...W.W.I and signs of revolution
"At the beginning of the First World War, Russia was enthusiastic about entering the war and was convinced that this was a holy war against Germany," says author and Fabergé expert, Géza von Habsburg. "And this was maybe, for the Czar, the high point of his reign. He could do no wrong at that time. And the beginning of the war went very favorably for Russia. But by 1915 there was total change."

Manpower was virtually inexhaustible, but the Czar's army was untrained. Arms factories were few and unproductive, and the railway lacked the capacity to carry enough supplies or even food to the soldiers at the front. In the first five months of the war, Russia lost over one million men - killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

The trouble that had loomed on the borders of their awareness began to penetrate the protective shell of imperial privilege. In response to the suffering of their people, the royal family converted the palaces to provisional hospitals, where Maria, Alexandra and her two eldest daughters helped to nurse the wounded. The Czar spent more and more time at the front with his armies. Alexandra wrote daily to her husband:

"20 November 1914. This morning we were present (I help as always giving the instruments and Olga threaded the needles) at our first big amputation. Whole leg was cut off. I washed and cleaned and bandaged all up.

25 November 1915. During an operation a soldier died. Olga and Tatiana behaved well; none lost their heads and the girls were brave. They had never seen death. But he died in a minute. How near death always is."

Such insight seems ironic given the conditions that had been festering for so long just outside the palace gates.

In 1915, the Czar appointed himself supreme commander of the army, displacing one of the other top generals. "And for this act of bravery when he was at the front," says author Lynette Proler, "he was awarded the Order of St. George, which is the highest order that could be awarded to anyone in the army."

Von Habsburg continues: "Nicholas had decided to take over from his cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikoliovich, this tall giant of a man, beloved by his soldiers, and who had been at the head of the armies during the most unpopular time." Christopher Forbes adds, "His taking over the army was not well received. His second cousin was a more capable general, and for the Czar to be so directly involved with the army, when that wasn't necessarily his forte, didn't go down well with the officers."

From the front, Nicholas wrote home to his wife: "31 August 1915. My beloved Sunny, how grateful I am to you for your dear letters! In my loneliness they are my only consolation. Much gravity lies in the terribly weak condition of our regiments, which consist of less than a quarter of their normal strength; it is impossible to reinforce them in less than a month, as the new recruits will not be ready and there are few rifles."

By March of 1917, demonstrations, riots, and strikes were commonplace in the major cities of Russia and the Imperial troops could no longer suppress them. Alexandra wrote to her husband at the front about the riots, but he was too far away to realize how bad the situation had become. When he did, it was too late, and he was forced to abdicate.


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