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Medical Units in Russia


Medical Units Do Fine Work--Volunteers Of Old Detroit Red Cross Number Eight Appear In North Russia As 337th Ambulance--Some Unforgettable Stories That Make Our Teeth Grit--Wonderful Work Of 337th Field Hospital Unit--Death Of Powers--Medical Men Do Heroic Duty.

Owing to the nature of the country in which the campaign was fought, the 337th Ambulance Company was not able to function as an ambulance company proper. It was split up into fifteen detachments serving in various parts of the area under conditions exactly as difficult as those described for the medical and hospital units. In fact, the three companies of men--medical, hospital, and ambulance--who ministered to the needs of the wounded and sick were very soon hopelessly mixed up on the various fronts.

At first among the officers there were some heart-burnings as to the apparent incongruity of a hospital man doing field duty and an ambulance man doing hospital duty and so forth, but their American sense of humor and of humanity soon had each doing his level best wherever he might be found, whether under American or British senior officers or none. The writer remembers many a medical--or was he hospital or ambulance--man that did effective and sympathetic field service to wounded comrades with no medical officer to guide the work.

The 337th Ambulance Company was originally a volunteer outfit known as No. 8 Red Cross Ambulance Company of Detroit. Early in the history of the 85th Division it came to Camp Custer and was trained for duty overseas. After a month in the Archangel field several national army men were transferred to fill up again its depleted ranks.

It was the commanding officer of this Ambulance Company, Captain Rosenfeld, who, though too strict to be popular with his outfit, was held in very high esteem by the doughboys for his vigilant attention to them. It was a sight to see him with his dope bottle of cough syrup going from post to post dosing the men who needed it. He will not be forgotten by the man who was stricken with acute appendicitis at a post where no medical detachment was stationed. He commandeered an engine and box car and ran out to the place and took the man into the field hospital himself and operated inside an hour, saving the man's life. For his gallantry in going to treat wounded men at posts which were under fire, the French commander remembered him with a citation. He is the officer whom the Bolshevik artillery tried to snipe with three-inch shells, as he passed from post to post during a quiet time at Verst 445.

At Yemetskoe in February, one night just after the terrible retreat from Shenkursk, forty wounded American, British, and Russian soldiers lay on stretchers on the floor in British field hospital. They were just in from the evacuation from Shenkursk front, cold and faint from hunger. There was no American medical personnel at that village. They were all at the front. Mess Sgt. Vincent of "F" Company went in to see how the wounded soldiers were getting along. He was just in time to see the British medical sergeant come in with a pitcher of tea, tin cups, hard tack, and margarine and jam. He put it on the floor and said; "Here is your supper; go to it."

Sgt. Vincent protested to the English sergeant that the supper was not fit for wounded men and that they should be helped to take their food. The British sergeant swore at him, kicked him out of the hospital and reported him to the British medical officer who attempted, vainly, to put the outraged American sergeant under arrest.

Sergeant Vincent then reported the matter to Captain Ramsay of "F" Company, who ordered him to use "F" Company funds to buy foods at the British N. A. C. B. canteen. This, with what the Y. M. C. A. gave the sergeant, enabled him to feed the American and Russian wounded the day that they rested there. This deed was done repeatedly by Mess Sgt. Vincent during those dreadful days. In all, he took care of over three hundred sick and wounded Americans and Russians that passed back from the fighting lines through Yemetskoe.

Doughboys at Seletskoe tell of equally heartless treatment. There at 20 degrees below zero they were required one day to form sick call line outside of the British medical officer's nice warm office. This was not necessary and he was compelled to accede to the firm insistence of the American company commander that his sick men should not stand out in the cold. That was only one of many such outrageous incidents. And the doughboys unfortunately did not always have a sturdy American officer present to protect them as in this case.

Corporal Simon Bogacheff states that he left Archangel December 8th or 9th with seventy-three other wounded men and "flu" victims. After fifteen days the "Stephen" landed at Dundee after a very rough voyage in the pitching old boat. He had to buy stuff on the side from the cooks as he could not bear the British rations. Men were obliged to steal raw potatoes and buy lard and fry them. The corporal, who could talk the Serbian language, fraternized with them and gained entrance to a place where he could see English sergeants' mess. Steaks and vegetables for them and cases of beer.

Alfred Starikoff of Detroit states that he was sent out of Archangel in early winter suffering from an incurable running sore in his ear. He boarded an ice-breaker at the edge of the frozen White Sea. After a four-hour struggle they cleared the icebound shore and made the open sea, which was not open but filled with a great floe of polar ice. At Murmansk he was transferred to a hospital ship and then without examination of his ear trouble was sent to shore. There he put in five protesting weeks doing orderly work at British officers' quarters. Finally he was allowed to proceed to England, Leith, Liverpool, Southampton, London, Notty Ash, and thence to Brest, thence to the U. S. in May to Ford Hospital. The delay in Murmansk did him no good. American veterans of the campaign know that this is not the only case of where sick and wounded doughboys were delayed at Murmansk, once merely to make room for British officers who were neither wounded nor sick. Let Uncle Sam remember this in his next partnership war.

[Illustration: Several people tending boats and fishing gear.] ROULEAU Hot Summer Day at Pinega Before War

[Illustration: Several people observing ice jams.] DOUD Dvina River Ice Jam

[Illustration: A shed in a clearing in the forest.] WAGNER Mejinovsky--Near Kodish

[Illustration: Six soldiers standing in the snow.] MCKEE Bolo General Under Flag Truce Near 445--April 1919

[Illustration: Several soldiers, some reading documents.] U S OFFICIAL PHOTO After a Prisoner Exchange Parley

Only on the Pinega front did the American medical officer enjoy free action. An interesting story could be told of the American hospital and the two Russian Red Cross (local) hospitals and the city civil hospital which were all under control of Capt. C. R. Laird, the red-haired, where he had any, unexcitable old doctor from Nebraska, who treated one hundred and fourteen wounded Russian soldiers in one night.

And a romantic thread in the narrative would be the story of Sistra Lebideva, the alleged Bolshevik female spy, who was released from prison in Pinega by the American commanding officer and given duty as nurse in the Russian receiving hospital. She was a trained nurse in an apron, and a Russian beauty in her fine clothes. The Russian lieutenant who acted as intelligence officer on the American commander's staff in investigating the nurse's case, fell hopelessly in love with her. An American lieutenant, out of friendship for the Russian officer, several weeks later took the nurse to Archangel disguised as a soldier. Then the Russian lieutenant was ordered to Archangel to explain his conduct. He had risked his commission and involved himself in appearances of pro-Bolshevism by disobeying an order to send the suspected nurse in as a spy. He had connived at her escape from her enemies in Pinega, who, when the Americans left, would have ousted her from the hospital and thrust her back into prison. He was saved by the intercession of the American officer and she was set free upon explanations. But the romance ended abruptly when Sistra Lebideva threw the Russian lieutenant over and went to nurse on another front where later the Russians turned traitor.

The 337th Field Hospital Company was trained at Camp Custer as a part of the 310th Sanitary Train, was detached in England and sent to North Russia with the other American units. It was commanded by Major Jonas Longley, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, who till April was the senior American medical officer. The enlisted personnel consisted of eighty men.

The first duty of the unit in Russia was caring for "flu" patients. It went up the Dvina River to Beresnik on September 22nd, taking over a Russian civilian hospital, Three weeks later the hospital barge dubbed "The Michigan" came up from Archangel with the "B" section of Field Hospital Company. Five days later this section of the field hospital proceeded by hospital sidewheeler to Shenkursk and took over a large high school building for a permanent field hospital. Here the unit gave service to the one hundred and fifty cases of "flu" among the Russians. This was where Miss Valentine, the English girl who had been teaching school for several years in Russia, came on to nurse the Russians during the "flu" and later became very friendly with the Americans, and was accused of being a Bolshevik sympathizer, which story is wound all around by a thread of romance clean and pretty.

During the Bolo's smashing in of the Ust Padenga front and the subsequent memorable retreat from Shenkursk this section of field hospital men had their hands full. It was in the field hospital at Shenkursk that the gallant and beloved Lt. Ralph G. Powers of the Ambulance Corps died and his body had to be left to the triumphant Bolos. Powers had been mortally wounded by a shell that entered his dressing station at Ust Padenga where he was alone with six enlisted men. His wounds were dressed by a Russian doctor who was with the Russian company supporting "A" Company. Lt. Powers had gone to the railroad front in September, shifted to the Kodish front during severe fighting, and then to the distant Shenkursk front. He was never relieved from front line duty, although three medical officers at this time were in Shenkursk. Capt. Kinyon immediately sent Lt. Katz to Ust Padenga upon the loss of Powers, who will always be a hero to the expeditionary veterans.

It was at Ust Padenga that Corp. Chas. A. Thornton gave up his chair to a weary Supply Company man, Comrade Carl G. Berger, just up from Shenkursk with an ambulance, and a Bolo three-inch shell hurled through the log wall and decapitated the luckless supply man. In the hasty retreat the hospital men, like the infantry men, had to abandon everything but the clothes and equipment on their backs.

During the holding retreat of the 1st Battalion of the Vaga a small hospital was established temporarily at Kitsa.

Later during the slowing up of the retreat, hospitals were opened at Ust Vaga and Osinova. Here this section stayed. The other section had been at Beresnik all the time. During the latter days of the campaign the field hospital company took over the river front field medical duties so that the medical detachments of the 339th and the detachments of the 337th Ambulance Company could be assembled for evacuation at Archangel. And the 337th Field Hospital Company itself was assembled at Archangel June 13th and sailed June 15th. Their work had for the most part been under great strain in the long forest and river campaign, always seeing the seamy side of the war and lacking the frequent changes of scenery and the blood-stirring combats which the doughboy encountered. It took strong qualities of heart and nerve to be a field hospital man, or an ambulance or medical man.


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