Talking of Trousers

By Chapel, Beth | Contemporary Review, August 1992 | Go to article overview

Talking of Trousers


Chapel, Beth, Contemporary Review


IN military history, changes in tactics, drill, weapons and uniforms are often brought about almost by chance. One amusing example, which caused a stir in the most conservative army in Europe -- that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- was caused by a riding accident.

Several years ago, as a young art student, I visited the main military gallery of the Army Historical Museum in Vienna, where my eye was taken by a quite undistinguished painting, after Ajdukiewicz, entitled |Cavalry-General Nicholas Graf von Pejacsevic Foxhunting in Hollics'. In it, the gallant officer riding to hounds is shown in full control of his galloping horse, his shako firmly clamped to his head as if it were glued in place, yet he had only one arm!

My amusement at this remarkable feat prompted an elderly gentleman standing nearby to relate how the General had unwittingly brought about a change in the summer pattern trousers worn by Austro-Hungarian officers.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Dress Regulations specified that white sail-cloth should be worn in warm weather. These were unattractive, uncomfortable garments, which fell in thick, unsightly folds over the boots, their only redeeming quality being that the material was almost indestructible.

In 1890, the General was commanding 4th Corps, and on a fine day in June of that year, he travelled by train, from his headquarters in Budapest, to Czegled, to attend manoeuvres in the Klein Kumanien area. These ended in the early afternoon, and the General immediately left for the station, in order to return post-haste to the capital. There he was to attend a reception, at which the guest of honour would be the Archduke Josef, a member of the Imperial family.

The area around Czegled was not exclusively a military training area; in fact, it was more famous as the centre of the Hungarian pig farming industry. The animals roamed freely, but tended to congregate around pools of mud slurry, in which they submerged themselves for coolness during the heat of the day.

As the General trotted at the head of the small group of officers, his horse reared in fright when a monstrous mud-covered boar rose suddenly between its front legs. Skilful rider though he was, Pejacsevic was thrown, to land in the filthy black slurry.

Having established there was no serious damage, the General scrambled to his feet, anxious to rid himself of the mud and filth encrusting his white breeches. To add to his annoyance, he discovered a long rip in the seat of his trousers. Obviously he could not return to Budapest in such a condition, yet it was imperative that he be there in time for the Reception that evening.

Fortunately the General was able to enlist the help of a friend, Baron Szekassy, whose mansion was nearby. …

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