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Talking of trousers....

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. Although the Baron put his entire wardrobe at Pejacsevic's disposal, he regretted there were no trousers or breeches of a military pattern, all his suits being civilian ones of stripes or checks.

Having rejected the totally unsuitable, there remained only a pair of fine worsted trousers in a delicate pale primrose. These fitted perfectly, following the line of the leg as closely as ski pants, with a strap under the instep to hold the trouser leg taut. Thus attired, the General returned by train to Budapest, to change into Gala uniform in time to meet the Archduke.

There the matter might have ended, had not one of his aides-de-camp told the whole story while in his cups. The following day, a tailor in Budapest was ordered to make a pair of trousers similar to those worn by the General. On the second day, twenty officers placed orders; on the third day, a hundred, and within a week it seemed as if every young officer of the Budapest garrison was wearing |Pejacsevic' trousers.

The Town Major's office attempted to halt the flood, but in vain. Officers who were stopped for being improperly dressed replied that the Corps Commander himself had worn such trousers, and when questioned, Pejacsevic had to admit that it was true. Soon the elegant primrose trousers were being worn in every garrison city in the Empire, even on the streets of Vienna itself.

Following that Town Major's complaints, the General commanding Vienna Corps asked for an audience with Emperor Franz Josef -- the only man who could forbid this sartorial frivolity -- but the Emperor refused to do so. Instead, he told the irate Corps Commander that the poorly-paid officers had few pleasures in life, so if they wished to spend their money on these trousers, he had no intention of stopping them, although he, himself, would continue to wear old-fashioned sail-cloth.

So the Dress Regulations of the Austro-Hungarian Army were amended, authorising officers to wear close-fitting worsted trousers of pale primrose in hot weather -- and all because a General tore his trousers in a pool of pig slurry.

Editors Note: The Military Museum (Heeres-Geschichtliches Museum) is at the Arsenal in Vienna. It is open every day except Friday and public holidays. The prime exhibit recalls that dreadful day in June, 1914 when Sarajevo first came to the world's attention: the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were riding when they were assassinated by a gang of Serb murderers. Further information about this museum may be obtained from: the Austrian National Tourist Office, 30 St. George Street, London W1R 0AL, telephone: 071-629 0461.
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Title Annotation:revision in the Austro-Hungarian army's Dress Regulations
Author:Chapel, Beth
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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