Here we can see an Russian guards officer at a military review on the Field of Mars. Many Russian officers were trained at the famous Imperial Corps des Pages, while others were trained at specialized schools for infantry, cavalry, artillery or sappers. Graduates of the Imperial Corps des Pages were well known for their intense loyalty to Russia - and their fellow graduates.
Military schools were divided into two divisions one for the Cossack and the other for the regular army. Pupils of advanced military schools were called "younkers' and they began this training when they were seventeen or eighteen after graduating from seven years of training as cadets. Accommodations were spartan and the training was rough and intense. The schools were patronized by the Tsars who would visit with the students informally and sometimes unexpectedly. On one occasion Nicholas II visited one of the schools and dropped in on one of the classes. He joined in the instruction and gave 30 minutes of passages from Russian classics to the students which he recited from memory. The students were duly impressed at the Emperor's knowledge, but were overawed by his presence in their classroom. One of the students was so flustered at the Tsar's visit that he inadvertently called Nicholas "Your Excellency" rather than "Your Majesty" as would have been appropriate. Nicholas simply smiled benevolently.
After graduation the new officers joined regiments. The regiments all had names and long histories. Life in the regiments was centered upon service to the Tsar, Russia, the regiment and trust in each other. The friendships forged during service lasted a lifetime and these men often went on to important government positions. The life of an Guards officer was very different than for civilians and it involved both privileges and restrictions. Officers were required to wear their uniforms when outdoors and only dressed informally at home in private. In Petersburg officers were forbidden to visit certain restaurants or ride on public transportation. Restaurants found on the prohibited list may not have been too distressed at the loss of business from officers, for their arrival caused continual disruptions. Whenever an officer appeared at a restaurant the orchestra was required to stop whatever it was playing and perform the regimental song of that officer's unit. If several officers from the same regiment arrived at different times the patrons of the establishment were forced to listen to the same military marches over and over again.
In his book, "Russian Hussar", Vladimir Littauer describes restrictions on an officer's attendance at theaters:
"As most things in the lives of the officers of my regiment, going to the theatre had its regulations. If one went alone, it was preferred that one sit in the first row; if with a lady, in the third. The exceptions to this rule were the Imperial State Theatres, the Bolshoi and the Maly, where one might sit in any of the first seven rows. All this made sense because we were always in uniform; wearing mufti was not only prohibited in the Russian army, but to do so was a matter for court martial. During the intermission, one might either walk in the foyer or remain standing by one's seat; sitting during entr'actes was prohibited. If in the first row, one stood facing the audience and could even lean lightly against the barrier dividing the parterre from the orchestra. In this position one looked correct and even smart, but standing up in the third or seventh row, in the middle of the audience, one felt rather foolish, and in such cases I preferred to walk about."
Later in his book Littauer describes the problems facing an officer who wished to marry:
"Marrying was a complicated procedure in the regiment. Officially one had to have the permission of the commander, while unofficially the bride had to be approved by all the officers. Since most of us served our whole military life in the same regiment, the regiment of those days constituted a family. A few unusually ambitious officers, interested in making a career in the army, might leave to attend the Academy of the General Staff. A few officers might transfer or retire of their own accord; a few might be thrown out; the others would remain until, in twenty years or so, they received regiments in command. The individual who did not suit this family had to be kept out. This was not a matter of snobbishness, but rather of preserving a congenial atmosphere. So, comparatively few officers of the regiment were married - about ten out of forty in my day - and most of these were senior officers.Here Littauer explains how much an officer earned and their vacations:
The officers' wives were not admitted to our (officer's) club, and all regimental meals and parties were exclusively stag. But the wives invited some of us to dine at their houses or went out to theatres and restaurants in large companies of their husbands' friends.
A different sort of lady, however, visited the club, but this was only secretly, during the night, if she had a date with the duty officer. I was reminded of this the other day, when I asked a regimental friend living near New York a detail about the location of the officers' club. He called my attention to the fact that the rear wall of it faced a narrow deserted street, and asked: 'Don't you remember how we used to let girls in at night through the windows so that nobody would see them?"
Not wishing to get married, and knowing that I would make a desirable bridegroom, I kept away from girls of good family, no matter how attractive they might be. Most of the married women of my acquaintance were the wives of officers (although not necessarily of my regiment), and there was a taboo code pertaining to them. So far as ennobling feminine company was concerned, I was limited to what was called in the regiment the ladies of our circle. These were not prostitutes, but just ladies of easy virtue, and quite a few of them were amusing, besides being pretty and perhaps even chic. Were it not for the knowledge that they shared their favours, one might have fallen seriously in love with some of these gay and attractive girls.
Not only the brides, but, occasionally, even one's lady friends were disapproved by the regiment. During my first month in Moscow I had just such an unpleasant experience. At a charity bazaar I met a very good-looking woman in her early thirties, and invited her to the circus next evening. A box near us was occupied by officers of my regiment who, as they greeted me, fixed their eyes for a moment on my companion. In the course of the evening my lady suggested that the following afternoon, when I was finished with my regimental duties, she would stop for me in her carriage and show me her favourite parts of the city. And so we parted until the next day. In the morning, however, the senior colonel took me aside and told me that the lady with whom I had appeared in public had the reputation of helping young men financially, and that, although to be polite I might keep my next appointment with her, I would have to choose between her and the regiment. That afternoon I sat in her carriage as if I had swallowed my sword."
"Each officer had a twenty-eight-day vacation once a year. He would spend at least part of it in St. Petersburg, Moscow or Warsaw, dressed to kill in his beautiful uniform, and with extra money saved up during the year to throw around. These Uhlans, Dragoons, Hussars, blue, yellow, red or green, with gold or silver braid, were conspicuous in the capitals on any day of the year, creating the false impression that painting the town red was army life. Actually they were only 'sailors off ship'. Most of them spent the rest of the year in barracks, stables, on manoeuvres in the deep Russian mud or dust, working with illiterate soldiers, busy with lame horses, missing buttons, lost bayonets and such things, while in some areas, only peasants, small merchants and a few local squires constituted the civilian world around. A small provincial town in the neighbourhood, where a third-class theatrical company might occasionally stop for a couple of days, was all they could hope for during eleven months of the year
The cost of an officer's life varied from regiment to regiment, depending upon where the regiment was stationed, as well as upon its particular traditions. In Moscow my monthly salary as a cornet, with all extras, amounted to 110 (about $1,000 in 2000) roubles... Living was cheap in Russia. The price of a pair of the best boots, however, was forty-five roubles (about $400 in 2000), of a dolman over 100 ($900 in 2000), and a bottle of French champagne in a night-club cost twelve roubles ($110 in 2000). Thus my salary equalled the cost of nine bottles of Cordon Bleu at the Yar (a famous Moscow restaurant).
Obviously, one could not get far on what one earned. The salary was not even sufficient to cover daily life in the regiment proper, that is, meals and liquor in the officers' mess, plus the innumerable little necessary contributions resulting from life in a large city with all sorts of social obligations: a gift to one person, flowers for the funeral of another, a party given for a visiting officer, or the big celebration of the regiment's anniversary, to which many guests were invited, both military and civilian. At the end of each month, instead of receiving a salary, one was presented with a bill by the regimental office. Every one of us had means, some more than others; consequently the officers lived on different scales. But there was a certain minimum, different in different regiments, and when choosing one, the future officer took this important item into consideration. Errors in calculation were made, of course, as in anything else, and occasionally an officer was forced to leave the regiment because his private means were insufficient."
Next photograph: A Review on the Field of Mars
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