SOME RUSSIAN CHARACTERISTICS.*
Ir is eminently desirable that Englishmen and Russians, who are now engaged in what may accurately 40 termed a crusade against those amoral forces which are tending to wreck the foundations of true civili- zation, should mutually understand each other. It may be inferred from Mr. Scotland Liddell's statement that, in August, 1915, a Russian soldier was found who was ignorant of the fact that Great Britain was at war, that acourate knowledge of British proceedings amongst the Russian masses is, to say the least, somewhat defective. On the other band, although Englishmen wish to understand Russia, although the embers of that long-nurtured animosity whioh was based on political rivalry in the East no longer oven smoulder, and although the popular idea that Russia is a country inhabited mainly by Nihilists, who are only kept from indulging in their murderous propensities by a free use of the knout and by exile to Siberia, has waned, even if it be not alto- gether extinct, it is probably true that, with a few exceptions, English. men have not as yet grasped the main features of Russian national mentality, or realized the peculiar stage of progress now generally • On the Russian Front. By It. Scotland Liddell. London : Simpkla. Marshall, acid co. Esc ad, net.]
reached by the people of Russia. They cannot be blamed for their want of knowledge. Russia is difficult to understand. M. de Vogue has told us that, according to a Russian poet, " On no comprend pas In Russia avec la raison, On no pout quo croire Is la Russia."
Mr. Scotland Liddell's instructive work, entitled On the Russian Front, constitutes a gallant effort to dispel some of the prevailing ignorance about Russia which exists in this country. He tells us nothing of Russian politics, whether external or internal, but he has much to say about the characteristics of the individual Russian, and particularly of those of the Russian soldier. He presents to us a picture, which is without doubt faithful, of Russian mentality, with all its virtues and defects. A generally high intellectual standard pervading all classes is evidently wanting, but, on the other hand, there is a total absence of that ruthless and pseudo-logical use of the intellect which is the curse of the professedly higher civilization of modern Germany. Everywhere there are manifestations of high and lovable moral attributes —fervid patriotism, unflinching self-sacrifice, indomitable tenacity of purpose, a benign mercy extended to national foes, and genuine kindness permeating all the relations of social life. Side by side with these there is much of the childishness which often accompanies primitive virtues. Moreover, the whole national and social life of the people is tinged by that strange dash of send-Oriental fatalism, which is em- bodied in the ever-recurring use of the significant and-wholly untrans- latable word " Neeehevo," and which apparently quenches the energy requisite to inspire a vigorous and sustained effort to abolish recognized abuses. The admirable national qualities certainly predominate over those which are open to legitimate criticism, and these will assuredly enable Russia, after much suffering, to emerge victorious from the groat contest in which she is now engaged. Amidst the host of scholars of whose erudition modern Germany may justly boast, was there none, at the moment when a venal Prose and ill-informed public were exulting in what they considered the irretrievable overthrow of the military strength of Russia, to issue a warning against indulging in a premature paean of victory, and to remind his countrymen of the saying of Polybius that Rome was never so much to be feared as when she appeared to be on the point of succumbing to the attacks of her enemies ? Russia never lost heart. iv yip reit w6pow-u, ciao-al. She waxed great in the hour of her dire distress, and, with a gigantic effort, resumed her position of a world-Power which had been menaced. A people and a nation which can perform so splendid a moral and military feat as this cannot be crushed.
Mr. Liddell enjoyed special opportunities for imparting information to the British public as regards what has actually happened in Russia. From June, 1915, onwards he was attached in the position of " Sanitar " to the Seventh Group of Polish Volunteers. When the retreat from Warsaw was being effected, the last train which retired eastwards before the advancing Germans was one under the command of an officer of the Engineers, whose duty it was to destroy the lino, demolish the bridges, &c. This train was immediately preceded by one under Colonel de Bargigli, which flew the Red Cross flag. The duties of the occupiers of this latter train, of whom Mr. Liddell was one, were to collect the wounded, to minister to their wants, and to remove them to the hospitals in the rear. At Warsaw, Mr. Liddell says," the enemy's cavalry were clattering through the streets before the train left, and so with all other places in the weeks that followed."
It can be readily understood that, in circumstances such as these, Mr. Liddell, though net actually in the forefront of the numerous battles which were waged, was exposed to great personal risk, and, moreover, that he became a spectator of some of the most gruesome horrors of war. A man who has witnessed such scenes as those described in the following specimen extract from Mr. Liddell's book must find them graven on his memory for the rest of his life :—
" To-day we've had hundreds, the crop of yesterday They've come in carts, in wagons and motor ambulances. Some of the poor devils have limped their way hero, leaning on each other and on rough branches for support. Two died in one wagon. I hear the death rattle in their throats now. One of them had half his head taken away with shrapnel. The other had his back torn open to the lungs. They lay breathing in great breaths of air and breathing out with a rattling, gurgling sound that signals coming death. One, a youth ; the other, a bearded man. One died with lips of grey ; the other—whose head was torn across— had bright red lips and rosy cheeks right up until the end. He had nice hands—very brown, well-shaped strong hands. . . . And the other sights : a soldier vomiting blood with a .little crowd of peasants looking on • another with his neck cut open, breathing through a hole Made in his chest, with bloody spray ; a smiling, nice-faced youth muttering to himself and pointing to his head with both hands, the head from which all reason had gone ; an officer with a shattered log and a German helmet—he clung to his prize although he was nearly fainting with pain and loss of blood ; men with limbs gone ; men without eyes—surely the worst of all ; one man, an outcast, a leper, lying in the corner of a straw-strewn wagon—cholera, the doctor thinks. The sick man lies shivering and vomiting with painful sound. One is afraid to go near him. . . . And the refugees—hundreds of them—old and young and middle-aged. An old, old man trembling as he sat on a heap of luggage. An old lady, black silk dross and lace cap of another age, in an invalid's chair. Young mothers nursing their babies with fear in their oyes. One of our generals found a dead woman by the wayside this afternoon. She had tramped for days from somewhere many miles away. Weak and ill, she had laid down by the roadside and died."
And to all this may be added that a poor woman gave birth to a child
in one of the 'retreating wagons. The doctors and the gentle nurses, of whom Mr. Liddell speaks in terms of enthusiastic praise, were, there- fore, kept hard at work. Out of sixteen thousand of the 6th Siberian. Division, fourteen thousand were killed or wounded. A Russian regiment on a war footing consists of four thousand men. In the case of one regiment, no less than thirty-six thousand men passed through its ranks in one year. Such is the price at which %altar is spread. It is also worthy of mention that about a year ago a story, which was so horrible that it was scarcely credited, went the round of the Press to the effect that a Russian soldier, who had been taken prisoner by the Germans, had had his tongue slit because he refused to give information about the strength and positions of the Russian troops. It is now clear that this monstrous deed of shame was actually perpetrated. Mr. Liddell saw the man and entertains no doubt of the truth of his story. His name is Simeon Pilugin. He belonged to the 41st Park Brigade of Artillery. A photograph, showing the man with bandaged mouth, is reproduced in Mr. Liddell's book.
The reasons which dictated the retreat from Warsaw are already pretty well known in this country. Their accuracy is confirmed by the testimony of Mr. LiddelL In the first place, Russia, still suffering from the exhaustion oausei by the struggle with Japan, was no more prepared for war than Great Britain. This fact by itself constitutes a convincing proof as to the quarter in which the real responsibility for the war lies. In the second place, the icefields in the North and the closure of the Dardanelles in the South enormously increased the difficulty of obtaining supplies from abroad. In the third place, " Russia's lack of good roads was almost as bad as another enemy." The enormous distances to be travelled over mere rough tracks appear at times to have got on Mr. Liddell's nerves. When allusion was made by a Russian officer to the fact that a gramophone was playing " It's a long way to- Tipperary," he replied, " with a certain bitterness," " That is in England. Here it's a damned lot longer to anywhere at all."
But there was yet another reason for the early Russian discomfiture, which was perhaps the most important of all. The Russians were forced to retreat because the supplies of ammunition failed them. The leadership was not wanting in skill. The courage of the mon was heroic. Their discipline was perfect. But, as Mr. Liddell very truly says, " infantry cannot fight artillery." Rows of guns could be seen standing idle. There were no shells to fire from them. The Germans, an artillery officer said to Mr. Liddell, " fire a thousand shells to our ten." At one time, the Russian guns were only allowed to fire two shells a day. In circumstances such as these, retreat was inevitable. But how did it come about that such circumstances had been allowed to arise ? On this subject Mr. Liddell exercises a discreet reticence. Nevertheless, he says, " many scandalous stories were in circulation. Some of them were undoubtedly true." It is satisfactory to learn, however, on Mr. Liddell's authority, that "things have changed now. New Ministers have been appointed. The Tsar has spoken."
There are many other matters in Mr. Liddell's very interesting book which merit attention, but on which I cannot now comment at any length. Such, for instance, are the strange methods, being a mixture of harshness and kindliness, often adopted to maintain discipline in the Russian Army. They are hold to be justified on the ground that " the Russian soldier is a child." Characteristic also is the story related by Mr. Liddell that a Siberian regiment lost all but seven hundred men out of a total of four thousand by the use of the German poisonous gas. They had all been supplied with respirators, which unfortunately were not used. On Mr. Liddell inquiring the reason, the reply was : " Russia is a queer country. There are things you will never under- stand. The men were not ordered to put them on."
Finally, I would quote, as an instance of fine Polish sentiment and patriotism, one stanza of an epitaph on the fallen which, even in translation, may vie with some of those outbursts of the Greek Anthologists made familiar to the British public by Mr. Maokail :- " Dear Polish children, when Golden May comes Bring flowers to us—we died for your country.
• • • • • • We fell in a bloody struggle For the good of our native land.
We kept our sacred promise, And to our Mother Country We send our salutations From behind the tomb.
Don't sigh, Forest, There will be no better brethren.
They are sleeping in a deep sleep." Caomira.