The image above is of a postcard in my possession. It is entitled “On their way to war” and was taken from a painting by Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia. Olga apparently painted this artwork in the early 19th century, perhaps at the beginning of World War I. But the story the image is telling could really be about any young soldiers, in any war.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was the youngest child of Tsar Alexander III and the younger sister of Tsar Nicholas II. After a privileged, royal upbringing, she became a Red Cross nurse during World War I. Olga married twice. Her first marriage was never consummated and her brother, the Tsar, annulled it. Olga’s second husband was a Colonel in the Russian calvary.
Unlike her brother, sister-in-law, nieces, nephew and other members of her family, Olga survived the chaos which befell Russia. During the Russian Revolution Olga and her husband made their way first to Kiev and the Crimea, before finally escaping to Denmark. The final stages of the World War II saw Olga and her family leave Denmark for Canada, due to concerns about the Soviet Army’s victory and their presence close to Denmark, according to this article.
In Canada, Olga and her husband bought a farm in the countryside of Canada where she raised their children and took up painting. Olga died in 1960, two years after the death of her husband.
I find the image above to be quite haunting. The young boys – and they look very young indeed – are smiling and appear to be quite jovial. Most likely they are unaware of the horrors of war, the horrors which await them. Perhaps Olga was thinking of her husband and the Russian calvary when she painted this, as one can see two horses in the left of the wagon doorway. If Olga painted this from real life, I wonder how many of those cheerful, young boys made it home again.