Though I am cheating a bit this week. I will not be talking about a direct ancestor, but rather, the brother of a great-grandfather. With all the First World War commemorations that are starting to happen now to commemorate the centenary of the start of the war, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a life that could have been, but was tragically cut short by the war. That would be my great-grandfather Arvīds Francis’ brother, Bruno.
Bruno Maximillian Francis was born on March 23, 1891, while his family was living on Remberģe estate, just northwest of Rīga, while his father Roberts was the tavernkeeper at the Stāle tavern. He was still, however, baptized in the Lēdurga Lutheran Church on April 21, near the family’s usual home of Kroņi on Nabe estate. His older sister Vera was also born at Stāle tavern, but the rest of the children, both older and younger, were born back in Nabe.
He lived at his family’s farm until the time of his conscription into the Russian Empire Army in 1915, when he was 24 years old. From his sister Alise’s diaries, we know that he was unhappy about going to war, and not eager in the least, as other young men were. This makes me think that he was not a part of the Latvian rifleman brigades, which were allegedly “volunteer” brigades, but who knows how voluntary they really were.
The diaries tell us that he reported to the army in mid-September of 1915, so he would not have been on the Eastern Front during the Great Retreat, which makes me think that he was sent to reinforce the Rīga-Jēkabpils-Daugavpils-Baranovichi-Pinsk-Dubno-Ternopil line. However, all contact was lost with him by the end of October – though I’m not certain that he died outright, since otherwise his family would have received notice of his death, but here they are left waiting and do not know, since still a year later Alise writes that she knows nothing of her brother’s fate, but assumes he is dead since he has not written. Did the Russian army send telegrams to families when soldiers died? I would have to check. If letters got through, I would imagine telegrams would as well. But maybe he was sent further afield, and only died later? Or was imprisoned and in a POW camp? I may never know. Maybe as I work into 1918 in Alise’s diary some answers will come (there were no answers in 1917), but right now, there are none.
If Bruno did die shortly after arriving at the front, he would have died when he was 24 years old. So young. Such a life unlived. This family photo – the only photo I have of him – tells me that he was a good-looking young man. I’m sure he had many women clamouring to marry him, but it was not to be. Did he leave a sweetheart behind when he headed off to war? Alise doesn’t mention anyone, but it is possible.
Or maybe… he survived? Maybe he was taken prisoner by the Germans, but then after the war was over, and the Russian Civil War was in full swing, he elected not to return, since he wasn’t sure what would result from the chaos? But surely, in such a case, after Latvia was established as its own free country, he would have communicated with his family, even if he had settled down elsewhere? All family lore says he died, but I have yet to have a record of it, or even a mention of a record, so I’m not giving up on him yet, though it may be a futile hope.
War is a terrible thing. While humanity didn’t learn from the First World War and did the Second, let’s hope that the Third never comes.