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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter XVII: Twenty-three Years Ago


Naroczanka, Nanosy, Pasynki, Kobyinik, Komarowszczyzna, Kupa, Urliki, Konstantynow, Wilno, Szwakszta, Borsuczyn, Mozdok, Old Miadziol


The Chapter opns with the tale of a Russian raiding party across the frozen lake in the 1916 Narocz battle. Then the author relates the story of a documentary notebook - "I found his [Wilhelm Neumann, a German soldier who died at the Narocz battle] notebook among piles of dirty papers in the storehouse of a small nurseryman in Old Miadziol". Lisiewicz later studied Neuman's letters that were publisherd in Berlin in 1924 who intended to publish a revalatory "Diary of a Soldier." Neuman was a sensitive poetic soul, given to lyrical accounts of the soldiers' life. It is in these accounts that the fictionalised account of the raiding party is related, and woven into the run up to the March 1916 battle. On March 16, he tells of how the lake ice is melting, and on the 18 March are recorded his final entries as fear of the opening battle overwhelms him. This is a rare account of the Narocz battle, part of the wider Easter front that helped to bring about the collapse of the Tsarist dynasty and the future borders of Eastern Europe.

Read in conjunction with Chapter 14 which relates Lisiewic's discovery of Neumann's war grave, inscibed 18 March 1916, and Chapter 18 an account of the battle itself.

Further reading

The Battle of Lake Narocz commenced 18 march 1916 (the date Lisiewicz notes on the gravestone he tripped over at te Pronki war cemetry). It was the Russians "share" of diverting the Germans from reinforcing the Verdun offensive; France's life or death struggle. There were 90,000 casualties in all, 20,000 to the Germans and 70,000 the Russians. The battle was inconclusive, but succeeded in it's strategic mission of tying up German troops in the East. 3,050 Germans are buried in the Pronki cemetry. Like Flanders, a lot must still lie where they fell. Unlike Flanders, they will never be recovered. I have been unable to find mention of the burial of the Russians, who suffered higher casualties. Chapter 18 hints at their fate - hurried unmarked mass graves.

Battle of Lake Narocz 1916

Wikipedia: Narocz Offensive

Pronki war cemetry (p16)

Contemporary aritcle about war losses

Chapter XVII: The Text

TWENTY-THREE years ago the wind blew on this shore as it blows now. It came one day about noon, tore the icy coverings off the trees, furrowed the snow and piled it up at the foot of the pines. The forest smoked as if on fire, and turned black, and from it a roar ascended and hung in the air, somewhere high in the heavens, like the long-drawn tones of an organ. Before dusk fell, all the soldiers saw how, above the triple rows of barbed wire, low clouds blew across the sky. They were clouds of queer shapes, almost, one might say, human shapes riding on winged creatures, herds of horrible dragons. It was an ill omen. The defile of clouds went on till night fell, and with the night the darkness covered the lake, the wire, the snow, and the forest. The world vanished, and the forest roared louder than ever, for the wind was still rising. The soldiers on the steps of their dugouts crossed themselves with the triple cross and looked fearfully at the blackness surrounding them. In this invisibility explosions bubbled, dry cracks tore the air and there could be heard flappings like the wings of a great flock of birds.

Just such a night it was exactly 23 years ago. One can even give the date: 28th February, 1916. At six in the evening the strength of the wind blowing out of the darkness reached its height. Then from the place known to-day as the "First Headland," 1600 paces from the hostel towards the Naroczanka, down the lake along the steep shores moved a party of 40 Russian soldiers, two officers, a peasant guide, and the rest privates. Announcing themselves to the closely placed outposts, they passed in single file through the first, second, and third lines of wire. Having passed the wires, they found themselves in a no-man's land, or rather on no-man's-ice, for there was ice everywhere.

Out of the thick darkness the wind b'ew straight into their faces. At the head of the party went a lieutenant from the reconnaissance company of the Siberian division, a dry Latvian named Peters. After him walked a Tartar N.C.O. called Galan, who had been decorated with the St. George's Cross for his gallantry at Krasnik, behind him the peasant guide and the rest. The rear was brought up by an ensign, Piotr Kyrilowicz Wasowskij.

The wind blew across the open space and threw wet snow and hailstones into their faces under their hoods. They moved gropingly, for no light could be shown. On Peters' whispered order they took hands and moved one after the other. Peters continually tested the ice ahead of him with a long staff, ,In his other hand he held a faintly-gleaming compass showing their direction, which had been for weeks past most scrupulously tested and planned. Nevertheless, in the ice, hidden by a thin layer of drifted snow, lurked treacherous holes made by exploding shells, into which it was easy to fall.

Peters quickly calculated that in such conditions every half a mile of the way would need about an hour's marching. Over three miles divided them from the first German wires, which stretched between Nanosy and Pasynki, ending on the Island, which was strongly fortified. So they should be at the wire by midnight, with six hours yet till dawn. In these six hours they had to' pass through the first and second lines of defences, and reach the woods beyond Kobyinik. He foresaw that the next night they would move farther behind the German lines, to the Komarowszczyzna forest, where they were to wait for a reconnaissance company which had already been given the rendezvous.

Peters was in the best of humours. They pressed forward at a good pace through the damp snow, though the wind was a hindrance. The Germans gave no sign of life.

For many days Peters had wanted to force the defences of the sector opposite Kupa. He had information that there the positions were most scattered, besides which he was counting on the weather and the fatigue of the German guards. After midnight, in such a storm, they would be far less alert, and the whistle of the gale in the wires would drown any other noises.

When, without any special difficulty, these men crossed the wires at the appointed time, the German outposts were particularly alert, as if in spite, and were firing off rockets very few minutes. The great fiery bullets soared with a hiss some hundred yards into the air under the low clouds, where they burned for a long time with the clear bluish flame of magnesium. They fell again slowly, on parachutes, and when they reached the ground they still sent out for some seconds their slanting flames from over the snowdrifts. Against these flames every silhouette, even that of a man lying down, showed quite clearly. In the light of each rocket the lake changed into a wide, concave, silver tray, on which every speck of dust was visible. Luckily the rockets flew into the air hissing and throwing off pale sparks, and only at the zenith of their arc began to burn brightly, so that there was always time to throw oneself to the ground and dig into the snow. Anyway Peters' men were dressed in white garments, exactly like the shrouds worn by criminals at their execution.

There was a good side to the rockets too, for their firing showed the 'positions of the outposts. Peters immediately realized what and where they were, and, crawling forward with Galan and little Myczenko, took advantage of the intervals between rockets to begin cutting the wires of the first line. Thank God they were not connected with the German power station a Kobyinik. The job of cutting the wires took a whole valuable hour, broken every minute by that intolero able throwing of little suns into the sky, while Peters' men, dug into the snow, froze. At last the way was clear. They began to slip, cautiously, one by one, through to the other side. Last but one went the Cossack Siemionow. As he passed the wires a few unexpected shots rang out and immediately about io rockets went up, hanging their magnesium lights high above the clouds. Siemiontiw sought to hide in the snow, slipped aside and landed unawares on a hole in the ice which was not frozen over solid. Evidently it had been used to draw water or catch fish, for it was a fair size. As he fell in, Siemionow had enough self-control not to cry out, and anyway he went straight under the water. In his sheepskin coat, thick felt boots, and load of boxes of explosives he would certainly have sunk, if his rifle had not luckily caught on both edges of the hole. He hung on to the rifle, pulled himself up and caught a breath of -air, but couldn't climb out on to the ice by himself. Besides, the rockets were still burning in the sky and on the ground. He felt that the icy water penetrated to his skin, his boots and coat became heavier, and his legs became painfully stiff from the cold. Soon his hands, too, stiffened, so that he could no longer feel the rifle, and water began to enter his mouth. Only when all the rockets had burned themselves out did Peters and Galan pull him on to the ice. It was quite clear that Siemionow could go no farther.

"Take the phial, bite it and it's all over; you'll never even feel it! Quick!" whispered the almost inaudible voice of Galan) and he began to force something into Siemionow's mouth. Siemionow defended himself and pushed away his hand, for he knew that it was the cyanide which every soldier was given, in order that he could prevent himself from being taken prisoner.

"Take it,-fellow! Take it, you devil!" Galao struggled with him, but Peters crawled up and pulled him away from Siemionow.

All this was happening 20 paces at most from the German sentry, whose black silhouette could be seen perfectly against the background of the rising and falling rockets.

Siemionow lay in the snow panting heavily.

"Let him bite the tube!" whispered Galan to Peters in the darkness.

However, Peters did not agree to this solution of the matter. Not that he cared at all about Siemionow, but he simply preferred not to leave behind a corpse which the Germans would he sure to find. As it was, he was not certain if the snow would cover all the marks they had left. A corpse in uniform would not have mattered, but dressed as a moujik! The Germans would be struck by it, would see the cut wires and the trampled snow, and begin to figure it all out. He crawled nearer, leant over to Siemionow's ear, and hissed: "Siemionow! Go back through the wires. Direction, keep the wind behind you. When you get back, report to the colonel that all is well. Quicker, idiot!"

Siemionow immediately regained his self-control. Like a snake he crawled through the wires and vanished in the dark-ness. Peters joined the cut wires so that the hole should not be immediately apparent, then collected his men and moved on.

The wind howled like a mad thing in the fences, whistled round the posts and tore at the wires. One might think it the howling of wolves or the lament of the shot dog. However, as they neared the shore the storm grew less, and did not tug so hard at their capes and hoods. Only the snow was softer and wetter, and at every step they felt how water splashed beneath their feet. Evidently it had come out over the ice, as it always does before a thaw. Peters took no notice of it, as he carefully watched the compass to see that they did not go so much as a yard out of their course. Somehow there were no more rockets, of which he was glad on the one hand, as they made greater progress; on the other he was afraid that in the darkness they might come unexpectedly on the wires and the traps before them. The Germans liked to hang little bells between the posts, or lay, under a net of low-lying steel spider web mines. Peters encouraged himself by the thought that if there were no booby-traps before the first line, there would surely be none before this second and less important one.

But there was no wire, and no more rockets, so he pressed Galan's hand twice. This was an agreed sign: lie still and wait! He went on alone.

He had scarcely gone a step when he fell like a log into a thicket of thorny tangles. Though he pricked himself painfully, he almost shouted with delight. He had begun delicately to disentangle his sheep-skin coat from the grasping thorns, when a dreadful thing happened; his electric torch, which was hung on his breast, lit up! The beam of light spread far before him, outlining the black posts, and lighting up the snow beyond them. Not caring for the sharp thorns he threw himself with all his strength on the ground, covering the torch with his body, at the same time trying to find the contact switch, and put out the confounded light. But his hands in rubber gloves (just in case), and frozen anyway, could not find the little button on the side of the torch.

"Now surely they'll begin to shoot!" the thought flashed through his mind, and he waited for the loud "Wer da?" and the shot of the German sentry. However-somehow-the shot did not come, no one raised the alarm. Then he caught his glove in his teeth, pulled it off, pushed his hand through the snow beneath him, and at last managed to move the switch. The torch went out. He lay a long time in the saving dark-ness, breathing deeply. The thought still tormented him; had they seen it or not? Suppose they were lying in wait, deliberately refraining from firing but slipping by paths known to them and surrounding his party? In spite of himself his hand went to his breast, where in a purse of canvas lay the phial marked with the death's head, cyanide.

How long he lay there he did not know. At last he decided he had waited long enough. Nothing was going to happen. It was clear that the Germans either had not manned the second line of -wire at all, or guarded it only by patrols. Calling Galan, he began to work boldly. With what satisfaction did he cut the wire with his pliers close against the posts! The rusty fastenings fell away, and Peters only brushed them aside and went on cutting. Having got through, they went ahead more quickly. Now nothing could threaten them except possibly a meeting with a German patrol, but a patrol moving behind its own lines wouldn't bother to move quietly, and as it was dark the enemy would be certain to show lights. There was no great danger. Anyway, snow had begun to fall in big flakes which filled one's nose, ears and eyes. The last obstacle was the trenches, apparently not manned. The troops were supposed to be located somewhere farther back, in barracks. At a certain moment Peters called the guide to him:

"Now, father!" he whispered in his ear, "I've done my share; now it's your turn. Where are we?"

"Sir! On our right is Kupa, and we are going towards Urliki. Soon we'll come to the forest."

"How can you see all that, Wojteczko? It's dark."

"I just know. Haven't I always travelled the lake?"

"Well, lead on!"

The guide moved forward. Peters asked another question :

"Are there many Germans in the woods?"

"Ay, sir, there'll be quite a few."


"Not everywhere, we'll get through easily."

They went on again. On their way they came on a welltrodden path. Peters, with a courage bordering on recklessness, decided to follow it. "It's all been all right up till now," he told himself; " If it goes on like this, the path will lead us to the barracks. When we know where the barracks are, we'll know how to avoid them. Every sign is valuable in this darkness." So they went on, and the snow covered their tracks.

Meanwhile Siemionow, having slipped back through the wire, crawled a little way and than ran briskly forward. He had the wind at his back, as he had been told, and knew that he would soon be back among his own people, by a warm stove; so he felt fine. Only the remembrance of Galan spoiled his temper:

"The -," he muttered, "he'd have had me bite the tube. I'll give him tube, if he comes back!"

He hurried his steps, for the wind was-tiresome. In its icy blast his sheepskin coat, uniform, even underclothes, turned into stiff sheets of icy armour, which made walking difficult. The cold was penetrating. Every few moments he was seized with a shivering fit, and his teeth' chattered so hard that he looked round to see if perhaps the Germans had not heard them. They had not.

"I'll run, that'll warm me," he encouraged himself.

But Just then rockets began to go up and light up the ground. Time and again he had to tall on the wet snow, and freeze even more.

"Devil take these Huns!" he swore, but didn't dare move. When, after the sixth rocket, he got up to run a little farther, it suddenly dawned on him that he didn't know which way he should go. The wind seemed to have dropped, and the rockets, from which he should flee, shone straight in tront of him and on both sides.

"I'm going astray! Oh, Most High!"

A rocket rose right in front of his nose. The contours of some wires showed black, and beyond the wire some snowy ridges.

"I've gone the wrong way. I'm making for the Germans," he thought in despair.

However, he hadn't lost all power. When the rocket went out he set off in the opposite direction, trying to go as fast as possible and taking the longest -possible strides. But his legs began to tie themselves in knots; in fact, he couldn't tell by the feel if he had any legs at all. There was something like wood growing below his knees. Something hummed loudly in his head, and he was being overcome by a violent desire to sleep. His eyelids felt like lead, and slowly began to close.

"Oh, Christ! I shall freeze! I shall die in the snow!" From very fear he regained consciousness. He well knew what such a sleep in this frost, after such a ducking, would mean. He had seen men who had fallen asleep on watch, after which one couldn't even lay them in their coffins. He tried to pinch himself, but his hands had stiffened, and he couldn't tell if his fingers were grasping the skin or not. Even as he could not feel his legs, so his hands were without feeling, besides which great fatigue overtook his whole body.

"I shall freeze to death. I'm sure I'll freeze to death! Oh, the tube was better!"

Once again, gathering his whole strength and will to live, he tried to run on, but the snow had changed into a sticky mass which clung to his boots and would not let him move forward. A new rocket flew up hissing, this time diagonally on his left. He fell.

"I'm going along the line!" he thought, and was caught by a new fear. After a moment he began to consider : what had he to be afraid of, in reality? At the worst they would take him prisoner. If only they would take him prisoner! They'd take him into a warm room, give him dry clothes, or at least let him dry himself a bit. Anyway, what did it matter? In his soul he longed to meet a German patrol, but when the rocket went out he did not want to get up. He must rest a moment first, then he would go on. Anynray there was no more danger, it was even quite warm, the frost had vanished. He closed his eyes, and immediately there appeared to him sleepy pictures: A village, a bit of sunny steppe, dusty, arid acacias. Then quite clearly he saw the station at Grisno-S]elo, the platform where he had walked so often, and the bench by the telegraph office where he used to sit. He saw himself as he -sat on the bench waiting for a train. Beside him Anna Osipowna was laughing loudly. How she laughed! She was showing all her teeth. She said something-oh, yes, that the train was coming.

Two lanterns as big as millwheels drew near from the direction of Jussowki, and all about them a great many red and green lamps. Signals, signals. But why so many signals? There never were so many. Besides, why was it night, when a moment ago it had been day? Why did the train dash straight at the platform, straight at him? He wanted to escape, but couldn't move hand or foot. He called to the people, but there was no one. The two lights came nearer, grew larger, now they were like two great suns, bigger than the whole world! Oh! Mother!

Crash, bang. The flame surrounded him, and hurt. It ate into his very heart, burned down to the depths of his being, there was no more Siemionow, no more.

At that moment Peters reached the top of the hill beyond Urliki. He had come safely through the German trenches, stolen past the barracks, slipped between two sentry posts, and, at last, making a circle round some farm buildings, reached the wood. He knew that the wood was joined with the forest of Komarowszczyzna, so, having reached it, he breathed again. The worst was over, and his chief task ahead. Bringing up the tail of the party as it entered the wood, he turned and looked in the direction of the lake. It was dark and empty. Even the German rockets were not burning. But suddenly from the darkness there came on the wind the sound of distant shots, then up went rockets, 20 together, then more. White, red and green. The crack of shots came from the whole front, and the rockets did not cease. It looked like some enormous firework display. Peters, looking at all this, only smiled, he was already safe here, in the shelter of the woods. He shrugged his shoulders, turned about, and made off after his party.

However, it was not all as well as Peters imagined. His joy was premature. One of the German sentries in the redoubts on the Island (called by the Germans "Stutzpunkt Heligoland") saw, by the light of a rocket burning itself out on the snow, a suspicious shadow. He immediately began to shoot. The alarmed commander of the company manning that "Heligoland" sent a patrol out into no-man's-land. The patrol soon returned dragging a man. At the first glance he looked like a Ruthenian peasant-completely frozen. So they took him into a warm dug-out and tried to bring him back to life. Their efforts were in vain, the peasant was dead, but in undressing the body they found on it some very suspicious materials-and a revolver. The materials were sappers' stuff for blowing up bridges-that is, fuses, detonators, and tins of explosives. The revolver was a Russian Army "Nagan." The worried officer immediately reported this by telephone to the officer-commanding the sector.

His report coincided with two others. The officer commanding Sector "Bodensee" reported the finding at the point 0.13 of cut wires and the marks of many feet beside them. The same was reported by a patrol watching the wire of the second line. The footmarks went in the direction of Kobylnik, but unfortunately were lost in the water which had covered the ice owing to the thaw. From all this it was easy to come to the conclusion that, taking advantage of the dark night, Russian spies had tried to get through the German lines in many places, and that near Kupa they had got through.

It was necessary to do something. Kolmann called out two battalions of reserves, a battalion from Kobyinik, companies from Szemetowszczyzna and Konstantynow. The hunt set off in a great half-circle, cutting all the roads to Wilno and Komarowszczyzna, from Szwakszta to Kupa. On the third day they succeeded in finding the trail of the partisans. They were hidden in a deep wooded valley npar Borsuczyn. not tar from the railway. They were betrayed by the smoke ot a fire which they had incautiously lighted. All were taken except the leader, who managed to take poison at the last moment, and their peasant guide, who was able in some mysterious fashion to escape. According to the documents and evidence of his comrades, the leader was a Russian intelligence officer named Peters. The rest were soldiers dressed as peasants.

Law is law. In spite of their admiration for these men's bravery the German court martial could give only one sentence. They were all shot near the cemetery at Mozdok. Their graves are right up against the fence, without crosses.


I have no monument in the busy town, No one carves me a gravestone. If I die in the holy fire of battle I shall live on in and with you.

You will bear my words deep in your heart, For you live my life with me: Gay in my gladness, anxious in my cares, Admiring my transports.

So even if a bullet should reach my heart I shall keep my life in you. You will be my world, the whole lovely world You shall look at with my eyes.

(The author, W. Neumann, was killed in 1916. See p. 226 for the German original.)

Neumann gave his diary to one Kolcher, so we don't know all his acts during the years 1914-15 On the other hand, we owe much to the chance that Neumann managed to buy a notebook. That which he wrote in it during his spell, brief enough, on the Narocz, had a strange fate after his death. I found his notebook among piles of dirty papers in the storehouse of a small nurseryman in Old Miadziol, while I was looking for some packing paper, as I wanted to wrap up 8 Ib. ot apples, very red and very sour (there were no others) which I had bought for Sutocki.

His letters, however, have not been lost. They were printed in 1924 in Berlin, in a book of memories of fallen students, from which I quote them. They were sent there, I gather, by a certain Louisa von Penning. I have arranged the notes and letters in chronological order, and thus they are printed below:

22nd November, 1916.

Kolcher has taken the two earlier notebooks, to deliver them to the obvious address. I think I have collected enough material to write " The Diary of a Soldier." It's a good title, "Diary of a Soldier," and will surely shake the whole postwar public.

I think I've done right in not sending the diary to Liza. She imagines war as something different from what it really is, and I don't want to spoil her pleasant dreams. To this very day she thinks by categories as I, too, thought once. (How long ago; it must be centuries!) My diary would be a blow to her. Liza seeks the so-called beauty of life, praises Bach and delights in Durer. She builds her life on romantic foundations. At parting she recalled to me something of the aesthetics of heroism in nature. And I already sometimes think: which is the more beautiful, Cologne Cathedral, or the grenade which hits it? It is sufficient to look at this lake in its winter cloud, to find the' answer to the question. Who knows who is more beautiful, he who is able courageously to destroy, or he who passively defends himself against destruction?

People who interpret the world aesthetically do not see it in its real form as the strength which creates and gives every weaker thing in bondage to the strong. The final expression of aesthetics is to-day-the elephant. The world was at the peak of aestheticism when it was still traversed by Tyrannosaurus Rex.

ERRATA: Page 192, line 27, should read- " See page 202 for the German original."

Page 194 footnote omitted- "I shall gaze on thee when the last hour come, and dying hold thee with my failing hand."

War for us Germans is a religious ceremony. A terrible, awful, severe ceremony betore the altar of the Fatherland. And verses?

"Te spectem suprema cum mihi venent flora te teneam moriens, deficiente manu. . .

Tibullus was certainly never here on the Narocz, nor in a war. And my Louisa was never here nor there. Therefore she imagines the thoughts of her aesthetic hero-warrior-lover' as Tibullus does. If I should fall, she would wrap her memories of me in such high romance and beauty that I might become even my own hero.

Death! Yesterday I very nearly died in a very prosaic fashion. From drowning, maybe from being crushed to death. I was taking my turn on the first line of wire, lying in a sort of hut of ice, with a good field of fire in front, and diligently watching the whirling, white nothingness which here is called snow. The movement' of the flakes is horribly monotonous. The whole world changes into a glass 'of cream, and at its very bottom-1. From much watching I at last got an attack of ennui. Maybe from these beastly beets, on which they feed us forever.

Then I heard a loud shot. In the first instant I didn't quite realize what was happening. I thought one of the sentries was firing to warm himself, but just then another shot rang out, even louder. Then I felt that the ice under me was moving. My hair stood on end, for I understood that they were not rifle shots, but the ice cracking from the frost. I realized in a second that only a thin, 12-inch, layer divided me from the black, deep, chilly depths flowing below, And here by the wire it was supposed to be 30 fathoms deep. I jumped out from the hut. lust in time, for it suddenly cracked in half, and under it opened a fissure a good yard wide. If I had still been in the hut, I should never have come out from under the ice.

I began to flee as fast as I could, and the ice behind me cracked, groaned, moved, and travelled. I was afraid.

I wonder what Liza would say about that?

24th February. (One page torn out here.)

How lovely it must be here in summer. I closed my eyes and imagined a picture of the dark-blue lake, crossed by streaks of foam, with the fresh green of trees and bushes on its shores, heat dropping from the skies, drops of sweat on one's brow, and the long road covered by the beneficent shade of the birches.

Who has the power our sentence thus to give:

That one must fall, and yet another live?

One should not think of summer. If we see the summer I shall be far from here: perhaps in France, perhaps in Syria ? War is a pilgrimage. Only cemeteries stay in one spot.

I can't write in peace, for my comrades are grumbling that the stove is cold. Naturally "Stammerer" Lichtig forgot to put on more wood.

Ye steal my bullets, thoSe of you who die,

For why should I live on? Oh, why must I?

The verse was stupid, so I tore the page out of my notebook and threw it away. Philosophical conjunctions have about as much. to do with war as squaring the circle has with the milk-yield of East Prussian cows.

An hour later.

They began to sing "die Blumen ini Felde, die bluhen so wunder, wunderschon," and as Lichtig was singing too, I had had enough, and went out in front of the barracks.

There again was the same monotonous flatness. Somewhere in the distance the edge of the Uzla showed black. Nothing broke the monotony of the landscape, even the wire was covered in snow. The air was crystal clear, and the sun glearned through the clouds, throwing no shadows. From the leaden skies an uncertain gleam fell. Then I saw on the lake a play of light difficult to describe : the bluish snow suddenly turned pink, the shade sometimes found in an opal when one looks at it in the light. It was not a definite colour, but rather its shadow. Then the pinkness faded, the snow turned dead, on the drift greenish spots appeared, in the air were clouds of icy dust, and everywhere silence reigned.

That silence! That silence! Even the snow is too soft to crackle underfoot. It is the gloomy peace of frost or death which enfolds everything in sight and condemns it all to deaf-ness. Perhaps the silver angel of the snow put her finger to the lips of time and held the earth still to listen to 'the metallic symphony of the cold? It flowed from the stars twinkling over the forest. The sun interrupted the angel, so she blew on him, and he was covered with the gleaming snow. The sky grew black, opening gulfs of raven velvet, from which came sharp gleams which pricked the frozen earth.

When the dreadful silence was broken by a distant -shot, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least there was some sign of life! I went back to the barracks in a shocking temper, and Lichtig came up to me and held out his chapped hand, in which was a scrap of paper. It was the page torn out of my notebook, with that disgusting verse.

"You've lost a lovely piece of poetry," he said; "may I copy it?"

Everyone burst out laughing. I looked at Lichtig and didn't understand what he wanted.

"May I copy it?" he repeated in a low voice, and looked at ' me with the uncertain gaze of a man who knows that his effrontery is out of place. I was sorry for "Stammerer," and told him that he could keep the verse with all its appurtenances, copy it-burn it-even tell his sweetheart that he had written it himself.

He began to thank me in some Asiatic fashion, then retired to his corner and taking out a wallet stuffed full of postcards, letters and newspaper cuttings, tucked away the page with the verse.

Lichtig is comic. Lichtig is an awkward fellow. Lichtig is the scapegoat of the third platoon of the 2nd company of the 264th regiment of the Landwehr. Every platoon in the imperial army has its Lichtig. A company has four Lichtigs. In a regiment, not counting machine-gun units and other special units, there will be 16 Lichtigs. If one is killed, another is immediately sent up by the cadre behind the lines, from the Hinterland. It just is that way. I am ready to believe that the official position of Lichtigs is controlled from above by secret regulations.

I was glad that Lichtig had taken that verse from me. It seemed to me that he had carried off and shut up in his wallet some immeasurable danger, which was lurking behind that disgusting verse.

Letter written 28th February. Feldpost

My Dear!-Thank you sincerely for your letter and card. I am very well, though I get bored sometimes. My spiritual state is like that of a patient in a dentist's waiting room. I am shut up with my fellows on a little island in the middle of a Lithuanian lake. It is a little nest of barbed wire and concrete. Really it's just a bare hill and nothing more, for the trees were all cut down long ago because of the enemies' artillery observers. The view is too monotonous for me to describe. A snowy plain. On fine days one can see in the east a dark bit of wood and the Russian wire. You would, be interested by the colours of these sunsets and dawns, but honestly it's difficult to describe in words. Maybe some day (I dream of it), when the war is over, we will come here, then you'll see for yourself.

We have a gramophone, but unfortunately only io records. Nor have we among them Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, nor Bach's fugues. Only simple songs, which are the expression of the spirit of our Fatherland, the German spirit, for which sentiment is also one of the incitements to battle. All my comrades weep when they listen to "In der Heimat, in der Heimat, da gibt's ein Wiedersehen." I cry too. And yet there are no cowards among us.

I am a little upset by the wind which has been howling in the wire for three days without a break. Maybe some day German culture will penetrate here, to this Polish Alaska, but the German wind "der in den Auen weht," which blows so fresh over the German fields, will never come. The wind here has a threatening air, and the long white beard of these "panie." I must stop, for I hear shots, and see that too many rockets are going oft. It is as if St. Peter had upset all the axle grease for the wheels of Charles's Wain, and it's running over the earth. In this grease we wade blindly. Auf Wiedersehen!

P.S.- An hour later.

Nothing special happened. Don't be afraid! The sentries were anxious, because it was dark, snowing, and the weather is dreadful.

Two hours later still.

I can't finish this letter, for I want to tell you everything. Just imagine, we found a Russian spy in no-man's-land'. He died right away. I ask you : one great icicle. He had cyanide with him-Just in case! The frost settled things for him better than poison.

I kiss you, W.

Letter, 16th March.

My Dear!-A rumour is going round the trenches that the Russians are to attack. If they do they'll get what they've asked for. It's curious how news of attacks always get through the front. There is no wire strong, high or prickly enough to stop it. That miracle, like the miracle of the flowing blood of St. Januarius, and equally inexplicable, is repeated as regularly as clockwork before every offensive.

Anyway there are certain concrete symptoms: the Russian artillery has been firing more and more frequently. We more experienced soldiers can tell at once that some new batteries have joined the old ones. Enemy artillery is a thing dear to the heart of every fighting man. One knows where it is, what batteries are there, even which gun is firing. With a certain affection one says: "Now the one from the wood; the one from 'Hatowitchi,' and that one from 'Katschergi,' " and adds, "It always fires between five and seven," exactly-as if one were saying "You'll find him in the cafe between 12 and one." Definitely at the bottom of such sayings is a note of friendship and trust. Newly-arrived batteries are not yet trusted. Strangers, maybe wicked? New batteries always spoil the orderliness of the day in the trenches.

There's something gone wrong on our lake, for yesterday evening the field-kitchen, which was bringing a meal from the land, fell through the ice, and with difficulty we rescued the horses and men, but couldn't manage to save the soup. This did not add to the good humour of the inhabitants of the island. There's mist every morning. To-day it's quite warm, and there'll be rain. I never would have believed that spring would come so early in these parts.

This letter will go in a minute, so I'll stop. In a few days I'll write more fully, and maybe . . . I don't want to promise anything. Your W.

Indeed it grew much warmer on 16th March, the wind changed its direction, and it began to rain. Willy Neumann with his platoon were manning that part of the island farthest out in the lake. The news of the Russian attack must have been based on some more serious grounds than just trench rumours, for preparations for defence were undertaken intensively. Neumann described them in detail in his diary. They brought up great reserves of ammunition, built two more concrete shelters and strengthened the wire. This put a new spirit into the soldiers tired of the monotonous emptiness of the view. They began to forget the work of corruption of the spirit, of the whiteness. Anyway the snow on the lake grew dark, great damp spots began to show on it. The sentries on guard outside the wire complained that they were standing in water, and indeed on the ice, under the sheet of snow, stood water several inches deep. At last, on the i6th, fell a warm spring rain. As it usually falls in the spring: dense, large, lively drops. Everyone breathed again-now the Russians surely wouldn't attack! Water came over the snow, into which fell, splashing with a hollow sound, shells from the firing batteries. Still under the water the ice was quite thick and strong.

On the morning of the 18th, though the sun rose, the mist did not thin, but hung low and opaque. The commander of "Stutzpunkt Heligoland" ordered patrols along the wire and sent listening posts out beyond the defences. The patrols were immediately lost to sight in the milky mist, and lost to the world, for no one ever saw any of them again.

Neumann was standing by the shelter. His world had narrowed to a few square yards. A great ball of tangled wire, an ingenious way of blocking up ditches, lay close above his head. Here are his last entries :

18th March, 7 a.m.

I am standing at the breastwork by the observation post. Above me is a ball of wire, on every joint of which hang quivering drops of water, giving a perfect imitation of diamonds and pearls. The greyness of the surrounding air has coloured them azure and dark blue. From below the wire, washing away the sides of the breastwork, run streams of yellow water. The earth is soft and soggy. I feel that there in the middle, in the clay, something is preparing to burst violently forth, threatening a supernatural explosion. Spring! It is not the German spring, a spring of fragrant lilacs and twittering birds. This is a primeval country. That which is beginning to happen here will surely be like those dreadful times when, after the last Ice Age on the continent of Europe, the earth moved her poles and the sun began to melt the age-old glaciers. That too was a spring, but what a spring! Instead of blessed peace the roar of ice falling into pieces; instead of the poetry of April dawns, the shivering of the earth raped in its virgin slumber. Clouds of smoky vapour filled the formerly clean air. In the milky mist, blinded and terrified, long-haired mammoths trumpeted, bears, and tigers with tusks like crooked stilettos, howled. That was not spring, it was a cosmic catastrophe.

I would not be in the least surprised if out of the mist which surrounds me there should loom above me the head of a mammoth. It is terrible here....

Here end Willy Neumann's notes. Probably not long after the writing of these last words, the preparatory fire of the Russian artillery began. The main concentration was directed at "Stutzpunkt Heligoland" on the island. The first projectile whistled, and, falling near Neumann, splashed him with mud. After the first came others. Trornmelfeuer," thought Neumann, crouching behind the parapet of the ditch. It was the instinctive movement of an experienced soldier. Above him the shells flew constantly. However, no fire or smoke was to be seen; only the mist quivered, like a shaken junket.

Neumann wanted to reach the entrance to the dugout shelters. Crawling yard by yard, round a bend in the traverse he saw a body lying among the mud and splintered boards. He bent over it. The body was without a head. With the yellow water was mixed a darker liquid-blood. All around lay dirty splinters, rags of uniform and a few papers. He picked one of them up; recognized it-it was his own verse which he had given Lichtig. So that was Lichtig!

He was seized with fear, and his hair stood on end under his helmet. He, till now an irreproachable soldier, decorated with a Bavarian order, pressed himself as low as he could below the overhang of the parapet. Mingled with his fear were feelings of loneliness and the certainty of coming extinction, without hope of escape, the walls of a prison with no way out. It was the revolt of the prisoner on the scaffold, when nature protests against force in vain efforts of the will. But the walls of the prison were strongly built of whistling shells, and their fragments, tearing the air, closed the smallest crack, the last hope of help. The smothering smell of burnt powder and of ecrasite caught at the throat.

Slowly he calmed down. The roar of the shells joined in one unbroken howling. He ceased to hear it. From time to time he wiped from his face splashes of mud. He looked at the paper he had found beside Lichtig.

Ye steal my bullets, those of you who die,or why should I live on? Oh, why should I?

With philosophical calmness he put the page into his pocket. He even smiled to himself. All was empty, only the air quivered, torn by explosions. He felt that they were sometimes nearer, sometimes farther away. The muddy little piece of paper, written in his own hand was a sentence. A sentence sealed by the death of Lichtig and the extraordinary return of the verse. He accepted his fate.

The mist seemed to grow thicker and darker, even to change its taste. In his mouth he felt the sweetness of honey, and all around was the smell of pears. Where are the pears? What pears? He realized what it was. With a shout of "Look out! Gas!" he sprang up, but was not in time to put on his mask. What had to come came in a blinding flash. His body was grasped in a vortex and its cells dissolved into their elements; salt, lime, water, and all that again changed into fire and heat.

How lovely was this joining of the body to the spring earth, the longed-for warmth!

The duties of a chronicler compel me to add that Neumann quite unnecessarily sprang up and ran those few steps which were to decide his existence on earth. The Russians had no gas shells.

Under the ooze of the lake bottom are imprisoned various marsh gases, which are formed as part of the process of decay of weeds. The shells had disturbed the shallow bottom and the gas escaped. In the mist the smell hangs on, and does not dissolve as quickly as it would in clear air.

Ich habe kein Denmal im Hausermeer es kundet kein Buch von mir,

Doch wenn ich einst falle im heligen Krieg dan leb' ich in Dir.

Du trugst meine Worte in Herzen tief du lebst mein Leben mit

Dein Auge glanzt, wen ich frohlich war, du weintest, wenn ich litt.

Wenn einst eine Kugel mein Herz zerreist in Dir kann nimmer vergeh'n

Stets wirst du die Welt, die schine Welt mit meinen Augen she'n.