Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

11th December 1918 Wednesday

Mutiny in Archangel!

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 Wednesday 11thDecember some Russian troops billeted in Archangel refused to go up the line, and barricaded themselves inside their barracks. They fired on anyone who came near them. American, French and British troops were rushed to the spot, surrounded the barracks, and soon quelled the disturbance. An aeroplane dropped a bomb on the place, and the Americans lobbed a few trench-mortar bombs over the building. The ring-leaders were arrested. They numbered 22 in all, and 11 of them were made to shoot the other 11, who had previously dug their own graves. This gruesome ceremony took place on the barrack square, which was surrounded on all sides by British soldiers with machine guns. Col. Shevtoff, whom I met up at Seletskoe, and who commanded these rebels, afterwards committed suicide, as he was so ashamed of his men.

This revolt scared us all rather badly. We were served out with rifles and bombs, and had armed R.A.M.C. sentries posted on our billets all day and night. It was not considered safe to go out after dark. It was quite a common thing at night to hear rifle shots, and many British officers had narrow escapes in Archangel. The Assistant Provost Marshall was fired at three times whilst leaving the hospital ship ‘Kalyan’, but was not hit. We also obtained two machine guns, and were trained in their use. Barbed wire entanglements, and sand-bag redoubts were built all round the hospital.”

This revolt by very reluctant Russian recruits is the subject of subsequent criticism by modern observers and historians. General Ironside’s account in his memoir Archangel 1918-1919 describes the event in terms that are in conflict with the reports of eye witnesses and those who were actually in Archangel at the time. The conflict of accounts has been highlighted by Damien Wright in his book ‘Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin’. Ironside told us that after the men had surrendered the ring leaders were tried by court martial and sentenced to death. Ironside claimed that by his intervention he managed to commute their sentences to a long term of imprisonment. Douglas’s account of the incident ties in with other diary entries. American, Charles B Ryan of the 339th  Infantry gives more insight into the incident. Along with other reports here is my summary of the story.

The Russian population were in no mood to fight. The peasants from the country were more interested in where the next meal was coming from than in any political ideals. Life under the Tsar was simple, but in truth the population was totally unaffected by whoever was ruling the country. They may well have known about the Russian Royal family, but their day to day existence wasn’t touched by any kind of political influence, or at least that is how it would have seemed. They were surrounded everywhere here in the north by the natural resource that provided their living, trees. More important to the people was their Christianity which remains un-waivered even today.

The forest was the provider of everything they knew. It gave them material for building, fuel for burning, wood for selling. The forest was so immense that in most part every inch of the land was covered by dense woodland only pierced by the course of the rivers and the few paths made for sleighs and carts, carved through it to provide transport links. Until the railway from Vologda up to Archangel had arrived in 1897 the river was the only trunk route. The main transport went via river of which the mighty Dwina or Dvina was king. This however would only be fully navigable during the Summer from about May until November.

The Constantine Barracks were situated on Troitsky Street in Archangel and accommodated over 700 men. These men were part of an intended army of 17,000 men of which by this time only just over 1400 had been coaxed into service. Of these men quite a few were captured Bolsheviks that had been taken from the front line, or those reds that had volunteered and were effectively spying. There had been constant issues of unrest with them and they had consistently lobbied for improvements to their conditions. Some of the demands such us the right not to salute and a complaint that their officers were wearing Tsarist insignia might seem somewhat frivolous but their demands for increased rations including more cigarettes may well have been legitimate. It is well established that the British had treated the native population including military recruits with less than generous rations and this was a cause for resentment in Archangel.

Ironside’s version of events were that he gave orders that the men would be paraded at the barracks his intention being to “put the matter of discipline to the test” (1). Others have testified that he intended they be sent up the line to fight. Bearing in mind that the main reason that these men had signed up was to get regular meals and a pay packet and not to fight any fellow Russians, they duly refused to fall in. Having experienced life under Ironside’s predecessor General Poole, who ruled in the manner of a colonial governor and endeared himself to no one, the British weren’t universally popular.

On hearing the news of a revolt, Ironside went to the barracks to see the situation for himself. He was accompanied by a detachment of the 2/7th Durham Light Infantry and possibly a few R.A.F. men. The Durhams had not long arrived in Archangel and had been intended for garrison duty, which would have been more suited to the 2/10 Royal Scots who were not classed as fit for fighting. As he arrived he saw the men of the new 1st Archangel Regiment had locked themselves in waving a lot of red flags and brandishing rifles from the window. Shots were fired into the air from the roof.

General Marousheffsky who commanded the Russians, calmly ordered that some Russian N.C.O.s bring up a Lewis gun and from the rear trained it on the main building. Then a couple of Stoke’s Mortars were brought in. Morousheffsky used a loudhailer to shout orders to the men which only resulted in more flag waving and shouting. Firstly, under Ironside’s direction a mortar was sent over the building landing in the yard behind to no effect. A second mortar bomb landed and exploded on the roof which had the desired effect. All the flags were dropped and men began to appear from the building some half-dressed. The ring leaders were asked to identify themselves and thirteen older men, mostly N.C.O.s immediately stepped forward. They were arrested and marched off under guard. The rest of the men were returned to barracks and told to make themselves ready. This they did quite happily before being marched off to the station the following day to catch a train to Obozerskaya and the front. The mutiny therefore had resolved itself without further trouble and all could relax once more.

Ironside then states that following court martial the guilty men were all sentenced to death but following a previous communication from King George V requesting that no men be executed following the Armistice, General Ironside in an act of compassion commuted the death sentences to terms of imprisonment.

Compare this then to the account given by Captain Page above and the words of Charles Ryan.

Referring to the S.B.A.L (the Slavo-British Allied Legion) or the New Russian Army, he says that the situation “had been brewing for some time, but had been nipped in the bud on the other occasions” (2).

A combined British, French and American group armed with Lewis machine-guns opened fire on the building, breaking all the windows, killing one and wounding three men. The Russians returned fire before surrendering in a short-lived battle. The mortar that was sent over the roof had landed in the space behind killing an unfortunate man that was there.

The disconsolate Russians were then lined up while every tenth man was counted out. This was on the orders of Ironside as testified by Company Sergeant Major Fred Neesam of the Green Howards (3) It was then made clear in no uncertain terms that unless they gave the names of the ringleaders all of these men would be shot. Thirteen men were identified after which their own men were forced to shoot them under threat of a machine gun placed behind them. There was to be swift justice, a court martial (although no mention of one in Charles Ryan’s account). The men were forced to dig their own graves then shot in the back of the neck by their own men. One hundred years on this would almost certainly be classed as a war crime. There are some inconsistencies in the accounts but all conflict with the face-saving account of General Edmond “Tiny” Ironside.

(1) Naval and Military Press “Archangel 1918-1919” by Gen. E. Ironside.

(2) https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/polar/86620.0002.001/62?

(3) Tom Stacey “At War with the Bolsheviks” by R. Jackson

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

A Visit to the Dentist

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.

“Nothing much happened during the next few days. I developed a most infernal dose of toothache, and had eventually to go along to 53 C.C.S. where Haldane, the dentist, removed the offending molar under gas. I laughed heartily all the time I was under the gas, and succeeded in biting a bit out of Haldane’s finger!”

Back in February 1916 Douglas had another tooth removed but on that occasion he definitely wasn’t laughing.

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

1st December 1918 Sunday

New ADMS arrives with Troops on the Stephen

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 Sunday, December 1st, I travelled by train to Economie, a small village on the Dwina about 15 miles below Archangel. There I awaited the arrival of the ‘Stephen’ which had some stores aboard for 85 General Hospital. Of course, it was a bitterly cold day, and I was nearly frozen stiff hanging about. A special train arrived during the forenoon full of red, blue, pink and green-tabbed gentlemen, including Sir George Prescott, the Base Commandant, and Major Rooke, the D.A.D.M.S. The latter told me that the new A.D.M.S. – and Col. Blacklaw – was due to arrive on the ‘S.S. Stephen’ and that he was a regular thruster. It seems that the wind is vertical at Medical H.Q! This tickled me immensely! The river here was entirely frozen over. Shortly after noon an ice-breaker appeared round the bend of the river, cutting a way through the ice for the old ‘Stephen’ which soon rounded the bend. It was a great sight to see the ice-breaker cutting her way so easily through the ice which was a foot or two thick in places. These ice-breakers can cut through ice 14 or 16 feet thick. They have very powerful engines, and specially strengthened bows. It was 3 o’clock before the ‘Stephen’ was berthed owing to the difficulty of getting alongside the quay due to the ice. I wasn’t allowed on board to claim the stores, so left in disgust, frozen stiff, and very hungry. I reached Solombola about 9.30 p.m. There were a lot of troops on board the ‘Stephen’.”

The Stephen at Archangel in May 1919

The Stephen at Archangel in May 1919

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

End of November 1918

Longing for Home and Recovering From Frostbite

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.

“During the next few days I recuperated. The hospital wasn’t in working order yet, so that there was no work for the large staff of Medical Officers loafing about here. I wish they’d send me home! I had one or two trips into Archangel, where I met many old acquaintances. I also paid a visit to the Hospital Ship ‘Kalyan’, which is lying frozen in alongside the quay at Archangel. She is to remain here all winter. It was a treat to see and talk to a British woman again. The evenings were spent in playing bridge and vingt-et-un.”

The card game vingt-et-un is of course known these days by the names “Twenty one”, “Pontoon” or “Black Jack”.

HMHS Kalyan

Kalyan was one of a series of six small ships ordered by P&O in 1914. She was laid down and built by the Cammell Laird Company in 1915 at their yard in Birkenhead. All six had names that began with K and were named after places in India. Originally entering service as a troop ship, Kalyan was refitted as a hospital ship during 1918 and able to provide accommodation for over 750 patients. One of the “Improvements” noted in the ship’s diary was that of a wire cage forming a segregated area to contain patients suffering from mental disorders. This was described as “very satisfactory”.

From around this time in 1918 Kalyan would become iced-in on the River Dwina and would remain so until late spring in 1919. Each day the ice around the ship would be hacked away to prevent crushing of the hull.

Following the war Kalyan remained in service with P&O until 1932 when she was sold to a Japanese salvage company. Rated at 9118 tons she was broken up for scrap in Japan during 1933.

HMHS Kalyan on the River Dwina preceded by an Ice-breaker. (Picture from the diary all rights reserved)

HMHS Kalyan on the River Dwina preceded by an Ice-breaker.
(Picture from the diary all rights reserved)

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

25th November 1918 Monday

French Ski Troops Catch a Teddy Bear

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 had breakfast at 82 C.C.S., and then hung about on the quay at Archangel Pristim waiting for a boat to take me across to Archangel. It was an intensely cold day – some 40 degrees of frost – with a clear blue sky and a biting wind. The ground, of course, was covered deeply with snow, and the Dwina was almost frozen over. My feet soon got like lumps of lead, and when I at length reached 85 General Hospital at Solombola, I could hardly get my boots off. Several of my toes were frost-bitten, and were very painful for days after. Some French Alpine Chausseurs appeared with a young ‘Teddy’ bear which they had caught in the forest. It caused great amusement with its funny antics. The boat, an ice-breaker – arrived about 2.30 p.m. and it was with great difficulty that I got aboard with all my kit. I met Evans, the Sanitary Officer on board, who on reaching the other side, took me up to his mess, and gave me a ‘high’ tea, which saved my life. I reached 85 General Hospital about 6 p.m. just about dead beat. Thus ended the second part of my Russian adventure.”

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

24th November 1918 Sunday

A.D.M.S. Sacked! General Ironside Brings Good News for Douglas

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 Sunday 24th General Ironside, commanding the N.R.E.F. came up, and I had a long interview with him. He was most sympathetic, and told me, on the quiet, that the A.D.M.S. was being sent home – incompetent. This was a piece of good news to me. I spent the day in saying farewell to all my many friends at Obozerskaya, and finished up at the Flying Corps Mess, where I had a rousing reception. I left by the 11.30 p.m. train and travelled very slowly all night, eventually reaching Bakharitza about 7 next morning.”

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

23rd November 1918 Saturday

Relief at Last

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 Saturday 23rdNov. Capt. Harrison came up from 82 C.C.S. to take my place up here. I was never so glad to see anyone in all my life before! I had a busy day or two handing over to him, and putting him wise about all things.”

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

21st-22nd November 1918 Thursday and Friday

Allies Betrayed by American Thefts

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.

“During the next few days the weather became much colder, and on the 21stNov. 22½ degrees of frost were registered. The air was beautifully clear, however, and one soon got accustomed to the intense cold. Winter kit arrived to be issued to the men. This consisted of fur caps, leather jerkins, large leather coats lined with sheepskin, fingerless gloves, thick stockings, and the special Shackleton boots to prevent frostbite.

About this time, too, the A.S.C. stores at Obozerskaya were being continually broken into at night, and the goods therein pilfered. Rum, whisky, port etc. were the goods usually stolen, although many sacks of flour, and cases of jam etc. went missing. These thefts were eventually traced to the American sentries, who were supposed to guard the place at night! They were even caught fraternising with the Bolos at night, and selling the stolen goods at a high price. What noble Allies we have! My room was broken into too, and several personal articles and some medical stores stolen. Even the ambulance train was not immune for several mattresses and bolsters were removed at night from one of the cars.”

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

19th November 1918 Tuesday

мы поздравляем вас (We congratulate you)

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 Tuesday 19th I was present at a very interesting ceremony at H.Q. Mess. The three head foresters had come over to congratulate Col. Lucas on the success of the Allies in France and elsewhere. They were gorgeously arrayed in full-dress uniforms with small silver daggers at their sides, and many brilliant decorations on their breasts.

Speeches were made, and the healths of Russia and the Allies were drunk in port.”

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

18th November 1918 Monday

Shell Shock from a Pistol Shot?

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.

“The next day the A.D.M.S. wired me to send Capt. Jones forward to Verst 455 to relieve the American doctor, who had developed ‘shell-shock’ when somebody fired a Verey pistol one night!”

A 1916 Pistol, 1976_448 Photo from Black Country Museums via CC

A 1916 Pistol, 1976_448 Photo from Black Country Museums via CC https://www.flickr.com/photos/blackcountrymuseums/4882055850

The Verey pistol (also Very) was named after its American inventor Edward Wilson Very who was a naval officer. Although his name was spelled without an ‘e’ both spellings are used for his invention.

It wasn’t a weapon but was used for firing warning flares and also used to light up an area like no man’s land or enemy trenches.

It has on occasions been used as a weapon and at close range it was a formidable one, similar to having a firework shot at you at high velocity.

Shell shock in the modern day is more commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was first written about in The Lancet in 1915 by Charles Myers consultant psychologist with the British Army. In theory however throughout most of the war the British Army merely looked on shell shock as lack of moral fibre, cowardice or just plain shirking.

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