War and Awakening
THE FIGHT FOR
Robert joined the war for Latvian independence in the
turbulent year 1919, shortly after Karlis’arrest. Two years would
pass before he could return to Druviena. Meanwhile, the family farm was
in disarray from neglect and war requisitions. Robert was given leave
in 1920 to put the farm back in order. Sometime in the year 1921 he prepared
to leave the country with the Revivalist movement. The family sold the
farm and liquidated all tools and remaining livestock, as well as most
personal belongings, in preparation for the trip to Brazil. But Robert
had never been officially discharged from military duty. His commander,
having gotten wind of Robert’s intentions, locked him up in the
military barracks at Daugavpils. Robert would serve one more year—MT
Following my father’s funeral in June of 1919, I reported back to
my partisan unit at the Gulbene parish school. In a few days we were ordered
to incorporate into the regular Latvian military, and I was assigned to
a machine gun platoon. The infant state of Latvia was then struggling
on two fronts: against the Red Army to the east, and the German baronial
forces that controlled the south of Riga. Needless to say, we were poorly
equipped and trained, but we made up for it in dedication. We initially
faced the Germans at Trepe. Our assignment was to prevent the encirclement
of Riga by keeping the Bermont-Awalov forces from crossing the river.
There we remained until fall.
Our next move was west to Ikskile, also on the north shore of the Daugava,
25 km east of Riga. Defeating the baronial forces, we crossed the river
and pushed south, chasing after them. We could now breathe more freely
and even take a few pictures (see photos next page). There is a photo
of myself with my automatic weapons squadron, standing on the ruins of
a church on the banks of the Daugava in Ikskile. I am the one leaning
on the rifle. Eventually we reached the southwest border of Germany, where
we celebrated Christmas, 1919.
I almost lost my life on a sunny autumn day on the Daugava front. All
was quiet, too quiet as it turned out. Off sentry duty, I casually strolled
through the neighborhood and into an orchard. A juicy apple would really
hit the spot, I thought. In the center of the orchard stood an outhouse,
which reminded me of a nature call I had noticed a while before and forgotten
in search for the perfect apple. Fortunately I did not linger in the outhouse,
not my favorite spot to pass the time. As I stepped away some ten or fifteen
paces, I heard the familiar and dreaded sound of a low flying object.
The whistle came from a fast approaching missile—we called them
mines—shot from a mine thrower. I automatically jumped into a ditch
a few yards away. The mine struck the privy dead center, covering me with
wood splinters and vile-smelling dirt. When I cautiously crawled out of
the ditch, where the privy had stood there was now only a wide hole in
the ground. Had I lingered a few seconds more, I would have been pulverized.
In barely a heartbeat’s time, I would have ceased to exist.
After beating back the Germans, we were reassigned back to Latvia, this
time to fight the Red Army. Early in 1920 we reached the ancient border
between Russia and Latgale. Now military activity was scaled down to border
patrols that kept track of Red Army movements on the other side. My unit
did not push on to enter Russia proper but stayed put until August of
that year, when the peace treaty was signed with Russia. In early spring
of 1920, I was granted furlough to put the farm back on track. Badly shorthanded
and devastated with grief, Mother and Peteris had let things fall into
disrepair, and the Bolsheviks had confiscated our best work horse. In
order to do spring sowing, the Latvian government gave us an army horse.
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