War in Eastern Europe
John Reed


In the morning we woke stiff and cramped from the benches of our third-class car, and looked out the window upon the boundless Galician steppe, heavy with golden wheat and with ploughed land deeper than velvet; ten-mile planes of flat earth uptilted gently against horizons where giant windmills rode hull down, like ships at sea. We had made thirty miles in nine hours.

The train whistled triumphantly down long inclines, and panted up slopes where the mounting track was visible for miles and miles. Our car was full of officers making the cheerful hubbub that Russians always make together. And from the ten freight-cars full of troops behind came nasal accordion music, the slow roar of big voices singing, shouts and cheers. At little stations where the flat-faced, sombrely dressed Polish peasants and their bright-kerchiefed, broad-hipped women stared stolidly at the train, hundreds of soldiers and officers with teapots jostled each other democratically around the kipiatok - the huge tank of boiling water you find at every Russian railway-station - and there was incessant tea. An officer of high rank, who had an orderly, set up a small brass samovar in the next compartment to ours....

From a strap over his shoulder hung a gold-hiked Cossack sword, the gift of the Tsar for bravery - it bore also the tassel of the Order of Vladimir. The orderly, probably a mujik from one of his estates, called him familiarly 'Ivan Ivanovitch.'

Presently he came over with true Russian hospitality, and invited us in French to drink a glass of chai. We got to talking about the war.

'Nevertheless, it is impossible to beat Russia,' said he.

I objected that Russia had been beaten many times.

'You mean the Japanese War. I served in Manchuria myself, and I think I can tell you why we were beaten. In the first place the peasants knew nothing of the causes of the war, and no one took the trouble to tell them. They had never heard of the Japanese. "We are not angry with the Japanese, whoever they may be," said the mujiks. "Why should we fight them?"

'And then everything was horribly mismanaged. I have seen troops, worn out and half starved by a forty days' railway journey on insufficient food, detrained and sent into battle without an hour's rest. And there was the vodka, too, which we haven't got to reckon with to-day. Before the battle of Mukden I saw whole regiments lying in a drunken sleep on the ground....It was an unpopular war - there was no patriotism among the peasants.'

'And is there patriotism now?'

'Yes, they are very patriotic - they hate the Germans. You see, most of the agricultural machinery comes from Germany, and this machinery does the work of many men, driving the peasants into the factories at Petrograd and Moscow and Riga and Odessa. Then the Germans flood Russia with cheap goods which undersell Russian products - which causes our factories to shut down and throws thousands out of work. In the Baltic provinces, too, German landlords own all the soil, and the peasants live miserably.... Wherever in Russia they have no feeling against the Germans, we tell them these things....Oh, yes, this time the Russians know why they are fighting!'

'So the peasants think that by beating the Germans they will get rid of poverty and oppression?'

He nodded good-humoredly. Robinson and I both had the same thought: if the peasants were going to beat any one, why didn't they begin at home? Afterward we discovered that they were beginning at home.

Late in the morning we stopped within sight of the towers of Tarnopol, alongside a huge hospital-train which was marked with the imperial arms and bore the legend: 'Sanitary Train, Gift of the Imperatrice Alexandra Feodorovna.'

'Come on,' said our friend, ordering his baggage out. 'We had better change trains. Ours will probably stay here until afternoon.'

We swung aboard the hospital-train just as it left, and found ourselves in a little car divided into two compartments by a rough board partition. Wooden bunks were folded up against the sides; in one corner was a stove covered with dirty pots and pans; trunks, a tin wash-basin on a box fastened to the wall, and clothes suspended from nails, gave it the look of a ship's forecastle.

In one compartment sat two middle-aged minor officers, and in the other a stout, comfortable-looking woman and a young girl. The two men and the women were smoking cigarettes, and throwing the butts on the maculate floor; steaming glasses of tea littered the tables; the windows were closed.

The girl spoke German and a little French; the woman was her mother, the grizzled sanitary lieutenant her father, and the second captain of engineers her uncle. Since the beginning of the war ten months ago they had been living in this car, travelling from Vilna and Kiev to the front, and back again with the wounded.

'My mother wouldn't let my father go to the war without her, and she made so much fuss that he took us both....And my uncle's father-in-law is a Collegiate Assessor and a Judge in the government of Minsk, so he managed to get us this car to live in.'

'Have you seen any fighting?'

'Twice,' she answered. 'Near Warsaw last winter a German shell struck one of our cars and blew it to pieces - there we were under artillery fire all day. And only last week, beyond Kalusz, the whole train was captured by Austrians. But they let us go again.... We're bound for Vilna now with a load of wounded. In two days we'll be back there....'

Tea and cigarettes were forthcoming, with the customary large-hearted Russian hospitality, and we sat around while they told us of the pleasures of a perpetual travelling vacation - for all the world like their ancestors, the nomadic Russian tribes.

Tarnopol station was a place of vast confusion. From a long military train poured running soldiers with tin teapots to the kipiatok, hurtling a column of infantry that was marching across to another train. Officers shouted and cursed, beating with the flat of their swords. Engines whistled hysterically, bugles blared - calling the men back to their cars. Some hesitated and stopped, undecided whether to go forward or back; others ran faster. Around the hot-water tanks was a boiling, yelling mob. Clouds of steam rose from the pouring faucets....Hundreds of peasant refugees - Poles, Moldavians, and Hungarians - squatted along the platform waiting stolid and bewildered among their bundles and rolls of bedding; for as they retreated the Russians were clearing the country of every living thing and destroying houses and crops.... The station-master waved futile hands in the centre of a bawling crowd of officers and civilians, all flourishing passes and demanding when their various trains departed....

An armed sentry at the door tried to stop us, but we pushed by. He made a half-motion with his rifle, took a step and paused irresolutely, bellowing something about passes - and we went on. A hundred spies could have entered Tarnopol....

'Na Stap!' we cried to the cabby: 'To the Staff! Along the railroad yards on each side were mountains of sacks and boxes higher than the houses. Tarnopol was a city of solid Polish architecture, with occasional big modern German buildings, and sudden vistas of narrow busy streets lined with hundreds of shops, all painted with signs picturing the goods sold within; streets swarming with Jews in long black coats and curly brimmed black hats. Here they looked better off and less servile than in Novo Sielitza. As everywhere in Galicia and Poland, there was a smell of combined 'kosher,' boot-leather, and what we call 'Polak'; it filled the air, tainted the food we ate, and impregnated our very bedclothes.

Half-way down the street we met a column of soldiers marching four abreast toward the railway station, bound for the front. Less than a third had rifles.

They came tramping along with the heavy, rolling pace of booted peasants, heads up, arms swinging - bearded giants of men with dull, brick-red hands and faces, dirty-brown belted blouses, blanket-rolls over their shoulders, intrenching-tools at their belts, and great wooden spoons stuck in their boot-tops. The earth shook under their tread. Row after row of strong, blank, incurious faces set westward toward unknown battles, for reasons incomprehensible to them. And as they marched, they sang - a plain chant and tremendous as a Hebrew psalm. A lieutenant at the head of the column sang one bar, the first sergeant took him up - and then like a damned-up river burst the deep easy voice of three thousand men, flung out from great chests in a rising sudden swell of sound, like organs thundering:

'For the last time I walk with you my friends -
For the last time!
And to-morrow, early in the morning,
Will weep my mother and my brethren,
For I am going away to the war!
And also will weep my sweetheart,
Whom I have loved for many, many years....
She whom I hoped one day to go with to the church....
I swear that I will love her until I die!'
They passed, and the roaring slow chorus rose and fell crashing fainter and fainter. Now we rode between interminable hospitals, where haggard, white-draped figures leaned listlessly from the windows, bleached yellow from long confinement. Soldiers crowded the streets - wounded men on crutches, old Landwehr veterans, regulars, and boys who couldn't have been more than seventeen. There were three soldiers to every civilian; though that may have been partly due to the fact that many Jews had been 'expelled' when the Russians entered the town - a dark and bloody mystery that. On each corner stood an armed sentry, scrutinizing the passers-by with the menacing look of a suspicious peasant. As we drove by in our Stetson hats, knickerbockers and puttees - never before seen in that country of universal boots - they stared open-mouthed. You could read on their faces the painfully born doubt about us - but by that time we were blocks away.

'Stowi!' growled the guard before Staff headquarters, lowering his bayonet. 'Stop! Shto takoi?'

We wanted an officer who could speak French or German.

'Are you Niemetski?' he asked, using the old peasant word for Germans - meaning 'dumb,' for the first Germans in Russia couldn't speak the language.

'We are Americans.' Other soldiers gathered to listen.

'Amerikanska!' said one man with a cunning smile. 'If you are Americans, tell me what language the Americans speak.'

'They speak Angliiski.'

At this they all looked inquiringly at the learned soldier, who nodded. An officer appeared, looked us up and down very severely, and asked us in German who we were and what we were doing. We explained. He scratched his head, shrugged his shoulders, and disappeared. Another, a huge bearded man, bustled out now and tried us with Russian, Polish, and broken French. It was evidently a poser for him, too, for he walked vaguely up and down, pulling at his beard. Finally he despatched several orderlies in different directions, and motioned us to follow him. We entered a large room that had evidently been a theatre, for there was a stage at one end hung with a gaudily painted curtain. About thirty men in undress uniform bent over desks, laboriously writing out by hand the interminable documents of bureaucratic routine. One was cautiously experimenting with a new invention, the typewriter, which evidently none of them had ever seen before, and which caused everybody great amusement.

A young officer came out of an inside room, and began to fire stern questions in rapid French. Who were we? What were we doing here? How did we come? We told our story.

'Through Bucovina and Galicia!' he cried in astonishment. 'But no civilians are permitted to enter Bucovina and Galicia!'

We produced our passes.

'You are correspondents? But don't you know that no correspondents can come to Tarnopol?'

We pointed out that in fact we were there. He seemed at a loss.

'What is your business?' said he uncertainly.

I told him that we wanted to visit the front of the Ninth Army, and to find out about certain American citizens in Galicia - at the request of the American minister in Bucharest. He ran his eye down the list of names.

'Bah! Jews!' he remarked disgustedly. 'Why does your country admit Jews to citizenship? Or, if it does, why doesn't it keep them at home? Where do you want to go - Strij? Kalusz? That is not possible!'

'Ah,' I said, 'then Strij and Kalusz are on the first line now?'

He grinned. 'No. The second line - the German second line?'

We were astounded by the rapidity of the German advance.

‘It is only a question of time,' he went on indifferently. 'They will soon be here.' And suddenly he sprang to attention. 'The general!'

The thirty clerks leaped to their feet with one bound.

'Good day, my children,' said a pleasant voice.

'Good day to your generalship!' shouted the clerks in unison - and sat down again to their work.

General Lichisky was a man under middle age, with a keen, smiling face. He saluted us and cordially shook hands.

'So you wish to go to the front?' he said, when the officer had explained. 'I don't understand how you managed to get here - for correspondents have not been allowed in Tarnopol at all. However, your papers are perfectly satisfactory. But I cannot permit you to visit the first line; the Grand Duke has issued an order absolutely forbidding it. You had better go to Lvov - Lemberg - and see what can be done through Prince Bobrinski, governor-general of Galicia.... I will give you passes. In the meanwhile, you may stay here as long as your business requires it....'

He detailed a young sub-officer who spoke English to look after us, and ordered that we should be lodged at the hotel reserved for officers of the Staff, and dine at the mess.

We wandered about the town. Tarnopol was full of troops - regiments returning from the front for a rest, others going out, still more, fresh troops, arriving from Russia with uniforms yet unsoiled by battle; mighty singing choruses shocked and smashed against each other in a ceaseless surge of big voices. Few of the men had arms. Long wagon-trains loaded with immense quantities of flour, meat, and canned food filed toward the west - but we saw no ammunition.

The young lieutenant told us things. He had been through the Masurian Lakes disaster, and later in the Carpathians.

'Even before the retreat,' he said, 'we didn't have half enough rifles or ammunition. My company, for example, was stationed in two trenches - a front trench and a reserve trench. A third of my men were in the first trench, and they had rifles. All the rest had no rifles - their duty was to go forward, one by one, and pick up the rifles of those who were killed....'

As we walked along, the guards on the corners gathered and looked at us, whispering, until they made up their minds that we were German spies - then they arrested us and took us to the Prefecture. There no one knew what to do with us, so we were solemnly marched to the Staff, where our friend the French-speaking officer set us free again, loading our captors with abuse. The poor guards slunk away in great bewilderment; their orders were to arrest suspicious-looking persons, and when they did so, they were threatened with the knout. At regular intervals all day we were arrested by new sets of soldiers, and the same farce gone through.

'Beasts!' shouted the officer, shaking his fist at the poor, puzzled soldiers. 'Fools! I'll have you punished!'

We suggested mildly that he might give us a pass which we could show to people when they stopped us, but he said that he had no authority....

Late in the afternoon we stood near the barracks, watching a long column of sullen Austrian prisoners marching in between their guards. A soldier on duty gaped for several minutes at our puttees, let his eyes slowly travel up our costumes, and finally arrested us, and took us up to a major in spectacles who stood on the corner.

He questioned us in German, and I answered. He peered suspiciously over his glasses.

'Where are your passports?'

I said that we had left them at the hotel.

'I think I shall take you to the Staff,' said he.

'We have already been to the Staff,' said I.

'Hum!' he meditated. Then to the Police.'

'What is the use of that? We've already been to the Police.'

'Hum!' It was puzzling, so he changed the subject. 'You are correspondents? In what countries have you been?'

'We have just come from Serbia.'

'And how is it in Serbia?'

I said that the sickness was terrible there.

'Sickness!' said he. 'What sickness?' He had never heard of the typhus. 'Really!' he said indifferently. ''Tell me; will Italy enter the war, do you think?'

'Italy has already been in the war for six weeks.'

'You don't say!' he yawned. 'Well, gentlemen, I must leave you. Very happy to have made your acquaintance – sehr angenehm....' and he bowed and walked away.

No one knew when the train for Lemberg left; our officer telephoned to the quartermaster, who called up the chief of transport, who in turn asked the chief of the railway administration. The answer was that everything was so mixed up that there was no certainty - it might leave in five minutes and it might leave to-morrow morning. So we plunged again into the frightful mêlée at the station, stacked our bags against the wall, and sat down to wait. Long files of stretchers bore groaning wounded to hospital-trains, running soldiers jostled each other, officers bawled hoarsely, sweating conductors made despairing gestures about their trains blocked interminably along the tracks. A fat colonel confronted the harassed station-master, pointing to his regiment drawn up along the freight platform as far as the eye could reach.

'Where the devil is my train?' he shouted. The station-master shrugged.

There were cavalry officers in green trousers, with broad sabres; subalterns of the automobile and aeroplane corps who carried blunt, ivory-handled daggers in place of swords; Cossack atamans from Ural and Kuban with pointed, turned-up boots, long caftans open in front and laced at the waist, tall fur hats barred on top with gold and red, belts bossed with precious metals and silver-mounted yataghans; generals of various degrees of generality. There were club-footed officers, near-sighted officers who couldn't see to read, one-armed and epileptic officers. Minor officials of the postal service and the railway went by dressed like field-marshals and carrying swords. Almost every one wore a uniform with gold or silver shoulder-straps; their number and variety were bewildering. Scarcely an officer whose breast was not decorated with the gold and silver badges of the Polytechnic or the Engineering School, the bright ribbons of the Orders of Vladimir, St George, or St Michael; gold-hilted honour swords were frequent. And every one incessantly saluted every one else....

Seven hours later we boarded the train for Lemberg, and got into a compartment with two shabby, middle-aged lieutenants who were typical of nine-tenths of the minor Russian bureaucrats. We began talking ragged German, and I asked them about the suppression of vodka.

'Vodka!' said one. 'You may be sure they didn't suppress the vodka without making up the money lost in some other way. It is all very well for war-time - you know, the Revolution in 1905 was due entirely to the peasants' getting drunk on vodka - but after the war we shall have vodka again. Everybody wants vodka. They cannot stop it.'

His companion asked if there were compulsory military service in America. I said no.

'Like England,' he nodded. That is all very well for you, but in Russia it wouldn't do at all. The peasants wouldn't fight.'

'But I thought the people were very enthusiastic about the war?'

'Pooh!' he answered contemptuously. 'The Russian peasant is a very silly person. He cannot read or write. If you asked him to volunteer, he would say that he was very comfortable where he was, and didn't care to be killed. But when you order him to go, he goes!'

I wanted to know whether there was any organized opposition to the war. The first man nodded.

'Fifteen members of the Duma - they can't execute Duma members - are in prison for sending revolutionary propaganda to the army. The men who circulated it in the ranks have all been shot. They were mostly Jews....'

It took fourteen hours to go forty-five miles. We halted hours on switches to let military trains go by, and long white strings of silent cars that smelled of iodoform. Again miles and miles of wheat-fields yellowing richly - a wonderful harvest here. The country was alive with soldiers. They thronged every station; half-armed regiment slouched along the platform, waiting for their trains; trains of cavalry and their horses, trains of flat cars piled high with supplies, preceded and followed us, or passed going in the other direction. Everywhere utter disorganization - a battalion side-tracked all day without food, and farther on huge dining sheds where thousands of meals were spoiling, because the men didn't come. Engines whistled impatiently for a clear track....One had an impression of vast forces hurled carelessly here and there, of indifference on a grand scale, of gigantic waste.

How different from the faultless German machine I saw at work in northern France four months after the occupation! There, too, was a problem of transporting millions of men, of hurrying them from one point to another, of carrying arms, ammunition, food, and clothing for them. But although northern France is covered with railroads and Galicia is not, the Germans had built new four-track lines plunging across country and cutting through cities, over bridges made of steel and concrete, erected in eighteen days. In German France trains were never late….

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