WW1 Diary

8th March 1919 Saturday

Intense Excitement

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“On March 8th the excitement in our hospital was intense. On that day the Colonel (God bless him!) performed the first operation in our beautifully appointed theatre. It was a great event. Nearly the whole staff crowded in to see the fun – an amputation of a finger! The Colonel was very nervous, and foozled things completely. I don’t remember how many pairs of gloves, rubber, officers for the use of, he destroyed that afternoon!”

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1st March 1919 Saturday

Pancake Saturday!

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“Saturday, March 1st was ‘Pancake Saturday’, and a big holiday in Archangel. The streets were crowded. All the barishnas were out in their Sunday best, and most of the men were drunk. Lots of families drove up and down the Troitska in huge boat-shaped sleighs drawn by three or four horses.”

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One Sunday …

An Italian Count Gets a Hangover

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“One Sunday some of the officers, including Count Campello, went along to dine at the Russian hospital. They evidently had a tremendous repast, and the wine had flowed freely for when I saw them on their return they all looked very flushed, and bleary about the eyes. The poor count suffered for days. He shut himself up in his room and if any of us went near him all we got was ‘B—–y whisky’ in his broken English!”

Capt. the Count de Campello

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4th February 1919 Tuesday

Familiar Faces for Reinforcements and Tobogganing Fun

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“On February 4th some R.A.M.C. reinforcements arrived including Major Irwin, who was in charge of No. 2 Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, when I was a patient therein, Lt. Herman whom I knew well at the London Hospital in pre-war days, and Capt. Marshall who was with Scott at the South Pole. Colonel Thom, the new Director of Medical Services out here, also arrived with this batch. I hope he will tickle things up a bit. He has many ribbons on his chest.

The toboggan-run near G.H.Q. in Archangel afforded me much amusement when I saw it for the first time this week. It is a great affair. It starts from a height of about 100 ft. from the road-way, and slopes at first acutely, and then gradually, and then acutely again down on to the river. The whole run is about half-a-mile long, and is solid ice. Needless to say on a good toboggan a great speed is attained. The antics of several British sailors and their ‘barishnas’ amused me. Huge crowds were watching the fun, and a long queue was waiting to climb up to the top of the chute.”

Colonel Thom took over as Director of Medical Services at this time. He was born in Madras, India in 1870, but subsequently educated in Scotland at Dollar Academy which was founded in 1818. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1893 as M.B. and C.M. He signed up to the R.A.M.C. in 1894 and from 1900 spent time in South Africa during the South African Wars. He returned to India around 1903 where he remained for about ten years. At the outbreak of the Great War he was back in Scotland training field ambulances at Bridge of Allan until 1915 when he was sent to Gallipoli. Here he managed the overseeing of removing wounded men from the beaches onto the hospital ships for which he was awarded the C.M.G.

He was recalled to the War Office and then became ADMS 32nd Division and DDMS 2nd Army Corps on the Western Front, for which he was further decorated with a C.B.

Almost three months after the Armistice he was sent out to Archangel to oversee all medical services. His area of responsibility was immense, being in charge of both Murmansk and Archangel fronts wherever Allied troops were operating. Despite there being a serious threat not only from the Bolsheviks but also from serious disease such as cholera, dysentery and smallpox, no serious outbreaks apart from dysentery occurred. For his work in Russia he was given a C.B.E.

Following his return to the UK and the War Office he became ADMS of Home Counties (West). Appointed Superintendent of the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary he died on 7thApril 1935.

George David St Clair Thom

Newspaper article

From the diary not credited

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3rd February 1919 Monday

Tragedy at Shenkursk

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“On February 3rd we heard that Shenkhurst had been evacuated by our troops in the dead of night for military reasons. Our troops were withdrawn without the knowledge of the villagers, many of whom had been very friendly to us. When the unfortunate villagers got up next day they found the village to be full of Bolsheviks. Terrible scenes followed. Many people were shot, including the Mother-Superior of the convent in Shenkhurst. All the nuns, and many women and children of the village were raped, and dreadfully mutilated. Such is Bolshevism and British strategy!”

On the 24th and 25th January, Shenkursk over 400 kilometres from Archangel on the Vega River, fell to the Bolsheviks in one of the campaign’s most significant battles. It had been held by a joint force of a couple of hundred Americans of the 339th Infantry with support from another nine hundred or so of both British and the unreliable White Russian army.

Thousands of Bolsheviks flooded into Shenkursk and some villages in the surrounding areas, overwhelming the allied positions inflicting many casualties.

General Ironside had ordered immediate withdrawal fearing annihilation which was carried out by using the one trail out unseen by the Bolsheviks. Unaware of the timely escape by those that made it, the Reds continued to bombard Shenkursk before entering the town to find it abandoned by the Allies.

Douglas Page reported that the news had filtered through to Archangel about nine days later with an account of the terrible atrocities. Although he was clearly critical of the High Command the outcome was the inevitable result of the allied force being severely understrength to carry out such a campaign and highlighted the folly of trying to recruit a Russian army to fight other Russians. When it came to serious fighting the White Russians often refused or tried to abscond or defect to the Bolsheviks.

More peaceful Shenkursk in 1917

More peaceful Shenkursk in 1917

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1st February 1919 Saturday

Northern Lights

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“On the 1st February there was a wonderful display of Aurora Borealis at night. It was like a green rainbow waterfall!”

For those that would like to experience the sight for themselves.

https://youtu.be/dmHFA95uyO4

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31st January 1919 Friday

Dear Mrs…. Things Are Very Busy Here

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“After this things got busy in our hospital, and every day fresh cases arrived until we were full up. As we were understaffed, it meant that the non-administrative officers, like myself, got a great deal of extra work to do. For instance, at one time, another officer and myself, had to look after all the patients in hospital between ourselves. There were over 400 patients in the hospital at the time. The registrar sat in his office writing letters to his wife, no matter whether we had 400 or 4 patients to attend to.”

Captain Grant outside the entrance to the officers and Sgts. messes & men’s quarter, 85th General Hospital

Captain Grant outside the entrance to the officers’ and Sgts’. messes
& men’s quarter, 85th General Hospital.

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30th January 1919 Thursday

Open for Business

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“On Wednesday, January 30th*, our famous hospital opened its doors, and patients streamed in from near and far. I was put in charge of four wards – two surgical and two medical – and had fifty odd patients dumped on me during the afternoon. It was a great game getting them all sorted out. They were nearly all transfers from No. 53 Stationary Hospital in Archangel, and the amount of literature they brought with them in the way of case sheets, medical histories etc just about gave me a fit when I started to unravel it all. My patients consisted of Britishers and Russians, but there was one Chinaman amongst them. I was working till late at night getting things put straight in my wards, but was very glad to be at work again.”

The main entrance to the hospital

The main entrance to the hospital

*In 1919 30th January was a Thursday.

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24th and 25th January 1919 Friday and Saturday

Nothing much happened … except

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“During the next few days nothing very startling happened. The ‘Canada’ sailed on the 24th for Blighty with a lot of sick and wounded aboard. On the 25th two other officers and myself sat on two Courts of Enquiry. The first was to investigate the loss of two army shirts (value 3/6), and the second to probe the mystery (?) of a burst radiator. On the same day the matron and four sisters arrived from the hospital ship ‘Kalyan’. Needless to say, we were all on our best behaviour and enjoyed the ladies’ visit immensely. That night we had a Burns celebration. It was a grand night. Kennedy came along from Archangel, and he and I danced a Highland Fling together after dinner. The Count de Campello proposed the ‘Immortal Memory’ very dramatically, and most of us made a speech, or speeches afterwards.”

We haven’t been able to clarify exactly which ship Douglas is referring to but the SS Canada in the picture below is our best guess. If we do find clarification we will update this post.

SS Canada

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19th January 1919 Sunday

No Boogie for Dougie

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“Along with some other officers I went to a Russian dance in the Duma on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 19th. The tickets were 60 roubles each and all the Archangel aristocracy were there. The ballroom was very prettily decorated, and two very excellent bands supplied lovely Russian music. It was a brilliant spectacle. There were many British, French, American and Russian Army and Naval officers present in uniform, and the ladies’ dresses were very gorgeous. I didn’t dance at all as I had no dancing pumps, and left about 1 am. Some of the dances were very intricate, and amusing in a way. Refreshments were to be had, but at a terrible price. One of us had a bottle of whisky, and some biscuits in his overcoat pocket in the cloak-room. Thither we repaired for a little ‘moral support’ when the need arose! I met Little, the Yankee doctor, there, and we had a long yarn together. He had been awarded the Military Cross for good work done at Seletskoe, and I’m sure he deserved the recognition.”

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