Military history

Chapter 4

Entertainment

In spite of all the hardships of front-line life, people remained people, and during their leisure time tried to divert themselves – and comrades – from thoughts of upcoming action and the mortal danger attached to it. Simple pranks at the expense of green recruits were common. For example, an aircraft technician might send a young assistant to the depot to fetch a ‘bucket of compression’, or a seasoned tanker might tell youngsters such a story:

Once, I was sitting in my tank, the crews were at rest. I got a radio message that infantry had gone on to the attack and needed fire support. I shot, then noticed my tank move forward. Nobody's touching pedals, but the tank is advancing! Then I understood. It turned out the shell had stuck in the gun barrel, and its power was huge, you know, so it pulled the gun forward and the whole tank followed!

Thus, good story-tellers – capable of retelling previously read books, fictional or real-life stories – were popular and gained a significant audience.

Of course, people also wrote letters home to their kinfolk and families. Back then, girls sent ‘triangulars’ [named after the triangular-shaped envelope – trans.] to the front, addressed ‘To a Fighting Man of the Red Army’, and sometimes containing a photo. Soldiers would reply to girls they liked, a correspondence would commence, and sometimes developed into a more serious relationship.

image

The crew of an M4A2 Sherman tank during a rest. In the hands of one crewman is an accordion – one of the most popular musical instruments of that time.

image

An accordion-player.

Games, such as chess, were played, and musicians – especially accordion-players – were highly regarded. That said, Meir Toker, a signalman, remembers:

There were chess sets and several packs of captured German playing cards in the platoon. But we liked to turn on the two-way [radio] and listen to dogfights – how the opposing pilots cursed each other in the skies! People didn't have many cultural demands at the front line. We didn't see books and didn't look for them. We lived one day at a time . . .

Sometimes, a mobile cinema booth came around and units watched movies in turn. These were usually propaganda movies, so-called ‘front-line film collections’, in which the chief characters easily defeated whole units of stupid and comical ‘Fritzes’.

From the beginning of the war, so-called ‘concert brigades’ were raised in theatres across the USSR. They would go to the front to perform plays or concerts. Of course, the actors were not allowed at the ‘sharp end’, but they did perform in the rear, some 10-30 kilometres from the front. A signaller, Olga Zonova, recalls:

Actors from Moscow would come around [. . .] Say we came from a night shift – in an hour or two they would wake us up and we walked to watch the show with our eyes shut.

But, more frequently, front-line personnel went without such luxuries. Nurse Vera Kirichenko remembers:

What leisure? Of dancing or entertainment parties, we had none of those. Nobody visited us. The hospital was small, no artists came to our place.

image

Soldiers listen to a gramophone. The photographer took some pains to make this photo an idealized scene: a chessboard, a gramophone and, of course, the main Soviet newspaper, Pravda (‘The Truth’).

image

Dancing to the accompaniment of an accordion. The soldiers return home from war with combat medals and orders on their chests.

A gramophone was a real rarity on the front line. For many soldiers, hearing the voice of a pre-war singer was like a short trip home.

image

image

Pilots sing ‘chastushkas’ – pithy, often bawdy rhyming couplets. In the background technicians prepare a MiG-3 fighter for flight. Because of the black mount of the star on the wing, we can suppose the photo was taken not later than 1943, when compulsory white mounts were introduced in the Air Force.

Wounded soldiers convalescing. The walking wounded were lucky, they could play billiards. The less fortunate had to be content with playing draughts or dominoes.

image

image

Naval infantrymen during a rest. On the peakless cap of the rightmost soldier you can see an inscription, ‘Shaumyan’. The destroyer Shaumyan ran aground in 1942 and its crew were sent to an infantry brigade. The soldier is armed with a PPSh submachine-gun with box magazine. An RPG-40 anti-tank grenade is in front of him. The winding of machine-gun belts round the chest has no practical purpose, but it was fashionable to emulate a trend begun in 1917 by revolutionary sailors.

image

Amateurs' performance. In every unit, groups of amateur performers sprang up to mark celebrations with singing and dancing.

image

Due to the official prohibition of card games, dominoes were popular at the front. Judging by the many decorations on the chests of some soldiers in this photo, we can assume the domino-players are from a reconnaissance unit.

image

A game of chess between a senior lieutenant and another fighter pilot. A Lend-Lease P-40 Tomahawk can be seen in the background.

image

Actors play a typical comical scene about Germans stealing women's underwear. It is interesting that the officer's awards date back to the First World War.

When a unit was withdrawn for reorganization, commanders did much to vary the soldiers' leisure time. In particular, they organized comical sporting games. In this photo can be seen a fight with sacks stuffed with rags. Opponents must knock each other down from the balance beam.

image

image

An improvised French wrestling contest.

image

Naval infantrymen, withdrawn from the front for reorganization, are playing volleyball during a lull in the fighting. The photo was probably taken in the Polar Regions.

image

An acrobatic demonstration on a Lend-Lease Willys jeep, performed by an actor of a front-line concert team.

image

Lidya Ruslanova sings Russian folk songs for Red Army soldiers. She uses an ordinary lorry as a stage. In the background can be seen a composite quad anti-aircraft machine gun.

image

A concert during celebrations for the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of the 29th Guards Red Banner rifle division (former 32nd Red Banner rifle division).

Sometimes, actors of front-line concert teams had to get to their concerts in such a way!

image

image

A film show with a portable film projector.

image

The sculptor, Pershudchev, creates a likeness of the female scout, Lyubov Kartseva, later killed in action.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!