On September 14th and 27th, General Graves wrote to General Peyton C. March, Chief of Staff, War Department, Washington, D.C. Graves brought out some very salient points regarding his problems in Siberia.
On the 14th, he mentioned that he was enclosing a memorandum submitted by the surgeon which showed the number of prostitutes plying their trade in Vladivostok. "Considering the size of the town, the number is appalling, and I suppose the estimate is not very excessive." He continued by saying that conditions made it very difficult to handle the questions of prostitution and of liquor. "There is no law and nobody clothed with authority to establish law. Just before I came, they had decided to let the commander of a detachment called "Militia" declare Martial Law. This was based on the theory that the man selected was operating under the Zemstvo, which was the last government here that the allied governmentals had recognized, and in that way the allies could be consistent. Just before this act was pulled off, another Colonel who represented Horvat, evidently induced this Militia to desert the man selected and come over and join him. This produced another complication which caused delay."
The letter spoke of the meeting of the Allied commanders the previous day when it was decided that something had to be done as enemy agents were all over the town trying to sell liquor to the soldiers. These agents were also attempting to buy the clothes of the soldiers. In some cases they tried to induce soldiers to desert and resist their officers because the latter represented the monied class. When the soldiers did buy liquor one case at least was found to be wood alcohol and a British soldier died from the effects of drinking it. "The have even tried to induce sailors at least in one instance, to take a bomb on board ship and blow up the shop," Graves wrote.
Graves explained that most of the Allied commanders thought the men representing the Zemstvo should declare martial law. Graves felt it would help but feared that the Bolsheviks would cause trouble. A British subject who was half Russian and spoke the language was put in as town mayor before Graves arrived. This seemed to be a disaster and the only qualification the man had seemed to have is that he spoke Russian. "He is about as stupid as a man can be."
The letter showed that Graves intended to keep the 27th Infantry away from Vladivostok. He wrote, "The quarter question for the men is not so difficult here. If the 27th Infantry, now with the line, remains up there, which I contemplate doing, the Russian barracks are splendidly constructed, and if we can ever get them clean the men will be quite comfortable. They have been occupied by refugees and are naturally very filthy. . ."
The General said that there was no more trouble anticipated from the Bolsheviks as long as Allied and Czech troops remained in Siberia. "The Russians seemed to suspect everybody or claimed they did. However, some of their pretentions are for political reasons. Business is practically dead but I am informed that certain firms are beginning to bring in supplies. So far, one is unable to buy anything needed."
"I have been informed that the Japanese are buying many of the business concerns here. This may be just the rumor to discredit the Japanese. I find very few people trust them. I personally feel that I have had no trouble with them at all. They not only seem anxious to cooperate in every way possible but try to show this desire by consulting me with reference to the most trivial matters.
Graves told March that as far as the railroad situation was concerned it was "very trying." There seemed to be no management at all and "every party is always jockeying with the railroad with the idea of getting some political advantage."
He added: "It seems too bad that the Steven railroad service men could not be permitted to operate it; this would immediately cause claim on the part of some factions that foreigners were taking over Russia. Horvat, having been president of the railroad, Chinese Eastern and Trans-Siberian, and he also having the desire to become dictator, it is always causing trouble with the railroad, and people claim he is using the road for political purposes."
On September 24th, Graves wrote again after receiving a cablegram from March relative to the Supreme War Council. He looked into the matter and was informed by Japanese Headquarters that General Otani had not authorized any such Council. "Which of course I knew (unless I was to be disregarded) as they had said nothing to me about it." Upon further investigation Graves learned that General Nakajima would sit in one of the committees and discuss matters which the committee had no authority to handle. "I now believe, Graves wrote, "this was done for a purpose. I think the Japanese authorities here notified their government that the committee was of the opinion, - - so and so - - and, in order to make it more forceful, they spoke of the committee as Superior War Committee." The Japanese government in turn apparently used what the Japanese authorities at Vladivostok told them when it suited their government policy to use this information.
"I have, in writing," Graves went on, "told General Otani that all matters of any moment would have to be submitted to me for my action. I have also told my officers that in case subjects were discussed about which they had no authority, to tell the committee that they were without authority, and that the matter would have to be submitted to me."
Graves referred to a cablegram that he had sent regarding expenses; they were of an unusual kind." He felt it was absolutely necessary to incur them and would continue to do so unless instructed differently,. . ."always keeping in mind the fact that the expenditures must be kept 'within the law.' "
The Commanding General of the A.E.F. Siberia was apparently worried about the supplies in Vladivostok. He said he would have to make an effort to straighten out questions regarding same, as "I am on the spot here." He explained that no one seemed to know exactly what property was in Vladivostok although he had two or three supposed lists. He wondered what would happen to the materials after the termination of the war.
"I believe now that the Russians and Czechs are opening the warehouses and carefully listing all the property. There are some rumors that the various allies (or some of them) are taking the property which they say were for their use."
What seemed to concern Graves most was the fact that the American Railway men had taken three machines which they said were for their use and that such items, and others used by the Red Cross and the YMCA, were all charged to the Americans. Graves wrote to General Otani suggesting that an Inter-Allied Committee be authorized to list the property and keep track of it; then, any Allied nation taking any of it would give a receipt for same to the Japanese Headquarters. Copies of this receipt would go to the representative of each of the Allied governments.
"At Japanese Headquarters they professed to be very favorable to this proposition, but I am beginning to doubt it. The French and English both said they would have to think it over. No one government can keep track of it as the sentinels could not possibly guard it. . ."
He added that he felt a great deal of property stacked up there should be utilized. "I have seen certainly a million dollars worth of cotton piled out in the open. Some of it under canvas, other -- the canvas rotted off and some of the bagging also rotted; and, of course, the cotton is being ruined. A great deal of rubber is also visible. A great many automobiles, still boxed, are seen in various places around the town."
Graves seemed to fear going to Omsk as he did not want any intimatio erty of recommending that the troops be put in Battalion Posts at various towns between Vladivostok and Omsk. This is done with the belief that it will extend the sphere of influence of the United States and help the Russian people, and at the same time cannot be open to the objection above referred to."
Before closing his long letter Graves stated that he felt Vladivostok was "probably one of the worst towns for soldiers in Siberia." He did not think that more than one thousand Americans (one battalion) and a hospital outfit should be kept up there. "There are barracks in all the large towns and the men could easily be quartered without very much additional expense. . ."[i]
- Men of the SHERIDAN and the LOGAN -
The men on board the SHERIDAN and LOGAN were as anxious to look at the city as had been the members of other contingents. When someone had cried "Land Ho" there was a general rush to the decks. They had left San Francisco on the day that Graves arrived in Siberia.
Rodney Sprigg said that he was as far forward as was permitted. Through his field glasses he saw, "on a stern and rock bound coast the land rises to great heights directly from the water's edge."[ii] The ridge of mountain was sharply cleft. As the boat approached the center of the passageway an island loomed up which "looked like a young Gibraltar, cannon and big guns everywhere."[iii]
The vision rose in splendor and was mirage-like. In all weathers and in all seasons, at all times of day or night, the reaction of approaching Americans was the same. In the early morning the city shown in the sunlight. Sometimes fog at first affected the view, but when it lifted, the clarity of the sight ahead was breathtaking. In the late afternoon the glittering minarets reflected the fire of the setting sun. At dusk there was a strange unworldly air to the scene.
By sundown the men arriving on the SHERIDAN and LOGAN listened to the commotion in the harbor. The BROOKLYN'S blue jackets were hailing them. At the pier the 31st Infantry Band was playing. A carnival air prevailed. All eyes turned to an approaching launch from the BROOKLYN. Of this Sprigg said, "In true American style of real seamanship, the little launch came alongside, tossing in the heavy swell. It was close enough for the pilot to board by use of a Jacob's ladder without ever touching the ship's side. A very pretty bit of seamanship. Once the pilot was aboard we started in."[iv]
The SHERIDAN had received a wire prior to docking demanding to know why it was so long in arriving. The tenor or the message aroused anxiety as it came from the military. There was considerable concern as to whether there was an emergency or not. However, the same wire stated that the Bolshevik front had been pushed back some five thousand miles. What then prompted the demand for an explanation for the delay?
As the SHERIDAN rounded Churkin Point the panorama of Vladivostok rolled out before her. The men saw a city of white and red buildings, four or five stories high interspersed with churches with those shining golden minarets. After steaming to the end of the bay, Sprigg said the transport docked. He added, "I say dock for want of a better word. There are no real docks in the Orient. You either anchor in mid-stream, if the water is deep enough, or tie up along the sea wall which runs around the bay. Here the sea wall was our dock." As soon as the transport was tied up General Graves boarded and was immediately asked why a wire had been sent questioning her delay.
The General evoked a hearty hail of laughter when he explained that the entire American personnel were starved for mail from home which was buried in the mail sacks aboard the dilatory SHERIDAN. Hence, the reply to the wire gave them some sort of date as to when they might expect the longed-for news from home.
Sprigg wrote that the city seemed beautiful but had a dead, deserted look. Suddenly he and his colleagues realized what was wrong. There was absolutely no industry. "Tied alongside the seawall and on top of it, were countless ships, just rusting," he wrote. "There were merchant ships, Russian gunboats and large liners. We saw eleven Russian torpedo boats without a single soul aboard and the fittings were there for those who wanted them. If no one walked off with the parts they would simply rust. No one seemed to care. After they tied up alongside, I was surprised to see Patterson, Major Galen, and Dean Barrows on the dock. All were big as life and smiling broadly. As evening was coming on no one was permitted to go ashore, officers or men. I was an exception because of my duties as police officer. I went down the dock and received a most cordial greeting from the men, but I decided not to leave the ship that first night as the mud was neck deep in all directions, no exaggeration. Besides I did not want to run off when the rest of the fellows could not go."[v]
As Sprigg was packing below he heard a knock on his stateroom door. Opening it he saw it was the guard he had posted.
"Excuse me, sir, but there are two Russian girls at the gangway. They are agitated, and wish to see someone."
Sprigg got his interpreter, Gray, and went to investigate the matter. On the way he met Captain Broebeck and said, "Come on along Captain, let's see what Russia is all about."
They found the two girls, but it was impossible to tell if they were good looking or not in the pitch black. The young women were talking very fast in Russian and the interpreter was saying "da da." Then he turned to Sprigg and explained that the girls were looking for an engineer who was supposed to be on the transport.
"They say they know his is on one of our transports."
He had indeed previously been on one of the transports but had not been signed up for this trip. The girls were distraught; Broebeck went to escort the girls back to their droskie only to find that the droskie had left them high and dry; or rather left them in the mud. They looked around: "What will we do?" they asked. "there is no transportation, no telephone, eighteen inches of mud and the street car is half a mile up the road." Gray explained their predicament to Sprigg.
"I guess we will have to carry them," came the response. Thus Sprigg and Broebeck each put a girl on his shoulder and off they trudged through the mud. The rough road did not help matters.
"How we managed is more than I can say," Sprigg wrote, "but we did. After a desperate struggle we arrived at the street car. The young ladies, who could not speak one word of English pleaded with us, by motions, to stay. But I had had enough. I stomped my way back, leaving the rest of the adventure to Broebeck."
Wondering if he would get through the half mile without trouble Sprigg heard a terrific rumpus inside a building he was passing. Just as he came opposite the door it was thrown open and out came a stocky, little red-head who Sprigg recognized as Red Mickey, one of the ship's crew. "He was drunk as a lord and thought he could whip the world. He had tackled too big a part of it already and had received a royal beating and was thrown out there into the mud. His valor was still great, greater than his judgment, for he tried to attack the strong hold again."
Sprigg held Mickey by the arm. "Come on now, let's get back to the ship."
The red-head was not impressed. However, he began the trek back picking the spots out of every extra deep mud hole he encountered. Sprigg says, "I would have like to have a picture of him as he went aboard the ship. A human ball of mud would be a fairly good description."[vi]
the men still on board the SHERIDAN complained about the food. One reported, "they fed us spoiled meat and we did not have any bread at all. On the way over they had a place where bread was baked for officers only. we just tried to get a piece of bread. Not even one slice was given to us. The meat we ate did not stay on our stomachs and we were so hungry we ate raw potatoes which we found on top of the deck."
Another said, "the food was inedible and the ship smelled like a neglected barn lot. It was the SHERIDAN. I was told it had been a cattle boat and it sure still smelled like one when we were on it."
Disgusted or surprised as were many of the men, they were glad that the weather was warm and clear. The following day the men did debark and some were quartered in the Baldwin locomotive building. The officers remained aboard as no quarters were available for them.
Some of the men were marched off the boat. For seven miles they tramped to the tune of Yankee Doodle. David Moore says, "We were the hungriest bunch of men you ever set eyes on."
Then the bitching and growling really started. They were utterly demoralized by the whole situation and were concerned not only with their present predicament but with the desire for an answer to the question of why they were there and who their enemies were. They suspected that offensive action would be impossible as they had strict orders not to wage any kind of war on any force or any faction unless they were attacked first. This left them at a disadvantage, to say the least. In their condition and without arms they realized that they could be annihilated if their so-called enemy were to materialize.
Finally they sat down to eat. It was slumgullion again but in spite of the fear of more poisoning, the men, in their hunger, wolfed the meal down. Anything would have tasted good. Then they had a new food experience: They saw hardtack crawling for the first time! "I was so hungry I ate it maggots and all," said one doughboy, "but from that day on I always carried a piece of bread with me, sometimes fora week at a time, wrapped in paper."
Eventually some of the men reached the barracks. They had hiked with full pack for about three miles along a cobble stone road for an hour and a half. They were told to clean up the barracks. The RRSC men and the marines were supposed to have done the job but the doughboys retched in revulsion when they saw the filthy conditions. Excrement, maggots and flies were everywhere. Besides the dirt, the men didn't like the condition of the windows. Most had been shot or knocked out. But anyway it was a place to sleep and tired as they were the men heaved to and began to clean.
About eight o'clock that night the group was called by name, lined up again and, with light packs this time, marched off.
This time they were marched along the tracks to a train and were loaded on a two-decker freight car and stowed in like sardines. They literally had to kneel to get in. Then the train started off. Two and a half hours later they arrived back at the dockside they had left in the morning!
They went the opposite way for a mile to the Signal Corps Headquarters, arriving there about midnight. The cook served them hot coffee and doughnuts and they were each issued a bed sack, without straw, and planked down on the concrete floor. They were so tired that they felt as though they were sleeping on feather beds.
The large, old Russian barracks were designed to hold the troops of the Czar for an anticipated retaliation against the Japanese for the ignoble defeat suffered in 1905. All the barracks were of a general style and were occupied by various Allied troops. They were built of brick walls, three feet thick, double storm windows, and were divided into three squad rooms with smaller rooms for officers located in the ends and between each squad room. In the one in which Roy Coalson lived each squad room accommodated approximately one hundred men. The occupants were: Quartermaster Detachment, Medical Supply Depot, Ordnance Detachment and Base Dental Office. It also housed the kitchen mess hall and the latrine. "One big round Russian stove built from the floor nearly to the ceiling suppled the heat in my squad room for the winter," Coalson said, and added that "one man had the duty of shoveling the coal. The bed was a regular canvas cot with a straw mattress. We discovered that newspaper between the cot and the straw sack helped a lot in winter. We had three or four blankets and when it got too cold one could always use his sheepskin coat."
One of the doughboys recalled they had a Russian who watched their fire box and they appropriately called him Clinker.
Another man reports that his group couldn't get any heat out of the stoves. They had to get the bricks hot but they couldn't seem to do so. So, "We sat shivering, eating apricot jam and crackers. Finally they gave us two pot belly stoves. Trouble was between the second floor and the ceiling there was a space filled with sawdust. That was the place for the mice. So we had to tear the whole thing apart, tear the floors out and take out all the sawdust and put in the new floors, and plane them by hand. This is what we did; between the floors and joints we put wrapping paper. Later, early in February, the barracks caught fire. We lost Roberts, one of the railroad engineers, and everything in the barracks."
There was a variety of opinion among the men regarding their feelings upon arrival in Vladivostok during that month. Tessmen recalled daily physical training. Lay was disgusted and Jeremiah surprised. Boyer couldn't get over the fact that such primitive conditions could exist in the Twentieth Century. Dexter though there was no order and that conditions were dreadful. McQuiddy stated that in their spirit of adventure they were ready to meet anything but many men quickly contacted pneumonia. They had no bathing facilities for the next three months.
Perry Hanson felt the real problem as far as he was concerned was bathing as the company bathhouses had not been fixed up. In the interim the men had to use public bathhouses. He reported: "One of my assignments was to take a group of our men to one of these larger bathhouses in Vladivostok. Everyone used the public bathhouses, and at times is really became a problem to get a 'spot', as they were lined up for a block - - especially on Saturday night. Dad, Mom and all the kids, lined up, waiting for their turn. Well, when I arrived one evening with a 'small army' of guys, and many others waiting, I saw at once that there would be a lot of explaining to do, and I couldn't speak a word of Russian! When I approached the girl at the window, I was getting more nervous by the minute. How was I going to explain this situation, and try and get a 'spot' for all of these fellows? I though I detected a 'twinkle' in this gal's eye, but she let me 'sweat it out' for a few minutes, then, to my surprise she began laughing - - this gal could speak English like nobody's business; well, why not, she had been BORN IN ENGLAND, and educated there. (We got a 'spot' ahead of a lot of other people, but for a time, I didn't know whether to 'kiss her, or kill her'; humm, now that I am thinking about it, I'm sure the former would have been better.)"[vii]
Men of the Ordnance Depot Company considered their sleeping arrangements excellent. First, they had a bed tick which was filled with hay and then placed on sanitary cots. Five OD woolen blankets were issued to each member of the company. Zimmerman made his bed in a special way and managed to keep warm most of the time. He recalls, "I placed one blanket on top of the so-called mattress tucking it under all around with the exception of the head, the second blanket I placed over this tucking it at the foot and the back side. Two blankets were then doubled and the fifth was placed over all. This gave me six thicknesses of blanket to sleep under and I still had the OD overcoat and the sheepskin lined overcoat to put over the blankets should the occasion demand it, and there were such occasions."
Zimmerman would have liked to own an auto but they were scarce and the gasoline cost $1.80 a gallon. Moreover, driving was not particularly easy. He said, "there were no paved, blacktop or oiled highways in the city or in the surrounding country. Svetlanskaya Street runs full length of the city with about one-third paved with brick, the balance is cobblestone which provides the worst kind of pleasure driving except for dirt roads. The best stretch of highway out of the city was of crushed rock constructions. It extended only for a distance of about ten miles from the end of the street car line."
The Base of Supplies consisted of three very large wooden structures and one structure of smaller size. "They must have been designed for some railway installation," Zimmerman though, "as railroad rails had been laid in the floor of each of the larger buildings and the doors thereto were large enough to accommodate the largest railway vehicle. It is doubtful if the installation had ever been used. The smaller of the three buildings was used to house five hund ase of Supplies, on the hillside overlooking the base. All other organizations were moved from this first location to make room for the supplies that were unloaded from the LOGAN and SHERIDAN.
Life in the barracks was rather dull. Lights were put out at 9 pm although some men were permitted out on pass until 11 pm.
After the men were finally quartered the officers had to look for quarters for themselves. This was a difficult task owing to the fact that the Russian vocabulary was very limited as far as the Americans were concerned.
"Major Johnson, however, spoke the language fluently and finally landed a room for Lt. Johnson, Lt. Hussey and myself," wrote Sprigg to his wife. "(It was) in the home of a Russian Colonel whose name I cannot even pronounce let alone spell it. Take it all back, Lt. Johnson has it written down, Korvatoski pronounce it yourself, here's another Lt. Visheslaftsell. I will be able to pronounce them both by the time I get home, but at present they are rather beyond me. We moved in, the three of us, while Major Johnson got a room in the house of the local Priest. Our first error was sleeping with the windows open, unheard of in Russia. One would die, and because I had the grippe, they were more convinced than ever. When, in spite of protests, we kept them open and I regained my normal sweet disposition. I really think that one of the old ladies was rather disappointed, for the Major told me that she had stated that my death was a certainty if I remained foolish enough to continue to sleep in the night air. Very sorry to disappoint the old lady but it had to be done. I will draw a plan of the house and describe our situation:
"Rooms 1, 2, 3, 4 are occupied by Col Korvatoski, his wife, his daughter, her baby, her husband, and two servants. 1. is the kitchen, 2. is the dining room, 3. the Colonel's office, and 4. the bedroom. Just how they manage the sleeping position is more than I can state. 5. is the front hall, 6. is occupied by an aged women, an officers wife, Russian, who has been killed. She is the one who predicted my demise. 7. is occupied by three American officers, Hussey, Johnson and Sprigg, and 8. is occupied by a variable number of Russian soldiers; there never being less than four and sometimes there are forty. Toilet and bathing facilities are nil. At least I have been unable to locate anything of that sort. I honestly believe that the only bath tub or shower in the place is in our infirmary. I think that water is only used in this country for the purpose of floating boats. There is not a water pipe, gas pipe, or any other king of a pipe, everybody smokes cigarettes in the whole blooming country."[viii]
The five days after arrival, and after having found barracks for the men, were, to Sprigg, but a hazy memory of "meals, much paper work, poor service records, eighteen hours of labor a day and no sleep the rest of the time."
"I must confess, La Grippe," he wrote, "caught me in her tallons and for five days I was the sickest. . .in Siberia, and to make it worse I couldn't quit, for there was so much work to do and so few to do it. I must have been in a comatose state part of the time, for some of my letters are coming back, for more detailed information. A six-year old child could have done better, and what is more, I haven't the slightest recollection of writing some of them. However, I am all straightened out now and things are going merrily and very fast. At the present time, I am Adjutant Supply Officer, mess officer, summary court, and part of the time, during Major Johnson's absence, commanding officer. Anyone of the jobs is supposed to keep one officer busy, and if you don't believe that yours truly is busy with all of them you miss your guess."[ix]
Colonel Robinson and Major Eichelberger were settled in at their headquarters. They shared a room on the same floor as their office, dining room, etc. "The largest drawback," Eichelberger wrote, "is that there is but one bathroom for every ten officers and very little water. But our room is large, lighted by electricity, has walls a yard thick and windows overlooking Golden Horn. The BROOKLYN lies below my window about 200 feet away. This afternoon we were out in two machines looking at the Russian barracks with a view to using them for our troops in place of those so near into town."[x]
Regarding women, Eichelberger said he though the Bolsheviks must have scared all the decent looking ones away as he couldn't see any. "All the inhabitants are dirty and smell like Billy Goats. We would prefer to get our soldiers as far away as possible as it is dangerous to eat fruits or berries without washing them in boiling water, etc. Also for other reasons!"[xi]
A few of the officers went to a cabaret and were hysterical to find great fat women entertaining them with "Tipperary," and "Just Because She Made Those Goo Goo Eyes," sung in Russian.
The officers couldn't get over the scarcity of trees around Vladivostok. The countryside was beautiful but as soon as they left the town they left the few trees behind them. This is the reverse of what one usually finds. but it was learned that the Russians had cleared the trees away for military reasons. Every hill top was covered with placements for big guns.
One of the officers wrote to his wife, "Our assignments finally came and we were sent to Churkin Point, a small place near Vladivostok. The Barracks that were assigned to us were typically Russian." He repeated the off-heard comment of walls being about two and a half feet thick and made of brick, double windows, double doors, etc. "On inspection the conclusion was inevitable that at times during the year that this part of the country suffered from cold! The building itself is very substantially built, and is, as are all things in Russia, very dirty. Filth everywhere! The Mexican idea of sanitation compares very favorably with that of the Russian refugee. A good strong work detail was necessary to make the place liveable. This, under Lt. Hussey's direction, was finally accomplished, and we moved in."[xii]
At Churkin Point there was a new concrete quay which would make it possible to moor and unload three steamers if necessary. Just south of this point the artillery wharf was located for ships of twenty-five foot draft and three hundred fifty feet in length.
A railroad track ran all the way from the wide new concrete mole around the shore of the Horn to the artillery wharf south of Churkin Point.
Sprigg felt that in general the people liked and respected the Americans. He said the American policy over there was fine as far as the educated people were concerned. In fact, everybody except the coolies and the Japanese approved of it. "The latter think we are easy going but realize that in case of necessity we can act and respect and treat us accordingly. We pay for everything we get in contrast to the Japanese who help themselves. The coolies, Chinese, and the Japanese or Maccaca, monkey, as they are termed, take our attitude as being one of weakness and fear; consequently, our orders which require us to make friends are rather difficult to follow at times. This afternoon as I was coming back from Vladivostok with my interpreter in a sampan, the two Chinamen began talking about us, my interpreter translating it for me as they talked. When we landed my blood was boiling. I paid the man his proper fare and he demanded more, as they all do. I walked away, he ran up to me and cursed me in Russian while the other sampan man laughed. When my interpreter told what he was saying I let fly with the aid of wire rope, whaled Mr. Coolie until he yelled for mercy. At six o'clock this evening it was necessary for me to go to the sampan landing and the courtesy and kowtowing of those orientals was good to see. Colonel Korvatoski told us that my station was established and that in the future I would have no trouble; furthermore, if all the American soldiers would do the same thing at the opportune moment then all troubles with the coolies would cease."[xiii]
The Americans found that before they could take their longed for sightseeing trip to town they had to cope with endless statistics devoid of any human element. Everything began happening in rapid fire succession once the men had been given a place to sleep and food to eat. Before long buddy was saying goodbye to buddy as the movement started out along the line.
Once passes were given, the men descended like locusts upon the city of Vladivostok. There is perhaps no more curious race in the world than the American youth who always wants to taste each new experience. This one seemed to be like walking back into yesteryear.
An ex-captain of the American Red Cross serving with the AEF mentioned that he recalled an old woodcut in his school geography picturing a poor fur-wrapped creature riding in a Russian troika (three horse sleigh) through snow at least ten feet deep. Out of a black pine forest, lean hungry wolves were running in hot pursuit.[xiv]
Many doughboys had the same picture of Siberia. Therefore, they could not get over the vast clutter of people in a city which seemed like a metropolis they might encounter anywhere. The clutter, however, was maddening. One man said, "it was almost to the point of standing room only." After being in the transport the scene seemed to change to a kaleidoscope of military forces consisting of troops of many nations. But a strange odor filled the air. It was this that often sent the men from the city to the outskirts. Those who stayed on in the city saw the antiquated street cars, the cobblestone streets and the milling mobs. Chinese coolies were selling colored water, and rice cakes, sunflower seeds and candied crabapples on stocks from their fly-infested dirty carts. Along the street the Americans saw bullet riddled buildings. As the men roamed through the American docks toward the main business section, they encountered every stink and pestilence in the Orient. After passing the muddy and cluttered side-streets they would come to Svetlanskaya, the main artery, and find automobiles skooting up and down at record speeds. Women were watching and some of the solemn children waved. The city looked like a vast military camp, yet to some, witnessing the gaudy and varied costumes, uniforms and types of clothes, the panorama seemed like the grand finale to a great musical.
But the background was not all that is should have been. Everything showed signs of decay. People were lounging about, enjoying their new-found freedom, but doing no work. The Americans wondered what had happened to the innate pride of the people.
Noting the dreadful sanitation problems in the city, some of the men were concerned about typhus and cholera. They had heard rumors that the refugees carried it and refugees were everywhere. Nevertheless, the doughboys continued to roam around. There was so much to see. The shoreline spread out far into the distance. Immense buildings framed the waterfront. The city and its environs looked a thousand years old. There seemed to be no law and order and dead bodies could be found everywhere. On the credit side of the ledger the general attitude seemed more friendly than hostile. Having heard the legendary stories of salt mines and banishment, most of the men were surprised at what they saw. There was a great feeling of excitement and wide-eyed curiosity attempting to identify different ethnic groups and classes, exploring and getting acquainted with a new environment, making adjustments to new conditions, estimating sources of danger; and they continuing to wonder why they were there. Conditions were in a state of flux with shifting populations, politics and authority, but every effort was made to refrain from unnecessary interference with the Russians and to aid as much as possible in solving urgent problems. The doughboys were constantly reminded by the officers that they were not there to conquer and therefore had no rights beyond the direct orders regarding their own security and well being.
The men who were not looking for a wild spree, attending shows, getting drunk on vodka or visiting Kopek Hill (the red light district) perhaps have more memories than their brothers in the service who were less reflective. They took time to sit on the benches in the park, to walk along the docks and up into the hills. They reflected on the great melting pot which was Vladivostok. A strange city both oriental and European. The beauty of the country-side was unbelievable. The varied cultures and customs were fascinating. Siberia seemed to be a place that had much to offer in agricultural potentialities and mineral wealth. Its cities were filled with almost every type of foreigner. Instead of dark forests the men found this shining city perched upon swelling green hills with old world buildings and screeching modern automobiles. Literally a cross section of the world seemed to be in the cafes and on the streets. More than one man feels that he would like to revisit Vladivostok again.
It did not take the observant men long to learn that Vladivostok was located on the western coast of the Sea of Japan; this sea was more or less equally divided between Korea on the south and Siberia on the north. The extreme southern part of the Siberian coast was indented by the large bay, known as Peter the Great. At its head a peninsula extended southwestward, dividing the bay into two smaller bodies called the Gulfs of Amur on west, and Ussuri on the east. A small arm of the Amur Gulf extended eastward into the blunt end of the peninsula. It was on the shores of this small arm, called Golden Horn Bay, that the city of Vladivostok was situated. The peninsula was found to be hilly and the hills that encircled the city rose to over seven hundred feet in altitude and continued northward in a series of parallel ridges. Thus the configuration of both land and water gave the city a very strongly defensive character!
The population was about 120,000 of which about two-thirds was Russian and the remainder Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
Vladivostok was found to be the capital of the Maritime Province of the Amur District. Khabarovsk was the political capital of the entire district but Vladivostok, owing to its geographical position and importance, was in reality the principal city. As the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Russia's most valuable port on the Pacific, the city was of prime strategic and economic importance to that country.
As the Yanks walked around they realized that danger could lurk everywhere. They knew that Vladivostok was wide open although there was supposed to be prohibition. Some of the men got into the cafes and never got out, while others spent their time visiting splendid gilt-domed churches which had adjoining graveyards that fascinated the Americans.
When they could ride they took the street cars or the droskies. The droskies were pulled by two horses, and were queer looking vehicles to our men. On the first afternoon the American soldiers managed to wreck one of the Russian 'tin lizzies.' They were usually operated by women in their housedresses. Many of the passengers carried huge bundles wrapped in bed sheets or tablecloths. The trollies were crowded beyond any the men had ever seen; many Americans preferred to walk. To quote one man, they were "half size electric cars that ran along Svetlanskaya Street to the end of the cobblestones near the American Base that is, if and when they were not being repaired and if and when there was power.[xv]
Pickpockets infested the crowded cars. Those men who gave up on the trollies and walked, had other problems. The streets were paved with cobblestones, but not with the large smooth-faced type which were steam rollered. Instead, they were half the size of stones used for paving in America and they were laid with the sharpest side up!
Sooner or later the men stood in awe at the bathing beaches. It was getting cooler now but the undaunted Russians continued to bathe in the nude. "No one in all of Russia wore a swim suit. And the Russian women were beautiful too. Some of the men had tattoos and a few had heads of men tattooed on their chests or backs. They resembled our bearded Smith Brothers drawings that appear on cough drop boxes," said a sailor.[xvi]
A soldier reported, "we discovered a very intriguing aspect of Russian living. The beaches were lined with sun worshippers. None wore bathing suits. The sight of hundreds of men, women and children stark naked and perfectly at ease arouse ted States, especially those not acquainted with the Orient, were appalled at conditions as far as heat, food and sanitation were concerned. It was a nightmare. Borda recorded his impressions:
"Viewed from the happy confines of a ship in the harbor, Vladivostok was an attractive city. . .(but) such delusion was immediately torn away as soon as one put foot ashore. Every street was an open sewer. This was tolerable in winter with everything frozen but horrendous in spring and summer. The odors of the Orient can only be experienced, not described. Added to the absence of sanitation, was the personal filth of nearly all individuals, Russians and Orientals alike. There was ample evidence of the fact that the great majority never washed and in all probability never had baths. These conditions caused death and disease to be rampant. Typhus was epidemic."
"Thousands upon thousands of refugees lived like rats in freight cars. Food and fuel were the only things that mattered to these poor humans."
"When we first arrived there, there would be hundreds of refugees lined up at the company garbage cans to dip tins or cups into our garbage and thereby have something to sustain life. Knowing this, many soldiers would ear sparingly and throw away 'good' garbage. It became a waste of American food, so this practice had to stop."
"We lost several sentries who were guarding coal supplies and were killed for the handful of fuel that could be gathered in a short time, and also for the very clothes the sentries wore."
"Vodka, both good and poisonous was available everywhere. Opium and cocaine were openly peddled in the streets. This was a veritable wide open city with little or no value on the human life."[xvii]
One soldier reported that there were no toilets, so all used open spaces, no paper so they used bunches of grass. "Men were even using the grass on the women! This sure brought laughs from all of us." And another reported that as soon as possible the older soldiers would unofficially take the raw recruits to the bathing beach to show them the sights. Sight of the nude swimmers was quite a shocker in addition to being a source of amusement to many of them who came from the long-stocking, black-dress bathing suit era of America. It also excited some of the men and they would journey from the bathing beach sights to the houses on Kopeck Hill for "further entertainment."[xviii]
One marine recalls how they would climb a cliff about one hundred feet above the beach to watch the nude bathers. The marine recalled that, "we took a path down the cliff to the entrance of the bathhouse and dressing rooms and asked for a bathing suit. The Russian at the window said no savvy and threw us a towel each. We were stumped. But we decided to keep our shorts on. There was a cat walk separating the men from the women and on this cat walk the nude women were lined up looking down on us, a couple of freaks with shorts on. I guess they wondered who these people were who would cover themselves up to go bathing. The Russian men swimmers also seemed to group themselves together and we had the whole place to ourselves. We soon tired of the views and swam back in. I guess they though we were as funny as we though they were."[xix]
Some shady dealing occurred within the A.E.F. itself. Henry Fry related: "In the Headquarters outfit was the smartest cookie you ever saw. He had been born, raised and educated in Vladivostok. He knew everyone and worked out of the office where the contracts were let, to translate them into Russian. But he secretly worked out another one with the Russian firm the army was dealing with. In the end, the army would be paying this guy an additional ten to twelve percent above what the contractor would have done the work for. He split his loot with a sergeant and it is said that he cleaned up some sixty-six thousand dollars while he was there."
Whitehead thought that human life was held very cheaply in Vladivostok. To him it seemed as though Europe represented the main house, Siberia the kitchen, and Vladivostok the back door where all the cupboards were bare.
It was a curious war city. The two largest department stores were owned by Germans, one of whom, a few months after the American soldiers arrived, appeared at the United States Consulate and subscribed to twenty-five thousand dollars worth of Liberty Bonds. The Headquarters of the United States Expeditionary Forces had been the home of the employees of one of these enemy concerns until Major General Graves arrived.[xx]
The influx of Germans into Vladivostok was so great throughout the war that many Russians attributed the weaknesses of their own army to intrigues of the Germans. After the allies landed they searched for German agents, many of whom were citizens of neutral countries. At lunch one day in the Zolotoi Rog Cafe there were several American army officers. Carl Ackerman of the New York Times recognized a German who he had encountered in Switzerland the previous winter, a man who the Swiss police considered a spy! The U.S. Intelligence Service took steps immediately to establish his identity, but he disappeared in a motor car and was never seen again in the city. A few weeks later he was located in Manchuria on the staff of a well known arm officer![xxi]
One of the first sights some of the men saw was a Red Army hospital train pulling into town. Suddenly the men on the train started to push badly wounded soldiers off the hospital train. The American Regimental Commander who saw it going on "stopped the bunch cold and made them go back and pick up the poor devils they were going to leave behind."
General Graves was not alone in his astonishment at the amount of supplies heaped on the docks for the want of storage space.
The docks were bloated beyond belief with acres of piled war stores. As Frederick Moore wrote, "This great fringe of covered stones resembled mushrooms which had come up in the night. . ."[xxii]
It was estimated that on the surrounding hills there were untold millions of dollars worth of goods; cotton, rubber, copper, automobiles in crates, machinery of all descriptions, all heaped and free to the first passerby.
"First thing I saw," said one doughboy, "was a tent city upon the hill. The first day I peeked under the great tent-like hood to see what was underneath. It was a baby Overland automobile. I guess there must have been a thousand of them. The were uncrated. The sight disgusted me."
There was perhaps nothing as intriguing as the types of people encountered by the men. Some of them wore anything from burlap to rags on their feet while others wore shiny patent leather shoes. "The trousers, other than the ones in occidental dress, are usually very voluminous and bloomer-like and are heavily padded. If you can imagine a quilt made up into a pair of pants you will get an idea of what they looked like. The approved dress for the droskie driver was a short heavy skirt, well drawn up and held tight by a heavy belt. The rest of the native clothing consisted of a mantle of heavy cloth thrown over the shoulders. This covered many minor faults in dress and great quantities of dirt. Only well educated Russians bathed as often as once a week."
Mixed in with all this local color was the military. The Czecho-Slovaks could easily be noted by the red and white insignia on their caps. They wore pea-green tunics and heavy leather boots. The Japanese were in tan and red and usually moved stolidly along, never smiling. The British Tommies with their natty brass-buttoned attire had walking sticks. The black Moroccan sailors, were in blue uniforms with white and red-tasseled hats. They were barefooted.
The uniforms worn by the Russians themselves were impossible to classify. Nearly every man wore some sort of uniform. The street cleaner was handsome and might well have been taken for a general. The policeman was well dressed and had polished leggins and a long saber! Nearly everyone wore a star or two, or a brilliant shoulder epaulet. About every tenth man had a red seam down his pants. There were green trousers, blue ones, black suits, red coats, gaudy caps, fancy boots, yellow stripes - - almost anything anyone would want for a costume party. One professor wore gold braid on a spotlessly white uniform.
On the outskirts of town could be seen the Mongolian's small houses, their lumber mills. The logs were placed on strong racks. One Mongolian stood on top of the log or timer, and one on the ground below. They had a long hand-saw and they worked as a team sawing the leg square, then into pieces of lumber. It was surprising how accurate the lumber was hand-sawed. The Mongolians when they worked, especially when working together, used a lilting chant reminiscent of the gandy dancers of the American railroads.
In sharp contrast were the Yanks swarming in and out of the streets, invading the restaurants and always looking for American dishes such as itze krim (ice cream). Then there were the pretty nurses in fur-trimmed attire. Officers of the Allied armies were usually seen in American-made automobiles as they would come tooting around the corner. The machines would race past with a swish in defiance of all speed laws.
One American soldier expressed his opinion of Vladivostok in poetry:
There's a burg way off in Siberski
Where there's Chinos, Russians, and Greeks,
There's soldiers of all the nations,
And women with paint on their cheeks.
She's a rollickin', riotous, seaport,
As dirty as God ever made,
With sin, and with filth, she is rotten,
She puts even hell in the shade.
The bathin' is done as God made 'em,
By men and women the same,
There's not a good word I can think of,
Can ever be linked with her name.
The pigs run wild down the main street,
They seem to own the whole place,
And the flies are as thick as they can be,
And crawlin' all over your face.
I went there in nineteen and eighteen,
I'd sooner I hit on a rock;
For the place that beats hell,
With its dirt and its smell,
Is that burg of Vladivostok.
Even in September autumn was beginning to brush the country with a bit of frost, but the days were still beautiful and travel was not impaired. Many of the men who had enough of the smells and the sights of the city took to the country to see it before it wore an mantle of white. The terrain continued to amaze them. One said: "Nature is certainly no respecter of countries. The bay was dotted with small islands. They were green and bright. There were some trees too, but not big ones. The shore line was similar to the usual scene one encounters when a large city is in back of a harbor."
Just off the south end of the peninsula a large island, called by various names, but generally known in English as Russian Island, protected the entrance to the Golden Horn. The island was hilly; the highest point about 1,000 feet above sea level. It was here that the American Red Cross doctors and nurses were installed.
Russian Island had been heavily fortified. As the men roamed the countryside in the days and months after arrival they were amazed at the great guns heavily anchored in rock and concrete which were mounted on the crests of many hills forming the remarkable amphitheater of Vladivostok.
Tunnels connected the various gun emplacements and there were huge underground vaults to protect stores of powder. Many a doughboy spent his time off roaming through these tunnels and experiencing some of the thrill of young boys on a Captain Kidd hunt.
It would have required a gigantic and very skillfully planned military assault to have taken Vladivostok away from a well trained and determined garrison. A great Japanese general stated that 500,000 men at least would be required in the assault.[xxiii]
In Vladivostok regimental canteens were established. They began to carry a good supply of articles used by the enlisted personnel. Most of the stock was obtained from the United States and the Philippine Islands.
Men were seen hobbling around Vladivostok from the first day for they had great difficulty using their wrapped leggins for the first time. Most of them wrapped them too tightly. This caused legs and feet to swell with resulting pain. After the first night on the hard stone floors many of them walked with difficulty.
But even painful legs did not keep the doughboys from expressing their surprise to how far behind the United States the Russians seemed to be and they gave vent to army oaths every time they had to walk on the narrow wooden sidewalks in the "so-called main drag of the town." In order to pass someone they had to step off into the mud. They noticed that the Czechs and Russians were pleased to see the Americans but the Japanese obviously were full of disdain.[xxiv]
A lot of men feared the cold but Francis Sigel who was a career man said: "Wherever I put my hat that was my home. I remember when I landed I went to the American Headquarters in Vladivostok which was just across from the Kunst-Albers Department Store."
To watch the parade of brass riding around Vladivostok's grimy streets more than impressed the soldiers of all countries. The parade on September 10th was an example. The following had to travel to an Allied Conference that day: General Dietrichs, Czecho-Slovak Army; Major General Graves, United States Army; General Paris, French Army; General Knox, British Army; Major General Nakajima, Imperial Japanese Army and Admiral Lynn, Chinese Navy. In addition there were all manner of Staff Officers on hand from the various contingents.
One American doughboy said he never expected to see so many high ranking officers from so many countries at one time over again.
The conference had to do with the location of troops and the general conditions. This gave the officials more to study and worry about.
With all the brass around, attention was paid to opening a bank. So at the end of the first weekend in September the doors of one was opened and the men could get their money there. Prior to that the men had to exchange their American money at the YMCA.
Things were beginning to look up, for in September the men also received word that they would then be able to send mail thenceforth about every ten days. "Thank God," many of them said for they did not know whether their letters were getting home or not. Mail had been such a haphazard affair since there arrival. Also, many of them had received no mail from home up to that time. They were instructed to put 'Somewhere in Siberia' on their letters unless they were actually in Vladivostok. When in the city they could put its name at the top.
On September 15th, Roy Coalson wrote that they had moved into new quarters that day in drizzling and chilly weather. A fire was needed. Nevertheless, as cold as he was, he got out his typewriter and sat down to write his mother.
Irving Dexter wrote home about food, candles and noise and had some rather earthy thoughts.
"I went to the canteen and bought some peanuts and a candle. Our kerosene lamps are high and it is hard to see to write so I stuck the candle on a tobacco box and am writing on that. Today the sun hasn't showed itself so it has been chilly, but I went in swimming. That is I took a bath in a hole and did twenty-five feet and back. We drew our heavy clothes the first of this week and got different leggins. These kind wrap around. they ever did was ride a horse on ranches."
Goreham wrote on September 28th that he had eighteen letters from his beloved and, "I wouldn't part with them for all the land there is over here." He also mentioned that he had written her twenty-four letters. "There is several here in my company now from Iowa. There is one by the name of Miller that came down in about where your folks live. He was about four and a half miles southeast of Redfield. . .I was telling a big fish story. - - you know of fishing in the river in Redfield. He asked me where that place was that I caught all the fish. I told him Redfield, Iowa, and he said you didn't come from around there did you & I told him I sure did, & then he said he was born & raised southeast of there & had fished lots of times in the Coon River. He didn't believe my fish story!"
The Russian Railway Service Corps
During this month the soldiers were not only ones who were writing back home for the Railway Corpsmen, now back in Siberia, were also finding time to apprise the home folk of the situation as they faced it, now that they had been permitted to return from Japan. Some of them went to great lengths to explain the background of the railways in Siberia and others simply talked about what they were doing and their hopes for the future.
They reveled in telling the story of the Russian railroads. About 1902 a six-foot gauge railroad was completed between the Urals and Vladivostok. It was 5,800 miles in length. The line went through Manchuria on the Chinese Eastern Railway between Chita and the Ural mountains. It was a double-track affair with separate bridges and tunnels for each track allowing greater facility of operation.
After the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Russia realized that its Far East Provinces could be cut off at any time by hostilities in Manchuria; thus, in 1908, a second line was begun all within Russian territory running northward from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk, then westward. Generally it followed the Amur River north of the Manchurian border and joined the original line near Chita. This was not completed until 1916. It was not double-tracked until after our men had left in 1923. The cars that ran over it were only two-axle vehicles with about a twenty ton load limit. Before the war a nine day schedule was held between Vladivostok and Moscow, but at the time our soldiers arrived in 1918 it was a twelve day schedule. Trains were surprisingly on time regardless of the poor condition of the track and equipment.
The railroad was operated by means of staffs. Any one staff was designed for use with mechanical devices connecting two specific stations only. When station H had a train approaching en route to station I, the attendant at H could not remove a staff that controlled the train between H and I, before he conferred with the attendant at I who would then press a button and release the staff to the train at I. The other train at H would have to wait until the staff given to the train at I was inserted in the machine at H and then another staff removed from H for the train to move to I. It sounded pretty confusing to the Americans when they arrived, even to the RRSC men, but it proved to be a very safe system.
There was also the problem of figuring out what happened when two or three trains wanted to leave H at about the same time. Then the attendant could separate the staff and give one part of it to the first train and hold the second part for the last train. Then these trains, moving in the same direction, were told to proceed with extreme caution between the two stations. When the train with the last half of the staff arrived at Station I the attendant would screw the two pieces back together and the machine was then clear for movement in either direction.
Of course the safety of the system, and the efficiency of it, depended on the fact that the tracks were clear. The Bolsheviks had been playing havoc with the tracks and tunnels along the routes. Then there was also the problem of strikes.
On September 4th, all railroad employees went on strike around Harbin because their wages had been cut. When the Bolsheviks took possession they had raised all the railroad men's wages to equal that of foreman or officers. Then General Horvat cut them down, after which they all went on strike.[xxv]
On September 5th, the RRSC men had been overjoyed at Colonel Emerson's return from Lake Baikal. He reached Harbin at 5 am on the 5th having been away for nearly six months.
Reports stated that the line was open around Lake Baikal but 30 to 40 bridges had been blown up and the repairs were only temporary. Only a light train could pass over, but this made the line clear to about the Ural Mountains.
On the 6th, Colonel Emerson was finding it difficult to get a train at Harbin for Vladivostok. Because of the strike no trains were moving, not even passenger trains. Nevertheless, on the 7th he was able to leave at about noontime on the No. 4.
On September 8th, in a letter to his parents Turner stated: ". . .The reports from the western front are sure encouraging. Before long you will be reading of an eastern front between Russia and Germany. Czechs sure have done some good work around Irkutsk. Was copying reports of how they cleaned the Bolsheviks and Germans our for the first two nights and assure you it was interesting. Great credit is due to the strategy of General Gaida, commander of the Czech army. Would like to tell you more about it but know it would not please the censor so will not do so. Possibly he would be interested to know that the Czechs in Siberia are not taking any prisoners or wounded and at this date they have control of the railway to the Ural mountains. The report of all tunnels being destroyed around Lake Baikal was exaggerated as the Bolsheviks only destroyed one tunnel and that has been cleared over a week ago. Perhaps before this reaches you you will have read of the feats of General Gaida and his brave soldiers of whom he only (followed by much censoring. . .).
"Understand he is on his way to Vlad. I hope to get some pictures of the welcome they will give him. The Russians are enlisting in great numbers to join his army which is on the way to the new eastern front, joining their comrades as they go along. They have (censored. . .) in Russia proper and with new recruits of Russians they will have (censored. . .). The Russians place great confidence in Gaida as he has led his men in battle against such numbers and has always mastered the situation. Would be a great help if they would start a few trains of American soldiers to Irkutsk so that the Russian people could see them. Some of our Allies do not make much of a hit with the Russians."[xxvi]
On the 10th Jim Whitehead wrote home from Vladivostok and said they had heard about the strike in Harbin, "However I don't think the men are to blame. . .their wages were cut in half and then because they struck some of the leaders were jailed. Then they restored the wages and refused to release the prisoners, so the men just refused to go to work. There are a lot of minor reasons. . .at the same time the salary of the officials was raised. It is true the engineers and others had struck a year ago and had secured an increase of one hundred percent or so, but at that an engineer was only making 375 rubles a month which would about pay for to pairs of shoes. . .It cost me 200 rubles a week to live, not including my room."
The RRSC man went on to say that the commissary was open but "not very will stacked." He had walked over about three miles that day to get some soap. He did not want for food as "the baroness always has soup for me which is not a supper dish over here but because I work nights and don't get any dinner she expects me to eat two meals in one and I sure get filled up."
On September 15th Sundheimer wrote from Vladivostok that they ". . .had received very good news some time ago. . .that Colonel Emerson and party were with General Gaida and coming east over the Trans-Siberian Railroad. They had some wonderful experiences and were in the thick of the fighting in Western Siberia and helped General Gaida clear Siberia of Germans, Austrians and Bolsheviks. The whole of Siberia is now cleared and railroad operation will soon be started and we will be busier than ever.
"The Colonel and Lt. Colonel Hawkins are now in Vladivostok and I have just been listening to them relate their experiences and wish I could write it all to you. I am afraid some of the tales wouldn't look good in print as General Gaida is a very strict military man and gave the Germans and Austrians about what they deserved whenever he caught any of them. They arrived in Vladivostok without any prisoners, so you can draw your own conclusions. You appreciate that the Germans and Austrians who were fighting in Siberia were at one time prisoners of war and when Russia was in the war she sent them to Siberia for safe keeping."
"As I mentioned above we are expecting new developments daily and there might be a possibility of my leaving Vladivostok and not being able to write my regular weekly letter home, but you can rest assured that I am in good hands and well taken care of - getting plenty to eat, work enough to keep me busy and a good place to sleep. From the manner in which the boys in France are driving the Huns back it looks as though the end is near, but regardless of this fact we are planning our work to cover a period of several years. We may have to stay a long time after the War and no doubt will be the last to leave this country when peace is declared."
"Mama asks about my Russian. Yes, I can speak a little Russian, can make myself understood and can understand a lot more than I can speak but I feel something like the fellow in France who said, 'This is all foolishness, learnin' French. They don't speak it in Berlin.' Of course we all have Russian teachers but I am afraid most of them are learning more English than the students are Russian. All you have to be is 'American' over here to win a home or a place around a Russian's teatable. They hate the Japanese, next the English, and although a good many of them speak French, the French are not as welcome as the Americans."
"We are still sleeping in the school building but have men working on barracks, cleaning them up, and hope to occupy them the latter part of the week. I am taking my meals on Colonel Lantry's car, as the food at the restaurants is not very good, and we have about what we want on the car."
"Purchased cloth for a new serge uniform while in Japan and just had it made up. With the U.S. Army here now we can buy most anything we want at the Quartermaster's Dept. even American-made stick candy."
"It is raining out and getting real chilly. Winter will soon be here but with our heavy winter uniforms, overcoats, etc. a Siberian winter doesn't frighten any of us."[xxvii]
Once the RRSC were out on the line they realized the luxury they had had back in the city. Whitehead wrote home that they were glad for any shelter. "At times there was almost nothing in which to hole up for the night. Sometimes we get army tents and at other times we sleep in old stations or in mud and stick native houses which consist of burrs and mud woven together with a fireplace at one end burning wood. The smokestack runs the full length of the house taking most of the floor space. On this we sit, sleep and eat with the bugs."
Writhing along the same lines, Turner said the day-by-day living was quite a change from what he experienced for the previous ten months, yet he was enjoying it immensely. "At present am with the U.S. Infantry and not doing exactly my line of work nor do I expect to in this part of Russia. Am sleeping in a tent with other officers and eating at their mess. Nights are quite chilly here but we have plenty of nice warm blankets so cannot complain at all. In fact like it much better than the city. It frosted the first night here."
One sees that it depended on where the men were, and wit whom. While one was sleeping with the bugs and glad to have a place to put his head another was in a tent with plenty of nice warm blankets.
On September 20, 1918, Turner continued the previous letter and mentioned a heavy rain but said their tents were large "and shed the water fine." He was sorry that there was no town where they were so he had no opportunity to practice his Russian.
In another letter dated September 28th he complained about the lack of mail. Although he heard rumors that the RRSC would take over the line from Nikolsk to the Ural Mountains he did not put any faith in the rumor as so many others proved groundless.
Although the men were not permitted to indicate their location in a letter, Turner had said that they were at a spot where there was no town at all. Now he says he had taken a couple of baths "in a branch of the Amur River which runs close to our camp. . ." Perhaps from that his family may have had some idea where he was in late September, 1918.
Another RRSCer "Brownie" had been out on the line earlier and returned back to the city on the 16th. He was rather glad to be in town again. . ."after living three weeks among the Russians and Chinks." He said he was now acting as a typist in the YMCA office and had quite a little typing to do but not enough to keep busy all the time. He added: ". . .our new barracks are about completed and we expect to move into them tomorrow and will then have a good spring bed to sleep on, the first spring bed that I will have slept on in eleven months outside of the short time I spent in Tokyo and Unzen. I am used to a hard bed though and don't suppose I will be able to sleep on the springs for a few nights."
". . .the Czechs are some soldiers and those of whom I have met personally are some people too, three of them are working in same office with me and I am looking at them right now. . .Our Colonel returned about ten days ago from several months trip thru the interior and the sights that he saw and what he has told us of the valor of the Czechs fighting against overwhelming numbers on the opposite side with practically no ammunition or guns is almost impossible to believe. . .Guess you will think I am a press agent for the Czechs but I can't help but admire them and tell of their good qualities every chance I get."
"This is surely a funny country. We are not allowed to write anything of a criticizing nature toward the people of their ways of living, but after a person lives here for a short while they can begin to understand some things. Imagine for instance a big white sow walking along over the street car tracks on 6th Avenue in Des Moines. Saw just such a sight here last night on a street with just as much traffic on it as 6th Avenue has. The old girl did not pay any attention to street cars or automobiles, just nosed along as though she understood her business & I guess she did."[xxviii]
In spite of all the letters there was considerable confusion about RRSC mail so on September 30th the American Consul wrote to Colonel Emerson stating that he felt that as long as the Russian Railway Service seemed to be definitely established in Harbin that there didn't seem to be any special reason for continuing the arrangement whereby the Railway men had their mail sent to the Consulate and had telegrams transmitted through the Consulate.
"In our present somewhat disorganized state these services give us some work that would not seem necessary," wrote C.K. Moser, the Consul at Harbin. He added, "I will appreciate it, therefore, if you will make arrangements for having mail and telegrams submitted in some other way than through the Consulate from October 1st." Without doubt this must have caused a considerable problem to the good Colonel Emerson. It would seem as though Mr. Moser could have given the RRSC more time to make other arrangements. But that is why collector's of mail from the RRSC men find so many different types of routings. Sometimes their mail was sent through the Consulate, sometimes through the Russian mails and sometimes through the postal agency set up by the United States Post Office Department in Vladivostok.
[i]Graves' reports - letters 66 and 67, WDNA
[ii]Rodney S. Sprigg, Commanding Officer Replacement Bn., letters
[iii]Rodney S. Sprigg, Commanding Officer Replacement Bn., letters
[iv]Rodney S. Sprigg, Commanding Officer Replacement Bn., letters
[v]Rodney S. Sprigg, letters
[vi]Rodney S. Sprigg, letters
[vii]Veterans of Siberian A.E.F., Bulletin Dec. 1966
[viii]Rodney S. Sprigg, letters
[ix]Rodney S. Sprigg, letters
[x]Robert L. Eichelberger, personal papers
[xi]Robert L. Eichelberger, personal papers
[xii]Rodney S. Sprigg, letters
[xiii]Rodney S. Sprigg, letters
[xiv]Cody Marsh in an article p. 513, Dec. 1920 (name of magazine is missing)
[xv]Lynn A. McQuiddy, 146th Ordnance Depot Co.
[xvi]Emmett A. Hoskins, U.S.S. Brooklyn
[xvii]Ignacio W. Borda, Co. B, Replacement Battalion
[xviii]Reports from Harvey K. Redman, Ambulance Co. No. 4; Alphia Wilber Goreham, Co. D, 31st Inf.; David Magowan, Co. G. 31st Inf.; Raymond Lefebvre, Co. B, Replacement Bn., Co. L, 27th Inf.; Willaim A. tessman, Headquarters Co., 27th Inf.; Dwight H. Cone, Evacuation Hospital No. 17; David G. Moore, Evacuation Hospital No. 17; Lawrence Spuur, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S.S. Brooklyn.
[xix]Reports from Harvey K. Redman, Ambulance Co. No. 4; Alphia Wilber Goreham, Co. D, 31st Inf.; David Magowan, Co. G. 31st Inf.; Raymond Lefebvre, Co. B, Replacement Bn., Co. L, 27th Inf.; Willaim A. tessman, Headquarters Co., 27th Inf.; Dwight H. Cone, Evacuation Hospital No. 17; David G. Moore, Evacuation Hospital No. 17; Lawrence Spuur, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S.S. Brooklyn.
[xx]Carl W. Ackerman's book
[xxi]Carl W. Ackerman's book
[xxii]Siberia To-Day by Frederick F. Moore
[xxiii]Siberia's Untouched Treasure by C.G. Fairfax Channing
[xxiv]Clifford F. Evans, Evacuation Hospital No. 17; William H. Johnson, Co. C, 31st Inf.; John E. Driscoll, 31st Inf.; Frank W. Bean, Co. A, 27th Inf.; William H. Cumley, Co. H, 31st Inf.; Francis E. H. Sigel, AEFS Headquarters, Vladivostok. There were others.
[xxv]Porter E. Turner, RRSC, papers
[xxvi]Porter E. Turner
[xxvii]John M. Sundheimer, RRSC, papers
[xxviii]From a letter signed "Brownie"