In 1914, at the commencement of what would come to be called "The Great War" - World War I - the ladies of the Imperial family and of the Russian aristocracy quickly moved to organize and supply hospitals for the wounded, to work as administrators of hospitals under their patronage; many trained as nurses and actually assisted in surgery and in the care of the wounded. The Empress set up several hospitals and took a great interest in the overall running of hospitals during the war. She made visits to those at the front, especially, but her main focus was the hospitals she'd set up near her home at Tsarskoe Selo. She and her two elder daughters had trained as nurses and spent much of the war serving in that capacity, both in the operating room and in the wards; most days they would don their Red Cross nurse's uniforms and walk or drive to the nearby hospitals and report for work.
The Empress's two younger daughters - Maria was sixteen in the Spring of 1915, Anastasia, fourteen - were considered too young for nursing duties. But they had a hospital at Tsarskoe Selo under their patronage, where they would go to visit with the wounded soldiers - many not much older than they - and plays cards and checkers and billiards with them. Both girls were very down-to-earth and became good friends with many of "their" soldiers.
I've seen many photographs of ladies of the Imperial family taken during the war, nursing - wearing their characteristic nun-like Red Cross uniforms - or visiting with the wounded. The two above caught my attention, though. I've spoken before about how the condition of some of the images of the last Imperial family - faded, stained, torn - often cause a shudder of foreshadowing, informed by what we know of their sad fate. The condition of these two make me wonder about something else, though: who did they belong to? How did they end up in this state? I wonder if either or both of these might have been kept by one of the soldiers in the picture. Only two years later, and for seven decades after, having an image of the Imperial family in one's possession could have been very compromising, even dangerous. The second, especially, looks to have been folded up, the folding causing most of the eventual damage. I have no way of knowing, but I like to think that this was kept, folded up and hidden away, by a soldier that the two young girls were friends with. A small, potent memory of his youth. When he had somehow managed to survive the wretched, filthy war. Was safe, in clean sheets, getting better each day. Looking forward to a game of cards with one of the Grand Duchesses. A kind and funny, pretty young girl. A girl like any young girl. His friend.
|From my personal collection. By the size and texture of the paper, this looks to be from a journal printed during the war.|