Briedis | bit.ly/cfbh_briedis Kārlis Lobe, 1963—David Guild, 1993
Our translation of the book's inside front endpaper foreword, not included in David Gould's.
HE LATVIAN RIFLEMEN's predecessors are two National Guard battalions which in April, 1915 repulsed a German break-through at Jelgava. A proposal arose from their collective to unite Latvians into their own dedicated military units, and Duma members Zālītis and Goldmanis presented it to the heads of the military. Formation was authorized July 19th. On that same day, the two parliamentarians published the historical appeal "Rally under Latvian banners," composed by Skalbe and Ķēniņš.
A new stage began in the history of our people.
After centuries, Latvians once again wielded weapons. They believed — the hour has struck, now or never — as called for in that galvanizing battle cry. Virza writes: "All the people were hopeful of some kind of a new era, of a great reckoning against their oppressors, who had filled our entire history with horror, despair, and tears from time immemorial. A deep intuition told the that Latvians must lead at the fore of this war, and in selfless struggle attain some perpetual rights by which they could go down in history as a free people."
Even the most reserved of Latvian poets, Krūza, urged:
Under the flag, join the ranks anew
To break once and for all the evil curse of power,
And to bend not, no matter how fares the fight,
Go avenge all the dishonor done unto us,
Which piling on for so many lifetimes, has heaped up upon us,
And resurrect the unfinished battle!
"The banks along the Daugava teem with people," wrote A. Kroders, — "flowers everywhere. Dozens of barges rock upon the wide river waters. They had arrived to transport the first Latvian Riflemen volunteers. Mothers, sweethearts, sisters, and friends stand and await them with armfuls of flowers. They converse in church whispers, so deep are their emotions. It was a national celebration, some wonderful manifestation, where the desire of the people was loosed in strength and glory: for each to stand and die for their homeland's sanctity. The entire mass of people heaves, all await with bated breath, gaze unwavering from the road. — Div' dūjiņas gaisā skrēja! (Two doves darted into the sky!) — And there they came — thousands of soldiers, tunics donned, in tight formation, steely-faced. Those were soldiers no longer, who marched there, it was the free will of an entire people. I feel that, so felt others. Hundreds of kerchiefs fluttered into the sky like a flock of doves. The crowd wept, overcome with emotion, as it parted a path for the departing. It seemed as if Latvia's blooming summer had embarked upon the barges, because all the soldiers' chests and hats had been decorated with flowers.
Skalbe, then himself a Latvian rifleman, expressed the people's destiny with these words:
Latvia's sons will never cease to fight,
Into Hades itself they are prepared to descend,
Fearlessly to pound their fist on the table,
To demand, for Latvia, justice and its rightful claim.
The victories of the Latvian riflemen on the battle-field secured against the people being scattered as refugees, and founded and strengthened within them the concept of an independent nation state. The riflemen's glory enabled Goldmanis, on the 5th of January, 1918, at the convened Russian Constituent Assembly, to utter these proud words: "The question of Latvia has become an international one, which will no longer be settled here in a tsarist palace. The Latvian people will decide for themselves in their own constituent assembly their domestic organization and international relations."
We forget all too soon, all to soon exile renders us senseless to what is meaningful not to ourselves as individuals, but as a people. Striving only for pleasures and prosperity, we decay into a deep lifeless slumber. This moment of luxury lasts only until put to the first major test. It is vital to look to the future to insure our nation does not perish, that its heroic spirit not decay. Thus this series is dedicated to our most renowned soldiers. Let us commemorate them in deep reverence, let us teach our children to memorize their names and to trace their course through war.
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