THE GRAND DUKE NICHOLAS
In August 1914 I arrived at the Headquarters of the Russian Army in the Field to take up my post as Chief of the British Military Mission.
The Commander-in-Chief and his Staff were located in trains drawn up near the station of Baranovitchi. My quarters consisted of a small compartment about the size of one of our 'sleepers,' in which I was to live all the time, except on occasional visits to the various armies.
The morning after my arrival an A.D.C. appeared and I went off to be presented to the gallant Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armies. The Grand Duke welcomed me very heartily and said a few complimentary words about the British Alliance.
On first acquaintance he appeared somewhat cold and reserved, but our friendship rapidly made headway, growing later on into a cordial and unforgettable intimacy.
I know him for a gallant gentleman, a keen soldier and a most kind friend, whose life I trust may be spared to see the country he loves so well under happier conditions; a commanding figure and a commanding personality, who would, I believe, had a Romanoff been left to create order out of chaos, have done much to help his country and the Allied cause. I little thought in those days that I should have to say my final farewell to him as a Russian officer under such tragic circumstances.
Our train was drawn up with some others in a pine forest alongside a few huts which served as the 'workshops' of the C.-in-C. ajid the General Staff. The troops of the escort were quartered a little way off, the train being guarded by a few Cossacks and Gendarmerie.
We breakfasted, lunched and dined in the dining-car at small tables, mine being that of the Grand Duke Peter, with Prince Galitzin and the French Military Attache', General Marquis de la Guiche. Next to our table was that of the C.-in-C. who, as a deeply religious man and devoted to his Church, had with him not only the Chief of the General Staff, General Yanuskevich, but Father George, that gallant and devoted Russian chaplain who had done good service in the Japanese war, winning the Cross of St George.
We had many happy talks across from table to table during our long months together. The C.-inC. being a keen sportsman-especially about the Waterloo Cup, in which he had an entry-gave us plenty of opportunity of discussing other matters besides war, and in these he was always joined by Prince Galitzin (whom, alas, like so many others of those days, I can never see again), a fine horseman and a good man to hounds, who had raced and hunted in England, and was head of the Emperor's chasse, but as a great friend of the Grand Duke, attached to the latter's personal staff. Many a ride did we have together through the forests and over that dreary prairie country surrounding them. Plenty of chaff and laughter passed between the two tables, and especially, I remember, over some of the messages of congratulation received by the C.-in-C. at the New Year, one of which, from an unknown lady at Biarritz, was short, concise and witty: 'Neuf pour Monseigneur - Baccarat pour les Boches.'
Operations and military affairs were never discussed at table, and the Staff were strictly forbidden to give any information except that approved and passed by the C.G.S. or the Q.M.G., the latter answering to our Director of Military Operations.
On Sundays, saints' days, etc., and on occasions of victory or reverse we all attended the little wooden church in the camp, with its solemn service and beautiful singing.
All the Headquarters troops were drawn up at the entrance to the Church, Guards and Cossacks, Cossacks of the Guard and the rest, all in khaki, with long grey overcoats reaching to their feet - still as rocks - looking almost like a line of stone statues against the background of the pine forest.
Here we waited till suddenly a fanfare of trumpets rang out, and in the distance coming along the road from the train there marched, stern-faced and head erect, that great and, to the army he loved so well, almost mystic figure - the Grand Duke Nicholas.
His staff, seeming dwarf-like in comparison, followed till he reached the line and swung round facing his men - facing them in the real sense of the word - looking at them absolutely straight, eye to eye - and called out to all ranks the customary 'good-day.'
With the rattle of presenting arms came the answering shout from every man in reply. Then briskly and quickly he passed along the line, his face gleaming with pleasure and pride, its sternness momentarily relaxed, as he dropped a word here and there to some well-known figure, and so we all slowly filed into the church.
The deep-toned voice of the priest in the absolute silence sounding almost like the breaking of the sea on a still night, the solemn sadness of the singing, the rush of incense through the air-all linger in some corner of one's memory, like many other brain pictures which flash across one's eyes at unexpected moments, when at unaware; a sound or a scent or a turn in the road suddenly brings back scenes of great happiness or great sorrow.
And Russia, to me, is full of these. Some of joy and victory, many, alas, of broken men and broken hearts and all the other tragedies of a great upheaval.
Other memories crowd in on me - how I met the Grand Duke one early morning walking along the wooden sidewalk which stretched alongside our train, and how he came smiling up and, apologising for 'Russian customs,' threw his arms round my neck and told me of the taking of Lemberg.
Then the day that he sent for me to his room and with his C.G.S. told me of the very serious position of the armies in the Caucasus. of the appeals from that quarter for the retention of some of the troops destined for the German front, and of his determination still to send them, so as to avoid any failure towards the Allies, great as the risk of the Turkish advance might be.
Was it possible, he asked, for the British to help in any way to draw off the Turks ?
I had to answer that in those early days I feared we had no troops ready, we were short in France, and those in our own country were only 'in the making.' Possibly, I said, some demonstration might be made by our ships to alarm the Turks. Anyhow I promised to go at once to Petrograd (as I had no decent cipher in those days) and send off a message.
I left that afternoon, went to the British Embassy on arrival next day, and got off a telegram, through the ambassador, which began the history of the Dardanelles. But all that is another story.
The worst day that year was when I was again sent for and told the truth of what had been rumoured as to the lack of guns and munitions. He was quiet and cool as ever, but disappointment was written in every line of his face, and again I had to go off and do what I could to help. Again another story and a long one.
When in 1915 the decision was announced that the Emperor was to take over the command 'in the field,' the Grand Duke sent for me to say good-bye on his departure for the Caucasus.
It was the break-up of a period of comradeship, passed in times of victory and defeat, with a vista of great anxiety for the future. The air was full of wild stories of intrigue, and the mischief-makers were everywhere busy with the usual tales of calumny and prognostications of disaster, but in the midst of all these, calm and dignified, true and straight as steel, and, above all, loyal to his Emperor and to his Allies, the retiring Commander-in-Chief remained the same upright soldier and gentleman.
I remember the little room at the bottom of the stairs on the right-hand side of the door, and his step forward, with that sudden bright smile and extended hand, while I felt more like crying than laughing, possibly with some vague anticipation of disaster in my head.
He said that no doubt I knew that the Emperor had decided to take over command, and therefore was dispatching him to the Caucasus as Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief. He had but to obey his Imperial master, to whom he felt sure I would be the same as I had been to him, a good and loyal friend. He begged me to tell Lord Kitchener that Alexeieff as Chief of the General Staff to the Emperor would be a most excellent link with our army chiefs, that if he (the G.D.) had been given his choice at the beginning of the war he would have selected him as his own C.G.S. - this in no spirit of criticism of Yanuskevich, who had always served him loyally and well, and whom he was taking with him to the Caucasus. Indeed his chief anxiety appeared to be that I should not let any hint appear that any change was taking place except to the advantage of the Russian army and its Allies. Beneath all this smiling conversation I could see well what he was going through, and I think the nerves of both parties to the scene were on the stretch.
For the end of it was that his arms were round my neck and he kissed me on both cheeks in the Russian fashion, with the repeated injunction to be sure' and be the same to the Emperor that you have been to me.'
He had much professional pride and ambition of the most commendable kind - namely, that of being a real Commander-in-Chief and not only a figure-head, the handicap of birth and position tending always to stand in his way as a professional soldier, and possibly to prevent those around him from running any risks which might be incurred by more frequent and nearer visits on his part to the troops in the fighting line.
A very strict disciplinarian, he at the same time commanded the respect and confidence of all who knew him. No one could believe him capable of a dishonourable act, and lie took up his command in a full sense of the serious responsibility with which he was entrusted, not only as involving the cause of his own country, but also that of its Allies. Nothing occurred in his short period as C.-inC. of all the Russian Armies in the Field to disprove the high estimate which had been put on his abilities; indeed in the secondary position which he occupied later in the Caucasus theatre of war he added, if possible, greater laurels to those he had previously gathered.
He gave credit to those of his commanders who served him well without any arriérepensée in regard to his own position. Jealous of that, he was invariably just and kind to them. Though stern and almost reticent by habit, he still had that wonderful influence over his commanders and staff that made them feel it was a pleasure to serve him, and he was willing to trust his generals in the making and execution of their plans. Personally I should say he was self-reliant but not over-confident.
In the grave and disastrous periods of munition difficulties' my own opinion is, and nothing will alter it, that he was badly served, not alone, that is to say, by the War Office at Petrograd-this was obvious-but by his own Staff. The link between them and the War Office was lacking and the line taken - 'It is our business to fight and yours to supply' - was too rigid, and a situation arose which with better organisation should not have reached such grave results.
There is an obvious retort about 'people who live in glass houses, etc.,' but our own failures in this regard should have served as an example to the Russians. The only occasion upon which the Grand Duke spoke to me in a strain of bitterness was - I well remember it - when standing in the pine woods just alongside our train, he turned to me and reflected in strong terms upon what he called our failure to support the Russian army in these munition matters.
I sometimes think, when I look back on these anxious days, that it was fear of this great, sternfaced man that induced those serving him to throw a 'rosy' light on a situation of deadly danger, and fail to tell him the truth regarding Russian delays till too late, when the blame was turned upon the Allies.
Surely, however, had circumstances been otherwise, and there had been no munition failure, followed by the intricate thread of circumstances which led to the collapse of his country, the Grand Duke's name would have stood out as that of a great commander.
There is another side to the picture which I have endeavoured to paint. It shows his great sense of humour, the good stories he would tell, his delight in talking over questions of sport and so on, and his unfailing hospitality and enjoyment of a good dinner in good company, followed by the enormous cigar, over which he would chaff us who were his neighbours at table, and laugh at the plans which we proposed for the days of peace, when we hoped to meet under other circumstances. And I remember well my saying to him one day that he would have to visit London after the war, and his laughing dread of the sea passage which he hated. But the curtain of tragedy was soon to fall upon the stage of comedy.
We met a in during his occasional visits correspondence through Yanuskevich and Galitzin. He invited me to pay him a visit at his Caucasus headquarters, but the distance and the many ties of my work prevented me from going, much as I wished to do so.
Then came the Revolution.
For a short period, and indeed after the departure of the Emperor as a prisoner, it was still thought that the Grand Duke would remain on as Commander-in-Chief of the Armies, so much so that we chiefs of the Allied military missions sent him a telegram to assure him of our readiness to place ourselves at his disposal.
It had been the wish of the Emperor that this arrangement should be made.
Under the impression that this plan was to be carried through, his Imperial Highness, after a journey that took the appearance of an almost triumphal march, arrived at Mohileff, and immediately I was summoned to see him in his train, drawn up at that station, which was the scene of so many historic events. I found him the same as ever, calm, cool and collected, and we had long conversations over the terrible turn of affairs.
The armies were by now in a state of nervous confusion, the Revolution running along like fire on the prairie, from the fleet and northern armies downwards to the south.
Meanwhile events had moved rapidly, and rumours came of a telegram which had not reached him - that no Romanoff was to remain in command of any kind. Concerning this he told me that he would make no move of any sort till he received some official confirmation from the temporary Government, which it was his wish not to embarrass in any way whatever.
In the intervals of a very busy period I spent a good deal of my time with the Grand Duke in his train, indeed taking most of my meals there, for he had expressed the wish that my colleagues and I should be with him when the decision was reached, so that he might make it clear that his loyalty to the Allies and the great cause remained the same, and that it would be only force majeure and the desire to do the best he could to support the chosen Government of his beloved country which would induce him to resign.
Then suddenly, almost dramatically, the blow fell. Confirmation of the decision of the Government arrived. He took off his epaulettes, the emblem of his long and faithful service in the army, and slowly and sadly the train steamed out of the station on its way to the Crimea. There he remained, careless and scornful of German invitations, respected and almost feared by the bad elements in Russia, till he was finally forced to turn his back on his own land and depart for Italy.
The happy memories of him are clouded over by the sadder ones which followed and cut short what should have been a career brilliant to the end. When the victorious Allied troops marched through London, and every Allied flag but Russia's was flying, my thoughts, naturally, perhaps, turned to those old friends with whom I had served so long and into whose souls that day was entering the bitterness of humiliation and disaster to their beloved country. I left the window from which I was watching the march past, went down to my own room and wrote to the Grand Duke to say that on this day my thoughts turned to him and to those other comrades so many of whom we should never see again-men whose lives should have been spared for a better purpose than that of defending themselves against their own people.
His answer was characteristic and I know he would pardon me for quoting some of his words:
'Vos paroles me sont allées au coeur.
'Vous avez justement apprécié la valeur et Pheroisme des soldats Russes, que j'ai eu l'honneur de commander, et c'est au fond de mon coeur, que je vous remercie d'avoir appréeié ' leur juste valeur, ceux qui ont a donne' leur vie pour la Patric au nom de l'honneur et de la fidélité.
'Je ressens vivement les emotions que vour avez du éprouver en voyant le retour de vos vaillantes troupes, et je partage cordialement les sentiments qui vous ont animés.
'Je vous serre bien affectueusement la main.'
The next time we met was at Cannes in 1920. 1 had intended to go over to Genoa to see him, and had just arranged the necessary passport when I received word that he was coming to Cannes. For the first time I saw him in plain clothes, walking down the stairs as I came into his hotel. His face lit up at once, and we sat and talked alone. Such a conversation was of necessity sad and private, but he showed no bitterness, no ill feeling, obvious and terrible regrets, and very sincere friendship.
Never was a more loyal servant to his Emperor, in face of many difficulties; never a more gallant soldier or greater gentleman. What can the future bring him? Those who know him, as I do, can hope but one thing for him - happiness.
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