After the gas attack we settled down to the quiet monotonous business of trench warfare.
It was noticeable that the morale of the soldiers was not what it should have been. The long, arduous campaign of more than two and a half years was beginning to tell on them.
Many of them came from villages thousands of miles away from the fighting front---indeed most of the Siberians came from the provinces on the Pacific Coast over five thousand miles away. The military authorities found it impracticable to give them leaves of absence and many of them hadn't seen their families since the start of the war.
The remoteness of their homes from the German frontier naturally led them to feel that the danger of German invasion was a far cry. Then, too, the knowledge that all was not well in Petrograd, that military secrets were given away, that there was corruption in the munitions department, and that they were fighting an uphill fight without the proper support at home had a very depressing effect on the men. The letters they received from home told them of food shortages and they were anxious to return and provide for their own.
Not only was the food situation serious in the cities but we were beginning to feel it in the Army .too. The bread was bad and meat was scarce ---in fact, there was very little fresh meat at all and disastrous epidemics of scurvy assailed our men and materially reduced our fighting forces.
An army must be fed and fed well and there is nothing that so reduces the morale of soldiers in field or barracks as bad rations. The soldiers were tired of it all.
In mid-winter the news of the death of Rasputin came to us, and with his bad influence removed everybody felt more hopeful.
In November Colonel Kalpaschnecoff had gone to America to endeavor to obtain some motor ambulances, of which we were greatly in need, and on January 1st, 1917, another doctor having been found to take my place, I left the front to help him in this work.
I arrived in Petrograd on January 4th. It was twenty degrees below zero and long lines of people were standing from early morning till mid-day waiting for the opportunity to buy food from the stores---which had very little to sell.
They were a patient lot, as they stood for hours shivering in their scanty garments. Several small demonstrations had been made in the squares, the poor souls clamoring for food. The price of clothing was extremely high. A pair of ordinary shoes cost $40. Wood, which was used altogether as fuel in Petrograd, was out of reach of the poor people. Rumors were going about of trouble, but no one looked for a real revolution.
I left Petrograd in the middle of January and arrived in Christiana about the 20th. When it was time to sail the submarine blockade had been declared by Germany and it was impossible for our boat to proceed to Kirkwall for examination, and the English would not allow it to sail without it. Consequently I had to remain in Christiana until March. While there the news of the Revolution reached me and came as a great surprise.
I finally obtained passage on a steamer sailing for America and on reaching there found, much to my delight, that we had at last decided to come into the war.
In July I was sent back to Russia on a mission for the Red Cross. On landing at Vladivostock I was struck by the change in the appearance and conduct of the Russian soldiers.
There were thousands of them wandering aimlessly about, with apparently nothing else to do but listen to the countless speeches being made at every street-corner. They were no longer clad in decent uniforms but slouched about in nondescript garments, their boots covered with mud and dust, listlessly smoking cigarettes.
They no longer saluted their officers. Soldierly bearing was gone. The insidious preaching of German propagandists had sapped their moral fiber.
On the trip across Siberia I saw thousands of soldiers traveling back from the front, crowding the trains to suffocation -point. There was little disorder other than the speech-making which occurred at every station. Invariably there was at least one individual who advanced the idea that America was in the war only for the purpose of gain, and suggested that the best thing for the soldiers to do was to leave the front and go back to their villages, where they could seize the land from the land-holders and divide it among themselves. These orators were palpably the paid agents of Germany.
In Siberia were hundreds of thousands of Austrian and German prisoners who had been living for months in the villages, tilling the land of the soldiers who were at the front, living in their homes and exerting a most harmful influence. In, many cases they had assumed in all respects the functions of the head of the house in the cottages where they lived. The soldiers at the front knew this and it naturally had a bad effect upon them, for they wished to return and oust the parasites. The situation was undoubtedly brought about by people high up in court circles who were pro-German and who contended that Austrian and German prisoners should be as well treated as Russian soldiers.
In Petrograd food conditions were even worse than when I left. White bread could not be obtained at all and it was difficult to get sugar, jam being used in the best hotels to sweeten coffee or tea. Well-dressed individuals carried their own bread into the best cafés. A portion of the bread would be consumed at the meal and the remainder would be carefully wrapped up and taken away again.
The news of Kerensky's offensive and its ultimate collapse reached me while crossing Siberia, and I had expected to find the Petrograd populace gloomy and downcast by its failure.
As a matter of fact, however, things were going on just the same as ever. The cafés were crowded. The Nevsky was thronged with the usual summer-night crowd, and nobody seemed to care much whether the army had been defeated or not. Shortly after my arrival in Petrograd, Rega was evacuated, and while this caused a flurry of excitement for a day or so, the rumors of the counter-revolution inaugurated by General Korniloff soon caused even this disaster to be forgotten. They were all so interested in what was happening in the interior that they paid little attention to the front.
Things were happening fast and furious. Today a new Minister of Agriculture was appointed: to-morrow he was removed. An American I knew, who was attempting to do business with one of the departments, in the space of two weeks signed contracts with no less than six different Ministers!
There is no doubt that the soldiers were all very sincere in their support of the Revolution. They felt that it meant the salvation of Russia.
I met a number of officers I had known who had been discharged by their men! They had come back to Petrograd like lost sheep. They had absolutely nothing to do,. Thousands of them, indeed, had enlisted as privates in the Death Battalions and great numbers of them had been killed in the recent offensive.
When the prisons in Petrograd were opened after the Revolution, the Kerensky government made the mistake of sending great numbers of the prisoners to the front. Together with paid German propagandists they entered the ranks and bred discontent and confusion among the soldiers.
At Rega, I was told, men in German pay had cried out, during a German attack on a vital point, that the German cavalry had broken through and were in back of them---spreading panic among the poorly disciplined men and causing them to break and flee before the Germans.
An army commanded by the soldiers themselves was quite incapable of conducting any military movement. Strategy cannot be conducted from one point in the line. It must be directed by one who is far back of the front and can view the situation as whole.
The generals were powerless to maintain discipline. The soldiers' committees arrested them when they gave orders which did not suit the troops.
Had the new government taken a firm stand from the beginning and refused to recognize the soldiers' committees, backing up the generals and officers in their efforts to enforce discipline, retaining the death penalty for insubordination, the Russian army would remain to-day an important factor in the war.
It was an appalling fact that this magnificent fighting machine, composed of twelve million soldiers, who, at the time I was with them, had been as fine fighting men as the world had ever seen, could now be absolutely inert without ever having been seriously defeated in the field.
At no time since the beginning of the war had the Germans killed, wounded, or captured sufficient numbers of the Russian soldiers or taken sufficient material to destroy them as an active offensive agent. The paralysis of this huge army had been accomplished without the loss of a man by the insidious but wonderfully effective agencies of intrigue and propaganda.
Chapter Twenty-Five: After the Revolution.