scouts, and
helped the Russian Army immensely in this way, supplying information
which it would have been difficult, or rather impossible, for organized
parties of armed men to have obtained. The women, especially, were
useful in this way: for with that cunning and subterfuge which nobody
condemns in the female character, they often ingratiated themselves with
the German officers and soldiers, and so obtained access to knowledge of
their movements and circumstances which no amount of duplicity or skill
would have enabled a man to acquire. And a day or two afterwards the
hussies, perhaps, would be stabbing their "friends" with pitchforks,
their favourite weapons, next to their tongues, which they often used
with great effect; for it was quite a usual circumstance for women to
join in any fighting that took place in their neighbourhood. The men,
also, joined the soldiers on the battlefield, and used any weapon they
could obtain, but chiefly the instruments with which, in normal times,
they tilled the ground.

To take up again the thread of this narrative. A great deal of fighting
went on in our front, but the weakness of our division kept us out of
it. We were still further reduced in numbers by being called on to
furnish many detachments to guard prisoners to the rear. Under these
circumstances I had to amuse myself with such rumours, and small items
of news, as came in my way. From these I gathered that the onward
movements of the enemy were completely checked; and it was even asserted
that the Russian troops were again on German soil. This rumour was
not satisfactorily confirmed; but I cannot doubt that the enemy was
forced back to the frontier line in the neighbourhood of Mlawa and
Chorzellen. The latter place is a small Russian town actually on the
frontier, and more than thirty versts from a railway-station. Mlawa is
also a Russian town five versts from the border, with a station on the
Praga (suburb of Warsaw) German railway, which was held by the enemy.
The two places are about thirty versts distant from each other: so it
was evident the foe had fallen back on a pretty wide front.

[Illustration: PERSONAL BLESSING BY A PRIEST IS CONSIDERED A GREATER
HONOR BY A RUSSIAN SOLDIER THAN A WAR DECORATION]

One of the most striking episodes of this period was my first sight of
the Russian Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas. I had, of
course, heard frequent mention of him; but it was never very clear to me
where he was--I mean at what particular spot. Though not such a galloper
(to use a military term) as the Kaiser, he still seemed to be here,
there and everywhere. One week he was asserted to be in direct personal
command of our corps: the next he was reported to be in Galicia. But the
Duke is anything but a limelight gentleman; the German is nothing unless
he is one. The Duke is a great commander, and no mean soldier: the
Kaiser is also a great commander, but no soldier at all. The first can
say what he wants, and can do it: the second can say what he wants, but
cannot do it; he has to rely on his subordinates.

The Grand Duke Nicholas is a big man, yet not stout. He appears to stand
considerably more than six feet high--I should think about six feet six
inches. He is very straight and upright in carriage, but scarcely with
the bearing of a soldier. He looks more like an athletic priest than a
military man, especially as he has a grave countenance, and seldom, or
never, smiles. He is an affable man, though; and seemingly quite devoid
of pride. He wears a plain uniform, devoid of ornament, and carries a
stick in place of a sword. Apparently he does not look about him; but
nothing escapes his eye; and, like all great men, he is not above
dealing with details even minute ones.

He does very little writing, however, but likes to sit on a chair and
explain his wishes to an audience of officers. Those whom they concern
make notes of his orders, which he afterwards looks over, but, I am
told, does not sign. If I were one of his subordinates I should think
this method had its drawbacks. What if a misunderstanding occurred?
Everything would favour the commander, and all would necessarily go
against the commanded. But perhaps this would not matter in a country
like Russia.

One thing is certain: that if the Grand Duke is not one of the greatest
commanders this war has produced, the Germans, at any rate, have not
been able to catch him napping. His fault seems to be precisely similar
to those which afflict the other Generals of the War: they do not get
effectively driven back; but they cannot get forward. The trench
business is one too many for them; and the art of outflanking has
clearly not been sufficiently studied; while the art of effectual
retaliation seems to be utterly unknown.



CHAPTER XXI

RECONNAISSANCE AND TRENCH FIGHTING


I have not yet mentioned the Bactrian camels which are used in thousands
for Russian transport. During the winter the snow was so deep that the
usual indications of the roadways were completely buried; and even in
the few cases where they could be discerned, it was most difficult to
traverse them with either horse-waggons or motor-cars; indeed, the last
mentioned are useless in snow when it lies beyond a certain depth
(though much depends on the power of the car); and guns, also, are
impeded by the same cause.

Many persons think that the foot of a camel is peculiarly suited to
traversing deserts, and is unfitted for progress over other kinds of
ground. This may be true of the dromedary, or African one-humped camel;
but it is not correct of the Bactrian, or two-humped camel, the species
used by the Russians. This animal can keep its footing on the most
slippery ground, and travel with facility over the deepest snow without
sinking in to an appreciable depth. The Russians say that it will also
go with speed over sand, rock and grass land, but founders in bogs and
morasses. It carries a weight of 400 to 500 pounds, English; and proved
to be very useful throughout the winter, until the thaw came, and three
feet of mud succeeded six feet of snow; and then nothing on earth could
drag itself through the miserable mire at a greater rate than a funeral
pace.

But all the camels in the country were not enough to bring up the
necessaries of the army; and the men, though fed and kept supplied with
ammunition, were compelled to lack many things that would have increased
both their comfort and their efficiency. Boots especially, and other
wearing articles, were often badly wanted; and many of the men suffered
greatly from frostbites. My own feet were becoming very tender by the
month of March, when the sun sometimes shone with sufficient strength to
make the surface of the snow wet: and this added greatly to our
troubles. It is essential to the welfare of troops that after marches
they should have dry socks and a change of boots; otherwise they are
almost sure to suffer from sore feet. It was the habit of the Russian
infantry to take their socks off at night and dry them at the camp
fires; but when in the presence of the enemy we were often forbidden to
make fires; and at other times there was not sufficient fuel obtainable
to supply the whole of our vast hosts: nor was there always a full
supply of food, though it was the custom of the Russian soldiers to eat
those horses and camels which were killed. There is but little
difference between horseflesh and beef, and I have eaten it at scores of
meals. I have also tasted camel's flesh; and have nothing to say in its
favour. It is coarse, tough and flavourless.

The Germans having retired to carefully entrenched positions, from which
we found it impossible to force them, a lull ensued; although
occasionally attempts were made to surprise and assault some of the
enemy's positions.

On the 5th March the Germans squirted liquid fire over one of these
surprise parties which had got close up to their entrenchments, and was
endeavouring to remove the wire-entanglements. It was the first time
such a device had been reported; and there was some mystery concerning
its nature. Some thought that boiling pitch had been used; others called
it Greek fire. I do not think it was pitch, although I did not actually
see it thrown. I examined the clothing of some of the men, who reported
that the holes which were burnt smouldered, and were not easily put out.
The fire came over them in a shower of sparks, and was not thrown by
hand; but squirted out of a tube of some kind. The only actual injury
that I could discover it did was in the case of one man who was badly
burned about the face and probably blinded. It is astonishing what a
number of devilish contrivances these dastardly Germans have invented
and used in this war; and it is clear that they would resort to the
foullest possible means, if this would give them the victory.

The holes burnt in the coats of the men were mostly small; but, where
they were close together, quite destroyed the garment, appearing to have
rotted the material. In my opinion the substance of this fire was some
kind of melted metal, mixed with waxy matter. It was tenacious, and
could not be wiped off; and left a light grey residuum on the cloth. It
did not burn its way through to the flesh in those cases which I
examined.

About this time I heard mentioned the poisonous gas which has since
become notorious. The Germans, I believe, had not yet resorted to
sending the horrid stuff in clouds against a position; but they fired
shells which emitted it in considerable quantities, and caused some
deaths, and many disablements, amongst the Russian troops. I saw some of
the shells burst; and the gas, which gradually expanded to a small cloud
with a diameter of about 30 feet, looked like a thick, dirty yellow
smoke. The odour of it was horrible and peculiar and very pungent; and
it seemed to be a very heavy vapour, for it never rose high above the
ground--not more than 20 feet. It dispersed slowly. In my opinion the
best way to avoid it would be to rush rapidly through it towards the
point from which it had been discharged. Doubtless some of it lurks in
the air; but not sufficient, I think, to have deleterious effects. The
bulk of it rolls on in a low, dense cloud. That which was shot at us
came from _percussion_ shells, which do not explode in the air. These
projectiles were usually fired at us in salvoes; so as to form a cloud
of gas on the ground.

I went to see the bodies of two men who had been killed by one of these
poison-shells. They looked as if they had been rolled in flour of
sulphur, being completely covered, flesh and clothes, with a yellowish
deposit. Some wounded men, and others who had first gone to their
assistance, were similarly encrusted. Some of these were insensible;
others were gasping for breath, and discharging froth from their mouths.
The two men who were dead had been killed by pieces of shell and not by
the gas, though this may have helped to destroy them.

On the 8th March I was watching an aeroplane when the petrol tank
appeared to burst. There was a puff of smoke, and then the machine
dropped like a stone. It must have fallen a mile from the spot where I
was standing: but of its further fate I know nothing. It was a German
aircraft, and was, I suppose, hit by a lucky Russian bullet.

It is astonishing what a riddling these aeroplanes will stand. I have
seen them with from forty to sixty bullet holes in different parts of
them, and yet they were not forced to come down by their injuries of
this character.

Between the 8th and the 14th March I saw more aircraft of various kinds
than at any other time during the period I was with the Russian Army. On
the 9th six of ours hovered over the German positions for a long time,
and dropped many bombs. A tremendous fire was opened upon them by the
enemy, but not one of them was seriously damaged.

During the first fortnight in March we were moved very gradually towards
Ostrolenka. On the 14th we were at Roshan on the Narew, which is here a
small river with fords in the neighbourhood. It had been frozen over;
but the troops had broken up the ice for defensive purposes, as they
had on many other streams. It was also beginning to thaw.

Enormous numbers of Germans, fresh troops, were assembling in front of
Ostrolenka and Lomza; and, according to reports, on a line extending 400
versts north and west of these places. It was evidently the prelude to a
renewed attempt on Warsaw.

The persistence of the enemy to take the old capital of Poland is a
parallel to his perseverance in the endeavour to break through to Calais
in the Western area of the war. Will he do it? He has been within a very
few versts of the place, and made repeated efforts to gain his object;
but so far the Russians have been able to beat him back.

The capture of Warsaw by the enemy would be a great calamity to the
Russians, and have an immensely depreciatory moral effect on her troops,
scarcely less so than the fall of Petrograd would have. Some critics
have, I fear, attempted to show that the capture of Warsaw would not be
so very heavy a blow to the Russians. These persons do not know much
about it, I think. Warsaw is the chief railway centre in Poland, and a
place of immense commercial importance. It is really the Russian
headquarters, which, if it falls into German hands, will have to be
removed to Bialystok, or even Vilna, and will compel a complete change
of the Russian front.

On the day we arrived at Roshan, Captain Sawmine, who had been compelled
to go to hospital, rejoined us; and also a number of reserves, and
others, came up, bringing the division to a strength of 6,000 infantry.
About 500 Cossacks, and two batteries of field-guns were also attached
to us, making the total strength a little under 7,000 men.

I had some thought of going into hospital myself, as my feet were badly
frostbitten; and I was generally much run down by the hardships I had
undergone; but the prospect of a big fight was a pleasure I could not
forego. So I patched up my hurts as well as I could, and got as much
rest as possible. If I could have obtained a horse! I was in very low
water in all ways. My English sovereigns had gone one at a time, and
very few of them were now left: so few of them that it was becoming an
anxiety to me to know how I should get on in future, and finally leave
the country.

The big fight did not come off very quickly, at least in our
neighbourhood. We heard so many reports of the great things taking place
in other districts that I began to think it was about time the German
Army was smashed up. The resources of the Teutonic countries, which I
had always thought to be poor, must be enormous; and it seems to be no
vain boast of the Kaiser's that he could "lose 3,500 men per day, and
still keep up the numbers of my army corps."

As I heard that there was daily fighting taking place near Przasnysz,
distant forty versts from Roshan, I obtained leave to make a
reconnaissance in that direction, and got Sawmine to borrow a horse for
me from one of his brother officers. The animal I thus obtained the loan
of was not a very manageable creature. It had notions of its own, which
I combated with difficulty; and I foresaw that if I ran against any of
those particularly smart gentlemen, the Uhlans, I should probably taste
the sweets of a German prison--or worse.

However, my steed improved on acquaintanceship; and when he discovered
that I intended to be master--if I could--he gave in, and behaved
himself fairly well; but I could get no great pace out of him. He had
been a bat horse, not a charger; and could not forget his low breeding.

I made for Makow first, and arrived there in about three hours. There
was no direct road that I could discover, and the country did not seem
to have suffered so much as most districts round about. There were many
people in many of the cottages and farms who came out to look at me, and
I even succeeded in procuring a little milk and some eggs; but my
inability to speak more than a few words puzzled the good peasants, and
evidently aroused the suspicion of some of them. For by-and-by a patrol
of Cossacks came galloping up to me, with very fierce expressions and
words.

I had taken the precaution to obtain a permit, with a description of me
written upon it; and also an explanatory note from Captain Sawmine. I
suppose this kind gentleman had written something eulogistic concerning
me, for the Cossacks could not make enough of me, and I was given as
much food and vodka as I could carry; the provisions including cold
boiled bacon, mutton fat, chicken and the local cheese, besides rye, or
barley bread, and a quantity of clothing, which, though clearly enough
plunder, was not German. Probably the Cossacks, who are born without
consciences and morals, had obtained these articles from abandoned
houses. I was sadly in need of all they gave me, and in no mood to be
too particular, and by the end of that day I was better clothed and
better fed than I had been for many long weeks.

I made these men understand where I wished to go; and Makow seemed to be
their destination also. At any rate they accompanied me thither, and
introduced me to the commander of their sotnia, who was as kind and
affable as his men, and took me to the inn where he and another officer
was quartered, and gave me excellent entertainment, apparently without
cost to anybody but the host of the inn, who seemed to be willing enough
to supply all our needs.

There did not appear to be more than half a sotnia of Cossacks in the
town, which is a similar place to Roshan--places which in England, we
should call small market towns with a prominent agricultural interest.

There had been hostile visits to Makow; houses, and, in one part, nearly
an entire street, had been demolished by artillery fire. Some of the
poor people were living in the partly exposed cellars; for an
underground apartment, or cellar, is almost invariably found in Polish
and Russian dwellings, no matter how small and poor they may be.

Fighting was going on not far off; for the occasional booming of guns
and an almost incessant rattle of rifle-fire could be plainly heard
until darkness set in when these sounds gradually ceased. Przasnysz is
only twenty-two versts from Makow; and I began to suspect that the
larger place was in the hands of the Germans. It is pronounced
"Prer-zhast-nitz," as nearly as I can frame it: and I may say that, in
the course of this narrative, I have followed the spelling of names as
they appear on maps, when I could find them there: otherwise I have
written them as they seem to be pronounced; hence I dare say I have
fallen into some eccentricities in this matter, which, I hope, will be
excused.

Tired out, and far from well, I slept till late the next day, my
breakfast being brought to bed to me by a woman of the house, the usual
custom of the country.

In the afternoon I rode out and took what I supposed was the road to
Przasnysz; but the ground was still so deeply covered with snow that
there were no beaten tracks visible. However, the firing which was still
going on was a good guide, and after riding about eight versts I came on
a line of trenches occupied by Russian riflemen.

Two bullets came unpleasantly near me, and one actually went under my
arm, tearing the breast of my coat. I had not realized that I was in
full sight of the enemy; but I was not long in remedying that. I rode
straight into a scarped ditch and dismounted. The position was not a
safe or pleasant one; but there was no help for it. I had to remain
there until dusk; and from time to time bullets fell close to me. I
think the enemy could see part of the head of my horse, which was a
guide to their aiming, and it was only the slope of the bank which saved
me.

There was an ammunition hand-cart, half full of packages of cartridges,
in the ditch, but nobody came near it before nightfall. The riflemen
continued their firing as long as they could see, and the enemy replied
without intermission; apparently with small results on either side.
There was big gun shooting as well; but the cannon were so well hidden
that I could not locate them. Sometimes shells came screaming a few feet
only above the trench, and burst just behind. One piece flew back and
buried itself in the bank not more than a foot above the horse's back,
and close enough to my head to make me wince. More often the shells
burst high in the air, the Germans showing some very bad gunnery. The
Russian soldiers, like soldiers and boys all the world over where snow
is to be found, had amused themselves by making snow figures in rear of
the trench, mostly those of the Emperors, Saints and Generals. A shot
struck one of these and threw the well-beaten, frozen snow to an immense
height in the air. The shell did not burst, a circumstance of frequent
occurrence, which seemed to show that the fuses were badly made, or
fitted badly to the projectile.

When the riflemen at last came out of the trench for a fresh supply of
ammunition, they were amazed to find me and my horse standing by their
cart. They at first mistook me for an officer and saluted very
respectfully; but my awkward replies to their salutations caused them
to raise their lantern and examine me more closely. Then I was seized,
and an officer began to interrogate me, and I produced my papers; but
the officer was not so easily satisfied as my Cossack friends; and I was
taken to the trench, and thrust into what the British call a
"funk-hole," or small excavated resting-place. My belongings were
overhauled, and the supply of food received from the Cossacks at once
appropriated by the soldiers, who seemed to be very hungry. They were
good enough to give me some of the tallow, and a piece of fat bacon.
Fortunately I am as fond of grease as any Russian, and I fortified
myself for what might happen by making a plentiful meal: indeed, I ate
all they gave me, and drank a full measure of vodka on top of it. Bad
things are good things under adverse circumstances.

The men had bales of straw in the trenches, and on them they stretched
themselves to sleep--at least those close to me did so; but it was too
dark to see much. I obtained some of the straw, and slept very soundly
in my "funk-hole," though I had a suspicion that I might have very good
cause to funk in the morning.

The soldiers were not unkind, whatever they thought of me. One of them
awoke me in the morning by pulling me out of my hole by the legs. I
thought this was a preliminary to shooting or hanging, but nothing so
drastic happened. I was given a pint of strong tea without sugar and
milk, but it was hot, and that was a great deal on a bitterly cold
morning. With the tea I received a piece of the dirtiest bread I have
ever eaten; and shortly afterwards a gun boomed from the enemy's
position, and a shell fell in the advanced trenches. As it caused no
commotion I suppose it did no harm. It gave the signal that it was
getting light enough for the enemy to see; and our men stood to their
arms; and soon afterwards began to "snipe," as the modern phrase has it.

Sometimes I took a peep along the little gutter-like cuts where the men
rested their rifles when shooting over the edge of the trench. I did
this with impunity so frequently that I grew bold, until a bullet came
and knocked the snow and dirt over me. A few minutes later a rifleman
was aiming along this very cut when a bullet struck his head and killed
him instantly. It entered in the centre of his forehead, and came out
behind, carrying away a large piece of the skull and letting his brains
out. I was becoming used to such painful sights; and in two moments I
had his rifle in hand and his pouch strapped round me, and was watching
at the death-cut to avenge his fall.

I had brought my own rifle with me; but this and my cartridges were
taken from me the previous night. My revolver was concealed in a pocket,
and I thought it wise to keep it there for the present.

I could not see much to shoot at. Some of the enemy's trenches were a
long way back; others, salient points, ran up to within fifty yards of
our position. Occasionally I saw the spike of a helmet; but it
generally disappeared before I could bring the sight of the rifle to
bear upon it.

The Germans usually wore their spiked helmets, jocosely called
"_Pickelhaubes_," which much betrayed them when aiming from the
trenches. Afterwards they became more cunning and wore their
muffin-shaped caps when on duty of a dangerous character.

If I could not see the enemy they appeared to see me; for several
bullets came unpleasantly close, and another man at my side was struck
and badly wounded in the head. Then my chance came. I saw the spike of a
helmet and about an inch of the top of it. It remained so still that I
concluded the man was taking careful aim, an example which I followed,
and fired. I saw the dirt fly up where the bullet struck the parapet,
and the spike disappeared. I do not know if the bullet found its
billet--probably not; I fired about twenty rounds at similar marks,
sometimes seeing just the top of a spike, sometimes nearly the whole
helmet; and then, turning rather quickly, I saw the officer who had
arrested me the previous night watching me. He nodded approval; and I
felt that I had "saved my bacon" if nothing else; and so it proved. I
was no longer treated as a prisoner, and had evidently won the respect
and goodwill of those who had witnessed my endeavours to trouble the
enemy.

It seemed to me a rule that nobody should leave the trench until night
came round; but several passages were cut to the rear which permitted
the soldiers to come or go without exposing themselves to the enemy's
fire. I did not attempt to go out myself until dusk, and then it came
quite as a shock to find my horse gone. I searched all round, but there
was not a sign of him anywhere; and I thought I heard some of the
soldiers laughing. It was in vain to make inquiries: nobody could
understand what I said, though they knew very well what I wanted. For
there is a universal language which all understand. All the pretty
girls, from pole to pole, know how to spell "kiss," and to let you know
what they mean by it.

Soldiers, of all people, must not cry over spilt milk, so I sat down and
greased my frostbites; while a friendly corporal brought me another
drink of vodka. For whatever the edicts of the Czar, this fiery liquor
was always plentiful enough amongst the soldiers and the peasants, from
whom, I suppose, the military obtained it. Whatever its vices it has
some virtues, and is not bad stuff to give to a man who is frozen inside
and out.

The next morning I found my rifle and bandolier resting against the side
of the trench at the aiming-cut I had used the previous day. I quite
understood the hint; and after my pint of hot tea and hunk of dirty
bread, I again joined in the sniping, potting at _Pickelhaubes_ and arms
and legs, when I got a chance. The enemy returned our compliments; and
the number of narrow escapes our men had was extraordinary; but very few
of them were killed or injured, and I suppose our fire was equally
ineffectual. Field artillery was also used on both sides; and this did
more damage, chiefly to the trenches, which were blown in at many
points, though, as usual, with but little loss of life.

I think more lives are lost in trenches through carelessness than from
any other cause. One gets so used to the eternal potting that in time he
hardly notices it. Then some unlucky day he forgets himself, and shows
enough of his precious person to bury a bullet in. The result is death,
or injury, according to where the projectile strikes him; for most of
the men in the advanced trenches, on both sides, are picked marksmen,
who are ever on the alert to distinguish themselves. They make a good
many bets, too, on the results of their shots. This is done more to
relieve the monotony of the duty than from hardness of heart, I think.
It is very trying to spend day after day in taking chance shots, the
results of which are seldom perceptible to the shooter.

I spent several days in this uncongenial work, with anything except
benefit to my general condition. The bottom of the trench was wet, which
did not improve the state of my frostbites; and the nights were bitterly
cold, yet no fires were allowed.

I much desired to return to Roshan; but the officer in charge of the
trench either did not, or would not, understand my wishes, and I was
never out of the trench for fifteen consecutive minutes, and never more
than once in twenty-four hours.



CHAPTER XXII

FROM THE TRENCHES OF PRZASNYSZ TO THE CAMP OF MAKOW


I was in a very unpleasant fix. I could not obtain leave to go back to
my old comrades: if I went without permission I ran grave risk of being
considered a spy or a traitor and being treated as one. Life had become
so very joyless and unpleasant, that I felt I could quit it without much
regret; but I was not quite prepared to be sent out of it with the
contumely due to a spy, or dishonourable man, to say nothing of the
misgivings I entertained concerning hanging or shooting by a provost's
squad.

I wrote a letter or two, and tried to get them forwarded to Captain
Sawmine. The trench officer (a Major, I think) took the first of these
notes, and examined it; poised it at every possible angle; turning it
this way and that, and upside down; and unable to make anything of it,
put it in his pocket. I hoped he intended to send it on to its
destination: but several days elapsed, and I received no reply, so I
wrote another, and with a respectful salute, handed it to the gentleman.
He took it from my hand, shook his head, and tore it to fragments, which
he cast to the wind.

I was not at much trouble to conceal my annoyance and contempt of this
conduct, whereupon he got very angry; and I perceived that I should have
to be cautious how I behaved before him: so I went back to my
_pickelhaube_-sniping, and thought the matter out.

That night the enemy made an attack upon us, and there was some
hand-to-hand fighting. It was soon over, and the Germans driven back to
their own trench, with a loss of fifty or sixty men, and eight or ten
prisoners. It was rather a trifling affair; but our people hankered
after revenge, as I could very well see.

The second night afterwards we made a counter-attack with about two
battalions, not counting the supports. The Germans evidently expected
it: for they had kept up an almost incessant rain of shells, great and
small. Our guns had replied, and done some damage. Particularly, they
had cut away the wire entanglements of the enemy's trenches, and
prevented him from repairing it.

The intervening space we had to rush across was about fifty yards; but
my feet were now so bad that I could only hobble forward. The first line
that got into the trench made very short work of the foe. When I dropped
into it, the bottom was covered with dead and dying men. Others were
rushing away through tunnelled traverses; but they suffered very
severely, and in less than five minutes the work was in our hands.

The Germans made three determined attempts to retake it, but they all
failed, with loss to them; though the affair was on a comparatively
small scale. At last, about five o'clock in the morning, they exploded
two mines simultaneously. These mines must have been prepared beforehand
in anticipation of the capture of the salient of the trench, on the
faces of which they were concealed. They cost us about twenty men,
several of whom were buried and had to be dug out. Unfortunately they
were dead when recovered, as were nearly all who happened to be in the
vicinity of the explosions.

Another mine, fired lower down the trench, in the apparent belief that
we had reached the point, killed some of their own men, who were
crowding the spot in a wild endeavour to escape from the bayonets of our
men.

The moral effect caused by these explosions was very great, and was, I
have no doubt, the reason the Russian leaders decided to abandon the
trench. The men were drawn off in the darkness, unperceived by the
enemy, who continued to bombard the position very furiously, and must
have wasted at least 1,000 shells, many of which were of much larger
size than those used in ordinary field-guns. They blew to pieces a great
part of their own salient, and did our trenches a lot of damage. The
Russian losses in this second combat amounted altogether to about 300
men.

During the fight I had been an object of particular attention to a big
German, who made more ragged my already too dilapidated coat. The
saw-back bayonets of our foes were very destructive to everything they
were thrust through--coats as well as bodies. The gentleman I refer to
had a bundle in a handkerchief attached to his belt. This I brought
away, and found it to contain a small but choice assortment of viands.
There were several Frankfort sausages of the genuine kind, a very
toothsome pasty, and some bread that was a degree or two better than the
ordinary "ammunition" sort. A touch of pathos was given to a commonplace
incident by a letter, and the photograph of a pretty woman, which the
bundle contained. This was probably the man's sweetheart, who had sent
him a few choice snacks. Poor girl! If only she had known who was
destined to devour them I expect she would have sung "Gott straffe
England" in a very high key. The Fortunes of war are sometimes curious.

The starving (?) Germans seemed to be pretty well provided in this
trench. Many of our men brought back dainties--sausages, cakes, pies and
even eggs, which reached our own trenches uncracked; and plenty of
tobacco. The "War Lord" is a slyer dog than many people think, and it
looks as if he did not forget the commissariat when furnishing the other
"War Departments." It may have happened, however, that the detachment
manning this trench had just received a consignment of good things from
their friends.

The day after the trench fights there was great rejoicing in our lines,
which I had no difficulty in ascertaining was caused by the fall of
Przemysl. After months of effort this great fortress was taken by the
Russians. I know nothing of the fighting on the Austrian frontier, or
within her territories, but what I heard from time to time; and this I
do not repeat. But I may say that the capture of the place had an
immensely cheering effect on the Russian troops, and did the Germans
more harm, from a moral point, than the loss of a battle would have
done.

I had hoped to have found an opportunity to escape during the operations
mentioned above; but I found it impossible to go off except under
circumstances that could only be called desertion. A day or two after
the fighting a couple of Cossacks came, bearing a letter from Captain
Sawmine, and making inquiries about me. Their arrival gave me joy of
soul in no uncertain measure: for I was heartily tired of trench
warfare.

The letter, written in French, enclosed a request that any officer or
person being shown it would do his utmost to forward my return to the
battalion, which, it was stated, was now moving on Kulaki, described as
a town east of Przasnysz. The letter instructed me, if found, to
accompany the two Cossacks, who had orders not to leave me until I was
in safety again with the battalion.

It was afternoon when the Cossacks arrived, and it was decided that they
should rest in rear of the trenches before departing the next morning.
It seemed to me to be one of the longest nights I had ever spent, I was
so anxious to get back to my old comrades. This anxiety was provoked by
the terrible monotony, and no less abominable dirtiness, of life in the
trenches. The Russian soldier, blessed, or otherwise, with that
remarkable patience which is characteristic of all Asiatics, and persons
descended from them, is yet a great sufferer if he is not regularly
relieved from the trenches for rest: and it has been found necessary
throughout the Russian Army to organize regular relays for service in
these miserable living graves. This is what they really are. Soldiers
posted in them are compelled to stand in their allotted places: they
cannot move to the left hand or the right, nor change places with a
comrade. If a man is wounded during the day it is seldom possible to
remove him until darkness sets in, for the Germans fire on anybody--Red
Cross workers, the wounded, and the dying. So the injured man is taken
into a funk-hole, where the surgeon and the Red Cross man do what they
can for him until it is safe to lift him out and convey him to hospital.

Those killed outright lie where they fall, in the mire and the filth,
trodden under foot, unless a lull in the firing gives time to bury them
in the bottom of the trench; and even this is only done to get the body
out of the way. As a rule the dead were buried at night, at the rear of
the trench and close to it. Even then the Germans often heard the sound
of pick and shovel at work, and in their usual dastardly way opened fire
on the fatigue-parties engaged in this necessary and charitable work,
leaving it to chance whether or not they killed a man or two, as they
often did.

I have mentioned the patience of the Russian nature. It is in curious
contrast to the petulance and cowardice of the Germans, who yell and
scream when in danger or suffering much pain. The Russian never does
this. Even the dying Muscovite scarcely groans. I have seen men brought
out of the trenches, or from the front, practically smashed, hurt beyond
the wildest hope of recovery, yet calm and patient, and grateful for the
least help, not one sound of complaint or pain passing their brave lips.
Even those rascals the Cossacks invariably met suffering and death with
the invincible courage of heroes. I never saw an exception.

At daybreak the following morning we started for Kulaki, taking a route
through country that was quite unknown to me.

At this time thaws had set in, generally commencing about 11 a.m. and
continuing until 2 p.m. They rendered the ground very bad for
travelling, although the snow was far from being melted through, except
in a few places, which had been partially cleared by drifts before the
frost had come. Large pools of water collected, and stood on the hard
snow, which was really ice, rendering the surface not only slushy, but
exceedingly slippery. The Cossacks partly remedied this by tying pieces
of raw hide over the horses' hoofs; but nothing could render the footing
of the animals quite safe, and we had one or two nasty falls. These
generally happened towards the close of day, when the temperature was
falling and the freezing was sharper than ever, or at all events the
surface of the snow seemed to be more glassy.

We had not got more than a dozen versts on our way when we came up to
half a battalion of the 30th Siberian regiment, which was skirmishing
with a much stronger body of German infantry, which had tried to dig
itself in--_i.e._, entrench itself under fire. This the Russians had
prevented, and they suddenly made a determined bayonet charge and closed
with their foes.

The two Cossacks and I followed close behind; and in the mêlée which
ensued one of the men speared a German running him completely through
from side to side, at least a foot of steel coming out under the
victim's left arm. The fighting, though it hardly lasted two minutes,
was very fierce, the Germans seeming to realize that they had no
alternative but to fight or surrender in a body, in spite of their
excess of numbers. This is really what happened. The Russians killed
about 150 of them, with a loss to themselves of not more than sixty. The
remainder of the Germans, about 600 in number, surrendered
unconditionally, and were marched away in an easterly direction, the
dead and wounded being left lying on the snow. I presume they were
attended to later by the Red Cross men and removed to the
field-hospitals.

Unfortunately I could not make myself distinctly understood by the
Cossacks; and my two guides, after a consultation together, seemed to
make up their minds to partly retrace their steps. They may have had
good grounds for this resolution; and I myself strongly suspected that
numerous small parties of the enemy were prowling about. The reason for
this opinion was that I saw several patrols or squads join the enemy's
battalion during the fight. We also passed a small wood, amongst the
trees of which a dozen bivouac fires were still smouldering, and these,
I saw at a glance, were not made by Russian soldiers. I likewise saw a
single horseman watching us; he was soon joined by another; and the two
followed us some distance, until one of the Cossacks fired his rifle at
them, when they galloped away.

But my escort was decidedly nervous. They were both young men--under
twenty-five, I thought--and appeared to consider me something of a
prisoner. I was surprised at this; but not sufficiently master of the
language to protest or ask for an explanation. The men frequently
changed their direction, and if they did not bewilder themselves, at any
rate fairly perplexed me, so that I could not tell in which direction we
ought to be travelling.

We passed that night in a cottage which was but little better than a
hut, the owner of which did not seem to be much pleased at being
compelled to entertain us, almost the only occasion on which I noticed
such a disposition in any person of the country, whatever his rank or
position.

There was hardly any food in the house, and that little was coarse and
dirty-looking, so that even the Cossacks turned up their noses at it.
One of them went out, and after an absence of more than an hour returned
with two fowls, some potatoes and bread, and a stone jar of vodka. They
then brought in a lot of wood from the yard of the cottage, and made
the stove nearly red-hot, at which action the proprietor protested
loudly and became very angry, while a woman I at first thought was his
wife wept. The fowls having been prepared by the speedy method of
burning off the feathers were put in a saucepan to boil. The woman and I
skinned some of the potatoes, but others were cooked with the skin on.

While waiting for supper the vodka was very liberally served out, the
man and woman taking their share; and the behaviour of the lady with one
of the Cossacks was such as to convince me I had been mistaken in
thinking that she was the wife of the peasant.

By the time the meal was cooked and eaten the woman and myself were the
only sober persons there; and I am not sure that she had not taken too
much of the fiery vodka. With the two Cossacks as partners she executed
some extraordinary figures in what I suppose I must call a polka. It
ended in the whole party falling to the floor, where they went to sleep.

Being left to look after myself I blew out the lamp, which was smoking
abominably, and got into a bed at the corner of the room--clothes, boots
and all, that I might be ready for eventualities. Nobody disturbed me,
however, until daylight, when the Cossacks aroused themselves, and the
woman made us plenty of tea, which we drank, as usual, without sugar and
milk.

The Cossacks had stabled the horses in an outhouse, which was quite
unfitted for the purpose. The poor animals had very little straw, and,
as the place was draughty, they must have been very cold.

I have forgotten to mention that before leaving the trenches the
Cossacks obtained, by either borrowing or begging, a horse on which to
mount me; and this animal, though nothing to boast of, was a much better
horse than the one I had lost.

As I saw the wisdom of propitiating the Cossacks, I helped them as much
as I could; and they were friendly enough, though I perceived that they
watched me pretty closely.

While we were engaged in saddling the horses, the peasant came to the
shed and said something to the soldiers which caused them to mount very
hastily. They motioned to me to do the same; and as we dashed at a
gallop out of the little yard I saw about twenty German hussars
approaching the cottage. They perceived us, too, and gave a hot pursuit,
firing their rifles at random. We returned the fire, and I saw one man
fall from his horse. This casualty was sufficient to bring them to a
halt, though they continued to shoot at us.

We got into safety behind a clump of trees and bushes; and one of the
Cossacks dismounted and crept forward to reconnoitre. I went with him,
and searched the country with my glass, which the man borrowed by
gesture. The hussars had not followed us; and in the direction of the
cottage, which must have been three miles away, I saw a column of smoke
rising slowly in the calm air and guessed what had happened. The cruel
enemy was burning the home of the peasant in which we had passed the
previous night.

The Cossacks continued to ride in a north-easterly direction across a
district that appeared to be a very poor one at the best of times. The
widely scattered cottages and huts were of a mean description even for
this land, and I saw only two or three houses that could have been
occupied by persons in a fairly well-to-do condition. In the course of a
ride of about twenty versts (say fifteen miles, English measurement) we
passed through only three collections of cottages which could be called
hamlets. Two of them consisted of less than thirty hovels, and were not
half inhabited.

The land may have been cultivated, but was more likely to be
grazing-ground: it was covered with snow, so one could not tell its
characteristics. We went through an extensive wood of pine-trees, and
smaller growths of timber were frequent; as also scattered clumps, and
single trees, yet the country was distinctly different from an English
landscape.

Burnt homesteads told the enemy's story as plainly as words could have
done; and bones that the dogs were gnawing I am pretty sure were human.
On a bush a German top-boot was stuck, sole upwards. Perhaps there had
been an act of revenge; or the intention of some peasant might have been
to insult, and show his contempt for, his country's enemies--rather a
dangerous thing to do; especially as retaliation would probably be,
German fashion, inflicted on the heads of the innocent.

I think there must have previously been a fight near this spot: for I
saw lots of rags lying about, or sticking in the bushes; the remnants of
uniforms; and also some rotting straps that had once been harness.

From time to time the Cossacks had conversations with the few peasants
we met, the results of which were almost invariably to cause them to
change the direction of our journey. I concluded that the enemy's scouts
and patrols were still prowling about the neighbourhood. Finally, the
Cossacks turned and rode southwards until late in the day, when we
halted at a roadside inn, near which there was a small church, and a
dozen miserable cottages. Here we passed the second night, the cheer
being no better than that at the peasant's cottage; but during the day
one of my escort had captured an unfortunate duck, which was found
swimming in a hole broken in the ice of a pool. Its companions contrived
to escape by flying; and they were probably all as lean and skinny as
the one I can hardly say we ate at night: sucked the bones, would be the
correct phrase.

If a picture suspended over the door of the house was its sign, the name
of the inn was "The Virgin and Child." There seemed to be no vodka in
this hostelry, as the landlord put only a kind of black beer before the
Cossacks. They drank it freely enough, but I could not swallow it, the
flavour was so offensive: and I could not prevail on the man to serve
some tea, which we did not get until the next morning.

The beds were very rough, stuffed with straw, and not clean; but they
seemed to be free of vermin. I never saw a flea in Poland, and the other
form of bed-pest was also absent; but more offensive creatures are very
prevalent in this country; and so are rats and mice, which often harbour
in the beds, and do great harm to a traveller's clothes and belongings.
They have even gnawed my rough leather boots while I slept.

Again we resumed our journey at daybreak, still riding south; and I
thought my escort must have lost their way. I drew forth my papers, and
pointed to the letter I had received from Captain Sawmine, trying to
make them understand I wished to rejoin him as speedily as possible; but
they only shook their heads. They either did not comprehend, or would
not forego their own method of going to work.

In the morning we passed through a small town, the name of which did not
transpire. In the afternoon we came up with a patrol of Cossacks, not
belonging to the same regiment as my escort. My two men had a long
conference with the officer commanding them, who made me understand that
he wished to examine my papers. I produced them; but he was evidently
not a brilliant scholar, and those written in French and German he
clearly did not understand. He gave rather lengthy instructions to the
two Cossacks, and appeared to order them to take a certain road, which
he pointed out. He was very polite, as far as a man could be without the
use of direct oral communication, offered me cigarettes (these things
have become universal in use), and saluted when we parted.

From a southward road we now turned to an eastward, and in about an hour
reached a town which I recognized as Makow; but my guides, escort, or
whatever they were, would not stop here. The place was full of Russian
troops; and the escort had several conversations with officers, to whom
I showed my papers. They always nodded, and we went on. That night I was
lodged in the field-prison of a company of military police, and I began
to fear that all was not quite as right as I could wish it to be. In the
morning I was visited by several officers, one of whom was a Staff
Officer who could speak French and several other languages, but not
English. I do not speak French; but I can read and write simple
sentences in that language, so I could communicate with him. He got all
he could out of me, but gave no information himself. I asked to be
allowed to rejoin the corps in which Sawmine was serving, but he said he
did not know where it was. This may or may not have been the truth. He
then asked whether, if I were permitted to move about the camp, I would
give my parole not to go without its bounds without special permission.
Prisons of any kind are not nice places, and rather than be caged up I
gave the required promise, but protested as well as I could and begged
to be allowed to do duty with some regiment at Makow, if I might not go
on to Kulaki. I understood him to say that my request would be
considered; then he went away, and I never saw him again.

I noticed that I was carefully watched; and about the middle of the day
a policeman beckoned to me, and I was taken to a tent where a plentiful,
though coarse, meal was given me. Again at retreat I was fed, and lodged
at night in a tent belonging to the police company. This sort of thing
went on for a week, during which no officer spoke to me, or took any
notice of me, the commander of the police excepted. I was daily fed in
sufficient quantity, a new pair of boots and a coat given to me; but
practically I was a watched prisoner.

I was quite unable to guess why I was treated in this way, nor can I now
give any explanation of my change of position, except that the troops I
was now with were all strangers to me: I had never met any of them
before, and it may have been thought that my papers were forgeries,
especially as I could not speak, read or understand the Russian
language. I do not know what troops these were, distinguishing marks
being very obscure when regiments are in the field. I found out,
however, that the force had only recently arrived at the
front--consisted of what we term territorial regiments, was destined to
form part of the Twelfth Army Corps, and comprised two infantry
regiments, numerically numbered the 198th and 199th. With them were
several batteries of artillery, and a cavalry regiment, the whole
mustering 10,000 or 11,000 men. The cavalry were not Cossacks, and I do
not know what became of the two men who brought me hither.

On the eighth day after my arrival in the camp of Makow the force
crossed the river (a tributary of the Narew), and marched along the
Ostrolenka road a distance of fifteen versts, when they again encamped,
and remained in this position until the 9th April, daily drilling and
manoeuvring, very industriously. All this time I lived the monotonous,
aimless life I have described above.

Once or twice I accosted officers who appeared to be of some rank, and
showed my papers, striving to make my wishes known. I also wrote three
times to Captain Sawmine, putting the letters in the field-post; but no
reply reached me. I am sure that officer would have replied had my
letters reached him; but his replies may have been withheld from me. It
is possible, too, that Sawmine was killed, I do not know, but I have not
heard anything from or about him and my other old friends. I would have
recalled my parole and endeavoured to have escaped; but I could not find
anybody whom I could make understand, or who did not wilfully ignore my
wishes.

The police commissary (a Captain) was apparently not a bad sort of
fellow, and treated me well. When he found he could trust me, he did not
have me watched with offensive closeness; and he fed and lodged me as
well as he could, and as well as he himself fared. He much resembled a
burly English sergeant, and possessed a similar gruff honesty of tone
and purpose; and we used to pass the time away by talking at each other
by the hour at a time, though neither understood a dozen words of what
was said. He always had cigars (he eschewed cigarettes) which he
generously shared with me; and any little luxury which his men brought
in was sure to find its way to my plate--I cannot say table, for this
was an article of furniture I never saw; and the platters were of
wood--not a nice substance for such a purpose; at least until dirt has
become a second nature.

What do I term luxuries? Here is a sample:

Three of the policemen went out one day with their rifles. I saw they
were going on a little shooting expedition, and I took the liberty of
following them, although they went several versts beyond the bounds of
the camp. No objection was raised to my doing this; and the men
sometimes lent me a rifle that I might have a shot or two. My own rifle,
together with everything I possessed, except the clothes in which I
stood, had disappeared; and also the horse on which I had arrived. But
that could hardly be claimed as my property.

We shot everything we could see that could be hit by a bullet, fowls,
ducks, geese; and, on this occasion, a fat porker. How fattened does not
matter: your true "old soldier" does not trouble himself about such
trifles as the fattening of pigs in the war area. One of the policemen
put a bullet through its head, and chuggy bit the dust without being
properly bled in the orthodox way. We cut off its legs, its shoulders
and the thickest part of the loin; and left the rest for the ravens, the
dogs or piggy's own relatives--whichever came up first.

Dogs, peculiarly cantankerous curs, ravens, crows and pigs, were
numerous in all parts of Poland that I visited. I suppose the dogs and
swine were tame until the war rendered them homeless and masterless,
when they became semi-wild. By swine I do not mean wild boars. These
last named were found in the woods and forests, and may have been
originally of the same stock as the domestic animal; but they are quite
easily recognized as distinct now. There are also wolves in this region;
and they sometimes visited the battlefields; but I do not think they are
very numerous.

While we were dismembering the pig I noticed an old long-bearded
stolid-looking peasant, closely watching us. I believe he claimed to be
the owner of the pig. At any rate he was back in camp before we were,
and we found him talking like a lawyer to the provost and police
commissary. Our three policemen also had a great deal to say--I would
have given something to know on what subject. I do not know what was the
outcome of the confab; but we had roast pork for supper that night; and
very delicious pork it was--Hun fed, or otherwise. I may add that the
soldiers were constantly on the alert to secure these stray pigs, which
were very much appreciated as an agreeable addition to black bread and
blacker soup.

The weather had fairly broken now: the thaw had set in all over the
country, and the ground was in a dreadful condition, and scarcely
passable for troops, and especially waggons and artillery. In the summer
I thought I had never seen such dust as the dust of Poland: in the
winter I knew I had never known such horrible mud as the mud of these
wide plains. To see infantry marching through it was a sight of sights.
They seemed to lift their knees to their chins before bringing their
feet clear of it to take a step forward. The German goose-step was not
in it as a funny sight.



CHAPTER XXIII

A RIDE TOWARDS OSTROLENKA


During the time I was in what I suppose I may call the Camp of Makow,
the troops stationed there had no fighting; and I do not think much went
on in the neighbourhood, though every day or two I heard the distant
booming of artillery, and sometimes the rattle of rifle-firing. These
were probably skirmishes of no great importance, such as occur in every
great war: and in this region there was a constant tension all along the
frontier line. The Germans, I think, were continually pressing, and
seeking for a weak spot in the Russian defensive; and when they thought
they had found such a place, they rushed troops thither by means of
their "strategic railways." It was actions of this kind that brought on
all the big fights that I witnessed. Just at this time, however, the
Teutonic exertions were calming down a little. The energetic enemy had
slightly over-exerted himself, and was taking a fretful sort of rest,
something like that of old Jack Falstaff when his little expeditions had
not been marked successes. There might be a great action any day--a good
many days passed without one in the Przasnysz district. Meanwhile I
began to despair.

Time hung heavily on my hands; though I was working hard to learn the
Russian language, with some little success. I had learned a good many
words and a few short and easy sentences: so that I could now make
myself understood, and could understand a portion at least of what was
addressed to me. I even learned to say, "I want to go"; which made the
men laugh. "Why am I detained?" which made them laugh louder.

However, the commissary at last contrived to make me understand that
there was nothing charged against me; but that it was necessary to make
inquiries. When these were completed, then--well, he could not say
exactly what would happen then: but he made it plain to me that I had
need of patience, and an acquiescence in the things that be: which, like
all wise advice, it is something difficult to follow.

The interference with my freedom of movement was not the only trouble I
had to endure. I have referred to the circumstance that I suffered much
from frostbites during the winter. Standing all day in dirty trenches,
where it was impossible to observe necessary cleanliness, did not
improve the condition of my hurts; and by the middle of April I saw that
I could not hope to do much more marching and fighting, on foot at any
rate: and I saw no chance of obtaining a mount. I was nearly without
money, away from home and friends: and when I add that I am sixty-four
years of age, perhaps it will not be thought inexcusable that I began to
feel I could not remain to see the end of a war that may yet last a
considerable time. So I got my friend the police commissary to draw up
a petition to the commanding officer asking to be allowed to join a
Russian cavalry regiment, or go home to England.

The commissary, Captain Blodshvoshki, was not in favour of my
petitioning the Commander directly, as he appeared to have some
misgivings concerning the irascibility and generally adverse disposition
of that gentleman; which, considering what I had myself seen and heard,
I thought were not altogether without grounds. So a Staff Officer,
Colonel Vilkovski, who had shown me some kindness, was applied to. He
said that he had never heard of a foreigner being permitted to join the
Russian Army except by express permission of the Czar; and he was much
surprised to learn of my experiences with the Muscovite forces. He
promised to forward my wishes as far as it was in his power to do so.

It was on the 13th April that this conversation took place. On the 15th
a surgeon came to my quarters and desired to examine me. When he saw the
state of my feet he shook his head; and I understood, through Captain
Blodshvoshki, that he had pronounced me "no good."

On the 18th a passport and a railway voucher were handed to me by a
police orderly, and I was told to go home; that is the simplest way of
putting it. Arrangements were made for me to leave the camp the same
evening. I make no comment on the seemingly cool and off-hand manner in
which I was dismissed; but I resolved if ever again I do any fighting it
shall be in the ranks of the British Army. But the resolution is
superfluous: it is pretty clear that I have ridden Nature to the last
lap.

Ostrolenka was the nearest station to the camp, and I was advised by
Colonel Vilkovski to proceed to Riga via Vilna, and from thence to
obtain a ship to England. The good gentleman shook hands with me, and
took his departure.

Captain Blodshvoshki wished to accompany me, but he was not permitted to
do so. He also shook hands, with the hearty warmth of a true friend. A
horse was lent me to carry me to Ostrolenka; and a police trooper
accompanied me to take back the horse when I had done with it.

Ostrolenka was distant about twenty-five versts (a verst is 1,166
yards), and there was a straight road to it, though it was in a truly
dreadful state--cut to pieces by heavy traffic and more than knee-deep
in tenacious mud. Moreover, we soon discovered that it was obliterated
in some places by the fighting that had at one period of the war been
very frequent over it. Whole versts of it had been torn up by shell fire
and the passage of heavy guns, so that we had to make wide détours to
avoid the large mudholes, which were the craters of shells, and some of
which contained six or eight feet of water, drained from the melting
snow.

The sun set a couple of hours after we started, and it happened to be a
very dark night, much clouded and overcast, with an occasional shower of
rain; though this is scarcely worth mentioning, except that it added to
the already excessively bad condition of the road, and was probably one
of the causes that led to my becoming quite bewildered.

I ought not to have been sent away until the morning, when there would
have been ample time for me to reach Ostrolenka; and a man with whom I
had been to some extent acquainted should have been sent with me. A man
to whom one has got accustomed understands a nod or a wave of the hand;
but the trooper I had with me was a miserable specimen of humanity. He
was stupid, almost an imbecile, and I had never seen him before; in
fact, it was clear he had been sent with me because he was not of much
use in the camp, and I had to look after him, or he would very soon have
been floundering in the bog which extended over miles of the country on
either side of the road.

There are not many villages or hamlets on this road; but there are a few
houses occupied by gentry and people of substance; and perceiving a
twinkling light in one of them, I determined to seek a night's lodging
therein. It was not far off, but there was something like a river of mud
in front of it. One horse fell, and we both had narrow escapes of coming
to grief. After much difficulty we found the gate of the yard. It was
locked. I felt my way round to the front-door, to reach which I had to
climb a second gate. At my first knock the light was put out; and in
vain I continued to hammer at the door. Nobody answered my knock, nor
could I hear any movement in the house. I was compelled to return to my
companion, who was far too stupid to understand the situation.
Unfortunately I could not remember the Russian words for "knock" and
"door," but I could say "come"; and by dint of pulling, pushing and
shouting I got the man round to the door, almost throwing him over the
second gate. Then I resumed my knocking, telling the man "to call." I am
sure we spent more than half an hour in this uninteresting occupation:
quite in vain, and I became convinced that the people of the house were
determined not to admit us.

We had no alternative except to return to the yard where we had left our
horses. By great good fortune I happened to have a box of matches in my
pocket, though these useful things were scarce at the front; and by
striking a few of them I ascertained that the yard was of good size, and
surrounded on two sides by rows of stables. There was also a hayrick,
and in one corner a pile of wood: and two open sheds with carts in them.

I determined to pass the night in the yard if I could get the horses
into it. We had left them outside, tied to posts; and one of them kept
up a continual neighing which was answered by another horse in one of
the stables. No doubt these sounds were heard by the inmates of the
house, who probably mistook us for a German cavalry patrol.

Our first work was to open the gate; no easy task. I first tried to
force back the lock, and broke two pitchforks in the attempt. Then the
trooper found a kind of crowbar, and with this I wrenched the lock clean
off. So we were enabled to bring the horses in, and removing one of the
carts from the shed, bed them on hay. A fire was made in the yard, the
wood being liberally used for this purpose; but the only food we had was
a couple of ammunition biscuits. Before lying down, we made another
attempt to arouse the people of the house. In vain: we appeared to have
thoroughly frightened them.

Away across the country I perceived the sullen red glare of a burning
house, and I wondered if the reflection of our own fire would bring
danger upon us: for I had become convinced that the enemy was not far
off. However, I determined to keep in the fire as the night was a
bitterly cold one, considering that the risk of freezing was more
imminent than the danger of capture.

Old campaigners know how to make a warm and comfortable bed out of a
truss of hay or straw; and we slept snugly and soundly till daylight,
when the trooper went, on his own initiative, round to the house again,
and I soon heard his thunderous knocks and kicks, accompanied by
stentorian shouts. He was beginning to comprehend what was wanted of
him; and if I could only have clearly conveyed ideas to his dull
intellect I have no doubt he would have made a very obedient and useful
animal. As it was I did not even know the man's name; but I took to
calling him "Bill"; and he grinned, and learned his new designation as
readily as a faithful dog. Poor Bill! I saw, all through our short
acquaintanceship, that he was doing his best, and I am glad that I never
felt the least anger or irritation against him.

Somehow he contrived to bring somebody to the door: daylight makes a lot
of difference. People can see the innocence of the dove! and the
helplessness of the crow! and we all (I do not mind confessing it) are
much pluckier at midday than at midnight.

I suppose Bill made explanations: for he returned with a gentleman and a
lady--and a gaping maid behind them. The gentleman looked at his broken
pitchforks and gate, his scattered hay, and burning wood, and his glance
was not a pleasant one. He did not notice my best bow and propitiatory
smile; but the lady did--with a stolid stare that made me very
uncomfortable; and dumbfounded Bill, whose mouth opened to the widest
extent, while he fidgeted from one leg to the other, and made one
painfully aware that he did not know what to do with his hands.

Then the gentleman spoke, and likewise the lady; and the maid became
abusive--no one who saw her attitude and heard her voice could have
doubted that. I would have given a small world to explain matters: and
in fact I did so, in my mother tongue; which had these good effects--it
convinced the people that I was very humble and contrite, and induced
Bill to close his mouth sufficiently to enable him to speak--with that
kind of eloquence (this was my impression) which consists in repeating
over and over again, "I am sure I couldn't help it"; which is far more
effective than carefully prepared excuses--sometimes at least: and on
this occasion most certainly.

The gentleman stalked away, and the lady followed, lingering to cast
upon us about the most viperish flash of the eyes that I have ever seen
disfigure a pretty face.

The maid remained to fire a final withering volley; and then took
herself off, further discomfiting us with a sharp, dropping fire as she
retired. You see, we had probably much upset the nerves of these people,
and frightened them, as well as taken an enemy-like series of liberties
with their property. I have related these incidents in a light and
amusing strain; but really I was a good deal upset at the time, and
rather ashamed of myself, though perhaps such proceedings are
justifiable when war lowers over a land.

But Bill may not have been such a booby as he looked and acted on
ordinary occasions: for he followed the girl, and soon afterwards came
and beckoned me to accompany him; and I was quite surprised to be led up
the front-door steps and into a very decently furnished breakfast-room,
on the table of which there was an excellent meal ready spread.

The lady and gentleman were there, and there was a complete change in
their demeanour. Now they could not be affable enough; and motioning me
to be seated, handed me coffee and bacon and eggs, with several other
luxuries I had not tasted for a long time. The lady herself waited upon
me, and did so with a kindness and grace that was in strong contrast to
her previous truculent looks. What story had the astute Bill preached to
her and her husband to occasion this change of behaviour?

What these people thought of me I cannot guess; but they must have seen,
from the way in which I ate, that I was famished. They gave no outward
indication that they noticed anything unusual about me.

The trooper, I suppose, was entertained in the lower part of the house.
That he was faring very well I knew from the occasional outbursts of his
merry laughter. Doubtless he was also making himself agreeable to the
maid, oblivious of the tragedy that was soon to occur: but such is a
soldier's lot. Often have I known men to be laughing, joking, or playing
cards, two minutes before their heads were smashed from their shoulders,
or a bullet sent whizzing through their hearts.

It was ten o'clock before breakfast was finished, and I rose to go,
expressing my thanks for the kind entertainment I had received as best I
could; and I had the pleasure of seeing that I was understood. My host
and his wife (I assume this was their relationship) accompanied me to
the stable-yard, where I found the horses had been saddled by two of
their own men; and the trooper was already astride his mount. We rode
away with many expressions of thanks on my part and many flourishes of
the hand from us all. I looked back for the last time when we were half
a verst along the road. I could see the lady still standing outside the
gate, and just detect the flutter of her white handkerchief. It was very
satisfactory to feel we were freely forgiven.

The country was now pretty open to view, and I have seldom seen a
wilder landscape, or one which had a more depressing effect on the
spirits. Dark pines were scattered about, and we passed an occasional
wood; otherwise the country might be described as a lake of mud, with
here and there a plot covered with half-melted snow, which increased the
general dirty and unwholesome appearance of the whole district. We could
see for about a dozen versts in most directions, and yet only four or
five small farmhouses, and as many isolated cottages, were in sight. A
solitary worker in the fields was the only man we saw for an hour. A
great black patch in the distance proved to be, when we came up to it, a
burnt village. The destruction was complete. Not a wall was left, nor a
heap of bricks that one could not easily step over. What had become of
the inhabitants of this collection of wrecked homes? Not a soul was
there when we went by. Then for a long way we passed bones, skulls and
parts of skeletons still intact; not lying in lines and heaps as I had
seen them doing in places where great battles had been fought, but
scattered along the side of the road, singly, or two or three together.
I thought they might be the remains of the village people, slain as they
were running away; but on dismounting to examine them more closely I
satisfied myself that some of them, at least, had once been German
soldiers, and others Russians. A few had rusty rifles lying beneath
them, and leather cartridge pouches were still strapped round the bones.
In many cases the flesh had not disappeared, but was shrunken. The
bodies must have been rotting when the snow fell and covered them,
which prevented further decay. Crows and ravens were flitting about the
fields, as well as a few dogs and pigs: the invariable haunters of the
neglected battlefields. These horrible relics of "the glories of war"
extended for a linear distance of ten versts along the sides of the
roads--how far across the fields I cannot say. They numbered many
hundreds, if not thousands: and probably a great many had been buried or
removed.

[Illustration: RUSSIAN TRENCH NEAR BREST-LITOVSK. AS THE RUSSIANS LEFT
IT]

We rode on several hours, and I wondered that the town of Ostrolenka did
not appear in sight. It was vexatious that I could not question my
companion. My first suspicion that he had taken the wrong road was
aroused by his stopping to call to a man in the fields. The replies he
got were evidently not satisfactory; and he seemed to be at a loss to
know what course to pursue. After a further consultation with the man,
and much pointing and gesticulation, the trooper took a branch road. I
was very loth to follow this, but could not make the man understand my
meaning; and I really did not know which way to turn myself. I was
compelled, in a way, to follow him.

We had ridden along the fresh road about six versts when, on rounding a
small wood, we saw a weak squadron of Uhlans in front of us, and not
more than 300 yards away. They perceived us too, and shouted an order
for us to halt. I turned on the instant, and put the wood between myself
and the enemy, but there was nowhere to go except along the road, or
across the open fields.

Cavalry now carry rifles, not carbines, and the seventy men behind us
would almost certainly shoot us down at short range. I thought I should
prefer that fate to lingering in a German prison, subjected to the
arrogance and brutality of Hun gaolers; and so I put spurs to my horse,
and forced him to his utmost pace. In a few minutes I looked back,
anxiously. The Uhlans were in full cry after us. The trooper was twenty
yards behind me, urging on his horse.

What to do I did not know. At one moment I thought to return to the
house where we had passed the night; but a moment's reflection convinced
me of the folly of doing this. It could not possibly save us, and would
most certainly lead to the destruction of persons who had been friendly
to us.

We were better mounted than the majority of the Uhlans, and gradually
gained ground away from them. Seeing this they tried shooting; but it is
difficult to hit even a large mark when going at a gallop; and after
wasting fifty or sixty cartridges they gave it up, and about a dozen of
their best mounted men pushed to the front; and I soon saw that we had
much to fear from them. We could not get away from them, and they began
to gain on us.

Then I perceived a low ridge of ground which was not so marshy as the
fields, and dashed across it, the trooper following my lead. The Uhlans
also came on with unabated speed, and I saw that it was a question of
horse-endurance.

Ahead, a black smoke, slowly curling upwards, was, I thought, the place
we had seen burning the previous night. We seemed to be going directly
towards it; and I feared that there might be more Germans directly in
front of us, or that the road might be blocked and impassable.

From time to time I looked back at our pursuers. At the end of an hour
the foremost of them were not 200 yards behind, the rest had trailed out
into a straggling line. Still they were near enough to support one
another if we turned on the leaders: a thing I had half a mind to do.

It was now late in the afternoon, and if we could keep away for another
hour it would be dark, and there would be a chance of escape; but my
horse was getting blown, and several of the Uhlans had fallen out,
unable to keep up the pace. Then the wretches resumed their firing: and
in a few minutes the trooper swerved in his saddle, groaning badly. He
rode on a few yards farther, and then fell with a cry I could not
resist; I reined in, and jumped to his assistance; but he died just as
the Uhlans came up and surrounded me. I shall not attempt to describe
the shock it gave me to realize that I was a prisoner. I looked towards
my horse, but a sturdy unter-officer had secured it, and my captors
began to laugh and jeer.

I was not allowed to remount my horse; but, fastened to one fellow's
stirrup, was compelled to walk, limping sadly, for my feet were now very
bad.



CHAPTER XXIV

A PRISONER IN GERMAN HANDS


A prisoner: and to the Germans! The very thought was a horror. And these
people treated me badly from the first, as they appear to treat all
their prisoners. Twice I fell on account of the state of my feet, and
was dragged along the ground. The clothes were nearly torn from my back;
and my revolver, which I had hitherto contrived to keep, was discovered
and confiscated. Very fortunately I had hidden my money, and this was
not found by the men, though they carefully turned out all my pockets.
When they had done with me I was left with a comb, my rags, and the last
few of my English sovereigns.

At dusk we arrived at the still-smoking ruins of a hamlet. One or two
houses near by were still intact, and occupied by a dismounted party of
the Uhlans, some twenty men in number.

I was taken to the top of the house, and locked in a room with eight
other prisoners, six Russian soldiers belonging to the artillery and
98th regiment; and two peasants. There was some straw on the floor on
which the soldiers were lying. They made room for me, and spoke to me;
but when they found I could not speak more than a few sentences of their
language, I seemed to become an object of suspicion to them.

I was tired, and my feet gave me great pain, so that I was glad to lie
down and remain quiet. Sleep I could not; partly because of my misery,
partly because the two countrymen prayed continually and frantically all
through the night. Strange; but I did not guess the reason till
daybreak, when they were fetched out by a Uhlan guard; and the other
prisoners crowded to the two windows. I got a place at one of them to
see what was going on.

I saw the two peasants brought into the courtyard of the house and
blindfolded. They were then placed against a wall, where one of them
fell to his knees. He was brutally kicked until he stood up again, when
he leaned against the wall, rocking himself in agony of spirit. The
other man stood stolid, like a statue, probably paralyzed by fear. Only
three soldiers to each man formed the firing-party, and neither of the
prisoners was killed outright. One of them screamed horribly, the other
tried to rise to his feet. A non-commissioned officer stepped forward
very deliberately, and blew their brains out one after the other. The
whole terrible scene affected me so greatly that I could not forbear
hissing, in which I was joined by the soldiers. There was no glass in
the windows, so the Germans plainly heard us; and shortly afterwards a
party of them came into the room, and beat us with sticks until I
thought they meant to murder us. I used my fists pretty freely, until I
was knocked senseless.

When I came to, I found that breakfast had been served, consisting of a
can of dirty water for each man, and about half a pound of black bread
of the consistence of putty. We were not allowed to leave the room all
day; and the place stank abominably. Another meal was served in the
afternoon, it consisted, like the former one, of half a pound of wet
bread, and a few ounces of fat mutton. The drink was water of so filthy
an appearance that only dire necessity compelled me to swallow a few
mouthfuls of it. We were granted no facilities for personal cleanliness.

Early the next morning we were fetched out and paraded, and I saw that
the Uhlans were ready for a march. An officer began to question me in
Russian. I said, in French, that I could not speak Russian. "Are you
French?" he asked in surprise. "No." "What are you then?" I blurted out
that I was an Englishman; and expected that I had committed myself. It
was an agreeable surprise when the officer said that he had spent twelve
years in England, and had always been well treated there. He immediately
became very friendly, gave me cigars, sent into the house for the
remains of a sausage and some good bread, was sorry that they had no tea
or coffee, but gave me half a bottle of champagne instead. Again I had
met with one of those lucky chances that have, from time to time,
lightened the burden of life.

When I explained to Captain Eshricke (this is how he pronounced his
name) the condition of my feet, he very kindly ordered that I should be
permitted to ride my horse; but he first exacted a promise that I would
not attempt to escape. I was compelled to give this promise, though I
did so with some reluctance. I also persuaded him to permit my
fellow-prisoners to ride in a country cart, as they were in a very tired
condition, and it is difficult for infantry to keep up with cavalry even
when going at a foot pace.

I made no reference to the shooting of the two prisoners, but later the
Captain himself adverted to it. "You saw those two fellows shot this
morning? They deserved it. They set fire to those buildings to burn us
out, and were caught red-handed."

I do not know if this were true; but it could hardly justify the
terrible beating to which we had been subjected, and some of the effects
of which I felt for many weeks afterwards. But one cannot argue with
kings and Germans; and I had cause to think that "All's well that ends
well," although I received no apology.

In war, and in this war in particular, a still tongue makes a safe head,
and I did not think it wise to be too inquisitive, considering that I
might find it difficult to establish my position if I were asked who and
what I was, and what had brought me to Poland. I had seen that morning
that even a Captain of Uhlans could make short work of people he chose
to consider offenders. But I did venture to ask Eshricke if he had any
objection to tell me where he was going to take me. "Not far," was his
laconic reply.

We travelled northward: I had little doubt then that we were making for
the Prussian frontier, which, I calculated, could not be many miles
away. So far as I could see, the Uhlans were a flying-party on
observation duty, with no immediate supports in the neighbourhood;
although I was sufficiently acquainted with German military tactics to
be quite sure the Captain knew where to find reinforcements when he
required them. The squadron was not nearly at war strength, consisting
of less than seventy mounted men and eighteen who had lost their horses,
and followed us in three military carts. That their losses had occurred
in recent fighting was shown by the thirteen or fourteen wounded men
amongst them, as well as by the absence of their horses. Many of the men
were repulsive-looking ruffians; and what their dispositions were like
was shown by more than one unpleasant incident during the march. Here is
one example of German playfulness:

We entered a small village (Prajashzhol, according to Eshricke), rather
as a surprise, I think; for the inhabitants had not fled, or hidden
themselves. It seemed to be market-day here, and there were carts and
stalls in the little square. Some of these began to depart hastily on
sight of the Uhlans; but the soldiers dismounted, and made purchases,
for which they paid in German coin. There was nothing to comment on in
this act; for, I believe, Russian and German money is interchangeable on
the border lands, and is freely accepted, and tendered, by the peoples
of the two countries. But there was there a young Polish girl selling
cakes. The day was warm, and she had no cloak or cape on; and her hair
hung down her back, plaited into two thick tresses. While two of the
Uhlans were buying cakes, a third went behind, and suddenly seized her
tresses, and giving them a sharp tug, pulled her down backwards so that
she lay flat on the ground, half-dazed by the shock. This unmanly act
caused much merriment amongst the soldiers, who laughed heartily, though
the poor girl (she was about twenty) was hurt, and cried when she was
helped up. This was considered a joke--what a Uhlan in temper is like
may be surmised. The young girls and women seemed to know; for they
disappeared very speedily, but not before several of them had been
grossly insulted. Nor did the men fare any better. Disputes soon
occurred, and I saw two of the peasants knocked down, and a third cut
across the face with a whip. Another was chased into a house by a Uhlan
with a drawn sword, and perhaps killed: I do not know.

Nearly all the soldiers were soon drunk: their proper state, perhaps, as
a tipsy German is generally less irritable and arrogant than a sober
one, and certainly less mischievous. On the whole I think less harm was
done at Prajashzhol than the Germans usually inflicted on places that
had the misfortune to receive a visit from them. There were no cases of
incendiarism, and the women were not subjected to the worst forms of
insult. There was some violence, and plundering was rife; though many of
the men paid for what they took.

About this time I noticed that there was a great increase in the number
of aeroplanes and airships hovering over the country. I usually saw one
or two every day, mostly German craft; on this 21st April I saw no fewer
than six, and one Zeppelin. They were making an attack on a Russian
position about five miles away; but it was not successful--few such
attacks are. One of the aeroplanes dropped no doubt within the Russian
lines; and another soon after it had retired and flown over our heads.
Both machines came down slowly. I saw the two men who worked the one
that fell near us. The aviator was badly knocked about, and his face
much cut; but I do not think that he was dangerously hurt. The mechanic
was not so much injured: the aeroplane was wrecked.

The Zeppelin seemed to be injured; but she got away and sailed out of
sight. We distinctly heard the reports of the exploding bombs dropped by
these craft, and explosions of the Russian guns fired at them. I
rejoiced to learn my friends were so near, and hoped that I might be
released by some lucky chance, but this did not occur.

There was plenty of food at Prajashzhol--pork, fowls, ducks, bread, beef
and mutton, and vodka; but vegetables were scarce, even potatoes; and
wine there was none. I filled my haversack with sufficient food to last
three or four days, and procured a new coat of rough material.

While we were bivouacking in the market-place, a vidette galloped in
with some news which caused Captain Eshricke to mount in hot haste, and
we literally bolted from the village. The dismounted men and the six
Russian prisoners were left behind with their carts, and were, no doubt,
retaken by the pursuing Russians, the first of whom appeared as we
passed the last houses of the village street. I tried to lag behind, but
the Captain swore he would shoot me if I did not urge my horse forward;
and one of the Uhlans pricked the animal with his lance, causing it to
rear and dash forward wildly. I would have fallen off, but there were
too many men behind me. I should have been trampled to death, and
probably speared into the bargain. For they are nasty-tempered fellows
are the Germans when things are running counter to them; and the first
Cossacks that appeared were only half a dozen men, and they held back
until they were reinforced: indeed, they did not make a very energetic
pursuit. They probably knew that there was a strong force of the enemy
at hand, and feared they would be trapped.

I soon learned that the Uhlans in whose hands I was, and who belonged to
the 12th regiment, formed part of the advanced guard of a whole army
corps. At nightfall we came to a force of infantry, whose numbers I
could not estimate, it was so considerable, and covered so wide a range
of country.

The Captain handed me over to the first outpost we reached, and I was
sent to the rear under escort of an infantry file. My horse was taken
from me, and my feet were so painful that I could scarcely hobble along.
But no mercy was shown me. I was compelled to walk a distance of about
four English miles. Then we came to a small cottage which was being
used as a guard-house. Here I was blindfolded, and again marched on, I
could not tell in what direction, for quite an hour, when we arrived at
another house. I then found, from the sounds, that I was in the presence
of several officers who were interrogating my captors.

Then the bandage was taken from my eyes, and I was searched. The
officers carefully examined my papers, and the one who seemed to be the
chief spat out, rather than spoke, so great was his venom:

"So you are an English spy, you dog!"

I said I was not a spy; but had been honourably fighting with the
Russians, and was captured in company with a Russian soldier who was
killed at the time.

"Don't you know that foreigners are not permitted to fight in the
Russian Army?" asked the officer.

I said that I did not know anything of the kind; but I had been fighting
in the Russian ranks.

"Spying in the Russian ranks," said this man, who spoke perfect English.
"Have you any defence to make?"

"I do not admit that a true charge has been made against me, or that I
have need to make a defence. I am, practically, a Russian soldier," I
replied.

"Oh!" said the officer, very sarcastically. "Have you any evidence that
you were regularly enlisted in the Russian ranks, which we know to be
impossible?"

"I do not say I was 'enlisted.' The papers you have taken from me prove
that I held honourable relations with the Russian Army, and that I have
fought with it for a period of nine months."

The man looked through my papers again. Those written in Russian he
evidently could not read; but he sent for a soldier, having the
appearance of an orderly-room clerk, who translated them to the
officers.

"Bah! They are only passports to enable you to carry on your nefarious
business. You are a spy," he said; and deliberately tore the whole of
the papers to shreds, which he cast on the floor.

My indignation was so hot that I exclaimed: "You scoundrel!"

"What!" he shouted. "You d----d Englishman! You shall be shot to-morrow
morning. Take him away."

"You are a cowardly murderer!" I replied fiercely.

I did not get an opportunity to say more; for my guards hauled me away
with great roughness, and took me to a house which seemed to be used as
a prison; for at least a hundred persons were crowded into it.
Two-thirds of these were Russian soldiers; the remainder were civilians
of various grades, including one woman, a lady of mature years; and one
man was nursing a young child.

Was there ever a more horrible way of conducting war? Women, children,
harmless citizens and honourable soldiers, treated as felons! Is there
to be a retribution for this cruelty and wickedness?

It would be waste of time to pause and inquire what were the probable
charges against these civilians. What are the charges against a bandit's
victims? The revolutionists of '93 splashed blood on the walls of their
cities: BLOOD should be splashed on the brows of the German monsters who
have deluged Europe with it.

I believed that my last day had come. I had seen too much of the German
method with prisoners to entertain the least hope of escape. I need not
trouble to record my feelings: they were not pleasant emotions.

Those in the room were passing their time in various ways. Some were
asleep on chairs, or lying on the floor in corners. So many were smoking
that the place was full of blue, hazy smoke. The woman, with bowed head,
seemed dazed with wretchedness, the child was whimpering. From the way
in which many of the men stared at me, I thought that they knew that I
was appointed to die. One party devoted as much attention to me as they
did to the cards they were playing. The guard numbered a dozen men, who
occupied an ante-room, were laughing, talking noisily, and singing
beastly songs; a circumstance that convinced me that the house occupied
an isolated position, not near any body of troops commanded by an
officer above subaltern rank, who would soon have put a stop to the
ribaldry. These things did not occur to me just at the moment; but they
flashed on my mind later, when a certain incident occurred.

I suppose it was about midnight; but there was no means of telling the
time. Many of the guard-soldiers were dozing; the rest had quieted down,
but were talking together, and not taking particular notice of the
prisoners.

Two of the men who were playing cards got up, and came and stood in
front of me. One of them, first looking round to see that the soldiers
were not observing him, pointed his thumb at them, and winked; then he
made a gesture of striking a terrific blow. He looked at me inquiringly;
and I thought I comprehended what he meant, and nodded acquiescence. He
replied by a nod of satisfaction; and he and his companion retired to
the far end of the room.

What they seemed to propose to do was a desperate act. They appeared to
intend to rush past the guards, knocking down any who attempted to
oppose them, and so get away. I made up my mind that, since death must
come, I would rather die making a desperate effort for my life than wait
an hour or two longer to be led out in the grey dawn, tied up and shot
like a dog. At that moment I was strung up to such a pitch of nerve that
no action could be too desperate for me to attempt.

There was a yard attached to the house, which the prisoners were
permitted to use, as occasion required. It was approached by a short
passage from the guardroom; and a sentry was posted in the yard to
prevent prisoners escaping over the wall, which was nine or ten feet
high.

Presently the two men I have mentioned, both of them soldiers of the
Russian artillery, went out, one of them raising his hand slightly as he
passed through the door. I nodded to intimate that I would come. I was
beginning to perceive more clearly what was intended. I followed at
once. As I entered the yard one of the prisoners quietly shut the door
behind me. The sentry began to speak, probably protesting, as I think
only one or two prisoners at a time were permitted to enter the yard.
Before he had well opened his mouth one of the prisoners sprang on him
from behind and clasped his throat; the other threw himself on him in
front and tore his rifle out of his hands. He was lifted off his feet
and held across the knees of one of the prisoners. He could not utter
any sound except a smothered gurgle, but he kicked desperately. I saw
what was wanted of me, and clasped his legs with all my strength. So we
held him till he died.

Then the prisoners acted with the nimbleness of monkeys. One of them
gave me a leg up the wall; I did not wait to see how they got up; it was
a matter of life or death to act quickly. The three of us were over the
wall and in the street in three seconds. I noticed that my companions
had taken off their boots. I followed their example, and rushed up the
street after them. It led out into the open country; and as there was
some moonlight I rushed towards a patch of trees and bushes--a copse, I
suppose. As I entered it I saw that one of the prisoners was already
there. He immediately hid himself, and I did not see him or his
companion again; nor do I know what became of them.

It was a very small wood; of some length, but not more than twenty or
thirty yards wide. It will be inferred, though I have forgotten to
actually say so, that there were lights in the prison-house. I could see
these lights dimly showing through two of the blinded windows: and
farther back I could see a single bright light. Probably this was in the
town; and the town, I suppose, was Janow, which is Prussian, and
situated on the frontier between that country and Poland. But this is
merely a guess, based on the direction my captors had taken, and the
situation in which I afterwards found myself. It may have been some
large village, of the existence and name of which I was ignorant.

Although at the moment all was quiet, and there were no signs of
movement behind, I could not hope that the discovery of our escape would
be long delayed, and I saw the necessity of putting as great a distance
as possible between myself and the enemy without a moment's delay.

I turned to the left, because that seemed the darkest part of the
country, and ran as fast as I could; but even with the prospect of
escape to urge me on, I could not run very fast owing to the crippled
and painful state of my feet. In about half an hour I was compelled to
sit down for a rest; and I tried to put my boots on. Owing to the
swollen condition of my feet, occasioned by running rapidly over some
stony ground, I found that I could not do this; and I bound up the
injured members in tufts of grass which I gathered in one of the fields
I passed across; and in this plight continued to walk until daylight.

The country I travelled over was fields and open ground. I crossed
several roads and pathways, but was afraid to keep on them as I expected
that pursuing parties would use them. The fields were exposed; and when
light broke I dodged from bush to bush, or along the ditches. There are
no hedges or fences in this country, the partitions of the ground being
made by ditches. Trees or bushes, except in the woods, are very scarce;
but there are a few along the courses of the brooks, which are numerous
and often serve as boundaries to the fields. As they have deep banks, I
often ran along their beds, especially as the water was grateful to my
hot and painful feet; but I am not sure that I did wisely to resort to
this method of obtaining ease; for afterwards I suffered so severely
that I almost despaired of being able to continue my journey.

In this district farms and peasants' houses were tolerably numerous, and
though I strove to avoid it, a woman at one of the cottages saw me, and
beckoned with her hand. I thought it would be wise to stop, especially
as her gestures were friendly. She took me by the sleeve and led me into
the cottage, where two men were seated on benches at a rough table,
eating their breakfast. A large jug of milk and some bread and meat were
given to me, food I was much in need of, and while I was eating it the
woman bathed my feet in warm water, and bound them in rags. They seemed
so little taken by surprise at my appearance, that I fancied I was
expected; and I am pretty sure that one, or both, of my fellow-prisoners
had been there before me, and kindly put these people on the alert to
assist me.

When I had finished eating, the woman pointed to a ladder leading to a
loft, and motioned that I should ascend it, evidently intending that I
should rest; but I preferred to put a greater distance between myself
and the Germans; though I think it is unlikely that they would pursue a
fugitive far into an enemy's country. So I thanked these kind people as
well as I could, and went on my way. The men walked about two English
miles with me, and pointed out a road I should take, leading to
Przasnysz. I understood that well enough; and also that they blessed me
in the name of the Trinity when we parted.

When I had gone some distance I looked back. The men were standing by
some mounds which I guessed covered the remains of slain Russians, and
were bareheaded and silently praying--a common custom in this country,
where people more often address themselves to the Almighty in the open
air than they do in houses.

The road was over an undulating plain, with a few willow-trees along the
courses of the streams, but practically no cover for a person wishing to
hide himself. I hurried on as fast as I could walk. By the time the sun
was well up I was so tired that I was glad to creep into a fairly dry
ditch, where I slept soundly until nearly evening time. Before resuming
my journey I ate a small loaf which the woman had put in my pocket when
I left the cottage in the morning. Then I took a road running eastwards
to Ostrolenka, with the object of reaching the railway, and also in the
hope that I should find Russian soldiers to whom I was known. There is
no railway at Przasnysz: and though I believed that the last-named place
was still in the hands of the Russians, I was not sure of it, and feared
that, in any case, I should run great danger of meeting parties of the
enemy in that direction. It so happened, however, that I saw patrols or
scouts of the enemy on the road I had decided to take. They consisted of
small bands of Uhlans and dragoons, the strongest of them not more than
twenty troopers in number. They were probably flying parties, at a great
distance from a base; but that circumstance made them none the less
dangerous to me; and I spent the greater part of the day lurking in
cover. It is a fortunate event some of these men did not discover me;
for I was compelled to be content with very incomplete concealment. I
escaped notice, but I had several very narrow escapes; and if the
soldiers had been as alert as they ought to have been I should have been
discovered. One man nearly rode over me as I lay crouching in a patch of
sedge by the side of a tiny brook; and a squad of eight dragoons passed
within four or five yards of me, giving me a very unpleasant shock, as I
had no weapon for defence, except a stick I had broken from a tree. The
Germans had stripped me of everything I carried, my money excepted; and
that, fortunately, I had successfully hidden by stitching it, sovereign
by sovereign, under a black braid stripe down the seam of my trousers.



CHAPTER XXV

ADVENTURES DURING THE EFFORT TO ESCAPE


I soon decided that it was necessary to ensure my final escape by hiding
during the day, and travelling only at night. The country was full of
small mounted parties of the enemy, who were prying into every hole and
corner of the land. During a week that I was travelling towards
Ostrolenka (which could not be farther than thirty English miles), I saw
enough to show what my fate would be if I had the misfortune to fall
into the hands of the fiends who were ravishing the country. I saw
several peasants dragged from their hovels and shot, and the women
treated with unnameable barbarity. I heard children screaming in fright
at the murder of their parents, and saw homesteads set on fire and burnt
to the ground. Outrages of all kinds were committed by small squads of
men who were commanded by unter-officers (that is, corporals), if
commanded at all; and in saying this I do not intend, in any degree, to
exonerate the commissioned officers. As I lay hidden on the roof of a
barn I saw a young beast, who did not seem to be more than twenty years
of age, ill-use a woman, while one of the devils he commanded kicked
away her children, as they undoubtedly were. He afterwards threw the
woman to his men, half of whom abused her in turn; while their
commander shot a white-haired old man who interfered, and who was
probably her father. Other men on the farm had been previously shot. I
am half-ashamed to narrate the incident, and have to admit that I did
not interfere--I could not. Starving, crippled and ill, and unarmed, any
interposition on my part would only have added another drop to the
horrible pool of blood that lay in front of the doorstep.

Afterwards the house was set on fire; and being old and built mostly of
timber, it burned out in about half an hour. While it was in full blaze
the hussars, a dozen in number, rode away. One of them was badly hurt,
having been shot, I think, by one of the men the Germans afterwards
murdered.

I came down from my perch amongst the bundles of sticks on the barn-roof
as soon as the murderers left the yard. The woman had thrown herself on
the body of one of the men, and was moaning piteously: the children
hiding their faces in her dress, and sobbing bitterly. There were three
of the little mites, the eldest about twelve years, the youngest four or
five. I afterwards found a boy of eight, who had hidden himself, and was
paralyzed with fright.

At this time I was faint with hunger; and finding it impossible to
arouse the woman, who was nearly dead, or comfort the children, I
entered the smouldering house in search of food, if any had escaped the
flames. I knew it was the Polish custom to build the pantry of stone,
and projecting beyond the house; and I hoped that some fragments of
bread at least were still to be found. But the Germans had cleared the
place: not a crumb was to be seen; and as I was exploring one of the
rooms, I broke through the floor into a heap of ashes at white-heat. I
extricated myself pretty quickly, but nevertheless my already
frostbitten feet and legs were burned; it is surprising that I continued
to stand and walk for days after this occurrence.

Meeting with no success indoors, I searched about the outhouses, and
tried to knock down a fowl. The Germans had killed all those that were
tame enough to be caught; but in the barn, on the roof of which I had
lain hid, I found a quantity of wheat, stored in bulk, and of this I ate
as much as I could; and filled my pockets for future occasions; and when
the fowls went to roost at evening I wrung the necks of several of them
and cooked them on the still glowing embers of the house. I also found a
saucepan or two, and boiled a quantity of the wheat, which enabled me to
give the children a meal. By this time the little ones had gained full
confidence in me, the youngest one particularly so, who toddled about,
chatting to me, no doubt wondering why I did not reply in a language she
could understand. The boy was terribly unnerved, and the woman I could
do nothing with, until towards night, when I made her get up from the
body on which she had lain all day, and pulled her into the barn, where
we slept all that night, lying on old sacks--at least the children and I
slept. The poor woman was moaning when I dropped off, and still moaning
when I awoke in the morning.

Before retiring I dragged the bodies of the three men into an outhouse,
and covered them over with sacking, of which there was plenty stored in
the barn. I then closed the door to prevent the dogs getting at them,
and looked round the place, which had been, I should think, the home of
a well-to-do small farmer.

In the morning I thought the best thing I could do would be to take the
children to a house I could see about two miles across the country, and
which seemed, so far, to be intact. I contrived to make the woman
understand what I intended to do, and we all started together, she
carrying the boy, and I the little girl. It took us quite an hour to
reach the place, on account of the infirmities from which we suffered;
and one of the elder girls was lame from the kicking she had received
the previous day. I saw that she had a bruise the size of a tea-saucer
on her little body. When the day of Peace comes, will the Great British
Nation treat as a man the author of all this cruelty and wickedness? I
shall blush to be an Englishman if it does; or if British soldiers are
brought out to salute the Villain when he is forced to surrender.

At last we reached the house, which I found occupied by six females,
three of them young girls, and two lads. The woman I had brought with me
suppressed her moans and sobs to explain matters to these people; and
some hot tea and bread and butter were given to me; but the women, who
were evidently in a terrified condition, pushed me out of the house,
and made it plain that they wished me to go. They were afraid of the
consequences of the Germans coming and finding me on their premises. So
I kissed the little girls and went.

As I passed on to the road I saw the hussars (I believe it was the same
party) riding over the country about a verst away; and I lost no time in
getting into some hollow ground, which was a marsh, with a brook running
through it.

I had with me about a peck of boiled wheat, which I carried in a roughly
made bag; and a bill-hook, which I thought might come in handy if I had
any more personal encounters with William Hohenzollern's murderers. I
would at least spare myself the fate of being shot like a dog by these
wretches.

I was compelled to walk some distance over an open country this day,
until I reached some stone quarries, in which I hid, and where I
remained several days on account of the pain I suffered, which rendered
walking impossible. During this time I lived on the boiled corn I had
brought, and the remains of a fowl, cooked at the burnt farm.

On the second day I passed in this quarry I saw six Cossacks, and began,
joyfully, to make my way towards them, endeavouring to attract their
attention. I had not got a hundred yards, when I saw nearly twenty
German cavalrymen ride out from behind some buildings and charge the
Cossacks. For some reason, which I could not perceive, the Cossacks
seemed unable to escape. They made a gallant fight, but were soon
exterminated. The Germans made no attempt to take prisoners: they
butchered the six Russians, losing two dead and two wounded of their own
number. I distinctly saw them plunder the dead; and then, after helping
their injured men on horseback, ride away.

At nightfall I crept out and visited the dead bodies in the hope that
life might be left in some of them. It was useless. They were all fine
men; but had been fearfully disfigured. One man's face was slashed to
pieces; another had his skull split down to the eyes. Both the Germans
had been slain by lance thrusts. There was also a dead horse lying by
one of the men.

I hoped that some of the firearms had been left behind. In vain I
searched: not even a pinch of tobacco remained in the pockets of any of
the men. Even the ear-rings had been torn from the Cossacks. Many of
these, and other Russian soldiers, wear golden ear-rings.

I went on to the buildings from which the Germans had ridden out. The
house was deserted; and although it was not burnt, the brutal invaders
had completely wrecked the interior, smashing furniture, glass and
pictures. The place had been occupied by persons of a superior class to
the peasant-farmers; and I noticed some female fancy-work lying on the
floor of one corner of a room.

The whole of this district, though not deserted by the people, was in a
cowed state; the peasantry, and especially the well-to-do classes, were
afraid to show themselves during daylight. Many had fled to the towns
and villages, and a good many had been wantonly murdered. The Poles are
a brave, generous people, and my heart often bled for them. Their
sorrows, eclipsed by those of the equally brave Belgians, and dimmed by
being more remote in point of distance, are not, I think, fully realized
in England; especially as they are defended by one of the largest armies
in the world. But that army, large and powerful as it is, has not been
able to defend them from the tigerish brutality of their foes. They have
suffered terribly--the word is not strong enough. The wanton miseries
inflicted upon them have been hellish. I have long known the Germans as
an arrogant and extremely sensual people, and their learned scientists
as the most determined modern opponents of Christianity; but it is one
of the surprises of my life to see them sink so low in the scale of
humanity--to use a hackneyed but expressive phrase. I could not have
believed that the German nation would bathe itself in blood.

At this house I scraped together a few fragments of food, and got a
couple of blankets, which I much needed: for the nights, though
generally clear and bright, were frosty and bitterly cold. I returned to
the stone-quarry, for I was afraid to sleep in the house.

The moon was now about full; and when the sky was not cloudy, it was so
light at night-time that I could see for miles across the country; and I
noticed that there were more people moving about than I saw in the
daytime. I could not guess at their business, as there were no shops
near that I could discover. Some, in one or two hamlets I had
approached, were looted and wrecked; and the proprietors were gone.
Probably the people about at night were on the prowl for anything they
could pick up: for although I obtained a little food at some farms, as I
have mentioned, such population as remained in the country was starving.

I remained in the quarry until the 30th of April in the hope that the
condition of my feet would improve. I was forced at last, by starvation,
to make another move forward. I waited until night, and then hobbled
along the road with the aid of a rough crutch I had contrived out of a
forked stick. I was so exhausted and pain-racked that I had to sit down
and rest every few hundred yards, and probably I did not travel more
than five miles during the whole night. During this time I passed
through a small village, in the street of which I met the
night-watchman: for this antiquated institution still survives in
Russian rural districts. He stopped and questioned me; but he was a
silly, good-humoured old soul, much too old for his work, and though I
did not understand a tenth of what he said, and could not reply to a
twentieth of it, I had no difficulty in getting away from him.

I was more fearful of the soldiers. Besides a few cavalry scouts, I saw
a company of infantry marching along the road. I kept out of their way,
as I could not tell whether they were Germans or Russians; and it was
too risky a business to approach near enough to make sure. The fact
that they had several prisoners with them made me think they were more
likely to be foes than friends. That some small military movements were
taking place in the neighbourhood was proved by the occasional sound of
rifle-firing which I heard in the distance.

The snow had now entirely melted; but there was ice every morning, which
thawed as the sun gained power. In the middle of the day the weather was
often quite hot; but the ground dried very slowly, and there were often
dense fogs which troubled me greatly, as they came up from the ground at
night, just the time I wanted to be moving: and on one occasion I lost
my way, and went miles astray. I had not much difficulty, though, in
getting set right when such accidents happened. I would repeat the name
of the place I wanted to the first peasant I met, and he would point in
the direction I was to take. Some of the country-people would readily
communicate with me; others would avoid me as if frightened.

All through the 1st May I lay in a hole which I excavated in the bank of
a brook, and hid with bushes when I was in it. I saw nobody at all on
this day, and the only sounds I heard were the ringing of some bells and
a few distant shots.

Most of the fields I passed over were sown with corn; but sometimes I
came to grassland; and there were extensive stretches of marshy ground,
which was often already covered with sedge high enough to completely
hide a man. As, however, it was growing in several inches of water,
under which there was an unlimited quantity of mud, taking cover in it
was attended with much discomfort. I was forced into it, perhaps a dozen
times a day, by the appearance of cavalry scouts and suspicious-looking
individuals. If I found a brook running in the direction I wished to
take I generally followed its course for the sake of the cover its
bushes afforded. Once I passed five or six hours hiding in a hollow
willow-stump.

There was a lot of wild-fowl sheltering in the sedge, chiefly wild
ducks, and water-hens. I succeeded in catching a few of the water-hens;
but the ducks eluded the stones I was continually throwing at them; and
though I saw a hundred rabbits and hares, I succeeded in knocking over
only one hare. I required these animals for food; but having obtained
them I was for a time puzzled how to dress them, as I was afraid to make
a fire in the open. At last I cooked them at the stove of a deserted
house. Bread I had literally to beg; and I entered six or seven farms
and cottages before I obtained a small supply.

I used to show a few kopecs and point to my mouth, an antic, or
pantomime, that was at once understood. The people would shake their
heads to intimate they had no food to spare; and one woman held up a
poor little pinched baby to show how hardly pressed they were. In some
cases I believe the people thought I was a German, as I could not speak
more than a few disjointed sentences of their language. Finally,
however, I obtained about a pound of unleavened bread, for which the
money was refused.

In this way I ultimately arrived near Ostrolenka, in such a state of
exhaustion and suffering that I could scarcely drag myself over the
ground. I was found, and made a prisoner of, by some Russian cavalry,
and taken into the city, which is, also, a third-class or, at most,
second-class fortress. Here I was handed over to the civil police and
promptly put in prison. That night, however, a medical man examined my
feet, which were afterwards dressed by a male nurse.

The next morning I was taken before a magistrate, and while trying to
explain to him the cause of my plight a Cossack officer came forward,
and at once put matters right. I had only a dim recollection of having
seen this man before; but he did me the honour of having a better
remembrance. Unfortunately, I could not understand all that he said to
the magistrate; but the effect was magical. Everybody in the court had
an immediate interest in me, and I was at once taken to a hospital where
wounded soldiers were being attended to, and treated in every respect as
an officer. By this time I was quite ill.

Two or three days afterwards a doctor who could speak English was
brought to my bedside, and to him I gave a detailed account of the
recent experiences I had passed through, and begged him to apply to the
proper persons to have me sent home, as I was unfit for further service.
He promised that he would do this; and I was vexed at the delay that
ensued, as every day I seemed to grow worse. I do not say that I was not
well nursed and looked after; but I must admit that I have no great
confidence in Russian doctors--nor, indeed, in any foreign medical men.

Ostrolenka was full of troops, but I did not learn to what corps they
belonged. The forts which defend it would require a considerable number
of men to man them properly; and I do not think the place could hold out
many _hours_ before such artillery as the Germans use in their siege
operations. The old "carronades" of Nelson's days were sometimes called
"smashers"; much more appropriate is such a name to the monster
howitzers which the Germans use to smash up their opponent's defensive
works; and yet I am not one of those who are appalled by the destruction
effected by huge guns. Modern forts are not strong enough, and are not
constructed on the principle which is best calculated to withstand the
battering of Krupp's huge ordnance; but they may be made of sufficient
strength to defy any guns. In a competition between forts and guns,
forts if properly constructed and defended must win. By "defended" I
mean so placed that they cannot be subjected to direct fire. This can
always be done. For if they cannot be placed on elevated ground, they
can be sunk in it; and my experience is that a gun sunk in a pit is the
most difficult of all marks for an artillerist to hit. In fact, I do not
think it can be done, except by a chance shot, and chance shots do not
win, or lose, fortresses.



CHAPTER XXVI

MY LAST DAYS IN RUSSIA


The suggestion was made that I should remain at Ostrolenka until I was
cured; and as it was obvious that this would mean a long time I declined
the intended kindness, and begged to be sent home at once. Accordingly I
was furnished with passes, and a free permit to travel, and sent to
Bialystok on the 10th May. Although this place is only eighty versts
from Ostrolenka, it took the train a whole day to reach it. We were
continually being run into sidings to permit troop-and store-trains to
pass. Troops were being hurried to the front in thousands; and Bialystok
was crowded with what appeared to be a whole army corps.

The authorities were too busy to attend to me, and I lay in the station
all night. The next morning a police official took me to some barracks,
where I was well fed and my injuries attended to. On the 12th I was
taken in an ambulance to the Grodno-Vilno terminus (there are five
railway termini in Bialystok) and put into a train full of wounded
soldiers bound for Petrograd. The distance to Vilna from Bialystok is
about 170 versts: it took us thirty-nine hours to perform it.

I left the train at Vilna; but there was nobody there to help me in any
way. Officials looked at my paper and pointed this way and that, but
gave me no real help. I had to go into the town to purchase food and a
few necessaries. The city was even more crowded by troops than
Bialystok. It is another great railway centre; and to all appearance
soldiers were arriving from all parts of the vast empire. Many of the
regiments were Siberians.

While in the streets I was interfered with a good deal by the police;
but my papers were always found to be satisfactory. English gold created
much amazement among the tradesmen; but I succeeded in passing several
sovereigns.

On the 15th I bought my own ticket to Riga; but I did not succeed in
finding a train to that place until the morning of the 16th. From Vilna
to Riga is about 200 English miles. I entered the train early in the
morning. There were only four passenger-cars: the remainder, a dozen, or
fourteen, in number, were goods vans and trucks. In the carriage I
selected, the only passengers were three men and a woman.

I was so tired that I went to sleep soon after I had sat down, and when
I awoke the train was just starting. It was then nearly evening, so we
had been standing outside the station nearly all day. I dozed at
frequent intervals: and so did the train: that is, it stopped, on an
average, about every half-hour; but very seldom at a station.

When morning broke I eagerly looked out of the carriage-window. The
prospect was a wide plain, with only odd trees on it, and houses
scattered about between two villages. I had no idea of our locality,
but had hoped we were nearing Riga. Of this, however, there were no
signs, and I muttered my disappointment. My fellow-passengers looked at
me curiously, but did not speak. So far I had not heard the sounds of
their voices, and I have noticed that foreigners on a journey, as a
rule, are not more talkative than English people.

Two hours later we arrived at Dunaburg, which is a large town and a
considerable railway centre. It was crowded by soldiers; and field
artillery were entraining in large numbers. Two passengers got out of
the carriage here, and six others entered; but when we started again I
do not think there were more than twenty people in the whole train. The
population of the country was evidently not fleeing coastwise.

We were backed into a siding and kept there six hours. During the night
we were more often stationary than moving, and at daybreak on the
morning of the 18th were still only crawling along the line. At several
small stations the train was stopped to be overhauled by police
officials. They closely questioned all the passengers. When it was
discovered that I could not speak much Russian, I was at once, and very
roughly and rudely, hauled on to the platform; and my papers read and
reread several times; and vised by a police officer. Then I was
permitted to re-enter the train, and proceed on my journey.

As we ran slowly onward I saw several large encampments of troops in the
fields by the side of the line; and hundreds of men were being drilled
and exercised. Many of them had so awkward a bearing as to suggest that
they had had no previous training: and I saw sufficient, during my stay
in Russia, to show that the State is too poor to embody and instruct the
whole of her male population. I do not believe, indeed, that more than
half the conscripts are trained. This would not be an unmixed evil if
the men were selected, as they are supposed to be, and the most fit
draughted to military service; but I think there is a great deal of
substitution, rich men finding substitutes. This cannot be otherwise
than bad for the service.

We arrived at Riga at midnight on the 18th, and I was again subjected to
the usual police examination and cross-questioning. Here, however, I
found several officials who could speak English quite fluently, and so I
had no difficulty in making my wishes known, but was given the
disquieting assurance that there was no prospect whatever of my being
able to leave the Baltic.

It was rapidly becoming a matter of life or death for me to get home. I
was so ill and exhausted that I could only stand with difficulty; and my
funds were running so short that I could bear the expenses of living at
an hotel for only a few days. Having received permission, therefore, I
went down to the wharves with a policeman to look for a boat, the
regular packets having ceased running.

I do not think that my further movements can have much interest; but I
may just state that all I could do at Riga was to persuade a fisherman
to run me over to Gothland for the sum of twenty roubles. The little
voyage of about 200 miles was commenced on Thursday the 20th May, and
was performed in much trepidation for fear of the German cruisers,
several of which were reported to be in this part of the Baltic--I do
not know on what grounds. We saw nothing of them; and arrived at
Slitehaum soon after daybreak on the 23rd, the winds having been against
us during a great part of the voyage.

At Slitehaum I took the train to Wisby, after some trouble with the
local officials, the inevitable thing, it seems to me, in all
Continental travel. My papers, contrary to my wishes, had been retained
by the Russian police at Riga; and they had given me a passport which
did not seem to be quite satisfactory to the Custom-house officer at
Gothland. He was much exercised in mind by the lack of the usual
impedimenta of a traveller, and accepted my explanations with palpable
suspicion. After a delay of four hours, he permitted me to proceed; and
on reaching Wisby I took the Swedish packet-boat to Stockholm.

At Riga I had persuaded the police to enter me on the passport as an
American: not quite a straight-forward thing to do, perhaps, but a _ruse
de guerre_ which, I think, the circumstances in which I was placed fully
justified.

I am not a prophet, nor am I going to set myself up as one. I do not
know how long the war is going to last--_it depends on circumstances_.
If the Germans get the run of corn-growing Russia, and the Allies
generally do not materially increase their _go_ and their _forces_, it
will last for years. Properly set about, it might end with this year. It
is not being properly set about. I do not presume to say what military
action should be taken; but the supply of Germany with food and material
is of the first importance to her, and should be put a peremptory stop
to. There are those who will argue that, because Germany sinks neutral
ships, it follows that the neutrals who suffer must necessarily be
Germany's enemies. This is a mistake. The idea entertained is that
"accidents will happen," and the sufferers believe that in the end,
Germany, or Britain, will recompense them. I exempt the United States
from this attitude; but their case is peculiar. In the first place, they
are very anxious to keep out of European complications: they have also a
large German population, including those of Teutonic extraction; and
some of those highly placed in America have Germanic tendencies and
sympathies.

I will not enter further into the political aspect of this Great War:
and concerning the military outlook I have but to note that the British
losses alone amount to a far greater number than the entire English Army
consisted of on the day war broke out, to convince every thinking man
that we are in a very serious position: and that the fate of this vast
empire cannot be left to weak drafts erratically raised, which, however
heroic their bravery, are not powerful enough to meet the situation with
a full assurance of that victory without which no sane Englishman ought
to be satisfied. To put 500,000 men into the field, and keep their
numbers up to 500,000, cannot possibly have the same effect as putting
1,000,000 face to face with the enemy in the first place: and 1,000,000
cannot have a _fourth_ of the striking-power 2,000,000 would have. There
is a progressive ratio in the numbers of a military force: a fact that
is too often overlooked: and bringing them up in driblets can only
result in their being beaten in detail. One strong blow has more real
efficacy than a dozen weak ones; and in military affairs the full force
should be used at the very commencement of hostilities.

At the moment of writing Germany is gaining ground, not losing it: and
her own territory is absolutely free of invaders. While this state of
things exists, no man, expert or otherwise, can predict the ultimate end
of the war. A single _accident_ might have very wide-reaching and very
terrible effects.

From Stockholm I went to Gothenburg; and there decided that my best way
of reaching England was to take a passage on a Swedish ice-ship which I
found to be on the point of sailing for Gravesend. However, when we got
off the Dogger Bank we ran amongst a fleet of Hull trawlers; and I
forsook the Swede for a British fishing-boat, which landed me at Hull,
"stone-broke," in more ways than one. I was almost too ill to stand; and
when I arrived home I found my house empty. Not one letter of the many I
wrote while in Poland reached my family; and one I posted in Sweden did
not reach England until three days after my own arrival in my native
land. My wife supposed that I was a prisoner in Germany, or dead; and
few of my friends expected to see me again. One of the first I went to
in search of my wife did not know me, so ragged and woebegone was my
appearance. A little rest has done wonders towards restoring my usual
health and strength; but I am given to understand that it will be a long
time before I am able to use my feet; and some sharp twinges of
rheumatism from which I suffer indicate that old boys are not quite so
fit for campaigning as young ones. I hope many of the youngsters will
take the hint.

There has been some suppression of the names of places and localities in
this book, and a few other precautions have been taken in its
construction. It must be remembered that the war is far from over yet,
and that there is an obligation on all writers to be careful not to deal
too freely with facts and incidents of some kinds. It may be scarcely
necessary to mention this; but in case a certain amount of reticence may
be noticed in a few places, it is as well to give a reason for it. I am
not a practised writer; and I have, in some matters, followed the advice
of those who are better qualified to judge what should, and what should
not, be put into a book. But I have told my own tale, and told it in my
own way; and I hope it will be found to merit some attention as the
unvarnished story of an eye-witness.


THE END





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