16th September 1918 Monday
Under Fire and The American Patrol fails in its Mission.
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“Monday, September 16th. The artillery duel continued all day. About 7.30 a.m. an enemy shell came whistling over and dropped just behind the church, and all morning after that shells came whizzing into the village. Most of them fell into the top end of the village (nearest the enemy, but a goodly number landed around the school house. No damage was done, and nobody was hurt. A drosky had the back end blown off by a shell, and we all laughed when we saw the horse coming galloping through the village with the old bearded driver perched on the top of the wreckage! During the day we cleared many of the women and children out of the village, as things were getting too hot for them. In order to get to my Aid-Post in the morning I had to make a dash for it, but got up the road all right. Whilst I was in my little hospital a few shells fell quite close to the building. I picked up one or two souvenirs on the way up of nose-caps and shrapnel bullets.
One of the gunner sergeants told us his experiences at the forward O.P. He said that the Bolos. had four guns, and that at least one of them was only 400 yards up the road from our forward posts, as he could see the enemy gunners at work. He said that he fired at them with his rifle, and that he had hit one of them. He also told us that about noon he saw a bit of earth blown up into the air when the gun fired, and that it had not fired since. He said that Capt. Donoghue commanding the American troops had sent out two parties to try and get behind the gun and capture it. Later we learned that this bold move ended in failure. The sergeant also told us about a party of about a dozen unarmed men with a woman who came walking down the road towards our lines. Unfortunately a French M.G. opened fire on them and they scatted into the woods. No more was seen of them.
During all this excitement I got a letter from the A.D.M.S. Elope, requesting me to send in to his office umpteen weekly and monthly returns! I thought I’d got away from all that ‘bumph’, but here it starts again!
A heavy thunderstorm broke over us about one o’clock, and the enemy shelling continued all afternoon.
A woman arrived in the village in the afternoon from Ripalova. She said that the Bolsheviks were coming along that side of the river, and that they had guns with them – probably machine-guns, for the road there is impassable for field guns even. Anyhow this piece of news made us think a bit, and we sent a cavalry patrol out, which soon came back to say that they had been fired on from both sides of the road about one and a half versts out. The next thing that happened was that Capt. Shevtoff reported that he had seen men on the opposite bank of the river, and that a M.G. had fired across the river at one of our posts. The ‘wind’ was gradually getting higher and higher!
About six o’clock in the evening I was called up to my Aid Post to see one of the young Russian Artillery Officers, who had been wounded whilst coming back to the village from his O.P. He had a nasty shrapnel wound in the left shoulder, which I cleaned up, packed and dressed. Then I fixed him up comfortably in a drosky, and sent him off to Siskoe under the care of Turner, telling him to stop the night at Vymuga.
When I got back to H.Q. I found that Capt. Scott had decided to evacuate the village at dusk, in view of the threatening attitude of the Bolos. Then all was bustle getting all our stores loaded up on the droskies, and warning everybody for the evacuation. I took on the job of marshalling the carts, and seeing that they were properly loaded. It was an awful job keeping them together, for the drivers had the ‘wind-up’ properly, and wanted to go off back to Teogra on their own. I sent my own carts and R.A.M.C. men on ahead to Teogra to choose a decent house for a hospital. Woods said that he knew of a fine house there, so I left it to him.
Capt. Merchant and his marines were detailed to stay behind, and man the trenches outside Seletskoe till 11 p.m. and then withdraw to Teogra. A party of thirty Americans was left behind too to guard the river bank.
We moved off at 9 o’clock, the artillery leading, and the Royal Scots bringing up the rear. It was a lovely moonlight night, and all was quiet when we left the village. Nearly all the villagers came along with us. Our column was a very long one, and included besides our own troops and transport, many cows, horses, dogs, cats, women and children.
We reached the large bridge across the river Teogra about 4 versts from the village itself, at 10.30 p.m. and there held a council of war. At last we decided to destroy the bridge, but how to do so was the next difficulty that arose. The hair-brained Russian officer attached to the Americans suggested blowing it up with two Mills bombs! Then somebody else had a brain-wave, and suggested sawing it down! Finally we decided to burn the confounded thing. Two fires were started under the main props on our (the Teogra) side of the river, and one of the mounted orderlies was sent into the village to try and get some petrol or paraffin to help the burning process. We had to keep the fires down until the Marines got back. It was a cold night and we were all dead beat. We huddled round the fires, and many of us fell asleep before the marines arrived about 1.30 a.m. on the morning of the 17th. We got another blow when Merchant told us that a corporal and twelve of his men were missing. He stated that they were in one of the forward trenches and when he (Merchant) went forward himself to recall them at 11.30 p.m., he got no answer from them. Merchant also stated that he saw ‘huge numbers’ of creeping forms on the sky-line whom he took to be Bolsheviks. He said that he only got his men away in the nick of time, and told us that there had been a lot of firing on both sides right up till the time of withdrawal.
Well, we fired the bridge, and with the help of a tin of benzene, and another of petrol soon had it blazing away merrily. It was a wonderful sight, and I was loath to turn my back on it, and wend my weary way towards Teogra. The cracking of the huge logs of wood sounded like rifle shots, and until we realised what the noise was, we thought the Bolos. were close on our heels and having pot shots at us. Sgt. Samuels, the interpreter, got the ‘wind-up’ properly. He was mounted on a small pony. It took fright too, with the result that first Sgt. Samuels’ rifle came to ground, and then the Sergeant himself was landed in the ditch! I laughed heartily at the one and only comic episode of a tragic night.
Anderson and his men, plus twenty Americans, were left behind to guard the river crossing, and four French machine-guns with fifty Russians were posted to guard the Obozerskaya road junction. Scott and I trudged wearily back to Teogra just as dawn was breaking, feeling utterly fed-up with life. We found that our wonderful servants had got hold of an evil-smelling room in a dilapidated house as a mess and H.Q. combined, and that tea and biscuits were ready for us.”
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