Ferry Boat Fights Ice--Archangel Cosmopolitan--Bartering For Eats--Strange Wood Famine--Entertainment At American Headquarters--Doughboy Minstrelsy--Reindeer Teams--Russian Eskimo--Bolshevik Prisoners--S. B. A. L. Mutiny--Major Young's Scare At Smolny--Shakleton Boots--British Rations For Yank Soldiers--Corporal Knight Writes Humorous Sketch Of Ice-Bound Archangel.
On the ferry boat the troops speculated whether or not we would get stuck in the ice before we could cross the river to Archangel Preestin. It was November 22nd, 1918. The Dvina ran under glass. On the streets of Archangel sleighs were slipping. Winter was on and Archangel in a few days would be ice-bound. For a few days more the ice-breakers would keep the ferry going across the Dvina and would cut for the steamships a way out to sea. Then the White Sea would freeze solid for six months. In a few days the Archangel-Economia winter railroad would be running. Icebreakers would for a while brave the Arctic gales that swept the north coast. Then they would surrender and the great white silence would begin.
Varied and interesting are the tales that are told of that winter in Archangel. They are descriptive as well as narrative but there is not much coherence to the chapter. However, to the soldiers who were there, or who were out and in Archangel during the winter of 1918-19 this chapter will be pleasing.
In from a far-off front for a few days rest, or in on some mission such as the bringing of Bolshevik prisoners or to get some of the company property which had been left behind when in the fall the troops left troopships so hurriedly, these groups of American soldiers from the fighting fronts always found Archangel of interest. They found that it was a half-modern, half-oriental city, half-simple, half-wicked, with the gay along with the drab, with bright lights along with the gloom.
In Archangel were all kinds of people--whiskered moujiks beating their ponies along the snow-covered streets, sleek-looking people of the official class, well-dressed men and women of cultured appearance, young women whose faces were pretty and who did not wear boots and shawls but dressed attractively and seemed to enjoy the attention of doughboys, and soldiers of several nations, veterans of war and adventure in many climes. What a cosmopolitan crowd it was in that frozen-in city of the North!
The doughboy from the front soon learned that the city had its several national centers--the British quarters, French, Italian, and so forth, where their flags denoted their headquarters and in vicinity of which would be found their barracks and quarters and clubs. The Yank found himself welcome in every quarter of the city but hailed with most camaraderie in the French quarter. With the Russian night patrols he soon came to an amicable understanding and Russian cafes soon found out that the Yanks were the freest spenders and treated them accordingly. Woe to the luckless "Limmey" who tried to edge in on a Yank party in a Russian place.
When the doughboy returned to his company at the front he had a few great tales to tell of the eats he had found at some places. Some companies had done well. On the market-place and elsewhere the resourceful Amerikanski looking for food, especially vegetables, to supplement his mess, learned his first word of Russian--Skulka rouble. In spite of the watchful British M. P.'s, Ruby Queens and Scissors cigarettes were soon bringing in small driblets of cabbage and onions and potatoes. Happy the old mess sergeant who got his buddies expert at this game. And much more contented were the men with the mess. In another chapter read the wonderful menu of the convalescent hospital.
In the city the doughboy found the steaming bahnya or bathhouse, and at the "cootie mill" turned in his shirt to rid himself of the "seam squirrels." All cleaned up, with little gifts and cheery words he sought his buddies who were in hospital sick or wounded. He got books and records and gramaphones and other things at the Red Cross and "Y" to take back to the company. He accumulated a thousand rumors about the expedition and about happenings back home. He tired of the gloom and magnified fears of Archangel's being overpowered by the Bolos and usually returned to the front twice glad--once that he had seen Archangel and second that he was back among his comrades at the front.
During those weary ice-bound months it was a problem to keep warm. Poor management by high American and British officers at one time, to the writer's knowledge, suffered American soldiers at Smolny to be actually endangered in health. As far as proper heating of quarters was concerned men at the front provided better for themselves than did the commander at Smolny, Major Young, provide for those fighters in from the fighting front for rest. And that might be said too for his battalion mess. No wonder the doughboy set out to help himself in these things.
Strange to the American soldiers was the fact that at Archangel, a city of saw-mills, sitting in a nick of a great forest that extended for hundreds of miles south, east and west, there was such difficulty in getting supplies of fuel. A desperate sergeant took a detail of men and salvaged a lot of logs lying near the river's edge, borrowed some Russki saws with a few cigarettes, commandeered some carts and brought to the cook's kitchen and to the big stoves in the barracks a fine supply of wood. But the joke of it was that the watchful Russian owner of the logs sent in his bill for the wood to the British G. H. Q. And a ream of correspondence was started between Major Young and G. H. Q., the typewriter controversy continuing long, like Katy-did and Katy-didn't, long after the sergeant with diplomacy, partial restoration, and sugar had appeased the complaining Russian.
At American headquarters in the Technical Institute was held many a pleasant entertainment to while away the winter hours. The auditorium possessed a stage and a good dance floor. The moving picture machine and the band were there. Seated on the backless wooden benches soldiers looked at the pictures or listened to the orchestra or to their own doughboy talent showing his art at vaudeville or minstrelsy.
Or on officers' entertainment night they and their guests chosen from charming Russian families, joyfully danced or watched the antics of Douglas Fairbanks, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, and even our dear deceased old John Bunnie. Not a silver lining but has its cloudy surface, and many were the uncomfortable moments when the American officer found himself wishing he could explain to his fair guest the meaning of the scene. More than rumor spread through that North country, attributing wonderful powers to the Americans based on some Douglas Fairbanks exploit. Can it be that the enemy heard some of these rumors and were unwilling at times to go against the Americans?
Enlisted men's entertainments by the "Y" and their own efforts to battle ennui with minstrel show and burlesque and dances have already been mentioned. The great high Gorka built by the American engineers in the heart of the city afforded a half-verst slide, a rush of clinging men and women as their toboggan coursed laughing and screaming in merriment down to the river where it pitched swiftly again down to the ice. Here at the Gorka as at "the merry-go-round," the promenade near Sabornya, the doughboy learned how to put the right persuasion into his voice as he said Mozhna, barishna, meaning: Will you take a slide or walk with me, little girl? At Christmas, New Year's and St. Patrick's Day, they had special entertainments. Late in March "I" Company three times repeated its grand minstrel show.
Many a doughboy in Archangel, Kholmogora, Yemetskoe, Onega or Pinega, at one time or another during the long winter, got a chance to ride with the Russian Eskimo and his reindeer. Doughboys who were supporting the artillery the day that the enemy moved on Chertkva and threatened Peligorskaya, can recall seeing the double sled teams of reindeer that came flashing up through the lines with the American commanding officer who had been urgently called for by the Russian officer at Peligorskaya. Sergeant Kant will never forget that wild ride. He sat on the rear sled, or rather he clung to the top of it during that hour's ride of twelve miles. The wise old buck reindeer who was hitched as a rudder to the rear of his sled would brace and pull back to keep the sergeant's sled from snapping the whip at the turns, and that would lift the sled clear from the surface. And when the old buck was not steering the sled but trotting with leaping strides behind the sled then the bumps in the road bounced the sled high. Out in front the reindeer team of three strained against their simple harness and supplied the rapid succession of jerks that flew the sleds along toward the embattled artillery. The reindeer travelled with tongues hanging out as if in distress; they panted; they steamed and coated with frost; they thrust their muzzles into the cooling snow to slake their thirst; but they were enjoying the wild run; they fairly skimmed over the snow trail. The Eskimo driver called his peculiar moaning cry to urge them on, slapped his lead reindeer with the single rein that was fastened to his left antler, or prodded his team on the haunches with the long pole which he carried for that purpose and for steering his light sled, and with surprising nimbleness leaped on and off his sled as he guided the sled past or over obstructions. A snow-covered log across the trail caused no delay. A leap of three antlered forms, twelve grey legs flashing in the air, a bump of the light sled that volplanes an instant in a shower of snow, a quick leap and a grab for position back on the sled, the thrilling act is over, and the Eskimo has not shown a sign of excitement in his Indian-like stoic face. On we skim at unbroken pace. We soon reach the place.
One of the views shown in this volume is that of a characteristic reindeer team and sled. Another shows the home of the North Russian branch of the Eskimo family. The writer vividly recalls the sight of a semi-wild herd of reindeer feeding in the dense pine and spruce woods. They were digging down through the deep snow to get the succulent reindeer moss. We approached on our Russian ponies with our, to them, strange-looking dress. What a thrill it gave us to see them, as if at signal of some sentry, raise their heads in one concerted, obedient look for signal of some leader, and then with great bounds go leaping away to safety, flashing through the dark stems of the trees like a flight of grey arrows discharged from a single bow. Further on we came upon the tented domiciles of the owners of this herd. Our red-headed Russian guide appeased the clamors of the innumerable dogs who bow-wowed out from all sides of the wigwam-like tents of these North Russian nomad homes, while we Americans looked on in wonder. Here was the very counterpart of the American Indian buck and squaw home that our grandads had seen in Michigan. The women at last appeared and rebuked the ragged half-dressed children for their precipitate rushing out to see the strangers. For a little tobacco they became somewhat talkative and willingly enough gave our guide information about the location of the hidden still we were going to visit, where pine pitch was baked out and barrelled for use in repairing the steamboats and many fishing boats of the area. We studied this aborigine woman and questioned our guide later about these people. Like our Indians they are. Pagans they are and in this volume is a picture of one of their totem poles. Untouched by the progress of civilization, they live in the great Slavic ocean of people that has rolled over them in wave after wave, but has not changed them a bit. Space can not be afforded for the numerous interesting anecdotes that are now in the mind of the writer and the doughboy reader who so many times saw the reindeer and their Russian Eskimo owners in their wilds or in Archangel or other cities and villages where they appear in their annual winter migrations.
Probably the one most interesting spot in the frozen port city was the American expeditionary post-office. Here at irregular intervals, at first via ice-breaker, which battled its way up to the edge of the ice crusted coast north of Economia, came our mail bags from home. Later those bags came in hundreds of miles over the winter snow roads, hauled by shaggy ponies driven by hairy, weather-beaten moujiks. Mail-letters, papers, little things from home, the word still connotes pleasure to us. Mail days were boon days, and at the mail-place a detail always arrived early and cheerful.
[Illustration: Two men baking bread at a large fireplace-like oven.] U. S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Russian Masonry Stove--American Convalescent Hospital
[Illustration: Woman ironing clothes.] U. S. OFFICIAL PHOTO Pvt. Allikas Finds His Mother in Archangel
[Illustration: Four men setting type and two observing.] U. S OFFICIAL PHOTO Printing "The American Sentinel"
Familiar sights in the streets of winter Archangel were the working parties composed of Bolshevik prisoners of war. Except for the doughboy guard it might have been difficult to tell them from a free working party. They all looked alike. In fact, many a scowling face on a passing sled would have matched the Bolo clothes better than some of those boyish faces under guard. And how the prisoners came to depend on the doughboy. Several times it was known and laughingly told about that Bolo prisoners individually managed to escape, sneak home or to a confederate's home, get food, money and clean clothes, and then report back to the American guards. They preferred to be prisoners rather than to remain at large. Once a worried corporal of a prisoner guard detail at the convalescent hospital was inventing a story to account to the sergeant for his A. W. O. L. prisoner when to his mingled feeling of relief and disgust, in walked the lost prisoner, nitchevo, khorashaw.
The corporal felt about as sheepish as a sergeant and corporal of another company had felt one night when they had spent an hour and a half outmaneuvering the sentries, carrying off a big heavy case to a dark spot, and quietly opening the case found that instead of Scotch "influenza cure" it was a box of horseshoes. In that case horseshoes meant no luck.
Is war cruel? In that city of Archangel with nowhere to retreat, nervous times were bound to come. "The wind up their back," that is, cold shivers, made kind-hearted, level-headed men do harsh things. Comrade Danny Anderson of "Hq" Company could tell a blood-curdling story of the execution he witnessed. Six alleged agents of the German war office, Russian Bolo spies, in one "windy" moment were brutally put away by British officers. Their brains spattered on the stone wall. Sherman said it. We are glad to say that such incidents were remarkably rare in North Russia. The Allied officers and troops have a record of which they may be justly proud.
Here we may as well tell of the S. B. A. L. mutiny in Archangel in early winter. It is the story of an occurrence both pitiful and aggravating. After weeks of feeding and pampering and drilling and equipping and shining of brass buttons and showing off, when the order came for them to prepare to march off to the fighting front, the S. B. A. L. held a soviet in their big grey-stone barracks and refused to get ready to go out because they had grievances against their British officers. This was aggravatingly unreasonable and utterly unmilitary. Severe measures would have to be used. They were given till 2:00 p. m. to reconsider their soviet resolution.
Meanwhile G. H. Q. had ordered out the American "Hq" Company trench mortar section and a section of the American Machine Gun Company to try bomb and bullet argument on the S. B. A. L.'s who were barricading their barracks and pointing machine guns from their windows. Promptly on the minute, according to orders, the nasty, and to the Americans pitifully disagreeable job, was begun. In a short time a white flag fluttered a sign of submission. But several had been killed and the populace that swarmed weeping about the American soldiers reproachfully cried: "Amerikanski nit dobra." And they did not feel at all glorious.
A few minutes later to the immense disgust of the doughboys, a company of English Tommies who by all rules of right and reason should have been the ones to clean up the mutinous mess into which the British officers had gotten the S. B. A. L.'s, now hove into sight, coming up the recently bullet-whistling but now deadly quiet street, with rifles slung on their shoulders, crawling along slowly at sixty to the minute pace--instead of a riot-call double time, and singing their insulting version of "Over There the Yanks are Running, Running, everywhere, etc." And their old fishmonger reserve officer--he wore Colonel's insignia, wiped off his whiskey sweat in unconcealed relief. His battle of Archangel had been cut short by the Americans who had eagerly watched for the first sign of surrender by the foolish Russian soldiers. The finishing touch was added to the short-lived S. B. A. L. mutiny when the tender-hearted but severe old General Maroushevsky punished the thirteen ring-leaders of the S. B. A. L. soviet with death before a Russian firing squad. This mutiny was described in various ways and use was made of it by agitators in Archangel. The writer has followed the account given to him by a machine gun sergeant who was handling one of the guns that day. His story seemed to contain the facts and feelings most commonly expressed by American officers and enlisted men who were in Archangel when the unfortunate incident took place.
We are bound to comment that we believe it never would have occurred if a tactful, honest American officer had been in charge of the S. B. A. L. Americans know how tactless and bull-dozing some British orders--not many to be sure--could be. We fortunately had bluffs enough to offset the bull-dozings. A stormy threat by a sneering, drunken officer to turn his Canadian artillery on the bloomin' Yanks could be met by a cold-as-steel rejoiner that the British officer would please realize his drunken condition, and take back the sneering threat and come across with a reasonable order or suffer the immediate consequences. And then usually the two could cooperate. Such is a partnership war incident.
Late in winter, after the success of the enemy in the Shenkursk area had given the secret sympathizers in Archangel renewed hope that Trotsky's army would at last crush the Allies before Archangel, rumor persistently followed rumor that Archangel was being honeycombed with spies. The sailors at Solombola wore darker scowls and strange faces began to appear at Smolny where the city's power station lay. In the Allied intelligence staff, that is secret information service, there was redoubled effort. We smile as we think of it. About the time of the Bolo General's brilliant smash through our line and capture of Bolsheozerki, menacing Obozerskaya, a few little outbursts were put down in Archangel. A few dozen rusty rifles were confiscated. Major Young laid elaborate plans for the, to him, imminent riot at Smolny. Soldiers who had learned from experience how difficult it was for their enemy to keep a skirmish line even when his officers were behind with pistol and machine gun persuasion, now grew sick of this imaginary war in Archangel. One company going out to the front on March 27th, was actually singing in very jubilation because they were getting away from battalion mess and "stand-to" for riot-scare.
A distinguished citizen of the world, Sir Ernest Shakleton, visited the city of Archangel in the winter. But no one ever saw him try to navigate Troitsky Prospect in his own invention, the Shakleton boot. How dear to his heart are the thoughts of that boot, as the doughboy recalls his first attempts to walk in them. The writer's one and only experience with them resulted in his taking all the road for steering his course and calling for the assistance of two brother officers--and "Chi" was the strongest he had drunk, too. Of course the doughboy mastered the art of navigating in them. For downright laughableness and ludicrity the Charlie Chaplin walk has nothing on the Shakleton gliding-wabble. The shimmy and the cheek dance would not draw a second look while a stranger could grin audibly at the doughboy shuffle-hip-screwing along in Shakleton's. Many a fair barishna on Troitsky Prospect held her furs up to conceal her irrepressible mirth at the sight. Aw, Shakletons.
Allusion has been made to the battalion mess of bully and "M. and V." Another part of the British issue ration was dried vegetables, which the soldiers nicknamed "grass stew," much to the annoyance of one Lt. Blease, our American censor who read all our letters in England to see that we did not criticise our Allies. One day at Soyla grass stew was on the menu, says a corporal. One of the men offered his Russian hostess a taste of it. She spat it out on the hay before the cow. The cow was insulted and refused either stew or hay. Much was done to improve the ration by General Ironside who accepted with sympathy the suggestions of Major Nichols. Coffee finally took the place of tea. More bread and less hard tack was issued. Occasionally fresh meat was provided. But on the whole the British ration did not satisfy the American soldier.
This leads to a good story. One day during the Smolny riot-scare the writer with a group of non-commissioned officers in going all over the area to discover its possibilities for tactics and strategy, visited the Russian Veterinarian School. Here we saw the poor Russki pony in all stages of dissection, from spurting throat to disembowelment and horse-steaks. "Me for the good old bully," muttered a corporal devoutly, as he turned his head away. Here we remember the query of a corporal of Headquarters Company who said: "Where is that half million dogs that were in Archangel when we landed last September?" The Russians had no meat market windows offering wieners and bologny but it sure was a tough winter for food in that city congested with a large refugee population. And dogs disappeared.
Of the purely military life in Archangel in the long winter little can be said. The real work was done far out at the fronts anyway. No commander of a company of troops fighting for his sector of the line ever got any real assistance from Archangel except of the routine kind. Many a commendatory message and many a cheering visit was paid the troops by General Ironside but we can not record the same for Colonel Stewart. He was not a success as a commanding officer. He fell down weakly under his great responsibility. Before the long winter was over General Richardson was sent up to Archangel to take command.
During the early winter a doughboy in Archangel in this spirit of good humor wrote a letter published later in The Stars and Stripes in France. It is so good that we include it here.
"Sometimes, about once or twice every now and then, copies of The Stars and Stripes find their way up here to No Woman's Land and are instantly devoured by the news-hungry gang, searching for information regarding their comrades and general conditions in France, where we belong, but through Fate were sent up to this part of the world to quell Bolshevism and guard the Northern Lights.
"We are so far north that the doggone sun works only when it feels inclined to do so, and in that way it is like everything else in Russia. The moon isn't so particular, and comes up, usually backwards, at any time of the day or night, in any part of the sky, it having no set schedule, and often it will get lost and still be on the job at noon. Yes, we are so far north that 30 degrees below will soon be tropical weather to us, and they will have to build fires around both cows before they can milk them. Probably about next month at this time some one will come around and say we will be pulling out of here in a day or so, but then, the days will be six months long.
"In our issue of your very popular paper we noticed a cartoon, "Pity the boys in Siberia," but what about us, Ed? Now, up here in this tough town there are 269,83l. inhabitants, of which 61,329 are human beings and 208,502 are dogs. Dogs of every description from the poodle to the St. Bernard and from the wolfhound to the half-breed dachshund, which is half German and half Bolshevik and looks the part.
"The wind whistles across the Dvina River like the Twentieth Century Limited passing Podunk, and snowflakes are as numerous as retreating Germans were in France a few weeks ago. We have good quarters when we are here, thank fortune for that, and good food, when it comes up. If we can stand the winter we will be all jake, for a Yank can accustom himself to anything if he wants to. But just the same, we would like to see your artists busy on "The Boys in Northern Russia" and tell them not to leave out the word "Northern."
"We also read in The Stars and Stripes that the boys in Italy had some tongue twisters and brain worriers, but listen to this: Centimes and sous and francs may be hard to count, but did you ever hear of a rouble or a kopec? A kopec is worth a tenth of a cent and there are a hundred of them in a rouble. As you will see, that makes a rouble worth a dime, and to make matters worse all the money is paper, coins having gone out of circulation since the beginning of the mix-up. A kopec is the size of a postage stamp, a rouble looks like a United Cigar Store's Certificate, a 25-rouble note resembles a porous plaster and a 100-rouble note the Declaration of Independence.
"When a soldier in search of a meal enters a restaurant, he says to the waitress, 'Barishna, kakajectyeh bifstek, pozhalysta,' which means 'An order of beefsteak, lady, please: You see, you always say to a woman 'barishna' and she is always addressed in that manner. She will answer the hungry customer with, 'Yah ochen sojalaylu, shto unaus nyet yestnik prepasov siechas' (a simple home cure for lockjaw), meaning, "I am very sorry, but we are right out of food today.' He will try several other places, and if he is lucky he is apt to stumble across a place where he can get something to eat, but when he looks at the bill of fare and learns that it cost him about $7.50 for a sandwich and a cup of coffee, he beats it back to the barracks.
"Every time you get on a street car ('dramvay') you have to count out 60 kopecs for your fare, and most of us would rather walk than be jammed in the two-by-four buses and fish for the money. Before boarding a car each passenger usually hunts up a couple of five gallon milk cans, a market basket or two and a bag of smoked herring, so they will get their kopec's worth out of the ride, besides making the atmosphere nice and pleasant for the rest of the passengers. If you should see a soldier walking down the street with his nose turned up and his mouth puckered in apparent contempt, you would be wrong in thinking he was conceited, for if the truth be known he has probably just got his shirt back from the washwoman, and she has used fish-oil instead of soap and he is trying to escape the fumes. When you take your clothes to have them laundered and tell the woman to please omit the odor, she'll tell you that she has no soap and if you want them washed to your satisfaction please send in a cake. Anything in the world to keep your clothes from smelling of fish-oil, so you double-time back and get her the soap, and then she gives the kids a bath, and that's the end of your soap.
"When a Russian meets another man he knows on the street, both lift hats and flirt with each other. If they stop to talk, they always shake hands, even if they haven't seen each other for fully twenty minutes. Then they simply must shake hands again when they leave. When a man meets a lady friend he usually kisses her hand and shows her how far he can bend over without breaking his suspenders. 'Ah,' he will say, 'yah ochen rrad vasveedyat, kak vui pazhavaetye?' which in the United States means 'How do you do?' to which she will reply, 'Blogadaru vas, yah ochen korosho,' or 'very well, thank you.' It is the knockout. A fellow has to shake hands so much that some of them are getting the habit around the company.
"And another thing, Ed, are they really holding a separate war up here for our benefit? Just because we weren't in on the big doings in France is no reason why they should run a post-season series especially for us. We appreciate the kindness and honor and all that, but what we want to know is where everybody gets that stuff. Believe me, after all the dope we got on the trenches, about pianos and wooden floors, steam heat, and other conveniences, when we see ourselves on outpost duty with one blanket and a poncho, sleeping (not on duty, of course) in twenty-eight inches of pure ooooozy mud, which before we awaken turns into thin, fine ice, it makes us want to cry out and ask the universe what we have done to deserve this exile.
"Now don't think, dear old Ed. that we are kicking. American soldiers never do. We just wanted to have something to write you about, to remind you that we ARE a part of the American E. F., although 'isolated.'
"With best wishes to your paper and a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the boys, I'll close with the consoling assurance in my heart that we'll meet you back on Broadway, anyway.
C. B. KNIGHT, Corp. "Hq" Co., 339th Inf., American E. F., Archangel, Russia."*****
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