Read CHAPTER V of Trapped in 'Black Russia' Letters June-November 1915 , free online book, by Ruth Pierce, on


To-day, the chief of the secret service came and told us all political prisoners were to be sent on to Siberia. He told us to make a small bundle of necessary things and be ready to leave at any time. With Peter in Petrograd! I asked him where we were going and he shrugged his shoulders. I went to Mr. Douglas, who has wired Peter. Also, he is going to see the chief and try and keep in touch with us. We won’t leave till the last moment. But already many of the hospitals have been moved, and certain prisoners. I suppose I must destroy these letters to you. But I will wait till the last moment. I want so much for you to get them and know what has happened, because I shan’t see you, to tell you with my voice, for over a year still. I have written so fully for that reason.

A few days later.

We are still here, and there is more hope in the situation. There is a persistent report in the papers, and it is repeated in the streets and houses, that the Germans have been stopped by Riga and Dvinsk. Large bodies of troops are moved through Kiev, day and night, for the front. Regular train service is suspended by this movement of troops.

Huge vans pass through the city, carrying aeroplanes to the aviation field outside the barracks. Once we saw a wrecked one being sent to be repaired. A troop of small boys followed it, looking curiously at the broad, broken wings and the tangle of steel framework.

Guns are arriving, too. We see them being carted through the streets. And early this morning we heard cannon. Our first thought was of the Germans, and we lay in bed, stiff with fright. Later, we heard they were the new cannon being tried out before being sent to the front. They say that fresh ammunition has been received from Japan and America. All trains are held up to let these trainloads of guns and cannon and ammunition go tearing over the rails to the front to save Russia. And just in time. I see the open cars packed and covered and guarded by soldiers. I lie in bed and hear the whistle and shriek of the trains in the night, and I imagine row upon row of long iron-throated cannon staring up at the stars.

The Czar has arrived in Kiev for a conference at Headquarters. He came during the night, and no one knows when he will leave. There was no demonstration, and the police break up any groups of more than three persons in the streets.

A dozen or so Japanese officers passed through Kiev, too. They were bound for the front, escorting their guns and ammunition. How curious they looked beside the big, naïve Russians. They were like porcelain figurines with impenetrable, yellow faces, mask-like, and tiny hands and feet. What a finished product they appear, and yet they go to the front and observe the latest methods of warfare and multiply their merchant marine while the rest of the world is spending itself.


I went to a military hospital to-day. It was up on a hill, a huge place, formerly a school, I think, with a broad piazza where the convalescents walked in their gray bathrobes. Inside were rows and rows of cots, and on every cot a wounded man. It appeared that a fresh batch had arrived from the front, and the doctors were just finishing with them. There was a foul smell of blood and sweat and anaesthetics, and the light came dismally through the dirty window-panes, showing dimly the rows and rows of pale, weary faces on the thin pillows. Sometimes the gray blankets came up to the chin, and the man looked dead already, he was so dreadfully still, with his closed eyes and waxlike face. Another moaned continuously, moving his head from side to side “Oh, oh Oh, oh.” His eyes were open, and hard and bright with fever. Several had their heads wound with strips of bandages. You would hardly have known they were human. Two or three were blind, with the bandage only round their eyes, and it was strange to see the expression their hands took on workmen’s hands with stubby fingers, now white and helpless-looking, and picking at the cover aimlessly.

A nurse told me how an officer who had been blinded and was about to be discharged and sent home, had committed suicide the other day. In some way one of his men, who had been wounded in the arm, had been able to smuggle in a revolver to him. The officer killed himself in the middle of the night.

“I don’t suppose he knew whether it was day or night, and took a chance that no one was looking,” I said.

“I think he knew it was night,” she replied. “He could tell by the others’ breathing. I was night nurse. He was dead before I reached him. The soldier gave himself up of his own accord. He will be court-martialed, of course, though every one knows he did the best thing. He said to us, ’He was my captain. He ordered me to get the revolver, and I only obeyed orders. I would do it again.’ We had a hard time the rest of the night to quiet the men.”

In a small room to one side were six men gone mad. They were quite harmless and lay quietly in bed. Besides having their reason smashed to bits by the horrors at the front, they were badly wounded. I was ashamed to stand there looking at them. What was I? Suddenly, one of them, a young boy surely not more than twenty-one or twenty-two, caught sight of us, and he fixed his eyes upon us in a curious, concentrated way as if to assure himself we were real. And then, all at once, abject terror leapt into his eyes. His mouth opened and the cords of his neck stood out. He threw both arms before his face as if to ward off somebody or something. He began to scream out quick, unintelligible words in a high-pitched, staccato voice. I looked fearfully at the others to see if his terror would be communicated to them. But they were apparently oblivious of each other, wrapped up in their separate lives and experiences. One middle-aged man, with a rough, reddish beard, was smiling mildly and smoothing the sheet as though it had been somebody’s hair. We left the room, leaving the nurse to calm the screaming man. I thought of the terrors and fears and memories in that room: the snatches of memories pieced together that made up the actual lives, now, of those broken men in there.

“Are they do they suffer?” I asked the doctor.

“No. They don’t seem to realize that they are wounded and suffer the way normal people would with their wounds. The only thing is, they all have moments of terror, when it’s all we can do to quiet them. They think the wall of the room is the enemy moving down on them. I guess they went through hell all right, there at the front!”

“Will they get better?”

“We can’t tell. We have a specialist studying just such cases. These men seem pretty well smashed, to me.”

In one corner lay a young man propped up with pillows. A nurse was holding his hand. His eyes were looking at her so trustfully. He hardly seemed to be breathing and his face was bloodless even his lips were dead white. And as I looked, he gave a little sigh, and his eyes closed and his body sagged among the pillows. The nurse bent over him and then straightened herself. Quickly she arranged a screen round the bed. When she walked away, I could see she was crying uncontrollably.

“Is he ?”

“Yes. He’s dead,” the doctor replied. “He’s been dying for a week. He was terribly wounded in the stomach, and there was nothing we could do for him. It was a repulsive case to care for, but Sister Mary had full charge of it. She sat with him for hours at a time. In the beginning, to encourage him, she bought a pair of boots he was to wear when he got well. For days, now, he’s been out of his head and fancied she was his mother.”

And life presses as close to death as that while I was looking at him, he had died. I just managed to reach the door before I fainted.


The Governor of Kiev has been removed. He was too cautious. It was a bad example!