Nellie Bly Paints Horrors of War in Eastern Field of Combat

North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune/February 2, 1915

Trainloads of Healthy, Frank-Eyed, Splendid Fellows Go Forth to Battle With Songs on Their Lips and Faith in Their Hearts and Return Sunken-Eyed, Wounded and Sick From the Most Frightful Experience Living Man Ever Witnessed.


[This dispatch was written on board the Prince of Croy’s hospital train as it was proceeding from Przemysl to Budapest.]

En Route to Budapest.—I did not tire of the long day, though a worm could have crawled our way and won the blue ribbon. To think of a snail’s trot in comparison is to think of the snail as a schnellzug.

Every moment had its new interest. The trains we met, filled with happy, confident soldiers in new, fresh uniforms, their cars decorated with the Austrian and Hungarian colors and branches from pine trees, made my throat contract. Fine looking, healthy, frank-eyed, splendid fellows, all just at the early threshold of manhood.

With flowers in their military caps and songs upon their lips; with faith and confidence in the justice of their cause; with a love for all mankind, but convinced, like the first Christians, of the righteousness of their cause, they go joyfully into the hell of battle. The trains, long and lime splattered, which lay alongside to let us pass, or which pass us as we went, tell the next story.

The flowers, dried and faded, still remain in their mud-stained caps. Their eyes are sunken and haunted by the vision of the most frightful hell living man ever witnessed. Their lips have forgotten how to smile. Their bodies bear wounds. They are sore and filled with the pain of long days and endless nights in wet, cold, muddy trenches. Besides their frightful wounds, they have cholera, dysentery, typhoid and hollow coughs which rack them like the last cough of a consumptive.

Of ammunition and supplies there seems no scarcity. Long trains bearing cannons, blankets, wagons, ammunition never end. They are everywhere, on the rail and roads. When I got up at daylight we were running parallel with a road. The road was lined with wagons. I counted 500 and gave it up. When our train finally took a different course, I saw, quite a long while after, an end or part of that caravan winding between two hills.

Clocks Everywhere

I notice the clocks are going. I would know by this alone that we are out of Galicia. There are clocks everywhere in Galicia. On the walls, on tables, on stairways, on buildings. I even found one under my bed in Sanok. I am convinced the natives like the look of clocks. There must be something in the white face with its twelve Roman figures especially fascinating to them. Otherwise they would not buy them. For not a clock in all Galicia goes, not even the clocks in the stations.

. . . I forgot to say that Prince Croy’s train is Zug Lit D. It is one of six trains fitted out and maintained by the Knights of the Maltese Cross. They are independent of all other societies and their members maintain these trains.

Pleased the Kaiser

“We have made such a record,” said Prince Croy to me, “that the German emperor has asked us to establish a branch of our society in Germany.”

Wednesday.—Three soldiers died in Prince Croy’s train last night. Once the thought of three deaths on one’s train in one night would have been appalling, but here, where death is everywhere, where the sight of dead and dying men is as familiar to one as sparrows in New York, one gets hopeless, not heartless. It is like a scourge sweeping the world. One stands dumb, despairing, dry-eyed before the vastness of the misery.

Prince Croy fed us twice again from his splendid kitchen. Without him we should have had to exist on our biscuits. We stop continually, but not where we can obtain food. Indeed, the small, lime-covered stations we have passed are not inviting. There is nothing new. The day repeats yesterday.

Thursday.—I took my shoes off last night. My right shoe would not behave. With malicious deviltry it pinched my foot until in desperation I took both shoes off. I had my face washed this morning. The engine is the willing pump for the whole crowd. Colonel John brought me his rubber basin and showed me how to lift off the cushion and place the basin on the seat. The soap felt delicious.

We breakfasted in a station with a lot of officers who watched us with interest. We had tea with rum, rolls or light bread, the first I have seen in Europe, and two boiled eggs. One of mine was fresh. Some had worse luck, others better. Prince Croy lost two more soldiers by death last night. That is five out of 130.

Remarkable Recoveries

“I have had soldiers frightfully wounded,” Prince Croy told me, “who have made extraordinary recoveries. One man had three shots. One entered his forehead and came out at the back of his head. One entered the base of the head at the back and came out on the opposite side at the temple and one shot went through his leg. Five weeks after, when I went to see him, he jumped to his feet and saluted.

“I had another more horrible,” he continued. “A man had his entire lower jaw torn off with a shrapnel. His tongue hung out on his neck and chest. He had been five days in the trenches after receiving his wounds before the firing ceased long enough to let him be carried away. He was famished. We inserted a tube in his throat. He fought vigorously, as he thought it would hurt. But we insisted and poured soup into him. The moment he felt the soup in his stomach he made frantic motions for more. He was wild for food. We could not feed him enough. Now they are making a new jaw in the hospital and he is recovering.”

When Prince Croy was told how eagerly the poor fellow demanded more food, he laughed delightedly, showing how happy he felt to be able to give some comfort to the suffering.

Great strings of wild geese floating like worms in the sky mingle with the white clouds in the blue above us. Aeroplanes whose whizzing motors warn us of their approach long before they are visible come and go. We are left to speculate whether they are friend or foe. The strongest glass does not disclose their identity.

Many of the men carry alcohol lamps. They are always “cooking tea” as they express it. Some of them seem to be eternally eating. At one place we stopped a ragged, barefooted woman, with an old shawl wrapped around her head, stood watching our waiting train. Some of our party talked to her and finally persuaded her to go to the cluster of houses in the valley way below and get them some chickens. She returned after the long trip with four young broilers—pullets. She said they cost five kronen—one dollar. A man laid four kronen on the ground and grabbed the chickens. The woman protested. Either give back her chickens or give her five kronen. The man left her crying, took the chickens to the other side of the train and killed them.

Championed the Woman

The woman covered her face with her ragged shawl, crying. I had maintained a very careful attitude up to this moment, but here my sense of justice prevented my being silent. I went to the man protesting. “Either give the woman what she asks,” I said, “or give back her chickens.”

“She’s had enough,” he said, going on with his butchering.

“It is not right or fair,” I urged “If you don’t give her the right amount, now that you have killed her chickens, I shall pay her.”

“Give her another krone,” several other men advised. He would not, but his friend did. The woman kissed my hand. Several of the men threw pebbles at her and shooed her away. Down the valleyside she went, a forlorn, barefooted figure in a ragged, faded shawl.

The men had a great feast of chicken and rice. I made my dinner on five biscuits, postage stamp size. I could only eat chicken under some conditions. This was not one of them. At any rate, I was not invited to eat.

We have no light. It is dark at five. It gives me time to try to patch out a night’s rest on the slippery edge of my compartment seat.

(Source: Chronicling America,