A British despatch on the Russian mobilisation (1914)

On August 4th, the British ambassador to Russia sent the following despatch to London, reporting on Russian mobilisation:

From the British Embassy
Saint Petersburg
Subject: Russian war preparations

Preparations have been in progress since Friday the 24th. Mobilisation commenced officially in the Kiev, Odessa, Moscow and Kazan Military Districts on Thursday (30th) and the general mobilisation was ordered on the night of the 30th/31st. The notices for the latter were posted at Vilna at midnight 30th/31st and at St.Petersburg at 4am on the 31st…

The French state that the mobilisation is working well and that it is some hours ahead of the programme. The number of men called up is causing general astonishment. Russians speak of an army of eight million, but admit that it will require 6 months to equip.

Very few men have been rejected on medical grounds. Judging from one or two cases, men of all ages seem to be being enrolled in the first line units. The surplus, after forming the reserve divisions will probably be massed in depots and trained. The shortage of officers will not be felt for some time. On the 14th July 800 short-term volunteers were promoted to the rank of ensign of reserve. On the 25th 2,749 yunkers who had finished their course in the military schools received their commissions and it is stated that a similar number who have been only half their time at the military schools will be commissioned shortly.

The spirit of the people is excellent. All the wine shops have been closed and there is no drunkenness – a striking contrast to the scenes witnessed during the mobilisation of 1904. Wives and mothers with children accompany their men from point to point, deferring the hour of parting, and one sees cruel scenes, but the women cry quietly and there are no hysterics. The men are quiet and grave, but parties cheer one another as they pass in the street. The average men are of good physique but they look better in their civilian dress than in the new uniforms which seem to be served out with little regard to size.

There is no doubt that the war is a popular one. The strikers whom Russians believe to have been subsidised by German money, have returned to work. Patriotic crowds cheer nightly in front of the British and French embassies and the Serbian Legation. What appears at this distance to be the indecision of England has kept us in a terrible state of suspense. Remarks about England in the street and in the tram car today have been unpleasant to hear. The mass of people, believe that we had promised to come in. Should England declare herself neutral, the Englishman here will lose all prestige and his position will be difficult.