1. FROM CADET TO COLONEL
A turning-point in my life—Cavalry cadet in Petersburg—My first regimental service—Ten years with the Chevalier Guards—Coronation in Moscow in 1896—New commands and promotions
AN account of my service in the Imperial Russian Army must begin with an episode that exercised a decisive influence on my life. I refer to my dismissal from the Finnish Corps of Cadets and my entrance in the Nikolaevski Cavalry School in St. Petersburg.
During her union with Russia, Finland was permitted to main tain her own small army, the officers of which received their military training in the Finnish Corps of Cadets School at Hamina. This establishment, whose traditions went back to the Swedish days, enjoyed a high reputation, and the number of its former students who have distinguished themselves in the service of their country is an imposing one. Some, after passing their Baccalaureate, chose civilian work, but the majority took the three-year course, after which they received their commissions in the Finnish Army, or, if they preferred, in the Imperial Russian Army, where many former cadets rose to high commands. I joined the Corps of Cadets soon after my fifteenth birthday in 1882. I was the first Mannerheim in three generations to choose the army as a career, whereas in the eighteenth century practically all the men of my family were soldiers.
Intensive work and iron discipline characterized the training at the School of Cadets, and every lapse was severely punished, generally by curtailment of leave. Further, the younger cadets Wife, in matters relating to discipline, subordinated to a court
II imposed of pupils of the highest classes, which was authorized to impose punishment. Every younger cadet had a 'guardian' whose duty it was to supervise his studies and general behaviour. But the esprit de corps was excellent and the friendships formed in Hamina were lasting ones.
It must be admitted, however, that the isolation of the Finnish (4) Army and, in consequence, of the Corps of Cadets, had an un favourable effect on the training. Promotion among the teachers and instructors was slow, and a good many originals were to be found among them. For many years the head of the School was General Neovius, a member of a remarkably gifted family. He was an excellent pedagogue and administrator, but scarcely a soldierly type. In 1885 he was succeeded by General Carl Enckell, a tough and stern warrior who had won his spurs on the staff of General Skobelev in the Russo-Turkish War. He soon introduced a new atmosphere in the Corps. As far as I was concerned, the educational methods of the new Commander resulted in my being 'confined to barracks' for two whole terms, for small in fringements of regulations which in our days would be regarded as very trivial and probably ignored. In the end I rebelled, and one night in 1886 took French leave, and with the aid of a top-coat rolled up in my bed thought I had created a passable substitute. That night I put up at the rooms of a friend of mine, a notary who lived not far from our quarters. It was there, in an improvised bed, with a glass of milk at the bedside table, that I was awakened the following morning by a sergeant from the school who es corted me back to barracks. The dummy in my bed had been discovered and caused a great sensation among my fellow cadets.
Forty-eight hours later I was curtly informed that I no longer belonged to the Corps, without being given an opportunity to explain my conduct. But I was prepared for the worst and had made my plans. When I said good-bye to my fellow cadets, I told them I was leaving for St. Petersburg to join the Nikolaevski Cavalry School and become an officer in the Chevalier Guards. My statement caused great hilarity. It was, of course, well known how very difficult it was to obtain a commission in this famous regiment, the first in the Russian Imperial Guards, whose Colonel-in-Chief was the Empress herself and whose officers were very exclusive. However, I enjoyed my friends' astonishment and their laughter, for my ambitions did not really soar so high. As a matter of fact, I intended to become a sailor. It was only later, when a friend of my father persuaded me to complete my studies and get my school certificate and give up my ideas of the sea, that I began seriously to consider what I had said as a joke.
If I have related this trivial episode at some length, it is because (5)my disciplinary punishment had spurred my ambition to show that, despite this unfortunate prank, I was at heart a good soldier. Without realizing it I thus took a step which was to be of enorm ous importance for my future by removing me from the limited opportunities offered by my own country into a wider world.
Nor were there any patriotic objections to my project, for re lations between Russia and the autonomous Grand Duchy of Fin land were at this time excellent. This was due to the confidence inspired by Tsar Alexander I's liberal regime after Finland's union with Russia. By his constitutional oath in 1809, and his noble gesture in returning to Finland, after a hard and bloody war, the Province of Viipuri which had been annexed by Peter the Great, he had won the hearts of his new subjects. His successors con tinued to honour their oath, and it was only later that Finnish con fidence was shattered when Nicholas II broke his Imperial word under pressure of the Russian nationalist movement. More than thirty years after this turning-point in my career, Fate provided me with a rehabilitation which could hardly have been more com plete. This was in 1918, when my revered former chief, General Enckell, invited me to become Honorary Member of the Old Cadets' Club.
A requisite for entry into the Nikolaevski Cavalry School was the Higher School Certificate, and after a year's hard work I ob tained this in L887. But it was, of course, essential to have a fair knowledge of Russian. This difficult language, completely differ ent from Swedish and Finnish, was taught in the Finnish Cadet Corps, but the results were anything but brilliant. To improve my knowledge of Russian, I spent some time with a distant rela tive who managed an important industrial concern in Charkow. Thanks to an agreeable and cultured teacher, a Captain of Cos sacks, I spoke fairly fluent Russian by the end of the year.
After the modest establishment which I had left, the Nikolaev ski Cavalry School impressed me greatly by its proportions and noble architecture. Alexander III had simplified the uniform worn by the cadets, a black tunic with a red collar and gold chevrons, blue breeches with a red stripe, high cavalry boots, and a black fur cap with a red crown. As in most military academies, there were a host of things forbidden, which did not, however, spoil the free and easy relations of the pupils. Thus it was a rule that the 'vermin', (6) as the younger cadets were described, must not use the same staircase as the older ones, 'Messieurs les Cornets'. If foible, dis cipline was even more severe than in the Finnish Corps W Cadets. There were some remarkable men among the instructors. One whom I remember with much gratitude was Colonel Aleksejew, an earnest and modest man who, during the First World War, became Chief of Staff to the Emperor-Commander-in-Chief. Head of the School was General Bilderling, a kindly and cultured officer, in whose army I was to serve in the Russo-Japanese War. With its greater resources and opportunities for practical work the training was undoubtedly more rational and efficient than that of the Finnish Corps of Cadets. The school frequently took part in the large manoeuvres held by the Petersburg garrison.
Though leave was by no means generous, I did what I could to get to know the great city and its environs. The Neva offered a fine spectacle, with its imposing bridges, canals, and quays, bor dered by splendid palaces, among which the Emperor's residence, the Winter Palace, was the most magnificent. On an island in the Neva, opposite, was the fortress of St. Peter and Paul with its grim granite walls and casemates, and its church where the Em perors had, since Peter the Great, Petersburg's founder, been laid to rest. Strangely enough, political prisoners were housed in cells in the casemates, in close proximity to the Imperial graves. With its fine open spaces, wide perspectives, and fine streets, Petersburg was a beautiful and imposing city. Few of the world's capitals possess such a fine thoroughfare as the Nevskij Prospect, with its splendid buildings, the Kazan Cathedral, the Anitchkov Palace, and many others. The Nevskij, as it was commonly called, was crossed by the Morskaija, where the most fashionable mansions and the finest shops were situated. On the whole, Petersburg, with its often neo-Greek architecture, did not strike one as typically Russian.
Despite my linguistic troubles, I did pretty well at the School. In the autumn of 1889 I left the School as one of the first half-dozen out of a hundred cadets.
When I got my commission I had a disappointment. Though passed for the Chevalier Guards, there was at the time no vacancy in that regiment, and I was posted to the 15th Alexandrijski Dra goons. The Dragoons were stationed in the Polish town of Kalisz,(7) near the German frontier. The regiment, whose horses were black, were still known as the Death Hussars in memory of the nine when they were hussars, and the uniform included a black hussar 'dolman' with silver galloon. This appealed to my youthful romantic mind, and I had no objection to being stationed in Po land, to which country I have always returned with pleasure. The better I got to know the Poles, the more I liked them and felt at home with them.
Life in the small frontier garrison was monotonous, and outside military duties there was little to interest or amuse one. But we were well mounted, and as the regiment was kept at full strength on account of its proximity to the frontier, there was no lack of work for those who took their duties seriously. I was certainly one of these, possibly too much so for the liking of the commander of my squadron. At that time commanders of squadrons were allot-led a fixed sum with which to provide forage, through corn mer chants of their own choice. Of course, the less work the horses did, the less forage they required. A friendly struggle ensued between my commander and myself, and I soon understood why he began to ask me to lunch more and more often.
I now became acquainted with the kind of life common to most troops of the great Russian Army, scattered over the vast territories of the Empire, a life very different from that of the (mards regiments and garrisons in large towns. I learned to know and appreciate the Russian soldier with his many qualities. He was docile and easy to handle, and when treated fairly he became devoted to his officers. This continued to be so until the Revolu tion and its temptations, which the simple fellow could not resist, broke up discipline.
After a year's service with the Alexandrijski Dragoons, I had the welcome news that I had been transferred to the Chevalier Guards. I was, of course, delighted to see my youthful dream come true, and to be stationed in Petersburg with all the attrac tions such a city offers a young officer. But it was not without regret that I left my comrades in the Dragoons and my interesting work with recruits and horses in our dashing 2nd Squadron. What added to my pleasure was the thought that I was being brought a good bit closer to my own country for, with the bad communications of those days, the journey from Poland's western (8) frontier to Finland was a long one, the more so as our, nearest railway station was seventy miles away.
In the Chevalier Guards I was put in charge of the training of the splendid-looking recruits of the ist Squadron. On certain days, work in the manege began at 6 a.m. After lunch in the mess at noon, in which all the officers joined, training went on till four or five o'clock, after which one's time was one's own. At regular intervals there were regimental dinners in which old officers joined. After the Russo-Japanese War, His Majesty the Emperor was often present at the dinners of the Guards regiments. As a former officer of the Chevalier Guards I was present on several of these occasions, and was struck by his simplicity and lack of ostentation in the company of his officers.
Service in the Chevalier Guards differed greatly from that to which I had been used in the Dragoons. Our barracks were situa ted in the centre of the city, and it was not often possible to give the squadrons exercise in the open country. I missed our cross -country training in Poland, and I welcomed the manoeuvres at Krasnoje Selo, which began in May and continued the whole summer. Foreign monarchs and statesmen were often taken to Krasnoje Selo, and parades and manoeuvres on an enormous scale were held in their honour. The high-light was the important annual race meeting, which was attended by the High Command and the military attaches.
During the winter it was occasionally our privilege to be re sponsible for the guard within the Winter Palace. No doubt the historical uniform worn on these occasions contributed largely to the feeling of coming into close contact with Russian history. A white tunic with silver collar and chevrons, tight white buckskin breeches which were put on wet over one's bare skin, and high patent leather jackboots which made sitting very uncomfortable. Over the tunic was worn a scarlet supervest emblazoned with the Order of St. Andrew. All this splendour was crowned by a helmet bearing the Imperial emblem, the double-headed eagle. We used to refer to this emblem as 'the pigeon'. After twenty-four hours' duty in this garb it was a relief to change.
But the Winter Palace offered other more agreeable experiences to the officers of the Chevalier Guards. We were invited to the great receptions, to the so-called concert-balls, and to the great (9) ball, held every year, when several thousand of Their Majesties' guests would be seated at supper. Once a year our regiment's Colonel-in-Chief, the Empress Maria Feodorovna, would receive the officers in the presence of her consort, the Emperor Alexander III. The Empress, daughter of Christian IX of Denmark, had al ways shown great interest in Finland, and was by us Finns affec tionately called Princess Dagmar, the Scandinavian name by which she was known as a girl. On several occasions in the nineteen-twenties when I passed through Copenhagen where the Empress spent the last years of her life, I had the opportunity to offer my former Colonel-in-Chief my homage.
I often took part in the jumping competitions which during winter were held in the enormous St. Michael manege that had been designed for reviewing a whole regiment. At these 'concours hippiques' members of the Imperial family were often present. The Empress especially liked the 'carousel-rides' arranged by the officers of the Chevalier Guards. My friend Prince Beloselskij-Belozerski became a keen polo player during a stay in France, and started a polo club on the Krestovskij island, at the mouth of the Neva, where his father owned a magnificent mansion. I devoted as much time as I could spare to this fascinating game. The Polo Club became a very fashionable rendezvous, and the Minister of Finance, Count Witte, one of the prominent men of the Empire, could often be found riding in the beautiful grounds. In the sum mer and winter the regiment used to arrange stag and drag hunts in the surroundings of Petersburg. The piqueur was English.
In gay and hospitable Petersburg it was not hard to make friends, and a young officer of a crack regiment seldom found himself disengaged in the afternoons and evenings. Whether one wanted amusement or was more seriously inclined, the resources of Petersburg were almost inexhaustible. The great economic development of the nineties also led to a renaissance of the arts. Lovers of music and the drama could hear and see the world's greatest artists in Petersburg, and there was, of course, the famous Russian Ballet with its incomparable ballerinas and dancers. The city had a permanent French theatre, and an Italian opera com pany frequently gave guest performances.
As regards my personal life at that time, in 1892 I became mar ried to Mademoiselle Anastasie Arapov, daughter of the late(10) General Nikolai Arapov, General a la Suite (an honorific title) of the Tsar, and also a former-officer of the Chevalier! Guards.
Easter, the festival of love and charity, brought olft all that was best in the generous Russian character, and everybody, beginning with the Tsar, presented their fellow-men with gifts according to their means. There was, of course, a flood of orders and appoint ments. In towns all windows were illuminated, everybody was about visiting friends and acquaintances. For a week the church bells chimed, the streets were crowded by fast-driven carriages, and porters in magnificent liveries, bearing their staffs of office, were posted at the entrances to aristocratic mansions. During the whole week open house was kept, the host and hostess receiving their guests in the dining-room.
The celebration of Easter, the most important festival of the deeply religious Russian people, left an unforgettable impression on a stranger. It was preceded by seven weeks' fast. The climax of the celebrations was a midnight service on Easter night, when the resurrection of Christ was announced, and the worshippers went in solemn procession, bearing wax candles. People kissed each other three times on the cheek, in Russian style. The tradi tional Easter food, 'pas-cha', a sweet pudding, 'kulitch', a kind of wheaten loaf, and eggs were brought to be blessed by the priest, whereupon Mass was held. The singing was done by picked choirs of men and boys. Particularly as regards basses, I have never heard anything comparable outside Russia. From the highest to the humblest, all wore their best, officers in parade uni form and ladies 'grande toilette'.
The end of 1894 saw the death of that strong monarch, the Em peror Alexander III, and a year later the coronation of Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was held in Moscow, where the Chevalier Guards had been ordered for a whole month.
A few days before the coronation, the Imperial pair left the Petrov Palace to make their solemn entry into the Kremlin. Pre ceding the Tsar, mounted on horseback and surrounded by a glittering staff, rode the 1st Squadron of the Chevalier Guards, in which I was acting commander of the first platoon. The two Empresses drove each in her own coach, drawn by eight horses, and were followed by a cortege of some twenty coaches drawn by six or four horses. The platforms that lined the route of the (11) procession were filled with spectators in ceremonial attire, the men in parade uniform or evening dress, as was then customary, and the women in their very best. It was indescribably magnifi cent.
The same can be said of the coronation itself, which was the most exhausting ceremony I have known. I was one of the four officers of the Chevalier Guards who, with the highest dignitaries, lined the broad steps which led from the body of the Uspenskij Cathedral to the two thrones on the dais. The air was heavy with incense as we stood immobile, with a heavy cavalry sabre in one hand and the helmet crowned with the Imperial Eagle in the other, from nine in the morning until half-past one, when the corona-1 ion was over and the procession made its way to the Imperial Palace. In his coronation robe of ermine and gold brocade, wear ing the Imperial crown on his head, the Emperor went on foot, under a canopy borne by the Empire's highest in command, preceded and followed by the four officers of the Chevalier Guards, two by two, carrying their bared sabres.
Still in their heavy coronation robes, the Emperor and Empress bad to partake of a traditional meal of which I managed to get a glimpse. It took place in the ancient Granovitaia Palace. In the beautiful banqueting hall a table on a dais had been prepared for 1 lie Imperial couple and the Dowager Empress. They were waited on by the highest Court dignitaries, mostly fairly aged, who, with trembling hands, bore food and wine to the Emperor's 1.1 hie, flanked by officers of the Chevalier Guards holding drawn sabres. The serving Court dignitaries were compelled by etiquette ι ο leave the room walking backwards, no easy task on the highly polished parquet floor. During this ceremony music was rend ered by artists of world renown.
The solemn coronation ceremonies had a macabre epilogue, however. A few days after the actual coronation, the Chevalier Guards were alerted and ordered to proceed to the Brest railway station with the greatest possible speed. We galloped through practically the whole of Moscow and had scarcely drawn up at our destination on our lathering horses when we saw the Em peror and Empress, looking pale and serious, drive past, followed hy a number of carriages containing the Imperial suite. We couldn't make out what it was all about, but judging by the expressions (12) on the faces of the silent multitude, something very serious must have happened. The explanation came quickly in the shape of a column of open vehicles passing behind us. They were covered with tarpaulins, from underneath which protruded, a hand here, a lifeless foot there. The vehicles contained the victims of the Hodyn field, a drill-ground where a terrible disaster had occurred a short time earlier. The crowd had pressed forward to the stands where refreshments and small souvenirs were distri buted free, and panic had broken out. A great number of people had been forced down into the trenches, covered only by loose boards, and trampled to death in them. It was said that about two thousand people had lost their lives. The tragedy was looked upon as an evil omen, and compared with the disastrous firework dis play at the ceremonies connected with the engagement of the Dauphin and Marie Antoinette.
When the Commander of the Chevalier Guards, General von Griinwald, was appointed Master of the Horse in 1901, he offered me an interesting post under him. Though I was very happy in the Chevalier Guards, I could not resist the lure to devote myself entirely to my great interest, horses, and there were more than a thousand of them in the Imperial stables. Also, a Colonel's pay and an apartment in the most fashionable part of Petersburg was a temptation for a young officer with small personal means. Another factor which led me to accept the post was the travel which it would offer me in connection with the purchase of horses. These journeys, which were both instructive and interest ing, took me to Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Belgium, and England. From one of the Hungarian studs I visited, my brother had purchased horses for his Swedish stud. We all have the love of horseflesh in our blood.
During one of these trips to Germany I got my first serious in jury. I had been invited by the Prussian Master of the Horse, Count von Wedel, to see the Imperial stables at Potsdam, where a remount chosen for the Emperor's personal use lashed out and broke my knee. The Emperor's personal doctor, Professor Bergmann, shook his head gravely. The knee-cap was fractured in five places and my knee would remain stiff. He consoled me by saying that even if I should find it hard to command a squadron, I would be able to command a regiment, and that nothing prevented me (13)from becoming a distinguished general. Well, for me it meant laying up for two months, after which, thanks to massage and exercises, my knee was more or less restored to normal. If you have much to do with horses these accidents are bound to happen, but this was certainly the worst of the thirteen occasions when I have broken a bone or two.
Λ few days before my departure from Berlin I was invited to lunch with the Imperial family. The Emperor William If s charm-in g manner towards a junior officer like myself, as well as his gay and amusing temperament, impressed me very much. On this Occasion I had the honour of meeting the Empress too. Just before the doors to the dining-room were thrown open, the Empress entered, preceded by the Grande Maitresse de la Cour, wearing, in accordance with etiquette, a long black veil. The Emperor kept up a lively conversation which did not prevent him from eating rapidly. As soon as he had finished a course all plates were removed.
It had never been my intention to abandon my military career, and, having received my promotion to Captain in 1903, I therefore sent in a request to be allowed to return to the army. The Chevalier Guards could hardly offer me any fresh experience, and I therefore requested to be posted to the Officers' Cavalry School in Petersburg. I was there put in command of the so-called 'Model Sciuadron', a command which carried with it a certain indepen dence and the pay and privileges of a regimental commander.
The Head of the School, which served to give officers both technical and tactical training, was the already famous cavalry general, Brusilov, who as Army Commander in the First World War was to gain many triumphs. He was a keen and severe chief, but he taught us much of great value. His tactical exercises, both in the school and in the field, were models of their kind and of great interest, and I was glad to meet again my former teacher, James Fillis, one of the greatest authorities in modern equitation, then attached to the school.
My service was interrupted by the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War for which I volunteered. General Brusilov dis approved, considering that it was quite unnecessary to join in such an insignificant affray. He urged me to change my mind and (14) keep myself for a bigger war which would soon come and might develop into a World War. But I refused to be persuaded How ever, it took a long time before the machinery of war got going, and it was half a year after the outbreak of the war, in February 1904, that I departed for the front, as Lieut.-Colonel of the Nezhinski Hussars.2
THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR 1904-1905
The Russo-Japanese War—The Revolution of 1905 and its reper cussions in Finland—The last meeting of the Four Estates
Though the outbreak of war came as a complete surprise to the Russian people, it was the logical outcome of a chain of events which are worth recalling, as they make it easier to understand present-day rivalry between the Great Powers, and especially Russia's and Japan's successive attempts to incorporate the richest territories of the Far East into their respective spheres ol influence at the expense of China.
In the late eighties Russia, whose foreign policy was then con ducted by Prince Lobanov-Rostovskij, had played a stabilizing part in Europe and the Far East. Faced by Japan's menacing ex pansion which had already reached southern Manchuria, Russia, with the support of France and Germany, had urged and finally brought about the re-establishment of China's sovereignty in Manchuria. The Japanese troops were compelled to evacuate the Country and withdraw to Korea. Russia's reward was the con cession to construct and exploit the so-called East China Rail way, which ran through Manchuria and connected Siberia with Vladivostok. But under Lobanov-Rostovskij's successor, Count Mouraviev, a complete reversal in Russia's policy occurred.
In 1898 China was compelled to grant Russia a twenty-five-year lease of the naval base, Port Arthur, terminus of the South Manchurian Railway, and, further, to agree to this railway being connected with the new East China Railway. Chinese reaction to this violation of their sovereignty expressed itself in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, which was, however, directed against all foreign nations. The crushing of this rebellion gave Russia the opportu nity to occupy the whole of Manchuria. She had agreed to evacuate Manchuria by stages, but when no move was made to carry out this promise, Japan had every reason to fear a further Russian advance towards Korea. The crisis grew more acute with every year