Ray

25th September 1918 Wednesday

The Well Fed Madame Botchkareva

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“The General left for Teogra on horseback next morning (Sept. 25th) and another company of Americans joined us from Obozerskaya soon after he had gone. They were a fine-looking lot. In the evening two of our cavalry men came back with the story that whilst out on patrol they had been attacked by the Bolsheviks in the village of Meijmovskaya, which is about seventeen versts from here on the road to Plesetskaya. One of them had his horse shot from under him, and was captured by the Bolos. He managed to escape, however, after killing one of them. He had only a pair of trousers on when he arrived here, and was absolutely fagged out. The other man said that he had killed two and wounded one Bolo. with his rifle. Madame Boskareeva (sic.) arrived in the forenoon, and wanted to see Col. Henderson. But he had the ‘wind-up’, and wouldn’t grant her an interview. She wanted to get on his ‘staff’! She was as fat, if not fatter, than ever! A large load of rations arrived at night.”

Madame Botchkareva  1889-1920 Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Maria Botchkareva had fought in the Tsarist Russian Army and was determined to carry on the fight against the Bolsheviks. However, as an imposing character that she was, she found difficulty in gaining credibility with the allies and wasn’t considered, as a woman, to be suitable as a fighting soldier. In December 1918 the former Tsarist General Maroushevsky who was in charge of the White Army in Archangel wrote:

(1) “Madame Botchkareva arrived from Shenkursk and reported to me on the 26th December. She wore officer’s uniform of a Caucasian pattern, with epaulettes. She was accompanied by Lieut. Filipoff, whom she described as her adjutant.

Madame Botchkareva offered me her services for work in the organisation of the Russian Forces.

I do not undertake to estimate the merits of Madam Botchkareva’s services in the Russian Army. I consider that the shedding of her blood in the service of her country will be appreciated finally by the Central Government and Russian history.

I only consider it my duty to declare, that within the limits of the northern region, thank God, the time has already come for quiet creative work, and I consider that the summoning of women for military duties, which are not appropriate for their sex, would be a heavy reproach and a distasteful stain on the whole population of the northern region.

I order that Madame Botchkareva take off her uniform and that Lieut.Filipoff report immediately to the Military Command for registration, to be detailed for duties suitable to his rank and service.

The carrying out of this Order is placed under the supervision of the Town Commandant.”

(1) Archangel 1918-1919 General Ironside. Pub. Naval & Military Press Ltd ISBN 1-847347-32-0.

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24th September 1918 Tuesday

The General Comes to Survey the Situation

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“On Tuesday Sept. 24th the only thing of note that happened was that General Finlayson and Capt. Lloyd came up by boat at night, but I didn’t see much of them as they had a long conference with the C.O. An American was admitted to hospital suffering from pleurisy.”

General Robert Gordon-Finlayson had been given the responsibility of running the military operation by General Poole, who as the man in overall charge, but locally unpopular was more concerned with the running of the operation and admin from Archangel.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 713)

General Sir Robert Gordon-Finlayson KCB, CMG, DSO (Art.IWM ART LD 713) 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/8816

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23rd September 1918 Monday

Merchant Slipping into the Abyss and Letters from Home

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“Monday was a lovely, sunny day, and I drove into Teogra in the afternoon on business. I met Anderson at the bridge, and he came on with me to Teogra where we had tea with Merchant, who seemed to be developing into a nervous wreck. The Russian doctor had evacuated the two Russian patients in hospital at Teogra to the base this morning, and I told him to come through to Seletskoe tomorrow to look after the Russian sick there. I also told Turner to come into Seletskoe tomorrow too, and bring the convalescent marine with him. I got back to Seletskoe about 6.30 p.m. after a very fine drive. There was a gorgeous sunset. I found a hug mail of sixteen letters, umpteen bundles of papers, and three parcels awaiting me, and I was filled with joy for this was the first mail from home since leaving in August.”

Russian peasant women washing clothes by the river-side (diary).

Russian peasant women washing clothes by the river-side (diary).

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22nd September 1918 Sunday

Housekeeping and back to the Day Job

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“On Sunday 22nd I busied myself with getting the hospital in order, and made a decent wooden path up to the place much to the annoyance of my Russian neighbours whose wood I had evidently pinched. I admitted two Russians into hospital, one suffering from pleurisy and the other a sore throat.”

My second and larger hospital in the school at Seletskoe, complete with staff.

My second and larger hospital in the school at Seletskoe, complete with staff.

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21st September 1918 Saturday

Tickled Bolos and Sliding Horses

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“We moved forward to Seletskoe once more on the following day (21st Sept.). Col. Henderson went on ahead. I left the Russian doctor behind in Teogra to look after the three sick men there, and had to leave Turner there too. Merchant was complaining about his back, so I left him behind too. Anderson, with his platoon, and Shevtoff’s Russians were also left in Teogra to guard the bridge, and Obozerskaya’s cross-roads. Scott, Jerome, and I travelled in state in a two-horsed drosky with four cavalry men behind us. The guns had an awful job getting up the hills out of the village as the roads were so bad. It was funny to see them going down the hills as the horses just sat down and slid! The new bridge was a huge success although there was a very stiff hill on the other side to get up. We reached Seletskoe about six p.m. and found the Colonel established in our old H.Q. I took over the old hospital site, and billeted myself in the doctor’s house next door. One of our Russian patrols brought in a Bolshevik limber full of shells, and a field cooker. They also discovered a Bolo. aid-post, which was littered with bloody bandages and dressings, proving that we must have tickled them up a bit.”

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20th September 1918 Friday

More Americans arrive and fresh produce for the patients

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“On the evening of the 20th two more platoons of Americans joined us, and the others moved forward to Seletskoe. I admitted one of the marines into hospital suffering from pleurisy. He was rather bad. Luckily the people in my ‘home’ were awfully decent, and I was able to get a good supply of eggs and fresh milk for my patients.”

Not mentioned in the diary but at this time cases of Influenza had begun to increase back in Archangel and the hospitals had started to feel the strain. Already men had begun to succumb to the disease and deaths were beginning to increase among the allies.

Meanwhile rain that carried on throughout the night dampened the spirits somewhat.

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19th September 1918 Thursday

Russian McTavish Rebuilds the Bridge and could Merchant be Dodging?

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“On the afternoon of the 19th September I went for a walk along to the river crossing to view the destroyed bridge. The only traces of the old bridge left were a few blackened piles, and a lot of debris in the river. A lot of refugees belonging to Seletskoe crossed the river on their way back to their homes whilst I was there. It was a sad sight to see them. They were mostly women and children, and many of the women carried babies. McTavish was busy building the new bridge. He had a gang of thirty Russians, and twenty American engineers helping him. They had sunk five wooden trestles in the river, and had started placing the planking across when I left. We heard that a Bolo. plane had bombed Seletskoe during the afternoon, but had inflicted no damage on the place at all. We also got news that one of our gunboats on the Dwina had sunk three Bolo. gunboats and a barge. Merchant was in bed all day complaining of diarrhoea and headache, but in my opinion he wasn’t too bad. He was suffering from cold feet really! I wrote a long report to the A.D.M.S. on my doings up till now. McNair put in an appearance again at night with a supply of rations.”

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18th September 1918 Wednesday

Shown up by the Russian Cadets

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“On the 18th Sept. the best piece of news was that the Russian Cadets had gone on to Seletskoe, found the village empty, and occupied the trenches outside the place! What a smack in the eye this was to us! The Bolos. retired at the same time as we did, and now we can’t get across the river to pursue them! What a farce!

McNair left us during the day, but his right-hand man, a Russian engineer whom we called McTavish, stayed with us to help build a new bridge across the river, which he guaranteed to have completed and ready for traffic tomorrow. Good egg! I attended to a number of military and civil sick during the day.”

McNair was a British Secret Service man – a man absolutely without fear. He was always turning up at odd times to help us, and I always felt absolutely safe when he was about. He carried three nasty - lethal revolvers, all fully loaded & had some hair-raising tales to tell of Russia, before, during and after the Revolution.

“McNair was a British Secret Service man – a man absolutely without fear. He was always turning up at odd times to help us, and I always felt absolutely safe when he was about. He carried three nasty – lethal revolvers, all fully loaded & had some hair-raising tales to tell of Russia, before, during and after the Revolution.”

To the best of our knowledge there is no handwritten diary still extant and apart from various handwritten comments on pictures this is the only bit of standalone handwriting we have. We are working from a typed up copy.

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17th September 1918 Tuesday

Little Sleep, Return of the Lost Patrol, the Arrival of Lt. Col. Henderson and a Bolo Arrested

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“I wandered along to the middle Teogra village about 4 a.m. (17.9.18), and found that Wood and Co. had established themselves in a clean, and nice-looking house near the church. He had secured two rooms. The large one I managed to get four beds into, and used as a hospital. The smaller one I used as my own bedroom, and consulting room.

I got back to H.Q. just before eight o’clock to find that Lt. Col. Henderson had just arrived to take over command of the force. He is a Black Watch man, and struck me at the time as being a gentleman. I had some bully beef, biscuits, and tea breakfast, and then set about getting my little hospital in trim. I admitted two Russian soldiers both suffering from Phthisis, and pretty bad at that too.

Col. Henderson brought with him one hundred Russian troops. They are all ex-Russian officers, serving in a British cadet corps, which Col. Henderson has been training at Tundra. A Russian doctor came with them too.

During the afternoon the thirteen missing marines turned up. They stated that they only left Seletskoe at 11.30 this morning, and got an awful shock when they discovered that we had all gone. They also stated that they had seen no Bolos, and had heard no shooting all night. Nor had they heard Merchant calling them. Which proves what I have always thought that Merchant is an accomplished liar, and has a yellow streak in him. The men were able to cross the river all right on the debris of the bridge.

Three small boys also arrived from Seletskoe during the day, and told us that the Bolsheviks had not come into the village. One of the boys was the son of a Bolshevik organiser in Seletskoe and had obviously been sent to find out where we were, and what we were going to do. We kept them as hostages, and later on in the evening the father turned up to look for them and was promptly arrested.

During the day the Russian cadets relieved the Royal Scots, and Americans at the bridge. McNair arrived at night. I got to bed early, and slept like a log.”

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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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