Wow! I have certainly been “missing in action” for awhile now. But I have not stopped researching my family history or writing about it. In fact this year I started working on a Master of Research in Literature and Creative Writing, focussing on the history of my grandparents. It has taken up much of my time, both in the research and now in the writing, and I have had to prioritise other things – including this blog.
At the moment I am grappling with my grandfather’s World War I experience – where he was, what he did, how he felt… My grandmother wrote very little about it. Even in her letters she hardly ever wrote about his war experience, although she often noted where he was posted or where she could visit him and what they did in the time they spent together. So that helps a little bit.
I was pretty amazed when I discovered my grandmother could visit my grandfather while he was with his battalion, but apparently the wives and families of officers, or anyone who had the money, could travel to towns and cities near the front line to see them. My grandmother made several journeys to visit my grandfather, many of them to what is now Ukraine – including Crimea – and a couple to Warsaw.
In September 1914, not even a month after Germany declared war on Russia, my grandfather was on his way to Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania). He was part of the 2nd battalion of the Guards Crew – the Guards Crew battalions were made up of officers and sailors who had served on the Imperial yachts. They were given a short period of training in field exercises, along with practice in firing weapons, and sent on their way. I cannot imagine how my grandfather felt. All his experience would have been on ships and water, and now he was expected to fight in a war on land.
In Kovno the 2nd battalion was ordered to prevent the German Army from crossing the Neman River by sinking barges. They also helped to protect the communication lines and blew up several German ships. Apparently they were successful. I have minimal information on this operation, but it appears there was no actual fighting. Please note – this could be wrong; it is simply my understanding of what I have read.
The photo above is of my grandfather, Pavel Voronov (Paul Woronoff), presumably taken during World War I. I have edited it from a group photo that I have. There is nothing on the back of the photo to indicate where or when it was taken. With the thick coat and furry hat my grandfather is wearing, I assume the photo was taken in winter, or at least in the colder months.
Later in the war my grandfather did participate in combat and I am working through the material I have to try to flesh out his experience. It must have been traumatic because I do know he was later diagnosed with shell shock.