While preparing the next installment of the Regimental History of the Saxon Liebstandarte, I had been looking in the regimental archives for information, when I found two old manuscript diaries: One being the memoirs of an acting AdC to Général Bardon (Jeff Bardon, Imperial Guard Commander) and then-Général Eugène (Barry Maunsell, CoS AdR) , the other the memoirs of one Captain Pullthemoff, an AdC to General Hendersonov (Neil Henderson) and his adjutant, Lt. Col. Nelmski (Mark Nelms). What is remarkable is that the diaries both write about the same battle but from opposite "sides of the hill," one Russian and the other French. The battle in question is the well-known food-fight at Borodino, or as it came to be known, Kutuzov Turns to Eat. I will quote only short passages from the diaries, as to reproduce them in their entirety would occupy far too much time and space. So, without further ado, I give you....
After a long wait, the Russian officers looked up at the sound of drums coming from the French lines. Then they could see the whole of the French Grande Armée move off as one: A tide of blue-and-white-coated infantry rolled towards the waiting Russians. Only the low thunder of marching feet could be heard above the sound of the massed drums beating the pas de charge. Way off in the rear of the French lines they could see ranks of cavalry wheeling as if on parade. Swords flashing in the sun, and next to them....BEARSKINS. Yes, the Guard was here, and if the Guard was here, then HE was here.!!!!!!
The Russian officers looked at one another, and a chill ran down their spines.
"Do you see him?" one said to the other "No,......no, WAIT....YES! There he is, way off in the rear of the French lines. OH, NO! They have given him THREE supply wagons AND a gun battery!"
The Russian commander gravely raised his spyglass in the direction to which his Adjutant was pointing. There, just behind the Guard he could see......Général Eugène, with three wagons, doing his famous riding-around-in-circles-with-a-gun-battery-in-the-middle trick.
"All is lost!" said the Adjutant, "We should retire now while we have an army left!" The Russian commander sat silent and motionless on his horse, as stunned as if he had been hit by a 12-pounder ball. No orders came from him. The Russian army was doomed, and he knew it. Three wagons...how could they do it, giving him THREE.....
Quickly the Commander bellowed out his orders, while the staff was still amazed and unable to see the small flicker of doubt that lingered in his eyes. "Quickly now, load the spoiled Camembert and mouldy baguettes in the cannon and have the skirmishers deploy the rotten hams!" The assembled officers scattered like quail to see that the orders were carried out. Only the Commander and his adjutant remained. The adjutant , after serving this man for many years, knew that everything was not as it appeared. "Sir, what worries you this day? They put Eugène in charge of the supply wagons, as you had hoped." The Commander, without removing his gaze from the approaching French, replied, "Eugene has another trick up his sleeve! Look! Look! Our men are becoming dizzy watching that riding-around-in-a-circle-with-a-battery-in-the-middle trick. We must come up with a way to counter it, we must." Both men looked to the west, each with his own thoughts, wondering what to do about Eugène.
Perhaps the Russian deviltry was hidden by the early morning mists, or possibly their view
had been hampered by the folds of the earth, but the French command could only watch
in startled horror as the first salvoes of putrefied foodstuffs splattered down on their
front line divisions.
"They never even saw it coming," Général Bardon said, turning to his adjutant. "We knew the Russians were without honour, but to make war in a manner such as this is unforgivable. Colonel, deliver this message to Eugène. He's over there with the wagons. I think it is time to call upon the services of the newest Guard regiment: le 1er Régiment de Patisserie."
Seeing the quizzical look in his aide's eye, he continued, "After meeting the infamous Henderson at Eylau several years ago, we decided to build and equip our own infernal machine and train a unit specifically for occasions such as this. The machine is in the third wagon, over there, the one circling slightly to the left of the battery. I firmly believe that our only hope against an enemy such as this is that dread machine." Nodding slowly, the colonel turned to deliver the message, then paused: "Sir, what do you call it, the machine?"
"It is called.....la machine à galettes..... the Waffle Machine!"
The Russian army gasped in shock and disbelief as the awful sight of the French Waffle Machine
was glimpsed through the early morning mist.
"It is as we feared," cried Col. Nelmski, "the British have turned against us and sold the plans of this monstrosity to our enemies!" General Hendersonov snapped his telescope shut. "I wonder," he said, and his face showed the concern of a seasoned campaigner. "Even a mad ape like their King George would scarcely contemplate such a thing. I believe this to be a cheap copy of the infamous Waffle Machine, reconstructed from stolen plans." He smiled, as though comforted by the thought.
"We are doomed!" chorused the divisional commanders, and the massed ranks of Russian Orthodox priests began a wail to heaven, praying for deliverance.
"Enough!" snapped the general. "There is one hope. I doubt they have learned the secrets of the sprocket-dangler - a vital part of the working of this thing. Only Prime minister Pitt and the famous English General "Waffles" know of this. Without the sprocket-dangler, all their hopes are as nothing!"
In the glow of dawn Prince Eugène continued to make circles with his wagons. Throughout the Russian army one word was on all lips, repeated along the lines like an incantation: "SPROCKET-DANGLER! SPROCKET-DANGLER FOR MOTHER RUSSIA!" It would be a long day.....
Eugène rode up to Général Bardon. "Pardon, Bardon, I must protest at
your using this infernal machine against the Russians......poooo! What
is that smell?" The words died on Eugène's lips as he drew level
with Gén. Bardon. There, he saw Gén. Bardon removing half a mouldy brown Russian
loaf from his new hat. "Damn thing nearly took my head off," the general said to Eugène.
Eugène looked around at some of the fallen French troops. Most of them had been cut down by Camembert and mouldy baguettes. Eugene felt ill. " How could they do this, have they no honour??" "It would seem not," replied Gén. Bardon, his face grim.
"I will bring up ....The Machine. May God have mercy on them."
Above the wailing of over a hundred Russian Orthodox priests, the sound of well oiled wheels
grew louder, then abruptly came to a stop. With eyes wide with fear, the massed Russian ranks
watched as the first round was let loose from the awful machine. It sailed magically over the
French troops, who cheered wildly, and landed square on the lead Russian Battalion. The Russian
C in C looked on, dread filling his heart, as the first wave of his attack wavered and then
stopped. He sat waiting for the next round from the machine......and waiting......waiting......
"Look, Sire, the French are running around their machine in confusion!" The Russian C in C looked up to see first one, and then another wheel fall off the machine. "They lack....the sprocket-dangler. Maybe we are saved! Get the priests to wail some more. Let's see if we can beat these Frenchmen."
Lt. Col. Nelmski approached Brig. Hendersonov with trepidation. The commander would not like the news he had to deliver. "Sir, our reserves of baguettes and Camembert are gone! The local peasants raided the train and stole it all; they claim it is better than their usual fare. If that wasn't enough, the Cossacks are off playing some silly sort of polo game with the spoiled hams. Couldn't find anyone brave enough to take them back." A sigh escaped from the commander's lips he sat astride his horse pondering his next move. Once again he raised the telescope, to his good eye this time. Before any of the staff could utter a word, he spoke: "Not to worry, the Frogs are still several hours away. Plenty of time to prepare." It was then that Lt. Col. Nelmski gently reached up, knowing that his years of service to Brig. Hendersonov would spare him any harsh reprimand, and turned the telescope around so the General was looking in the proper end.
"Sprocket-Dangler be hanged!" Gén. Bardon exclaimed. "So the plans were incomplete; still, the modifications we made should work properly, even without the sacré Dangleur de Sprockette!"
"Yes, deploy the puff pastry and start making waffles."
Soon enough, the air that had been so fouled by the carrion of Russian cuisine, rent by the noxious vapours of cheap Ukrainian Camembert, and putrefied by loaves that only a scientist could appreciate, changed. A sweet and tantalizingly fragrant aroma wafted slowly across the front. Shaken soldiers in the French and allied battalions regained their legs, composure and proper colouring.
What had saved the day? The 1er Régiment de Patisserie had arrived, of course, setting up portable prep tables from which they fed ingredients into the machine. The First Battalion mixed the dough with a certain je ne sais quoi and joie de vivre, while the Second fed the sweetened mixture into the waiting ovens of the machine. The Third Battalion decorated the warm pastries with a flair that only Mme. Martha de Stewart could match, while the Fourth rapidly delivered the sweets to the breakfast-starved men.
And what of the Fifth? Ah yes, the brave Fifth Battalion levelled their bayonets and advanced upon the wailing Russians. Their banners snapped to attention in the early morning breeze that carried the succulent odor across the whole of the field. As the Cossacks ceased playing with the hams and the starved serfs began to advance, intent on carrying away the prized waffles, the few Russian officers that had advanced beyond elementary schooling could now discern the devastating message on the Fifth's banners: "NONE FOR YOU!"
Brigadier Hendersonov cast a steely glance toward Lt. Colonel Nelmski. The Lt. Colonel
spoke softly, "Sir, it really isn't necessary to use the telescope, as I am right here."
Brigadier Hendersonov lowered the telescope and cast another glance, more ironic than steely,
at the Lt. Colonel. "Do you smell that, Nelmski? Can you?" bellowed the Brigadier. "Do you
know what the smell of waffles will do to troops raised on borscht?" "Yes," replied the handsome,
strapping young Lt. Colonel, darling of the fairest ladies of St. Petersburg. "I fear all is
lost. The men will never stand it."
The Brigadier broke into loud, almost maniacal laughter. "It will be a cold day in the Tsar's kitchens before those Frenchmen get the last dish on me. Order up the G&O Battalions!" The staff looked around confusedly, all except for one officer with whom the rest would not willingly associate. He rode off at a mad gallop, crying "My time has come, my time has come!"
Several minutes later, two battalions of troops marched onto the field from behind the hillside where they had been hidden. The ostracized staff officer marched them up to the line and deployed them in place. He raised his sword and gave the order "Fix bayonets and paring-knives!" At this point Lt. Colonel Nelmski was pondering, Just what is the protocol for relieving the commanding officer of all the Tsar's armies due to mental breakdown while in battle? and If I'm wrong, will it be exile to Murmansk or the firing-squad for me? What is the man thinking?
Meanwhile Gén. Eugène was close to the front examining the troops, making sure that they had all seen and admired his famous riding-around-in-a-circle-with-a-gun-battery-in-the-middle, when he noticed the men starting to cry. Of course, being Gén. Eugène, he immediately assumed it was because the men loved him and were so very impressed by his trick, but then he noticed that his eyes, too, were tearing up and it was becoming hard to see. Suddenly, an overpowering stench arose. "Am I facing the right end of the horse?" he wondered. "Yes," a quick glance reassured him, "so what is going on?" Slowly, as his eyes continued to water, he recognized the smell. Yes, the Russians were peeling garlic and onions. Oh! If only they had had sausage this morning, it would have been no problem; but garlic-and-onions after pastry was too much. Like oil and vinegar, the two do not mix.
Clearly the élite epicurean regiments of the two armies had reached a stalemate (or, in the case of the mouldy baguettes, a beyond stalemate). The brilliant Russian spoilt-refuse attack had been turned aside by the French infernal machine, which was in turn undone by the infamous missing-Sprocket-Dangler contretemps. The subtle French pastry ploy was parried (one might say, frosted) by the blunt Russian garlic-and-onion assault. This brutal olfactory attack also failed to break the deadlock. A few allied battalions were struck down and seen cowering, clutching their hands over their mouths and bellies, desperately praying for the wind to change. But the majority, used to early morning breakfasts of garlic-tinged onion soup and foraged rolls, stood their ground, unperturbed. Some companies even took to singing le Chant de l'Oignon to signal their hearty imperviousness.
"Well, Eugène, I think perhaps a more conventional, up close and personal approach may be required. All this food stuff has gained so little as to be inconsequential. Tell the men to stop double-shotting the peasant boules in the cannon. The time has come to unleash an even more terrible force, le Cirque du Soleil!"
(Editor's note : Perhaps mercifully, the next two pages are missing from both diaries.)
Now we cross from the center of the battlefield to the small town of Borodino, and the bridge over the Kalotcha River there.
Over the bridge streamed the Russian Jaegers. Stout men all, they had been placed by their
commander to defend the verminous hovels of Borodino, every man prepared to die horribly for
the salvation of the Motherland. Then word filtered through - just a rumour at first, but men
whispered the story to each other and the whispers grew to mutters, the mutters to cries of
anguish: "Eugène has been given THREE supply wagons!"
Bravely they clung to their positions as the French advance began. Then they heard it - the sound of wagon wheels. Scouts crept to look over the lip of the ridge and returned with the dread news: "He is making circles with his wagons!"
Their heads swam, their eyes burned like fire. Finally they could take no more. Company after company dissolved into a maddened rout and streamed back over the wooden bridge, away from the ghastly, dizzying apparition. The French swarmed forward and the way to the Russian flank, nay the road to Moscow itself, was open!
Then, a single Russian gun team was seen moving forward dragging what seemed to be a dusty brown overcoat. They stopped, threw it onto the bridge, and retired behind the ridge. The French troops stopped momentarily, unsure of themselves. A man appeared, if it could be called a man. This was no soldier; his ragged clothes showed him to be the lowliest of peasants. He hobbled onto the bridge and stood there alone. Reassured, the French advanced. The Borodino bridge loomed closer; soon, they would be over it, the battle won!
Then the peasant drew a box from under his cloak, and began vigorously turning a small handle on its side. Was this a miniaturised version of the Waffle Machine? No, they could hear it now, and all their hearts sank as the awful sound drifted towards them. It was a barrel organ!
At the sound of the organ, the brown "overcoat" on the bridge stirred, unfolded itself and loomed upwards. A bear. A Russian dancing bear. No! Surely not? But yes! The troops in blue on the approaches of the bridge could only stop and stare. It was Simon Smithovsky and his amazing Dancing Bear!!
Faster now the barrel organ played. Faster the creature danced, faster and faster. There was the sound of creaking, a groan of timber like a ship in a storm. "Faster," the music urged, "faster!" The great bear rose and fell, beating his feet in time to the music. He twirled, he pirouetted, he jumped and thumped on the wooden trestles. The Frenchmen looked on in amazement. But their advance, slower now, yet continued. Only a few more steps and they would be onto the bridge.
The music rose to a crescendo of violence. The bear did a double-back-somersault and landed
in a heap in the centre of the span. There was an appalling sound of splintering timber, the
groan of tons of cracking wood. The great bridge fell, as if in slow motion, into the river
below, taking its passengers with it. The bear's head disappeared beneath the churning water,
and the arms of the peasant showed briefly above the waves, still turning the handle of the
barrel organ, before disappearing forever into the green surging waters.
The Russian army was saved, the Borodino bridge was down!
Oh the horror, the gratuitous and wanton destruction of precious natural resources! Russia, a land renowned for its dancing bears and two-headed eagles had seen fit to destroy one of its bears.
When was the last time you saw the two-headed eagle? Hmmm? If only there had been a non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the environment, animals, and historically-significant bridges! It matters little about the antique barrel organ (there Eugène, I mentioned your 1609 music-box), but Oh! the poor bear! Alexander's alleged concern for the environment is a farce if he sanctions such actions as this. Simply unforgivable, a tragedy.
Story from the Paris Free Press:
It was announced today that the French Navy has sunk the Paix Verte (Green Peace) barque, Two-Headed Eagle, in the port of Brest. The Green Peace barque was there to protest the effect on the local fish of the noise from French ships-of-the-line practicing salvo-firing. It is unlikely that this organization will ever be seen again in Brest.
An investigatory committee acting under the auspices of the office of Public Safety has released the following statement regarding the recent sinking of the barque, Two-Headed Eagle. The ship, part of the newly created Paix Verte (Green Peace) organization, dedicated to the protection of nature in foreign countries and exposing the Tsar as a closet industrialist, was sunk yesterday. The committee's investigators and Paix Verte officers have concluded, based on the damage and eyewitness accounts, that the ship was a victim of none other than a Russian Borscht Bomb!
General Hendersonov and Lt. Col. Nelmski, munching on cold slices of two-headed eagle from last night's supper, smiled as they watch the Borodino bridge slip beneath the water. Slowly they cast their gaze back toward the French, wondering what could be next up Eugène's sleeve, (besides a lacy handkerchief and a few extra playing cards, that is).
Eugène, pausing to check the ostrich feather his spare hat, turned to Gen. Bardon,
"Well what?" the general said impatiently, as he watched the two milling armies dawdle away the morning.
"Eugène, I don't know. Wake me after lunch, I need a break. Until then, you can command the whole army."
Lt. Colonel Nelmski, nervously pacing back and forth, could stand the suspense no longer and strode determinedly up to General Hendersonov, sitting astride his horse munching on an apple (i.e. Hendersonov munched the apple, the horse munched grass: No animal-coddling in this man's Imperial Russian Army, tovarich!).
"Sir, shouldn't we do something! Order a charge, a retreat, general attack, something!!!"
"Relax, Nelmski, the day is still young. Besides, Eugène has those three wagons and a battery and the pressure must be starting to tell. Look, he's not even riding in a neat circle anymore. The time will come to do something."
With that, Lt. Colonel Nelmski resumes his pacing.
Eugène looked at the back of the Guard Commander receding into the distance,
en route to
his mid-morning nap. A gleeful smile spread over his mustachioed face, and he cleared
his throat importantly:
"Well men, I am now in charge." The AdCs around him rolled their eyes toward the heavens.
"Right! I want the Poles to attack all along their front, now. Ist Corps as well. And throw that lot over there in as well." The Guard AdC looked around in astonishment to see that Eugène was pointing directly at the Imperial Guard.
" Errr, Sir.....Sir.....SIR. Do you mean the Guard???"
"Why yes, of course!" said Eugène. "Can't have them sitting around picking their noses and combing their mustaches when there's a battle to be won. Right, where was I again...oh, yes. Tell my Corps to attack as well....oh bugger it, tell the whole army, last one in Moscow buys the drinks. That will get them going." The AdCs mounted their horses to distribute the new orders.
" WAIT, come back. Hang on a mo....I have just developed a cunning plan."
Just then a rider hurried into the porte cochère of Eugène's small 45-room tent and handed him a message from the front.
"What did you say !!!!!!! They are calling up the Moscow Mother-in-Law Battalion?" Eugène pondered the situation: "Do I awake Gén. Bardon now, or wait to see where they put the Devils in long dresses, babushkas, and sensible shoes (suitable for kicking sons-in-law)?? I'll wait awhile longer." He turned to his worried AdCs and spoke in his coolest nonchalant voice: "It's nothing, men, Gén. Bardon and I have seen worse." He turned away, hoping that the men were calmer than he felt inside....
"Lt. Colonel Nelmski, stop that infernal pacing!" General Hendersonov fumed, "I have been in battle with you before and you have not acted like this."
"Well sir, it's my mother-in-law. She is insisting we visit, and my wife promised her that I would help win a great victory and earn a promotion along with it. And it is Eugène out there; next thing you know he will combine that riding in circles thing with waving a flag and beating a drum, and I don't know if we can handle it. I would rather face a regiment of Cuirassiers, only armed with a hat pin, than face my mother-in-law if we suffer defeat."
"I see your point, Lt. Colonel," proffered the General.
Both men now began to pace.
And over in the French camp.......
General Bardon wrote a cheerful letter to his daughter, while enjoying his morning coffee. Meanwhile, Eugène had added a fourth wagon to the armada, one bedecked with multicoloured pennons that snapped tautly in the breeze. Woe to the Russians!
"Here is the solution to your problem, Lt. Col. Nelmski," spoke the General. "Here is a hat I took off a Turk several years ago. Send it to your Mother-in-Law and tell her it is a Bearskin off a French Guardsmen. She won't know the difference!"
Lt. Colonel Nelmski sighed with relief and once again marveled at the wisdom of the great General. Then, with a determined look upon his face, he turned and again counted the wagons in Eugène's formation.
The aide turned to Eugène, glass in hand: "Mon Général, Sir, look over there. Isn't that the hat your stepdad got you at Aboukir?"
That is all for now, gentlemen. We will close this episode with Général Bardon enjoying a refreshing nap, Eugène doing a slow boil as the Russians trifle with one of his prize hats, and the two Russian leaders wondering how best to employ the potent, but dangerously volatile Moscow Mother-in-Law Battalion....More from The Memoirs of Two AdCs in the next NWC Newsletter.*
*If the Editor and the readership will stand for it....
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