So it finally came to an end, for Pál Kelemen and for them all.
Laura de Turczynowicz’s war came to an end when she disembarked from the transatlantic liner that had carried her and her three children from Rotterdam to New York. Even though the days at sea had given her time to start adapting to a peacetime existence, she found her meeting with the great city overwhelming. The dense crowds of people filling the busy pavements exhausted her and the high, wide New York buildings filled her with a vague sense of threat—whenever she put her head back to look up she could not avoid the thought that an aircraft might appear and that the aircraft might drop a bomb. But what upset her most was that so few of the people she met were really concerned about what was going on in Europe: “their indifference was almost more than I can bear.” She could not know it at the time but she would never return to Poland and she would never see her husband, Stanislaw, again.
Elfriede Kuhr was in the same place as she had been at the start of the war four years earlier—Schneidemühl. At least one scene was exactly as it had been then: there were crowds outside the newspaper office and, just as in 1914, the situation was changing so rapidly that the latest news was announced by means of handwritten billboards, written in blue pencil on newspaper stock. But unlike four years earlier the confusion was much greater and the unity far less. Elfriede saw a boy weeping inconsolably after someone in the crowd had hit him for making an offensive remark. There were fewer cheers, too, and many more arguments, and loud ones. Some soldiers came walking down the street arm in arm and singing. A lieutenant who started yelling at them had his uniform cap knocked off and, pale in the face, he had to pick it up from the gutter. Some civilians called the soldiers traitors. Elfriede ran home. Soon afterwards the doorbell rang: it was Androwski, her brother’s friend, and he threw himself down in a chair, exclaiming, “The war is dead! Long live the war!” Almost immediately her brother arrived, too. His cap and belt were missing, the tunic of his uniform was torn, his buttons ripped off, his shoulder straps likewise and his lapel flashes were hanging loose. His face expressed shock and confusion. Androwski began to laugh at the sight of him and, after some hesitation, her brother also started to smile.
After her death Sarah Macnaughtan was taken from London to Chart Sutton in Kent. At the end of July 1916, she was buried in the village churchyard on the hill, in the family grave, in the shade of fruit trees.* As the coffin was lowered into the ground the mourners could hear the faint rumble of artillery, borne on a south wind from the battlefield on the Somme. It was afternoon and the sun was shining.
Richard Stumpf was still in Wilhelmshaven. What had started as madness ended in hysteria. The rumour spread that they had been betrayed and that troops loyal to the old regime were on their way: “The streets were like a madhouse. Armed men ran back and forth in all directions—you could even see women dragging ammunition boxes around. What madness! Is this how it’s going to end? After five years of brutal warfare are we now going to turn our guns on our own countrymen?” He was sitting writing later when he suddenly heard the sound of cheering, shouting and running, hooters blowing and shots being fired from small arms and even from cannon. Signal rockets burst in endless streams of red, green and white up in the evening sky. He thought: “A little more dignity would have done no harm.”
Andrei Lobanov-Rostovsky found himself in a training camp in Sables d’Olonne near the Atlantic coast. He and his rebellious company had never been sent to the front and had ended up spending a dull and demoralising time as reserves behind the lines, a period that was then followed by an outbreak of Spanish influenza. He himself lay seriously ill and hallucinating in a fevered state. He recovered, only to be informed that he had been removed from his post as company commander, for which in his heart of hearts he was thoroughly relieved. At the same time he was unlucky in his love for a young Russian woman living in Nice. During this time of general inactivity he continued to devour history books and his studies reinforced his conviction that the Bolsheviks would not be in power for long. Even though he, like many others, sensed that the war was coming to an end, he found it hard to imagine a life without the war and out of uniform. “My own personality had become submerged in the conception of the whole. I think that this was a normal result of war mentality and probably the experience of millions of fighting men.” There was talk among his Russian fellow officers about whether they should join the Whites and take part in the civil war that Russia was about to face. Lobanov-Rostovsky was undecided what to do.† They were carrying on with grenade-throwing practice as usual when a French officer appeared and announced with great excitement: “Stop all exercises. The armistice is signed.” There was “a wild carnival” going on in the town, with people embracing one another and dancing in the streets. The celebrations continued far into the night.
Florence Farmborough’s war came to an end the moment the ship carrying her and the other refugees steamed out of the harbour in Vladivostock. The ship seemed like a floating palace to her. They went aboard to the sounds of music and when she entered her cabin she suddenly found herself standing in a dream of white sheets, white towels and white curtains at the porthole.‡ Then she stood on deck and watched this land called Russia, “which I had loved so truly and which I had served so gladly,” disappear very slowly until all that was left was a pale, grey shadow on the horizon. And then a thick bluish fog drifted in over the sea and made it impossible for her to see any more. She went down to her cabin and stayed there, making an excuse to the others that she was feeling seasick.
Kresten Andresen’s family lived for a long time in the hope that he was a prisoner of war held by the British, interned perhaps in some distant camp, in Africa, for example. They never heard anything more of him and all of their enquiries came to nothing.§
• • •
The end of the war found Michel Corday for once not in Paris but in a small town in the countryside. Like most of the others he had suspected for weeks that the end was close. Right to the finish, attitudes among the people he met varied. Joy at the success was widespread and there were many smiling faces. Some people insisted, however, that they should not be satisfied with the situation, that they should go on, invade Germany and subject the country to the same suffering France had endured. Others hardly even dared hope—they had been disappointed before. There were some who watched guardedly, still holding to the propagandist idea that “peace” was an obscene word. One phrase that could frequently be heard was a rather doubting “Who would have believed this four months ago?” Corday had seen Italian troops on their way home already, full of joy that their war was at an end. And at seven o’clock that morning the local army headquarters received a wireless message that the armistice had been signed. Bells were rung and soldiers danced in the streets with flags and bouquets of flowers in their hands. At lunchtime they heard that Kaiser Wilhelm had fled to Holland.
Alfred Pollard found himself in Montreuil, at the headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force, where his battalion had been sent to do guard duty. At the beginning of November the unit was being shunted round as a mobile reserve without being involved in any fighting, a fact that he regretted for the sake of his soldiers—“I should have hated to miss a stunt of that description”—but was appreciative of it for himself. Pollard had recovered from the bout of Spanish influenza that had caused him to collapse outside Péronne and when the news of the armistice reached them they all went “mad with excitement.” The rest of the day was spent cheering, singing, visiting various officers’ messes, toasting victory and remembering the fallen. He was probably fairly drunk by the afternoon when someone invited him into the secret rooms at operational command to look at a large map of the location of the divisions of the German army. He noted with pleasure that the clustering of German units was densest where they were faced with the British armies and thinnest where they had to deal with the Belgians and the Americans. William Henry Dawkins was buried at sunset on the day he died. He was interred at an improvised cemetery immediately south of Anzac Cove, where his body still rests, less than twenty yards from the water’s edge.‖ René Arnaud was back in the front line again, in a shell crater that was temporarily serving as the battalion headquarters. It occurred to him that he had just reached the age of twenty-five but that he had completely overlooked his birthday. A major appeared in the darkness and said that he was there to relieve Arnaud, who was to take up a posting behind the lines. Arnaud “realised at once that the war was over for me, that I had survived, that I was suddenly free of the cruel anxiety that had been weighing on me for three and a half years, that I should no longer be pursued by the ghost of death that had preoccupied me in the same way as it preoccupies old men.” He showed his replacement around, without worrying for once about machine-gun fire and exploding shells because “I was gloriously happy and light hearted and it felt as though I were invulnerable.”
Rafael de Nogales found himself on a steamship on the way into the Bosphorus. He saw flags everywhere—the flags of the enemy: Italian, French and British. He thought that most of them were flying over houses owned by “Armenians, Greeks and Levantines.”aIn the evening he ended up at a party arranged by some Greek ladies who wanted to celebrate the armistice. Rumours were rife. Some of the leading Young Turks had fled the city in a German motor torpedo boat. A military revolt was being planned in Anatolia “by way of protest against the Allied interference in the internal affairs of Turkey” and, de Nogales adds, this interference will “continue to cause serious armed conflicts as long as the Allies persist in their division of Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Mesopotamia into mandates and protectorates.” A week later he went to the war ministry and for the second time applied for a discharge.b This time his request was granted unconditionally.
Harvey Cushing was still lying in his hospital bed in Priez. On the day of the armistice his batman brought him his shaving mirror and a nail brush and took away his uniform jacket to sew on the new badges: Cushing was being promoted to the rank of colonel. He had been studying newspaper reports of victory for a while, with increasing amazement—how could it have happened so quickly?—and he had been following the advances of the Allied armies on a map with the help of some pins and a length of cotton. At half past four in the afternoon he, with the matron, the hospital padre and a medical colleague, had celebrated the peace in his room. They did so with no great fuss or rejoicing, just sitting in front of the fire, drinking tea and talking about religion and the future.
Angus Buchanan’s war ended early, in a field hospital in Narunyu during September 1917. A week or so earlier he and the rest of the 25th Royal Fusiliers had relieved a South African infantry unit. The troops had been completely drained by the appalling heat, and the ranks of both soldiers and bearers were growing thinner by the day. Buchanan himself was one of the weary and sick men. He struggled on for a few days in spite of fever, managing only with great effort to attend the morning parades, but eventually he could no longer walk. Buchanan was carried to the hospital: “I was beaten, hopelessly overcome.” They feared for his life. He lay in a hut waiting to be evacuated, first to Lindi and then by boat to Dar es-Salaam. A man in uniform came in. It was O’Grady, the officer commanding this sector, a man Buchanan had worked with earlier. O’Grady said some friendly and encouraging words and expressed his sorrow that things were going so badly. And then, “when he had gone,” Buchanan writes, “I hid my face in the gloom of the low grass hut and broke down like a woman.”
Willy Coppens was still in hospital in De Panne. Complications had set in. The wound from the amputation was still open and there was no easing of his depression. (Coppens was now bedecked with medals from virtually every one of the Allied powers, Portugal and Serbia included, but even though he had always been interested in decorations they had been of little help. He knew that he would not be able to wear them in uniform and he also realised that the coming peace would lead to an unparalleled flooding of the medals market.) In the evening he suddenly heard the sounds of tremendous yelling, cheering and laughter bouncing off the walls of the wards, stairwells and corridors. To his ears the rejoicing became contorted to something that almost resembled the last sigh of a dying man, though enormously magnified and distorted. The armistice had just been announced. Coppens himself was confused: “I ought to have felt great joy but it was as if a cold hand took me by the throat. I was beset by anxiety about the future. I realised that a period of my life was over.”
Olive King found herself in Salonica, having just returned from England. (The reason for her visit to England was to arrange the necessary official permission for the realisation of her next major project—setting up a chain of canteens to help alleviate the suffering and hardship among returning Serbian refugees and soldiers.) The journey to England had been a confusing experience for her, to put it mildly. She had missed Salonica at first, but this feeling had gradually turned to antipathy and a reluctance to go back there. She did make her return, however, and it proved to be a remarkably happy one. Her unit had moved north long before, following on the heels of the collapsing Bulgarian army. (At the eleventh hour the thousands of soldiers in Salonica had at last been given a proper mission and by September they had forced a hard-pressed Bulgaria to capitulate. The Ottoman Empire soon followed suit and the chain reaction was completed by the capitulation of Austria-Hungary.) Her two vehicles had disappeared along with the advancing forces, her wooden cabin had been moved and was almost empty, but all her possessions had been packed away with great care by her Serbian friends. Before setting off on her journey to Belgrade King went through everything she had collected during the past few years. She thought most of it was just “rubbish” and threw away many of her old clothes, along with heaps of newspapers and news bulletins. All that belonged to the past.
Vincenzo D’Aquila found himself on board a cargo boat just off Bermuda, on his way home to the United States. In all probability it was his American citizenship, combined with the fact that he had never formally been sworn into the army, that saved him. With American public opinion in mind, the Italian authorities had obviously been reluctant to make a martyr of him, so even though he had been kept in Italy and in uniform he had never been sent back to the front. And finally, after all sorts of comings and goings, D’Aquila was given permission to return to the United States. He missed the mailboat to New York but managed to get a berth on the American cargo boat Carolyn, sailing from Genoa in September. They took on a load of ore in Gibraltar and then, because of U-boat alarms, the captain opted for the much longer but considerably safer route via Brazil. On their way north from there, one night in November, they saw an unusual sight: a ship steaming through the night fully lit up. At dawn they encountered another vessel and signalled it with flags: “Is the war over?” The answer came, technically correct: “No, it’s only an armistice.”
Edward Mousley’s war came to an end when he stepped aboard the ship that took him from imprisonment in Constantinople to freedom in Smyrna. “Everything is excitement and disorder,” he wrote in his journal. “Centuries of captivity are falling from me every second. I am outwardly calm, and too busy to psychologise much on the great end of this awful eternity.” A number of other newly freed prisoners of war were on the boat and he shared a cabin with a man who had also been in the artillery at Kut al-Amara and who had pretended to be mad in order to gain his freedom. It was already dark when the boat cast off. The contours of the city faded into the night; first to go were the soft forms of the great mosques and last were the sharp lines of the tall minarets. Mousley went down to his cabin for a while and sat with his companion, smoking and listening to the sound of the waves. When Mousley and his friend went back up on deck the city had disappeared. The only thing to be seen was the gleam of distant lights in the ship’s wash. “It was Stamboul: the City of the Eternities, the Beautiful, the Terrible.” Neither of them said anything.
Paolo Monelli was at the railway station in Sigmundsherberg in north-eastern Austria. He and the other Italian prisoners of war had been free for several days after overpowering their confused and demoralised guards by a combination of argument and force. Everything had been turned on its head. Some of his fellow countrymen headed down into the town to get drunk and chase women, others began planning a great raid on Vienna. Italian soldiers with Austrian weapons patrolled the railway station and helped to keep order. Troop trains full of Hungarian soldiers steamed past now and again and there was some shooting. The Austrian telephone operators carried on working as usual. Monelli and a small group of other former prisoners listened to an Austrian officer, known to be a friendly fellow, translating the terms of the armistice to them, breathlessly, phrase by phrase. Monelli was enormously relieved to be free and that the war was over, but the feeling was shot through with an element of bitter sorrow. “This is going to be our evil inheritance, or our good inheritance, in any case our irrevocable inheritance—and we are going to be fettered by our memories for ever.”
* The epitaph on her gravestone reads: “In the Great War, by Word and Deed, at Home and Abroad, She served her country even unto Death.”
† His keen study of history had convinced him that armed intervention in Russia by a number of the Allied powers would not be a good idea. Great Britain, France, the United States, Japan and the rest of them did not have a real plan. Their original purpose in intervening was not to support the Whites but to keep their great eastern ally in the war. Initially, they were even encouraged to some extent by the Bolsheviks. But Lobanov-Rostovsky now felt that popular support for the Whites was far too weak.
‡ One of the first fellow passengers she met on board was Maria “Yasha” Bachkarova (see footnote, 8 August 1917, this page), who was now being hunted by the Bolsheviks. The women’s units Bachkarova had helped to form had remained loyal to the Kerensky regime right to the end and some of her soldiers had been in the Winter Palace when it was stormed.
§ A Christian Andresen, reported missing on 10 August 1916, is buried in the German cemetery at Wervicq-Sud (Plot 4, Grave 140). This may or may not be “our” Kresten. The cemetery is located close to the Belgian border, closer to Ypres than to the Somme, and it is not immediately apparent why Kresten’s body would have been moved so far north. There are two possible explanations. His remains may have been moved there during one of the many reburials that took place in France after the war, when the bodies in many small cemeteries were exhumed and transferred to larger cemeteries. (This, for instance, explains why many war cemeteries have mass graves even though the men buried in them are named: whole cemeteries in which the men had been buried in named individual graves were dug up and the bones simply tipped into communal graves. This was a common occurrence.) The second possibility is linked to the first: the body may have been taken to Wervicq-Sud during one of the reburials referred to above, but it may have been brought there from a prisoner of war cemetery on the Allied side of the front. (There were such cemeteries in this neighbourhood.) In that case, what happened to Kresten may have been as follows: he was taken prisoner on 8 August 1916 and transferred north, but died fairly soon afterwards. He may perhaps have been seriously wounded, which would explain why he does not feature in any of the lists of prisoners of war.
‖ The cemetery is called Beach Cemetery, and lies on the road between Kelia and Suvla. His grave is Plot 1, Row H, Grave 3. It is possible to throw a stone into the Aegean from that point.
a De Nogales uses the word as a synonym for Jews.
b See 13 February 1916 for the first, this page.
On 10 November the priest from the hospital came and made a short speech. Now we learned everything.
I was utterly dismayed during the short speech. The dignified old man was visibly trembling as he informed us that the House of Hohenzollern was no longer to be allowed to wear the German imperial crown, that our Fatherland had become a “republic,” that we must pray to the Almighty not to withhold his blessing from this change and not to desert our people in the future. He could not refrain from devoting some words to the royal house, reminding us of its great services in Pomerania, in Prussia, indeed, for the whole of the German Fatherland. Then he began to sob gently to himself and the most profound dejection settled over all the hearts in that little room. I do not think there was a single eye that could hold back its tears. But the old man tried to speak again and began to tell us that we must now end this long war; and since we had lost the war and were now dependent on the mercy of the victors our Fatherland would be exposed to harsh oppression and the fact was that the armistice would result in us having to rely on the nobility of our former enemies—at that point I could take no more. It was impossible for me to remain there. Everything went black before my eyes and I fumbled my way back to the dormitory, threw myself down on my bed and buried my burning face in the covers and pillows […]
The days that followed this were horrible and the nights worse—I knew that everything was lost. One would have had to be a simpleton—or a liar and criminal—to hope for mercy from the enemy. My hatred grew during these nights, my hatred for those responsible for this evil deed. During the days that followed I recognised what my mission was to be […]
I decided to become a politician.