Novoborissov. 21 September, 1914.
Sincere thanks for dear letter. Hope you slept and feel well. Rainy, cold weather. In thought and prayer I am with you and the children. How is the little one? Tender kisses for all.
Stavka. 21 September, 1914
Praise be to God, who granted us yesterday the victory at Souvalky and Mariampol. I have arrived safely. A thanksgiving Te Deum has only just been sung in the local military church. Have received your telegram; am feeling splendid. I hope all are well. Embrace you closely.
Stavka. 22 September, 1914.
Hearty thanks for sweet letter. General Rouszky was presented tome to-day. He told me much of interest about his famous battles in Galicia. I have appointed him Adjutant-General. Here it is quiet and calm. Embrace all closely.
NOTES: Rouszxy: General N. V. Rouszky, the Commander of the 3rd Army. He had been a professor in the Military Academy, and had held various Staff appointments in the Guards. In the Manchurian campaign of 1904-5 he was Chief of Staff to General Kaulbars, who commanded the 2nd Army. Shortly before the war of 1914 he was assisting the Minister of War, Soukhomlinov, in the reorganisation of the forces. He succeeded Jilinsky as Commander of the Northwest Front in September, 1914. General Polivanov (who became Minister of War in 1915) considered him as the best general in the service, and he was described by Sir Alfred Knox as "a clear thinker." At the time of the Tsar's abdication he played an important part in the course of events. Killed by the Bolsheviks in October 1918.
Stavka. 22 September, 1914
MY BELOVED DARLING WIFY,
Sincerest thanks for dear letter which you gave to my messenger - I read it before going to sleep.
How terrible it was parting from you and the dear children, though I knew that it was not for long. The first night I slept badly, because the engines jerked the train roughly - at each station. I arrived here the next day at 5.30; it was cold and raining hard. Nicolasha met me at the station at Baranovitchi, and then we were led to a charming wood in the neighbourhood, not far (5 minutes' walk) from his own train. The pine forest reminds me strongly of the wood in Spala; the ground is sandy and not at all damp.
On my arrival at the Stavka I went to a large wooden church belonging to the Railway Brigade to a short thanksgiving Te Deum, at which Shavelsky officiated. Here I saw Petiusha, Kyrill, and the whole of Nicolasha's Staff. Some of these gentlemen dined with me, and in the evening Yanoushkevitch made a long and interesting report to me in their train, where, as I expected, the heat was terrible! I thought of you - how lucky that you are not here I insisted on their changing the sort of life they lead here, at least before me.
To-day at 10 o'clock I was present at the usual morning report, which N. receives in a little house beside his train, from his two chief assistants, Yanoushkevitch and Danilov.
They both report very clearly and concisely. They read through the reports of the preceding day which have come in from the Army Commanders and ask for orders and instructions from N. for the next operations. We bent over enormous maps covered with blue and red lines, numbers, dates and such like. On my return home I shall give you a short summary of all this. Just before lunch General Rouszky arrived, a pale, thin man, with two new Orders of St. George on his breast. I have appointed him Adjutant-General for our last victory on the Prussian frontier - the first since his appointment. After lunch we had our photographs taken in a group with the whole of N.'s Staff. In the morning, after the report, I went for a walk round the whole of our Staff quarters and passed through the ring of sentries, then came on the outposts of the Cossack Life-Guards, set out far into the forest. They spend the nights in mud huts, quite warmly and comfortably. Their duty is to keep a look-out for aeroplanes. Excellent, smiling fellows, with tufts of hair sticking out from under their caps. The whole regiment is quartered very near the church, in the little wooden houses of the Railway Brigade.
Gen. Ivanov has gone to Warsaw and will return to Kholm on Wednesday, so that I shall stay here for another 24 hours, not changing my programme in other respects.
I am leaving here to-morrow night, and shall arrive in Rovno on Wednesday morning; shall stay there till I o'clock, and then start for Kholm, where I shall arrive about 6 o'clock in the evening. On Thursday morning I shall be in Bielostok, and, if it proves possible, shall look in without previous warning at Osovetz. I am not sure about Grodno - that is, I do not know whether I shall stop there - I am afraid all the troops have set out for the frontier.
I had a delightful walk with Drenteln in the wood, and on my return found the thick package with your letter and six books.
Warmest thanks, my dear, for your precious lines. How interesting is that part of Victoria's letter which you have so kindly copied for me!
I had heard from Benckendorf some time ago about the friction between the English and the French at the beginning of the war. Both of the foreign attachés here have gone to Warsaw for a few days, so that I shall not see them this time.
It is difficult to believe that a great war is raging not far from this place; everything seems so peaceful and quiet. The life here reminds me more of those old days when we stayed here during manoeuvres, with the single exceptionthat there are no troops whatsoever in the neighbourhood.
Beloved mine, I kiss you again and again, because just at present I am quite free and have time to think of my Wify and my family. It is strange, but it is so.
I hope that you are not suffering from that abominable pain in your jaw and are not over-tiring yourself. God grant that my Little One may be quite well on my return!
Always your old hubby
Give my regards to Ania.
NOTES: The word Stavka, which appears at the head of most of these letters and telegrams, requires explanation. It has no connection with our own word Staff. In archaic Russian it meant the military camp of a chief, and in modern times it was applied to General Headquarters. Although Stavka and G.H.Q. are generally regarded as one and the same thing, the Stavka had a peculiar significance - in the history of the last years of the Tsarist regime, and possessed extraordinary powers. At the beginning of the war the Stavka was situated at Baranovitchi, a small Polish town on the line between Minsk and BrestLitovsk, and well placed behind the centre of the Russian front. Baranovitchi was the headquarters of a Railway Brigade. and in 1914 the Stavka was housed partly in the Grand Duke's train, drawn up in a special siding, and partly in the wooden huts of the Brigade and in the Commander's house.
NICOLASHA: the Grand Duke Nicolai Nicolaievitch (here, and often subsequently, referred to as "Nicolasha") was Commander-in-Chief of the Russian forces in 1914. He was certainly the most popular figure in the dynasty, a man of commanding presence, and regarded with esteem and affection by the troops. It is said that Rouszky had a poor opinion of his capacity as a military leader; but that opinion was not shared by Ludendorff or by Hindenburg.
He was disliked and distrusted by the Tsaritsa, partly on account of his popularity, which. in the Army, so completely overshadowed that of the Tsar, and partly because of his bluff opposition to Rasputin and the court camarilla. He was the Tsar's cousin.
SHAVELSKY: G. I. Shavelsky was the Chaplain-General of the Forces. He is often referred to as 0. Shavelsky - O. being an abbreviation of Otetz or Father. PETIUSHA: the Grand Duke Peter Nicolaievitch, brother of the Grand Duke Nicholas. KYRILL: the Grand Duke Kyrill Vladimirovitch, head of the Naval Staff, attached to the Stavka in that capacity. A man of advanced liberal opinions, who, at the outbreak of the Revolution, went over to the Provisional Government. YANOUSHKEVITCH: General N. N. Yanoushkevitch was Chief of Staff at G.H.Q. He was illfitted for this post, for he had seen no active service and had never commanded any unit larger than a company. He had joined the War Ministry at an early age, and was Chief of the General Staff at the outbreak of the war. He was assisted by a man of a very different type, General G. N. DANILOV, the Quartermaster-General, a stern disciplinarian and a very capable soldier.
"Our last victory on the Prussian frontier." The fighting at Souvalky and Mariampol hardly amounted to a victory. It represented, at best, a partial and local recovery after the crushing defeat of Tannenberg a fortnight previously.
IVANOV: General N. Y. Ivanov was Commander-in-Chief of the South-west Front-an old but energetic man of patriarchal appearance. DRENTELN: one of the Tsar's A.D.C.'s, a Colonel in the famous Preobrajensky Regiment. VICTORIA: Princess Victoria of Battenberg, wife of Prince Louis, the sister of the Tsaritsa, and before her marriage Princess Victoria of Hesse. BENCKENDORF: Count A. C. Benckendorf, Marshal of the Court and Ambassador to Great Britain from 1902 to 19x6. He died in the winter of 1916.
ANIA: Anna Vyroubova. She is frequently referred to in these letters as "A," "Ania" or "her." She is credited with having possessed great political significance, but it is most improbable that this was actually the case. It is unnecessary to repeat here the many fantastic and scandalous stories of which she was the subject. The daughter of Tanaiev, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, she entered the court circle at an early age, and became the Tsaritsa's favourite maid-of-honour from 1903 onwards. After her unhappy marriage with Lieutenant Vyroubov, and its consequent dissolution, she lived on the most intimate terms with the Imperial Family. Sazonov describes her as "an ambitious but by no means intelligent woman, who combined with a slavish obedience to Rasputin an ecstatic devotion to the Empress and to the Tsar." Paléologue (Vol. II, P. 239) says: "Physically she is heavy, commonplace, the head round, the lips fleshy, the eyes clear and expressionless... To explain her situation and her role at the Imperial Palace, it is perhaps sufficient to adduce her personal attachment to the Empress, the attachment of an inferior and servile creature to a sovereign who is always ill, crushed by her position of authority, besieged by terrors." Gilliard, the tutor to the Tsarevitch, spoke of her as "an unintelligent woman, limited, simple, garrulous, sentimental and mystic. Her reasoning was puerile, and she was destitute of ideas" (Sokolov Inquiry, p.111) He says elsewhere that she had "the mentality of a child" and that "her unhappy experiences had exalted her sensibility without ripening her reflection." There is little doubt that she was sentimentally attached to the Tsar. She lived in a small house at Tsarskoe Selo, close to the Palace, and was a constant intermediary between the Empress and Rasputin. Her book, "Memories of the Russian Court," published in 1923, consists mainly of foolish tittle-tattle. She was brought before a Commission of Inquiry and acquitted on the 25th August, 1917. This acquittal sufficiently disproves the allegation that she had political power.
Stavka. 23 September, 1914.
MY BELOVED WIFY,
My warmest thanks for your sweet letter, and for the one which you, the girls, Ania and N. P. have written conjointly. The words you write are always so true, and when I read them their meaning goes right to my heart, and my eyes are often moist. It is hard to part, even for a few days, but letters like yours are such joy that it is worth while parting for the sake of them. To-day it is raining in buckets, but of course I went for a walk with Dr., which was very good for me. Last night poor old Fredericks had a slight repetition of what happened to him not long ago in town - a little blood-spitting.
He is better now, but both Feodorov and Malama insist on his keeping quiet and motionless for 24 hours. It will be very difficult to make him obey them. They advise that he should remain here, and not go with me to Rovn obe can catch up my train at Bielostok in two days' time on Tuesday. The presence of the old man here in these circumstances complicates the situation considerably, as he is a constant encumbrance to me and generally embarrasses everybody.
I feel quite well again and, I assure you, for the last few days even rested, thanks especially to good news. Alas I as I feared, Nicholasha will not let me go to Osovetz, which is simply intolerable, as now I shall not be able to see the troops which have been lately in action. In Vilna I intend to visit two hospitals-the military and the Red Cross one - but I have not come here solely for that!
Among the honours, which I have confirmed, General Ivanov has presented Keller for the Order of St. George. I am so glad!
And so I shall at last see Olga to-morrow and spend the whole morning in Rovno. I must finish, because the courier is waiting to be sent off.
Good-bye, my sweet, beloved Sunny. May God bless and keep you and the dear children; as for me, I kiss you and them tenderly.
Always your hubby,
NOTES: N. P. refers to Nicolai Pavlovitch Sablin, a captain in the Guardeisky Equipage (described in a subsequent note) and a close personal friend of the Imperial Family. He was senior officer on the Imperial yacht "Standart" from 1912 to 1915, and was A.D.C. to the Tsar. FREDERICKS: Count Fredericks, an old and devoted servant, was Minister of the Imperial Court. FEODOROV: Professor S. P. Feodorov, the chief Court physician. MALAMA: Dr. B. Z. Malama, honorary physician to the Tsar. KELLER: General Count F. A. Keller of the Cavalry Guards, formerly the commander of the Life-Guard Dragoons. He commanded in succession, during the war, the 10th Cavalry Division and the 3rd Cavalry Corps. A dashing leader and a great friend of the Tsar's. He was killed by Ukrainians in Kiev in December 1918. OLGA: the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the Tsar's younger sister, occupied with hospital work. She married Prince Peter of Oldenburg ("Petia"), but divorced him and married Colonel Koulikovsky. The divorce is referred to later in the present correspondence.
Telegram. Brest. 24 September, 1914.
Am very grateful for news. Was so glad to see Olga in Rovno. Inspected her hospital and the local one, Not many wounded left. The weather is cold, bad. Embrace all closely.
Grodno Railway. 25 September 1914
Have stopped in Bielostok all the same and visited Osovetz; found the garrison looking very well. Many projectiles have fallen into the fortress, one can see everywhere the funnels which they have made. I shall inspect hospitals in Vilna. To-morrow, God willing, we shall see each other. Hope all are well. Tender embraces.