Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

4th September 1918 Wednesday

Russians treated (one with rum!) and sent to Vymuga

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 was called out at 5 o’clock next morning – Wednesday September 4th – to attend to a wounded Russian. He was shot through the left upper arm – the bullet having come out behind the left shoulder. He had been shot at close range, as his tunic, and the skin around the wound were burned. It may have been self-inflicted, but no report came down with him, so after dressing him up, I sent him off to Vymuga in a drosky. It was a nasty cold, raw morning, and I soon had a roaring fire going.

Capt. Merchant with his marines went up to relieve Lt. Anderson’s party who returned about one o’clock. The men looked rotten, and some of them were absolutely ‘all-in’. I took care of two of the worst cases in my Aid Post – a cosy little bivouac which I had got the drosky drivers to put up in the forenoon. These boys – they were scarcely nineteen – could scarcely stand and were in a state of utter collapse.

In the forenoon I had a long chat with one of the French Officers, an excellent young chap – Lt. B……….. , who was horribly ‘fed-up’ with the whole business. And no wonder! For here we are, a miserable little force, hopelessly outnumbered (five to one) by the enemy, and up against an enemy who knows the country well, has guns, cavalry and telephones, whereas we have none of these necessities. What a game it is! The French Officer said:- ‘C’est très comique, mais très triste aussi’! Most of the Bolsheviks up against us here are criminals, who were released from the convict settlements at the time of the Revolution. They are led by a Hun Officer, and a Russian peasant told us that they had four field guns.

In the afternoon I rode into Vymuga in a drosky to see about establishing a small hospital there. I selected our old billet for the purpose. There were three very clean and comfortable rooms upstairs, and the old lady of the house was a decent old sort. I put Pte. Turner, R.A.M.C. in charge.

It started to rain heavily about three o’clock, and I had a very unpleasant ride back to camp. It rained all night, and I don’t think anybody got any sleep, except Lt. Anderson, who somehow or other managed to hit upon the only dry spot in our rickety bivouac. I was absolutely soaked through, and felt utterly miserable.

About midnight I was called out to see a Russian soldier who had been sent down from the out-posts. He was suffering from extreme exhaustion, and was a very sorry sight. I gave him a good ‘tot’ of rum, and sent him on to Vymuga.”

Lt Anderson (diary)

Lt Anderson (diary)

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

3rd September 1918 Tuesday

Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic! Mosquito Attack and a Missing Party

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 was up again about 7 o’clock, and we moved off once more at 9 o’clock towards Teogra. Pte. Turner, R.A.M.C. arrived with the Marines last night and I left him behind at Vymuga to look after the fifty odd marines left in the village. We established our headquarters about four versts out from Vymuga on the edge of a marsh. Lt. Anderson went forward with his platoon to get in touch with the enemy, and we had a message from him in the afternoon to say that he had come into contact with the Bolsheviks at a river crossing near Teogra and had exchanged a few shots. I heard the firing. One of the Russian (Allies) planes from Siskoe flew over in the afternoon and dropped three bombs on Teogra. During the day we heard a lot of artillery fire from the direction of Obozerskaya on the railway where Col. Guard (A. Force) is supposed to be attacking the Bolsheviks. Some of the French machine-gunners went forward to assist Lt. Anderson, whilst the remainder took up a position overlooking the marsh. Capt. Shevtoff’s noble band was our body-guard! What hopes! During the afternoon Major Graham G.H.Q. Staff, arrived to discuss the situation with Capt. Scott. He had come up from Archangel in a motor launch, which went on fire at Siskoe, and burnt all his kit! He told us that two 18-pounder guns, and a bunch of Russian cavalry were on their way up to join us, and proposed that we attack and capture Teogra as soon as they arrived. We also heard (nobody knew where it came from!) that a party of Bolsheviks were coming down the river behind us to try and cut us off from the base at Siskoe. Capt. Scott warned the Marines at Vymuga to be on the alert, but nothing happened. We were constantly getting these panic rumours, and, in the end learned to ignore them entirely.

The mosquitoes were very troublesome, and I was bitten all over the hands, face and neck. One or two of the Royal Scots had nasty swollen arms, as the result of these pests, and after dressing their arms with lint soaked in a solution of corrosive sublimate, I sent them back to Vymuga to rest.

In the evening we had a message from Anderson to say that six of his men were missing. They had two Lewis guns with them. Whilst they were going along the road to take up a position they had been surprised by a party of some sixty Bolsheviks, and had taken to the forest, where they were at once lost. If the Bolsheviks get hold of them they shall have a pretty thin time. Anderson also stated that he had inflicted twelve casualties on the enemy.

Capt. Shevtoff’s party went up at night to repair the bridge across the river at the point where Lt. Anderson had taken up his position.

We had two mounted White Guards with us who acted as despatch riders. They proved to be most excellent fellows.

We got a fine log fire going, which cheered things up considerably. The drosky drivers felled whole trees for us, and chopped them up into logs. They knew the right kind of tree to fell, and used their axes in a wonderful way. They were rewarded with cigarettes. I built a small bivouac with two stretchers, and branches of fir tree, and with our feet to the fire Capts. Scott, Merchant and I slept soundly all night.”

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

2nd September 1918 Monday

Advance to Vymuga

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.

“We were up early on Monday, September 2nd and left Monastir shortly after 8 a.m. for Vymuga. It was warm and sunny. Our transport now consisted of thirty carts, as our baggage and extra supplies came forward from Siskoe last night. We marched along through some very fine country, reaching Vymuga about 10.30 a.m. Capt. Shevtoff met us and reported all quiet. Just before entering the actual village of Vymuga we came to a river, across which there was no bridge, but only a rope ferry. Capt. Scott decided to leave his transport on the Siskoe side of the river in case the Bolsheviks chose to attack us in the night. We all – officers and men – got good billets in the village. I came across a British R.A.M.C. man – Pte. Woods – with the Russian troops here. He was originally with Capt. Leslie R.A.M.C., M.O. to B. Force, but was detailed to go with the Russians after Col. Haselden retreated from Seletskoe. Col. Haselden’s idea was to force his way along to Obozerskaya (on the railway), and he left the Russian detachment to guard his rear at the road-junction between Seletskoe and Teogra. But the Bolsheviks were too much for the Russians, so the latter retreated to Monastir, where we found them, and thus the Bolsheviks were able to get in behind ‘B’ Force, and make its position a critical one.

In the afternoon an aeroplane flew over, and dropped a message to say that nothing could be seen of ‘B’ Force, and that the Bolsheviks were digging trenches at Teogra, a village about five miles off. We wondered what had happened to Col. Haselden and his gallant, little band – whether he had been captured, or whether he had taken to the forest. Anderson went off in the afternoon with six of his men to arrest some Bolsheviks in a neighbouring hamlet. He returned about 5 o’clock with a dozen miserable-looking prisoners. They were sent off to Archangel via Siskoe later on, and a few days later we heard that our brilliant intelligence department had liberated them all! Just before dark Capt. Merchant went off with a party of thirty marines to take up a position about five versts beyond the village on the road to Teogra.

During the evening we had a visitor. He was Lt. Dimitroff, of the White Guards, and had ridden all the way from Yemetskoe to see us, and tell us that he would guard our left flank. Capt. Scott and he were soon out of sight behind a mass of maps, and sketches.

But we got the surprise of our lives about 11 p.m. when a French captain – Capt. Du Pay – marched into the room. He told us that he was in charge of a French machine-gun detachment of sixty men, and ten guns, and that he had also brought along with him a party of forty Marines (British). They had been sent in a great hurry from Beresniki – a place over a hundred miles higher up the Dwina from Siskoe to our relief, as it had been reported that we were just about to be annihilated! Poor old Capt. Du Pay was in a very bad temper, but soon cheered up after he had something to eat. I took on the job of getting the French and Marine transport across the river on the pontoon. It was a slow job, as only one cart could go on the raft at a time. There was a fine display of Aurora Borealis. I got to bed – a fine feather mattress on the floor – about 4 a.m. 3/9/18.”

Captain Shevtoff of the White Guards (diary)

Captain Shevtoff of the White Guards (diary)

Captain Scott (diary)

Captain Scott (diary)

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

1st September 1918 Sunday

Landing in Siskoe and a walk in the forest

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.

“We were all up at daybreak on Sunday September 1st, and after a hurried breakfast of bully beef and biscuits, got men disembarked, and then landed all our stores – ammunition and food – on to a dozen Russian carts – quaint Heath-Robinson affairs drawn by sturdy, little ponies, and manned by all sorts of weird-looking men. The main village of Siskoe lay about a mile from the river, and by the time we had arrived in the place, the whole population – male and female – had turned out to look at us. They were a funny-looking crowd, and they swarmed round us when we halted in the middle of the village, asking for ‘seegarettes’ and ‘Tabac’. In one house we found an A.S.C. Corporal – in charge of Col. Haselden’s base – and from him we drew a quantity of supplies. Here also we came across an American sailor – a tall, lanky fellow – who had just arrived in Siskoe from Col. Haselden. He had come right through the Bolshevik lines, and had ridden, and walked seventy miles in the night. Meanwhile Capt. Scott had been indulging in a little recruiting (through the interpreter), and had got together a party of thirty-five Ruskies armed with rifles, who called themselves White Guards. Each had a dirty piece of white cloth tied round his left arm. They were a tough-looking crowd. We left Siskoe about 9 o’clock en route for Monastir. The Royal Scots led the way. Then came the marines, next the White Guards, and the rag-time transport brought up the rear. The road – a sandy track – took us through some lovely country. There was a dense forest on our right all the way, and on our left a swift-flowing river, and then a great lake with forest behind. The autumn tints on the trees and bushes were very pretty, some of the trees being bright, bright red, and others a beautiful yellow. I noticed a lot of heather, and blaeberries were plentiful. During a halt one of the drosky drivers picked me a cap-full of these berries, which had a delightful flavour. His joy was wonderful to behold when I rewarded him with a cigarette!

On reaching Monastir we were met by Capt. Shevtoff, and his three subalterns. They were all obviously relieved to see us. Another conference ensued! We questioned one of Capt. Shevtoff’s men, who had escaped from the Bolsheviks that morning. He had come about ten miles bare-footed, and told us that the Bolsheviks were about nine miles away, just beyond the village of Vymuga, and that they were in considerable force. The conference decided that Capt. Shevtoff’s party should go forward in the afternoon, and get in touch with the enemy, and that we would follow early tomorrow after a rest which we all badly needed.

After the usual army lunch Lt. Anderson and I had a look round Monastir and district, and found it to be a lovely spot. The village consisted of some twenty wooden houses, situated on the edge of a beautiful lake. On the opposite side of the lake was a huge monastery – all white, with green, and blue, and gold turrets and domes which glittered and glistened in the bright September sun. The clear reflection of this striking edifice in the smooth waters of the lake was wonderful. Anderson and I had a stroll round to the Monastery after tea. An old priest – the usual type with long hair and beard, and dirty mouldy-looking cassock – showed us around the place. It was a wonderful place inside. Huge, glittering chandeliers hung from the domed roof, beautiful paintings adorned the walls, and crosses etc. studded with precious stones were all over the place. It was a great sight. We saw the priests’ vestments, which were made of gold cloth, and decorated with jewels. Then the old priest showed us the small private chapel into which only the Czar, Czarina (alas! no more), and priests are allowed to enter. The kitchen of the Monastery fairly took my breath away. I never saw such a huge place in all my life before, and the monk-cooks in dirty, white cassocks looked like goblins. In the extensive, and well-kept gardens around the Monastery we noticed cabbages, potatoes, cucumbers, currants etc. The priest made us a present of a loaf of black, rye bread, and some butter. The bread was very heavy and sour, and the butter – well, it was lard! Regular pilgrimages are made to this Monastery at certain times of the year from all parts of Russia. There is accommodation for three hundred pilgrims in the huge place. At night we had patrols out all round the village.”

Our column on the march through the Russian forest

Douglas casually mentions meeting a corporal from the ASC. The ASC was the Army Service Corps. Later in 1918 it would become the Royal Army Service Corps. Today it has evolved into the Royal Logistics Corps. The ASC although one of the least spoken about was probably one of the British Army’s most important branches. Every major campaign, every war, every battle, the army has to be supplied with food, ammunition and every article for the day to day running of the complicated machine that makes up an army. Without the Army Service Corps or its equivalent today the rest of the army simply couldn’t function so whatever combat honours that were won by any particular regiment none of them could have done it without the support of the Army Service Corps.

Those of us of a certain age occasionally use the phrase “Heath Robinson” when referring to something that seems overly complicated for the task at hand. The phrase is defined in Chambers’ dictionary as Heath-Robinson: adj used to describe an over-ingenious, ridiculously complicated or elaborate mechanical contrivance. There can’t be many people whose surnames become adjectives. The phrase was in use by 1912 during his lifetime. He died in 1944.

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

31st August 1918, Saturday

Vile tea, a bit of improvised training and then an exciting river chase!

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.

There seemed to be no respite for Douglas now. Despite never having borne arms for the last 4 years in the war, he now finds himself brandishing a museum piece of a gun given to him to protect himself. What follows is an exciting episode in itself and an amazing departure from sick parades, blood soaked hospitals and emergency surgeries.

“All next day which was dull and mild we proceeded slowly on our way. The Royal Scots were given rifle and machine-gun practice from the roof of the barge, as very few of them knew how to handle these war-like implements! The Royal Scots struck me as being a poor lot. They were all B category men. Most of them were under-sized, and maldeveloped, and many wore spectacles. Our food consisted of bully beef, biscuits, jam, and vile tea made from Dwina water from the boiler of one of the tugs. It’s a wonder all of us hadn’t diarrhoea after drinking it.

About 4 p.m. that day (August 31st, Saturday) a paddle steamer came rapidly down-stream and hailed us. She had a Russian flying corps lieutenant on board, who had come from Siskoe (our destination) in a great hurry to tell us that the Bolshevik forces, three hundred strong were marching on Siskoe (pronounced S-e-e-s-k). He also told us that a Slavo-British force about sixty strong under Capt. Shevtoff (a Colonel in the old Russian army) was attempting to hold up the Bolshevik advance. After a hurried council of war most of us, including Capt. Scott, Capt. Merchant, Lt. Anderson and myself got on to the paddle-steamer, and steamed “hell for leather” to the relief of Siskoe! A party of a dozen men was left on the barge to guard our stores and baggage, and the small tug detailed to come along with it. The rest of the men were transferred to the second and larger tug, which followed us. Machine-guns were mounted on the deck of our boat, and rifles loaded. The excitement was intense! Capt Merchant lent me an ancient, and cumbersome Spanish revolver captured from the Bolsheviks, and I prepared for the worst. In spite of all the excited Russian officer told us none of us believed the situation to be so bad as he had painted it.

Nothing further happened till about 10 p.m. when a sentry came down to the stuffy little cabin which we occupied to tell us that there was some signalling with a lamp going on behind us. We all trooped up on deck, and there sure enough in the darkness a hundred yards or so behind us was a lamp signalling. As none of us knew the Morse code, we called up two Royal Scot signallers, and they interpreted the message as “stop”.  So we stopped, and wondered what was going to happen next. Was it a Bolshevik gun-boat, or what? Soon the boat came into view, and with a sigh of relief we recognised it as a British M.L. After some difficulty she came alongside, and the commander – a young and cheery Lieut. R.N. – came aboard. He informed us that he had left Archangel at noon to-day with instructions to catch us up, and tell us that the Bolsheviks were probably occupying Siskoe – our landing place! He had come up the Dwina at the rate of twenty-two knots an hour. Some speed! He just caught us up in time, for we were then only a few miles from Siskoe. We had another conference, and eventually decided that the M.L. should go on ahead of us and find out if the coast was clear. So we crept slowly along with all lights out. It was a pitch-black night, raw and cold. My Horlochs lamp was useful in keeping us in touch with the M.L. Eventually we moored alongside the island opposite Siskoe just after 11 o’clock. Capts. Scott and Merchant went ashore to find out what was what, whilst Anderson and I very wisely had forty winks in the stuffy cabin. The adventurers returned about 3 a.m. (September 1st), and told us that the Bolsheviks were about twenty miles away, and that Capt. Shevtoff, and his Russians were in the village of Monastir about five miles off. So far so good. We all went to sleep.”

(Map: Diary)

(Map: Diary)

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

30th August 1918 Friday

Scrambling around for supplies for a mission along the Dwina 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.

“At 2.50 p.m. on Friday August 30th I received orders from Major Richmond, R.A.M.C. (now Lt. Col.) commanding 85th General Hospital, to report to Capt. Scott. M.C., 2/10th Royal Scots at 3 p.m. on a barge at Bakharitza quay – situation unknown – and to take seven days’ rations with me. That was all. The order came from the A.D.M.S. I reported to Capt. Scott at 3.15 p.m., and found that he was in charge of a small force of some fifty Royal Scots under Lt. Anderson, and forty R.M.L.I. under Capt. Merchant, and that our destination was Siskoe on the Dwina. (Later I discovered that this force was supposed to effect a junction with Col. Haselden (B. Force), who was at that time hemmed in on both sides by Bolsheviks between Obozerskaya and Seletskoe). Lt. Col. Sutherland, 2/10th Royal Scots, who was supervising the embarkation of the force, asked me if I had any medical supplies with me. I replied in the negative as I had not been ordered to bring any. On ascertaining that there were none on board I immediately took steps to procure same, and after some difficulty managed to obtain a Medical Companion, a Surgical Haversack, two water-bottles, and two stretchers from Lt. & Q.M. Warey, R.A.M.C. 85th General Hospital. I had no R.A.M.C. personnel attached to me, although I asked for two men. Moreover there were no trained stretcher-bearers in the party. But I taught two Royal Scots, and two Marines a little first aid on the journey up river.

The barge we occupied was a vile affair. One half of it was under water, with the result that the men had to crowd together in the other half. Moreover there were no heating or cooking arrangements on board, although just before we started we managed to “acquire” a stove of sorts from a neighbouring tug. The tug detailed to pull us up-stream was a miserable little thing of about twelve H.P., and capable of doing about 2 M.P.H. against the stream. We calculated that it would take us about three days to reach our destination. And this was supposed to be an urgent expedition!

We eventually set off about 6.30 p.m. in a thick, damp mist, and not in the best of spirits. About 10 p.m. having proceeded about six miles, we stopped, and got some boiling water from the tug to make tea with. Then another tug came along, also proceeding up-stream, but with nothing in tow. We hailed her, and after a lot of talking (luckily we had an interpreter with us) managed to persuade the new arrival to help us along. I slept that night amongst the men, and was quite comfortable.”

It was a case of thinking on your feet for Douglas. No trained medical men to accompany him he took some likely looking men and quickly trained them in the rudiments of first aid. It was the experiences gained on the Western Front and other theatres of war at the time that saw the rapid development of first aid in the field. It highlighted the importance of getting fast treatment to injured men that would save not only their lives but just as importantly for the army, greatly increase the chances of returning men to the front line.

The Quarter-Master, Lt. Warey, probably spent his peacetime living at 133 Oxford St in central London and was married in Dorset although at the moment this is subject to confirmation. We greatly encourage any further information on Lt.Warey

(Photo: Diary)

(Photo: Diary)

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

26th to 28th August 1918 Monday to Wednesday

Voyage to Russia

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.

“After a pleasant and uneventful voyage out from Newcastle, England, on the “City of Cairo” I arrived at Archangel on Monday, August 26th 1918, as one of the staff of 85th General Hospital, which was on board the same boat. As no arrangements had been made by the A.D.M.S. – Col. McDermott – for billeting us, we remained on the ship till the 28th August. After some difficulty billets were got for the officers and men in wooden huts at Bakharitza. These billets were in a filthy condition, and swarming with bugs. Russian refugees had previously occupied them.”

City of Cairo in 1915

City of Cairo in 1915

The S.S. City of Cairo was built in Hull in 1915 for Ellerman Lines. She was to have a chequered career. In 1929 in Liverpool her propeller struck the tug Speedy, sending the tug to the bottom. City of Cairo herself was destroyed at the hands of a German U-boat in 1942, whilst making her way from Cape Town to Brazil. She lay lost in the South Atlantic for 73 years until rediscovered by treasure hunting salvagers. Finding her was one thing but she lay in extremely deep water. At 17,000 feet she was 4,500 feet deeper than Titanic, but the record breaking salvage operation in 2015 resulted in the recovery of £34,000,000 worth of booty which was shared between the British Treasury and the salvage company.

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

A Different War: Off to Archangel and more conflict.

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.

After being gassed on the Western Front Captain Douglas Page now a seasoned 25 year old war veteran was returned to England via a hospital ship and train. Landing at Southampton from where he had embarked on his incredible journey in November 1915. He was taken to Sommerville College Oxford which had been requisitioned for service as a hospital for officers during the Great War and it was here that he began the slow process of recovery. Unfortunately for us Douglas’s diary entries had stopped during his convalescence, but what we do know is that he did make a full recovery. It is remarkable that not only did it take a month to succumb to the effects of the mouthfuls of gas that he ingested on the morning of the 11th March 1918, but also that it then made him so ill that he was sent home to recover.

When he was well enough to work he went to help the sick and wounded at Chester War Hospital, but by late August he was to be returned to the theatre of war once more. This time though his adventure was to be a different one. He had been signed on to serve another term in November 1917, so in effect Douglas was still under contract when he received orders to return to duty. This time however it wasn’t the Western Front, despite the fact that a further 440,000 were sent there from the start of the Kaiser’s “Spring Offensive” from March until August. Possibly as a surprise twist to his army career Douglas was to be sent to support the British participation of the North Russian Intervention.

Prelude and backdrop to the North Russian Intervention.

Following the February revolution of 1917 and Russia’s subsequent withdrawal from the War in Europe, civil war erupted in Russia. Britain as a former ally of Tsarist Russia was now part of the group of nations, Britain, USA, Canada, Australia and France that formed the Entente Powers group to intervene in Russia. They together with the White Army would oppose the Bolsheviks who had taken over the Russian government during the further rising of October 1917.

Britain and her allies were anxious to keep Russia in the war despite its formal withdrawal. The Entente Powers had a vested interest for Russia to keep fighting Germany on the Eastern Front. America, having joined the conflict in April 1917 had given support to the Provisional Russian Government, both financial and with materials. However, much of the materials arriving in the northern ports of Archangel and Murmansk had become stuck there.

During the uprising the Russian Provisional Government army known as the White Army had received much support from the Czechoslovak Legion. The Czechs and Slovaks living in Russia at the beginning of the war in 1914 had offered their services to the Imperial Russian government on the understanding that in return Russia would support them in their quest for homeland independence. They had formed an army of about 100,000 men including about 8000 Slovaks and others. By 1917 their purpose was to ultimately gain allied support for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately for the Czechs the Russian White Army was plagued with desertion and mutiny making things much more difficult for the brave and organised Czech Legion. The Entente Powers’ forces were to give the Czechs support against the Bolsheviks.

Following the success of Lenin and the Red Army during October, Lenin had offered safe passage for the Czechs if as neutrals they withdrew from Russia. An orderly withdrawal was to take place via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. During the withdrawal an intervention by Trotsky ordered the arrest of the Czechs and the surrender of their arms. The Czechoslovak Legion resisted and fighting broke out in pockets along the Trans-Siberian Railway. By July 1918 the Czechs had taken Vladivostok and controlled the south of the country along the Trans-Siberian. The deposed Tsar Nicolai II and his family had been held prisoners in the southern city of Yekaterina. Lenin then ordered their execution which took place on the 17th July 1918, just days before the Czechs would arrive there which would probably have saved them.

The news of the Czech successes was well received by the allied governments that inspired the joint intervention. However, Britain’s part in the proposed action, although enthusiastically supported by some members of the government like Lord Milner the Secretary of State for War and his successor in 1919 Winston Churchill, it was much less popular with the general population who had suffered four years of war, losing so many loved ones for what seemed like a just cause. This new campaign stretched the loyalties of the British public a bit too far.

UK recruits for the North Russia Expeditionary Force were drawn from members of the Royal Marine Artillery and formed the Royal Marine Light Infantry. Not many of the men were over 19 years old. Hardly any of its officers had seen any action on land and into this were mixed recently released Prisoners of War that were sent straight back into action without being given any leave. America had sent over 5000 men with more to follow along with a smattering of Canadians

As soon as Douglas was to reach Archangel or Arkhangelsk as it was known then, he was plunged into the thick of it. At the beginning of August, the White Army had secured the Archangel area and the allied forces had made advances to the south. The port of Archangel was in the control of several allied ships and the area seemed to be secure. By the 28th the new RALI was ordered to take a village called Koikori, but sustained heavy casualties with 3 killed and 18 wounded. This was obviously something of a morale breaking event for the inexperienced men and when a week later a second attack again failed it only added to their concern. Then when a third attempt was ordered the battalion refused and withdrew to a safer location under the control of friendly villagers. 93 men were court martialled, 13 received the death sentence the rest given hard labour. The sentences were considered too harsh, so when many British MPs objected the government were forced to quash the death sentences and reduce the sentences of the others.

This then was the atmosphere in Northern Russia to which Captain Douglas Page RAMC MC was introduced at the end of August 1918.

Dr Page's diaries

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

3rd May to 4th May 1918 Friday and Saturday

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.

“About 1am on Friday, May 3rd, I left hospital at Rouen, by ambulance car for Blighty, feeling wonderfully happy in spite of the early hour of departure. We were motored to the Docks Station where we boarded No. 9 ambulance train. There were six of us in a compartment – myself (a Scot), an American doctor, a Lancashire lad, an Irishman, a Yorkshire lad and an officer from the Naval Division. I slept most of the night. We got to Havre at 7 o’clock, and had breakfast and lunch on the train. At 2 p.m. we went aboard the hospital ship ‘Essiquibo’ – a fine boat, only 3 years old, with seven water-tight compartments. I got a lovely little cabin all to myself, and was most comfortable. After an excellent dinner in the gorgeous saloon, we had lifeboat drill, and then a sing-song which delighted the ship’s officers. I slept peacefully all night, and woke up to find our good ship berthed in Southampton. We were disembarked at 10 o’clock and transferred to an ambulance train, which was soon speeding on its way across beautiful England to Oxford. On arrival there we were driven in private cars to our hospital in Somerville College – a beautiful spot. So ended my adventures in France and Flanders.”

HMHS Essequibo was built in 1915 and had been leased to Canada that used her to repatriate men home to Canada. During such a run near the coast of Ireland she was intercepted by a German U-boat that fired a couple of warning shots to stop her. The Germans having ascertained that she was indeed a hospital ship, Essequibo was allowed to continue her journey. She survived the war and was sold to the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in 1922.

HMHS Essequibo

HMHS Essequibo

After the two day journey and motor transfer to the hospital at Somerville College, Douglas became a patient at the hospital where he spent some time recuperating, before transferring to the War Hospital in Chester.  At the moment we have no dates for these events but will add them when we find out.

Douglas ended the first volume of his diary here and makes no mention of his time in Chester but did have a photograph that we include here.

A typical group of wounded soldiers with nursing staff, myself in centre. Taken at Chester War Hospital in 1918.

A typical group of wounded soldiers with nursing staff, myself in centre. Taken at Chester War Hospital in 1918.

Capt. D.C.M. Page M.C.

Capt. D.C.M. Page M.C.

The first volume of the War Diary of Doctor Douglas C. M. Page M.C. ends here, but there will be some intermediate entries and additions between now and August and the beginning of Volume 2.  Hopefully we will have more information on what happened between arriving in Oxford and finding himself aboard yet another ship, bound this time not for the Western Front, but Northern Russia and Archangel. Please join us on that ship in the Autumn to discover the incredible adventures of a remarkable man as his war continues.

At this point it is pertinent to remember another remarkable man. Douglas’s son Gordon Page who sent a copy of this diary to his niece Elizabeth Coggin and so to share Douglas’s adventure with us and now with the world. Gordon passed away very recently and will be sorely missed by his family and friends. He is survived by his wife Ruth, sons Brian and Matthew and daughter Belinda. Brian has also provided us with decent copies of the pictures in the diary for which I am very grateful.

It is a great pleasure to dedicate this work to Gordon Page.

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

17th April to 2nd May 1918 Wednesday to Thursday

The Road to Recovery

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 was in bed for ten days, and the condition of my throat gradually got better.  I was extremely well cared for. When I did get up I was very shaky, but was glad to get out into the beautiful gardens of the hospital (a theological college in peace time). When I was able I got out into the town, and saw the lovely cathedral, and the shops. In the mornings I used to help Major Austin in the wards by giving chloroform whilst he dressed the seriously wounded officers.

One afternoon another officer and I went for a trip up the river on one of the small steam-boats. It was a beautifully warm and sunny day, and we enjoyed our outing very much. We got off the boat at a pretty little place called Val de Haye, and after a stroll through the village had tea at a place run by an Englishman. There was a merry party of nurses and V.A.D.s on board, and we sang all the way back to Rouen.

Another day we journeyed up river to La Bouille, also a very pretty little village, where we had coffee and biscuits in a quaint old inn.”

By now we know Douglas Page to be a master of the understatement. His narrow escapes that can only pay allegiance to Lady Luck seemed to be never more than a nasty nuisance, responsible for the occasional “wind up”! However, although not deserting him entirely, luck had now worn a bit thin and for the time being at least removed him from the front line of war. The contrast must have been tremendous. Often never more than a few feet or a split second away from being blown to kingdom come, this painful time in hospital at least gave some time to enjoy the nicer side of France.

La Bouille, a little further downstream today retains its rural charm and a convenient car ferry to cross the river.

No2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. A recovering soldier relaxes in the hospital garden.

No2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. A recovering soldier relaxes in the hospital garden.

The No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, France. The red cross denotes the ward where Captain Page was a patient.

The No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, France. The red cross denotes the ward where Captain Page was a patient.

Boat trip destination Val de la Haye on the Seine.

Boat trip destination Val de la Haye on the Seine.

If Douglas were able to take that same trip now one hundred years later he would be totally shocked at the transformation of the idyllic scene he enjoyed then. Today both banks of the river are lined with the infrastructure of heavy industry. Many wharves flanked by gas and oil tanks, silos, and factories, railway tracks with marshalling yards mark France’s modern prosperity.

Val de la Haye

 

A ward in the No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. Major Austin (the surgeon) standing in the centre of the ward.

A ward in the No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, a former theological college. Major Austin (the surgeon) standing in the centre of the ward.

Major Austin the surgeon dressed for action

Major Austin the surgeon dressed for action

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