13th January 1919 to 18th January 1919

Coming to Terms with the Cold

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“Jan. 13th was a bitterly cold day, and 63 degrees of frost were registered. One’s eyebrows, eyelashes and nostrils froze as soon as one went outside, and it was very painful to breathe. Men with beards and moustaches had icicles hanging from them!

I started to learn ski-ing too. It was great fun, and I came some awful croppers in the snow. It was hard work too to begin with, and one’s thigh muscles felt the strain especially.

One day I witnessed a Russian burial in the cemetery about a mile from the hospital. A small boy was being buried, and many children were present at the grave side. The wailing that went on was very weird. Before the grave was filled in rice was thrown on the coffin.”

63 degrees of frost! -63 degrees Fahrenheit or -52 degrees Celsius, however you want to call it, it adds up to exactly the same thing. Extremely bloody cold! There is no exact definition of how long a human being can survive in extreme cold, it depends on how used to it you are. However, if you have never experienced it the risks are deceptively severe. The native Russians looked upon their foreign guests with both disdain and wonderment at how they coped with the severe cold.

Having been in the city centre of Moscow in -32 cel. I can tell you from experience that if you attempt to go outside with your head uncovered for instance you are stared at with incredulity. The cold is not the damp, chilling affair that we experience with a couple of degrees of frost that we get in the UK. It is a deceptive, dry cold. Deceptive because if you’re not used to it you can succumb to it very quickly. The first thing the inexperienced traveller arriving in ice bound country does is rush to throw snowballs at their colleagues, this simply doesn’t happen. The snow is so cold it is like dry powder making it impossible to form into a ball. Leaving parts of your skin exposed can be very dangerous and susceptible to frostbite. The natives know this and deal with it in their stride, making them able to live with the conditions far easier than feeble foreigners. It seems Captain Page was coping with it admirably.

Myself on the frozen Dwina

Myself on the frozen Dwina

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