A RECRUIT'S CHRISTMAS 1943
Our group of twenty young recruits
of regular Croatian army known as HRVATSKI DOMOBRAN (= Home Guard) came
here for the officer's training early November 1943. We have started with
the riding training few weeks ago only. Since then one of the training
duties was getting orders for night duty at the stables. So it happened
that each of us got his turn at least once in a week. One also could get
such an order as a "punishment" for any disobedience at a shorter interval
too. As matter of bad luck I had spent my Christmas' Eve 1943 on the night
duty in of the stables with some 40 restless horses. Horses did not have
to work hard past few days and the regular evening's oats made them rather
adventurous that night.
Such a stable had a central wide corridor between horse's boxes and was divided in two sections by the central main passage. The later had large sliding doors at each side providing an access wide enough to get through a pair of the biggest horses fully harnessed. These heavy horses created so called "pole pair" that was the first pair of three pulling a howitzer canon or an ammunition carrier pulled by two pairs only. At each side of the corridor were 2 x 20 horse's boxes and at the far ends were chambers for fodder, straw as well as for large boxes containing oats. One kept there the various harnesses, implements, cleaning tools and wheelbarrows too.
The straw chamber was best place to spend at night provided horses did not make too many problems. Night watcher had to keep corridors clean of any straw, dry with it an outflow of horse's urine and to collect horses' "apples" during all times of night. The Sergeant or Officer in Charge would inspect stables mostly during night's wee-hours. Being caught sleeping or with spilled straw or "apples" in the corridor would be reported immediately which resulted repeating one or more repetitions of the night watches.
The morning call passed without any particularities so we returned to other stable's chores to be completed before our replacement arrives. One had to substitute straw, comb horses (a hard work, believe we), sweep clean and dust off saddles, bridles and hanged harnesses. The rest of Battery's crew visited the Christmas sermon and returned about an hour before the shift changing time. Suddenly, a comrade rushed into stable shouting: "Christmas parcel had arrived for us. Merry Christmas! Hurrah!" This was the best news since two months we had left our homes. We got red parcel-stamps few weeks ago that we have sent home with letters. We knew that every letter would be censored by a military agency and we didn't have any experience with it yet. We couldn't know whether our parcel-stamps arrived at home in time or how long it would take until a parcel would arrive here. The parcels' arrival was the best news of Christmas Day 1943.
The Czech made howitzer with 100mm. Field training in winter early in 1944.
We handed over the stables to the next shift and run over wind swept drill grounds to the canteen for lunch. Do eat first then go to the next doing this was one of the first axioms I have learned during my early war times. After the meal we rushed back to our room known as "Stube 21" to spend the rest of afternoon because we didn't have any other duties afterwards. My parcel was waiting still unopened for me on the common table but other comrades had opened their parcels already. The room was in a real mess: paper everywhere, it smelled of homemade food mixed with common soldiers' ones including some strong drinks' whiff too. I took my parcel and noticed that the address wasn't in my mother's handwriting. The parcel sent my aunt from Zagreb but there was none from my parents who lived in Osijek. Inside I found aunt's short note wishing me all the best and to enjoy the contents thoroughly. I wondered why there wasn't any parcel from home or at least a note from mother? However I had sent parcel stamps with letters to home only but not to Zagreb at all. Why was this parcel send from Zagreb? What's going on or happened at home?
Of course I opened my parcel carefully and investigated thoroughly its contents before deciding where to start tasting those many goodies. There were many cakes and pastries my mother used preparing for Christmas including few of quince-cheese forms, smoked sausages, a bottle of "sljivovica" (home plum brandy) fixed between woolen socks, etc. I recognized so many things as my mother's true made. I did "stole" many of Christmas' cakes from closed drawers being assisted by father sometimes too. Even the packing could be by mother only. As first to taste I picked up that `little cock' of formed quince-cheese. Mother made it especially for me -- it was MY form and part of my childhood forever. Now, a question started bothering me and it would for weeks -- why mother didn't send this parcel?
Later that afternoon I wrote two letters. First one was addressed to my aunt in Zagreb acknowledging the parcel's receipt. I asked also in a most innocent way about her other sister's doing thus not mentioning mother at all. The second one was then for my parents in which I cautiously asked about their health and mentioned the receipt of aunt's parcel. I have inquired also whether they had got the parcel-stamps I have sent to them? It bothered me profoundly why was that parcel send from Zagreb and not from Osijek?
Few weeks later I got mother's reply informing me that she made that parcel herself. Somebody took it from Osijek bringing it to my aunt in Zagreb to make sure to arrive on time for Christmas. Haven't I recognize that quince-cheese `little cock' she always kept for me for Christmas. I felt very ashamed because of my misapprehension indeed! Mother told me few years later how she felt sorry for me and was saddened by my letter written on that Christmas Day of 1943 too.
A six horse team pulling a Czech howitzer during a field training.
Email Zvonko Springer at : firstname.lastname@example.org