Y. M. C. A. AND Y. W. C. A. WITH TROOPS
Y. M. C. A. AND Y. W. C. A. WITH TROOPS
Justice Where Justice Is Due--Summary Of Work Of "Y" Men--"Y" Women And Hostess House--Seen Near Front--Devoted Women Stay In Russia When We Leave--Christian Associations Point Way To Help Russia.
The editors have felt that "justice where justice is due" demands a few pages in this volume about the service of our Y. M. C. A. with us in North Russia. We know that there is a great deal of bitterness against the "Y." Much of it was engendered by the few selfish and crooked and cowardly men who crept into the "Y" service, and the really great service of the Y. M. C. A. is badly discounted and its war record sadly sullied. We know that here and there in North Russia a "Y" man failed to "measure up" but we know that on the whole our Y. M. C. A. in North Russia with us, did great service.
To get a fair and succinct story, we wrote to Mr. Crawford Wheeler, whose statement follows. He was the Chief Secretary in the North Russia area. The first paragraph is really a letter of transmissal, but we approve its sentiment and commend its manly straightforwardness to our comrades and the general reader:
"This is written purely from memory. I haven't a scrap of material at hand and I have hurried in order that you might have the stuff promptly. Please indicate, in case you use this material, that it is not based on records,--for I cannot vouch for all the figures. However, in the main, the outline is right. I wish the "Y" might have a really good chapter in your book, for I always have felt, with many of the other boys in our service, that we are condemned back here for the sins of others. If the "Y" in North Russia was not a fairly effective organization which went right to the front and stayed there, then a lot of officers and men in the 339th poured slush in my ears. Were it not for the rather unfortunate place which a "Y" man occupies back here, none of us would seek even an iota of praise, for in comparison with the rest of you, we deserve none; but I'm sure you understand the circumstances which impel me to insert the foregoing plea, 'Justice where justice is due.' That's all.
"The Y. M. C. A. shared the lot of the American North Russian Expeditionary Force as an isolated fighting command from the day it landed until the last soldier left Archangel. It shared in the successes and the failures of the expedition. It contributed something now and then to the welfare and comfort and even to the lives of the American and Allied troops both at the front and in the base camps. It made a record which only the testimony of those who were part of the expedition is qualified to estimate.
"When the American soldiers of the 339th Infantry landed in Archangel on September 5th, 1918, they found a "Y" in town ahead of them. The day after the port was captured by allied forces early in August, Allen Craig of the American Y. M. C. A. had secured a spacious building in the heart of the city for use as a "Y" hut. With very little equipment he managed to set up a cocoa and biscuit stand and a reading and writing room and the hall of the building was opened for band concerts and athletic nights. It really was little more than a barn until the arrival of secretaries and supplies in October made improvements possible.
"A party of ten secretaries, who had spent the previous year in Central Russia under the Bolshevik regime, landed in the first week of October, having come around from Sweden and Norway. Two weeks later another ten secretaries arrived from the same starting point. These men formed the nucleus of the "Y" personnel which was to serve the American troops through the winter and spring. They were sent to points at the front immediately after their arrival, and more than a few doughboys will remember the first trip of the big railroad car to the front south of Obozerskaya, with Frank Olmstead in charge.
"The British Y. M. C. A. sent a party of twenty-five secretaries to Archangel early in the fall and considerations of practical policy made it advisable to combine operations under the title of the Allied Y. M. C. A. To the credit of the British secretaries, it must be said that they turned over all their supplies to the American management. These supplies constituted practically all the stock of biscuit and canteen products used until Christmas time, and British secretaries took their places under the direction of the American headquarters.
"The "Y" was fortunate to have secured several trucks and Ford cars in a shipment before the Allied landing, and they became part of the expeditionary transport system at once. The Supply Company of the 339th used one truck, and the British transport staff borrowed the other one. Major Ely, Quartermaster of the American forces, got one of the Fords, and another one went to the American Red Cross.
"By the middle of November the "Y" had secretaries on the river fronts near Seletskoe and Beresnik at the railroad front and with the Pinega detachment. Supplies dribbled through to them in pitifully small amounts, usually half of the stuff stolen before it reached the front. The British N. A. B. C. sold considerable quantities of biscuit and cigarettes to the "Y," both at the front bases and from the Archangel depot. On the railroad front a really respectable service was maintained, because transport was not so difficult. One secretary made the trip around the blockhouses and outposts daily with a couple of packsacks filled with gum, candy and cigarettes, which were distributed as generously as the small capacity of the sacks permitted. Two cars equipped with tables for reading and writing and with a big cocoa urn were stationed at Verst 455, where the headquarters train and reserve units stood. These cars were moved to points north and south on the line twice weekly for small detachments to get their ration of biscuit and sweets, small as it was.
[Illustration: Soldiers seated for dinner at tables decorated with tablecloths and candles. Walls are decorated with pine boughs.] RED CROSS PHOTO Christmas Dinner, Convalescent Hospital
[Illustration: Several soldiers standing in the snow; they being served food from a rail car.] U. S. OFFICIAL PHOTO "Come and Get It" at Verst 455
[Illustration: Soldiers seated on the ground, with Richardson and McCully in the foreground.] WAGNER Doughboys Drubbed Sailors Brig. Gen. Richardson and Adm. McCully at Army-Navy Game
[Illustration: Large group of soldiers huddled together inside a barbed wire stockade.] WAGNER Yank and Scot Guarding Prisoners
"Another row of cars was maintained at Obozerskaya, where the first outpost entertainment hut was opened about Christmas time with a program of moving pictures, athletic stunts and feeds. Shipments were made from this base to the secretaries at Seletskoe, who did their best to make the winter less monotonous and miserable for the second battalion men stationed on that front. The "Y" opened a hut in Pinega in early November, and by the middle of December had established a point for the "H" Company men west of Emtsa on, the Onega River line.
"Meanwhile, the Central "Y" hut at Archangel had been remodelled and fully equipped for handling large crowds, and it served several hundred allied soldiers daily. Whenever a company of Americans came in from the front, a special night was arranged for them to have a program in the theatre hall, with movies, songs, stunts and eats on the bill. A series of basketball games was carried on between the base unit companies and other commands which were in Archangel for a week or more awaiting transfer to another point. Huts were opened in the Smolny base camp at Solombola, both of them barely large enough to afford room for a cocoa and biscuit counter, a piano, and a reading room. Shortly after Christmas another "Y" station was put in commission across the river at the Preestin railroad terminal, where detachments and individuals often endured a long wait in the cold or arrived chilled to the bone from a trip on the heatless cars.
"About Christmas time twenty-five more secretaries arrived from the American Y. M. C. A. headquarters in England, and with this addition to personnel, it was possible to make headquarters something more than a table and a telephone. A fairly efficient supply and office staff was built up and with the landing of two or three belated cargoes, "Y" folk began to see a rosier period ahead. But transport difficulties made it almost impossible to get stuff moved to the front, where the men needed it most. 'When there are neither guns nor ammunition enough,' said the British headquarters, 'how can we afford to take sleds for sending up biscuits and cigarettes?'
"Nevertheless, by hook or crook, several convoys were pushed through to Bereznik, each time reviving the hopes of the men in the outposts, who thought at last they might get some regular service. Tom Cotton and "Husky" Merrill, two football stars from Dartmouth, were in charge of the "Y" points on the Dvina advanced front, and whatever success the "Y" attained in that vicinity belongs primarily to their credit. They ended an eventful career in the spring of 1919 by getting captured when the Bolsheviks and Russian mutineers staged a coup d'etat at Toulgas and captured the village. Their escape was more a matter of luck than of planning. They paddled down the river in a boat. In their hasty exit from the village, they left behind all their personal belongings.
"At Shenkursk the "Y" hut and stock also fell to the Bolos, but the secretaries got out with the troops. The column which made the terrible retreat from Shenkursk found the "Y" waiting for it at Shegovari, with hot cocoa and biscuit. Despite the congested transport, the service on this line was kept up all through the winter and spring, "Dad" Albertson, "Ken" Hollinshead and Brackett Lewis making themselves mighty effective in their service to the men on this sector. Albertson has written a book, "Fighting Without a War," which embodies his experiences and observations with the doughboys at the front.
"One of the best pieces of service performed by the "Y" during the whole campaign was carried on at the time of the fierce Bolshevik drive for Obozerskaya from the west in February and March. This drive cost the "Y" two of its best secretaries, but service was maintained without a break from the first day until the end when the Bolos retreated. Merle Arnold was in the village running a "Y" post when the attack occurred and was captured along with six American soldiers. Bryant Ryall, who ran the "Y" tent in the woods at Verst 18, next fell a victim to the Bolos, while on the way to Obozerskaya for more supplies. Olmstead, who came from 455 to help in this desperate place, remained, and as a result of his work at this front, received the French Croix de Guerre and the Russian St. George Cross.
"Other decorations were awarded to Ernest Rand on the Pinega sector and to "Dad" Albertson on the Dvina front, both of them receiving the St. George Cross. The British military medal was to have been given Albertson, but technicalities made it impossible. Several other secretaries were mentioned in despatches by the American and British commands, all of them for service at the fighting front. It was the policy of the "Y" from the start to send the best men to the front, rush the best supplies to the front, give the men from the front the best service while at the base camps, and do it without thought of payment. It is a fact that the Archangel 'show' cost the "Y" more per capita served than any other piece of front service rendered overseas. The heavy cost was accentuated by the immense loss to supplies in the supply ships, warehouses and cars or convoys, from theft and breakage and freezing. The totals of the business done by the "Y" up in the Russian Arctic area are astounding, when the difficulties of transport are considered More than $1,000,000 worth of supplies were received and distributed before the American troops left Archangel. This included twenty-five motion picture outfits, everyone of which was in use by late spring, a million and a half feet of film, fairly large shipments of athletic goods, baseball equipment and phonographs, and thousands of books and magazines, which filled a most important part in the program. Until early spring the "Y" bought most of its canteen supplies from the British N. A. C. B., through a credit established in London. These stocks were sold to the "Y" virtually at the British retail prices and were resold at the same figures, with a resulting loss to the "Y," as the loss and damage mounted up to forty per cent at times. In May, several shipments of American canteen stocks arrived at Archangel, which enabled the secretaries to cut loose the strings on 'ration plans' before the troops started home.
"A hut was opened at the embarkation point, Economia, in the early spring, and troops quartered there had a complete red triangle service ready for them when sailing time arrived. A secretary or two went with each transport, equipped with a small stock of sweets and cigarettes to distribute on the voyage. Most of the American secretaries did not leave, however, until after the troops departed. Some of them remained until the closing act of the show in August. Two more were captured when the Bolos staged their mutiny at Onega. All these men eventually were released from captivity in Moscow and reached America safely.
"The Y. M. C. A. received hearty co-operation from the American Red Cross, from the American Embassy, and from the American headquarters units. Sugar and cocoa were turned over frequently by the Red Cross when the "Y" ran completely out of stocks and an unstinted use of Red Cross facilities was open at all times to the "Y" men. The embassy and consulate transmitted the "Y" cables through their offices to England and America and co-operated with urgent pleas for aid at times when such pleas were essential to the adoption of policies to better the "Y" service. The headquarters of the 339th Infantry and the 310th Engineers responded to every reasonable request made by the "Y" for assignments of helpers, huts or other facilities in the different areas where work was carried on. The naval command showed special courtesies in forwarding supplies on cruisers and despatch boats from England and Murmansk and in permitting the "Y" men to travel on their ships.
"Altogether more than sixty American secretaries took part in the North Russian show. About eight or ten of them, however, were on the Murmansk line, and were said by the American command to have done good work with the engineers and sailors in that area. Whatever record the American "Y" made in North Russia, it can in truth be said of the secretarial force that with few exceptions they gave the best that was in them and they never felt satisfied with their work. The service which Olmstead and Cotton and Arnold and Albertson and Beekman and a dozen others rendered, ranks with the best work done by the Y. M. C. A. men in any part of the world. Correspondents from the front in France and members of the American command who arrived late in the day, expressed their surprise and gratification at the spirit which animated the "Y" workers up in the Russian Arctic region. But the best test is the record which lives in the hearts of American soldiers, and on their fairminded testimony the "Y" men wish to secure their verdict for whatever they deserve for their service in North Russia with the American soldiers fighting the Bolsheviki."
TO OUR Y. W. C. A. AMERICAN GIRLS
In that old school reader of ours we used to read with wet eyes and tight throat the story of the soldier who lay dying at Bingen on the Rhine and told his buddie to tell his sister to be kind to all the comrades. How he yearned for the touch of his mother's or sister's hand in that last hour, how the voice of woman and her liquid eye of love could soothe his dying moments. And the veterans of the World War now understand that poetic sentiment better than they did when as barefooted boys they tried to conceal their emotions behind the covers of the book, for in the unlovely grime and grind of war the soldier came to long for the sight of his own women kind. They will now miss no opportunity to sing the praises of their war time friends, the Salvation Army Lassies and the girls of the Y. W. C. A.
In North Russia we were out of luck in the lack of Salvation Army Lassies enough to reach around to our front, but in that isolated war area we were fortunate to receive several representatives of the American Y. W. C. A. Some were girls who had already been in Russia for several years in the regular mission work among the Russian people, and two of them we hasten to add right here, were brave enough to stay behind when we cut loose from the country. Miss Dunham and Miss Taylor were to turn back into the interior of the country and seek to help the pitiful people of Russia. We take our hats off to them.
What doughboy will forget the first sight he caught of an American "Y" girl in North Russia? He gave her his eyes and ears and his heart all in a minute. Was he in the hospital? Her smile was a memory for days afterward. If a convalescent who could dance, the touch of her arm and hand and the happy swing of the steps swayed him into forgetfulness of the pain of his wounds. If he were off outpost duty on a sector near the front line and seeking sweets at a Y. M. C. A. his sweets were doubled in value to him as he took them from the hand of the "Y" girl behind the counter. Or at church service in Archangel her voice added a heavenly note to the hymn. In the Hostess House, he watched her pass among the men showering graciousness and pleasantries upon the whole lonesome lot of doughboys. One of the boys wrote a little poem for The American Sentinel which may be introduced here in prose garb a la Walt Mason.
"There's a place in old Archangel, That we never will forget, And of all the cozy places, It's the soldier's one best bet. It's the place where lonely Sammies Hit the trail for on the run, There they serve you cake and coffee, 'Till the cake and coffee's done. And they know that after eating, There's another pleasure yet,-- So to show how they are thoughtful, They include a cigarette. There's a place back in the corner, Where you get your clothing checked, And the place is yours, They tell you, --well--Or words to that effect. There are magazines a-plenty, From the good old U. S. A. There's a cheery home-like welcome for you any time of day. Will we, can we e'er forget them, In the future golden years, And the kindness that was rendered, By these Lady Volunteers? Just as soon as work is finished, Don't you brush your hair and blouse, And go double-double timing, To the cordial Hostess House?"
One of the pretty weddings in Archangel that winter was that celebrated by the boys when Miss Childs became home-maker for Bryant Ryal, the "Y" man who was later taken prisoner by the Bolsheviki. She was within twelve miles of him the day he was captured. Doughboys were quick to offer her comforting assurances that he would be treated well because American "Y" men had done so much in Russia for the Russian soldiers before the Bolshevik debacle. And when they heard that he was actually on his way to Moscow with fair chance of liberation, they crowded the taplooska Ryal home and made it shine radiantly with their congratulations.
But it was not the institutional service such as the Hostess House or the Huts or the box car canteen, such as it was, which endeared the "Y" girls to the doughboys as a lot. It was the genuine womanly friendliness of those girls.
The writer will never forget the scene at Archangel when the American soldiers left for Economia where the ship was to take them to America. Genuine were the affectionate farewells of the people--men, women and children; and genuine were the responses of the soldiers to those pitiable people. Our Miss Dickerson, of the Y. W. C. A. Hostess House, was surrounded by a tearful group of Russian High School girls who had been receiving instruction in health, sanitation and other social betterments and catching the American Young Women's Christian Association vision of usefulness to the sick, ignorant and unhappy ones of the community. Around her they gathered, a beautiful picture of feminine grief in its sweet purity of girlish tears, and at the same time a beautiful picture of promising hope for the future of Russia when all of that long-suffering people may be reached by our tactful Christian women.
In this connection now I think of the conversation with our Miss Taylor the last Sunday we were in Economia. She and Miss Dunham were staying on in Archangel hoping to get permission to go into the interior of the country again. And it is reported that they did. She said to me: "Wherever you can, back home among Christian people, tell them that these poor people here in Russia have had their religious life so torn up by this strife that now they long for teachers to come and help them to regain a religious expression."
A prominent worker among the College Y. M. C. A.'s in America, "Ken" Hollinshead, who was a "Y" secretary far up on the Dvina River in the long, cold, desperate winter, also caught the vision of the needs of the Russian people who had been Rasputinized and Leninized out of the faith of their fathers and were pitifully like sheep without a shepherd. He remarked to the writer that when the Bolshevist nightmare is over in Russia, he would like to go back over there and help them to revive what was vital and essential in their old faith and to improve it by showing them the American way of combining cleanliness with godliness, education with creed-holding, work with piety.
Can the Russians be educated? The soldiers know that many a veteran comrade of theirs in the war was an Americanized citizen. He had in a very few years in America gained a fine education. The general reader of this page may look about him and discover examples for himself. Last winter in a little church in Michigan the writer found the people subscribing to the support of a citizen of the city who, a Russian by birth, came to this country to find work and opportunity. He was drawn into the so-called mission church in the foreign settlement of the city, learned to speak and read English, caught a desire for education, is well-educated and now with his American bride goes to Russia on a Christian mission, to labor for the improvement of his own nation. He is to be supported by that little congregation of American people who have a vision of the kind of help Russia needs from our people.
Another story may be told. When the writer saw her first in Russia, she was the centre of interest on the little community entertainment hall dance floor. She had the manner of a lady trying to make everyone at ease. American soldiers and Russian soldiers and civil populace had gathered at the hall for a long program--a Russian drama, soldier stunts, a raffle, a dance which consisted of simple ballet and folk dances. The proceeds of the entertainment were to go toward furnishing bed linen, etc., for the Red Cross Hospital being organized by the school superintendent and his friends for the service of many wounded men who were falling in the defense of their area.
She was trim of figure and animated of countenance. Her hair was dressed as American women attractively do theirs. Her costume was dainty and her feet shod in English or American shoes. We could not understand a word of her Russian tongue but were charmed by its friendly and well-mannered modulations. We made inquiries about her. She was the wife of a man who, till the Bolsheviki drove the "intelligenza" out, had been a professor in an agricultural school of a high order. Now they were far north, seeking safety in their old peasant city and she was doing stenographer duty in the county government office.
We often mused upon the transformation. Only a few years before she had been as one of the countless peasant girls of the dull-faced, ill-dressed, red-handed, coarse-voiced type which we had seen everywhere with tools and implements of drudgery, never with things of refinement, except, perhaps, when we had seen them spinning or weaving. And here before us was one who had come out from among them, a sight for weary eyes and a gladness to heavy ears. How had she accomplished the metamorphosis? The school had done it, or rather helped her to the opportunity to rise. She had come to the city-village high school and completed the course and then with her ability to patter the keys of a Russian typewriter's thirty-six lettered keyboard, had travelled from Archangel to Moscow, to Petrograd, to Paris, to complete her education. And she told the writer one time that she regretted she had not gone to London and New York before she married the young Russian college professor.
The school,--the common school and the high school--therein lies the hope of Russia. What that woman has done, has been done by many another ambitious Russian girl and will be done by many girls of Russia. Russian boys and girls if given the advantages of the public school will develop the Russian nation.*****
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