Thursday, October 15, 2015

Was God’s Army destined to fail? Part Five- Conclusion

March 1918

The need for additional officers in Russia was acute. With seven active Salvation Army corps in Petrograd and a thriving social service program the need for officer reinforcements became ever more apparent.
A good number of experienced officers from Sweden had already arrived ready to be trained. They were housed in a magnificent manor house while undertaking their Russian language lessons provided for the Army’s use by Madame Tschertkoff, who’d moved to Finland.

The advent of an officer-training garrison had been rumoured about for months. Each of Petrograd’s seven corps included soldiers eager to train to become officers. However, the candidate recruits were requested to be patient and await further information. Whether the delay was known or not was soon irrelevant as one recruit from the provinces arrived unexpectedly, ready to train. Five others soon joined her.

On the day in May that the long awaited Colonel Larsson finally arrived in Petrograd six recruits were on hand.

 “Well, how is it coming along with the War College”, was one of Larsson’s first questions. And on learning of the circumstances he decided that the time had come, and on May 21, 1918 the War College was officially opened. Other Cadets followed until eighteen in all were signed up and constituted what would soon comprise   the first training session. The ‘garrison’ was assigned the name War College by the SA’s International Headquarters, London.

Larsson convened an ‘appointment’ service and the Swedish officers, including Otto and Gerda Ljungholm were assigned to the War College sensing though that theirs might be an appointment of a short duration.

Of the eighteen cadets being trained at the War College in Petrograd several were steeped in Russian culture and possessed native Russian language skills having been born or brought up in Russia.

Lt. Elsa Olsoni describes the house as an elegant four-storey Petrograd mansion at the aristocratic end of Bolshoi Prospekt on Vasilevsky Island with its spacious hall, broad staircase decorated with busts, urns and mirrors, secluded courtyard and garden. The Tschertkoff added tenants in the spring including the War College and the Number Seven Corps. The War College occupied the first and the third floors. with corps Number Seven utilizing the parquet-floored salon for its meeting.

But, the grandeur of the house belied the current reality. The occupants were not from aristocratic lineage, although they were in the service of a King. Their bill of fare wasn’t delivered from Petrograd’s finest delicatessen or confectionary, although on occasion the fare brought jubilation. A triumph was achieved when Staff Captain Hacklin was able to acquire some five-kilo packs of horse-meat which when added to the pickled cabbage, a daily menu item, made for a feast. Many of Petrograd’s poor and homeless competed with animals for the not yet putrid meat of the horses lying emaciated and dead on the city streets. Petrograd was experiencing its worse food shortage in 200 years.

Russia’s first and only War College session lasted only four months.

“The summer of 1918 will never be forgotten by our officers. The food situation was miserable. For weeks on end the cadets had to exist on cabbage morning, lunch and dinner. Almost no bread.  One didn’t dare dream of things like flour, butter or sugar.  Our main meal consisted of soup cooked on dried vegetables.” Sometimes the soup was supplemented by fresh bread gifted by the official Swedish delegation to Russia. Visits there would always include an invitation to join them for ‘fika’, coffee and cinnamon rools. Regular visits were made to the station in order to travel with or to negotiate purchases on our behalf by the ‘food traders’. They traveled 4th class by train into the countryside each night to bargain with the farmers and others trading on the black market.

Part 5 of five. To be continued-

Sven Ljungholm

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