Four Weeks in the Trenches
Fritz Kreisler


by Fritz Kreisler

To My Dear Wife Harriet

The Best Friend Add Stanchest Comrade In All Circumstances Of
Life I Dedicate This Little Book

In Humble Token Of Everlasting Gratitude And Devotion


This brief record of the fighting on the Eastern front in the great war
is the outcome of a fortunate meeting.

The writer chanced to be dining with Mr. Kreisler soon after his
arrival in this country, after his dismissal from the hospital where he
recovered from his wound. For nearly two hours he listened, thrilled
and moved, to the great violinist's modest, vivid narrative of his
experiences and adventures. It seemed in the highest degree
desirable that the American public should have an opportunity of
reading this narrative from the pen of one in whose art so many of
us take a profound interest. It also was apparent that since so little
of an authentic nature had been heard from the Russo-Austrian field
of warfare, this story would prove an important contribution to the
contemporary history of the war.

After much persuasion, Mr. Kreisler reluctantly acceded to the
suggestion that he write out his personal memories of the war for
publication. He has completed his narrative in the midst of grave
difficulties, writing it piecemeal in hotels and railway trains in the
course of a concert tour through the country. It is offered by the
publishers to the public with confidence that it will be found one of
the most absorbing and informing narratives of the war that has yet

F. G.

Four Weeks In The Trenches


In trying to recall my impressions during my short war duty as an
officer in the Austrian Army, I find that my recollections of this period
are very uneven and confused. Some of the experiences stand out
with absolute clearness; others, however, are blurred. Two or three
events which took place in different localities seem merged into one,
while in other instances recollection of the chronological order of
things is missing. This curious indifference of the memory to values
of time and space may be due to the extraordinary physical and
mental stress under which the impressions I am trying to chronicle
were received. The same state of mind I find is rather characteristic
of most people I have met who were in the war. It should not be
forgotten, too, that the gigantic upheaval which changed the
fundamental condition of life overnight and threatened the very
existence of nations naturally dwarfed the individual into
nothingness, and the existing interest in the common welfare left
practically no room for personal considerations. Then again, at the
front, the extreme uncertainty of the morrow tended to lessen the
interest in the details of to-day; consequently I may have missed a
great many interesting happenings alongside of me which I would
have wanted to note under other circumstances. One gets into a
strange psychological, almost hypnotic, state of mind while on the
firing line which probably prevents the mind's eye from observing
and noticing things in a normal way. This accounts, perhaps, for
some blank spaces in my memory. Besides, I went out completely
resigned to my fate, without much thought for the future. It never
occurred to me that I might ever want to write my experiences, and
consequently I failed to take notes or to establish certain
mnemo-technical landmarks by the aid of which I might now be able to
reconstruct all details. I am, therefore, reduced to present an
incoherent and rather piecemeal narrative of such episodes as
forcibly impressed themselves upon my mind and left an
ineradicable mark upon my memory.

The outbreak of the war found my wife and me in Switzerland,
where we were taking a cure. On the 31st of July, on opening the
paper, I read that the Third Army Corps, to which my regiment
(which is stationed in Graz) belonged, had received an order for

Although I had resigned my commission as an officer two years
before, I immediately left Switzerland, accompanied by my wife, in
order to report for duty. As it happened, a wire reached me a day
later calling me to the colors.

We went by way of Munich. It was the first day of the declaration of
the state of war in Germany. Intense excitement prevailed. In
Munich all traffic was stopped; no trains were running except for
military purposes. It was only due to the fact that I revealed my
intention of rejoining my regiment in Austria that I was able to pass
through at all, but by both the civil and military authorities in Bavaria
I was shown the greatest possible consideration and passed
through as soon as possible.

We reached Vienna on August first. A startling change had come
over the city since I had left it only a few weeks before. Feverish
activity everywhere prevailed. Reservists streamed in by thousands
from all parts of the country to report at headquarters. Autos filled
with officers whizzed past. Dense crowds surged up and down the
streets. Bulletins and extra editions of newspapers passed from
hand to hand. Immediately it was evident what a great leveler war
is. Differences in rank and social distinctions had practically
ceased. All barriers seemed to have fallen; everybody addressed
everybody else.

I saw the crowds stop officers of high rank and well-known members
of the aristocracy and clergy, also state officials and court
functionaries of high rank, in quest of information, which was
imparted cheerfully and patiently. The imperial princes could
frequently be seen on the Ring Strasse surrounded by cheering
crowds or mingling with the public unceremoniously at the cafes,
talking to everybody. Of course, the army was idolized. Wherever
the troops marched the public broke into cheers and every uniform
was the center of an ovation.

While coming from the station I saw two young reservists, to all
appearances brothers, as they hurried to the barracks, carrying their
small belongings in a valise. Along with them walked a little old lady
crying, presumably their mother. They passed a general in full
uniform. Up went their hands to their caps in military salute,
whereupon the old general threw his arms wide open and embraced
them both, saying: "Go on, my boys, do your duty bravely and stand
firm for your emperor and your country. God willing, you will come
back to your old mother." The old lady smiled through her tears. A
shout went up, and the crowds surrounding the general cheered
him. Long after I had left I could hear them shouting.

A few streets farther on I saw in an open cafe a young couple, a
reservist in field uniform and a young girl, his bride or sweetheart.
They sat there, hands linked, utterly oblivious of their surroundings
and of the world at large. When somebody in the crowd espied
them, a great shout went up, the public rushing to the table and
surrounding them, then breaking into applause and waving hats and
handkerchiefs. At first the young couple seemed to be utterly taken
aback and only slowly did they realize that the ovation was meant
for them. They seemed confused, the young girl blushing and
hiding her face in her hands, the young man rising to his feet,
saluting and bowing. More cheers and applause. He opened his
mouth as if wanting to speak. There was a sudden silence. He was
vainly struggling for expression, but then his face lit up as if by
inspiration. Standing erect, hand at his cap, in a pose of military
salute, he intoned the Austrian national hymn. In a second every
head in that throng was bared. All traffic suddenly stopped,
everybody, passengers as well as conductors of the cars, joining in
the anthem. The neighboring windows soon filled with people, and
soon it was a chorus of thousands of voices. The volume of tone
and the intensity of feeling seemed to raise the inspiring anthem to
the uttermost heights of sublime majesty. We were then on our way
to the station, and long afterwards we could hear the singing,
swelling like a human organ.

What impressed me particularly in Vienna was the strict order
everywhere. No mob disturbances of any kind, in spite of the
greatly increased liberty and relaxation of police regulations.
Nor was there any runaway chauvinism noticeable, aside from the
occasional singing of patriotic songs and demonstrations like the
one I just described. The keynote of popular feeling was quiet
dignity, joined to determination, with an undercurrent of solemn
gravity and responsibility.

I had stopped in Vienna only long enough to bid good-bye to my
father, and left for the headquarters of my regiment in Graz. I
reported there for duty and then went to join the Fourth Battalion,
which was stationed at Leoben, one hour away from Graz, my
orders being to take command of the first platoon in the sixteenth
company. My platoon consisted of fifty-five men, two buglers, and
an ambulance patrol of four.

In Leoben my wife and I remained a week, which was spent in
organizing, equipping, requisitioning, recruiting, and preliminary
drilling. These were happy days, as we officers met for the first
time, friendships and bonds being sealed which subsequently were
tested in common danger and amidst privation and stress. Many of
the officers had brought their wives and soon delightful intercourse,
utterly free from formality, developed, without any regard or
reference to rank, wealth, or station in private life. Among the
reserve officers of my battalion were a famous sculptor, a
well-known philologist, two university professors (one of mathematics,
the other of natural science), a prince, and a civil engineer at the
head of one of the largest Austrian steel corporations. The surgeon
of our battalion was the head of a great medical institution and a
man of international fame. Among my men in the platoon were a
painter, two college professors, a singer of repute, a banker, and a
post official of high rank. But nobody cared and in fact I myself did
not know until much later what distinguished men were in my
platoon. A great cloak of brotherhood seemed to have enveloped
everybody and everything, even differences in military rank not
being so obvious at this time, for the officers made friends of their
men, and in turn were worshipped by them.

My wife volunteered her services as Red Cross nurse, insisting
upon being sent to the front, in order to be as near me as could be,
but it developed later that no nurse was allowed to go farther than
the large troop hospitals far in the rear of the actual operations.
Upon my urgent appeal she desisted and remained in Vienna after I
had left, nursing in the barracks, which are now used for hospital
work. In fact, almost every third or fourth house, both private and
public, as well as schools, were given to the use of the government
and converted into Red Cross stations.

The happy days in Leoben came to an abrupt end, my regiment
receiving orders to start immediately for the front.

We proceeded to Graz, where we joined the other three battalions
and were entrained for an unknown destination. We traveled via
Budapest to Galicia, and left the train at Strij, a very important
railroad center south of Lemberg. It must be understood that the
only reports reaching us from the fighting line at that time were to
the effect that the Russians had been driven back from our border,
and that the Austrian armies actually stood on the enemy's soil. Strij
being hundreds of miles away from the Russian frontier, we could
not but surmise that we were going to be stationed there some time
for the purpose of training and maneuvering. This belief was
strengthened by the fact that our regiment belonged to the
Landsturm, or second line of reserves, originally intended for home
service. We were, however, alarmed that very same night and
marched out of Strij for a distance of about twenty miles, in
conjunction with the entire Third Army Corps. After a short pause
for the purpose of eating and feeding the horses, we marched
another twenty-two miles. This first day's march constituted a very
strong test of endurance in consequence of our comparative
softness and lack of training, especially as, in addition to his heavy
rifle, bayonet, ammunition, and spade, each soldier was burdened
with a knapsack containing emergency provisions in the form of
tinned meats, coffee extract, sugar, salt, rice, and biscuits, together
with various tin cooking and eating utensils; furthermore a second
pair of shoes, extra blouse, changes of underwear, etc. On top of
this heavy pack a winter overcoat and part of a tent were strapped,
the entire weight of the equipment being in the neighborhood of fifty
pounds. The day wore on. Signs of fatigue soon manifested
themselves more and more strongly, and slowly the men dropped
out one by one, from sheer exhaustion. No murmur of complaint,
however, would be heard. Most of those who fell out of line, after
taking a breathing space for a few minutes, staggered on again.
The few that remained behind joined the regiment later on when
camp was established. We wondered then at the necessity of such
a forced march, being unable to see a reason for it, unless it was to
put us in training.

Night had fallen when we reached a small monastery in the midst of
a forest, where the peaceful surroundings and the monastic life,
entirely untouched by the war fever, seemed strange indeed. Camp
was established, tents erected, fires were lighted, and coffee made.
Soon a life of bustling activity sprang up in the wilderness, in the
midst of the forest which only a few hours before had been

It made a weird and impressive picture in the wonderful starlight
night, these soldiers sitting around the camp fires softly singing in
chorus; the fantastic outlines of the monastery half hidden in the
woods; the dark figures of the monks moving silently back and forth
amongst the shadows of the trees as they brought refreshments to
the troops; the red glow of the camp fires illuminating the eager and
enthusiastic faces of the young officers grouped around the colonel;
the snorting and stamping of the horses nearby; an occasional
melodic outcry of a sentinel out in the night; all these things merging
into an unforgettable scene of great romanticism and beauty. That
night I lay for a long while stretched near the smoldering ashes of
the camp fire, with my cape as a blanket, in a state of lassitude and
somnolence, my soul filled with exaltation and happiness over the
beauty around me.

The rest, however, was of very short duration, for at six o'clock in
the morning we were aroused, camp was broken up and soon
afterwards we started on a forced march of twenty-two miles without
a halt, during which we twice had to wade knee-deep through rivers.
By midday most of the men were so exhausted that they could
hardly crawl along. It was remarkable that the comparatively
weaker and more refined city-bred people who had done little
physical work in their lives, most of them being professional men,
withstood hardships better than the sturdy and, to all appearances,
stronger peasants; the only explanation for it being perhaps that the.
city-bred people, in consequence of their better surroundings and by
reason of their education, had more will power and nervous strength
than the peasants.

At half-past two we reached a clearing in the midst of a wood
through which a river flowed. Here camp was again established and
a half hour later all the hardships of the march were once more
forgotten in the bustle of camp life. This time we had a full rest until
the next morning at four o'clock, when suddenly orders for marching
were given. After we had been under way for about three hours we
heard far-away, repeated rumbling which sounded like distant
thunder. Not for a moment did we associate it with cannonading,
being, as we supposed, hundreds of miles away from the nearest
place where Russians could possibly be. Suddenly a mounted
ordnance officer came rushing with a message to our colonel. We
came to a halt and all officers were summoned to the colonel who,
addressing us in his usual quiet, almost businesslike way, said:
"Gentlemen, accept my congratulations, I have good news for you,
we may meet the enemy to-day and I sincerely hope to lead you to
the fight before evening." We were thunderstruck at the sudden
realization that the Russians had penetrated so deeply into Galicia.
The despondency which followed this startling revelation, however,
was quickly replaced by the intense excitement of meeting the
enemy so soon. We hurried back to our companies, imparting the
news to the men, who broke forth into shouts of enthusiasm. All the
fatigue so plainly noticeable only a few minutes before, suddenly
vanished as if by magic, and every one seemed alert, springy, and
full of spirit. We energetically resumed the march in the direction of
the distant rumbling, which indicated that the artillery of our advance
guard had engaged the enemy. My regiment then was part of the
main body of a division. A second division advanced on the road
parallel to ours, about a mile and a quarter to our left. Both columns
belonged to the Third Army Corps and kept up constant communication
with each other through mounted dispatch bearers and motor cycles.

The cannonading had meanwhile come perceptibly nearer, and in
the midst of the dense forest we again came to a short halt. Orders
were given to load rifles, and upon emerging from the woods we fell
into open formation, the men marching abreast, the companies at a
distance of three hundred yards, with the battalions at a distance of
about a thousand yards. We were slowly entering the range of the
Russian artillery. About a mile ahead we could see numbers of
harmless looking round clouds, looking like ringlets of smoke from a
huge cigar, indicating the places where shrapnel had exploded in
mid-air. Our men, not being familiar with the spectacle, took no
notice of it, but we officers knew its significance, and I daresay many
a heart beat as wildly as mine did.

We marched on until the command was given for us to deploy, and
soon afterwards the first shrapnel whizzed over our heads. It did no
harm, nor did the second and third, but the fourth hit three men in
the battalion in the rear of us. Our forward movement, however,
was not interrupted, and we did not see or hear anything beyond
two or three startled cries. The next shell burst right ahead of us,
sending a shower of bullets and steel fragments around. A man
about twenty yards to the right of my company, but not of my
platoon, leaped into the air with an agonizing cry and fell in a heap,
mortally wounded. As we were advancing very swiftly, I only saw it
as in a dream, while running by. Then came in rapid succession
four or five terrific explosions right over our heads, and I felt a
sudden gust of cold wind strike my cheek as a big shell fragment
came howling through the air, ploughing the ground viciously as it
struck and sending a spray of sand around.

We ran on perhaps a quarter of a mile, when from the rear came
the sharp command, "Down," and the next second we lay on the
ground, panting and exhausted, my heart almost bursting with the
exertion. Simultaneously the whizzing of a motor above our heads
could be heard and we knew why the enemy's shrapnel had so
suddenly found us. It was a Russian aeroplane which presumably
had signaled our approach, together with the range, to the Russian
gunners, and now was probably directing their fire and closely
watching its effect, for a chain of hills was hiding us from the view of
the enemy, who consequently had to fire indirectly. The air craft
hovered above our heads, but we were forbidden to fire at it, the
extremely difficult, almost vertical aim promising little success, aside
from the danger of our bullets falling back among us. Our reserves
in the rear had apparently sighted the air craft too, for soon we
heard a volley of rifle fire from that direction and simultaneously the
aeroplane arose and disappeared in the clouds.

Just then our own artillery came thundering up, occupied a little hill
in the rear and opened fire on the enemy. The moral effect of the
thundering of one's own artillery is most extraordinary, and many of
us thought that we had never heard any more welcome sound than
the deep roaring and crashing that started in at our rear. It quickly
helped to disperse the nervousness caused by the first entering into
battle and to restore self control and confidence. Besides, by
getting into action, our artillery was now focusing the attention and
drawing the fire of the Russian guns, for most of the latter's shells
whined harmlessly above us, being aimed at the batteries in our
rear. Considerably relieved by this diversion, we resumed our
forward movement after about fifteen minutes of further rest, our
goal being the little chain of hills which our advance guard had
previously occupied pending our arrival. Here we were ordered to
take up positions and dig trenches, any further advance being out of
the question, as the Russian artillery overlooked and commanded
the entire plain stretching in front of us.

We started at once to dig our trenches, half of my platoon stepping
forward abreast, the men being placed an arm's length apart. After
laying their rifles down, barrels pointing to the enemy, a line was
drawn behind the row of rifles and parallel to it. Then each man
would dig up the ground, starting from his part of the line backwards,
throwing forward the earth removed, until it formed a sort of
breastwork. The second half of the platoon was meanwhile resting
in the rear, rifle in hand and ready for action. After a half hour they
took the place of the first division at work, and vice versa. Within an
hour work on the trenches was so far advanced that they could be
deepened while standing in them. Such an open trench affords
sufficient shelter against rifle bullets striking from the front and can
be made in a measure shell proof by being covered with boards, if
at hand, and with sod.

In the western area of the theater of war, in France and Flanders,
where whole armies were deadlocked, facing each other for weeks
without shifting their position an inch, such trenches become an
elaborate affair, with extensive underground working and wing
connections of lines which almost constitute little fortresses and
afford a certain measure of comfort. But where we were in Galicia
at the beginning of the war, with conditions utterly unsteady and
positions shifting daily and hourly, only the most superficial trenches
were used. In fact, we thought ourselves fortunate if we could
requisition enough straw to cover the bottom. That afternoon we
had about half finished our work when our friend the aeroplane
appeared on the horizon again. This time we immediately opened
fire. It disappeared, but apparently had seen enough, for very soon
our position was shelled. By this time, however, shrapnel had
almost ceased to be a source of concern to us and we scarcely paid
any attention to it. Human nerves quickly get accustomed to the
most unusual conditions and circumstances and I noticed that quite
a number of men actually fell asleep from sheer exhaustion in the
trenches, in spite of the roaring of the cannon about us and the
whizzing of shrapnel over our heads.

I, too, soon got accustomed to the deadly missiles,--in fact, I had
already started to make observations of their peculiarities. My ear,
accustomed to differentiate sounds of all kinds, had some time ago,
while we still advanced, noted a remarkable discrepancy in the
peculiar whine produced by the different shells in their rapid flight
through the air as they passed over our heads, some sounding
shrill, with a rising tendency, and the others rather dull, with a falling
cadence. A short observation revealed the fact that the passing of
a dull-sounding shell was invariably preceded by a flash from one of
our own cannon in the rear on the hill, which conclusively proved it
to be an Austrian shell. It must be understood that as we were
advancing between the positions of the Austrian and Russian
artillery, both kinds of shells were passing over our heads. As we
advanced the difference between shrill and dull shell grew less and
less perceptible, until I could hardly tell them apart. Upon nearing
the hill the difference increased again more and more until on the hill
itself it was very marked. After our trench was finished I crawled to
the top of the hill until I could make out the flash of the Russian guns
on the opposite heights and by timing flash and actual passing of
the shell, found to my astonishment that now the Russian missiles
had become dull, while on the other hand, the shrill shell was
invariably heralded by a flash from one of our guns, now far in the
rear. What had happened was this: Every shell describes in its
course a parabolic line, with the first half of the curve ascending and
the second one descending. Apparently in the first half of its curve,
that is, its course while ascending, the shell produced a dull whine
accompanied by a falling cadence, which changes to a rising shrill
as soon as the acme has been reached and the curve points
downward again. The acme for both kinds of shells naturally was
exactly the half distance between the Russian and Austrian artillery
and this was the point where I had noticed that the difference was
the least marked. A few days later, in talking over my observation
with an artillery officer, I was told the fact was known that the shells
sounded different going up than when coming down, but this
knowledge was not used for practical purposes. When I told him
that I could actually determine by the sound the exact place where a
shell coming from the opposing batteries was reaching its acme, he
thought that this would be of great value in a case where the
position of the opposing battery was hidden and thus could be
located. He apparently spoke to his commander about me, for a
few days later I was sent on a reconnoitering tour, with the object of
marking on the map the exact spot where I thought the hostile shells
were reaching their acme, and it was later on reported to me that I
had succeeded in giving to our batteries the almost exact range of
the Russian guns. I have gone into this matter at some length,
because it is the only instance where my musical ear was of value
during my service.

To return to my narrative, the losses which my battalion suffered
that day seemed extraordinarily small when compared with the
accuracy of the Russian artillery's aim and the number of missiles
they fired. I counted seventy-four shrapnel that burst in a circle of
half a mile around us in about two hours, and yet we had no more
than about eighteen casualties. The most difficult part was to lie still
and motionless while death was being dealt all about us and it was
then and there that I had my first experience of seeing death next to
me. A soldier of my platoon, while digging in the trench, suddenly
leaned back, began to cough like an old man, a little blood broke
from his lips, and he crumpled together in a heap and lay quite still.
I could not realize that this was the end, for his eyes were wide open
and his face wore the stamp of complete serenity. Apparently he
had not suffered at all. The man had been a favorite with all his
fellows by reason of his good humor, and that he was now stretched
out dead seemed unbelievable. I saw a great many men die
afterwards, some suffering horribly, but I do not recall any death that
affected me quite so much as that of this first victim in my platoon.


The artillery duel died out with the coming of darkness and we
settled down to rest, half of the men taking watch while the others
slept. At five o'clock in the morning our regiment suddenly received
the order to fall in, and, together with two other regiments, was
drawn out of the fighting line. Our commanding general had
received news that an isolated detachment on the extreme right
wing of our army, about fifteen miles east of us, had been entirely
surrounded by a strong Russian body, and we were ordered to
relieve them. It must not be forgotten that our men had been under
a most incredible strain for the last three days with barely any rest
during the nights and not more than one meal a day. They had
actually welcomed entering the firing line, as a relief from the
fatigues of marching with their heavy burdens. It is curious how
indifferent one becomes to danger if one's organism is worn down
and brain and faculty of perception numbed by physical exertion. It
was, therefore, with badly broken-down strength that we started on
this relief expedition, and it was good to see how unflinchingly the
soldiers undertook their unexpected new task. All we had to say to
our men was: "Boys, your brothers are needing you. They are cut
off from all possible relief unless you bring it. Their lives are at
stake, and as they are defending one of the most strategically
important points--the right wing of our army--you can turn the tide of
the whole battle in our favor; so go on." And on they went,
staggering and stumbling, and at the end of a few hours almost
crawling, but ever forward.

Suddenly we came up with another regiment which had been called
to the same task, and the colonel of the new regiment, being older
in rank than our colonel, took command of the newly formed brigade
of two regiments. My company happened to march at the head of
the regiment and the new brigadier rode for some time alongside of
me. I was deeply impressed by his firm military and yet unassuming
bearing and his deep glowing enthusiasm for his army and his men.
He told me with pride that two of his sons were serving in the army,
too, one as an artillery officer and the other one as an officer with
the sappers. We were then approaching the point where we could
hear distinctly the fire of our own batteries and the answer from the
Russians, and here and there a volley of rifle fire. Our colonel urged
us on to renewed energy, and knowledge that we were nearing our
goal, seemed to give new strength to our men. Already we were
witnessing evidences of the first fight that had passed here, for
wounded men constantly passed us on stretchers. Suddenly I saw
the face of the colonel riding next to me, light up with excitement as
a wounded man was borne past. He addressed a few words to the
stretcher-bearers and then turned to me, saying: "The regiment of
my son is fighting on the hill. It is one of their men they have
brought by." He urged us on again, and it seemed to me as if I
noticed--or was it my imagination--a new note of appeal in his face.
Suddenly another stretcher was brought past. The colonel at my
side jumped from his horse, crying out, "My boy," and a feeble voice
answered, "Father." We all stopped as if a command had been
given, to look at the young officer who lay on the stretcher, his eyes
all aglow with enthusiasm and joy, unmindful of his own wound as
he cried out, "Father, how splendid that the relief should just come
from you! Goon. We held out splendidly. All we need is ammunition
and a little moral support. Go on, don't stop for me, I am all right."
The old colonel stood like a statue of bronze. His face had become
suddenly ashen gray. He looked at the doctor and tried to catch his
expression. The doctor seemed grave. But the young man urged
us on, saying, "Go on, go on, I'll be all right to-morrow." The whole
incident had not lasted more than five minutes, barely longer than it
takes to write it. The colonel mounted his horse, sternly
commanding us to march forward, but the light had died out of his

Within the next ten minutes a hail of shrapnel was greeting us, but
hardly any one of us was conscious of it, so terribly and deeply were
we affected by the scene of tragedy that had just been enacted
before us. I remember foolishly mumbling something to the silent
man riding next to me, something about the power of recuperation
of youth, about the comparative harmlessness of the pointed,
steelmantled rifle bullets which on account of their terrific percussion
make small clean wounds and rarely cause splintering of the bone
or blood poisoning. I remember saying that I had quite a medical
knowledge and that it seemed to me that his son was not mortally
wounded. But he knew better. He never said a word, only, a few
minutes later, "He was my only hope"; and I can't express how
ominous that word "was" sounded to me. But just then the
command to deploy was given and the excitement that followed
drowned for the time being all melancholy thoughts. We quickly
ascended the hill where the isolated detachment of Austrians had
kept the Russians at bay for fully twenty-four hours and opened fire
on the enemy, while the second regiment tried to turn his left flank.
The Russians slowly fell back but we followed them, and a sort of
running fight ensued, during which my regiment lost about fifty--
dead and wounded. The Russians temporarily resisted again, but
soon the pressure from our other regiment on their flank began to
be felt and they fled rather disorderly, leaving two machine guns,
some ammunition, and four carriages full of provisions in our hands,
while the regiment which had executed the flanking movement took
two hundred and forty prisoners.

Around eight o'clock at night the fight was stopped for want of light,
and we took up our newly acquired positions, entrenched them well,
and began to make ready for the night. Orders for outpost duty
were given and the officers were again called to the brigadier-
colonel, who in a few words outlined the situation to us, thanking us
for the pertinacity and bravery shown by the troops, and adding that
the success of the expedition lay in the fact that we had arrived in
time to save the situation.

Then the question of transporting prisoners to the rear came up,
and while the brigadier's eyes were searching us I felt that he was
going to entrust me with that mission. He looked at me, gave me
the order in a short, measured way, but his eyes gazed searchingly
and deeply into mine, and I thought I understood the unspoken
message. So, tired as I was, I immediately set out with a guard of
twenty men to transport the two hundred and forty Russian
prisoners, among whom were two officers, back behind the fighting
line. They seemed not unhappy over their lot--in fact, were smoking
and chatting freely while we marched back. One of the Russian
officers had a wound in his leg and was carried on a stretcher, but
he, too, seemed quite at ease, conversing with me in French and
congratulating me upon the bravery our isolated detachment had
shown against the terrific onslaught. As soon as I had delivered
them safely into the hands of the commander of our reserves, I
inquired the way to the nearest field hospital in search of the young
officer, the son of our brigadier-colonel. It was then about nine
o'clock at night, and on entering the peasant's hut where the field
hospital was established, I saw at a glance that I had come too late.
He lay there still, hands folded over his breast with as serene and
happy an expression as if asleep. His faithful orderly sat weeping
next to him, and some kind hand had laid a small bunch of field
flowers on his breast.

From the doctor I got the full information. He had received a shot in
the abdomen and a rifle bullet had grazed his cheek. His last words
had been a fervent expression of joy over the relief brought by his
father and the knowledge that the position would not be taken by the
Russians. He had died as simply as a child, without regret, and
utterly happy. I took the orderly with me, asking him to carry all the
belongings of the young officer with him in order to transmit them to
his father.

When I returned with the orderly, the brigadier was issuing orders to
his officers and conferring with them about the military situation. He
saw me come, yet not a muscle moved in his face, nor did he
interrupt his conversation. I was overwhelmed by the power this
man showed at that minute, and admit I had not the courage to
break the news to him, but it was unnecessary, for he understood.
The faithful orderly stepped forward, as I had bidden him, presenting
to the old man the pocketbook and small articles that belonged to
his son. While he did so he broke forth into sobs, lamenting aloud
the loss of his beloved lieutenant, yet not a muscle moved in the
face of the father. He took my report, nodded curtly, dismissed me
without a word, and turned back to his ordnance officers, resuming
the conversation.

I assumed the command of my platoon which in the mean time had
been assigned to do some outpost duty under the command of the
sergeant. I inquired about their position and went out to join them.
About midnight we were relieved, and when marching back, passed
the place where the tent of the brigadier had been erected. I saw a
dark figure lying on the floor, seemingly in deep sleep, and ordering
my men to march on I crept silently forward. Then I saw that his
shoulders were convulsively shaking and I knew that the mask of
iron had fallen at last. The night was chilly so I entered his tent in
search of his overcoat and laid it around his shoulders. He never
noticed it. The next morning when I saw him his face was as
immovable as it had been the night before, but he seemed to have
aged by many years.

The next day was a comparatively restful one. We fortified the
entrenchments which we had taken, and as our battle lines were
extended to the right, from being the extreme right we became
almost the center of the new position which extended for perhaps
ten miles from northwest to southeast about eighteen miles south of

The next few days were given to repairs, provisioning, and resting,
with occasional small skirmishes and shifting of positions. Then one
night a scouting aeroplane brought news of a forward movement of
about five Russian army corps, which seemed to push in the
direction of our center. Against this force we could muster only
about two army corps, but our strategical position seemed a very
good one, both the extreme flanks of our army being protected by
large and impassable swamps. Evidently the Russians had realized
the impossibility of turning our flanks and were endeavoring to
pierce our center by means of a vigorous frontal attack, relying upon
their great superiority in numbers. Every preparation had been
made to meet the onslaught during the night. Our trenches had
been strengthened, the artillery had been brought into position,
cleverly masked by means of transplanted bushes, the field in front
of us had been cleared of objects obstructing the view, and the
sappers had been feverishly busy constructing formidable
barbed-wire entanglements and carefully measuring the shooting
distances, marking the different ranges by bundles of hay or other
innocent-looking objects, which were placed here and there in the

At nine o'clock in the morning everything was ready to receive the
enemy, the men taking a short and well-deserved rest in their
trenches, while we officers were called to the colonel, who
acquainted us with the general situation, and, giving his orders,
addressed us in a short, business-like way, appealing to our sense
of duty and expressing his firm belief in our victory. We all knew that
his martial attitude and abrupt manner were a mask to hide his inner
self, full of throbbing emotion and tender solicitude for his
subordinates, and we returned to our trenches deeply moved.

The camp was absolutely quiet, the only movements noticeable
being around the field kitchens in the rear, which were being
removed from the battle line. A half hour later any casual observer,
glancing over the deserted fields might have laughed at the
intimation that the earth around him was harboring thousands of
men armed to their teeth, and that pandemonium of hell would
break loose within an hour. Barely a sound was audible, and a hush
of expectancy descended upon us. I looked around at my men in
the trench; some were quietly asleep, some writing letters, others
conversed in subdued and hushed tones. Every face I saw bore
the unmistakable stamp of the feeling so characteristic of the last
hour before a battle,--that curious mixture of solemn dignity, grave
responsibility, and suppressed emotion, with an undercurrent of sad
resignation. They were pondering over their possible fate, or
perhaps dreaming of their dear ones at home.

By and by even the little conversation ceased, and they sat quite
silent, waiting and waiting, perhaps awed by their own silence.
Sometimes one would bravely try to crack a joke, and they laughed,
but it sounded strained. They were plainly nervous, these brave
men that fought like lions in the open when led to an attack,
heedless of danger and destruction. They felt under a cloud in the
security of the trenches, and they were conscious of it and
ashamed. Sometimes my faithful orderly would turn his eye on me,
mute, as if in quest of an explanation of his own feeling. Poor dear
unsophisticated boy! I was as nervous as they all were, although
trying my best to look unconcerned; but I knew that the hush that
hovered around us like a dark cloud would give way like magic to
wild enthusiasm as soon as the first shot broke the spell and the
exultation of the battle took hold of us all.

Suddenly, at about ten o'clock, a dull thud sounded somewhere far
away from us, and simultaneously we saw a small white round cloud
about half a mile ahead of us where the shrapnel had exploded.
The battle had begun. Other shots followed shortly, exploding here
and there, but doing no harm. The Russian gunners evidently were
trying to locate and draw an answer from our batteries. These,
however, remained mute, not caring to reveal their position. For a
long time the Russians fired at random, mostly at too short a range
to do any harm, but slowly the harmless-looking white clouds came
nearer, until a shell, whining as it whizzed past us, burst about a
hundred yards behind our trench. A second shell followed,
exploding almost at the same place. At the same time, we noticed a
faint spinning noise above us. Soaring high above our position,
looking like a speck in the firmament, flew a Russian aeroplane,
watching the effect of the shells and presumably directing the fire of
the Russian artillery. This explained its sudden accuracy. One of
our aeroplanes rose, giving chase to the enemy, and simultaneously our
batteries got into action. The Russians kept up a sharply
concentrated, well-directed fire against our center, our gunners
responding gallantly, and the spirited artillery duel which ensued
grew in intensity until the entrails of the earth seemed fairly to
shake with the thunder.

By one o'clock the incessant roaring, crashing, and splintering of
bursting shells had become almost unendurable to our nerves,
which were already strained to the snapping-point by the lack of
action and the expectancy. Suddenly there appeared a thin dark
line on the horizon which moved rapidly towards us, looking not
unlike a huge running bird with immense outstretched wings. We
looked through our field glasses; there could be no doubt,--it was
Russian cavalry, swooping down upon us with incredible impetus
and swiftness. I quickly glanced at our colonel. He stared
open-mouthed. This was, indeed, good fortune for us,--too good to
believe. No cavalry attack could stand before well-disciplined
infantry, providing the latter keep cool and well composed, calmly
waiting until the riders come sufficiently close to take sure aim.

There was action for us at last. At a sharp word of command, our
men scrambled out of the trenches for better view and aim, shouting
with joy as they did so. What a change had come over us all! My
heart beat with wild exultation. I glanced at my men. They were all
eagerness and determination, hand at the trigger, eyes on the
approaching enemy, every muscle strained, yet calm, their bronzed
faces hardened into immobility, waiting for the command to fire.
Every subaltern officer's eye hung on our colonel, who stood about
thirty yards ahead of us on a little hill, his figure well defined in the
sunlight, motionless, the very picture of calm assurance and proud
bearing. He scanned the horizon with his glasses. Shrapnel was
hailing around him, but he seemed utterly unaware of it; for that
matter we had all forgotten it, though it kept up its terrible uproar,
spitting here and there destruction into our midst.

By this time the avalanche of tramping horses had come perceptibly
nearer. Soon they would sweep by the bundle of hay which marked
the carefully measured range within which our fire was terribly
effective. Suddenly the mad stampede came to an abrupt standstill,
and then the Cossacks scattered precipitately to the right and left,
only to disclose in their rear the advancing Russian infantry, the
movements of which it had been their endeavor to veil.

The infantry moved forward in loose lines, endlessly rolling on like
shallow waves overtaking each other, one line running forward, then
suddenly disappearing by throwing itself down and opening fire on
us to cover the advance of the other line, and so on, while their
artillery kept up a hellish uproar spreading destruction through our
lines. Simultaneously a Russian aeroplane swept down upon us
with a noise like an angered bird of prey and pelted us with bombs,
the effects of which, however, were more moral than actual, for we
had regained the security of the trenches and opened fire on the
approaching enemy, who in spite of heavy losses advanced steadily
until he reached our wire entanglements. There he was greeted by
a deadly fire from our machine guns. The first Russian lines were
mowed down as if by a gigantic scythe, and so were the reserves as
they tried to advance. The first attack had collapsed. After a short
time, however, they came on again, this time more cautiously,
armed with nippers to cut the barbed wire and using the bodies of
their own fallen comrades as a rampart. Again they were repulsed.
Once more their cavalry executed a feigned attack under cover of
which the Russian infantry rallied, strongly reinforced by reserves,
and more determined than ever.

Supported by heavy artillery fire their lines rolled endlessly on and
hurled themselves against the barbed-wire fences. For a short time
it almost seemed, as if they would break through by sheer weight of
numbers. At that critical moment, however, our reserves
succeeded in executing a flanking movement. Surprised and
caught in a deadly cross-fire, the Russian line wavered and finally
they fled in disorder.

All these combined artillery, infantry, cavalry, and aeroplane attacks
had utterly failed in their object of dislodging our center or shaking
its position, each one being frustrated by the resourceful, cool
alertness of our commanding general and the splendid heroism and
stoicism of our troops. But the strain of the continuous fighting for
nearly the whole day without respite of any kind, or chance for food
or rest, in the end told on the power of endurance of our men, and
when the last attack had been successfully repulsed they lay mostly
prostrated on the ground, panting and exhausted. Our losses had
been very considerable too, stretcher-bearers being busy
administering first aid and carrying the wounded back to the nearest
field hospital, while many a brave man lay stark and still.

By eight o'clock it had grown perceptibly cooler. We now had time
to collect our impressions and look about us. The Russians had left
many dead on the field, and at the barbed-wire entanglements
which our sappers had constructed as an obstacle to their advance,
their bodies lay heaped upon each other, looking not unlike the
more innocent bundles of hay lying in the field. We could see the
small Red Cross parties in the field climbing over the horribly
grotesque tumuli of bodies, trying to disentangle the wounded from
the dead and administer first aid to them.

Enthusiasm seemed suddenly to disappear before this terrible
spectacle. Life that only a few hours before had glowed with
enthusiasm and exultation, suddenly paled and sickened. The
silence of the night was interrupted only by the low moaning of the
wounded that came regularly to us. It was hideous in its terrible
monotony. The moon had risen, throwing fantastic lights and
shadows over the desolate landscape and the heaped-up dead.
These grotesque piles of human bodies seemed like a monstrous
sacrificial offering immolated on the altar of some fiendishly cruel,
antique deity. I felt faint and sick at heart and near swooning away.
I lay on the floor for some time unconscious of what was going on
around me, in a sort of stupor, utterly crushed over the horrors
about me. I do not know how long I had lain there, perhaps ten
minutes, perhaps half an hour, when suddenly I heard a gruff, deep
voice behind me--the brigadier, who had come around to inspect
and to give orders about the outposts. His calm, quiet voice
brought me to my senses and I reported to him. His self-assurance,
kindness, and determination dominated the situation. Within five
minutes he had restored confidence, giving definite orders for the
welfare of every one, man and beast alike, showing his solicitude for
the wounded, for the sick and weak ones, and mingling praise and
admonition in just measure. As by magic I felt fortified. Here was a
real man undaunted by nervous qualms or by over-sensitiveness.
The horrors of the war were distasteful to him, but he bore them with
equanimity. It was, perhaps, the first time in my life that I regretted
that my artistic education had over-sharpened and overstrung my
nervous system, when I saw how manfully and bravely that man
bore what seemed to me almost unbearable. His whole machinery
of thinking was not complicated and not for a moment did qualms of
"Weltschmerz" or exaggerated altruism burden his conscience and
interfere with his straight line of conduct which was wholly
determined by duty and code of honor. In his private life he was an
unusually kind man. His solicitude for his subordinates, for
prisoners, and for the wounded was touching, yet he saw the
horrors of the war unflinchingly and without weakening, for were
they not the consequences of the devotion of men to their cause?
The whole thing seemed quite natural to him. The man was clearly
in his element and dominated it.

After having inspected the outposts, I went back, bedded myself in a
soft sand-heap, covered myself up, and was soon fast and
peacefully asleep. During the night the dew moistened the sand,
and when I awoke in the morning I found myself encased in a
plastering which could not be removed for days.


Our hopes of getting a little rest and respite from the fighting were
soon shattered, for a scouting aeroplane brought news that the
Russians were again advancing in overwhelming strength. Our
commanding general, coming to the conclusion that with the
reduced and weakened forces at his command he could not
possibly offer any effective resistance to a renewed onslaught, had
determined to fall back slowly before their pressure. The
consequence was a series of retreating battles for us, which lasted
about ten days and which constituted what is now called the battle
of Lemberg.

We were then terribly outnumbered by the Russians, and in order to
extricate our army and prevent it from being surrounded and cut off,
we constantly had to retreat, one detachment taking up positions to
resist the advancing Russians, trying to hold them at all costs in
order to give the rest of the army sufficient time to retire to safety.
This maneuvering could not, of course, be carried out without the
forces guarding the rear and covering the retreat suffering
sometimes terrible losses.

These were depressing days, with rain and storm adding to the
gloom. The men tramped wearily, hanging their heads, ashamed
and humiliated by the retreat, the necessity of which they could not
grasp, having, as they thought, successfully repulsed the enemy. It
was difficult to make them understand that our regiment was only a
cog in the huge wheel of the Austrian fighting machine and that, with
a battle line extending over many miles, it was quite natural that
partial successes could take place and yet the consideration of
general strategy necessitate a retreat. Our arguing made little
impression on the men; for they only shook their heads and said,
"We were victorious, we should have gone on."

The spirit of retreating troops is vastly different from that shown
by an advancing army, and it was probably in recognition of this
well-known psychological state that our general staff had in the
beginning attacked the Russians wherever they could, in spite of the
overwhelming superiority of the foe, but the reinforcements the
Russians were able to draw upon had swelled their ranks so
enormously that any attack would have been little short of madness.

The real hardships and privations for us began only now. The few
roads of Galicia, which at best are in bad condition, through the
constant passing of heavy artillery and wagons of all kinds following
each other in endless procession through constant rains, had
become well-nigh impassable, the heavy mud constituting an
additional impediment to the marching of troops. In order to get all
of the train carrying provisions out of the possible reach of a sudden
raid by the Russian cavalry, it had to be sent miles back of us, so as
not to interfere with the movement of the troops. This caused
somewhat of an interruption in the organization of the commissary
department and very little food reached the troops, and that only at
very long intervals.

The distribution of food to an army, even in peace and under the
best conditions, is a very complicated and difficult undertaking.
Provisions are shipped from the interior to the important railway
centers, which serve as huge army depots and form the basis from
which the different army corps draw their provisions and from which
they are constantly replenished. They in turn supply the divisions
and brigades wherefrom the regiments and battalions draw their
provisions. So it is seen that the great aorta which leads from the
interior to the big depots slowly subdivides itself into smaller arteries
and feeders until they reach the ultimate destination, the extreme

This distribution of food had now become a formidable task, in
consequence of the unforeseen movements and diversions which
were forced upon us by the unexpected developments of the battle;
and it often happened that food supplies intended for a certain
detachment would reach their destination only after the departure of
that detachment.

My platoon had by this time shrunk from fifty-five men to about
thirty-four, but those remaining had become very hardened,
efficient, and fit. It is astonishing how quickly the human organism
adjusts itself, if need be, to the most difficult circumstances. So far
as I was concerned, for instance, I adapted myself to the new life
without any trouble at all, responding to the unusual demands upon
me automatically, as it were. My rather impaired eyesight improved
in the open, with only wide distances to look at. I found that my
muscles served me better than ever before. I leaped and ran and
supported fatigue that would have appalled me under other
circumstances. In the field all neurotic symptoms seem to
disappear as by magic, and one's whole system is charged with
energy and vitality. Perhaps this is due to the open-air life with its
simplified standards, freed from all the complex exigencies of
society's laws, and unhampered by conventionalities, as well as to
the constant throb of excitement, caused by the activity, the
adventure, and the uncertainty of fate.

The very massing together of so many individuals, with every will
merged into one that strives with gigantic effort toward a common
end, and the consequent simplicity and directness of all purpose,
seem to release and unhinge all the primitive, aboriginal forces
stored in the human soul, and tend to create the indescribable
atmosphere of exultation which envelopes everything and
everybody as with a magic cloak.

It is extraordinary how quickly suggestions of luxury, culture,
refinement, in fact all the gentler aspects of life, which one had
considered to be an integral part of one's life are quickly forgotten,
and, more than that, not even missed. Centuries drop from one,
and one becomes a primeval man, nearing the cave-dweller in an
incredibly short time. For twenty-one days I went without taking off
my clothes, sleeping on wet grass or in mud, or in the swamps,
wherever need be, and with nothing but my cape to cover me.
Nothing disturbs one. One night, while sleeping, we were drenched
to the skin by torrential rains. We never stirred, but waited for the
sun to dry us out again. Many things considered necessities of
civilization simply drop out of existence. A toothbrush was not
imaginable. We ate instinctively, when we had food, with our hands.
If we had stopped to think of it at all, we should have thought it
ludicrous to use knife and fork.

We were all looking like shaggy, lean wolves, from the necessity of
subsisting on next to nothing. I remember having gone for more
than three days at a time without any food whatsoever, and many a
time we had to lick the dew from the grass for want of water. A
certain fierceness arises in you, an absolute indifference to anything
the world holds except your duty of fighting. You are eating a crust
of bread, and a man is shot dead in the trench next to you. You
look calmly at him for a moment, and then go on eating your bread.
Why not? There is nothing to be done. In the end you talk of your
own death with as little excitement as you would of a luncheon
engagement. There is nothing left in your mind but the fact that
hordes of men to whom you belong are fighting against other
hordes, and your side must win.

My memory of these days is very much blurred, every day being
pretty nearly the same as the preceding one,--fatiguing marches,
little rest and comparatively little fighting.

It is quite possible that our commander tried to divide the work of the
troops in a just manner, and that in consequence of my regiment
having borne the brunt of two terrible attacks, and having suffered
considerable loss, we were now temporarily withdrawn from the
fighting line, and not once during these days were assigned to the
duty of a rear guard. Consequently we had only few and
unimportant skirmishes in these days, twice while guarding the flank
through having to repulse attacks of Cossacks, and once being
harassed by an armored automobile. But the movements of an
automobile being confined to the road, we had no difficulty in
avoiding its fire, and as for the Cossacks with their eternal feigned
attacks, we had reached the point where we almost ignored them.

We were in the first days of September, and upon reaching the
swamps near Grodeck, south of Lemberg, a determined stand was
decided upon by our commanding general. It seemed the most
propitious place for a formidable defense, there being only few
roads through otherwise impassable swamps. On September sixth
my battalion was ordered to take up a position commanding a defile
which formed one of the possible approaches for the enemy. Here
we awaited the Russians, and they were not long in coming. First
they violently shelled our position and silenced one of our batteries.
Finding their artillery fire did not draw any answer from our side, they
attempted to storm our position by means of frontal infantry attacks,
combined with occasional raids of Cossacks, which were always
repulsed. Finally the Russian infantry succeeded in establishing a
number of trenches, the one opposite us not more than five
hundred yards away. It was the first time we had come in close
touch with the Russians, almost within hailing distance, and with the
aid of our field glasses we could occasionally even get a glimpse of
their faces and recognize their features. We stayed four days
opposite each other, neither side gaining a foot of ground.

It was there and then that I made a curious observation. After the
second day we had almost grown to know each other. The Russians would
laughingly call over to us, and the Austrians would answer. The
salient feature of these three days' fighting was the extraordinary
lack of hatred. In fact, it is astonishing how little actual hatred
exists between fighting men. One fights fiercely and passionately,
mass against mass, but as soon as the mass crystallizes itself into
human individuals whose features one actually can recognize, hatred
almost ceases. Of course, fighting continues, but somehow it loses
its fierceness and takes more the form of a sport, each side being
eager to get the best of the other. One still shoots at his opponent,
but almost regrets when he sees him drop.

By the morning of the third day we knew nearly every member of the
opposing trench, the favorite of my men being a giant red-bearded
Russian whose constant pastime consisted in jumping like a
Jack-in-the-box from the trench, crying over to us as he did so. He
was frequently shot at, but never hit. Then he grew bolder, showing
himself longer and longer, until finally he jumped out of the trench
altogether, shouting to us wildly and waving his cap. His
good-humored jollity and bravado appealed to our boys and none of them
attempted to shoot at him while he presented such a splendid target.
Finally one of our men, who did not want to be second in bravery,
jumped out of the trench and presented himself in the full sunlight.
Not one attempt was made to shoot at him either, and these two men
began to gesticulate at each other, inviting each other to come
nearer. All fighting had suddenly ceased, and both opposing parties
were looking on, laughing like boys at play. Finally the Russian
would draw a step nearer, and our man boldly advanced too. Then the
Russians urged on their man with shouts and laughter, and he made a
big leap forward, standing still, whereupon the Austrian also jumped
forward, and so, step by step, they approached until they nearly
touched each other. They had left their rifles behind, and we thought
that they were going to indulge in a fist fight, all of us being sorry
for our champion, for he was a small and insignificant-looking man who
looked as if he could be crushed with one blow by his gigantic
opponent. But lo, and behold! The big Russian held out his hand which
held a package of tobacco and our Austrian, seizing the tobacco,
grasped the hand of the Russian, and then reaching in his pocket
produced a long Austrian cigar, which he ceremoniously presented to
the Russian. It was indeed a funny sight to see the small, wiry, lean
Austrian talking in exaggerated terms of politeness to the blond
Russian giant, who listened gravely and attentively, as if he
understood every word.

By this time all precautions and even ideas of fighting had been
forgotten, and we were surprised to find ourselves out of the shelter
of our trenches and fully exposed to the Russians, who, in turn,
leaned out of their own trenches and showed their heads in full.
This unofficial truce had lasted about twenty minutes, and
succeeded more in restoring good humor and joy of life among our
soldiers than a trainload of provisions would have done. It was one
of the incidents that helped to relieve the monotony of trench life
and was heartily welcomed by all of us. The fighting, however, soon
was resumed with all its earnestness and fierceness, but from this
moment on a certain camaraderie was established between the two
opposing trenches. Between skirmishes an unofficial truce would
frequently be called for the purpose of removing the wounded.
During these times when the stretcher-bearers were busy, no shot
would be fired on either side.

Nor was this an isolated case, for similar intermittent truces,
sometimes accompanied by actual intercourse between the
opposing forces, were quite common all along the battle line. That
very night I was hurriedly summoned to the trenches of the 13th
Company, about half a mile east of us, in order to act as an
interpreter between the major commanding that battalion and two
singular guests he had just received, a Russian officer and his
orderly. The pair, carrying a white flag, had hailed one of the
numerous Austrian outposts placed during the night, in front of the
trenches, and had been sent blindfolded back to the major. The
Russian officer spoke only broken French. He commanded one of
the opposing trenches, and from his narrative it appeared that his
men had not received any food supplies for some days and were
actually on the point of starvation. Not being able to stand their
misery any longer, he had taken the bull by the horns and, with the
utter confidence and straightforwardness of a fearless nature, had
simply come over to us, the enemy, for help, offering a little barrel of
water which his companion carried on his head and a little tobacco,
in exchange for some provisions. The major seemed at first,
perhaps, a little perplexed and undecided about this singular
request, but his generous nature and chivalry soon asserted itself.
One single look at the emaciated and worn faces of our guests
sufficiently substantiated the truth of their story, for both men were
utterly exhausted and on the verge of collapse. The next minute
messengers were flying to the different trenches of the battalion to
solicit and collect contributions, and the officers scrambled over
each other in their noble contest to deplete their own last and
cherished reserves for the supper of the guests. Soon the latter
were seated as comfortably as circumstances permitted before a
feast of canned beef, cheese, biscuits, and a slice of salami, my
own proud contribution consisting of two tablets of chocolate, part of
a precious reserve for extreme cases. It was a strange sight to see
these two Russians in an Austrian trench, surrounded by cordiality
and tender solicitude. The big brotherhood of humanity had for the
time enveloped friend and foe, stamping out all hatred and racial
differences. It is wonderful how the most tender flowers of
civilization can go hand in hand with the most brutal atrocities of
grim modern warfare.

In the mean while the messengers had returned almost staggering
under the weight of a sack filled with the gifts of our soldiers to the
enemy,--pieces of bread and biscuits with here and there a slice of
bacon or a lump of cheese, all thrown pele-mele together. Many a
man must have parted with his last piece of bread in order not to be
outdone by the others in generosity, for our own provisions were
running very low. It is true that the bread and biscuits were
mildewed, the cheese stale, and the bacon as hard as stone, but
the boys gave the best they could, the very poverty and
humbleness of the gifts attesting their own desperate plight, and
bearing proud witness to the extent of their sacrifice. With tears in
their eyes and reiterated protestations of thanks, our guests
staggered back through the night to their lines, undoubtedly carrying
with them tender memories of Austrian generosity and hospitality.

On the morning of the next day a Russian detachment succeeded in
storming a hill on our flank, commanding the strip of space between
ourselves and our reserves in the rear, thus cutting us off from our
main body. They established there a machine-gun battery, and,
although we were under cover in our trench, we were now in a very
precarious position, for no more provisions or ammunition could
reach us, all attempts to do so breaking down under a terrific
machine-gun fire, but we had orders to hold our position at all cost
and to the last man. Unfortunately our ammunition was giving out,
in spite of our husbanding it as much as possible and shooting only
when we had a sure target. The Russians soon found that each
shot meant a victim and took no chances on showing even the tips
of their caps. Neither could we move the least bit without being the
target for a volley from their side. Up to this day I cannot
understand why they did not try to rush us, but apparently they were
unaware of our comparative weakness.

Also for another reason our position had become more and more
untenable. We were on swampy ground and the water was
constantly oozing in from the bottom of the trench, so that we
sometimes had to stand nearly knee-deep and were forced to bail
the water out with our caps. It is difficult to imagine a more
deplorable situation than to have to stay for four days in a foul
trench, half filled with swamp water, constantly exposed to the
destructive fire of the enemy, utterly isolated and hopeless.

Soon we were completely without any food or water and our
ammunition was almost exhausted. During the night, here and
there daring men would rush through the space swept by the
Russian gun fire, which was kept up constantly, trying to bring us
what scanty supplies they could procure from neighboring trenches
better provided than we were, but the little they brought was nothing
compared to our needs.

On the evening of that third day, knowing that our ammunition was
giving out, we felt that the next day would bring the end, and all our
thoughts turned homewards and to the dear ones. We all wrote
what we considered our parting and last farewell, each one pledging
himself to deliver and take care of the letters of the others if he
survived. It was a grave, sad, deeply touching moment, when we
resigned ourselves to the inevitable, and yet somehow we all felt
relieved and satisfied that the end might come and grimly resolved
to sell our lives dearly.

Never before had I as much reason to admire the wonderful power
of endurance and stoicism of our soldiers as on that night. Once
resigned to the worst, all the old-time spirit returned, as if by magic.
They sat together playing cards in as much moonlight as would fall
into the deep trench, relating jokes and bolstering up one another's

The fourth day broke gloomy, with a drizzling rain. At ten o'clock
one of our men became suddenly insane, jumped out of the trench,
danced wildly and divested himself of every stitch of clothing while
doing so. Strange to say, the Russians must have realized that the
man was insane, for they never fired at him, neither did they at the
two men who jumped out to draw him back. We succeeded in
comforting and subduing him, and he soon fell into a stupor and
remained motionless for some time. As soon as darkness fell we
succeeded in conveying him back to the reserves and I understand
that he got quite well again in a few days.

At five o'clock that afternoon we suddenly received orders through a
running messenger, who was braving the incessant machine-gun
fire, that our positions were about to be abandoned and that we
were to evacuate our trench under the cover of darkness, at eleven
o'clock. I cannot but confess that we all breathed more freely on the
receipt of that information, but unfortunately the purpose could not
be carried out. The Russians by this time evidently had realized our
comparatively defenseless condition and utter lack of ammunition,
for that same night we heard two shots ring out, being a signal from
our sentinels that they were surprised and that danger was near. I
hardly had time to draw my sword, to grasp my revolver with my left
hand and issue a command to my men to hold their bayonets in
readiness, when we heard a tramping of horses and saw dark
figures swooping down upon us. For once the Cossacks actually
carried out their attack, undoubtedly owing to their intimate
knowledge of our lack of ammunition. My next sensation was a
crushing pain in my shoulder, struck by the hoof of a horse, and a
sharp knife pain in my right thigh. I fired with my revolver at the
hazy figure above me, saw it topple over and then lost

This happened, to the best of my recollection, at about half past ten
at night. Upon coming to my senses I found my faithful orderly,
kneeling in the trench by my side. He fairly shouted with delight as I
opened my eyes. According to his story the Austrians, falling back
under the cavalry charge, had evacuated the trench without
noticing, in the darkness, that I was missing. But soon discovering
my absence he started back to the trench in search of me. It was a
perilous undertaking for him, for the Cossacks were still riding about,
and he showed me with pride the place where a stray bullet had
perforated his knapsack during the search. He revived me, gave
me first aid, and succeeded with great difficulty in helping me out of
the trench. For more than three hours we stumbled on in the night,
trying to find our lines again. Twice we encountered a small troop of
Cossacks, but upon hearing the tramping we quietly lay down on the
wayside without a motion until they had passed. Happily we were
not noticed by them, and from then we stumbled on without any
further incident until we were hailed by an Austrian outpost and in

By this time I was utterly exhausted and again lost consciousness.
When I opened my eyes, I was in a little hut where our ambulance
gave first aid. Therefrom I was transported to the nearest field
hospital. This, however, had to be broken up and the wounded
removed because of the Russian advance. We were hastily put on
big ambulance wagons without springs, the jolting of which over the
bad road caused us such suffering that we should have almost
preferred to walk or crawl. We tried to reach the railway station at
Komarno but found a Russian detachment had intercepted us. In
the streets of the village a shell burst almost in front of our wagons,
making the horses shy and causing a great deal of confusion. We
had to turn back and after a long and wearisome detour reached
our destination, the troop hospital in Sambor, in a state of great
exhaustion. There I remained but a day. The less seriously
wounded had to make place for the graver cases, and being among
the former, I was transferred by hospital train to Miscolcy in
Hungary. The same crowded conditions prevailed here as in
Sambor, and after a night's rest I again was put on board a Red
Cross train en route to Vienna. We were met at the station by a
number of Red Cross nurses and assistant doctors.

To my great joy my wife was among the former, having been
assigned to that particular duty. A short official telegram to the
effect that I was being sent home wounded on hospital train Number
16 was the first news she had received about me for fully four
weeks. None of my field postcards had arrived and she was
suffering extreme nervous strain from the long anxiety and
suspense, which she had tried in vain to numb by feverish work in
her hospital. I remained two weeks in Vienna and then was
transferred to the sulphur bath of Baden near-by, where large
hospitals had been established to relieve the overcrowding of
Vienna. There I remained until the first of November when I was
ordered to appear before a mixed commission of army surgeons
and senior officers, for a medical examination. Two weeks later I
received formal intimation that I had been pronounced invalid and
physically unfit for army duty at the front or at home, and
consequently was exempted from further service. My military
experience ended there, and with deep regret I bade good-bye to
my loyal brother officers, comrades, and faithful orderly, and
discarded my well-beloved uniform for the nondescript garb of the
civilian, grateful that I had been permitted to be of any, if ever so
little, service to my Fatherland.

The End


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