Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

Please note date is approximate: 

In the evening many friends, British and Austrian, gathered at the station to see our party leave, and give us messages to friends at home ; and though it was very obvious that it was an English party that was leaving for England, we experienced nothing even approaching rudeness at the station. My companion in the sleeping-car was a very bright Vienna lady, who at once began to talk. Where was I going ? She was going to Innsbruck, did I know Innsbruck, the most beautiful place in the Tirol? Ah, I was going to Geneva: for winter-sports probably ? Had I ever winter-sported before? Ah, in Galicia, just where the big battles were being fought now, and the Ruthenes, what were they like? I had straightway to tell her what I knew about Galicia and the Ruthenes; in return for which she told me what she thought of the war, saying that though I came from Hungary I must not imagine things were going so well for “us” as one imagined there. The Hungarian’s blind trust in Germany would find itself betrayed one day.

In Vienna their eyes were open to the appalling difficulties that lay before them. Even if the Germans should help them to put the Russians out of Galicia, where would Austria find herself? Geographically in the same position as she was at the outbreak of the war, but broken and bankrupt, and absolutely dependent on Germany for her future life. And it would be more than Germany could do to save her own life, for didn’t everybody know that she too was bleeding to death, more slowly than Austria perhaps, but none the less surely.

“Are you anti-Austrian, then? ” I asked sternly.

“No, I am not. I am as loyal as everybody is in Vienna ; but we are not stupid, and know when we have been tricked. You Hungarians have helped us on to this war with your mad pro-Germanism, hoping that Germany will help you to your independence; perhaps you think you will be better off as the slave of Germany in future? ”

“Of course,” I interrupted from above, “you’re taking my pro-German sympathies for granted. I’ve not expressed them, and I’m not so pro-German as you imagine.”

We talked well into the night, then slept soundly till morning, when we went through to the dining-car together for breakfast. The English ladies were already there, and I stopped to talk to them. As I joined my Vienna friend at the table she had reserved for us, she asked who those ladies were and if I knew them.

“I do. They are like me returning to England now.”

“But, but you’re not British’? The sleeping-car attendant told me a Hungarian lady had taken the other berth,” she gasped, thinking probably of how very frankly she had spoken on the previous night of the critical state of her country.

I could not help laughing at her confusion as I explained that the attendant’s mistake arose through my ticket being taken in the Princess’s name. In the end she also laughed, and was very interested to know exactly the treatment I had received in Hungary, “for,” she said, “I am sure that all one reads in the press about British cruelty to enemy aliens is lies, and I should be sorry if British people had bad reports of us to take back to England.”

I would not allow that British people in Austria had no grievances at all, but I did assure her that I received very great kindness, and that all my experiences so far had been thoroughly enjoyable. “Of course,” I said, ” there’s still the frontier,” and I felt my spirit grow sick as I thought of it; my delight of the previous day in Feldkirch and the Alps waned as the objects of it approached.

“Na, this isn’t Germany. Our people will be very nice at the frontier. You may be quite sure that anything unkind that is done to British people in Austria comes, I’m sorry to say, from Berlin; ” and the train entering Innsbruck she rose to go, leaving
me no end of good wishes for a pleasant journey.

Mina McDonald crossed the border into Switzerland and returned via France to the United Kingdom. In 1916 her account  Some Experiences in Hungary.was published.

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Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

The dawn of the New Year found friction between Austria and Hungary continuing on the grain question. The Hungarian landowners still refused to sell, and the bread riots which had taken place in the larger towns formed the chief topic of conversation. The Prince, one of the biggest of the landowners, declared his willingness to sell if the others would, but not pretending to be a philanthropist, he told his agents to hold back till the others would come forward. The Austrian Government began to use coercive measures towards Hungary as diplomatically as possible, for, Hungary being the backbone of the realm, they were not in a position to risk any serious division with her just then. A certain amount of grain was released, but not sufficient to make any appreciable difference to the market, so, prices remaining as high as ever, Vienna grumbled. Butcher meat, too, was dear beyond the memory of all : in the country game was good and plentiful, but in the towns it was far otherwise, and there was unprecedented distress and misery for the 

war-workers to relieve.

Disease continued to spread very rapidly, and the big towns were literally nests of infection, for the winter had not been cold enough to check the spotted typhus, small-pox, and cholera which were raging.

Amid the general depression it was difficult to feel “festive,” and, while the servants and the soldiers had a party on New Year’s Eve, at which they entertained nearly all the village till dawn, the Herrschaft were very dull, forgetting all about New Year till the morning, when at breakfast a letter arrived from the priest wishing all in the Schloss a good and blessed New Year. After the Mass we went to the priest’s house to give him our good wishes ; the Princess, when he had regaled us with the most delicious home-made wine I have ever drank, failing to persuade him to come to lunch, reminded him that he and the schoolmaster were expected to tea before the treat.

The priest looked uneasy and replied, ” Oh yes! just so exactly.”

The priest again fidgeted but said nothing.

The Christmas tree was lit in the largest drawing-room, and the presents arranged on tables at the top of the room. As early as half-past four the whole village had assembled in the courtyard, and, the night being cold and snowy, the Princess gave orders to admit all at once. The soldiers kept guard, explaining, when we entered the room at half-past five, that they had had hard work in keeping the younger members of the company from choosing and walking off with their presents before the Herrschaft appeared. Everybody was there old men, old women, mothers, aunts, cousins, babies in arms all who were even remotely connected with a school child. Mr. Remeceks was absent ; it was beneath his dignity as headman of the village to attend a school treat, but he was sufficiently represented by his multitudinous relatives. The women wore every petticoat and skirt in their possession all stiffly starched and pleated for the occasion; for the Hungarian peasant does not consider herself suitably attired for any function if she has fewer than eight or nine skirts on, and the more she resembles a balloon the more she is in full dress.

There were presents for everybody for the grand-mothers and the babies, too. The boys all wanted trumpets, of which, happily, the supply was limited. But even so there was blowing and blasting in the village of K that must have caused envy to the Archangel Michael.

When all were fed till they couldn’t possibly carry away any more, either externally or internally, the psychological moment arrived when the Princess asked the children to sing the songs they had prepared for her. The guests all looked blank, and during the long pause that ensued, Stefka Jan’s baby let his present a mug decorated with a picture of the two Kaisers and the Austrian and German flags fall
to the floor, where it smashed into as many pieces as even I could wish.

“An omen,” I remarked audibly to the priest, who was next me.

The priest, obviously not displeased with the idea, smiled very broadly.

“Just so exactly that may be, Fraulein.”

By dint of interrogation the Princess discovered that the schoolmaster had not practised any songs with the children, who were all disappointed, and would gladly have sung all night at the Schloss.

“Is there nothing at all that they know, then? Can’t somebody start something well known?” said the Princess almost in tears.

I offered to start “God save the King”; but after a withering glance at me, the Princess led off the Hungarian national hymn in a key so high that disaster soon resulted. Nothing daunted she stopped, saying, “That’s not the key, children. Let’s start again,” and led off her chorus a second time, while the rest of the Herrschaft, helpless with laughter, basely took refuge in the background. None of the children knew the hymn to the end, and dropped out one by one till only a few grandmothers and the Princess were in at the finish.

“And now,” she said, ” that was very nice, and we did without the schoolmaster after all.”

 

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

The typhus patient caused us all much thought, for he was dreadfully ill, and once the delirium had passed and the fever abated, became irritable and very trying to nurse. The doctor was confident of a good recovery, and on the day before Christmas said that in a very short time we might give some solid food to the soldier, who then and there asked if he might have at once a certain Hungarian soup of which he was very fond, but which he had always been too poor to get. The doctor was almost lurid in forbidding the soup; and, noticing that the sick man continued uneasy and expectant, I asked if there was anything else he wanted particularly, and got the reply that his wife had sent him some time ago a parcel containing some good things to eat, and it didn’t seem to arrive. Claire, finding on inquiry at the post- office that no parcel had come for him, made up one of cake, fruit, etc., and pretending that it was the one he expected, I told him that though he might
not yet eat those things they would be put away for him till he was better; but with satisfaction and pride he insisted that they should be immediately divided among the other soldiers who could eat them.

In the afternoon the decoration of the Christmas tree and the preparations for the children’s treat, to be held on the next day, were proceeding amid great merriment, when a footman appeared to say that the Italian soldier had come to fetch Fraulein Sherry, for the sick soldier was dying. Unfortunately the Italian had not exaggerated, for heart failure had set in; the priest was immediately fetched, and just as the prayers were finished the soldier died. The Princess’s first thought was one of regret that in spite of doctor’s orders I had not allowed him to have the soup he liked so much, but had always been too poor to get.

“He would have died anyhow, and it was the only chance he ever had in his life of getting that soup ! ”

His wife, who had been telegraphed to in the early stages of the man’s illness, but had probably not wanted to spend the money on the long journey from the borders of Transylvania, eventually arrived full of grief for her young husband. Though he had a wife and two children the soldier had been only twenty-one years of age, for in Hungary the peasant marries young a wife and children meaning money to him,
in saving paid labour on his fields. Our Christmas was turned into gloom and all festivities were put off till New Year the school children and their relatives being but little disappointed, for a funeral, which in Hungary is regarded as being of a festive nature, offered adequate compensation for the postponement of the treat.

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Please note date is approximate

In the beginning of December a Light Blue Hussar, who had been invalided home, came on a short visit to Schloss K . He had been in Galicia, where he was laid up with dysentery ” The second worst case in the hospital, too,” he said with pride and he was glad to escape with dysentery which was one of the minor diseases in Galicia where cholera, spotted typhus, and small-pox were raging. The campaign in this waste and infected land was almost too horrible for description not only did the nature of the country, the climate, and the difficulties of transport make fighting there a hopeless task, but the morale of the Austrian troops was bad, and Galicia was simply a nest of treachery : there wasn’t a man, he said, from end to end of Galicia but had his price. It was better now, for there was practically no civilian population left, but in the beginning they had been quite unable to cope with the treachery. Almost the very first traitor to be shot was one of their own colonels an Austrian, who was not a Slav, and who had never been suspected of any anti-Austrian leanings. It had been his unpleasant duty on several occasions to preside over the execution of the Slav priests who had been convicted of treason ; “And I give you my word, it was almost more than I could get through. They thought far less of it than I did, and were much calmer. It’s one thing to kill Russians in a bayonet charge, but to string up those miserable priests in cold blood was no job for me,” and the Hussar grew pale at the recollections of the dawn of those hideous August mornings in Galicia. He was full of admiration for the Russian, whom he described as “the best-natured fellow in the world,” and a very clean fighter. He could get his Hungarians to face anything except the Don Cossacks, whose very name demoralised the enemy. “And that is not saying little,” he said, “for in the whole world I don’t believe you’ll find fighters like the Hungarians, unless, perhaps, the Scottish Englishmen in the little skirts.”

He was, nevertheless, very full of hope and enthusiasm, and was confident, not in the power of Austria, but of Germany to win ; and he spoke of the efficiency and organisation of the Germans with whom he had come in contact very often, as something that passed his comprehension, frankly confessing that till German officers would be distributed over the whole Austrian line nothing could ever be effected against the Russians in Galicia, ” for it isn’t in us to be good officers but we remain human beings, while those Germans are nothing but machines pfui! ”

The Light Blue Hussar would not go across to the hospital at all. He approved of it in the distance, but “What do you want me to go there for?” he said. “Do you imagine it’s a treat for the soldiers to see an officer? No, poor devils, they see more of us than they like, and we see a lot more of them than we like, so, for goodness’ sake, give us each a rest from the other.”

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Please note date is approximate:

Before the Babe and his family returned to Vienna the Princess invited, as she did once a year, Uncle Pista, Aunt Sharolta, and their daughter, with the Oberstuhlrichter and his wife, to dine at Schloss K . Their annual dinner at the Schloss was an exciting event in the quiet lives of these simple people, and they looked forward to it like children in pleased anticipation. On this occasion I heard the wheels of their carriages as they arrived, long before I had finished dressing, and in a few moments Claire, looking, if possible, lovelier than ever in a last year’s Callot dress, burst into my room almost hysterical with laughter, saying, as she threw herself into a chair

“You lucky wretch ! To think that you may always dress like that, while we…”  and she shrieked with laughter. At length, in reply to my questions, she managed to gasp out, ” Oh, can’t you understand? Here we are, every one of us, in Paris gowns, and they’ve come in brand new garments from Berlin . . . Berlin, Jerry! You’ve never dreamed of anything so funny in your life. Do be quick and come down, for Billy and the Babe are disgracing us all, and father and mother won’t really stand the strain of it much longer. Does one’s patriotism oblige one to praise such clothes?”

“Mine does,” I chuckled ; “if people order clothes from Berlin they deserve to wear them, and I’ll do all I can to make them wear them ; it’s the only chance I’ve had so far of ‘ doing my bit ‘ for my country.”

By the time I appeared in the drawing-room Billy had completely collapsed over the end of a sofa, with her back to the company ; but she raised her head as I passed to say in English, which none of the guests understood: “Behold us in the garb of patriotism!”

The garb of patriotism emphatically merited Claire’s laughter not only was the texture gross and the colouring hideous, but the heraldic twists of the outline were appalling in their clumsiness. Even the General was behaving badly and kept saying,  “Donnerwetter!” and “Jesus Maria” very audibly, as the glories of the Berlin creations dazzled him anew. The ladies took almost tragic pride in their abominable garments, and I had no difficulty in persuading them that there would no longer be any need for Germans and Austrians to patronise London, Paris, or even Vienna, when Berlin fashions were so beautiful and so becoming. The Prince, who saw that the younger people were likely to become uproarious, cut short my praises and took me, amid many little explosions and gurgles, to the other end of the room where, under pretence of showing me a bit of old Halics pottery he had bought, he kept me till dinner was announced, and all had regained some measure of composure. It was a wonderful evening throughout, and poor old Uncle Pista was almost pathetic when he informed us, as he said good night, that he had never seen us so bright or so happy, and he was glad that we could keep up our spirits in spite of the war. So Berlin clothes have their uses !

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Please note the date is approximate

The Prince, next morning, sent the gamekeeper in to the station at S to meet the wounded and take our lot out to K . The maids all requested him to bring young and dashing cavalrymen if possible handsome in any case, no infantrymen. What eventually did arrive out to us was a miserable dejected-looking lot of infantrymen, Hungarians, Slovenes from Carniola, and one Bosniak.

The men were all badly wounded so badly that the doctor, when he saw them, sent the Princess away, saying

“No, Highness ; this is not work for any one with weak nerves. Send me the English lady she is more likely to stand this sort of thing.”

The doctor was the leader of the pan- Slav movement in the district, and I am convinced that he put me in charge of the hospital simply because of the opportunity this gave him of talking war to one who shared his views and sympathies.

“I assure you, Fraulein,” he said, as he dressed a shrapnel-wound in a man’s shoulder, “I assure you, whichever way it goes, it’s the end of Austria : if the Central Powers win we become simply a province of Germany: if they lose, it’s the disintegration of Austria. A country composed, as Austria is, of so many races, each one more discontented than the other, must not risk going to war. It’s all the fault of that puffed-up, vain-glorious peacock in Berlin ! It was he sent that ultimatum to Serbia. Na, Serbia is the hardest nut they’ve ever had to crack. My son, who is in the artillery, fighting against the Serbs, says that even if we could concentrate all our forces against Serbia, we should still find it difficult down there. He says the Serbs are simply capital fellows, and their officers are the best in Europe. Cue must really say it serves William right. He’s getting it hot everywhere. Of course you know that Paris is safe now?”

The Hungarians boasted of being alive at all after so many hardships. “But that’s Hungarian,” they would say proudly. “A Hungarian can go for three days without any food at all and still laugh and sing. It’s our spirit that does it. You should see the Russians run when we charge. Once we’ve gone four days on potatoes which we ate raw from the fields as we went along, then we went into the trenches and made an attack after being sixteen hours again without food. We made the Russians run too at least, some of them not all ; oh, no ! not all,” the Hungarian said, shaking his head.

“They fight well, then ? ”

“Like devils absolutely like devils. God! you can’t shoot them down ; and these fellows” fiercely pointing to the Slovenes “won’t. try. They won’t aim ! And if we Hungarians once shoot down a Russian twelve spring into his place like mushrooms out of the ground.”

I asked what would happen if the Russians would win.

The Hungarian was indifferent to issues. ” It really makes no difference who wins. The Russians aren’t bad, and they’re awfully good to their prisoners. Lucky chaps who get taken prisoner war’s over for them ! If the Russians win we’ll be just as well off at home as we were before, so what does it matter ? I wonder why we are fighting against Russia ? The Serbs killed the Archduke but Russia ? Anyhow, nothing matters if we were only back in our homes again. Still it’s no use getting depressed like that Bosniak there. He’s like a dead man; and what’s the sense of being a dead man when you’re still alive ? ”

The poor Bosniak was really very miserable. He was the only one of his race in the hospital where nobody could speak Bosnian.

The (Slovenes) also were disappointed that their wounds healed so quickly, which meant their speedy return to Galicia.

“It’s bad enough to have to fight at all,” they said, “but to have to fight against one’s own race is a terrible thing. If only our officers would be decent ; but they shoot us from behind if they think we’re slack with the Russians. There are awful things happening in Galicia, and it’s not good to be a Slav in Austria.”

One Slovene told us very proudly that his brother, who had been in America, had taught him some English, and on our inquiring what it was, he reeled off

“Son of a bitch, daughter of hell, damnation, glory Hallelujah ! ” On seeing our blank faces, he asked, ” Isn’t it English ? My brother said it was real English.” We assured him that his brother was a master of English, but cautioned him that in future it would be wise if his brother explained the meaning of what he taught him.

Mina “Jerry” McDonald

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Schloss K, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Please note the date is approximate:

Therese, when she came one morning to waken me, was sobbing violently ; and on my inquiring what was wrong, said ” Lemberg (modern day Lviv) has fallen ! We shall have the Russians here in no time at all. We’re just on their way to Pressburg (Bratislava), and it’s the end of Austria and it’s those Germans who have done it.”

” It may not be true,” I suggested.

“It’s quite true. The Herr Gartner told me, and his bad news is always true.”

The newspapers again disappeared that day, which was really very useless when the Man of Art told me all I wanted to know.

“Fraulein has perhaps heard that Lemberg has fallen ? ” he asked.

“Yes. And what will you do if the Russians come here on their way to Vienna?”

“Fraulein, if the Russians came here tomorrow, I should have no fear. We are all Slavs in this village and would know what to do. Fraulein is British, so she would not fear either. We know the Russians, we Slavs.”

“You would not be sorry, then, if the Russians came ? ”

“Na, Fraulein . . . one doesn’t say such things. . . . But there are few in this district who wouldn’t prefer to be under the Russian than the Austrian. I was talking to the innkeeper last night, and he said …”

“Well, what did he say?” asked Claire, whose head suddenly appeared above the yew-hedge.

“That the taxes on alcohol are going to be enormous, and that I shall have to do without my sligovitz (plum brandy) in future, Highness ;” and the Man of Art resumed the tying up of a Dorothy Perkins that would climb in the wrong direction.