Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

14th September 1918 Saturday

Boring Fishing, Dodgy Boating and Salmon at 48p a kilo

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 September 14th, 1918. In the afternoon I went down to the river – the Emtsa – with Turner and Wood, two of my R.A.M.C. orderlies, to do a bit of fishing. We rigged up a Heath-Robinson fishing rod with a long pole, a piece of string, and a bent pin, and after a long hunt dug up two anaemic-looking worms. But we had no luck, and after about five minutes of it I got tired of the sport ?, and discovering a canoe, decided to go for a sail. Turner came with me. As the current was very swift, we had some difficulty in navigating the old tub, but managed to keep ourselves afloat. Two Rusky boys came down to fish, and had hardly been on the scene five minutes before they caught a fine big fish. What it was I know not, but it looked like a mackerel.

2/Lt. Jerome, a Royal Scots officer, joined us today. Also twenty Frenchmen, and thirteen mules with six limbers. The villagers turned out in force to gape at these wonderful animals. They had evidently never seen one before. It was good to hear the beasts ‘hee-hawing’ again!

We got news that Lt. Col. Henderson, Black Watch, was on his way up from Archangel to command our little force.

Antofioff brought in a fine, big salmon at night, which we bought for 165 roubles – 11 roubles (4/7d.) per pound!

The only other event of importance during the day was that we put the time back an hour and a half.”

The concept of Daylight Saving Time was still in its infancy during the First World War.

Rowing on the Dwina

Rowing on the Dwina

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13th September 1918 Friday

Nothing much happened except …

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.

“Friday, September 13th. The only event of importance today was the arrival from Obozerskaya of a party of about two hundred Americans with seven officers, including a medical officer – Lt. Little – and a Russian officer, who was supposed to be an interpreter, but could talk neither English or French! They were all very tired after their three days’ trek. The C.C. – Capt. Donoghue was a red-headed Irish-American, and later on proved himself to be a great fighter, thus winning the D.S.O.  Lt. Little, the doctor, was another of the best, and he and I soon became good friends. These two were two of the few ‘real’ Americans out here. The others were a mixture of Huns, Austrians, Poles, Russians etc. – the scum of the earth – full of Bolshevism, and hopeless as fighters. Time and again they let us down badly, not only the men, but the officers, by running away in the face of the enemy. If this had happened in the British Army the offenders would have been promptly shot, but the wonderful Americans ? of the N.R.E.F. were lavishly decorated with Military Crosses and military medals by a very soft and diplomatic British G.H.Q.

The American troops were the first, and always the worst offenders at selling canteen and Government stores. One caught them frequently in the market-place selling tobacco, jam etc. to the Russians, and making huge profits out of their transactions. I’m told that up on the railway they even went out to the Bolshevik lines at night and sold to the enemy canteen stores.

But they were by no means the only offenders in this respect. Our own R.A.M.C. men were very bad. In a month’s time only about 300 roubles was paid out to the men, yet at the end of the month there was a profit of 3000 roubles in the canteen!

The big ‘wigs’ at G.H.Q. were worse than anyone at one time. They used to barter whole cases of whisky for furs, and if one went into their offices on business, very little business was ever done – the whole talk seemed to be on bartering.

About this time the great canteen store scandal came to light. Several hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of stores were sent out here about the same time as we came out. They were all dumped on the quay at Bakharitza, with one officer – Major Lynch – and one N.C.O. to look after them! Russian guards were provided to look after them, and they, with the help of the dock-labourers, had a fine time especially amongst the whisky! Then American, British, and French guards were put on, but still the wholesale plundering went on, and practically every night when the guards were relieved they were found to be hopelessly drunk. This went on till about £500,000 worth of stores – mostly whisky – had been stolen. Then the remainder was moved into sheds surrounded by barbed wire, and the thieving on a large sale stopped. Of course the whole thing was the fault of the authorities for not sending out a proper staff to look after the stores. The result was that it was almost the end of October before we poor unfortunates ‘up the line’ got any canteen supplies at all. For seven long weeks we lived on ‘hard tack’ – bully beef, maconochie, biscuits (extra hard), jam (not very much), tea and sugar – nothing else, except what we were able to buy from the poor peasants in the way of an occasional egg, or bit of black, evil-smelling, and equally evil-tasting bread. In all that time we got no cigarettes or tobacco ration either. Luckily I had brought up with me a good supply of both, which managed to keep we four officers going, on short rations. But the men were reduced to smoking hay or moss in their pipes, or rolled up in a bit of any old newspaper! It was very hard luck on the men, for they had to endure great hardships, and we all know how a cigarette or pipe soothes one after a particularly strenuous time.”

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12th September 1918 Thursday

Dodgy Dentistry Suspect Diagnosis and Buried Food!

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 morning, 12th September, I saw a large number of sick, mostly Russians. As I had no interpreter with me, had great difficulty in diagnosing their complaints. Three wanted teeth extracted, but by the time the third man’s turn came he had got the ‘wind-up’ at hearing the agonised yells of the other two, and he wouldn’t face the music at any price!

A young woman drove in from Ripalova (about eight versts off on the other side of the river) to consult me. As far as I could make out by means of signs, I thought that she had a pain in the stomach, so gave her a dose of chlorodyne, which pleased her so much, that she immediately produced an empty bottle from her pocket, which I filled up with a very weak mixture of chlorodyne and water. She departed mightily pleased.

I evacuated one Royal Scot and two Russian soldiers to Siskoe. The Royal Scot was suffering very badly from rheumatism. One of the Ruskies was half-mad. He had been in an asylum for many years, and had been liberated at the time of the Revolution. The other Rusky was practically blind.

Sergt. Samuels, our interpreter, held a mass meeting of drosky drivers in the forenoon, and told them that they would be shot if they attempted to run away from us. That’s the stuff to give ‘em!

We managed to purchase thirty-four eggs, and eight round cheeses like footballs for our little mess. The eggs cost a rouble each.

We found a lot of stores – flour, tea etc. – which had been buried in a field just outside the village by Col. Haselden to prevent them falling into the hands of the Bolsheviks.”

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11th September 1918 Wednesday

Old Old Men, Some over Sixty Years of Age! And a Russian Hero Aids the Allies.

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.

“Wednesday, September 11th, was another fine, sunny day. I attended to a few British and French sick in the morning, but there was nothing seriously the matter with any of them.

The drosky drivers threatened to go on strike, but Antofioff soon settled them. They wanted more food, and no wonder, for at present they only get five biscuits, and half a tin of bully each, and a tin of Maconochie between eight with a little tea and sugar per day. We increased the rule to six biscuits, and a whole tin of bully each per day. I never saw such a motley crew as these drivers of ours. There were old, old men – some over sixty years of age – with great bushy beards; young boys – the youngest (little Tich, who drove my cart) aged ten; and a fair sprinkling of women, young and old. They did their job very well, and we should have been absolutely helpless without them.

They got no pay – only their rations, and food for their horses. We bought hay in the villages. Capt. Scott had a few thousand roubles given to him for this purpose before he left Archangel.

 But a word about Antofioff. He was a native of Teogra, and had been of great use to Col. Haselsden earlier on in the campaign. He was a man of about thirty, and always carried a huge gilt sword at his side. He attached himself to us at Teogra, and Capt. Scott put him in charge of the transport. He helped us a great deal and but for him we would never have kept our transport together. We were never able to get enough carts from one village for our purpose, so that we had to enrol them from different villages all over the country. These people were always wanting to get away back to their homes, and in then we had to arrange a system of weekly reliefs.

At night three R.A.M.C. men arrived to help me. They brought up medical panniers, blankets and stretchers with them, for which small mercies I was truly thankful.

During the day we dug a system of trenches around the village and got our guns into position. In the night some of our rag-time drosky people departed so we decided to put a guard on the rear end of the village to stop this in future.”

Lt. Anderson in centre, with Colonel Shevtoff (left), and another Russian officer, in Seletskoe.

Lt. Anderson in centre, with Colonel Shevtoff (left), and another Russian officer, in Seletskoe.

If you’re wondering what Maconochie was this blog post gives a good idea.

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10th September 1918 Tuesday

Captain Page’s Hospital and a Returned Machine Gun

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.

“It was again warm and sunny on Tuesday, September 10th. In the house next door to the doctor’s place I established a small hospital. It had been used for Bolshevik sick, and was in a filthy condition. There were six rooms in the house, with six iron beds, and mattresses, which were full of dirt, and bugs.

I had a walk around the village in the afternoon, and got a splendid view from the top of the small hill behind the village. All around me I could see nothing but miles and miles of forest. There were many women working in the fields reaping the crops in good old-fashioned style.

I got a message from Capt. Daw. R.A.M.C. to say that he was stationed at Siskoe for the purpose of evacuating any wounded or sick to Archangel by boat. We heard that 2/Lt. Heath of the 2/10th Royal Scots had arrived there too to act as Commandant of the place.

Capt. Norman left us in the evening for Yemetskoe en route for ‘C’ Force once more.

During the day one of the villagers bought in one of the Royal Scots’ Lewis guns, which the Bolsheviks had forgotten to take with them.”

My first hospital at Seletskoe, with my three excellent R.A.M.C. orderlies. The flag was made out of an old linen sheet which we found in the house, and the cross was painted on with a concentrated solution of Condy’s Fluid. Later on one of the women in the village made us a beautiful Red Cross flag.

My first hospital at Seletskoe, with my three excellent R.A.M.C. orderlies. The flag was made out of an old linen sheet which we found in the house, and the cross was painted on with a concentrated solution of Condy’s Fluid. Later on one of the women in the village made us a beautiful Red Cross flag.

Condy’s Fluid was a purple liquid patented by Henry Bollmann Condy in 1857. It had a multitude of uses. Taken internally it could prevent or treat scarlet fever, but used externally it could disinfect water and be used as what we would call today an air freshener.

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

9th September 1918 Monday

A Trail of Rape, Pillage and Murder

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.

“Monday September 9th, was another, bright sunny day. We were up early again, and moved off about 9 o’clock for Seletskoe. Lt Anderson with his platoon went on ahead. I went along with the main column. At the Obozerskaya road-junction we left a small out-post of Russians. The Bolsheviks had attempted to destroy the large, substantial, wooden bridge across the River Teogra, but hadn’t made much impression on it.

We entered Seletskoe (pronounced Seltsoe) about noon. Everywhere we saw signs of the recent Bolshevik occupation – windows smashed, and the interiors of houses wrecked. The villagers were overjoyed to see us, and gave us a hearty welcome. The Mayor told us that a French officer, belonging to Col. Haselden’s force, whom the Bolsheviks had taken prisoner, had been horribly mutilated by them. They cut off his ears, and nose, gouged out his eyes, and cut out his tongue, leaving him to die by the road-side. He was buried by the village priest, and for doing this the unfortunate priest was shot by the murderous villains. Nearly all the women in the village had been violated by these brutes, who also carried off with them the wife, and two young daughters of the village post-master. All food and money, and many cows, sheep and hens had been stolen, and the church broken into and robbed of its valuables.

We heard that Col. Haselden with his little force had arrived safely at Kholmogorskaya on the railway, after a most trying time in the forest.

Inside the little chapel in the churchyard we found two dead Bolsheviks. They had been wounded, and were absolutely naked. We buried them rather unceremoniously in the church-yard.

Some of the villagers told us that they had seen the Bolsheviks bring five British prisoners into the village a few days ago, and that the Bolsheviks had taken them into the forest one day, and had come back without them, but carrying their clothes. We could find no trace of them anywhere.

Capt. Shevtoff’s men were on outpost duty outside the village, and brought in two Bolshevik prisoners in the afternoon. They were pitiful objects – pale, thin and unshaven. They were only boys, and looked half-starved. Their clothes were ragged and torn. They wore no socks, and their boots were full of holes. They told us that they had got lost in the forest, and had been wandering about for days without food, and that the Bolsheviks opposite us numbered twelve hundred. They broke down completely after Capt. Shevtoff’s examination and wept like children. They said that they didn’t know why they were fighting against us, and blessed us for saving them.

The Bolsheviks left stacks of propaganda papers in all the houses printed in English and French, urging our troops not to fight against them, but to return to their homes and leave Russia to manage for herself. Russia for the Russians!

Seletskoe was a long, straggling village of three thousand inhabitants, with a large expanse of fertile land all around, and the River Entsa forming the eastern boundary. We occupied the second flat of a large house, and were very comfortable. I discovered the local doctor’s house which contained an excellent surgery and dispensary. But the Bolsheviks had destroyed many of the drugs and instruments. I was told that the local doctor had gone to Archangel about a month ago with four thousand roubles belonging to the village, with which to purchase drugs etc., but had not been heard of since! However, I saw his assistant – unqualified – and got his permission to use the drugs in the dispensary.

In the evening our cavalry arrived – some twelve or fourteen Russians but no horses! The Russian officer in charge was a queer-looking fellow, with red breeches, a Norfolk jacket, big top-boots, and huge spurs!

Whilst we were at supper a weeping woman came in to tell us that the Bolsheviks had stolen everything from her, including a cow. She wanted us to give her another cow there and then! Poor old Capt. Scott had a lot of this sort of thing to deal with, and it took us a long time to impress upon the ignorant people that we were not a travelling ‘Harrods Stores’!”

Seletskoe Church

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8th September 1918 Sunday

Red Army v. Red Bugs

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.

“Next day – Sunday September 8th – we were up early, and moved off shortly after 8 a.m. It was a rag-time cavalcade – Royal Scots, French and Russians with over fifty carts, and the two guns bringing up the rear. Some of the horses pulling the guns were mounted by women! The road was hilly, and at some parts we had difficulty with the guns. There was dense forest on each side of the road all the way, Capt. Scott passed us in a swift drosky, and with four mounted White Guards riding behind – the General’s escort!

We eventually reached Teogra about midday. Teogra consisted of a group of three small villages of the usual type, and about a verst apart. The centre village contained the church. With the French we occupied the most southerly village – that nearest the enemy! – whilst the Russians and artillery remained in the centre one. The Bolsheviks had dug a series of shallow trenches just outside the centre village. They had evidently decided to make a stand, but got the ‘wind up’ when they heard of the Allied victory at Obozerskaya.

Capt. Du Pay went off on his own in the afternoon to Seleskoe, and sent back a message in the evening to the effect that he had reached that place, and could find no signs of the Bolsheviks at all.  One of our planes flew over too, and reported one enemy cart entering Seleskoe. This was Capt. Du Pay! What if the aviator had dropped a bomb on him!

All the houses in Teogra had been looted by the enemy before they left, and all food stolen from the poor peasants. We billeted ourselves in an empty house, which was in a filthy condition, and full of bugs – great, big red fellows. And they didn’t forget us at night either!

I took a walk along the river bank in the afternoon. Quite a considerable area of country around Teogra was under cultivation, and in the warm sunshine everything looked very nice.”

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7th September 1918 Sunday

More Biting Insects, Tartan Trews and the tragic loss of a hero

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, the seventh, was another wet day. I saw a lot of sick of all nationalities in the morning, including a Russian girl with toothache. I couldn’t extract the offending molar as I had no forceps, but I painted the gum with iodine, and she went away quite happy. I wired the A.D.M.S. to send me up Nos. 1 and 2 Field Medical Panniers urgently.

In the forenoon Capt. Merchant went up with his men to relieve Lt. Anderson and party, who returned at dusk utterly fagged out.

I was bitten a lot by the wood-bug, which is an essential inhabitant of every Russian house.

During the day one of the Royal Scots, who got lost the other day, turned up. He was very much worn out, as he had been wandering about in the forest, and marshes for three days without food or shelter. He could tell us nothing about the fate of the other five men. I took him into hospital for a rest.

 Then three French soldiers arrived from Col. Haselden’s force. They told us that the little force had become so hard pressed by the Bolsheviks that Col. Hasleden had to give the order to abandon everything, and take to the forest. Two drosky drivers also arrived from the same force.

 Later on in the day a girl came in from Teogra. She belonged to this village, and had been captured by the Bolsheviks ten days ago, whilst out in the fields with her cows. The Bolsheviks killed, and ate the cows, and ill-treated the girl. She had very few clothes on, and had escaped through the forest, and marshes without shoes or stockings on.

Capt. Norman, Royal Engineers, arrived in the afternoon from Beresniki. He told us of the death of Lt. Main, 2/10th Royal Scots, who was drowned in the Dwina a few days ago. He slipped off a narrow gangway connecting a boat with the shore, and instantly disappeared in the swift-flowing stream. As it was a particularly dark night, all search for his body proved fruitless. He was one of the best, and we were all very sorry to hear of his sad end.

Our two 18-pounder guns arrived in the evening with Rusky crews, and in charge of two Russian officers, and two British sergeants. Each gun was drawn by eight small horses, and umpteen carts came behind with ammunition. The villagers, who had never seen a gun before, turned out en masse to witness the great event.

Lt. Anderson created a bit of a sensation too by turning out in tartan trews and glengarry!

About seven o’clock in the evening we had a message from Capt. Merchant to say that his patrols had found the village of Teogra unoccupied by the Bolsheviks. Capts. Scott and Norman went forward to investigate matters. Meanwhile we got ready to move forward when required. Capt. Scott got back about midnight with the news that we were to stay overnight in Vymuga, as one of the bridges on the road to Teogra was damaged.”

Newspaper report of the death of Captain Mill Main

Daily Record - Thursday 19 July 1917 Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Daily Record – Thursday 19 July 1917 Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

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6th September 1918 Friday

A Russian Bath, Rumour, Theft and Discontent

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.

“Friday the sixth was a cold, wet day. I had quite a big sick parade in the morning, mostly chills and rheumatic pains after the exposure of the last few days. One of the marines dislocated his left shoulder, whilst carrying an ammunition box. I got it back all right after a little manipulation. I also attended to a few Russian civilian sick and had a look round the village – a long, straggling line of about fifty houses.

Of course they were all built of wood, the better class ones being painted yellow outside. There was the usual white, gold and green church with domed tower containing a peal of bells. The inhabitants were very friendly towards us, but the village, besides its own population, contained about three hundred refugees – mostly able-bodied men – from the surrounding districts. These people came to us asking for food, and we promised to help the as soon as more supplies came up from Siskoe. There was a civil telegraph line from here to Siskoe, and Capt. Scott wired for more supplies to be sent up.

I indulged in a Russian bath in the afternoon, and enjoyed it immensely. It was a great stunt. The bath-house was a little wooden hut behind my billet, heated up by a charcoal stove. In order to get up a good heat one threw water on the red-hot charcoal. At one side of the hut was a wooden platform arrangement arranged in tiers, and the higher one mounted the hotter the atmosphere became. It fairly made me sweat, and I was as limp as a wet rag after it all.

Capt. Scott got a telegram from G.H.Q. to say that we were now known as ‘D. Force’. We also heard that several British, American, Italian, French and Japanese troops had arrived at Archangel. Oh, those rumours! If they were only true! We also heard that a force was pushing along from Obozerskaya to meet us.

At night two thousand rations arrived in charge of one wretched blue-jacket! He informed us that the drosky drivers had looted a lot of the stores en route. The dirty dogs!

Some of our noble band of White Guards left us during the day They said that they were ‘fed-up’ and wanted to get back to their homes! What about ourselves! That’s just the Russian all over. He is a lazy, good-for-nothing individual, who wants us to feed him, and save him from his enemy, the wily Bolshevik.”

Typical Russian cottage with stove.

The interior of a typical Russian cottage, showing very clearly the famous Russian stove, which is fired with wood at ‘A’ and shelf on top used as a bunker in the winter.

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5th September 1918 Thursday

A Damp Start, Aeroplanes Buzzing and a Cheery Finish to the Day 

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.

“At dawn on Thursday the fifth I attempted to light a fire, but failed hopelessly, as all the wood I could find was soaking wet. However, one of the drosky drivers came to my aid, and we soon had a fine fire blazing away. How did he do it? He simply felled a tree, and started the fire with dry, tarry splinters from the interior of the tree-trunk. Quite simple! It rained heavily all day up till about 4 p.m. when it cleared up, and was a fine sunny evening. We all felt very stiff, and sore, and our tempers weren’t of the best – at least not till we had had a tot of rum! The men were in a bad state too – soaked to the skin, and very dejected. I sent two of them into Vymuga. They were in an hysterical condition.

Capt. Merchant came back with his men in the afternoon, after Lt. Anderson and his platoon had gone up to relieve him.

Capt. Scott very wisely, and much to my relief, decided to establish his Headquarters at Vymuga for the time being, so we all trekked back there about 5 o’clock in the evening, leaving a French machine-gun detachment of two guns behind. We were all glad to get back to shelter, and have a chance of drying ourselves, and getting a wash. I managed to get a very comfortable room in the same house as my little hospital.

One of our aeroplanes from the Russian aerodrome on the island at Siskoe flew over Teogra in the evening, and on the way home dropped us a message to the effect that very few Bolsheviks could be seen in or near Teogra, and that the enemy had moved his guns from Teogra to Seletskoe. Looks as if he were going to ‘buzz off’ altogether. The message also told us of the British capture of Lens with 10,000 Hun prisoners, and of the capture of Obozerskaya on the railway by Col. Guard with 200 prisoners. This last item explains the Bolshevik retreat on Seletskoe. The good news cheered us all up immensely.”

Airco DH 4 about to take off near Archangel. Used in bombing and reconnaissance

Airco DH 4 about to take off near Archangel. Used in bombing and reconnaissance

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