Among the [Cossack insurgents] were boys of sixteen and seventeen, freshly mobilized into the ranks of the insurgents, throwing out their legs bravely over the warm sand, for some unaccountable reason talking and singing gaily. For them war was a novelty, like a new game. During their first days of fighting they would raise their heads from the harsh earth to listen to the bullets whistling over their heads. “Greenhorns” the front-line Cossacks contemptuously called them as they taught them to dig trenches, to shoot, to carry their equipment on the march, and even the art of delousing themselves and of wrapping their feet in rags so that they should not get tired so quickly in their heavy boots. But meantime the lad would stare out on the world around him with astonished, birdlike eyes, raising his head and gazing out of his trench, afire with curiosity, trying to see the Reds while the Reds’ bullets whistled past him. If death was his portion, the sixteen-year old “soldier” would stretch himself out and lie like a great child with boyishly round arms, and he would be carried back to his native village to be buried in the grave where his for-bears were rotting. His mother would meet him, wring her hands and crying aloud over the dead, tearing the grey hair from her head. And when the body was buried and the clay on the mound was drying, the aged, bowed mother would carry her unquenchable sorrow to the church, there to “remember” her dead son.
But if the bullet had not inflicted a mortal wound, then only would the lad begin to realize the merciless nature of war. His lips would tremble and writhe. The “soldier” would cry out in a childish voice: “Oh, Mother, Mother!” and little tears would roll from his eyes. The ambulance cart would shake him up over the trackless fields, the company medical officer would wash the wound and laughingly comfort him as if he were a child: “Now, Vania, don’t behave like a cry-baby!” But the “soldier” Vania would weep, would ask to go home, call for his mother. If he recovered and returned to his company, then indeed he was beginning to have a thorough understanding of war. Another week or two of battles, of bayonet-fighting, and then see him stand in front of a captive Red soldier and, with feet set wide apart, spitting like any brutal sergeant-major, hear him hiss through his teeth:
"Well, peasant, so you’re caught, you bastard!" So you wanted the land? Wanted equality? I expect you’re a Communak. Tell us, you snake!" In his anxiety to show his daring and "Cossack" frenzy he would raise his rifle and club the man who come to his death on the Don lands, fighting for the Soviet government, for Communism, for the abolition of war from the earth.
And somewhere in Moscow or Vyatka province, in some lonely village of the enormous Soviet Republic, a mother would receive the report that her son had “fallen in the struggle against the White Guards for the emancipation of the toiling people from the yoke of the landowners and capitalists.” She would read it again and again, tears running down her cheeks. Her motherly heart would be consumed with a burning grief, and every day until she died she would remember him whom she had carried in her womb, whom she had borne in blood and woman’s agony, him who had fallen under an enemy’s hand somewhere in the unknown Don region.