BriedisKārlis Lobe, 1963—David Guild, 1993


3 | Instructing, always

The soldiers of Briedis' old regiment, the 99th, sent him a letter:

'Your excellency![1][2]

Our hearts were touched when we read in the papers of your heroic deeds. On receiving news of your being wounded, we send you our sincere wishes for your speedy recovery. May the beautiful, free crown of just toil grow up on the spot where your blood has been shed in this sacred fashion.

The Ivangorod Regiment Soldiers' Society.'

 31  Briedis was very pleased with this greeting. Living with Latvian soldiers, not only his own company and battalion, the whole of Latvian society was for Briedis what it had not been for any other. Did this leave any impression on him? March had brought him a splendid present, perhaps the greatest experience he had had for some time: on 9 March a son was born to him who received the name Juris, from the name of his father's high award.[3] Briedis received promotion to the rank of captain-lieutenant and captain.[4] The number of Latvian battalions had now increased to eight active and one reserve.

Briedis hurried back to his battalion, still not fully healed. There again, investigating and examining what was new, carrying out experiments with explosive charges, Briedis got himself burned and was compelled once more to spend some time undergoing treatment in hospital. Was it perhaps in hospital, while Latvian battalions were doubling and expanding into two-battalion regiments, that the idea came to Briedis of some great Latvian undertaking? Bangerskis strives to make the case. Yet, no matter from whom or whence the suggestion came for the Latvians to have a chance to break into the German position, if this was to be prepared and carried out as a surprise, then Briedis undeniably believed in this and was involved in its preparation.

Briedis' fame was widely known. Nor could it have escaped the notice of his old military academy. K. Bumanis remembered that in one class on tactics the tutor had said the words: 'Somewhere on the northern front the pride of our academy Lt. Briedis is fighting. Read the newspaper accounts of the battles he has been involved in and learn how great successes can be obtained with few losses.' Briedis and also a few other Latvian officers were sent in the autumn of 1915 to the military academy to give talks on their experiences. A. Skrodelis said: 'Every day we were gathered together in the lecture theatre, Captain Briedis came in accompanied by a Russian general who was commandant of the College. 'We talked about the battles in which the Latvians had been involved. He would deftly sketch out on the board the plans of the battle positions; in a lively narrative he brought these plans to life, enthusing about them . . . At the end of the lecture the school commandant expressed his thanks, spoke approvingly of Briedis and stressed the fact that the Vladimir Military Academy was proud that Briedis, who now as an officer had become an example to many, 32  had grown up in its family. Turning to us, the general finished: 'this captain was once in this room just as you are. So when you leave this school you should follow in his footsteps.'

Portrait, contained in the publication "Light of the Star Regiment"[5]

Briedis stood there timidly, with his eyes lowered. From his face, standing thus, there radiated simplicity; but it was exactly this simplicity and shyness which made him so attractive. Later, in our own rooms we hung around for a good time discussing this captain who was so simple, without any pose or conceit. Someone thoughtfully said: 'Perhaps all real officers and heroes are like this.'

'Briedis gave lectures in all the main Petrograd military academies. In the Pavlovskoe Uchilishche[6] two Russian cadets asked Briedis to help them to join Latvian regiments after completing the academy.

It is not possible to retrace all Briedis' activities, not only through lack of space in the journals but also because of the limitations of the material. An officer's work and his duties do not only consist of the preparation and carrying out of battlefield tasks, but also of the countless trivial problems facing him on which the major things depend. Briedis had been a company commander in the Latvian Riflemen for a considerable time, and this post was the most difficult in the Russian army. The company commander was responsible to the regiment for everything but, however conscientious he might be, he could at best strive so that his command was in the best possible state. The training, clothing, victualling and billeting of his company and, likewise, all expenditure (for service purposes or private) - all had to pass through the company commander. Similarly he was the one on whom the fate of his subordinates most closely depended, for example in cases of unwarranted absence because of a disease brought on by the proximity to home and the longing to be there. More than one of those who had gone missing for a short time - be it for days or even weeks - reported back to his company commander, causing quite a lot of trouble before the matter was settled, both so that he should remain unpunished and so he should be saved from what did not fit our circumstances. It may be that Briedis had fewer such cases, but he could not have completely avoided them.

With the conversion of the 1st Daugavgriva Battalion into a two battalion regiment,[7] Briedis was appointed commander of the first battalion of the new regiment on 13 November. Normally he would have a lighter load than he would have had as a company commander, 33  even if he was not managing four companies instead of one. But this was not so for Briedis. He was also burdened by tasks outside his normal duties. As K. Bumanis said: 'Before the Christmas battles additional courses in tactical training were organised for the officers and Briedis was one of the tutors. Russians on these courses as well as the other tutors were surprised by the breadth of knowledge possessed by Briedis concerning the situation on the northern front, particularly with regard to the German fortifications and the possibility of capturing them.' The writer was present when Briedis showed the Vidzeme Regiment how to cut through the wire entanglements making as little noise as possible. A wire-cutting group in white overalls demonstrated what Briedis had been saying. He showed how if one cut in the usual way the squeaking of the shears and the cut bits of the wire fence falling down and knocking against the other bits of the wire fence would make quite an audible noise, particularly in the silence of the night. He showed how one could avoid this if one of the cutters held the wire in both gloved hands as the second cut the wire between these gloves; after this the first would silently lower the cut ends of wire. It seemed a slow job, but a trained cutter did it very deftly and quickly in just this way so that nothing could be heard.

[1]In the old Tsarist army before the First World War the officers were usually drawn from the gentry and also the nobility. The terms of address used are typical of a strongly hierarchical society. There are three Russian expressions which may be rendered as 'excellency' in English. The army which entered the war in 1914, had, of course, been enormously expanded, and the officer corps included a much wider range of backgrounds, of which Briedis was an example but the habits of deference did not change straightaway.—D.G. (original footnote)
[2]Original Latvian reads "Your Highest Nobility!"
[3]Juris = Russian 'Iurii'.—D.G. (original footnote)
[4]Captain-Lieutenant. At first this sounds like a naval rank equivalent to German Kapitan-Leutnant. A more likely explanation has been suggested: that it is another anachronistic survival of eighteenth century practice. In other words it was an appointment, not a rank. The individual in question held the substantive rank of Lieutenant but looked after the company of the Colonel of the regiment or of one of the majors. Briedis was soon after made up to full captain when a vacancy became available.—D.G. (original footnote)
[5]"Zvaigžņu pulka aizmirdza"
[6]A senior military academy in Petrograd.—D.G. (original footnote)
[7]That is, the battalion would be split: two of its companies going to one of the new battalions, two to the other. It would probably be brought up to regimental strength by drafts for Briedis is described as managing four companies instead of one. Later in the war a triangular system was adopted by all combatants: 3 companies = 1 battalion, 3 battalions = 1 regiment.—D.G. (original footnote)
Under Swedish copyright law, "Briedis," including all derivative works, remains under copyright by the original rights holder until 2067, regardless of copyright by Taylor and Francis of David Guild's translation. Our corrected and annotated version of that translation is reproduced by express permission of the late author's wife, Heather Guild. Without prejudice to other rights accorded, "Briedis" is presented here for informational, educational, and research purposes under §20. and §21. of Latvian copyright law and as a protected derivative work under §5. The Goppers archive resides in the Latvian National Library.

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