THE LAST DAYS OF AUSTRIA
Military Chaplain Rev. Vjenceslav Vukonić, OFM
Written exclusively for the 1930 edition of Our Hope Croatian Almanac. Croatian Catholic Union U.S.A. Pages 117-138
Republished on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.
Prepared and translated by Duško Čondić and Ante Čuvalo.
IZ “ZADNJIH DANA AUSTRIJE”
Piše: Rev. Vjenceslav Vukonić (vojni kapelan u ratu)
(Naročito i isključivo za Kalendar N. N.)
Objavljeno u: Naša Nada Kalendar za američke katoličke Hrvate za opću godinu 1930.
Hrvatska katolička zajednica U.S.A. Amerike; uredio ga Rev. Mijo Đuro Domladovac.
Tiskara: Ameriška Domovina, Cleveland. st. 117-138.
Priredio Ante Čuvalo za ponovnu objavu prigodom 100. obljetnice početka Prvog svjetskog rata.
THE LAST DAYS OF AUSTRIA
Military Chaplain Rev. Vjenceslav Vukonić, OFM
Written exclusively for the 1930 edition of Our Hope Croatian Almanac. Croatian Catholic Union U.S.A. Pages 117-138
Republished on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.
Prepared and translated by Duško Čondić and Ante Čuvalo.
With hearts at rest, we departed Branzola in the Tyrol and set forth for the Italian front. Aware of the revolution that was brewing in my regiment, the 116th, the High Command assured us that we would be the ultimate reserve force for General Borojević.* Their thinking was: “The main thing is that we get them to the line of fire—then we’ll see who will deliver them from our hands!”
26 October 1918 — They transported us in cattle-cars to Rorail il Grande, not far from Piave. We settled in as best we knew how. I was ordered to say Sunday mass the next day, and to remind the troops of the sanctity of the oath they swore, and of their need to be fearless in battle.
That was a loathsome order for me to execute. I knew the frame of mind of the reserve forces that we received from Bačka and Banat. They were mostly Serbs released from prisoner-of-war camps in Russia—and Bolsheviks to boot. I thought long and hard as to how I would carry out the strict orders issued to me without my offending the higher or the lower ranks as a Catholic priest.
Following a two-day journey, I spent the night at the local priest’s house. I barely fell asleep when something suddenly woke me. At first, I did not know if it was thunder, some sort of rumble, or an earthquake. I cocked my ears. “Ah, so this is it,” I thought. The alarm was sounded—the call to war. I must get up—no other choice. I approached the soldiers. I asked them, “What’s up?” “Who the Devil knows!” they answered. “It doesn’t bode well—their calling us to the slaughterhouse!”
Trains awaited us at the station. We looked to see in what direction the locomotives were pointed so as to determine where they were to take us. Where else, if not to the slaughterhouse!? The soldiers looked broodingly at each other. Some whispered, while others spoke loudly and with obvious bellicosity. They saw that they were deceived: supposedly to be the last reserve to be called, they now saw they were the first. We sat in the cattle-cars. There are no army jokes to be heard; there is no happy-talk; even less, there is no singing. Like oxen, they peer at the ground and mutter indecipherable comments toward each other…
We arrived at Sacile around noontime. The soldiers jumped from the boxcars eager to quench the fever of anticipation with cold water. Italian airplanes appear above the train station and began to drop deadly missiles. The soldiers scramble into the boxcars, grab their weapons, and emerge shooting at the planes the whole while spewing heavy curses at the entire military apparatus.
We disembarked in Vittorio Veneto. After a whole day passed, we were given some miserable army rations. Food was the last thing on our minds. The awful sound of cannon-fire from Piave ruined our appetites. With our heads hung low, we thought of our dear-ones in the Homeland—one’s whom we might not see again.
We left Vittoria for Ceneda. Everything we needed for the offensive arrived. The soldiers quietly accept gun ammunition and the hand grenades. They wink at each other and one can notice a hint of a smile on their lips.
28 October 1918 — The order to advance was given at 9 o’clock at night. Silently, the soldiers form their files. We advanced further, that is, toward the front. Silence! Dead silence! Except for the sound of marching soldiers and cannon fire that was louder by the moment, no sound is heard but for the sound of the heavy beating of a wounded heart. I galloped ahead in front of the Oberst (Colonel). The road led uphill. The ground beneath us shook all the more. Limbs quake because it is awful when one of the lines of fire is resolved only to enter into a new line of fire. Hearts stiffen for you see that you are dying for someone who is foreign to you—one who openly tells you that Austria still has enough trees left to hang all disloyal Slavs. The soul rebels, for it is hard to depart this world—even if it brings little satisfaction.
All of a sudden, a loud voice from the regiment is heard: “Retreat, retreat!” It is as though a bitter lance pierces my heart. I sensed what was happening… the Oberst turns his horse around toward the loud voice. The Regiment is at a standstill. The Oberst yells: “Who gave the order to retreat?” Another voice, louder than the first, yelled, “Retreat, retreat!” The Oberst asked even more brusquely “Who is it that is yelling retreat?” In stead of one voice, ten more yelled: “Retreat, retreat!—that is our wish that is our order!”
The Oberst, sword withdrawn, bellows: “Fine, those that do not wish to do battle, let them withdraw.” Hesitation… All stare into the darkness wondering what will happen. Two men leave the ranks… then six… then twenty revolutionaries. They hold their weapons in hand and their eyes flash like those of a tiger. I wonder who these brave revolutionaries are… Who?…Those from whom I would least expect it—the Bosnians with heads crowned with fezzes.
The Oberst bellows: “Fine! You can head for home. Meanwhile, you loyal soldiers will advance for your Emperor!” He issues the order to advance. The company of men starts to advance when the revolutionaries begin to shout: “You good for nothings! Didn’t we agree that we would not fight? What about your word of honor?” Glances back and forth commenced… sheer agitation. Croatian after Croatian leave their ranks and step off to the side of the road.
The Commander is sick at heart. He would gun them down to the last if he wasn’t worried about his own head. He knew that one wrong word would instantly dig his own grave.
He stood silent. The Oberst knew me as a “Yugoslav.” He knew that I most liked to socialize with the Slavic officers that were in our regiment. He denounced me for having celebrated the fall of Bulgaria in a restaurant in Branzola—which of course also announced the impending fall of Austria. He knew about my celebration with a Germanized Serbian lieutenant colonel that was stripped of his rank and reduced to no more than an ordinary soldier. He peered at me. Not a peep from me. I lowered my eyes. No joke here… my head hung by a thin thread. I really heard that Croatia was declaring independence from Austro-Hungary. What if Croatia does not succeed in its exploits? What if the soldiers rat me out… that I colluded with them… that I quietly urged them on in their revolutionary course?…I must say that I was sick at heart… and, if I lose my head—well!…I can’t exactly change it for a new one in some butcher shop, can I?
“Go back!” said the Oberst. The Hungarians truly tried to confound the Croatian plan; however, when they saw the Croatian majority standing before them, they, too, fell into rank-file, and in the dead of night, turned their backs to death.
By early dawn, we arrived at Villa di Villa—some baronial village. War! My God…to see that beautiful village… once resplendent with temperate-zone flowers… and now plowed under to serve as any army latrine. The flowers were trodden over… the village transmuted to near ruin. Even a barbarian would feel a twinge in his soul. The village was so large that it easily was able to accommodate my entire revolutionary regiment.
Did we sleep? I don’t think so. Something or other played on each of us… the Officers for having lost the fight—and their honor… the soldiers for not knowing what the consequences of their move would be. Should, by chance, a few loyal regiments come on the scene and surround them—the rebels—what then? My soldiers were prepared—come what may. They did not put down their arms, nor did they abandon their grenades. The most vociferous rebels were put on guard-duty… to live or die.
Our “feldvebels”—the Slavonians, played their role splendidly. They were our pillars and our hope since most of the officers were either Hungarians or Germans. After a short and anxious rest, I went off into the garden. The “Feldvebels” were on guard. I approach them and ask: “What is the mood among the soldiers?” “Excellent!” they replied. “Will they become frightened and surrender?” “Have no fear! They will not!”
My heart was relieved… my fate was tied to that of the soldiers. I went farther. A soldier from my regiment stood guard at the north-east sector. He was from the area of Brod na Savi. I wanted to know what his disposition and thinking was. I asked him: “Young man, what happened last night?” “What?” he answered quite angrily. “Hasn’t enough blood been spilt? I have eight hungry kids at home… who’s looking out for them…and I should lose my life… for a foreign King?…And, beside, look at this!” He showed me his elbow that broke through his jacket. “Look at this,” he said, as he turned his behind toward me to show me how worn his pants were. “Look at my shoes!” His bare feet were hanging half out of them. “For whom and for what should I fight?” He peered at me with wild eyes not knowing that I, too, was on his side.
“Soldier, I, too, am on your side! I don’t think I’m being a spy… but tell me, will all of you—without exception—stick to your intent?” “Yes, we will—so help me God…I will not go to the front-lines… let them do with me what they will.”
I convinced myself that the situation was good… it was like a heavy stone had fallen from my chest. I entered the manor house and spied a piano. I sat at the piano and began to play some happy, Slavonian drinking songs not suspecting that I might be hurting anyone’s feelings. Not even five minutes passed. The door opened suddenly and the Commandant entered the room. He was a Bohemian German who was more than six feet tall. He raised his fist, struck the piano, and yelled at me like a mad man: “What!…you, a Catholic priest… you, a sworn military chaplain… instead of weeping over the unfolding events… where your very own regiment rejects obedience to the King… instead, you sit there joyfully singing! Off with you!…don’t worry, we’ll see each other again!”
It was like some worm had wound itself around my heart! I would have responded to him Croatian-style, but, what then? Crestfallen, I said: “Excuse me, I meant no harm. I spotted the piano, and without further thought, my fingers hit the keyboard!” With that, he was gone.
Mealtime arrived… I don’t know why, but I was late. I entered the temporary mess hall. All the officers were seated and having their meal. My usual place was third closest to the Commander. I could see that all the places at the head of the table were taken. I looked at the lower end of the table… again, no place for me. I thought to myself, “What should I do? Should I exit the mess not having eaten?… and let the Germans feast?” My blood began to boil. I grabbed a chair from one of the corners, and sat at the very end of the table. There was no plate, no bread, no wine for me… as there was for the others. I grabbed a table knife from one of the Czech lieutenants and struck it against his drinking glass. The orderly appeared. I asked him: “And, where is my place? Where is my food, my wine?”
He responded: “Reverend, I am forbidden to bring you anything.” “What do you mean?” I responded with vexation… loudly enough so as to be heard by the Commander and the rest of the Germans. “Doesn’t Croatia also contribute to this table?” The poor soldier stood stiff not knowing himself what to do.
“Reverend, just quite down… and you, soldier, be on your way,” said the good Czech lieutenant that was seated next to me. “You will have everything you need!” Three Czech officers, a Slovak officer, and a Polish officer sat at the bottom end of the table. Each of them took a piece of bread and placed it before me. Each gave up their meal for my sake. All of a sudden, five bottles of wine stood before me. I began to chatter trivially to show the Germans that I am not afraid of them.
Near the end of the meal, the Commander struck his plate with his knife and sought silence. He sent a Captain to place a guard outside the refectory. He then began to speak with a serious and sad tone of voice: “Gentlemen, all of you are witnesses to the shame that took place last night in our regiment. As far as I can tell, aside from the 33rd Czech regiment, our 116th regiment undertook a revolutionary step and withdrew its obedience to His Majesty, our ruler. Order… order must be established and we must force our army to yield to the will of our Emperor and to head for the battlefield. In that name, I ask the Reverend Field-Chaplain Vukonić to fulfill his priestly duty and to deliver a severe rebuke to the regiment!”
“Commander!,” I said, leaping to my feet and with agitation in my voice, “Field-Chaplain Vukonić will not speak to the rebel army! I do not have a sword. I do not have a revolver, as do you. If you wish to restore order in the regiment, please, do so with your sword and your revolver!”
“What! You dare speak to your Commander like that?”
“Yes! And, I repeat, I will not speak!”
“We will see about that,” said the Commander. I laughed at him. He clearly did not know the disposition of my regiment.
The Commander turned to a Captain who happened to be from Senj, as well as to Captains who were Hungarian and Romanian. He ordered them to gather the entire regiment, and, if possible, to disarm them. They were to separate the men by nationality and each of them was to address them in their own tongue so as to force them to their old mode of obedience.
Disloyally, after a half-hour, we arose and left the mess-hall and entered the courtyard. The gathered regiment awaited us. With troubled thought, I wondered what the frightened men would do. Will they submit, or will they stand firm to their intent? And, then what? What will become of the instigators?
The men wait in the courtyard grouped by nationality. Croatians and Serbs were the most numerous among them. They stood as the right wing, the Hungarians as the central wing, and the Romanians as the left wing. Three empty barrels were brought up from the basement. Each of the chosen Officers will deliver his “sermon” to his ethnic group standing on a barrel. I placed myself behind all the Officers near the wall and waited with heavy heart for the entire affair to unfold. I especially focused on my fellow Croatians for my life or death depended upon them. They were tense and filled with some sort of wild look which seemed to me to be either fear or despair. Their hand grenades hung around their waists while their bullet clips hung across their chests. Each of them held their loyal comrade—their rifle. Vain was the attempt to disarm them! They refused to surrender either guns or munitions… the entire desperate affair depended on them.
Some Captain from Senj climbed onto one of the barrels. He yelled long and hard with the hope of having them come to their senses. He then began to read the Military Code of Behavior—specifically the part about disobedience and uprising. He threatened them by telling them that whosoever does this or that will be place before the firing squad or hung by the neck… and, their families will suffer the consequences of the deed as well!
Upon finishing his reading of the Military Code, he lowered his head and asked the Croatians: “Brother Croatians, did you hear me?” “Yes, we did!” “Did you understand?” he continued. “Yes, we did!” they shouted with determination. “And, will you be good?” “We will!” He thought to himself: “It’s all over! They are frightened!”
And, what sort of punishment is to follow… punishment that awaits me and them?…A wild anger arose within my soul following his last question. The Captain proceeded to say: “Brother Croatians, now that you are ok, we’ll proceed to the front lines.” “We won’t, we won’t! Never again!” shouted the Croatians with a deafening roar. I felt relief. The Captain stepped off his “pulpit” filled with embarrassment and defeat. He knew what awaited him as a Germanized Croatian. Flames were shooting from the General’s eyes as he looked at the Croatian soldiers with contempt. If only he had the power…. his German soul would soar but for the fact that the Croatians stood before him with loaded guns…
A Hungarian was next to step on top of his barrel. I studied some thirteen languages in my lifetime, but I did not wish to learn so much as a word in the Magyar tongue. As a result, I did not know what he was saying. The same comedy will ensue. I understood this much: after he completed reading his citations and his speech, he began to pose questions to them. Their response was: “Igen, igen!” It was a signal that they wished to fight for Hungary so that what once happened to her would not happen again.
The Hungarian descended his barrel and the Romanian stepped onto his own. It was clear that he, as a Romanian who despised the Hungarians, was not speaking out of conviction but by force. He was soft-spoken. Upon finishing, he thrice placed a question to the Romanian soldiers. What it was that he asked, I don’t know. I only know that a small group responded with “Yes!” while the majority was silent.
And now what? The Oberst approached the Hungarians and said: “Fine. The Croatians and the majority of the Romanians do not wish to fight. You Hungarians, fall into file. We will fulfill our oath of allegiance to our Emperor, Karl!” I don’t think there were more than a hundred or so Hungarians. They placed their rifles on their shoulders and were prepared to depart. At that moment, it seemed as though all the Croatians thought with a single mind. Led by some “feldvebel” from Slavonia, they aimed their rifles at the Hungarians and shouted: “Either share our fate or else lay down your arms!” The Hungarians were frightened. They dropped their guns and gave us their solemn word that they would go along with us.
I learned somewhat later that the Oberst had sent a telegram to General Borojević informing him that his regiment had rebelled and that he had received a response from Borojević saying: “Move your regiment to the border. A loyal regiment will await them.”… Set on revenge, the Oberst set out for the border without knowing what was taking place in the hinterland, namely, that Croatia already declared itself to be independent of Austria and Hungary, and had issued orders that we return to our homeland.
At the very moment when we were departing the village, the 78th Regiment from Osijek and the 16th from Bjelovar marched by us. Prior to the revolution, we repeatedly urged them to cease shedding their Croatian blood for a foreigner and that they return to the homeland. Indeed! Who could change their mind! Forced by a greater power, they had to leave the front and shamefacedly retreat. We departed together, but at a later point, we parted company. It seems to me that they headed toward the East while we were destined to head in a northerly direction toward the first mountain range.
We marched with joy and satisfaction—as though we were coming from a wedding feast. It was no joke. Some of us had served the entire length of the war. They had seen all possible fronts. They had had their fill of gunpowder and cannon-powder dust. They had been wounded. They had seen all sorts of horrors to the point were they were sick of it by now… even if one had the chance to endlessly drink wine for five years and to go from feast to feast, one would soon get sick and tired of it as well—much less, look at all the horrors of war, the wounds, the agonizing deaths all those years. I am not surprised that such a soldier was without faith in the last days of the war. Dozens and dozens said to me: “I, and my family, constantly paid Masses, and, the more we prayed, the longer the war lasted!”…
We sang as we marched while the Commandant bared his teeth. The Front was ever-farther behind us. The sound of cannon fire diminished with each of our steps. With each meter that we advanced, we were that much closer to our homeland—to our dear ones that longed to see us again.
All of a sudden, the singing ceased. A loud voice was heard among the soldiers: “Look, brothers! There to the South!” We stopped and looked to the South. Sacile lay before us. A huge Austrian military storage depot located there—filled with food, shoes, and uniforms. It was all wildly ablaze with fire. “The German and Hungarian bastards!… Here we are, hungry, shoeless and in tatters… there were enough provisions in that depot to have kept us supplied for three years… and the bastards kept us hungry and naked.
After some eight hours of hiking, we arrived at some mountain side place around ten at night. Hungry as wolves, the soldiers attacked the mess wagon. They emptied it of food in a flash. Fortunately, I know Italian, and the mountain folk are all good Catholics. I knocked at a door where I saw a light burning. (Lights were to be seen all around inasmuch as the mountain folk were surprised by our night-time march into their village.) When I explained in Italian to the household that I was hungry and that I am a priest, the poor things set forth all that they had. In fact, even wine was not a scarcity. We talked, smoked, and drank late into the night. Even though I was assigned an abandoned house as my sleeping quarters for the night, I preferred to sit at the fireside in good company. The entire house rejoiced when I told them that in a day or two, their soldiers would be coming home, and that the hated Austrian yoke would fall from their shoulders, once and for all.
We set out again in the morning. We descended into the plain toward the main road which leads into Udine. We could see that many of the troops passed us through the night. Up the road, by the side of the road, and on the road itself lay the remainder of transport vehicles, cannons, munitions, and an occasional dead soldier. We wondered why and from whence dead soldiers at this point. The question was answered once we arrived in Rorail il Grande. That was about noontime. Like flies, Italian airplanes began to traverse over our heads. Mercilessly, they began to shower us with bombs, grenades, and shrapnel. A panic ensued. The soldiers scattered hither and yon desiring to save their lives for sake of their homeland. The vile Italians! They really demonstrated that they are heroes, didn’t they? While we faced them at the front lines, they were as timorous as mice… and now that we left the battlefield of our own accord—sparing their lives—they wish to show that they are fearless heroes—to show how many Austrians they had killed in the last offensive. My heart ached at such impudence. If I had the authority, I would have destroyed them all. I was now sorry that I acted as a brother to their fellow soldiers while on the front-lines. This is how they repay us! I could have taken cover, but I chose not to. I asked a passing soldier to let me have his loaded gun. I began to shoot at the planes. It is true, others shot at them as well. All of a sudden, one of the planes began to fall. It hit the ground, smashed in pieces, and along with it, three Italian “heroes” died. What good did that do?… Unfortunately, it fell next to our mess-wagon. The horses were frightened by its fall and somehow managed to drag a huge kettle filled with food ready to eat. Luckily, the parish house was not far from here, and, I knew the pastor from before. He received me with open arms, and fed me generously—especially when he heard what had happened.
My regiment was decommissioned at this point. I regret the company of some five or six soldiers in my regiment… for the last five years, their head was in a sling, but they were spared, and now that they were at their country’s doorstep, they lay dead because of the barbarity of the Italians. The rest of my regiment scattered here and there, and the first train they were able to board, they set off for the homeland. I, too, was able to depart, but I loved the soldiers of my regiment so much, I could not leave them yet.
31 October 1918 — We arrived at Tagliamento. Our path was rough. Kilometers distant from the sea, we encountered sand… and everyone knows how difficult it is to march through sand. Suddenly, I saw two foreign officers marching in front of me. How did they find themselves there? Who forgot them a few days back? I simply could not know. I knew a few words of English at the time. I knew enough to ask a question or two, but I couldn’t understand a damn word they said. The result was that I needlessly embarrassed myself. They managed to understand when I told them the war was ended. They paused a moment, and, turned around in the twilight.
About nine o’clock in the evening, we arrived at Cisterna… tired and hungry. I asked were the quartermaster had found lodgings for me. I was told to go to an inn, number such and such. I took a servant with me and set off for the house. A poor widow was just starting to bake some potatoes for her children’s supper. I gave her half of my rations and went up to my room. I opened the door and to my surprise, some Viennese lieutenant was already asleep. I squeezed into the same bed and fell asleep. All of a sudden, the light went on, and I saw a German lieutenant-colonel before me. As though he were the Kaiser, he woke me and demanded that I get out of the bed. The bed, he said was his, not mine. I defended my right at length and said that the space was reserved for me and that I would not get out of bed at midnight. When he began to heavily insult me, I angrily said: “Get lost! The German era is gone!” He turned, and swearing profusely at me, left the room. I knew German impudence only too well. I went to the store-room where the servant slept and ordered him not to open the door for anyone including the Kaiser himself. I wasn’t mistaken. Half and hour later, someone was again at the door. He began to bang and holler demanding that we open the door. My fellow bed-mate was also angry by now. We agreed that we would use force, if necessary, to stop such brazenness. I went to the window and asked: “Who is it, and what do you want at this time of night?” “It’s me,” answered the German. “What do you want?” He responded: “The Commandant ordered me to evict you from this house!” I responded: “Go to your Commandant and tell him that Field-Chaplain Vukonić will not leave this house.” “We’ll see, we’ll see!” said the German as he left.
The next morning was All Saints Day. A military Mass was scheduled for eight o’clock in the morning. As I walked down the sidewalk to the Church, the Commandant was waiting for me. He approached me, looked me up and down, and said in tremulous voice: “And what was last night all about?” “You know full well what it was about!” I responded. “Your orders no longer are valid for me… a German is no longer my master!” Word after word, we both said a mouthful. Nothing more was left for the Commandant to do but to shut up and leave. He feared the already enraged soldiers.
I gave my last sermon to the soldiers during the mass. I told them: “I am speaking to you for the last time today. However, I am speaking to you as your military chaplain—I am speaking to you as a priest, and as your friend. I know that we no longer have a master over us. We are now free citizens. I beseech you as free citizens that you not maltreat the poor you encounter along the way. Do not engage in plunder. Respect the poor. Set out for the homeland in unity. Our regiment has enough food. I travel with you as your friend—one to whom you have always shown respect. I hope that you will heed my words during the entire way home!”
Around noontime, I received a letter from the German Lieutenant Colonel—the one from whom I did not back down last night while in bed. He summoned me to court for having offended him, an officer—nothing less than a duel. Who is it that would not find the German to be amusing? “We’ll see about that,” I thought to myself. I responded to his letter and told him that we would meet at two o’clock in the main square, and that we would decide on choice of weapons at that time. In the meantime, I approached my fellow Croatians and we agreed that we would all meet at the duel site. I and some fifty armed soldiers went to the site at the agreed upon time. The entire German corps and all their officers were waiting—to serve as his best men, I suppose. Naturally, the Commandant did not fail to show up as well. We met eye to eye. “Kraut!,” I said to him, “you not only are no longer a Lieutenant Colonel—you are not even a man. What do you want from me?” He remained silent like a piece of stone. Meanwhile, one of the Croatians dashed before him and gave him a smart crack in the head. When the Krauts saw this, they all scattered fearing even worse at the hands of the Croatians.
2 November 1918 — We departed Cisterna and set out through the most beautiful sections of upper Italy in Bottenico. All of the officers were offered lodgings by a Baron named Nicolo de Claricini-Dornpacher. It seems to me that he was of German heritage inasmuch as he spoke perfect German. He received us gallantly and put his storerooms at our disposal. Of course, I did not know if he did so out of sorrow at Austria’s loss or out of joy because the Italian army was approaching. He asked that I keep in touch with him from time to time. I promised that I would, but, I must say that I failed to do so since I have an aversion to all that reminds me of Italy.
3 November 1918 — We proceeded onward towards Udine. I rode in a wagon with a rather nice and quite sort of German Czech. When we entered Udine, there was not a soul to be seen. It was the site of an Austrian Garrison, yet no soldier was to be seen. All the storerooms were wide open—flour, barrels of wine, and barrels of whisky were to be found on the street. We stopped for a while on the main square where I took note of the huge, shameful statues. I saw no one except for a woman in the entire city—and she quickly hid from us upon spying us.
As you leave the city, there is quite a sight to see. Hundreds of soldiers drunk as a rotten cork. It was the soldiers themselves that had broken into the store houses. They ate and drank to their fill, fortified for the long journey across the Alps. Already drunk, each of them turned a thirty or forty liter barrel of liquor or brandy on its side and drank to their fill. I could not but be amused at the sight. They wove from side to side down the street. They would fall and hit their head and split the barrel asunder, nonetheless, they would rise again and continue onward with their barrel on their shoulders once again. Blood ran from their broken heads, and booze spilt from their barrel. They were wet to the bone from the dripping whiskey and brandy. I wonder if any of these arrived safely home.
I noticed a sight that disgusted me as we approached a ramp at a railroad crossing. Two young Italian girls—forced by hunger—entered the town after they saw that the army had departed. They managed to find some flour somewhere. They intended to head home when they were stopped by the drunken soldiers. Four of them lunged at them—supposedly to avenge the theft of flour—but actually, to satisfy their base instincts. I ordered the coachman to stop and asked my fellow-traveler to give me his revolver.
“Why?” he asked. “Don’t you see what those swine are attempting to do to those innocent girls? Please, give me your gun!” Exactly what I would have done to those dirty swine, I don’t know, but at least, I would have scared them off and saved those poor girls. My companion saw that the jig was up as far as I was concerned. “No, you won’t be the one to give them hell, I will!” He jumped from the coach, brandishing his revolver as he approached them. The drunken soldiers stood and looked at him for a moment and when they realized the jig was up, they stopped tormenting the girls. We stayed behind for about a half hour waiting for the drunken sots to distance themselves. In the meantime, the girls ran off toward their homes.
It had to be one of the most gruesome sights that I was to come upon immediately following this incident. In a ditch alongside a hill, some sixty dead soldiers lay in a heap. Their bodies already assumed the black color of death. I was told that they had died of alcohol poisoning and simply left their bodies where they dropped—an unforeseen gift for the crows. I could still see a bottle or two or even a barrel next to some of them, while the remainder of the liquor was picked up by passing soldiers so as to quench their thirst.
We passed through the abandoned town of Cividale about four-thirty that afternoon. My God! What horror! What barbarity! They soldiers destroyed and cast out everything they laid their hands on as they passed through the town. The road before us was, in fact, blocked by all the beds and household furniture the soldiers had left behind.
We rested a while somewhat beyond Cividale near the border of the Venetian Slovenians. I noticed a pretty, young and somewhat bashful girl approaching. I knew she had to be a Venetian Slovenian based on her Slavic look. I had the urge to “tease” her a bit, to see how she would react. Naturally, she didn’t know that I was a priest—or that I just wished to joke a bit. She herself gave me occasion to approach her. She found a rather large picture book in Cividale and decided to take it home—as a souvenir of Austria, I suppose. She came a bit closer and immediately lowered her eyes. “Halt!” I shouted and began to yell at her in German as a joke. “Where did you steal that book?” The poor thing went white with fear and began to tremble. She looked at me piteously as tears began to roll from fear. I could see that she didn’t understand me yet, she knew that I was a threat. I asked in Italian what it was that she had stolen. To my surprise, she could not answer in Italian even though she had been born under the Italian Crown. I broke out in a smile. “You are a Slovenian, aren’t you?” “Yes, I am.” she responded hesitatingly. “Don’t you speak Italian?” She responded: “Very little.” “Don’t be afraid, child, I was only joking with you. Show me what you have and where you found it.” “I found it by the wayside,” she responded. I examined the book. It was some sort of history of the Austrian Court. I spent a bit of time with her and asked her where the Venetian Slovenians were settled. “There, just beyond the bridge,” she responded. “And, are you a Yugoslav?” “Yes Sir, I am. We are now all Yugoslavs. It is a year since the Austrians occupied our area. Everything is Slovenian in our schools. W e all wish to be united to a Greater Yugoslavia!”
I mounted my horse again. People at a distance heard me speak Slovenian and began to gather around me extending their hands in handshake toward me. “Sir, don’t leave us. We are all Slovenians and wish to find ourselves united with our brothers under the Yugoslav flag!”
Actually, it was a Sunday. People were just coming from Vesper services. I dismounted my horse and approached a rather nice church dedicated to St. Peter so as to greet the pastor. He was a handsome old man, a true Slovenian. He forced me to stop at his house once he learned that I was Croatian and set out everything he could before me. Those few minutes that I spent with him will remain in my heart until my dying day.
We set out from there toward Lasic where we were to spend the night. I met up with men and women along the way. I greeted them in Slovenian and they waved their hands and hankies in response. All the while, they shouted: “Long live Yugoslavia!” Upon entering Lasič, we encountered a rather large and strong-looking man who, clearly, was eyeing us. He looked at us like a cat might do. I knew he had to be a Slovenian and shouted: “Long live Slovenia, long live Yugoslavia!” There was no response from him. By chance, the Pastor in Lasič happened to be there. He said: “That is our refuse. He knows Slovenian, but you can’t get as much as a word of Slovenian from him.” I spent the night in the pastor’s house. I talked politics with him for a long time, but it was clear that the Italian influence had acted on his character. He truly felt himself to be a Slovenian, but did not wish that the Venetian Slovenians should come under the rule of Yugoslavia because Yugoslavia would always be hungry as was Austria. “I would wish that at least another half-million Slovenians would become part of us so that we could be stronger,” he said. His wish was, in fact, fulfilled. They did not become a part of us. Some 700,000 of our people fell under the rule of Italy, only to drown in the sea known as Italy.
The elderly father of the pastor, a seventy-six year old tall man with grey hair, joined in on our conversation. His stance belied his years. After having listened to our conversation for a long while, he finally spoke and said: “My dear Reverend, everyone here will soon lose their national identity. At one time there was a strong sense of awareness of their Slovenian national identity to our west, but now one can’t hear so much as a single word of Slovenian! Yes, let the Italians teach our young that it was bad for us under the Austrians. That simply is not true. I loved Austria because all of us Slovenians were at least together. In 1866 I gladly served at the front in Vis against Italy. I would sooner that the sea had swallowed me up than to be in the position that we are now in!”
Early on at dawn, on the name day of Emperor Karl, news arrived that the Italian Cavalry was approaching so as to capture us as prisoners. We were told that half of the 78th Osijek Regiment was captured through deceit so that the Italians might boast of the thousands of Austrian soldiers they had captured as prisoners of war in their last offensive. I was unable to say mass. We rounded ourselves and set off toward our own border. We climbed ever higher and God’s great sun baked us nicely. We stopped to rest about 10 o’clock. I rode up to the Commandant who was sitting on a bolder. His downcast head lay heavy on his knees. He was weeping. It was the first time I had seen a high-ranking officer weep. I dismounted my horse, and with a bit of spite—God forgive me—I intended to laugh at him. He raised his head, gazed at me, and said: “Reverend, easy for you. And, what am I supposed to do now? I sense that Austria is falling apart. If it fails, what am I to do? You are a priest. You will earn you daily bread by means of your Chalice. And me?” He wasn’t exactly good to me as we retreated, but I must confess, I felt sorry for him. I sensed that the same fate would befall him that befell other officers of the now defeated Austria: they simply will have to endure hunger following the war. Nonetheless, I thought to myself: “Austria, Austria, you evil stepmother. That which you threatened against the Slavs will now befall you! Why didn’t you grant freedom to your peoples? Instead, you always sought to divide the Slavs against each other—to keep them in bondage!”
Around 11:30 that morning, we arrived at the renowned Kobarit (Caporeto) where the Italians had suffered a fierce defeat. All around us lay the wreckage of war. The place simply was wiped from the face of the earth. While we were contemplating the destruction of war, we could hear music at a distance. The Italian prisoners of war heard news of the fall of Austria and the Slovenians released them to return to their homes. I don’t know where they managed to find musical instruments. Six Italians marched home from their prison camp all the while singing. As they approached us and saw the great beasts—the Austrian officers—before them, they ceased to play. I greeted them in Italian and asked them to play something for us. The Commandant had only begun to understand what I had asked when the men began to play. In a fit of anger, he removed his sword from its scabbard and set forth toward them. In a flash, they disappeared downhill. With contempt, he looked at me and said: “I never dreamed that an Austrian military chaplain would have so little regard for his homeland.”
We entered Kobarit around noon. So long as my feet allow me to travel the earth, I will not soon forget that beautiful sight. The road to Kobarit led through a clearing in the hillside. Through the clearing we could see a great triumphal arch and a Yugoslav flag beyond it. Croatian, Serbian, and Slovenian flags were unfurled around it. A long time had passed since I had seen those flags unfurled. I must say that I almost lost my breath because of joy that was indescribable. I stopped a moment and, quite spontaneously repeated the inscription on the triumphal arch: Long live Yugoslavia!
I just barely began to believe that we ceased to be Austrian servants as I stood before that triumphal arch—that the longed-for freedom had finally dawned. And, even though we later realized that we were deceived in our enthusiasm for Yugoslavia inasmuch as it did not unfold as we envisioned it in our dreams, nonetheless, as far as I am concerned, I say to all: “Yugoslavia is a hundred times dearer to me than Austria could ever be. And, whoever longs for the old Austria let him go to Austria—and the same holds for the Bolsheviks—let them god to Russia!”
I went silent at the sight of our flags. At that moment, I was prepared to give my life on the altar of our homeland—as I will prove a bit later.
Having seen the symbols of a free Yugoslavia before them, the Germans sensed that something was afoot. Hence, as we arrived at the outskirts of Kobarit, the Commandant issued strict orders that no one was enter the place without his express approval. So as to make us obligated to him, he ordered the cook to issue double portions to all the men.
I could care less for these Egyptian pots. I left my horse and baggage behind and set off for the place. I encountered my division Pastor, a Slovenian from Opčine above Trst, and asked him to accompany me. “What,” he said, “didn’t you hear that it is forbidden to do distance oneself from the regiment without the express approval of the Commandant?” I waved my hand in his face as a sign of contempt, and set off for the place. When I arrived, I saw the streets were filled with well wishers. I can’t imagine from whence they gathered so many Slovenian girls. Each was dressed in white and had a basket filled with Yugoslav emblems which they hung around each soldier’s neck. It crossed my mind that I should seek out the local Slovenian pastor to find out what was going on. It’s a pity that I can’t remember his name. He received me graciously and showed me to his dinning room where a group of Croatian and Slovenian officers were already gathered. He treated me to food and told me the latest situation as regards the homeland—how it was now free, and that in place of the old government, new People’s Councils were now in place.
“Please,” I said, “the 116th Croatian regiment is at the outskirts of the town, and the 16th and 78th regiments are approaching. Would it be possible to delay the troops so as to prevent a break-through by the Italian forces?” “I think that it should be possible,” he responded as he called a young lad and asked him to take me to the People’s Council’s headquarters.
I entered the People’s Council around two in the afternoon. Some “feldvebel” was lounging on a couch. “Excuse me, where is the commander?” “He’s out to lunch!” “And, when will he return?” “That I don’t know!” “What sort of People’s Council is it where officers need two hours for lunch!” “Who, exactly, are you and what exactly is it that you want?” “I am a military chaplain with the 116th regiment. Three Croatian regiments are headed back to our homeland and our national interests have need of them. I wish that they be held back so as to defend our homeland!” “Well, since that is the case, I will attempt to reach the commander!” I called all over and was unable to reach him. God only knows in which café he was being entertained. Meanwhile, our national interest suffered a serious blow. Had we stayed behind in Kobarit, who knows if the Italians would have attempted to breach the Slovenian territories?
I couldn’t stand waiting anymore. I banged the door and angrily left. Back on the street, I could see my regiment passing by. As I stood waiting to recognize my horse, the Commandant happened by. I didn’t really see him, but I did hear him. “What are you doing here? Didn’t I command you not to enter the town?” I sneered at him as never before and dismissing him with a wave of my hand, I continued to look for my horse. My orderly had mounted my horse. He dismounted and I mounted the horse. Having distanced ourselves from the town, a racket was suddenly heard. It became increasingly louder. I turned to see what it was all about. An argument between the Commander of the People’s Council and my 3rd Battalion ensued. The Commander of the People’s Council wants the regiment to be placed at his disposal while the commander of the Battalion—the one from Senj—refused to allow it. The commander from Senj said: “I received my commission from the Emperor of Austria and it is to him that I will entrust my Battalion. To no avail the fact that I entered the fray. I saw there was no point to it. The Germans refused to surrender the troops, and the troops, meantime, were eager to go home. “I refuse to go,” said one soldier, “I have a wife waiting for me.” Another said: “I have a sweetheart waiting for me, and I refuse to fight anymore!”
Much criticism was made as to why someone had not detained our army at the border. As far as my personal view is concerned—and, I came to know the soul of my soldiers quite well—not even the great Napoleon would have been able to convince the soldiers to engage in a new battle. Why else were there so many “green cadres” in Croatia following the Empire’s collapse? Isn’t that proof of the level of demoralization among the Croatian soldiers following the collapse?
Detain the soldiers at the border so as to have them enter into a new battle? Hm, whoever might ask for that should have been present at the army’s retreat from Senica to Flič, and on to Tarviž if he wanted to come to know what the soldiers were like. No one asked who was first or who was last, no one asked what was whose. I am not speaking of the officers—the soldiers simply endured them as best they could and allowed them to journey with them. The Imperial symbol was torn off from their caps and was replaced with a red band. The red band spoke clearly telling one that the majority of the soldiers considered themselves to be Bolsheviks. Their eyes gleamed as those of a tiger and woe to the one who said a wrong word to any of them. I took offense with the Czechs during our retreat. Even though the road was rather wide, it was, as far as they were concerned, only for them. They pushed left and right so that they could be first in line. They were the worst Bolsheviks, as far as I was concerned. They confiscated more four-legged animals than anyone else seeing that they were most distant from their homeland. Two-legged creatures—ducks, geese, and chickens—were not spared their hand as well. As they ascended the pass at Predil, one could hear an entire cacophony of squeals coming from their wagons—pigs, lambs, goats, fowl, etc.
As far as that is concerned, my regiment was not exactly the best. On November the 5th, as we approached our bivouac for the night somewhere between Flič and Pass Predil, I was disposed like a dog. I hadn’t eaten and it was no joke to march all day. I looked for supper. God only knows if it was even prepared that day. We began to pull apart the Austrian wooden barracks so as to keep warm. I sat next to the fire while my stomach groaned. A soldier took out a piece of rations. There was hardly enough for him, but hunger has no shame and I asked him in the name of God to give me a bit of his rations so that I could at least swallow the phlegm in my throat. Good man that he was, he broke off a piece and shared it with me. My, how sweet that hunk of bread was! All the American candy and cake, all the American roasts can stand in shame next to the sweetness of that piece of bread! I later learned that some roguish lads in my regiment had themselves a ball. They managed to hide some Italian geese and roasted them.
Where one steals his supper, there is no lunch. The next day about noontime, smoke abounded on all sides. Hunger has the best nose—and, I was no different in that regard. I walked around to see if my soldiers were perhaps baking a potato—or even a sparrow. Ten fattened lambs were roasting on the spit. I thought to myself, “I’m not leaving this place—at least a portion will be for me.” I knew that the lambs were stolen; however, hunger does not seek the owner—what is more, someone on a journey may eat meat even on a Friday, so, why can’t I eat some of this—after all, the owner will not be invited to eat of it anyway. Nonetheless, our old folk-saying holds true in this case: Falsely acquired is without blessing! The skin of the lambs had just started to turn brown when the trumpeter sounded advance since the Italians were hot in pursuit. What were we to do? Brother, leave the lambs and flee!
The moon shone brightly as we marched through the Pass Predil. This was where the Croatians shed their blood for Austria and where they managed to stop Napoleon’s advance. I spotted a memorial plaque set in a stone—the only hint of a tear shed from our Croatian heroism.
We arrived at Tarviž around eleven at night. In vain, I asked left and right where I might spend the night. I came to understand that all that was left to me was to sleep under the blue sky that night. It was cold—after all, we were in the Alps. Somehow, we managed. We gathered in a field that served as a shelter for the horses. It was drenched with horse urine and manure. We set upon the fences, tore them apart, and set them ablaze. We huddled together and waited out the night.
My regiment was to be divided once in Tarviž. The Germans, Czechs, and Hungarians were to head north, while we were to head east. As brothers, we agreed to divide our wartime poverty amongst ourselves. Based on the numbers according to nationality, we divided our horses, wagons, cannon, and ammunition. I was given a nice bay—one that took me straight to my father. Subsequently, the bay was used as a plough-horse by my father. I hung all my needs from my saddle. There were some really nice things that I managed to buy while in Italy.
While petting my horse, a clamor was to be heard. The Germans and Hungarians scattered through the dale where our horses were pastured. They mounted our horses and fled. Our men set out after them. Hollering, swearing, and fist-fighting ensued. I fared rather poorly. A Hungarian doctor from my regiment mounted the horse given to me and fled. Even fairies could not have kept up with him. I didn’t so much regret the horse as much as I did my two coats and two saddle blankets. It was no joke to be left coatless at that mountain height.
As luck would have it, I was given another horse and at nightfall we set out toward Kranjska Gora. I had a good orderly, but he, too, went the way of the “Bolsheviks” following the revolution. I t was a waste of time for me to ask any favor from him. Whatever I asked, he would respond: “I am no longer anyone’s servant.
We stopped around nine in the evening to distribute supper. I tied my horse to the fence, and went to quiet down the troops that were fighting amongst themselves as to who would get the bigger portion of goulash. As I turned, I noticed a Serb “felbaba” had mounted my horse with utter disdain. I couldn’t understand his look of contempt. Everyone thought that they would go directly home with their horse and wagon. Apparently, the Serb had sold his own horse to some soldier and simply stole mine. I protested, but in vain. So that there would be no skirmish or cursing, I relented and set off on foot as an ordinary recruit.
Somewhere between Tarviž and Kranjska Gora, we arrived at an enormous set of barracks around eleven in the evening. I immediately proceeded to the Commandant and demanded that my horse be returned. He smiled at me with annoyance and said to me: “You Croatians have a good set of legs when it comes to fleeing from the front lines—now you can use them on your way to Zagreb!”
I was angered by such a response—all the more since I knew it was his wish to return as much war materiel to Austria. There was no thought of sleep that night. I squeezed into a stall and slept on the straw without my saddle blanket—the ones stolen from me by a Hungarian. I no longer knew if I had a fever or the chills.
Early in the morning, I left the regiment and set out for Kranjska Gora. I learned that a People’s Council was situated there. I reported to the Commandant of the Council. He was a Polish Second Lieutenant. I informed him that a Croatian regiment was about to arrive and that he should disarm them since the German Commandant intends to return to Austria with all military materiel. I also asked him to give me something to eat.
The soldiers were in the process of skinning two calves. He ordered them to give me any portion that I wished. I asked for both hearts that the soldiers had grilled on the coals. Naturally, I also received wine to help the hearts go down.
It was somewhere around eleven in the morning. I noticed a company of men on the road leading from the woods. I quickly recognized them as men of my regiment because they were led by a commander who was six feet tall.
“Lieutenant, my regiment is approaching. Do your duty!” Two machine-guns were hidden on either side of the command post. Two soldiers instantly jumped into position behind the guns ready for a skirmish. I stood triumphantly in the path and heroically waited to see what the German would do now.
The Commandant of the People’s Council stood in the center of the road. When the Commandant of the regiment approached, the Commandant of the People’s Council drew his sword and ordered him to stop.
“And, who are you?” shouted the regimental commander. “It is disgraceful that you, a Lieutenant, should stop me and my regiment!”
“Men, be prepared!” said the commander of the People’s Council to the two machine-gunners. The machine guns started to cock in preparation. The Regimental Commander grew pale and at the order of the People’s Council, he dismounted.
“Give me your sword,” ordered the commander of the People’s Council. That giant of a man obeyed the order readily. The commander of the People’s Council then ordered the troops to lay down their arms. O, how joyously they obeyed! One after the other they threw their arms and bayonets over the fence all the while cursing: “To hell with them!” Thus disarmed, we continued to march an entire day until we arrived at Jesenice. By the 9th of November, we managed to find an available cattle-car train that brought us into our beautiful white Zagreb. It was there that we scattered in all directions as might the children of a crab…
*Svetozar Borojević (1856-1920) was a Feldmarschall/general field marshal of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces.
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About the Author
Rev. Vjenceslav Vukonić OFM, was born on March 3, 1884 in Lokve, Gorski Kotar, Croatia. He was baptized as Josip but his name was changed to Vjenceslav when he entered the Franciscan order, Province of St. Jerome in Croatia. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1909 and in 1916 he was assigned to serve as a military chaplain to Croatian soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian military forces. During his service, he was stationed mostly at various places on the Eastern Front but in the Spring of 1918 he was transferred to the Italian Front where he found himself at the end of the war.
Although his political orientation was pro-Yugoslav, he left the military chaplaincy in the new South Slavic State soon after the war, realizing that his hopes of freedom for the Croatian people were not fulfilled. He departed for America in May of 1920, and from 1921 to 1928 he served as pastor at St. Jerome Croatian Parish in Chicago. After that, he worked for two years at parishes in Euclid and Lorain, Ohio, and then returned to Croatia. However, on the eve of the Second World War he came back to the United States, and served as hospital chaplain in Warren, Ohio for many years. He spent the last years of his life at a retirement home in Youngstown, Ohio, where he died on May 31, 1961.
His Croatian translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline was published in 1958.
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IZ “ZADNJIH DANA AUSTRIJE”
Piše: Rev. Vjenceslav Vukonić (vojni kapelan u ratu)
(Naročito i isključivo za Kalendar N. N.)
Objavljeno u: Naša Nada Kalendar za američke katoličke Hrvate za opću godinu 1930. Hrvatska katolička zajednica U.S.A. Amerike; uredio ga Rev. Mijo Đuro Domladovac. Tiskara: Ameriška Domovina, Cleveland. st. 117-138.
Priredio Ante Čuvalo za ponovnu objavu prigodom 100. obljetnice početka Prvog svjetskog rata.
Pošli smo smirene duše iz Branzola u Tirolu na talijansku frontu. Viša komanda znajući za revoluciju, koja se spremala u mojoj 116. regimenti, obećala nam, da ćemo biti kao skrajna rezerva generala Borojevića. Mislili su: Glavno da ih dopremimo do vatre, pa da vidimo, što će ih izbaviti naših šaka!
26. oktobra 1918. dovedoše nas u marvinskim vagonima u Rorai il Grande, nedaleko od Piave. Smjestismo se, kako smo znali najbolje. Naređeno mi bilo, da ću sutradan u nedjelju imati vojničku misu i preko nje upozoriti vojsku na svetost prisege i neustrašivost u vatri.
Gadna je to naredba bila za mene. Poznavao sam dušu rezerve, koju dobismo iz Bačke i Banata. To su bili većinom Srbi, a k tome boljševici uslijed zarobljeništva u Rusiji. Dugo sam smišljao, u kojem ću obliku izvesti strogu vojničku naredbu, da se ne zamjerim kao katolički svećenik ni višima ni nižima.
Iza dvodnevnog puta legoh kod tamošnjeg župnika. Tek usnuh, nešto me probudi. Na prvi mah ne znadoh, je li grmljavina, lomljava, potres. Napnem uši. Ha, tu smo, pomislih. Bio je alarm—ratni poziv. Moraš na noge, nema druge. Pristupih do vojnika. Pitah, što je? “Đavo ih znao,” odgovaraju, “ne će biti dobro, zovu nas u klaonicu!”
Na štaciji čekali vlakovi. Gledasmo, kamo su okrenute lokomotive, da saznamo, kojim će nas pravcem odvesti. A kuda, ako ne u klaonicu! Vojnici gledaju mrko jedan drugoga. Neki šapću, neki glasnije rogobore. Vidilo se, da su iznenađeni, prevareni, da iz skrajne rezerve dolaze u prvu. Sjedimo u marvinskim vagonima. Nema vojničkih doskočica; nema vesela razgovora, još manje pjesme. Ko volovi bulje u zemlju i dobacuju jedan drugome nerazumljive riječi . . .
Oko podne dođosmo u Sacile. Vojnici poskakali iz vagona, da utaže febru uzbuđenosti hladnom vodom. Nad štacijom se pojavili talijanski aeroplani i stali bacati oko nas smrtne bombe. Vojnici skočiše u vagone, pograbiše puške i s vrata uz teške psovke proti cijelom ratnom aparatu stadoše pucati u aeroplane.
Iskrcaše nas u Vittorio Veneto, gdje iza cijelog dana dobismo nešto siromašne vojničke menaže. Nijesmo marili za jelo. Užasna topovska vatra sa Piave ubijala nam tek. Gledal smo u zemlju, misleći na svoje drage u Domovini, koje ne ćemo moguće već nikada viditi . . .
Iz Vittoria krenusmo u Cenedu. Dadoše nam sve potrebito za navalu. Vojnici mirno primaju fišeke i ručne granate. Jedan drugome namiguju i opaža im se posmjeh na usnama.
28. oktobra, u 9 sati uvečer, dobismo naredbu: naprijed! Vojnici se nijemo svrstavaju u redove. Krenusmo dalje, to jest bliže k fronti. Muk, grobni muk. Osim teškog vojničkog hoda i topovske vatre, koja je svaki čas bivala sve jača, ne čuješ glasa, osim teškog drhtaja ranjenog srca.
Jašio sam sprijeda s oberstom. Put vodio uzbrijeg. Pod našim nogama zemlja se sve više tresla. Grudi drhću, jer je grozno, kad se čovjek jednoč riješi prvih linija, a ponovno ulazi u nove. Srce se stišće, jer vidiš, da umireš za tuđinca, koji nam je javno rekao, da ima Austrija još dosta stabala, da objesi sve nevjerne Slavene. Duša se buni, jer nam teško zamijeniti ovaj svijet, iako nam ne daje zadovoljstva.
I najednoć čuje se jaki glas iz regimente: Natrag, natrag! Kao da mi ljuti šiljak probo srce. Slutio sam, što je . . . Oberst okrene konja pa natrag, otkuda je dopirao glas. Regimenta stane. Oberst poviče: “Tko je dao nalog natrag?” Čuo se drugi glas jači od prvoga: natrag, natrag! Oberst još osornije: “Tko je taj, tko daje nalog: natrag?” Mjesto jednog glasa, zaorilo ih desetak: Natrag, natrag! To je naša volja, to je naš nalog!
Oberst stoji povučenim mačem i rikne: “Dobro je, tko ne će da se bori, nek izađe.” Stanka. Svi bez duše bulje u mrak, što će biti. Iz redova izlaze dvojica, pa šestorica, pa dvadesetorica revolucionaraca. Drže puške u šakama, a oči im bliješte kao tigru. Gledam, tko su ovi junaci. Tko? Od kojih se najmanje nadah: Bošnjaci sa svojim fesovima.
“Dobro,” razdere se Oberst. “Vi možete kući, a vi vjerni vojnici poći ćete naprijed za svoga cara!” Dade naredbu, da se krene naprijed. Četa da će dalje, kad se oglasiše revolucionarci: “Pfuj vas bilo, ništarije! Zar se nijesmo svi dogovorih, da se ne ćemo boriti? Gdje vam je poštena riječ?” Nasta ogledavanje, komešanje. Hrvat za Hrvatom ostavlja redove i stavlja se na kraj puta.
Zapovjedniku teško pri srcu. Ustrijelio bi bio do zadnjega, da se nije sada bojao za svoju glavu. Znao je: jedna mu samo riječ može mahom skopati grob.
Stajao sam tamo nijem. Oberst me poznavao kao “jugoslavena.” Znao je, da općim najrađe sa slavenskim oficirima, koji bijahu u našoj regimenti. Denunciran sam bio kod njega, kako sam i ja s ostalim slavenskim oficirima proslavio u jednom restaurantu u Branzolu pad Bugarske, što je značilo i brzu propast Austrije, gdje se pilo i plesalo do zore. Znao je za moju aferu s jednim pošvapčenim srbendom-oberlajtnantnom, koji je bio degradiran na prostog vojnika. Pogledao me. Ja ni mukajet. Oborih lice u zemlju. Nije bila šala, glava mi visila na sitnom koncu. Čuo sam doista, da se Hrvatska proglašuje nezavisnom od Austro-Ugarske. Ali, ako ne uspije Hrrvatska u svojim podvizima? Ako me vojnici izdadu, da sam tajno šurovao s njima, da sam im kroz zube odobravao revolucionarni korak? . . . Velim, teško mi bilo pri duši, a izgubim li glavu, ne mogu je zamijeniti u nijednoj mesarni . . .
“Natrag!” povikne oberst. Madžari su doista nastojali, da pometu plan Hrvata; ali kad vidiše hrvatsku većinu pred sobom, svrstaše se i oni u redove i sred gluhe noći okrenuli leđa smrti.
Rano u zoru dođosmo do Villa di Villa, do nekog grofovskog zaselka. Rat! Bože, viditi onaj divan zaselak, zasađen nekada najljepšim južnim cvijećem, a sada sav izoran za vojničke korake. Cvijeće pogaženo, zaselak pretvoren u gotovu ruševinu. I barbaru bi se stislo pri duši. Taj je zaselak bio tako velik, da je veoma komodno primio cijelu moju revolucionarnu regimentu.
Jesmo li spavali? Ne vjerujem. Svakoga je nešto tištilo. Oficire, jer izgubiše vojnu i odlike. Vojnike, jer ne znadoše posljedice svog koraka. Dođe li slučajno par vjernih regimenti te opkole njih buntovnike, a što onda? Moji vojnici bijahu na sve pripravljeni. Ne odložiše oružja, ni ručnih granata. Najveće buntovnike staviše na stražu, pripravni, da se bore na život i smrt.
Naši “felvebeli”—Slavonci sjajno odigraše svoju ulogu. Oni su bili stupovi i naša nada, pošto su oficiri bili u velikoj većini Madžari i Nijemci. Iza tjeskobnog kratkog počinka pođoh u vrt. “Feldvebeli” na straži. Pristupam k njima i pitam ih: “A kakvo je raspoloženje kod vojnika?” “Izvrsno,” odgovaraju oni. “Hoće se prestrašiti i predati?” “Ne bojte se, ne će!
Odlanulo mi pri srcu, jer je s udesom vojnika bio skopčan i moj. Pođoh dalje. Na sjevero-istočnim vratima stražio vojnik moje regimente. Bio je negdje iz Broda na Savi. Htjedoh doznati za njegovo raspoloženje i uvjerenje, pa ga upitah: “Momče, a što se to dogodilo prošle noći?” “Što?” upane mi srdito “zar nam nije već dosta krvi? Kod kuće mi osmero gladne djece; nitko se za njih ne brine, a ja da gubim život za tuđega kralja? Gledajte i to!” Pri tome mi pokaže lakat, koji je gol izašao iz bluze; gledajte to koljeno, koje golo provalilo iz hlača; gledajte ovo, okrene mi stražnji dio tijela, gdje je bilo sve poderano; gledajte moje cipele, iz kojih je virilo pol gole noge!” Za što i za koga da se borim?” Gledao me bijesno ne znajući, da sam na njegovoj strani.
“Momče, ja sam s tobom! Ne misli, da sam uhoda; ali mi reci, hoćete li svi do jednoga ustrajati u svome naumu?’ “Hoćemo tako mi onog Velikog . . . Živ već na frontu ne ću, pa nek rade od mene, što hoće!”
Uvjerih se, da je položaj dobar, a od srca kao da mi se odvalio kamen. Pađoh u dvorac i tamo nađoh glasovir. Sjedoh za nj i stadoh udarati neke bećarske vesele slavonske pjesme, ne sluteći da vrijeđam bilo ičije osjećaje. Ne prošlo ni pet časa. Vrata se naglo otvore, a u sobu stupi komandant. Bio je češki švaba, a u njemu preko šest nogu visine. Digne šake, udari po glasoviru i razdere se kao bijesan: “Što? Vi katolički svećenik, Vi zaprisegnuti vojnički župnik, pa mjesto da plačete nad događajem, gdje Vaša regimenta odriče posluh svome kralju, Vi veselo pjevate? Nosite se, a inače ćemo se viditi!”
Ko da se guja savila oko mog srca! Odgovorio bih mu bio po hrvatski, ali što onda? Pokunjih se, “Oprostite,” odgovorih mu, “nijesam ništa zla mislio. Našao sam glasovir i bez daljnjeg promišljavanja poletiše mi prsti na tipke!” Odoh.
Došlo vrijeme objeda, a ne znam kako, ja zakasnih. Dođoh u privremenu blagovaonicu, a oficiri svi za objedom. Moje je mjesto obično bilo treće, blizu komandanta. Gledam, zaposjednuta sva gornja mjesta. Gledam niži dio stola, opet nijednog mjesta za mene. Mišljah, što ću. Zar da izađem; bez objeda, a švabe da se goste? Zavrla mi krv; iz kuta povadih jednu stolicu i sjednem na najzadnje mjesto. Za mene na stolu ni tanjura, ni kruha, ni vina, što su svi ostali imali. Od jednog českog lajtnanta uzeh nož i udarih s njim po njegovoj čaši.
“Ordonanc” dođe i pitam ga: “A gdje je mjesto za mene? Gdje je moja menaža, moj vino?”
“Velečasni,” veli on, “zabranjeno mi, da Vam išta donesem!” “Što, ne ćeš?” kriknem srdito, da me čuo komandant i ostale švabe, “zar i Hrvatska ne doprinaša za ovu menažu?” Vojnik stoji ukočen, ni sam nije znao, što da uradi.
“Velečasni, umirite se, a ti pođi svojim putem,” reče jedan dobar Čeh—lajtnant—koji je sjedio do mene. “Sve ćete imati!” Na zadjim mjestima sjedila tri češka časnika, jedan Slovak i jedan Poljak. Svaki uzeo komad svog kruha i stavio ga pred mene. Pet flaša vina najedamput preda mnom, a svaki se odrekao svog objeda i dao mi ga ostentativno. Razglagoljao se da pokažem švabama, da ih se ne bojim.
Pri koncu objeda udario komandant nožem po svom tanjuru i zatražio muk. Jednog kapetana pošalje iz blagovaonice, da stavi jaku stražu pred vrata. Zatim stade govoriti ozbiljnim i žalosnim glasom: “Gospodo, svi ste svjedoci sramote, što se dogodila sinoć u našoj regimenti. Koliko mi je poznato, iza 33. češke regimente, naša je regimenta 116. poduzela revolucionarni korak i uskratila poslušnost našem uzvišenom vladaru. Red, red moramo napraviti i prisiliti vojsku, da se pokori volji carevij i pođe na bojno polje. U to ime tražim Velečasnog gospodina Feldkurata Vukonića, da ispuni svoju svećemčku dužnost i drži strogi govor regirnenti!”
“Gospodine komandante,” skočih na noge i rekoh mu uzbuđenim glasom, “Feldkurat Vukonić ne će govoriti pobunjenoj vojsci! Ja nemam sablje, nemam revolvera, kao što imate vi, pa ako želite napraviti red u regimenti, izvolite vi vašom dugom sabljom i revolverom!”
“Što, zar tako odgovaraš meni komandantu?”
“Jest, opetujem vam, ja ne ću govoriti!”
“Vidit ćemo se,” primjeti komandant. Ja mu se smijah, jer švaba nije poznavao raspoloženja moje regimente. Zatim se obrati jednom kapetanu, rodom iz Senja, jednom madžarskom i rumunjskom kapetanu i naredi im, da sazovu cijelu regimentu na okup, da ih po mogućnosti razoružaju; da ih razdijele po narodnosti i da im svaki u svome jeziku održi govor i prisile ih na stari posluh.
Mučke se digosmo iz blagovaonice iza pol sata, te u dvorište sakupljenoj regimenti. Mučila me misao: a što će prestrašeni vojnici? Hoće li se pokoriti ili će ostati pri svome? A tada? . . “Što će biti od začetnika?
U dvorištu stoje vojnici po narodnosti. Najviše je bilo Hrvata i Srba. Oni zapremiše desno krilo, Madžari srednje, a Rumunji lijevo krilo. Iznesli iz podruma tri prazne bačve otkuda će svaki časnik “propovijedati” svojoj grupi. Ja sam se postavio iza sviju časnika do zida i čekao teška srca ispad cijeloga nastupa. Fiksirao sam osobito svoje Hrvate, jer njima ovisio ili život ili smrt. Oni su stajali napeto s nekim divljim pogledom, iz kojeg čitah strah ili zdvojnost. Oko pojasa im ručne granate i silesija puščane municije, a svaki je do koljena držao svoju vjernu družicu-pušku. Zaludu ih pokušali razoružati! Ne dadoše puške ni municije, o kojima je ovisio cijeli njihov zdvojni pothvat.
Na bačvu se popne neki Senjanin, kapetan. Dugo se derao, da ih prizove k pameti. Zatim im stao čitati vojničke propise o neposluhu, o buni, prijeteći im: tko uradi ovo, tko uradi ono, bit će mušketiran, vješan, a ne će se oprostiti ni njihovim obiteljima!
Kad svršio govor i čitanje vojničkog pravila, osovi glavu i upita Hrvate: “Braćo Hrvati, jeste li čuli?” “Jesmo,” odgovaraju oni. “Jeste li razumili?” pita dalje. “Jesmo!” odgovaraju odlučno. “A hoćete li biti dobri?” “Hoćemo’!” Gotove je sve, pomislih, prestrašili se. A kazne, koje čekaju i mene i njih? . . . Ali se divlji bijes pojavio u mojoj duši i usnama iza zadnjeg pitanja. “Braćo Hrvati,” proslijedi kapetan, “kad ste dobri, onda ćemo natrag na frontu!” “Ne ćemo, ne ćemo nikada više!” urnebesno odgovaraju Hrvati. Odlanulo mi. Kapetan sađe sa “propovijedaonice” posramljen i potišten, jer je znao, što ga kao pošvabljenog Hrvata čeka. A generalu planule oči, prezirno pogleda Hrvate. O, da mu moć, razvedrila bi se bila njegova švapska duša. Ali su upravo pred njim stajali Hrvati s nabitim puškama . . .
Popeo se Madžar na bačvu. Proučavao sam u životu trinaest jezika, ali madžarskog ne htjedoh naučiti ni riječi, pa ne znam, što je govorio. Bit će iste komedije. Razumio sarm samo to: kad je svršio govor i čitanje, stao ih pitati nešto, a oni na svako njegovo pitanje odgovarahu: “Igen, igen!” Znak da se žele boriti za Madžarsku, da joj se ne dogodi, što joj se dogodilo.
Madžar sađe, a Rumunj uzađe na svoju bačvu. Vidilo se da nije kao Rumunj, koji je mrzio Madžare, govorio iz osvjedočenja, već na silu. Glas mu je bio tih. A kad i on svršio, upravio Rumunjima triput neki upit. Što, neznam. Ali sam razumio samo to, da je velika manjina odgovorala: Da! Većina je šutila.
A sada? Oberst pođe do Madžara, pa im veli: “Dobro je, Hrvati i većinom Rumunji ne će da se bore. Vi Madžari, svrstajte se u redove, da ispunimo prisegu vjernosti našem caru Karlu!” Madžara mislim, da nije bilo više od stotine. Postaviše puške na ramena, spremni na odlazak. U taj čas, kao da su svi Hrvati mislili samo jednom glavom. Predvođeni nekim “feldvebelom” iz Slavonije, naperiše puške na Madžare i povikaše: ili ćete s nama dijeliti udes, ili položite pred nas puške! Madžari se prestrašiše. Položiše puške i dadoše nam poštenu riječ, da će s nama, kudgod i mi.
Doznao sam malo kašnje, da je oberst brzojavio generu Borojeviću, da se uzbunila njegova regimenta i da je dobio odgovor od Borojevića: Dovedi regimentu do granice. Tamo će je čekati vjerne regimente . . . Oberst oslanjajući se na krvnu osvetu na granici, a nemajući pojma, što se događa u zaleđu: da se već Hrvatska proglasila nezavisnom od Mažarske i Austrije, dade naredbu, da krenemo kući.
Upravo u času, kad smo izlazili iz zaselka, mimo nas marširahu osječka regimenta 78. i bjelovarska 16. Prije revolucije toliko smo ih nagovarali, da kao Hrvati prestanu lijevati krv za tuđinca, pa da krenemo u slobodnu domovinu. Da! tko bi ih bio nagovorio? Prisiljeni većom silom, moradoše ostaviti frontu i sramotno bježati. Otišli smo skupa, ali se kašnje razdijelismo. Čini mi se, oni pođoše ravno na istok, a nama je prenoćište bilo oprijedijeljeno negdje sjeverno, u prvim planinama.
Stupali smo veselo, zadovoljno, kao da se iz pira vraćamo. Nije šala. Neki su od nas služili cijelo vrijeme rata. Prošli su sve moguće fronte. Nasrkaše se puščanog i topovskog praha. Zadobiše toliko rana. Vidješe takove strahote, da im već sve dodijalo. Da je bilo pet godina neprestano piti vino i od gozbe do gozbe polaziti, bilo bi dosta, kamoli, da nam ne bi dodijalo gledati tolike godine u oči strahovitih rana, glada i teške smrti. Ne čudim se ni činjenici, da je taj vojnik bio bez vjere u zadnjim danima rata. Mnogi i mnogi su mi govorili: Velečasni, molio sam, činio sam zavjete, išao sam toliko puta na sakramente, da mi se Bog smiluje i da se vratim svojoj obitelji. I ja i moji plaćali su neprestano mise, a što smo više molili, rat je dulje trajao . . .!
I zapjevali smo, a da nije komandant već obijelio zube. Fronta je sve dalje iza nas ostajala. Rikanje topova bilo svakim korakom sve tiše, a svaki metar puta bili smo bliže svojoj Domovini, svojim milima, koji su uzdisali za nama.
Najednoč prestane pjesma. Jaki se glas začu između vojnika: pogledajte, braćo, tamo na jug! Zaustavismo se, pogledasmo k jugu. Dolje u Sacile bili veliki austrijski vojnički magazini, puni hrane, cipela i odijela. Sve je bilo u divljem plamenu. “Jarci švabe i Madžari,” primijeti netko, “mi smo gladni, nagi i bosi. Kažu, da je u onim magazinima bilo opskrbe za tri godine, a nas mučiše gladom! . . .”
U 10 sata u noći, iza osam-satnog hoda dođosmo u neko planinsko mjesto. Gladni kao vuci navališe vojnici na kuhinjska kola i za čas sve razgrabiše. Ja i par drugih časnika ostadosmo bez večere. Sreća, da znadem talijanski, a planinari dobri katolici. Pokucah na jedna vrata, gdje je još gorilo svijetlo (svijetla su gorila posvuda, jer se planinari začudiše našem pohodu u noćno doba). Pokucah na vrata. Kad im ispričah u talijanskom jeziku, da sam gladan, da sam svećenik, sirote iznesoše sve što su imali. Nije dapače falilo ni vina. Dugo, do zore čavrljasmo, pušismo i pismo. Bila mi doista dodijeljena jedna zapuštena kuća za spavanje, ali volih provesti noć kraj ognjišta u lijepome društvu. Vesela je bila cijela kuća, jer im najavih, da će u dan dva stignuti njihovi vojnici i da će s njihovih ramena pasti omraženi austrijski jaram.
U jutro krenusmo dalje. Spustismo se u ravnicu na glavni put, koji vodi dolje do Udina. Vidi se, da je iza nas one noći već dosta vojske prošlo. Kraj puta, povrh puta i nasred puta ležala ostavljena kola s topovima i municijom, a tu i tamo nađosmo mrtve vojnike. Pitasmo sami sebe, otkuda i zašto mrtvi vojnici ovdje? Pitanje nam riješeno bilo, kad smo o podne došli u Rorail il Grande. Kao muhe sjatiše se nad nas talijanski aeroplani i nemilice stadoše bacati na nas bombe, granate i šrapnele. Nastala je panika. Vojnici bježe kudikamo, da zadnji čas spase glavu, za svoje mile u domovini. Gadovi talijanski! Baš su se pokazali kao junaci! Dok smo pred njima na fronti stajali, bili su plahi kao miševi, a sada, kad svojevoljno ostavismo frontu, štedeći njihove glave, htjeli se pokazati junacima, da pokažu svijetu, koliko su ubili Austrijanaca za zadnje njihove ofensive. Bolio me pri duši takav njihov bezobrazluk, i da mi je bilo u vlasti, uništio bi bio sve do jednoga. Žao mi je bilo, da sam na fronti s njihovim zarobljenicima bio kao brat, a oni nam tako sada uzvraćaju. Mogoh se sakriti, ali ne htjedoh. I dok je jedan vojnik bježao, zatražio sam od njega nabijenu pušku i stao pucati na njih. Istina, pucali su i drugi. U jedan čas stao padati jedan aeroplan. Pao je, smrskao se, a s njime smrskaše svoje glave tri talijanske delije. Ali koja korist za mene? Aeroplan pao do naše kuhinje. Konji se preplašiše i povukoše veliki kotao s gotovom menažom u jamu, u vodu. Sreća, nije bio daleko župni stan, gdje poznah župnika od prije. Primio me objeručke, dao mi svega, osobito kad je doznao, što je na stvari.
Ovdje je bila razrijeđena moja regimenta. Žalim jedno pet vojnika iz moje regimente. Pet godina su nosili u torbi svoju glavu po frontama i uvijek su bili pošteđeni od smrti. A sada, na pragu svoje domaje svršiše uslijed tlijanskog barbarluka. Drugi vojnici moje regimente raštrkaše se kojekuda i prvim trenom, što ga nađoše, krenuše u domovinu. I ja sam mogao otići, ali sam još toliko volio vojnike svoje regimente, da ih ne ostavim.
31. oktobra prispjeli do Tagliamenta. Put je bio jako težak. Kilometre od obale nagomilani pijesak, a svatko zna, kako je teško marširati po pijesku. Najednom vidim u mraku ispred mene marširaju dva tuđa časnika. Otkuda su se tamo našli, tko ih je pred par dana zaboravio, ne mogoh znati. Znao sam u ono vrijeme nešto malo engleski, pa sam želio, da okusim svoje duboko znanje engleskog jezika. Znao sam par riječi pitati, ali ne mogoh razumijeti ni vraguc jedne riječi. Resultat je bio: pusti ih, ne sramoti se! Toliko su me razumjeli, kad im rekoh, da je rat prošao. Zaustavili se jedan čas i u tami okrenuše natrag.
Oko 9 sata u noći dođosmo gladni i umorni preko Tagliamenta u mjesto Cisterna. Propitah se, gdje su za mene “kvartirmaheri” našli stan i rečeno mi je bilo, da pođem pod taj i taj broj. Uzeh slugu, pa tamo. Siromašna udovica upravo je pekla krumpire za večeru svoje djece. Dadoh joj pol svoje “panjoke,” pa gore u naznačenu mi sobu. Kad tamo, na postelji već spavao neki Bečlija, lajtnant. Stisli se skupa u jednu postelju. Zaspah. Najednom svijetlo se upali i vidim pred sobom nekog švapskog oberlajtnanta. Kao kajzer me probudi i sili me iz postelje, jer da je to njegovo mjesto za spavanje. Branih se dugo, da je to mjesto određeno za mene, da se u ponoći ne ću dizati iz postelje. Ali kad stao vrijeđati preko mjere, odbrusih mu: “Odstupi, švabo, odavle, prošla su švapska vremena!” On se okrene i psujući me, izađe. Zna sam švapsku drzovitost. Pođoh u konobu, gdje mi sluga spavao i dao mu naredbu, da dođe li sam kajzer na vrata, da mu ne smije otvoriti. Nijesam se prevario. Do po sata došao na vrata, stao lupati i drmati vratima. Dodijalo i mome drugu u postelji i dogovorismo se, da ćemo, ustreba li, i silom zapriječiti bezobrazniku ulaz u stan. Pođoh k prozoru i zapitah: “Tko je u to doba dolje?” “Ja,” odgovori švaba. “A što ćeš?” “Komandant mi dao naredbu, da Vas istjeram iz ove kuće!” “Idi k komandantu i reci mu, da Feldkurat Vukonić ne će iz stana!” “Vidit ćemo, vidit ćemo!” uzrujano će švaba i otišao.
U jutro Svi Sveti. Urečena vojnička misa u 8. sati. Kad ja plokatom u crkvu, tamo me čeka komandant. Pristupi k meni, omjeri me od pete do glave, pa će drhtavim glasom: “A što je bilo sinoć?” “Ono, što znadete!” “Pa Vi kao Feldkurat prekršiste moju naredbu?” “Vaša naredba već za mene ne vrijedi, švaba već nije moj gospodar!” Riječ po riječ i razgoropadismo se obojica. Ja podvostručio korak, da stignem do svoje vojske, koja je u redu stajala pred crkvom. Vojska gleda i sluša. I komandantu nije preostalo drugo, nego da zamukne, bojeći se razjarenih vojnika.
Preko mise održao sam im zadnji vojnički govor. Rekoh im: “Ja vam danas za zadnji put govorim. Ali vam ne govorim kao vojnički dušobrižnik, govorim vam kao svećenik i vaš prijatelj. Ja znadem, da sada nemamo nad sobom gospodara. Mi smo slobodni građani. Zaklinjem vas kao slobodne građane, da putem ne dirate sirotinje. Manite se pljačke, poštujte sirotinju. Krenite složno u domovinu. Naša regimenta ima dosta hrane. Ja idem s vama kao prijatelj, kojeg ste uvijek poštivali, pa se nadam, da ćete me slušati na cijelome putu!”
Oko podne dobih list od onog švapskog oberlajtnanta, kome ne odstupih prošle noći svoje postelje. Pozivlje me na sud za uvredu poštenja. I ništa manje, pozvao me na dvoboj. Tko se ne bi smiješnom švabi nasmijao? Dat ću ti ja, pomislih u sebi. Odgovorih mu, da me čeka u dva sata na glavnoj plokati, a za oružje da ćemo se dogovoriti. Međutim ja otišao među svoje Hrvate i dogovorismo se, da ćemo svi skupa na dvoboj proti švabi. U određeno vrijeme pođoh s jedno 50 vojnika s puškama, da se suočimo. Tamo se nalazio cijeli švapski “štab,” svi oficiri, moguće da kumuju našoj borbi. Naravski, nije falio ni komandant. Suoči smo se. “Švabo,” rekoh mu “ti nijesi za mene već ni oberlajtnant, ni čovjek. Što želiš od mene? Dvoboj?” On šutio kao mramor. A jedan od Hrvata skoči k njemu, dade mu zaušnicu, da je negdje po neba vidio. Kad to vidjeli švabe, bjež kao hulje, bojeći se goremu od hrvatskih šaka.
2. novembra ostavismo Cisterna te kroz divne predjele gornje Italije u Bottenico. Sve časnike primio na konak neki grof Nicolo de Claricini-Dornpacher. Čini mi se, da je bio njemačkog porijetla, jer je savršeno govorio njemački. Gospodski nas pogostio i otvorio nam sve svoje podrume. Sad ne znam, je li radi žalosti, jer je Austrija propala, ili veselja, jer dolazili za nama talijanska vojska. Molio me na odlasku, da mu se koji put javim. Obećah, ali ne ispunih svog obećanja, jer sam zazirao od svega, što me podsjećalo Italije.
3. novembra dalje prama Udinama. Vozio sam se u kočiji s jednim inače dobrim i mirnim češkim Nijemcem. Kad uđosmo u Udine, nigdje žive duše. Tamo je bila austrijska garnizona, a nigdje jednog vojnika. Svi magazini širom otvoreni, a brašno, bačve vina, bačvice s rakijom na ulici. Na glavnom trgu se zaustavismo kratko vrijeme, gdje mi osobito padoše u oči oni ogromni besramni kipovi. U cijelom gradu vidjeh jednu jedinu ženu, a i ta se sakrila, kad nas opazila.
Kad iz grada, imaš što viditi. Stotine vojnika pijanih kao čep. Sami vojnici porazbijaše magazine, najedoše se i napiše, pa da se oboružaju za daleki put preko Alpa, onako pijani svaki od njih navalio na leđa bačvicu od 30-40 litara likera i rakije. Ne mogoh se oteti dojmu smijeha. Onako pijani teturaju se ulicom. Padnu, razbiju glavu i bačvicu. Ali se opet dignu. Opet prihvate bačvicu i s njom na leđa. Krv im curi iz glave, a iz razbijene bačvice prolijeva se rakija, a od rakije mokri kao miševi. Ne znam, je li koji od ovih sretno došao svojem domu.
Na željezničkom križanju na “rampi” opazih prizor, koji me zgadio. Dvije mlade Talijanke, prisiljene gladom, unišle u grad, iza kako su vidjele, da vojska ostavlja grad i negdje nađoše brašna. Htjele kući, ali ih zaustavila pijana vojnička rulja. Četvorica se oboriše na njih i pod izlikom krađe brašna, kušali udovoljiti svojim najnižim strastima. Naredih kočijašu, da stane i od mog suputnika zatražih revolver. “Zašto?” pita on. “Zar ne vidite one svinje, što rade s nevinim djevojkama? Molim, dajte mi revolver!” Što bi bio učinio onim pijanim svinjama, ne znam, ali bi ih bio svakako preplašio i riješio jadne djevojke. Suputnik uvidio, da kod mene već nema šale: “Ne ćete Vi,” reče on, “ja ću im dati!” Skoči iz kočije, izvadi revolver, te k njima. Jedan su ga čas onako pijano gledali i kad vidješe, da je đavo uzeo šalu, ostavili djevojke u miru. Stajali smo ondje jedno po sata, dok se pijana rulja ne udaljila, a one zamakle svojim kućama.
Jedan od najžalosnijih prizora moradoh iza toga vidjeti. U jarku do ceste, na humku povrh puta ležalo je oko 60 mrtvih vojnika. Bili su sasvim crni. Doznao sam, da se vojnici smrtno opiše i ostaviše vranama svoje tijelo. Kod nekih opazih još flašu ili bačvicu, dok su ostanke drugih oteli prolaznici-vojnici, da si zaslade grlo.
Negdje oko 4 sata po podne prošli smo kroz opustjeli gradić Cividale. Bože, silne pustoši i barbarstva! Vojnici, prije nego ostaviše nesretni gradić, razbiše i pobacaše na ulicu sve, do česa su došli. Put je upravo bio zabarikadiran posteljama i pokućstvom.
Otpočinusmo iza Cividale, na granici mletačkih Slovenaca. Vidim, ide putem jedna mlada, lijepa, sramežljiva djevojka. Znao sam, da je mletačka Slovenka, jer je imala čisti slavenski tip. Prohtjelo mi se, da se malo “nahecam,” da vidimo, što će. Naravski, da nije znala, da sam svećenik i da se želim šaliti. Ispriku za nastup dala mi sama. U Cividale našla sirota jednu debelu knjigu sa slikama, pa je nosila kući, valjda za uspomenu Austrije. Stupala je bliže, a oči je imala oborene u zemlju. “Halt!” viknem i stadoh se za šalu derati na nju njemački. Gdje si to ukrala? Sirota sva problijedi, zadrhće. Samilosnim me okom gledala, a suza joj od straha kanula. Vidio sam, ne razumi me, a sluti, da joj prijetim. Pitah je talijanski, što je to ukrala. Za čudo, pod talijanskom se krunom rodila, a nije mi mogla ni talijanski odgovoriti. Nasmiješih se. “Ti si Slovenka, je li?” “Je sam,” odgovorila plaho. “A ne govoriš talijanski?” “Jako malo,” odgovori djevojka. “Ne boj se, djevojko,” umirih je, “ja sam se samo šalio. Pokaži mi, što je to i gdje si to našla?” “Našla sam na putu,” odvrati ona. Gledam knjigu. Bila neka njemačka povijest austrijskog dvora. Zadržao sam se koji čas s njom, da je upitam, gdje žive mletački Slovenci. “Tu odmah iza mosta,” pokaže mi prstom. “A jesi li ti jugoslavenka?” “Jest, gospodine, mi smo sada svi jugoslaveni. Imali smo godinu dana, što je Austrija okupirala naše strane, u našim školama sve slovenski i mi svi želimo, da budemo pripojeni velikoj Jugoslaviji!”
Zajaših na konja. Ljudi iz daleka čuli, da govorim slovenski, pa se sjatili oko mene i davali mi svoju ruku. “Ah, gospodine, ne ostavite nas. Mi smo svi Slovenci i želimo, da se nađemo na okupu s našom braćom pod jugoslavenskom zastavom!”
Upravo je bila nedjelja, narod je izlazio od večernjice. Ostavih, konja slugi i skočih u lijepu crkvu, da vidim župnika u sv. Petru. Bio je to krasan starac, osvjedočeni Slovenac. Prisilio me u svoj stan, kad je doznao, da sam Hrvat i obasuo me svime, što je našao u svome stanu. Onih 10 časaka, što sam kod njega proboravio, ostat će mi do smrti u pameti.
Odanle krenusmo u Lasic, gdje smo imali prenoćiti. Putem sam sretao muževe i žene, pozdravljao ih slovenski, a oni su mahali rupcima, kličući: Živila Jugoslavija! Kad u Lasic; sretosmo krupnog, jakog čovjeka, koji nas pratio. Gledao nas kao mačak. Znao sam, da je Slovenac i poviknuh: Živila Slovenija, živila Jugoslavija! ali od njega glasa nema. Slučajno se tamo našao Lasicki župnik, koji mi kazao: to je naš odmet; znade slovenski, ali ne bi iz njega izmamili slovenske riječi. Prenoćih kod mjesnog župnika. Politizirao sam dosta s njime, ali je talijanski odgoj djelovao na njegov karakter. Osjećao se doista Slovencem, ali izjavio, da ne želi, da mletački Slovenci potpanu pod Jugoslaviju, jer kao što je Austrija uvijek bila gladna, tako da će biti i Jugoslavija. “Ja bi volio,” reče mi, “da pol miliona Slovenaca potpane pod nas, pa da budemo jači!” Želja se njegova doista ispunila; oni pod nas ne dođoše, a 700,000 našeg naroda spalo pod Italiju, da se regbi za vazda utopi u talijanskom moru.
U naš se razgovor umiješao časni starac, župnikov otac, čovjek visoka stasa, s dugom bijelom kosom. 76 mu godina, a da ga godine nijesu pritisle k zemlji. Dugo je slušao naš razgovor, pa će konačno: “O, Velečasni, sve će se ovdje iznaroditi. Sa zapadne strane od nas bila je nekada jaka slovenska svijest, a sada se već ne čuje tamo nijedna slovenska riječ! Ah, nek Talijani uče naše mlađe, da je pod Austrijom bilo zlo; to nije istina. Ja sam Austriju ljubio, jer smo svi Slovenci bili skupa. Godine 1866. rado sam pošao pod Vis, da se borim proti Italiji. Ja bi danas volio, da me progutalo more, nek da smo dospjeli, gdje smo sada! . . .”
Rano u zoru, na imendan cara Karla, došla vijest, da nas Talijani slijede, da dolazi talijanska konjica, da nas zarobi. Javljeno nam, da je polovica 78. osječke regimente zarobljeno na prevaru, da se Talijani i opet mogu pohvaliti, da su zarobili u zadnjoj ofenzivi ogromne hiljade austrijske vojske. Ne mogoh ni mise reći. Pokupili se, pa dalje do naše granice. Penjali smo se sve više, a sunce je Božje junački pripeklo. Oko 10 sati otpočinusmo. Dojaših do komandanta, koji je sjedio na kamenu, a tešku glavu spustio na koljena. Plakao je. Prvi put vidjeh jednog visokog časnika, gdje plače. Sjaših s konja, pa ću u ime “heca” k njemu, da mu se, Bože prosti, malo nasmijem. Podigao glavu, upiljo pogled u mene, pa će mi: “Velečasni, lako Vama, a što ću ja sada? Slutim, da Austrija propada. Propane li, kamo ću ja? Vi ste svećenik, svojim kaležom zaslužit ćete svoj svagdašnji kruh, a ja?” Nije mi bio na bijegu dobar, ali ispovijedam, da mi ga je bilo žao. Slutio sam, da će se dogoditi njemu, što se dogodilo i ostalim oficirima propale Austrije, koji su naprosto trpili glad iza rata. Mislio sam u sebi ipak: Austrijo, Austrijo, ti gadna maćeho, što si prijetila Slavenima, to se tebi događa! Zašto nijesi dala slobodu svojim narodima, već si uvijek kušala, da Slavene cijepaš, da ih držiš u ropstvu?. . .
U 11 i po dođosmo na dogled glasovitog Kobarita (Caporeto), gdje su Talijani bili strahovito potučeni. Oko nas samo ruševine prošlog rata—mjesta naprosto iščezla s lica zemlje. Dok smo promatali ruševine sirota, na putu iz Kobarita začu se glazba. Talijanski zarobljenici doznaše za propast Austrije i Slovenci ih pustiše svojim kućama. Ne znam, gdje su našli glazbala. Sastalo se šest Talijana i vraćaju se pjesmom u svoju domovinu iz zarobljeništva. Kad su došli blizu nas i vidili velike živine-austrijske časnike pred sobom, prestadoše svirati. Ja ih oslovio talijanski i zamolio ih, da nam zasviraju koju lijepu. Komandant je tek onda razumio moj govor, kad Talijani izvedoše prve zvukove glazbalama. Srdit povadi svoju sablju i navali na njih, koji se u tren oka izgubiše nizbrijeg, a mene prezirno pogleda i reče mi: “Nisam nikad slutio, da jedan austrijski svećenik ima toliko malo smisla za svoju domovinu.”
Oko podne ulazismo u Kobarit. Onog divnog prizora ne ću zaboraviti, dok me budu noge nosile po svijetu. Put u Kobarit vodio kroz prosječeni brežuljak. Nad prosijekom veliki slavoluk. Na vrhu velika jugoslavenska zastava, a okolo zastave: hrvatska, srpska i slovenska. Davno već ne vidjeh izvješene svečano svoje zastave. Velim, da mi skoro sustao dah u grudima od neopisivog veselja. Zaustavih se te nehotice opetova natpis na slavoluku: Živila Jugoslavija!
Tekar pred slavolukom uvjerih se, da smo prestali biti austrijskim robljem, da nam sinula željena sloboda. Pa ipak samo se kašnje prevarili u svom zanosu za Jugoslaviju, jer se nije razvijala po našem snu, ipak što se moje osobe tiše, rečem svakome: draža mi stoput Jugoslavija od onakve Austrije. A tko se još danas zanaša za staru Austriju, slobodno mu, da pođe u Austriju, kao i boljševicima, da pođu u Rusiju.
Na pogled naših zastava ja sam naprosto zanijemio i onog časa bio bih dao svoj život na oltar svoje domovine, što ću malo kašnje i dokazati.
Švabe vidjevši simbole slobodne Jugoslavije, sjetiše se, da je ipak nešto po srijedi. Zato, kad dođosmo pred sami Kobarit, komandant izdade strogu naredbu, da ne smije nitko bez njegovog znanja i dozvole u mjesto. Pa da nas što moralnije prisili, da se ne odalečimo, naredio je kuharima, da nam dadu dvostruku porciju jela.
Ali ja za ove egipatske lonce ne marih. Ostavih konja, svoju prtljagu, sve i uputih se u mjesto. Na putu sretoh svog divizijskog župnika, Slovenca rodom iz Općina nad Trstom, i zamolih ga, da pođe sa mnom. “Što?” reče on, “a zar nisi čuo, da je zabranjeno bez komandantove dozvole odalečenje od regimente?” Mahnu rukom, u znak prezira i odoh u mjesto. Kad tamo, ulice pune metulja. Ne znam, otkuda sabraše tolike slovenske djevojke. Sve su bile odjevene u bijelo odijelo; svaka je imala košaricu jugoslavenskih znakova te ih vješala svakome vojniku na prsa. Prva mi je misao bila, da pođem na kompetentno mjesto, da ispitam pravo stanje stvari. A kuda, ako ne mjesnom župniku—Slovencu. Šteta, da mu se ne spominjem imena. Primio me srdačno i odveo u svoju blagovaonicu, gdje je bilo već na okupu više hrvaskih i slovenskih časnika. Podvorio me i ispričao mi najnoviji položaj u domovini, kako je sada slobodna i namjesto stare vlade, da su ustrojena Narodna Vijeća.
“Molim Vas,” rečem mu ja, “pred mjestom je hrvatska regimenta 116., a iza nas dolaze 16. i 78., bi li se dalo što uraditi, da zaustavimo vojsku, da je upotrebimo, da zaustavimo provalu Talijana?” “Mislim, da bi se moglo,” reče on, i pozove malog dečka, da me odvede na Narodno Vijeće.
Bila su dva sata popodne, kad dođoh na Narodno Vijeće. Uniđoh. Na divanu se valjao jedan “feldvebel.” “Molim, gdje je zapovijednik?” “Otišao je na objed!” “A kad će se povratiti?” “E, ne znam!” “Molim Vas, kakvo je Narodno Vijeće, gospoda časnici trebaju dva sata za objed!” “A tko ste molim Vas, i što ćete, da tako govorite?” “Ja sam vojnički dušobrižnik 116. regimente. Tri hrvatske regimente polaze u domovinu, a naša ih narodna stvar treba. Želim, da ih se zaustavi za obranu naše domovine!” “E, kad je tako, pokušat ću dobiti zapovjednika!” Zvao je i zvao na sve strane, ali ga nije mogao naći. Bog zna, u kojoj se kavani zabavljao, a naša je stvar pretrpila silan udarac. Jer, da smo se zaustavili na Kobaritu, ne znam, bi li Talijani tako lako pokušali prodrijeti u slovenske strane.
Dodijalo mi čekati. Lupnuh vratima i srdit odoh. Kad na ulicu, gledam, mjerim, moja regimenta prolazi. Dok sam stajao, da prepoznam svog konja, eto ti komandanta. Ja ga nisam ni vidio, ali sam ga čuo: “Što, Vi ovdje, a ja sam Vam bio zabranio, da ne smijete bez moje dozvole u mjesto.” Omjerih ga, kao još nikada, mahnuh mu na prijezir rukom i dalje gledah, gdje je moj konj. Sluga je jašio na njemu. On izjašio, a ja zajašio. Kad smo već bili izvan mjesta, najednom se začuje gungula, koja je svaki čas bivala jača. Okrenuh konja, da vidim, što je. Nastala je borba između zapovjednika Narodnog Vijeća i III. mog bataljona. Zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća hoće, da mu se predade regimenta, a zapovjednik bataljona, onaj Senjanin, bataljona ne da. Senjanin odgovara: ja sam dobio zapovjedništvo od austrijskog cara i njemu ću ga predati. Zaludu se i ja umješah. Vidio sam, da nema koristi. Švabe ne dadu vojnika, a vojnicima drago da pođu doma. Ja ne idem, veli jedan, imam kod kuće ženu; drugi veli: ja imam kod kuće curu, ja se ne ću više boriti!
Kritiziralo se i govorilo se toliko, zašto se nije tkogod našao, da zaustavi našu vojsku na granici. Što se mog osvjedočenja tiče, pošto sam dobro upoznao dušu vojnika za prevrata, ja vjerujem, da bi moguće jedini Napoleon Veliki bio kadar, da razjari duhove za novu borbu. Ta, čemu toliki “zeleni kaderi” iza sloma u Hrvatskoj? Zar nam to ne dokazuje, kako je bio demoraliziran hrvatski vojnik iza sloma?
Zaustavit vojnike na granici, da se upuste u nove borbe? Hm, tko to kaže, morao se naći kod povlačenja vojnika od Senice do Fliča i Tarviža, da upozna, što je bio vojnik. U njemu već nije ostalo ljudskog ponosa. Nije se gledalo, tko je prvi, tko je zadnji, nije se pitalo, čije je što. O časnicima ne govorim, jer su ih vojnici za milost trpili, da putuju s njima. Carski znak na kapi zamijeniše crvenom krpom, a ona crvena boja jasno govorila, da su vojnici u ogromnoj većini bili boljševici. Oči im sijevale ko tigrima i jao si ga, da si kome rekao jednu riječ. Česi su mi se zamjerili pri bijegu. Širok inače put bio je samo za njih, gurahu i lijevo i desno, samo da budu prvi. Oni su za mene biIi najgori boljševici, a više nego ikoji zarobiše najviše četveronožaca, jer im je tobože domovina bila jako daleko. Nije falilo ni dvonožaca, kao n. p. gusaka, pataka i kokoši. Kad su se penjali na Pass Predil, čula se iz njihovih kola sva živinska muzika: muzika svinja, janjca, koza, pjev kokota, itd.
Što se toga tiče, ni moja regimenta nije bila najbolja. Kad smo 5. novembra došli kasno uvečer između Fliča i Pass Predila, da tamo prenoćimo, bio sam, što se kaže kao pas. Cijeli dan nijesam ništa jeo, a nije borme šala marširati cijeli dan. Ogledavao sam se, gdje je večera, a Bog zna, da li je bila onog dana skuhana. Stali smo rušiti nove austrijske barake, da se stoplimo. Sjedio sam kraj vatre, a po želucu mi gadno tulilo. Jedan vojnik izvadi komad komisa. Nije bilo dosta ni za njega. Ah glad nema očiju, pa se odvažih i zamolih ga kao Boga, da mi dade komadičak, da progutam slinu. Dobričina, otkinuo od svoga grla i dao mi. O, kako je onaj kruh bio sladak! Svi amerikanski “kejki” i “kendi,” sva amerikanska pečenka nek se u slasti sakrije pred onim komadićem kruha. Doznao sam kašnje, da su neki huncuti od moje regimente imali pravi pir. Sakrili se nekamo i pekli talijanske guske.
Ali, gdje krađa večera, tamo ne ruča. Drugi dan o podne dimi se na sve strane. Gladuš ima najbolji nos, pa tako je bilo i kod mene. Odoh okolo, da li moji vojnici peku krumpir. Vrapca, krumpir! Deset se utovljenih janjaca peklo na ražnju. Pomislih: ej, ne ću odavle, jedno stegno biti će za mene. Znao sam, da je ukrađeno, ali glad ne pita za gospodara, tim više što putnik može i u petak jesti meso, a zašto ne bi ja komad ovna, kad ga ionako gazda ne će jesti. Ali ovdje je vrijedila ona naša: krivo stečeno, nije blagoslovljeno! Tek ovnima zažutila malo kora, “hornist” zatrubi na uzmak, jer da se približavaju Talijani. A mi? Pusti, brate i ovnove, pa bjež!
Mjesečina je divno sjala, kad smo prolazili kroz Pass Predil, gdje su Hrvati lijevali krv za Austriju i gdje su zaustavili Napoleonu korak. U jednoj litici vidjeh spomenik, jedinu plaću za hrvatsko junaštvo.
Oko 11 sata u noći stigosmo gladni i umorni do Tarviža. Zalud pitam lijevo i desno, gdje ću umoran prospavati onu noć bez večere. Razumjeh, da mi preostaje vedro nebo. A hladno, ta, na Alpama smo bili. Pomogli smo se. Sakupili se na jedno polje, gdje je bio konjski tabor, a posvuda konjska voda i balega. Doznali se. Navalili na plotove, srušili ih, napravili veliku vatru i naslonjeni jedan na drugoga, dočekasmo zoru.
U Tarvižu se morala razdijeliti moja regimenta. Švabe, Madžari i Česi će na sjever, a mi na istok. Dogovorili se kao braća, da ćemo razdijeliti svoju ratnu sirotinju. Po broju narodnosti razdijelismo konje, kola, topove, municiju. Meni došao lijepi riđan, da me dovede ravno do moga oca i da potom ore Pod Slemenom hruste moga ćaće. Svezah na sedlo sve svoje potrebice. A bilo je i lijepih stvari, koje nakupovah u Italiji.
Dok gladih svog riđana, nastala graja. Švabe i Madžari razišli se po dolovima, gdje su pasli naši konji, zajašili ih, pa bjež. Naši skočili za njima. Nastala vika, psovanje, tučnjava. Ja sam dosta slabo prošao. Madžar, liječnik moje regimente, zajašio mog spremljenog konja i bjež, da ga ne bi vile ulovile. Nije mi bilo toliko žao konja, koli moja dva kaputa i dva gunja. A borme nije bila šala ostati bez kaputa na onim visinama.
Srećom dobih drugog konja i pod večer krenusmo dalje prama Kranjskoj Gori. Imao sam dobrog slugu, ali iza revolucije na fronti prešao i on među “boljševike.” Zaludu sam ga molio za ikoju ljubav. Na sve je odgovarao: “Ja već nisam ničiji sluga!”
Negdje oko 9 sata u noći otpočinusmo, da razdijelimo večeru. Svezah konja za plot i pošao, da mirim vojnike, koji se tukli, tko će od njih dobiti veću porciju gulaša. Kad se okrenuh, vidjeh: neki Srbin-“felbaba” isprsio se na mome konju. Gledam i ne razumijem njegove drzovitosti.
Svaki je mislio, da će ravno kući s konjima i kolima pa taj “felbaba” prodao svog lijepog konja nekom vojniku, a moga ukrao. Protestirao sam, ali uzalud. Da ne bude psovke i graje, popustih i pješice kao regrut naprijed.
Oko 11 sata u noći stigosmo do nekih ogromnih baraka između Tarviža i Kranjske Gore. Odmah sam pošao do komandanta i zahtjevah, da mi se konj vrati. On mi se samo trpko smijao i dobacio mi: “Vi Hrvati imate dobre noge da bježite iz fronte, pa ajte sada pješice do Zagreba!”
Naljutio me takav odgovor, tim više što sam znao, što se je komandant nadao, da će mu uspjeti prenijeti sav ratni materijal u Austriju. One noći nije bilo ni govora o spavanju. Stisnuo sam se u štali na sijeno bez gunja, jer mi ih ukrao Madžar, pa ne znam, je li hvatala ognjica ili zimnica.
U ranu zoru ostavih regimentu, pa pješice u Kranjsku Goru. Doznah, da je tamo Narodno Vijeće. Prijavih se komandantu. To je bio neki natporučnik—Poljak. Saopćih mu, da dolazi hrvatska regimenta i da je razoruža, jer da švaba komandant misli s cijelim materijalom u Austriju. Zamolih ga, da mi dade što pojesti.
Vojnici su upravo derali dva teleta i zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća naredi, da mi dadu od teleta kojigod komad zaželim. Zaželih dva srca, koja su vojnici spekli na žeravi. Naravski, da sam dobio i vina, da što slasnije spravim teleća srca.
Bilo je negdje oko 11 sati. Na putu, koji vodio iz šume, opazim četu, koja dolazila. Brzo sam prepoznao, da je ono moja regimenta, pošto odmah prepoznah pred vojskom na konju zapovjednika, šest nogu visokog.
“Natporučniče, moja regimenta dolazi, molim učinite svoju dužnost!” Pred stanom zapovjedništva sa svake strane puta bile sakrivene dvije mašinske puške. Skočiše dva vojnika, svaki k svojoj mašinskoj puški i spraviše ih za juriš. Ja sam slavodobitno stajao do puta i junački mjerio zapovjednika regimente, da vidimo što će sada Švaba.
Zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća stane nasred puta. I kad je komandant regimente došao blizu, zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća trgne sablju i zapovjedi komandantu, da stane.
“Tko ste Vi?” poviče komandant regimente. “To je bezobrazluk, da mene i moju regimentu zaustavlja jedan natporučnik!”
“Momci, pripravni!” reče zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća. Mašinske puške stale škljocati. Komandant regimente problijedi i na zapovijed Narodnog Vijeća sađe s konja.
“Daj amo sablju!” naredi mu zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća. I taj gordi Švaba poslušao pripravno. Zatim naredi zapovjednik Narodnog Vijeća vojsci, da polože oružje. O, koli su veselo poslušali taj nalog. Jedan se preko drugog napinjao, bacao preko plota puške, bajonete na ramenu s primjedbom: aj k vr . . .!
Razoružani još smo marširali jedan dan do Jesenica, gdje tekar dne 9. novembra u jutro nađosmo marvinski tren, koji nas doveo u nedjelju, 10. novembra, u naš bijeli Zagreb i gdje se raziđosmo kao rakova djeca …
Velečasni Vjenceslav Vukonić OFM rođen je 3. ožujka 1884. u Lokvama, Gorski Kotar. Na krštenju je dobio ime Josip koje je promijenio u Vjenceslav pri ulasku u Red Manje braće, odnosno u hrvatsku Franjevačku provinciju sv. Jeronima. Za svećenika je zaređen 1909. a godine 1916. poslan je za vojnog kapelana hrvatskim vojnicima koji su služili u austro-ugarskoj vojsci na Istočnoj bojišnici Prvog svjetskog rata. U proljeće 1918. premješten je na bojišnicu u Italiji i tu je dočekao kraj rata. Premda je u svojim tadašnjim političkim pogledima bio za jugoslavensko jedinstvo napustio je vojnu službu uskoro iza rata. Uvidio je, kao i mnogi drugi iz njegove generacije, da nova državna tvorevina nije ispunila njegove snove o slobodi. Pošao je u Ameriku 1920. godine i bio župnik hrvatske katoličke župe sv. Jeronima u Chicagu od 1921. do 1928. Bio je zatim dvije godine na župama u Euclidu i Lorainu, Ohio i potom se vratio u domovinu. Uoči Drugog svjetskog rata ponovo je došao u Ameriku i služio kao bolnički kapelan u Warren, Ohio. Nekoliko godina prije smrti bio je u staračkom domu u Youngstownu, Ohio i tu je umro 31. svibnja 1961. Za vrijeme služenja u Warren-u preveo je na hrvatski i objavio Evangeline, djelo slavnog američkog pjesnika Henry-a Wadsworth-a Longfellow-a.