Get me out of here!
We last left off with Paul, his unit and tens of thousands of other recently released Czech and Slovak POWs hopping on trains, well armed by the allies, and heading across Siberia towards the Eastern front of WWI, where they were to fight alongside the Russians. They travelled in unheated boxcars, 40 men to a car, squished in like sardines, with nothing much to sit or lie down on.
The food situation (this is a blog about food after all) was even worse. As a POW in Siberia, Paul and his fellow prisoners were served a bowl of soup, which was mainly water with a leaf in it, or sometimes a cockroach, but never meat. Occasionally they would get a piece of stale bread, and on Sundays, if they were lucky, a boiled potato. Once, a few POWs snuck into a horse barn and ate the leftover horse food – a bit of cabbage stems and rotten potatoes; it was a gourmet meal to the famished men. But on the trains, their diet consisted of mainly horrible watery gruel, although apparently they did have time to stop and make the occasional cup of tea.
As they made their way west across Siberia, the political situation in Russia continued to deteriorate. Russia had not been doing well in the war recently, and the general population was starting to protest about the lack of food, jobs and generally crappy living conditions. Earlier, the head of the Russian monarchy, the Czar, had decided to go lead the Russian army himself, leaving his wife, the Czarina, in charge of running the monarchy. She relied heavily on the Russian mystic Rasputin for help in running the country, not unlike Nancy Reagan consulting her astrologer for important matters in the US. Not surprisingly, people began to protest at the bizarre decisions the Czarina made.
When the people took to the streets in St. Petersburg to demand change, the Czar ordered the Army to shoot into the crowd, which they did reluctantly. The next day, the soldiers mutinied and joined the mob petitioning against the Czarist government, forming the Bolshevik movement. Soon after, the Czar and his family abdicated the thrown, and a temporary Provisional Government was formed.
The Germans quickly realized that this was their chance to get Russia out of the war, and so they arranged to secretly transport Vladimir Lenin out of exile in Switzerland and back to Russia. Once there, Lenin traveled to St. Petersburg and took control of the Bolshevik movement. He advocated for an end to Russian participation in the war and attempted to undermine the Provisional Government.
Before Paul and the former POWS, now officially named the Czechoslovak Legion, could reach the Eastern Front, it became clear that the situation there was no longer tenable, as large numbers of Russian troops had deserted their posts or simply refused to fight. Masaryk, Benes and Stefanik desperately tried to arrange a plan to evacuate the Legion through Archangel and ship them to France, where they could fight for the allies on the Western front.
Paul and the other former POWs were stuck camping out in towns alongside the railroad and in the boxcars on the trains, hungry, smelly and with no place to go, and waiting for someone to get them the hell out of there.