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Pictures at an exhibition 2 -Hassadar Museum of the Resistance

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The exhibits in this room are all taken from the Cetagandan bunker under Ladderback Close and appear by kind permission of the Vorkosigan family and Emperor Gregor Vorbarra.


It is a misconception that non Vor candidates were legally barred from becoming army officers. The barriers to entry were indeed very high but they were actually practical and social rather than legal.

There was no formal system of training for officers so would be cadets had to persuade an existing officer to take them on as an apprentice. Typically, the apprentices would be in their early teens although we have documented instances of boys as young as nine signing apprenticeship indentures. However, usually a cadet would be between 12 and 14 and his training would last for seven years.

Cadets were also expected to supply their own horses, military dress and equipment which represented a substantial outlay even when spread around the cadet’s extended clan. Older military relatives in particular would be expected to pass on some item of their own equipment, both to spread the cost and to bring luck to the cadet.

Hand me downs from distinguished soldiers were particularly treasured. Pierre le Sanguinaire received so many requests for luck pieces that he had nothing better than his old campaign chamber pot to pass on to one young and hopeful relative. It is not recorded whether the recipient was grateful.

The cadet would also be expected to bring his own servitors and pay for their horses, equipment and military dress too. When not on campaign, the cadet would live as part of his mentor’s household and his family would sometimes make a cash gift to cover living expenses.

An apprenticeship was clearly a substantial expense for any family. But the right apprenticeship would mean more than just a career. The negotiations for his sons’ apprenticeships were as important to a vor father as those for his daughters’ marriages.

The apprentice –mentor relationship was considered to be almost as important as a blood relationship or marriage alliance in the web linking vor households. An apprenticeship might well lead to marriage or even being adopted as an heir. The bond of loyalty between apprentice and mentor was considered to be almost as important as that between son and father or Count and Emperor –conflicts between those loyalties were a frequent theme for fiction and drama in the time of isolation.

Professora Vorfolse has famously described the apprenticeship system as a social conduit for the continuance of the vor which incidentally produced some army officers. At its best, the apprenticeship system allowed for the greatest general of the Dorcan wars, Pierre le Sanguinaire, to train the greatest general of the resistance, Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan. However, it is noteworthy that Vorkosigan was one of the strongest advocates of establishing an Imperial Academy and was instrumental in steering the legislation to endow the academy through the Council of Counts. Vorkosigan also sat on the governing board of the academy for several years, resigning only when his oldest surviving son entered the academy.

On the left, we have a reconstruction of Count Piotr Vorkosigan’s campaign tent. The future general was nearly captured by the Cetagandans at the very start of his career and had to abandon his tent and equipment. It was looted by Ceta troops and eventually found its way to the Cetagandan bunker under Ladderback Close.

The Cetas probably looted the tent for practical reasons – their own more modern equipment often proved to be insufficiently robust for Barrayaran conditions - but it appears to have been subsequently sold onto a collector of vor militaria, ghem Captain Naruto.

Although the tent is very small, it is intended for three men. Each would take a guard watch for one third of the night while the other two shared the bed roll. The tent seems very cramped and lacking in privacy to modern eyes. However, even a vor youth would have been accustomed to communal sleeping for warmth. Piotr would probably have shared his tent and bedroll with his servitors, armsmen’s sons whom he had known all his life.

Piotr’s spare military dress was also captured and is displayed on the dummy on the left. Uniform is not quite the right word for this costume which is simply a typical riding outfit of the period in the Vorkosigan house colours of brown and silver with rank epaulettes sewed onto the shoulders. Piotr was still very young when this outfit was made for him- the hem of the trousers has been let down twice for late growth.

Everything in the tent is designed to pack up compactly. The three cups are slightly different sizes and don’t have handles so they fit inside each other. The cooking pot is the perfect size to pack inside the chamber pot –hopefully they would have rinsed it out first. Piotr’s servitors would have practised packing everything away at speed including the tent itself – a demonstration of this skill is still part of the annual Military Tattoo at Hassadar Military College.

Although the equipment is sparse and utilitarian, there are still individual touches. The blanket on the bedroll has been hand embroidered with maple leaves while the travelling writing desk is polished maplewood with a marquetry inlay. So the young soldier would still have had some reminders of home comforts.

When the writing desk was conserved by the museum’s craftsmen, a concealed drawer was found containing family letters. These are displayed in the cabinet on the right. The contents are routine family news –but the fold lines show that they were read over and over again. The letters are determinedly cheerful – a favourite horse has foaled, his kid sister, Carla Rose is knitting him a scarf. The war is never mentioned except obliquely when his mother hopes that he will come home safe. A casual reader would assume that Piotr’s family was still unaffected by the war.

A cross-check to the Vorkosigan family archives shows a very different picture of the Vorkosigans home life.

Piotr’s father, Count Selig Vorkosigan, had been missing in action since the battle of Barra Ridge six months earlier. He was later traced to a prisoner of war camp near Vorbarr Sultana where he had died of his wounds.

His mother, Countess Natalya Vorkosigan was running the Vorkosigan district. This was a particularly difficult challenge although the district had not yet been attacked by the Cetas. The harvests had been poor with many of the farm labourers away with the army while food supplies had to be stretched to feed refugees from neighbouring districts. The Countess had acted promptly and efficiently to impose food rationing and encourage young women to volunteer for farm work placements.

The farm work placement scheme was very popular especially in the hill villages because the women were promised a small sum as a dowry at the end of their service. The scheme still survives today although it is now open to both sexes and the end of service gratuity is more commonly used to pay university or college fees.

The introduction of rationing was resented in the wealthier parts of the district, particularly in Vorkosigan Vashnoi where there were food riots. It was unfortunate that many of the refugees were from the Vorinnis district, a traditional adversary of the Vorkosigan district. Citizens openly grumbled about being put on short commons to feed refugees from an “enemy” district. It was not until well after the first Ceta troops arrived on district territory that public opinion swung behind the Countess again. So at the time that the Countess wrote these cheerful newsy letters to her eldest son, she was herself caught up in the war effort.

We do not know if Carla Rose ever completed the scarf she promised her brother. She was a trainee nurse at the Vorkosigan Vashnoi hospital. The hospital was totally destroyed in the bombing of Vorkosigan Vashnoi . Carla Rose would have been killed instantly.
Piotr’s younger brother, Alexander was an indirect casualty of the bombing. He died of radiation sickness six months later.

Piotr’s mother worked tirelessly to protect her own district and the refugees. She also contributed unwittingly to the Barrayaran resistance in another way. Throughout the war, she kept up an intermittent smuggled correspondence with her close friend Princess Maryam Vorbarra (the Betan born wife of Xav Vorbarra) back on Beta. Maryam’s young daughters Olivia and Sonia began to use material from these letters and from their own experiences on Barrayar in their vlog, “The Barrayaran Princess Diaries”. Although the vlog was initially suggested merely as a form of therapy for Olivia and Sonia after their traumatic escape from Barrayar, it became very popular and was instrumental in swaying public opinion on Beta in favour of continued intervention in the war. A successful vidbook and stage play based on the vlog was translated into 114 languages around the nexus and has never been out of publication since. Although it is now out of copyright, it has raised millions of marks for charities helping the victims both of the Cetagandan wars and later conflicts across the Nexus.

Olivia and Sonia both continued to record their subsequent experiences on Barrayar until Olivia’s untimely death in the civil war between Ezar and Yuri Vorbarra and eleven volumes of the Barrayaran Princess Diaries were eventually published. Although Sonia survived the massacre in which her sister was murdered, she did not wish to continue with the diaries on her own although she did subsequently edit a popular anthology of war poetry which is still a set text in many Barrayaran schools.

Natalya survived almost to the very end of the war only to die of pneumonia some months after Piotr’s wartime wedding to Olivia Vorbarra. Characteristically, her last letter, although dictated from her sickbed because she was too ill to write herself, does not mention her illness, only her joy at the news of Olivia’s pregnancy.

The Vorkosigan family experiences of war reflect the impact of the invasion on the population as a whole. Although Barrayar had suffered in its previous civil wars, the impact on the civilian population was less severe. Even towards the end of the time of isolation, Barrayar’s economy was primarily an agricultural one. Campaigns were usually fought after the Spring planting had finished and before the Autumn harvest started in much the same way as on mediaeval Earth.

The invasion was Barrayar’s first experience of total war. The Cetagandan soldiers were fulltime professionals. They had no need to go home and help with the harvest. Whether it was spring or winter, they fought on. For this reason alone, the invasion disrupted Barrayar’s frail economy in a way that the frequent civil wars of the time of isolation had not done.

Professora Vorfolse originally estimated that the resultant famines and epidemics killed at least ten times as many Barrayarans as were killed directly in the conflict. Although Vorfolse’s figures were not widely accepted in her lifetime, modern historians now believe that if anything her figures were too low.

Throughout the war, the mortality for the civilian population was higher than for combatants and even after the end of the war, the death toll from radiation sickness, malnutrition and pandemics continued. The impact on Barrayar was overwhelming and although it cannot excuse the increasing militarisation and repression that cast such a long and dark shadow over post war Barrayar, it does to some extent explain it.

Helen Vorthys, Vorbarr Sultana