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Russian girls pledged to kill themselves if captured

By
W.G. SHEPHERD, United Press Staff Correspondent
Mareea Bothckareva, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and women of the Battalion of Death in 1917. Photo by Dorr, Rheta Louise Childe/Wikipedia
Mareea Bothckareva, Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and women of the Battalion of Death in 1917. Photo by Dorr, Rheta Louise Childe/Wikipedia

PETROGRAD, July 30, 1917 (UP) - Russia's women soldiers have pledged themselves to take their own lives rather than become German war prisoners.

Each woman soldier carries a ration of a deadly poison to be swallowed in event of capture. The members of the women regiments, now constantly increasing, agreed that death is to be preferred to the fate they would probably meet at the hands of the Germans.

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The "Legion of Death" fighters are "good killers." I learned this today when I talked to five of them, now in a hospital near here, suffering from shell shock.

From a woman's lips I heard how she had run a German through with her bayonet, firing the rifle at the same time.

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From others I have heard how these women and girls, fresh from comfortable homes and universities, went leaping over mangled, blood bodies in the charge with enemy shells bursting all about them.

But these harrowing experiences have steeled the women and hundreds of other girls to a new determination to see it through.

Girl soldiers drilling in the streets are now a common sight in Petrograd. Huge crowds gather daily about the Engineers School where 1,000 girls are preparing to go to the front.

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In Moscow 1,000 more are training, while Kiev and Odessa have smaller bands.

Premier Kerensky has also authorized formation of women marine detachments and has promised to assign them to ships.

The new women commands attempt no sort of decoration. Their heads are shaved and they wear the regulation uniform, including the heavy, ugly army boots.

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The five women fighters I visited at the hospital were particularly paralyzed by shell shock.

One of them, a peasant girl, smiled joyously as she pointed to a German helmet on the bed beside her. It was the first war prize of a Russian woman.

"I saw a German in front of me as I ran forward," this peasant girl told me. "It was his life or mine. I raised my rifle. I plunged with all my strength. I stabbed him. The bayonet went deep into his body. At the same moment I pulled the trigger. He dropped - dead. Then I took his hat as a souvenir."

Then she smiled again.

"What was the battle like?" I asked another.

"I was very nervous just before the charge," she replied. "Naturally, we were a little scared. But as soon as the orders to go forward came, we forgot everything else.

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"Our girls were yelling and shouting. None of us was afraid once we got started. We were in the midst of a great fusillade of shots. Then terrific big shells began breaking all around us.

"We were again frightened a little when we first saw dead men about. But before very long we were jumping over bloody corpses and we quickly forgot all about them."

"We couldn't tell what was going on anywhere," said another girl in describing the final stages of the battle.

"Commander Bochkoreva was everywhere in our midst, urging us to fight and die like real Russian soldiers."

Then the girl told how the legion took its first prisoners.

"As we ran forward we suddenly came upon a bunch of Germans immediately ahead of us. It was only a second until we were all around them. They saw they were caught and threw down their rifles, holding up their hands.

"Women!" they exclaimed.

"We saw wounded German soldiers raising themselves on their elbows and shooting," interjected another wounded girl. "We just forgot ourselves entirely.

"The loss of Lena, the most popular member of our company, was keenly felt by all of us," she added soberly.

"Lena heard that Commander Bochkoreva had been killed. She hurried forward into the shell and fire saying she was going to find her." As Lena went through an area strewn with exploding shells, "we saw her blown to fragments," she said.

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"We also lost Sonia. She used to be a musician with the Romanoff concert organization. She was killed by machine gun fire."

Petrograd has not yet seen the full casualty list. From what the girls say, however, it appears that at least a dozen big shells struck square in their midst, killing perhaps 12 girls and wounding twice as many.

Five of the German prisoners the girls captured were women, wearing the German soldiers' uniform.

The number of women in all armies on the eastern front is believed to be growing steadily.

Mrs. Pankhurst, the British suffragist leader, thinks it is only natural that this should occur.

"The Russian women," she said today, "are stepping into the breach as women always do when men need them."

As I returned from the hospital where I saw the paralyzed girls, I met a new company of women marching briskly through the street, ready for the firing line.

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