Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

17th July 1919 Thursday

More Departures and Uncomfortably  Hot

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“The heat was greater than ever now – over 100in the shade, and absolutely broiling in the sun. The ‘Czar’ left for Blighty on the 17thJuly packed with troops, including some of our officers and men, and Count Campello. I was left behind as usual!”

Details of the Czar can be found here

Count Campello

Count Campello

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

11th July 1919 Friday

Mutiny and Murder!

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“On July 11th a big convoy of wounded arrived at our Hospital from Beresnik. Most of them were Russians with self-inflicted wounds of the left hand. We got definite news of the mutiny of the Russian troops up at Beresnik. The Bolsheviks made a big attack, and our gallant Russian allies allowed the enemy to advance right through our lines, afterwards joining hands with the Bolos. Six British officers were murdered in their sleep, and nine others escaped with wounds. Many British soldiers were wounded. The mutinous troops got right down to our gunboats, which they peppered with machine-gun bullets. Many sailors were killed, or wounded. On the way down the river some of the Russian wounded tried to escape. One jumped overboard, and escaped by being picked up by a passing boat. Obviously we have not many friends out here now. We heard too that the Bolsheviks had captured Perm, and that Kolchak’s Army was in retreat. It is about time we cleared out of here!”

The mutiny at Beresnik on July 7th, was a devastating blow to all out in Russia. Dyer’s battalion of whom so much had been trusted had carefully chosen their moment to throw off their sheep’s clothing and pounce like a hungry wolf.

At about half two in the morning eight men from B Company 1st Slavo-British Regiment acting under a corporal Nuchev entered the officers’ billet. The officers of two companies B and C of the battalion were sleeping there. Nuchev shot through a window and killed Captain Aubrey Malcolm Cecil Finch (1) aged 22 as he slept. This was the signal for his accomplices to attack. Three orderlies and three more British officers were shot dead and a further two fatally wounded. At the far end of the room were the Russian officers three of whom were also shot dead and one wounded. The rest of the battalion had by now fallen in and encouraged to join the mutineers in defecting to the Bolsheviks. About twenty of B company agreed to follow and escape to behind the enemy lines. A period of about twenty minutes then passed before they were joined by about another fifty from C company. All in all about a hundred defected.  It seems that the mutiny had only originated from B company and the intention was merely to defect as soon as possible.

Captain David Buik Barr aged 25 (2), one of the officers wounded in the attack managed to escape despite being shot and stabbed seven times and swam across the river to alert others in a moored boat as to what had occurred. He had made it to safety and was visited later that day in his hospital bed by Ironside who informed him that he was to be awarded a Military Cross for his efforts.

The other British officers killed were Lt. Gerald Noel Gosling aged 21 (3) Lt. Cecil Francis R. Bland MC aged 21 (4) and Lt. Thomas Comber Griffith aged 24 (5).

To the Allies the news that British officers and men were brutally murdered by men they thought were on their side was an enormous shock. However, the betrayal of trust and the failure to spot the Bolshevik infiltration into the Slavo-British Regt. was a massive blow to allied morale. General Ironside referred to the battalion as “The Experiment” and even after he had expressed massive disappointment at its failure still felt that it was a concept that could be explored in the future.

Douglas’s comment that “It’s about time we cleared out of here” would have reverberated throughout Archangel.

The dream of linking up with Kolchak’s White Army as they fought their way north, but now stalling and in retreat, was now exactly that.

Supreme Leader of White Russia Admiral Alexander Kolchak

Supreme Leader of White Russia Admiral Alexander Kolchak

(1) Capt. A.M.C. Finch Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot B40

(2) Capt. D.B. Barr Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot L2

(3) Lt. G. Gosling Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot B49

(4) Lt. C.F.R. Bland Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot B9

(5) Lt.Thomas Griffith Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot

Guide to the Archangel Allied Cemetery.

Guide to the Archangel Allied Cemetery.

Visitors to the War Cemetery in Archangel will benefit from this useful information provided by the Commonweath War Graves Commission.

https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/54102/ARCHANGEL%20MEMORIAL

Archangel, in the north of the Russian Federation, is a town on the eastern side of the Dvina Estuary on the White Sea. The Archangel Memorial is at the far end of Archangel Allied Cemetery, which is on the north-west outskirts of the town of Archangel, adjoining the Lutheran and Russian cemeteries and memorials to those who died in more recent actions. From the railway station, travel along the main road towards the River Dvina. Halfway along this road take the turning on the right hand side called Obvodnyi Kanal Avenue. The cemetery will be found on the right hand side of this road.

(c) OpenStreetMap contributors

(c) OpenStreetMap contributors

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

3rd July 1919 Thursday

Fire!

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

On the evening of July 3rd we all got a big fright. The large wooden dwelling-house behind our mess went on fire, and was soon blazing away merrily. We all dashed out, and helped to get some of the furniture out of the house. It must have been humorous to see two of us trying to carry out the grand piano! We had to stop the good work on account of the great heat. British Naval Units greatly helped the Russian Fire Brigade by bringing up a line of hose from a boat at the riverside. One woman had to be rescued from a top window by ladder. A British sailor did the trick, and was warmly cheered. Huge crowds gathered to watch the blaze.”

The fire raging.

The fire raging.

Aftermath

Aftermath

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

End of June 1919

Fun on the River and the Return of Nurse Valentine

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“During the summer some of us frequently hired a row-boat of an afternoon, and went for a sail up one of the tributaries of the Dwina. We got away from the smell of dirty Solombola to where the river twisted and turned between green fields, and wooded banks. Often we rowed across the Dwina to a small island opposite our Hospital. Here there was a lovely stretch of sand, and we had many a glorious bathe over there. One evening we had a pic-nic over there with the Hospital Sisters, and on another occasion I was present at a large pic-nic there got up by Sister Valentine, a British Nurse who lived in Russia in pre-war days, and spoke the language like a native.”

Captain Page rowing

Nymphs!

Selma Amy Valentine as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse.

Selma Amy Valentine as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse.

Nurse Valentine spoke Russian “like a native”. This may not have been such a surprise to Douglas had he realised that Nurse Valentine was actually born in Russia.

Selma Amy Valentine was born in probably St. Petersburg on July 17 1893 making her just over a year older than Douglas Page. Her father was an Ulsterman of French extraction and her mother was from high stock, being the daughter of the Governor of the Baltic States.

The story of Selma Valentine is one of an incredible woman little known these days but is worthy of more study. She spoke Russian, English, German and French. During her lifetime she would live in London, Paris and Johannesburg and met many people of note including Queen Alexandra and her son King George V, Hilter, Mussolini and many others. Suspected of being a Bolshevist, she was arrested by the British in Shenkursk where she was looking after her parents who had lost everything to the reds. Then she joined the Royal Navy as a Wren. She was also a VAD nurse, returning to teach in Shenkursk. She would leave Russia when the British evacuated later in 1919. She was active in India, and South Africa where she died on 6th November 1968.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

25th June 1919 Wednesday

More Fun and Dancing and a New Colonel

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“We held another very successful dance on the 25th. It was even more of a success than its predecessor. There would be almost 400 persons present including a number of officers from the King’s Liverpool Regiment, and sailors from the gunboat ‘Glow-Worm’, which had just arrived ‘from up the river’. My two orderlies and myself again constituted the orchestra and the fun was kept going till 1 o’clock next morning. Our new Colonel – Col. Gatt – was present and seemed to be enjoying things immensely. He is quite a good sort …”

Once more Doctor Douglas Page was seen to do as much to entertain the men as he did to repair them physically to try and get them fit for duty. We have to remember that the priority for the British Army had always been to try and return sick and wounded men to full fitness so that they could once more return to front line duty and I’m sure that revitalising the spirits with good entertainment was as important as administering drugs etc. Of course, the more serious situations would result in repatriation and eventual discharge, but Douglas’s efforts at entertaining the men from his time with the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance on the Western Front would have been appreciated more than he knew.

The mention of Colonel Gatt is of interest at this point. Joseph Edward Henry Gatt had recently been posted to Archangel as relief for Colonel Richmond. He held the rank of Major and was appointed temporary Lieutenant Colonel in order to take command of the 85th General hospital, the British Army’s ruse to avoid paying for the higher rank.

Born in Vittoriosa, Malta on 14th April 1876 he practised as a civilian up to 1902 and in 1903 was commissioned in the RAMC as Lieutenant. He served variously in Ireland, South Africa and India and well as the UK. Promoted to Captain in July 1906, he became a Major in October 1914 which rank he retained throughout his life. He retired from the military in 1923 and had a distinguished career as a physician until he retired, doing much to help with Malta’s health issues.

For a time he lived in Cornwall UK where he wrote various papers relating to health in Malta. He died in Rabat, Malta on the anniversary of the Armistice 11th November 1960.

https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/MT-NAM/type/fa/id/Passport+Applications+1921-1938/unitid/MFA01+-+18156/search/0/Gatt+Joseph+Edward+Henry

J E H Gatt in 1937. https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/MT-NAM/type/fa/id/Passport+Applications+1921-1938/unitid/MFA01+-+18156/search/0/Gatt+Joseph+Edward+Henry

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

 

23rd June 1919 Monday

Fire Drill

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“At this time the heat was very great, and we all went about without tunics. More of our men left for home on the 23rd, and we had a fire alarm practice that night with good results. All patients were got out of the Hospital within 3 minutes.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

21st June 1919 Saturday

Midsummer’s Day in the UK and a Boat Trip!

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“On the evening of Saturday, June 21st, I went for a sail on one of the small river Hospital boats, the ‘Sanitary’. We went up the river Dwina to Kegestroff Island, which lies opposite to Archangel. On this island is a scurvy hospital established by the British Medical Corps. When we came to Archangel first the prisons and hospitals were crowded with cases of scurvy. These were transferred eventually to Kegestroff Island; and the disease stamped out.”

H.S. Sanitary, one of the small boats used for bringing the sick & wounded down to the Base Hospital at Archangel from up-river.

H.S. Sanitary, one of the small boats used for bringing the sick & wounded down to the Base Hospital at Archangel from up-river.

Thanks to Dmitry Bychikhin for supplying this image and annotating the map below.

(c) OpenStreetMap contributors

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

16th June 1919 Monday

Douglas’s Turn To Be The Girl and Goodbye to Colonel Richmond

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“On June 16th my Pierrot Troupe gave another concert in the Y.M.C.A. hall at night. We had a packed house again, and in the audience were the D.D.M.S., A.D.M.S., and many other officers. All our sisters were present too. The show was a great success. My turn as a girl with Staff-Sgt. Freeman was the hit of the evening, and we had to repeat the performance. The D.D.M.S. and Col. Richmond made speeches at the end. It was a farewell concert to Col. Richmond and some of our men who left next day on board the ‘Pretoria’ for home and beauty.”

The popular Colonel Richmond who arrived as Major Richmond and was Officer Commanding at the 85thGeneral Hospital was given this grand farewell. Douglas Page marked his war both in France and Russia as an enthusiastic entertainer and was instrumental in putting these concerts together.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

14th June 1919 Saturday

Boogie Night! and Beer for The Pianist

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“On the evening of Saturday June 14thwe ran a big Hospital Dance in the large dance hall in Solombola. It was a great success. Over 200 persons attended, including many British naval and military officers. Of course, all our Tommies brought their pet ‘Barishnas’ and all our sisters were present. One of our sergeants brought the local star dancer with him, and she gave a very good solo exhibition dance. Lt Stratton of the Camerons, appeared in his kilt, and created a great sensation. He danced the Highland Fling which was loudly applauded. I played the piano all night, and with two of my orderlies as violinists, we made quite a useful orchestra. It was hard work though, and my fingers ached towards 2 o’clock a.m. The refreshments, consisting of ices, coffee, cakes, lemonade etc. were very good. The M.C. (Sgt. Freeman) was a good fellow, and provided some nice cool Bass for me. It was appreciated.”

Lieutenant Stratton of the Gordon Highlanders must have provided an interesting sight in his kilt to the young  барышня “Barishnas” (young ladies) of Archangel. The dance was indeed remembered as a great success and attracted newspaper reports. One was included in the diary.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

11th June 1919 Wednesday

A Sad Farewell to Douglas’s Compatriots

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC

“Next day the 2/10th Royal Scots sailed on the ‘Czaritsa’ for Blighty. I went into Archangel to see them all before they left, and felt very down-hearted at being left behind.”

For the second-rate men sent out to Russia to do a job, the 2/10 Royal Scots had excelled. They were men who were nominally “not fit for combat”. Under height, underweight, bespectacled and generally men who would have been employed in less physical work, they had fought, and worked their way through the most difficult conditions. They had endured thick forest, the most severe cold and now uncomfortable heat and voracious mosquitos. They had faced a committed enemy and emerged with great valour. Now they deserved their relief and for those that survived the conflict a boat home to Blighty and Bonnie Scotland. Douglas was understandably miffed that he was still needed so far from home.

Dundee Evening Telegraph. 23 June 1919  © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000563/19190623/047/0005

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

 

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