WW1 Diary

10th June 1919 Tuesday

Guard of Honour, Dyer’s Battalion and Bread and Salt.

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 10th I went into Archangel in the afternoon to be an interested spectator of the parade of the newly-arrived British troops. Great crowds lined the street, and round about the Triumphal Arch a dense throng had congregated. I took up a good position near the Arch. The streets were lined by Civil Guards, Russian soldiers and sailors, and Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The Guard of Honour on the quay was composed of Duyer’s Battalion – composed entirely of captured Bolsheviks trained by Capt. Duyer. The new Brigadier-General arrived at the quay where he was met by General Ironsides with his Staff, and the Russian Governor and his Staff. They inspected the Guard of Honour, and then proceeded to the Arch where the Archangel Town Council was assembled in all its glory. An address of welcome was read out by the Lord Provost, and bread and salt offered as a sign of no ill feeling. Then with bands playing and colours flying the new troops, 46th and 47th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, my old regiment, marched past. It was a stirring sight! The Russians cheered loudly which was a good sign.”

As gratifying as it was to the British to get such a warm welcome, to the Americans it seemed like an ungrateful slight. They took no part in the celebration and contemporary accounts recalled the feeling of annoyance at the perceived lack of thanks from the native population. The Americans felt that the British were getting the accolades for the work being done by their troops.

This is the first mention of Dyer’s Battalion. It was formed from former captured red troops and trained by Captain Dyer.

Captain Royce Coleman Dyer was a Canadian officer whose job was to form and command a Disciplinary Battalion. As the Bolsheviks progressed their advance they released many prisoners held in local jails. These men were then something of a problem to Ironside’s administration in Archangel.

Dyer was given the job of trying to sift through them by interrogation, dividing them into three categories. As Ironside himself put it, “The bads, the less bads, and the probably harmless”. About three hundred in number, the thinking was to try and mould them into a useful force as opposed to locking them up and needing to look after them. Many of them impressed by working as stevedores to help load the British ships with timber that adorned the docks waiting shipment back to the UK. Much to the surprise of the authorities those men seemed to be shaping up to a much needed helpful addition to the allied forces.

Dyer was born 1st February 1889 in Sutton, Quebec and had signed up aged 25 on 23rd September 1914 as an infantry private to the 8th Battalion Canadian Infantry. A veteran of the Western Front and wounded three times, each time he returned to action. Posted in 1918 to Russia and promoted to Sergeant he displayed great valour during an operation to Onega under the command of Colonel Thornhill (previously Indian Army). Promoted in the field to the rank of captain by General Ironside he was decorated with the Military Medal and Bar as well as the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Honoured with the Russian Cross of St. George (4th class) he succumbed to pneumonia and died on the 30th December 1918 at the age of 28. So revered was he by his battalion the 1st Slavo-British,  that after his death the battalion carried his photograph at the head of any action and the group continued to be known as Dyer’s Battalion.

Captain Royce Colman Dyer,

Captain Royce Coleman Dyer https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/471670

Dyer's Battalion

Dyer’s Battalion http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/CollectionSearch/Pages/record.aspx?app=FonAndCol&IdNumber=3405032

The Russians turned out in Gala Dress to witness the parade of the newly arrived British troops.

The Russians turned out in Gala Dress to witness the parade of the newly arrived British troops.

The Russian Welcome to the British Relief Force Parade of troops under the Arch of Welcome. Crowds lining the streets

The Russian Welcome to the British Relief Force
Parade of troops under the Arch of Welcome. Crowds lining the streets

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

 

9th June 1919 Monday

A Sleepless Night and a Swollen Lip

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

“I spent a sleepless night and next day when I got up found that my right eye was completely bunged up, and my lower lip was like that of a nigger! The mosquitoes were very troublesome all summer, and we had to put mosquito nets over our beds at night. We also made nets to fit over all the beds in hospital.”

Apologies to anyone offended by Douglas’s terminology but, that was how things were in 1919 and for many years to come.

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

8th June 1919 Sunday

Prasnik Day With a Sting!

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

“Sunday, June 8th, was a big ‘Prasneek Day’ (holiday), and all the houses were decorated, inside and out, with branches of trees. Even the shipping on the river was decorated – branches of trees were stuck on the masts and funnels of boats. Our Russian sisters had decorated the wards. I had a walk along the riverside with some of the other officers, and was horribly stung by mosquitoes. Luckily they do not carry malaria, but the bites proved to be very troublesome.”

Our Archangel correspondent Dmitry Bychiknin has contributed that the holiday or Prasnik was that of Pentecost.

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

31st May 1919 Saturday

Young Man, There’s no Need to Feel Down

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“On Saturday night, May 31st, we gave our concert show in the large Y.M.C.A. Hall, Archangel. We had an excellent audience of over 600 troops, who showed their appreciation of our efforts in no uncertain way. It was a great success.”

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

29th May 1919 Thursday

Brass Hats. Only Here for the Beer?

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 Thursday, May 29th, I visited Archangel for the first time since the arrival of the Relief Force. The streets were crowded with the new troops, who seemed to me to be a smart lot. Any number of Brass Hats were to be seen. I suppose they have just come out for the sea voyage, and shall depart for Blighty in a few days (as a matter of fact many of them did go back to England after only spending a few days in North Russia). I met Col. Crombie, R.A.M.C. of Edinburgh who has come out as Medical Consultant to the Force.”

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

26th & 27th May 1919 Monday and Tuesday

Have you any Beer?

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

However, the first of the Relief Force did come eventually on Monday, May 26th, 1919. Three huge transports – Czar, Cazarina and Stephen – passed our hospital during the forenoon packed with troops. We all rushed down to the river side which was crowded with Russian civilians. A lot of cheering was indulged in and bands played on board the ships. A lot of back-chat took place between our men and those on board the transports, such as: ‘Have you any beer?’ ‘What is Blighty like?’ etc. It was a great night, and it did us all a lot of good.

That night the Pierrot troupe which Q.M.S. Freeman and I have been training for the last fortnight gave its first performance in the Y.M.C.A. hut at Solombola. The place was packed, and there were many officers present from Archangel. The show went off very well, and we had a tremendous reception. We didn’t finish till 10.30 p.m. owing to having so many encores – a three hours’ show.

The newly-arrived British troops had a triumphal march through the streets of Archangel on the 27th May, and were very enthusiastically received by the Russian population. Flags were flying and great crowds lined the streets. Banners were displayed bearing the words – ‘Welcome to the British’, A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed’ etc. It seems that no American flags were in evidence, and that the Yanks out here are annoyed at this.”

Whilst wiling away the long hours on the ships as they slowly made their way north and east towards Archangel you may wonder what conversations may have taken place. Let me save you some time in pondering. The young troops whose journey would not have been the hazardous voyage endured by the men they were being sent to relieve would have two pressing concerns. Would there be any beer and what would it be like? Followed by what would the girls be like? On arrival the convoy was met by General Ironside who went by boat to greet them. He was immediately confronted by the yelled question down from those aboard ‘Is there any beer?’ Those ships consisted of three large transports the SS Stephen, the HMTS Czar and also HMTS Tsarina/Czaritza. They had left Woolwich in London between the 11th and 13th May some calling at Newcastle to pick up extra men. Following some delay caused by the ice still in the White Sea they eventually made their way up the Dwina for a much anticipated welcome.

Image © britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

SS Czar

This is SS Czar built in Glasgow in 1912

The SS Czar arriving loaded with troops on May 26th 1919

The SS Czar arriving loaded with troops on May 26th 1919

Originally launched on 23rd March 1912, Czar was a passenger/cargo ship of 6503 tons. She was built for the Russian American Line but requisitioned by the Royal Navy before entering service.

During WW1 she was used between New York and Archangel and following the Armistice was decommissioned only to be immediately reinstated for supplying the North Russian Intervention.

During peacetime she underwent changes of name and ownership and served as a transport ship again during WW2. She survived until 1949 before ending her days in Blyth, Northumberland where she was broken up.

The SS Stephen arrives also

The SS Stephen arrives also

The SS Czaritza arriving at Archangel, here passing Solombola, May 26th 1919

The SS Czaritza arriving at Archangel, here passing Solombola, May 26th 1919

Another Glasgow built ship by the Barclay Curle Co. Launched in 1915 and slightly bigger than Czar at 6852 tons the ambiguous names of Czaritza and Tsarina appear to have both been carried during her trips to Archangel. This may account for Douglas’s spelling “Cazarina” or maybe it was just an error by the typist.

Following the Russian Intervention she was sold to the Danish Baltic-American Line and renamed Lituania. Several name changes later found her in the service of the Polish Navy. Evacuation to Dartmouth, England kept her from the clutches of the Nazis during WW2. However, she performed with a great deal of dexterity and valour during that conflict. Many ships acquired the “lucky” tag during times of conflict, surely there can have been few luckier than this. She was attacked on several occasions by the Japanese air force and in 1943 hit by a torpedo that failed to explode.

Surviving until 1950 she was, like her sister ship Czar broken up in Blyth, Northumberland.

Pierrot Troupes was the generic name given to concert parties formed to entertain troops at home and abroad.

Introduced to the British public from a French idea in the 1880s, it had become an immensely popular form of entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries consisting of artists wearing what we might term clowns’ uniforms with pointed or floppy hats and wearing white faced make up. Acts sang, danced, juggled and performed comedy sketches etc.

85th General Hospital Concert Party after a rehearsal

85th General Hospital Concert Party after a rehearsal

Members of the pierrot troupe interested in the arrival of the relief force.

Members of the pierrot troupe interested in the arrival of the relief force.

Throughout Douglas Page’s war service he had immersed himself in the production of these troupes. As far as we know he didn’t continue it in peace time.
Douglas the Pierrot

Douglas the Pierrot

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

24th May 1919 Saturday

Relief Coming but No Relief Yet

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

“Saturday, May 24th, was a day of excitement. Flags were flying everywhere, and all the shipping was decorated with bunting. A triumphal arch was erected by the Russians in Archangel, and all this was done to celebrate the arrival of the Relief Force which did not come. Some people said that the transports were stuck in the ice in the White Sea. Certainly we were all very eager to see and greet the much talked of relief force, which Mr Churchill promised to send out in order that we poor unfortunates who had spent a dreary winter in the frozen north should proceed home forthwith. Some of us did not proceed home forthwith, as you shall soon find out.”

Parade of troops under the Arch of Welcome

Parade of troops under the Arch of Welcome

The Arch of Welcome. Built by the local Russians to welcome the relief troops being sent out from Britain.

The Arch of Welcome. Built by the local Russians to welcome the relief troops being sent out from Britain.

Lt. Haldane, dentist in centre. Capt. Watson left and Lt. Herman right (just in picture)

Lt. Haldane, dentist in centre. Capt. Watson left and Lt. Herman right (just in picture)

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

15th May 1919 Thursday

One Eye and a Fox Up The River

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

“Three days afterwards the H.M.S. ‘Cyclops’, depot ship, and H.M.S. ‘Fox’ gunboat went up the river with a big number of naval ratings aboard.”

HMS Fox was a second class cruiser of a modest 4360 tons loaded with guns etc. Built in 1893 and entering service three years later she was by 1919 considered obsolete and approaching the end of her life. Although built of steel her hull was clad in both copper and wood to deter the growth of barnacles in the tropics for which she was intended. The rapid encrustation in warm water could severely affect a ship’s performance. Her duties were mainly as a show of force to those considered inferior nations and offer some kind of threat to enemies. However, it was known that she would be of little use in a sea battle. Withdrawn from service following her duties in Archangel she was scrapped in 1920.

HMS Fox pictured in Archangel in 1919 (public domain)

HMS Fox pictured in Archangel in 1919 (public domain)

HMS Cyclops pictured in 1943 Photo by R.J. Mundy via Creative Commons

HMS Cyclops pictured in 1943 Photo by R.J. Mundy via Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Cyclops_Scotland_1943ish.jpg

Whist under construction as a passenger liner the “Indrabarah” for the Liverpool based Indra Line in 1905, she was purchased by the Royal Navy for use as a depot repair and supply ship. She spent most of WW1 in Scapa Flow in service to the Grand Fleet. Decommissioned in April 1919 she was immediately reinstated and despatched to Archangel to back up the Intervention force. She remained out there until October before returning to Chatham. Nicknamed “Cycle-box”, HMS Cyclops was adapted for use as a submarine depot and then had a long period of service and survived WW2 before being scrapped in 1947.

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

12th May 1919 Monday

Fun in The Sergeants’ Mess

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 Monday, May 12th, I attended, by request, a smoking concert in the sergeants’ mess. It was great fun and beer was flowing very freely! I gave them a song, much to their delight and had to repeat the dose. Our sergeants are a good lot, and know what hard work is. We heard to-day that the neck of the White Sea was choked up with ice as a result of the persistent northerly winds. As a result no boats can get up the Dwina to Archangel.”

Sergeants' Mess Middle Floor

Sergeants’ Mess Middle Floor

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

11th May 1919 Sunday

Fifty Wounded Blighty Bound

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 May 11th about fifty of our patients were transferred to the ‘Khalyan’ for transport to England. We were glad to see them go. They were all bad cases, and need highly skilled nursing, which we cannot give them. They were glad to go too, but were very grateful to us for all that we had done for them. Our wards were still choc-a-bloc at this time, and we were all kept very busy. Bridge at night kept us cheery, and a gramophone with some good records also helped.”

On the veranda at Solombola A game of Bridge in the sun. Left to right Lieutenants Herman, Freedman and Dart.

On the veranda at Solombola
A game of bridge in the sun. Left to right Lieutenants Herman, Freedman and Dart.

It would be remiss not remind readers that now exactly six months had passed since the Armistice and yet allied troops were still being killed and injured in the name of something they neither understood nor cared about. It is remarkable that although many Russians were really ambivalent about the conflict, their foreign friends were being sacrificed in their name.

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