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  • 1920
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by shepherds in Hampshire when I was a boy. The entrance was guarded all night by a number of dogs, and curled up in a special nook was the herdsman, with a gun of a kind long since discarded in Europe. Such are the conditions under which these people live half the year, but they make up for this underground life when in April they start their cattle on the move by first allowing them to eat their shelters.

Near the edge of this plain we began to encounter a few sand dunes with outcrops, very similar to those on the coast line of our own country. Over these we gently ran day after day until we could see vast fields of sand and scrub that it must have taken thousands of years of gale and hurricane to deposit in the quaint pyramidal fashion in which they stand to-day. Even yet they are not fixed; occasionally a tree falls exposing the naked sand to the action of the wind, which swirls around the hole and moves the sand into a spiral whirlpool, lifting and carrying it away to be deposited again on the lea side of a distant valley, choking the pines and silver birch and sometimes destroying large woods and forests. It is surprising that though we travelled for hundreds of miles along the edge of this huge sand plateau we did not see a single rivulet or stream coming from its direction, though there were the traces of a river far out on the plain. Sunset on these sand-hills was quite entrancing. The occasional break in these conical formations, when the sun was low down, gave one the impression of a vast collection of human habitations, with gable ends to the highest of the buildings. The fact is, however, that, so far as we saw or could make out, no human habitation exists over the whole face of this sea of sand, though men live quite calmly around the craters of volcanoes and other equally dangerous and impossible places. The fear created by legends of human disaster attaching to the local history of these sands is of such a character that even the daring of the Tartar is for once mastered. The sands themselves when on the move are dangerous enough, but their cup-like formation would hide armies until the traveller was in their midst, when retreat would be impossible. The same applies with greater force to the banditti or beasts of the desert; hence the gloomy history and legends of the Mongolian sands.

We arrived at Hazelar on a Saturday evening, and collected our echelons during the night. On Sunday morning I made application to the priest for permission to hold our parade service in the grounds of the Greek church. This was granted, and the parade was a huge success. The spectacle of the padre (Captain Roberts) in his surplice conducting the English service under the shadow of the church our help had rescued from the violence of the Terrorists was very impressive. The service was watched with intense interest by hundreds of Russian men and women and by crowds of Chinese, Korean and Tartar plainsmen. Some of the Russian ladies joined in the responses, and many women’s voices joined in the old English hymns. These were the first religious services that had been held for a year, and seemed to give assurance to the people that their troubles were nearly over, that peace had come again. The huge padlock and chain upon the church door had been removed, and general thankfulness seemed to be the predominant feeling. The scene was doubtless very strange to those unaccustomed to united worship by both priest and people. In these small matters I was extremely punctilious, as I saw what an impressionable people I had to deal with. I further calculated that once we had joined in public service together the edge of hostility would lose its sharpness. I did not leave it at this, but entered the markets without a guard and held conferences with both peasant and workman, stating our reasons for coming and the friendly service we wished to perform. It was clear from the beginning that my safety depended upon our securing the confidence of the majority of the people. A mere military parade would have failed, but with a thorough understanding of our object in entering so far into their country we gained their confidence and enlisted their help. On the other hand, there is a small proportion of disgruntled and abnormal people in all communities who cannot be controlled by reason, and for whom force is the only argument, and for these we also made ample provision.

There was not much interest in the remainder of the Manchurian and Mongolian part of the journey until we arrived at Manchulli. This was occupied by the Japanese Division under the command of General Fugi. Here it was necessary to get a supply of fresh bread and exercise the transport. I paid my respects to the Chinese general, who had just lost part of his barracks, forcibly taken from him for the occupation of Japanese troops. I also paid an official visit to General Fugi and Staff and the Russian commandant of the station.



It was at Manchulli that an incident happened which was much talked about at the time and was given many strange versions. It is quite easily explained when all the facts are known. It was impossible to secure proper travelling accommodation for my officers, either at Spascoe or Nikolsk, but I was informed that such would be provided at Harbin. In company with the British Consul (Mr. Sly) I called upon the manager of the railway at Harbin to secure such accommodation. He was very polite and promised to do all he could to help, but next morning informed me that no carriage was available, but if I could find one empty I could take it. I failed, and reported the fact to him. He could do nothing, but said there were plenty at Manchulli held up by Colonel Semianoff and the Japanese, who laid hold of every carriage that tried to get through this station, and that Colonel Semianoff collected a great revenue by refusing to part with these carriages unless the user was prepared to pay very high prices for the same. If I was prepared to take the risk, and would use force if necessary to secure carriages, I should be able to get them there, and so far as the railway authorities at Harbin were concerned, I could take any two empty carriages I might find.

The weather was beginning to get very cold, and each mile added to our discomfort, and the only accommodation for officers on two of the three trains were cattle trucks. After my official visit I made request for two carriages. The station commandant pretended to consult the Russian and Japanese officials, and then informed me that there was not one available. I told him it was untrue. He agreed that if I could point out any carriages unoccupied I could have them. He went with his register to the carriages I indicated, and he admitted they were idle and empty and I would be allowed to take them. I put a guard on the carriages and thought the incident settled, but nothing is settled for long in the Far East. I made request for these carriages to be shunted on to my trains, and after a two hours’ wait went to the station about the shunting and was calmly informed that they knew nothing about the carriages. The commandant, with whom I arranged the matter, had gone home (an old dodge!), and would not be on duty till to-morrow, and that nothing else could be done.

It was reported to me that the reason the carriages could not be secured was that the railway officials of a certain Power had given instructions that no “class” carriages were to be provided for British officers, as it was necessary that the population along the route should understand that we were not considered representatives of a first-class Power. Englishmen who have not travelled much in the Far East will scarcely understand the working of the Oriental mind in these matters. An officer of any Power who travels in a cattle truck will not only lose the respect of the Oriental for his own person, but will lower the standard of the country he represents, irrespective of its position in the comity of nations. The representative of the Isle of Man, if he travelled in the best style, would stand before the representative of His Majesty the King if his means of transit were that of a coolie. It is doubtless very stupid, but it is true. Your means of locomotion fixes your place in the estimation of the East, because it is visible to them, while your credentials are not.

I there and then made up my mind to act, and if necessary go “the whole hog.” I informed the authorities that nothing should be shunted in that station until those two carriages were joined to my trains, and proceeded to occupy the whole station. Up to this point I had neither seen nor heard anything of the Japanese in relation to this matter, but they now came on the scene, and I soon discovered that it was they who had engineered the whole opposition to the British officers getting suitable accommodation, and had spirited away the old commandant who had registered the carriages to me. At first they did not know the correct line to adopt, but made a request that the guard should be taken off the station. My answer was, “Yes, instantly, if it is understood that these carriages are to be shunted to my trains.” They agreed to this, and my guards were taken off, having held the station for twenty-three minutes. I had my evening meal, and was expecting to start when I was informed that the Japanese had now placed guards upon my carriages and refused to allow them to be shunted on to my train. I thought this was just about the limit, and before taking action decided I had better discover the reason, if any, for what seemed a definite breach of faith. I visited the Japanese station officer, and he said that they had just discovered that these two carriages were set aside to convey General Fugi to Harbin a few days hence. I refused to believe that such a discovery could have only just been made, and I would take the carriages by force if necessary.

It looked very awkward, and a Japanese Staff officer was sent for. I sent my liaison officer (Colonel Frank) to find the absent station commandant who had allocated the cars to me. The Japanese Staff officer was expressing his sorrow for my not being able to get any carriages for my officers and pointing out how impossible it would be for the train of General Fugi to be broken up by the loss of the two carriages I had claimed, when in stalked the old Russian commandant and blew these apologies sky high by declaring that these carriages had nothing to do with General Fugi’s train; that they were unemployed, and they were mine. I decided to strengthen the guard to eighteen men on each carriage, and offered protection to the railwaymen who shunted them to my train. The Japanese soldiers followed the carriages on to my train, so that we had the strange sight of a row of Tommies with fixed bayonets on the cars, and a row of Japanese soldiers on the ground guarding the same carriages. No officer came to give them open instructions, but the Jap soldiers disappeared one at a time until the Tommies were left in undisputed possession.

We returned to my car to find it guarded by Chinese soldiers. I asked the reason, and was informed that at an earlier stage of this incident a Chinese officer had been to my car with a note to inform me that the great friendship which the Chinese always bore to the great English nation made it impossible for them to stand by and allow their friends to be attacked while passing through Chinese territory. I thanked them for their friendship, and suggested that Englishmen were always capable of protecting themselves in any part of the world, wherever their duty took them; but they would listen to nothing, and remained on guard until my train moved out of the station.

I do not suppose there was at any time real danger of a collision between the different forces at Manchulli, but it had the appearance of a very ugly episode that might have developed into one of international importance. I took my stand for the sole purpose of maintaining the dignity of the British Army. Other incidents connected with this small dispute about officer accommodation, yet having nothing to do with it, made me determined to carry my point.

During these proceedings I noticed my liaison officer in angry dispute with two Japanese officers against a truck carrying the Union Jack as an indication of the nationality of the train. They were pointing to the flag in such a manner that I saw at once the dispute was about this offending emblem. When the Japanese officers had moved away I called Colonel Frank to me and inquired the cause of dispute. He said: “I can understand the contempt of the Japanese for our Russia; she is down and is sick, but why they should wish to insult their Ally, England, I cannot understand. The Japanese officers who have just left me inquired where the English commander got his authority to carry an English flag on his train. I answered it was an English train carrying an English battalion to Omsk, and no authority was necessary. The Japanese officers replied that they considered the flying of any other flag than theirs in Manchuria or Siberia an insult to Japan. I told them they were fools, that if the English commander had heard their conversation (they both spoke in Russian) he would demand an apology. At which they grinned and departed.” We tried every means to find the two officers, but were unable to do so. This was the atmosphere in which we discussed the smaller subject, and may explain the obstinacy of both sides; at any rate, it had something to do with my determination.

We arrived at Chita without further incident of importance. Bread and horse exercise delayed us one whole day, and inability to secure engines part of another, until in desperation I went with a squad of men to the sheds and forced an engine-driver to take out his engine, I myself riding on the tender, where I nearly lost my sight with hot debris from the funnel, while Major Browne, who stood sentinel beside the driver, had holes scorched in his uniform. This act of violence secured not only an engine for my train, but for the others also.

I had broken my glasses, and it was necessary to secure others. I walked to the town and called at the shop of a jeweller and optician, with whom we conversed. Other customers joined in the talk, and we were here informed of the murder of the present owner’s mother during the Bolshevik occupation of the town. The Soviet Commisar, with Red soldiers, visited the shop one day to loot the stock. The mother, an old lady over sixty years of age who was then looking after the business, protested against the robbery of her property. The commisar ordered one of the Red Guard to bayonet her, which he did. They then proceeded to remove everything of value, locked up the premises with the dead woman still lying on the shop floor, and for several days refused permission to her neighbours to give her decent burial on the plea that she was a counter-revolutionist. It was evident from the appearance of the place that the Red soldiers were pretty expert at this sort of business; but stories like this are so numerous that it is nauseating to repeat them.

The next point of interest was Lake Baikal, or as it is more correctly described by the Russians, the “Baikal Sea.” We approached this famous lake on a very cold Sunday evening, and long before we reached its shores the clear cold depths of the water gave evidence of its presence in the changed atmosphere. A furious gale was blowing across the lake from the west, which lashed huge waves into fury and foam as they beat in endless confusion on the rockbound shore. Blinding snow mixed with the spray gave the inky blackness of the night a weird and sombre appearance. Our Cossack attendant, Marca, droned a folk-song about the wonders of the Baikal, which, when interpreted by my liaison officer, fitted the scene to a fraction. We put up the double windows, listed the doors and turned in for the night. I was fearful that we should leave the lake before morning and so fail to get a daylight view of this most interesting part of our journey. We all awoke early to find the scene so changed as to appear almost miraculous.

The strange light of these northern zones was gently stealing over an immense sea of clear, perfectly calm, glassy water, which enabled us to locate the whiter coloured rocks at enormous depths. A fleecy line of cloud hung lazily over the snow-capped mountains. The Great Bear nearly stood on his head, and the Pole Star seemed to be almost over us. The other stars shone with icy cold brilliance and refused to vanish, though the sun had begun to rise. And such a rising! We could not see that welcome giver of warmth and life, but the beautiful orange and purple halo embraced half the world. From its centre shot upwards huge, long yellow streamers which penetrated the darkness surrounding the stars and passed beyond into never-ending space. Gradually these streamers took a more slanting angle until they touched the highest peaks and drove the cloud lower and lower down the side of the mountains. I have been on the Rigi under similar conditions, but there is nothing in the world like an autumn sunrise on Lake Baikal. I stopped the train ostensibly to allow water to be obtained for breakfast, but really to allow the men to enjoy what was in my opinion the greatest sight in the world. Some of the men were as entranced as myself, while others (including officers) saw nothing but plenty of clean fresh water for the morning ablutions. We all have our several tastes even in His Majesty’s Army.

Rumour says there are exactly the same fish to be found in Lake Baikal as in the sea, with other varieties which represent ordinary fresh-water types. I do not believe there is any authority for these statements. Sea gulls of every known category are certainly to be found there, and wild duck in variety and numbers to satisfy the most exacting sportsman.

Passing along this wonderful panorama for some hours we arrived at Baikal. The maps supplied to me show the railway as making a bee line from the south of the lake to Irkutsk. This is not so; the line does not deviate an inch from the western shores of the lake until it touches the station. Baikal is reached nearly opposite the point at which the railway strikes the lake on the eastern side. The lake is fed by the River Selengha, which drains the northern mountains and plains of Mongolia. No river of importance enters it on the north except the short, high Anghara; in fact, the rivers Armur and Lenha start from quite near its northern and eastern extremities. It is drained on the west by the famous River Anghara, which rises near Baikal, and enters the Polar Sea at a spot so far north as to be uninhabitable, except for the white bears who fight for the possession of icebergs.

Baikal had been the scene of a titanic struggle between the Czecho-Slovak forces and the Bolsheviks, who had in case of defeat planned the complete and effective destruction of the line by blowing up the numerous tunnels alongside the lake, which it must have taken at least two years to repair. The Czechs moved so rapidly, however, that the enemy were obliged to concentrate at Baikal for the defence of their own line of communication. Before they had made up their minds that they were already defeated a lucky Czech shot struck their store of dynamite and blew the station, their trains, and about three hundred of their men to smithereens. The remainder retreated off the line in a southerly direction, and after many days’ pursuit were lost in the forests which form the chief barrier between Siberia and Mongolia, to emerge later on an important point on the railway near Omsk.

We stopped at Baikal for water and fuel, and examined the damage done by the explosion. The great iron steamer which used to be employed to convey the train from one side of the lake to the other was almost destroyed, its funnels and upper works being wrenched and twisted beyond repair. But out from every crevice of her hull and from every broken carriage came German and Austrian prisoners of war dressed in every conceivable style of uniform. There was no guard of any description, but they all appeared to be under the direction of a young German officer, who saluted very stiffly as we passed. No doubt existed amongst these Germans (so I heard from our men later) that we were tramping towards Germany and certain death. Not one would believe but that Germany would win the war, and destroy not only England, but also America. They had no feelings about France, nor would they consider her as other than an already half-digested morsel. Quartermaster-Captain Boulton put it to one prisoner: “But suppose Germany were defeated?” “Then,” said the prisoner, “I would never return to Germany again.” We fell in with thousands of German prisoners who all held a most perplexing view of ourselves. They described us as the only real and bitter enemy of their country. But the same men would volunteer to work for us rather than for any other Ally, because they said we treated them fairly and behaved to them like men, and listened to their grievances. That is something at any rate.



From Baikal to Irkutsk is a short run down the left bank of the Anghara. We arrived at Irkutsk about the same time as a small detachment of Japanese troops, who were acting as a guard to their traders and their stores, who usually travel with the army. The Japs have very pretty bugle calls for different military purposes, mostly in the same key, with a sort of Morse code for the different orders, but a Japanese bugle band is the most terrible thing in the world of sound. It makes one either swear or laugh, according to one’s taste. They gave us an exhibition in moving off from the station, which everyone who heard will never forget. I was rather surprised to find that the Jap traders had established themselves at Irkutsk, as their headquarters were at Chita, which was also the centre of their agent, Semianoff. Why they came to Irkutsk at all is a problem. It was generally understood that some of the Allies were prepared to concede them only the fairest part of Siberia up to Lake Baikal. Perhaps they had heard whispers of the mineral wealth of the Urals.

Irkutsk, situated on the right bank of the Anghara, is a rather fine old town for Siberia. Its Greek cathedral has a commanding position, and contests successfully with the Cadet School for supremacy as the outstanding architectural feature first to catch the eye. The town is approached by a quaint, low wooden bridge which spans the swiftly running river. When we saw it the battered remnants of human society were grimly collecting themselves together after some months of Bolshevik anarchy and murder. Whole streets were merely blackened ruins, and trade, which had been at a complete standstill, was just beginning to show a return to life. Putting out its feelers, it had taken upon itself a precarious life not yet free from danger. The 25th Battalion Middlesex Regiment was the only British unit in the country; it had spread itself out in a remarkable manner, and shown the flag on a front of 5,000 miles. In spite of its category it had brought confidence and hope to a helpless people out of all proportion to its strength or ability.

A public banquet (the first since the Revolution) was held ostensibly to welcome Volagodsky, the Social Revolutionary President of the Siberian Council, but really to welcome the first British regiment that had ever entered and fought in Siberia. It was a great occasion, and the first real evidence I had seen of possible national regeneration. Even here it was decidedly Separatist, and therefore Japanese in character; a glorification of Siberia and Siberian efforts, completely ignoring the efforts of other Russians in the different parts of their Empire. Evanoff Renoff, the Cossack Ataman, led the panegyric of Siberia, and the President and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a long, watery-eyed young man, joined in the chorus. They were doubtless all well pleased with themselves, and thoroughly enjoying a partial return to the old conditions. Colonel Frank translated in a whisper all that was said, so that I got a good hang to the mental atmosphere of this unique gathering. The toast of their Ally, Great Britain, was the occasion which brought me to my feet. The band played “Rule Britannia” as a substitute for “God Save the King,” for the simple reason that though mostly Social Revolutionaries they dared not play a Royalist hymn until they had tested the feelings of their audience. This gave me my cue. I laughed at their fears, and informed them that whatever happened, our anthem, which for the time represented the unity of our race, would be played by my band at the ceremonial to-morrow, and all the Bolsheviks in Russia would not be powerful enough to prevent it. From this I led to the flag, another great emblem of racial unity. I called attention to the entire absence of a Russian flag from Vladivostok to Irkutsk, and asked, “Is this the country of the once great and mighty Russia that a stranger travels over without knowing what country it is?” I suggested that though we had twenty revolutions I could never imagine Englishmen being ashamed of the English flag or afraid to call themselves Englishmen. The translation of my remarks ended in a wonderful ovation, and I thought the band would never play anything else but the National Anthem, which it repeated again and again.

My list of telegrams and messages of every kind and character from every part of Russia and the outside world, together with constant repetition of the speech in the Press, indicates plainly that from this day began the resurrection of the Russian soul. Another sign of renewed vigour and life was the fact that from that day the Russian flag (minus the Crown) flew from the flagpost over every big station we passed, and on all public buildings. The Russians are extremely emotional, and I had managed to strike the right chord the first time.

The day following we marched to the square space surrounding the cathedral, and I inspected the newly-formed units of the army. Splendid men with good physique, but slow and stilted in movement. The remnant of the cadets who had escaped the general massacre was there, a wonderfully smart set of beautiful boys, who at a distance, looking at their faces only, I took for girls, much to the disgust of the colonel in charge. It was altogether a fine and impressive sight, with big crowds and the fine cathedral as a background. With the “Present” and “The King” at the end, every man present uncovered, and an old Russian lady knelt and kissed my adjutant’s hand and blessed us as “saviours,” while the commandant asked for cheers for “the only country which came to our help without conditions.” I wonder how that will pan out?

We were entertained at the British Consul’s, followed by a concert at night. It was terribly cold, and no droshkies were to be had. We had to walk to the theatre in a blinding snowstorm. At 2 A.M. we started on our last lap.

The sentiments of the people changed completely every few hundred miles. After leaving Irkutsk we soon discovered that we were in enemy territory, and the few weeks, and in some cases days, that had elapsed since the retirement of the Bolshevik Commissars had left the country the prey of the desperado. Let there be no mistake, Bolshevism lived by the grace of the old regime. The peasant had his land, but the Russian workman had nothing. Not one in a thousand could tell one letter of the alphabet from another. He was entirely neglected by the State; there was not a single effective State law dealing with the labour conditions or the life of the worker in the whole Russian code. His condition was, and will remain, in spite of the Revolution, utterly neglected and hopeless. He has not the power to think or act for himself, and is consequently the prey of every faddist scamp who can string a dozen words together intelligently. There are no trade unions, because there is no one amongst them sufficiently intelligent either to organise or manage them. All the alleged representatives of Labour who have from time to time visited England pretending to represent the Russian workmen are so many deputational frauds. There cannot be such a delegate from the very nature of things, as will be seen if the facts are studied on the spot. The lower middle classes, especially the professional teacher class, have invented the figment of organised Russian labour for their own purpose.

The condition of the Russian workman is such that he can only formulate his grievances by employing others to do it for him. Hence there has come into existence numerous professional councils, who for a consideration visit the workers in their homes and wherever they congregate, and compile their complaints and grievances. But these professionals always point out that the rectification of small points like rates of wages and working hours are a waste of time and energy; that the real work is to leave the conditions so bad that, in sheer despair, the worker will rise and destroy capitalism in a night, and have a perfect millennium made ready for the next morning.

The poor, ignorant, uneducated, neglected Russian workman is perfect and well-prepared soil for such propaganda. He found himself bound hand and foot in the meshes of this professional element, who did not belong to his class and, except in theory, knew nothing of his difficulties. When this professional element had misled, bamboozled and deserted him, in a frenzy of despair he determined to destroy this thing called education, and made the ability to read and write one of the proofs of enmity to his class on the same principle that our uneducated workmen of the first half of the nineteenth century destroyed machinery and other progressive innovations, whose purpose they did not understand. There would be less chatter about revolution if our people could only understand what it means to go through the horrors that have destroyed Russia and her people more effectively than the most ruthless invasion.

We stopped at a station near a mining village largely peopled with emigrant Chinese workmen. We removed the Bolshevik flag from the flag-post, and insisted upon the Russian flag being run up in its stead. A Russian woman told us to go back, and when we asked her why, she said, “Well, it does not matter; our men will soon find enough earth to bury you.” But another Russian woman thanked us for coming, and hoped we were not too late to save a country that was sick unto death.

That night we ran into Zema station, where we came to a sudden stop. I sent my liaison officer to find the cause, and he informed me that a body of men were beside the engine and threatening to shoot the driver if he moved another foot. I ordered the “Alarm” to be sounded, and instantly 400 British soldiers tumbled out of the trucks. Taking their prearranged positions, they fixed bayonets and awaited orders. My carriage was the last vehicle of the train. I walked forward to find the cause of our enforced stoppage, and was just in time to see in the darkness a squad of armed men leaving the station. I took possession of the station and telegraphs, and then heard from the officials that Bolshevik agents had come to the town and had persuaded the workmen to leave work, to take arms and cut the line to prevent the Allies moving forward, and await the arrival of the Bolshevik force which had retired from Baikal. This force had worked its way along the Mongolian frontier, and was now feeling its way towards the line to destroy the bridge which carries the railway over the River Ocka at a point about three versts from Zema. I placed guards around and in the railway works, engine sheds, and approaches, and discovering telegrams still passing between the Bolsheviks and the inhabitants, I occupied by force the post and telegraph office in the town. Orders were issued that all men must pledge themselves not to interfere with the trains, and return to work by 6 A.M., or they would be dealt with under martial law. Two hours elapsed, during which time my other trains arrived, with machine-gun section complete, and the whole force were disposed to receive attack.

The troops surrounded the house of the leader of the movement, but the bird had flown. I found some Bolshevik literature advocating the wholesale destruction of the _bourgeoisie_ and _intelligenzia_ (I forget which they put first), also 3,600 roubles, which I gave back to the wife, saying, “That is a gift from me to you.” This act disgusted the local chief of the gendarmerie, who assured me that it was German money and ought to be confiscated. I had no doubt it was, but then I was English, and a Hampshire man at that. Then the usual teacher arrived and asked if he would be allowed to speak to the “Anglisky Polkovnika.” Receiving an affirmative, he entered and began the conversation. He naively confessed that if he had known it was an “Anglisky” train he would have allowed it to pass. They had read my order as to their pledge to return to work, and wanted to know what I proposed to do if they did not do so. I answered that after having taken up arms against us they could expect no mercy, and that if they did not obey my orders every leader I could find I would shoot. The teacher inquired if I would allow the men to be called together for consultation by their prearranged signal at the works. I agreed, if they came without arms. Soon after, the most awful sound came from a huge buzzer. It was now midnight, and the air was rent by a wailing sound that grew in volume, to die away into a world sob. Every Britisher there was affected in some peculiar fashion; to myself it was like nothing so much as a mighty groan from a nation in distress. Colonel Frank, my Russian guide, philosopher and friend, ran from the table when the sound began, and paced the car in evident anguish, and as it died away exclaimed, “Poor Russia!” and I had felt the same thought running through my mind. All my men expressed themselves in similar sentiments and as never wanting to hear it again.

My business was to get out of the place as quickly as possible, but to leave the line safe. The small militia force was quite inadequate to deal with a population fully armed. Hence I ordered the surrender of all arms by the inhabitants, and allowed twelve hours in which this was to be done.

Six A.M. arrived, and my officers reported all men at work except eight, and these reported later and asked forgiveness, which was readily granted. I then informed the management that I intended to call a meeting of the men and hear their grievances. The management tried to dissuade me from my purpose, but I at once ordered their attendance in the headquarters of the works at 10 A.M., when I would hear the men’s complaints. Promptly to time the work finished, and the men crowded to the spot selected. A British sentry with fixed bayonet and loaded rifle stood on either side as I sat at the table, while others were placed in selected positions about the building. I called the managers and heads of all the departments first, and warned them that I had been forced to take this trouble into my own hands, that I intended to settle it, and that if they interfered with the men in any way, either by harsh measures or victimisation, I would place them under court-martial just the same as I would any workman who prevented the smooth working of the railway; in fact, they being presumably more intelligent, would find no mercy. This information caused quite a commotion amongst all concerned. I asked the men to state their grievances. The first workman said he had no economic grievance; his was political. He had been told the Allies were counter-revolutionists, and as such should be destroyed. Two or three protested against this, and said they came out on economic grounds. They said their objection was to piece-work. I tried to get a statement from them that their wages were low, but they would not consent to this, admitting that their pay for the same work was five times what it was in 1917.

I came to the conclusion that it was more of a military movement on the part of the Bolshevik leaders than a strike such as we understand it in England. I gave my decision that the men’s leaders were to be tried by General Field Court-Martial. The men’s committee then said that they had never had the chance to meet anyone in authority before, that they were anxious not to appear as enemies to the great English people, that if I would carry out no further repressive action against them, they would continue to work until the end of the war. They heard that Bolsheviks were approaching their town, and knew the tortures in store for them if they were found continuing to help the Allies in their advance to the Urals. If I would secure protection for them they would sign an agreement never to strike until the war in Russia had ended. I believed them, and the agreement was signed, but I insisted upon disarmament.

That evening the time limit in which the arms were to be handed in expired. We were informed by the local militia that some arms were handed in voluntarily, but many more remained.

The following morning a train with General Knox and his Staff pulled into the station. I reported the whole occurrence to the general, and how I had received and sent forward notice of his coming and the object of his journey. It was here that he informed me of the outrage which the Japanese officers had perpetrated upon him, in spite of the fact that a big Union Jack was painted on the side of each carriage of his train.

The inhabitants of Zema were just congratulating themselves on having got rid of the “Anglisky” when they suddenly found machine guns in position ready to spray all their main thoroughfares with lead should the occasion arise. Sections of the town were searched, house by house, until the piles of arms necessitated transport to remove them. Real sporting guns which could be used for no other purpose, and the owner of which was guaranteed by the local police, were returned. In some houses dumps of looted fabrics from other towns were taken possession of, and altogether work for the courts was found for the next two months.

The echo of Zema travelled far and wide, and gave the authorities an object-lesson how to tackle a cancer as deadly as it was devilish. When Kerensky destroyed the old Russian army sixteen million ignorant and uneducated soldiers took their rifles and ammunition home. This was the insoluble problem of every attempt to re-establish order in the Russian dominions. The Middlesex Regiment made the first plunge at Zema, and others soon followed along the path indicated. We re-armed the local militia, and we took the remainder of the confiscated arms to Omsk, where they were taken over by the Russian authorities for the new Russian army. I wired to Irkutsk for reinforcements for the local militia, as I did not think them strong enough to deal with the possibilities of the situation. The commandant at Irkutsk wired that he had information which proved there was no truth in the rumoured approach of Bolshevik forces, which reply I knew from the experience I had gained in Russian ways merely indicated his determination not to weaken his own guard.

At midnight I started on my further journey. About a fortnight later I received a despairing message from the local militia chief at Zema for help; he said he was nearly surrounded by the Baikal Bolshevik contingent, which had suddenly appeared. I took the message to Russian Headquarters at Omsk, and called attention to my wire to Irkutsk and the refusal to protect this part of the line. Later I received a report from the commander of the Russian force sent to deal with the situation. He said that the Bolshevik leader had come into Zema expecting to receive material and military help from the people. He found them disarmed and unfriendly, and determined to take no part in further outrages against established order. He wreaked vengeance upon some of his false friends, and was then surprised by Government troops, who dispersed his forces, killing 180 and capturing 800, together with ten machine guns and 150 horses.

As a rule, Bolshevik contingents were easily disposed of in a town. They usually looted everything and everybody. Officers were elected from day to day, with the result that such a thing as discipline did not exist. Still, had that party arrived when I was in Zema we should have had a pitched battle worth a lifetime, for as it turned out they had many machine guns, while we had only four; but there would never have been any doubt about the result, for though we were only a “garrison battalion,” the steadiness of my men under fire had hitherto been excellent.

We had been passing through hundreds of miles of wonderful virgin forests for the last two weeks, with only an occasional opening for village cultivation and an occasional log town of more or less importance. The hills and valleys as we approached Krasnoyarsk, covered with pine trees and frozen rivers, looked like a huge never-ending Christmas card. At last we arrived at Krasnoyarsk, a large, straggling town of great importance on the River Yenisei. As we approached we passed miles of derelict war material–tractors, wagons, guns of every kind and calibre all cast aside as useless, there being no place where minor defects could be repaired. Some had no apparent defects, but there they lay, useful and useless, a monument to the entire absence of organisation in everything Russian.

I had suffered a slight indisposition, so Major Browne deputised for me, and inspected the Russian and Czech guards of honour drawn up to welcome the troops on their arrival. I found the town in a very disturbed condition, and as it was necessary to guard the great bridge, I accepted the suggestion to quarter a company under the command of Captain Eastman, O.B.E., in the excellent barracks which had been prepared for my unit. This place had been originally fixed upon as the station for the whole battalion, but important events were happening in Omsk. Our High Commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, and the Chief of the British Military Mission, General Knox, had already arrived there, and required a guard, hence I was ordered to proceed with the remainder of my battalion. We remained in Krasnoyarsk for two days, and marched through the town and saluted the British Consulate. On the last evening the usual banquet was held in our honour, and is worth a few words because of an incident which created great interest at the time. The guests were made up of many officers and others in uniform, and also civilian representatives of the Town Council, the district Zemstvo, and other public organisations. The usual fraternal speeches and toasts were given, and not more than the usual six speakers attempted to deliver an address at one time. A number of dark-featured, glowering civilians sat at a table almost opposite to myself, men who by their attire and sombre looks appeared to be unsuited to the banquet atmosphere, and out of place amongst the gorgeous uniforms of Cossack Atamans and Russian generals. They seemed to take not the slightest interest in the proceedings except for a few moments when certain of my words were being translated. All seemed bent on the business of the evening and a good dinner, indicating a return to normal conditions. A Social Revolutionary representative of the town delivered a furious tirade, which I could get my officer to translate only in part, but even that part showed me the world-wide division of opinion amongst my Russian hosts.

The orchestra, composed of German and Austrian prisoners, discoursed sweet music during the evening, alternately listening to the fiery eloquence of Cossack and Tartar. A Cossack officer, who had drunk a little vodka, rose and gave an order to the band, but the prisoners only got out about three notes. What was in those notes, Heaven only knows! Instantly the whole banqueting hall was a scene of indescribable confusion. Tartar and Cossack shouted with glee; older Russian officers ordered the band to stop, and vainly tried to silence the disorder. The dark-visaged and apparently unemotional civilians threw off their armour of unconcern, and hurled epithets and shook clenched fists and defiance at their military fellow-countrymen. Then they all rushed out of the building in a body, hissing and spluttering like a badly constructed fuse in a powder trail. It was like the explosion of a small magazine. I had no idea what had happened, but took in the full significance of the scene I had witnessed when told that the notes which had acted like a bomb formed the first bar of “God Save the Tsar.” A few miles farther on the Autocrat of All the Russias had already met an ignominious death by being thrown down a disused pit near the line dividing Asia and Europe. In death, as in life, he remained the divider of his people.

The trains started off during the night, and on the evening of the next day we arrived at Hachinsk, where a Russian guard did the usual military honours, and a sad-faced, deep-eyed priest presented me with bread and salt, as becomes a Tartar who welcomes a friend. It was lucky for me that I had some little training in public speaking, and that “Polkovnika Franka” could make such excellent translations, or we might not have made such a good impression as I flatter myself we did on some occasions.

At last we arrived at Omsk, the end of our journey, having passed in a zigzag direction almost round the world. A few miles to the Urals and Europe again–so near and yet so far!



As Omsk, unlike so many other towns of Siberia, did not care to pay the usual toll demanded by the railway prospectors, it is situated several versts from the main trunk line. To overcome this inconvenience a branch line was afterwards run up to the town itself. The date of our arrival was October 18, and a right royal welcome awaited us. The station was decorated with the flags of all nations, the Russian for the first time predominating. We were met by General Matkofsky, the commander of the district, and his Staff, who welcomed us on behalf of the new Russian army, by M. Golovaehoff, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the representatives of the municipal authorities and the co-operative societies. The women of Russia presented us with bread and salt, and, generally speaking, the people of Omsk gave us a real Russian welcome. The ceremonial over, the men were taken to the Cadet School for tea and entertainment, while the Russian officers regaled the Middlesex officers at a feast in the Officers’ Club. We were introduced to all and sundry, and began to mix wonderfully well. If we had laid ourselves out for it, we might have visited every decent Russian home in Omsk. As it was, we soon became so much in demand that most of us had in a short time formed lasting friendships with a very charming set of people. Their welcome was doubtless tinged with relief at the security afforded by the presence of well-disciplined troops. The wife of a Russian general told me that she felt as though for the first time she could sleep peacefully in her bed. The little cadet son of another officer gave permission for his loaded rifle to be taken from the side of his bed, where it had rested every night since the Bolshevik Revolution and the cadet massacres had commenced. If I understand the Russian character denials of this may be expected, but it is a fact that the presence of those 800 English soldiers gave a sense of confidence and security to the people of Omsk that was pathetic in its simplicity and warmth. However suspicious of each other as a rule the Russians may be, there is no question that when their confidence is given, it is given generously and without reservation. As to its lasting qualities, that has to be proved, but at the time it is something real and tangible, and no amount of trouble taken for one’s comfort is too great.

On the date of arrival I had only a few moments for conversation with Sir Charles Eliot, our High Commissioner, on the political situation. I gathered from him and his Staff that a desperate effort was being made to join the forces of the Directorate of Five, which stood as the All-Russian Government and received its authority from the Constituent Assembly at Ufa–largely Social Revolutionary in character–and the Siberian Government, the outcome of the Siberian Districts Duma, which met at Tomsk and was largely reactionary, with a small mixture of Socialist opinion. The English and French representatives were genuinely anxious that a workable compromise should be made between these two groups and a Cabinet formed that would give confidence to moderate Russian opinion, and so command Allied recognition with reasonable prospects of success. This very desirable ambition of the Allied “politicals” had the sympathy of every friend of Russia, but advice is one thing, accomplishment another. It was impossible to expect that the effects of hundreds of years of tyranny and bad government could be swept away by the waving of a diplomatic wand. The Siberian Government was largely composed of the “old gang,” Revolutionary and Royalist, and derived its support almost exclusively from the desire of the people to escape further bloodshed; it was guarded by the Royalist Cossack clans, as lawless as they are brave. The Ufa Directorate derived its authority from the moderate Social Revolutionary party composed of the “Intelligenzia”–republican, visionary, and impractical. Kerensky was, from all accounts, a perfect representative of this class, verbose and useless so far as practical reconstructive work was concerned. This class blamed the unswerving loyalty of the Cossacks and the old army officers for all the crimes of which the Tsars were guilty, and had hunted them like rats in cellars and streets during the worst days of the Second Revolution. The officer and Cossack class cursed Kerensky and the Social Revolutionaries for destroying the old army and letting free the forces of anarchy and Bolshevism, which had destroyed the State and had massacred the manhood of Russia in an orgy of violence and hate.

There should be no mistake made as to the apportionment of blame. Kerensky is considered by all classes of Russian society as the cause of all their calamities. They think, rightly or wrongly, that at the supreme moment when the destiny of his race and country was placed in his hands he proved traitor to the trust; that had he possessed one-tenth of the courage of either Lenin or Trotsky millions of Russians would have been saved from worse than death.

To combine these hostile and divergent elements into a united party for the resurrection of Russia seemed impossible to me, as it did to one other Britisher, Mr. David Frazer, the _Times_ Pekin correspondent; but the “politicals” thought otherwise. That they were guided by the highest motives and that they gave of their very best in the interest of the Russian people no one who has the slightest knowledge of the high personal character of our representatives could doubt for a moment, but they tried to accomplish the unattainable. The most that could be said of their policy is that it was worth attempting. Try they did, and under the influence of the Bolshevik guns booming along the Urals and of Royalist conspiracies at Chita a piece of paper was produced with a number of names upon it which seemed to bear the resemblance of a working arrangement between these two opposites.

I am writing this within three weeks of the occurrence, and may modify my views later, but for the life of me I cannot understand the satisfaction of our “politicals” with their work. They “downed tools” at once and disappeared from the scene of their triumph as though the few names on a piece of paper had solved the whole problem of the future of Russia. It would be mighty interesting to know the nature of their communications to their respective Governments. One thing, however, had been done which was fated to have important after-effects. Vice-Admiral Koltchak had been brought into the new Council of Ministers with the title of Minister for War. I had never met the officer, and knew nothing about him or his reputation, and merely lumped him in with the rest as an additional unit in an overcrowded menagerie. Frazer and I had many talks about these events, but we could fasten on to nothing real in the situation except danger.

On November 6, 1918, we were all invited to a banquet in honour of this new All-Russian Government. It was to be the climax of all our efforts and a tangible evidence of the successful accomplishment of a great diplomatic task. I was rather late, and the ante-rooms were already filled with soldiers and diplomats in grand uniforms with glittering swords and decorations.

I watched this peculiar and intensely highly-strung crowd with the greatest interest, and except for one figure–a sort of cross between a Methodist parson and a Plymouth Brother–was struck by the complete absence of personality amongst the people present. The parsonified person referred to turned out to be the Social Revolutionary, Volagodsky, President of the Siberian Council, who had now transferred his love from Siberia to the whole of Russia. But as my liaison officer was repeating the names of those present a smart little energetic figure entered the room. With eagle eyes he took in the whole scene at a glance. The other officers had bowed gracefully to all their friends and gallantly kissed the ladies’ hands, while around them buzzed the conversation. For an instant the buzz ceased, during which the brown figure with the dark, clear-cut face shook hands with an officer friend and departed. The impression on my mind was that I had seen a small, vagrant, lonely, troubled soul without a friend enter unbidden to a feast.

The new President of the Council of Ministers, Avkzentieff, presided at the banquet, and as we sat down I found myself at the end of the head table, which gave me a good view of the stranger I had seen in the vestibule sitting second round the corner. The dinner was good, the vodka gave warmth to the blood and made a very pleasant contrast to the “60 below” outside. Avkzentieff led the speeches. Immediately my mind flew to Hyde Park Corner, and then to the Lyceum stage with Irving in “The Bells.” He spoke with assumed sincerity, cutting the air with his hands in the manner that a Cossack sweeps off a head with his blade. He sank his voice and hissed his words in a hoarse stage whisper, while pointing to the ceiling with a dramatic forefinger. In other words, he was the best actor it had been my pleasure to see for a long time–a second edition of his more famous colleague, the futile Kerensky. Little did I dream that within a few days I would beg for this man’s life and that the Middlesex Regiment would shield him from eternity.

Then followed a speech by General Knox (Chief of the British Military Mission), who implored all classes of Russian thought to pull together to establish an Army and a Government capable of supporting law and public order, a speech full of patriotism and very much to the point. Then came General Bolderoff, Commander-in-Chief of the new Russian army and military member of the Ufa Directorate. He had the appearance of a big, brave, blundering Russian officer. Not too much brain, cunning, but not clever. I should, however, give him credit for more than ordinary honesty. Later Admiral Koltchak spoke–just a few short definite sentences. Very few cheers or shouts greeted this orator. He seemed more lonely than ever, but presented a personality that dominated the whole gathering. There was the usual passing round and signing of menus. I sent mine direct to the admiral for his signature, and when he automatically passed it to General Bolderoff I said “Neat,” and it was returned with the solitary name of this solitary man. I was now absolutely satisfied that the new Government was a combination that refused to mix, and took the most stringent precautions to see that my unit did not become involved in its impending overthrow. I, however, made an important discovery at this congratulatory banquet, namely, that Russia still had one man who was able to rescue her from anarchy.

The business of Omsk went on much as usual, but Omsk society became more subdued in its whisperings. Clique countered clique, and conspirators undermined conspirators, while a peculiar tension hung over all.

During the negotiations connected with the formation of this Government a very serious hitch occurred which at one time threatened the whole project with disaster. General Bolderoff was known as a Social Revolutionary in politics. Through him the Social Revolutionaries had practically supreme control of the new army. Avkzentieff and Co., aiming at Social Revolutionary control of all the forces of the new Government, demanded that a Social Revolutionary should also control the newly-organised militia, which were to act as a sort of military police under the new regime. This was resented by the more moderate members of both groups, as it would have practically placed all power in the hands of one group, and that not distinguished for administrative ability or caution. In addition to which, the very claim made the moderates suspicious as to the use for which such power was to be employed. The presence of the Allies and the determination to form some sort of administration overcame these suspicions, and the moderates gave way and left both forces under the command of the Social Revolutionary group.

The Allies were pushing forward supplies intended for the new armies facing the Terrorists along the Ural front, but it was soon discovered that such arms were being deflected from their proper destination. The front line was kept denuded of arms and equipment of which it was in greatest need, while the militia in the rear, and under the Social Revolutionary control, were being regimented and fitted out with everything they required. The appeals of the front-line generals to Bolderoff, the Social Revolutionary Commander-in-Chief, fell on deaf ears, and things were getting into a serious condition. Admiral Koltchak, as Minister for War, presented the appeals to General Bolderoff, and backed them in a very determined manner. Bolderoff was equally outspoken, declaring that the appeals from the front were fictitious, and concluded one of these wrangles by informing the admiral that it was not his business; that the Social Revolutionary group had been forced by one of the Allies to accept the admiral as a member of the Government; that they had done so merely to secure Allied support and recognition, but he would remain a member of the Government only so long as he did not interfere in business from which, by a resolution of the Directorate, he was expressly excluded. Admiral Koltchak thereupon tendered his resignation, but was later prevailed upon to withdraw it so as to keep up a resemblance of harmony before the Allied Powers. He, however, insisted upon making a personal inspection of the front, for which permission was granted, as much to get him out of Omsk as for the proper performance of his ministerial duties.



On November 4 I received a telegram from Mr. Preston, British Consul at Ekaterinburg, asking that a detachment might be sent to attend on November 9 at the inauguration of Czech national life and the ceremonial presentation of colours to four Czech battalions of the Czech National Army. I consulted General Knox, and he having received a similar request from General Gaida, commanding at Ekaterinburg, that a detachment should visit the several fronts over the Urals for the purpose of giving moral support to the war-weary veterans of our Allies, it was decided that I should take the regimental band and a guard of one hundred picked men for this purpose. Both Czech and Russian were sad at the long weary wait between the promised help of England and the appearance of the first khaki-clad soldier on the scene.

All preparations had been made for my journey, and I was timed to start from Omsk at 3 P.M. on Friday. Early on Friday I was informed that Admiral Koltchak, the Minister for War, was also travelling to the Czech ceremony, and, as engines were very scarce, would I allow his carriage to be attached to my train? I readily consented. About midday a further note informed me that the admiral’s own car was found to be full of the wives and children of his old naval officers, that there were no other cars, but they hoped to be able to get another by 7 P.M. The result was that we did not turn out of the town station till that hour. We had only got to the lower station, less than a mile on our journey, when the officials informed me that something had broken on the admiral’s carriage which would take two hours to repair. I felt there was a deliberate attempt being made by someone to prevent either the admiral or myself from performing our journey. At 11 P.M. I walked out to the workshops where the repairs were being effected, and sat on an anvil until 4 A.M., through a horrible Siberian night, while a good-tempered “Russky” blacksmith accomplished his part of the task.

No Russian official would dream of doing a straight thing if a crooked one would accomplish his purpose. So “Polkovnika” Frank telegraphed in my name to all the railway section commandants ordering them under pain of summary execution to clear their part of the line and prepare express engines at each stopping-place ready to haul on to the admiral’s train the moment it came in. We bribed an old Russian _provodnik_ to get us a Russian flag to fasten on the admiral’s carriage, which he did, and we became the first Russian train that had dared to carry a Russian flag for nearly a year. We also had two Union Jacks, and altogether the Russian officials became suspicious that here at any rate was a combination of colour to which the greatest respect must be paid.

The result was that we finally started on our journey at 7 A.M. instead of 7 P.M., just twelve hours late, and arrived at our destination one hour in front of time. Guards of honour awaited us, and breakfast of a more or less scanty character. A presentation of bread and salt, on a fine wooden dish on which the ladies had painted a picture of the old monastery under whose walls the great Czech national ceremony was to take place. We marched past the building in which the Tsar Nicholas II and his family had been imprisoned and from which they were taken to die. I am anxious not to believe the untold horrors alleged to have been inflicted on the female members of his family, but they are told categorically. It is best to believe nothing one hears in Russia, and what one actually sees is not always what it seems.

We saluted the flag at the Consulate, where our great good comrade and fellow-countryman, Consul Preston, gave warmth and good cheer to man and beast. Suddenly we turned to the right and entered a huge square, already surrounded by Czech troops, infantry, artillery and cavalry. It was indeed a great sight. On the highest corner of the square a platform was erected, on the right of which we were given the post of honour, and for some strange reason which I could not understand were asked to play the British National Anthem, when the whole Czech Army came to the “Present!” as General Gaida and his Staff, with the colours, entered the square. I felt that we were celebrating the birth of a nation. The scene had that peculiar solemnity about it that makes the moment feel pregnant with world events. One of the units was my old Ussurie battalion, and our old chum, Captain (now Colonel) Stephan, was the proudest man there, as he bore from the hands of the priest the newly-consecrated colours of his country. What quantities of beer we shall drink together if I ever see him in his dear Prague, thinking of our thirsty days in Eastern Siberia!

It was my first introduction to the dashing young Czech officer, General Gaida, who by sheer pluck had played such an important part in cutting a way for his army from west to east. We had the usual banquet, at which Admiral Koltchak delivered the first important speech since his appointment as Minister for War. I gave expression to the delight of my own country at the birth of new nations and the resurrection of freedom amongst the subject people of the world. I also gave expression to my pleasure that the first act of the new Russian Minister for War was to visit his army at the front and make himself personally acquainted with the conditions of the Russian soldiers who were so gallantly fighting to protect the people and the State from violence and anarchy.

The ceremony over, we started at once for the Kunghure front, and the early morning found us sliding rapidly down the European side of the Urals. Huge forests, all loaded with snow, covered the mountain sides, and there was a temperature quite impossible for British military operations. We arrived about 11 A.M. at the headquarters of the army under the command of General Count Galitzin. We held long conferences and then lunched in his mess, which was quartered in an eight-wheeled American truck. An occasional shell exploded first to right and then to left, but none came very near, and by 2 P.M. the firing died away altogether. It was decided to march to the advanced outpost and take the band to give both friend and foe an opportunity to judge a sample of British music. We got to the extreme point near which a cutting in the railway gave excellent protection for the band, while the admiral’s Staff and my Middlesex guard went forward to have a look at the enemy. The band started “Colonel Bogey,” then went on to something which I do not remember, but while we were groping about through machine-gun pits, etc., the band behind began “Tipperary.” That just put the finishing touch to Bolshevik patience! This famous war tune got on their gunners’ nerves and they began to shell the tune for all they were worth. Needless to say not a single shell went anywhere near the mark. All shrieked over our heads and exploded harmlessly among the forest trees; one, however, dropped near the railway bridge and went off like a Hampstead squib on a wet bonfire night. It shows an utter lack of culture among the Bolshevik officers that they could not appreciate good music after we had taken so much trouble to bring it within their reach. The band finished and the shelling ended. I expect they fancied they had frightened my bandsmen, but the fact was they enjoyed the unique experience immensely.

General Count Galitzin is a very fine type of the officer of the old regime; an aristocrat to his finger tips, but a fine leader of men, born to command. I should think there is a big strain of Tartar blood in his make-up, but he is altogether the sort of man one would prefer to meet as friend rather than foe. We discussed the possibility of an offensive in the direction of Perm, from where I humorously suggested we might be able to rescue the forces of General Poole, which had gone into winter quarters somewhere in the direction of Archangel. We returned to Ekaterinburg, and without stopping, proceeded towards the Lisvin front to meet General Pepelaieff.

We arrived on the Lisvin front about 10 A.M. next day, but did not see the enemy or hear his guns. This army had been compelled to retire some 60 versts the very day we were discussing an advance on Perm, and its present position was none too secure. Pepelaieff is a young general, not more than thirty, but looked a real hard-working soldier. His uniform was as dirty and worn, though not quite so dilapidated, as the majority of his soldiers. He had absolute confidence that he could beat the enemy if his men had rifles and ammunition, which many had not. Half his men were waiting for the rifles of comrades who might be killed or frozen in the snow. The conferences were quite businesslike, and Admiral Koltchak’s presence seemed to galvanise the whole army into life and energy. The “Russky soldat,” whose boots had long since disappeared and whose feet were bound up in bags to protect them from the snow, felt almost certain that proper boots and clothes would follow from the War Minister’s visit. Pepelaieff came back in my carriage to meet General Gaida, and the admiral also relished a British soldier’s ration as we discussed things generally, including the proposed advance and the necessary measures to make it into a victory.

We were to have gone next to the extreme right, where General Verzbitsky operated on the flank, but the admiral said the condition of the soldiers was very sad, and his immediate business was to organise the rear and so secure the means by which the soldier at the front could do his duty. We saw the ceremonial of the presentation of colours to the 11th Siberian Rifles, a fine proceeding greatly enhanced by the fact that three officers of the regiment had rescued the colours (originally presented by Peter the Great) from the Bolshevik Revolutionaries, and as pedlars and peasants had tramped for months through the Bolshevik lines and brought them safely to the new regiment.

It was necessary for the admiral to see General Surovey and General Detriks and their Staffs at Chilliyabinsk, and also to have a look at the Ufa front. Travelling all night, we arrived at Chilliyabinsk next morning, and after quite a formal inspection of guards, we adjourned for lunch. The date I do not remember, but my old friend Colonel Pichon burst through all etiquette to inform me of the terms of armistice between Germany and the Entente, and brought out a bottle of champagne he had preserved for the occasion; we swore by all the powers above and below that we were the greatest people the world had ever seen in all its ages and intended to remain so.

Lunch over, I left the admiral to his generals and walked a little through this straggling, snow-swept town, firmly believing that we were about to start for Ufa. At 5 P.M. I was informed that the conferences were over and there were urgent reasons for an immediate return to Omsk. I did not object as I was not anxious to see more of this army of ill-fed, half-clad soldiers struggling to save the State under intolerable conditions. We started on our return journey and travelled till 11 A.M. next day, by which time we had arrived at Petropalovsk. Here the station commandant informed us that General Bolderoff wished our train to wait for his, as it was most essential that he should have a conference with the Minister for War. This was the first intimation I had received that General Bolderoff had left Omsk and was on his way to visit the Ufa front. The admiral invited me to his carriage and explained the critical situation at Omsk, but could give no reason for the sudden decision of the Commander-in-Chief to leave Omsk and meet him on the way. I had my suspicions that the two groups of the Government had come to grips, and that each had decided to destroy the other; that Admiral Koltchak was to be sounded as to which of these groups had his favour, and that his life, and perhaps that of his British escort, would depend upon his answer. Bolderoff and the people at Omsk were unaware of the presence of the British escort or its numbers, and while they may have discovered our joint appearance at the Ekaterinburg function, there had been no original decision to accompany the admiral to Chilliyabinsk. That was only arranged the previous day. In revolutions you can never be too careful, hence I gave orders to my men to load and be ready for instant action if necessary. Orders were also issued to patrol the platform and allow no people, uniformed or otherwise, to collect near the trains, and in no circumstances were the two soldiers who were to accompany the admiral to lose sight of him for one instant without reporting it to me. Two others stood guard at the entrance to General Bolderoff’s carriage. When I saw the look on the face of the Commander-in-Chief’s attendants I was satisfied that my precautions were no more than necessary.

The general’s train drew into the station and Admiral Koltchak entered Bolderoff’s carriage at exactly 12 noon on November 6, 1918. I asked my servant, Moorman, to take a “snap” of the two trains, as I felt that this conference was full of big events for Russia. While taking the snap a returned emigrant workman spoke to Moorman in good English. He asked who all these officers were and what they were all talking about, and when my servant informed him he did not know, the emigrant said: “It is all right so long as they do not want to bring back the old regime, but if that is their object I can tell them that Russia will never submit to live under the old regime again.” I thought, and think now, that in that workman’s words I heard the voice of Russia. The conference between the admiral and the general broke up at five o’clock; it had lasted five hours.

The admiral was hungry and came into my carriage for something to eat; his servants had nothing ready as it is the Russian custom never to begin to prepare a meal till you are ready to eat it. After the meal we talked, and from the conversation I gathered the nature of the questions discussed at his conference with the Commander-in-Chief. He asked me whether in England our Minister for War had any responsibilities placed upon him for the supply of clothing, equipment and general condition of the British Army? I replied that in England the Minister for War was responsible to the Cabinet and, through Parliament, to the country for the general efficiency of the British Army in every detail. He answered: “What would you think in England if the Commander-in-Chief told the Minister for War that these matters had nothing to do with him, that he would be allowed to keep a small office with two clerks but no staff, as it was the Minister for War’s name only that was of any use to the Directorate (or in your case Cabinet), and the less he interfered with the affairs of his department the better for all concerned?” I answered: “If I were the Minister I should claim to have absolute control of my department, or resign.” He thought a minute and said: “That is what I have done,” or “what I intend to do,” I forget which. From what followed I think it must have been the former, because I asked him what General Bolderoff said in answer to his claim, to which he replied: “General Bolderoff is a very good man, and though he does not see everything as I wish, I think he understands the situation, and will himself ask that greater power should be given to enable me to save the new Russian army, that it may be able to resurrect the Russian State.” I well remember that word “resurrect”; it was so pregnant with truth. The State _was_ dead, Russia was no more; resurrection was necessary.

We arrived at Omsk town station at 5.30 on the evening of November 17, 1918. The admiral thanked me for my help and my guard and for the kindness and protection I had afforded him. I promised him my continued help and sympathy in his patriotic attempt to revive the spirit of his people. He went straight to his lodgings and remained there.

The _Times_ correspondent in a message to his newspaper has suggested that the admiral had prior knowledge of what was to happen that night in Omsk. I do not think that was the case. He may have guessed that something very unpleasant was in the wind–the least sensitive amongst those behind the scenes knew that–but what it was, from which direction it would come or on whom it would fall was a secret known to but very few, and I am convinced that the admiral, except in a second degree, was not one of them. Colonel (soon to be General) Lebediff could tell the whole story, though his name was not even mentioned during the _coup d’etat_. A young and able Cossack officer, he was on the Staff of Korniloff when Kerensky invited the great Cossack general to march his army to Petrograd to save the newly-elected National Assembly. It is well known how, when Korniloff obeyed Kerensky’s order, he treacherously turned and rent to pieces the only force which was moving at his own request and could have saved Russia. He, in turn, became the victim of the ghouls who urged him to this act of destruction. Lebediff escaped, but one can be certain that he retained a lasting hate towards the Social Revolutionaries who had betrayed his great leader.

The comrades of Kerensky, and in some cases the actual betrayers, had found refuge in the Directorate of Five and the Council of Ministers, and were continuing to play the same double game which had brought ruin on the first National Assembly and disaster upon the Russian people. They were members of the same futile crowd of useless charlatans who by their pusillanimity had made their country a byword and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk possible. I was in a position to judge. I was certain that this young man was the wrong sort to allow the execution of his chief to pass without attempting punishment.

He had drifted down to Southern Russia and joined General Denikin in his first efforts against the Bolsheviks. Sent from Denikin with dispatches to Omsk, he became the centre of a group of desperadoes who were in want of a cool brain to make them formidable. The state of Omsk at this time was simply indescribable. Every night as soon as darkness set in rifle and revolver shots and shouts could be heard in all directions. The morning sanitary carts picked up from five to twenty dead officers. There were no police, no courts, no law, no anything. In desperation the officers grouped themselves together and hit back indiscriminately at the people they thought responsible for the murder of their comrades. So a fair proportion of civilian bodies became mixed up with those wearing uniforms. That the officers got home at last on the right people is proved by the fact that these nightly murders became fewer and then practically ceased altogether.

It was into this scene of blood that we were hurled, and this was the condition which had become quite normal in the capital under the rule of the five-pointed Directorate. Its members were the most unmitigated failures that even poor distracted Russia had so far produced, and the people waited, hoping and longing, for their speedy removal. I was not at all surprised when, next morning, my liaison officer, Colonel Frank, returned from the Russian Headquarters in great perturbation and with great excitement informed me that Russia was doomed never to rise out of her troubles. I asked why. He answered that during the night some villains had arrested the Social Revolutionary members of the Directorate and Government, that no one at Headquarters knew the persons who had again upset the whole government of the country, and he had no doubt that the members of the late Government were already murdered. I took the necessary precautions for the safety of my command and awaited developments. I knew that the telegraph to the east was cut and that a _coup d’etat_ was in course of execution.



At 11 A.M. on November 18 I was officially informed that the Council of Ministers had met at 9 A.M., and were now in session, having met to consider the situation produced by the arrest of the Directorate. They had already asked Admiral Koltchak to accept supreme authority, that he had refused, but the Ministers had great hope that for the sake of Russia the admiral could be prevailed upon to take the burden of Government upon himself, as it appeared to be the only means of getting the country out of her desperate situation. The wildest rumours were in circulation: that my carriage would be attacked by bombs, that the British would at any time be obliged to fight for their lives. I told my informants that they need not worry about us; we were well able to take care of ourselves. They could not understand our indifference. The fact was that not a man or officer in my battalion had the slightest inkling of the position. Then the tune changed. Would I defend the Ministers who were still in session if they were attacked? My answer was that any political refugee who sought asylum in my lines would be protected, but he must give up every idea of again taking any part in Russian affairs. “But what would you do if the Russian troops revolted and sought to murder those who had come into your lines. Would you give them up?” “Never!” “What if the Czech commanders made the demand?” “Still never; besides which the Czechs are too honourable ever to make a demand such as no soldier could accept.” The last question was the most important of all, and was doubtless the kernel of the whole series, the others being mere camouflage.

The Czechs had just inaugurated their National Republican Government, and were naturally obsessed with the usual “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” business, and could not be expected to view the establishment of a Dictatorship within their sphere of operations with entire unconcern or without serious misgivings. The hostile attitude of the Russian branch of their National Council at Ekaterinburg and Chilliyabinsk, directly they heard of Koltchak’s acceptance of the supreme authority, is proof of the danger which might evolve from that quarter.

The Council of Ministers, and perhaps Koltchak himself, were unable to take the final plunge until they had a thorough understanding of the British attitude. The position of the Czech forces at Omsk made it impossible for them to approach the place where the Ministers were in session without passing the British, and my machine guns commanded every avenue leading to or from the Russian Headquarters.

Things were now in such a state of tension that for the safety of my command I informed both the Russian and Czech authorities that I should not allow bodies of troops or citizens either to approach or collect near my cantonment; that such approach or collection would be treated as hostile, and dealt with accordingly. That these arrangements gave the Ministers greater confidence to proceed with their policy I have no doubt. That was one of the inevitable consequences of the preparations for our own defence, but not the inspiration of their policy, which was entirely their own; but it did steady the situation.

I place these facts on record that those who are interested may be able to give them their proper order of value and importance. I afterwards learnt that more than one highly-placed official’s wife had all preparations made for a rapid descent upon the Middlesex quarters.

About 2.30 P.M., November 18, I was informed that Admiral Koltchak had assumed absolute power under the title of “Supreme Governor,” with a Council of Ministers who would be responsible to him for the proper performance of their duties; that he proposed to call on the French representative, Monsieur Renault, to present himself in the evening; that he would then call on me, as the senior British officer in Omsk, and in my case he would answer any questions I chose to put to him. He called, and it is as well to place here the report I made upon the subject at the time:

From Lieutenant-Colonel John Ward, M.P., C.M.G., Omsk, Siberia.

To G.O.C. China Command. Through B.M.M. H.Q.

Headquarters B.M.M., Vladivostok.

SIR,–For State reasons I deem it necessary to give the following information that it may be forwarded home to the proper authorities.

About 2.30 P.M. on November 18, 1918, my liaison officer (Colonel Frank, of the Russian Army) informed me that at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, just held, the Council had offered to place supreme sovereign power in the hands of Admiral Alexander Koltchak. The admiral had first refused to accept, but that such pressure had been applied to force him to accept that he had at last reluctantly consented.

Further, that Admiral Koltchak had assumed the title of “Supreme Governor of all Russia,” and was calling upon the French Ambassador in the evening, after which he would call on me as the Senior British Officer holding official position in Omsk.

About 9 P.M. Admiral Koltchak called at my headquarters. The following gentlemen were present to receive him: Lieutenant-Colonel J.F. Neilson, Captain Stephani, Colonel R. Frank (Russian Army), and Mr. Frazer (_Times_ correspondent). He wore the full dress of a Russian admiral.

The admiral, who speaks fair English, informed me of the circumstances and reasons for his assumption of supreme authority in all Russia.

An attempt had been made to combine all parties in the Government of the country to reduce it to a state of order, so that the people might be able to decide the future Government of Russia. The Council chosen by the Ufa Assembly had tried to work together for this purpose, but had failed. The final dissolution had been brought about by a proclamation issued by the Central Committee of the Social Revolutionary party, which was intended to produce in the new army the same conditions that had destroyed the old army. The proclamation had been signed by the Social Revolutionary President, Chernoff, and when it was proposed to take action against those who were destroying the discipline of the army, two Social Revolutionary members of the Council, Avkzentieff and Zenzinoff, could see nothing wrong in Chernoff’s subversive propaganda. It later transpired that both were members of the Social Revolutionary Committee which had issued the literature in question, and refused to either leave the Social Revolutionary Committee or repudiate the anti-discipline propaganda of their friends.

This brought the new Government to a complete standstill, and, faced with absolute anarchy, the Council of Ministers had no alternative but to dissolve the old Directorate of Five and centre the supreme power in one person, to whom the Council of Ministers would be responsible for the administration of their several departments.

I answered that the reasons, coupled with my own knowledge, appeared to justify the action, but I had heard that the Social Revolutionary members of the Directorate and others had been arrested, and that if this action supposed their execution it would make the whole proceeding look like an attempt on the part of the old army officers to destroy the present arrangements in favour of a return to the old regime. Further, if the people of England thought this was the policy of the admiral and his friends, they would not only lose the friendly sympathy of the English people but also of America and France.

Admiral Koltchak replied that at the moment he did not know the whereabouts of the prisoners, but he would make inquiries and inform me later. That his sole object in burdening himself with the overwhelming responsibilities of Supreme Governor of Russia in this sad hour of her history was to prevent the extremists on either side continuing the anarchy which made the establishment of a free constitution impossible. That if his action at any future time was not in harmony with the establishment of free political institutions as understood by the Democracy of England, he would be convinced that he had failed.

I thanked him for his good opinion of my country, and called his attention to the letter of His Majesty the King to President Wilson, received at Omsk on November 14, 1918, in which the principles of democracy and freedom were exalted, and warned him that the free peoples of the world would resist any attempt to force the Russian people back under a system of tyranny and despair.

Admiral Koltchak replied that he had read the letter of His Majesty the King of England, and his one hope was that soon Russia might enjoy the blessing of equally free institutions.

Omsk, Siberia, _November_, 20, 1918.

From Lieutenant-Colonel John Ward, M.P., C.M.G., Omsk, Siberia.

To G.O.C. China Command. Through B.M.M.

Headquarters B.M.M., Vladivostok.

_Further Report on Political Crisis in Russia_.

Following my report of the assumption by Admiral Koltchak of the supreme Governorship of Russia, I wish to add:

As I was unable to secure any official information relative to the whereabouts of the members of the Directorate who had been made prisoners during the night of November 17, I wrote to the Russian authorities (through Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. Neilson) on the night of the 18th requesting information upon the subject. On November 19, in the absence of information, I sent the following letter direct to Admiral Koltchak, the Supreme Governor:

OMSK, 19.11.18. 3 P.M.

From Colonel Ward.
To Admiral Koltchak.

After our interview last evening I sent you a note (through Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. Neilson) asking for information and some guarantee for the imprisoned members of the Council.

So far I have received no information upon the subject.

I have already told you that I am sure my country would look with grave concern upon any injury inflicted without proper trial upon these prisoners of State, and I should esteem it as a favour if you can supply me with information upon this subject.–Yours sincerely,

(Signed) JOHN WARD (Lt.-Col.).

Colonel Frank, my liaison officer, took the letter to Russian Headquarters, and on his return informed me that the admiral thanked me for my letter and that he was pleased to be able to allay my fears.

Three officers, named Lieutenant-Colonel Krasilnikoff, Colonel Volkov, and Lieutenant-Colonel Katanaev, had presented themselves at Headquarters and reported that they took upon themselves the entire responsibility for the arrest of the members of the old Russian Government, that they had not injured them in any way, that they were prepared to hand their prisoners over to the authorities, together with several millions of roubles, believed to be loot, and papers which they had found in their possession. That the admiral had placed the prisoners under a strong guard of his own, and had placed the three officers under arrest to be tried by court-martial.

He further promised that no harm should come to them, and that he proposed to convey them out of the country at the earliest opportunity.

_November 20_. 1 P.M.

Admiral Koltchak, hearing that a supply guard of my battalion was returning to Vladivostok, has made request that I would allow the railway cars conveying the State prisoners to some unknown point on the Chinese frontier to be attached to my train for purposes of secrecy and additional safety. I have consented, and have strengthened the guard for this purpose.

Omsk, Siberia, _November_, 21, 1918.


From Second-Lieutenant P.C. Cornish-Bowden, 25th Battalion Middlesex Regiment.

To The Adjutant, 25th Battalion Middlesex Regiment.

Sir,–I have the honour to report for the information of the Commanding Officer:

1. The train conveying the four Russian political exiles (Messrs. Avkzentieff, Argunoff, Rogovsky, and Zenzinoff) and the Russian guard, together with a detachment of British troops under my command, left Omsk about 2 A.M. on November 21, and arrived at Harbin on November 27. The journey was quiet. Most of the larger towns, where trouble was anticipated, were passed at night.

2. I have since been informed by the officer commanding the Russian guard that all traffic between Irkutsk and Chita was stopped by order of General Semianoff, and that the trains were searched for the exiles after we had passed, but I have no evidence in support of this.

3. The exiles expressed the greatest possible gratitude for the presence of British troops, and said that they mistrusted their own Russian guard, though I saw nothing whatever at any time to lead me to believe their suspicions were well founded.

4. On arrival at Harbin the exiles strongly petitioned me to accompany the train to Chang-Chun, and the officers in charge of the Russian guard being quite willing, I decided to accompany the train to the Chinese-Manchurian frontier. We reached Chang-Chun about 2 A.M. on November 28, and the exiles left that place by themselves by train on the evening of the same day.

5. We reached Harbin again on the 29th inst., where I parted company with the Russian guard. We reached Vladivostok on the morning of December 2. I immediately reported to the O.C. Detachment, and I reported the before-mentioned facts verbally to General Knox.

6. The conduct of the N.C.O. and men of my detachment on the journey was very good, and no increase of sickness took place amongst them.–I have the honour to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Vladivostok, Siberia, _December_ 2, 1918.

I had already gained enough experience of revolutions to know that if I did not press my point vigorously Avkzentieff and Co. were as dead as mutton. I also knew that my countrymen have a rooted dread of dictatorships, and that if Admiral Koltchak’s assumption of power was either connected with or promoted by the execution of his opponents without trial, assistance or eventual recognition by the British Government would be made almost impossible. My own agents had discovered the place where the prisoners were detained, also that they were to be quietly bayoneted in the night, as shooting would attract attention. I was also certain that Koltchak knew nothing about this. The whole business was in the hands of an Officers’ Revenge Society, a body who had sworn an oath to kill just the number of Bolshevik Revolutionaries as there had been officers murdered by Trotsky’s and Avkzentieff’s people. Both parties had similar combinations which left the marks of their foul deeds on the streets every night.

The state of affairs was such that only by a dictatorship could the most rudimentary order be maintained. I, a democrat, believing in government of the people by the people, thought I saw in the dictator the one hope of saving the remnants of Russian civilisation and culture. Words and names have never frightened me. If circumstances force on me a problem for solution, I never allow preconceived notions and ideas formed in the abstract, without the experience of the actual then existing facts, to warp my judgment in deciding the issue; and I am vain enough to believe that, had the same situation presented itself to Englishmen generally, nine out of ten would act as I did. I merely “carried on.” The traditions of our race and country did the rest.

Having, in my talk with the admiral and the report I made, accepted his position of Supreme Governor, I did not mean that he should be left to fight his way unaided against the enemies who surrounded him. In other words, while outwardly remaining neutral, I constantly made representations and gave advice, when asked, about everything, both internal and external; and here it may be interesting to our own people to know some of the problems which confronted the Supreme Governor. The Japanese question was the first. General Rosanoff was Bolderoff’s Chief of Staff, and it was important to the Supreme Governor that he should get the hang of outstanding matters and also make himself fairly acquainted with the policy of the deposed Directorate. He interviewed General Rosanoff and the Staff generally, and discovered that after the fall of Samara the Bolshevik army moved rapidly towards Ufa, and the Directorate became so alarmed that they demanded some definite policy from the Commander-in-Chief as to how he proposed to deal with this menace. Bolderoff never thought of effectively organising the new Russian army, but suggested that things were so critical, and that England, France, and America were so slow, that the only alternative was to invite the Japanese to push their army forward to the Urals. This was exactly what Japan wanted, but the Japanese Staff demanded as a _quid pro quo_ to their advance to Ekaterinburg and Chilliyabinsk that they should be placed in absolute possession of the railway and telegraph lines to those points. Bolderoff and the Directorate boggled at this for a time, but as the Bolsheviks began to get close to Ufa, and also concentrated an army of about one hundred thousand men for an offensive towards Ekaterinburg, the situation became so pressing that the Directorate gave way, and a few days before the _coup d’etat_ Bolderoff had sent word to the Japanese that their terms were accepted.

The Japanese had made all preparations to move when Koltchak took the reins in his own hands. He asked my advice. I advised him to say to the Japanese that the change of Government had also involved a change of policy, and that it would be inadvisable for the Japanese to advance beyond their position at Chita until the subject had been further discussed. They made him many tempting offers of help, both arms and money, but he refused them all, and they were unable to move him from the position he had taken up.

A subject that led to unfortunate bickerings between Admiral Koltchak and the French was the appointment by the Allied Council of Paris of General Ganin as the Commander of the Allied and Russian Forces in Siberia.

It is too important an item in the general failure of Allied policy to pass over without mention. From the very nature of the case the main Allied effort was the formation and organisation of a new Russian army. Our policy was not to prop Russia on her feet, but to enable her to stand by herself. Major-General Knox had been sent out by the War Office to accomplish this purpose, and no more able or competent officer could have been appointed for the task.

General Knox had hardly begun to perform this duty when the French agents in Siberia became alarmed for their own position. Cables were dispatched to Europe pointing out the danger to French prestige which General Knox’s mission entailed. If the English were to be made responsible for the reorganisation of the Russian Army, and were successful, this would tend to make New Russia rely more upon the English than the French, as had been the case hitherto; that it would be better to leave Russia without an army than have it organised under such influence. These senseless fears of our French friends found willing listeners in Paris. General Knox had already made some selections of officers and the business was well under way when a message from the Allied Council in Paris put an extinguisher on all his work. His orders were cancelled, and he was told to do nothing until a French commander had been appointed, whose name would be forwarded later.

By this uninformed Allied interference a well-thought-out scheme of army reorganisation was hung up for four of the most precious months to Russia. By the time General Ganin arrived the time for the project had passed and the whole business had been taken out of Allied hands.

The Russian situation at that time was such that four days’ delay would have been fatal, and if nothing had been done for four months we should have been hunted out of the country.

Finding Allied jealousy so great as to render all their efforts impotent, first General Bolderoff and then his successor, the Supreme Governor, began to organise armies on their own for the protection of the people and their property. These armies were ill-equipped and badly disciplined–not the kind of armies which would have been raised had General Knox’s plans been allowed to develop–but they performed their duty, they captured Perm, and had increased to over 200,000 before General Ganin appeared on the scene.

When General Ganin reported himself to the Supreme Governor with the Allied Council’s orders to take over the command of the Allied and Russian forces in Siberia, he was met with a blank refusal from the Omsk Government.

I was consulted upon the question, and I am therefore able to give the reasons for their objection. The Omsk Government’s position was a very simple one: “Had General Knox or any other Allied commander organised, paid, and equipped the new Russian army he would have naturally controlled it until such time as a Russian Government could have been established strong enough to have taken over the responsibility. The French would not allow this to be done, and we ourselves therefore undertook the duty. Having formed our own army in our own country, it is an unheard of proposal that we should be forced to place it under the command of a non-Russian officer. It would be derogatory to the influence and dignity of the Russian Government and lower the Government in the estimation of the people.”

From this position they never retreated, but Allied bungling had landed General Ganin, who is himself an able and excellent officer, in a not very dignified position.

Bolderoff, as I have stated, was at the Ufa front when Koltchak assumed supreme power. He remained there in consultation with the Czech National Council and the members of the old Constituent Assembly for five or six days without a word as to his intentions. It was a critical position for Koltchak, who did not know what he was doing or intended to do. Hot-heads advised immediate action, but I suggested caution. The subject-matter of Bolderoff’s conferences or whether he had any we do not know, but we do know this: General Dutoff, who commanded the Russian armies south of Ufa, had some proposals from Ufa put before him, and replied advising caution, as he had it on unimpeachable authority that the English were behind Admiral Koltchak. This statement, I was told, fell like a bombshell among the conspirators at Ufa, and soon after General Bolderoff returned to Omsk. There he interviewed Koltchak as Supreme Governor, and made satisfactory statement relative to his absence. He was offered a post, which he refused, stating that he wished to leave the country, as he did not believe that a dictatorship could help Russia out of her difficulties. His request was granted, and so ended a very different interview between these two men from that at Petropalovsk a few days before.

Some time after this the Japanese representative at Omsk made a request to be informed whether General Bolderoff had been forced to leave the country, or had left voluntarily. This was answered in a definite way in accordance with the facts. In the same note the Japanese also demanded to be informed whether the British Army had supplied the train and guard which had taken the exiled Social Revolutionary Members of the Directorate to Chang-Chun, on the Chinese frontier. This question was not answered quite so definitely, but the interest of the Japanese in these men shows how far the _coup d’etat_ had upset their plans relative to the occupation of the Urals.

The Supreme Governor issued definite orders to the different isolated sections of the Russian forces. All commanders obeyed these orders more or less except one, General Semianoff, whose headquarters were alongside that of the Japanese at Chita, from which he sent insolent refusals to recognise Koltchak’s authority. Koltchak prepared to deal with this mutinous and buccaneering officer. The Japanese at once plainly informed the Omsk Government that General Semianoff was under their protection, and they would not allow the Russian Government to interfere with him.

Under Japanese protection this fellow continued to carry out indiscriminate executions and flogging of workmen until the whole district became depopulated, and the Allies were forced to demand an explanation from Japan for their extraordinary conduct. So fearful were they that their tool was about to be dealt with, that when the 1/9th Battalion of the Hampshire Territorial Regiment started from Vladivostok, the Japanese asked the Omsk Government whether these British troops were coming forward to attack General Semianoff. The answer we gave was that all movements of British troops were conducted by the British Military Mission, to whom they must apply for information. I never heard any more of their inquiries.

About this time a party of Cossacks, with a high officer at their head, called at the prison one night and produced to the governor an alleged order for the release of nine political prisoners. The [perhaps] unsuspecting governor handed his prisoners over; they were taken away, and next morning their friends found them shot. Someone ought to have been hanged, but Koltchak could find no one to hang. His Chief of Staff must have discovered some facts about the crime, but he refused to act. In fact, he did not acquaint the admiral about the crime until four days later when it had become public property. Koltchak was quite overcome, first with rage at the crime itself, and secondly at his impotence in being unable to prevent it. But Omsk went on the even tenor of its way: it is remarkable what horrors people can face without a tremor when they get used to them, as they must in revolutions.



The _coup d’etat_ had thrown the proposed Perm offensive completely into the background. The Czechs, under the influence of their Political Council, who had joined the Social Revolutionary Committee, and their leader Chernoff, retired to the rear. Each unit elected a committee and established a Soldiers’ Council on the strictest Bolshevik plan, and ceased to be of further use either to the Russians or their own cause. The officers of the new Russian army became greatly concerned for the integrity of their own young troops with such a shocking example of lack of discipline before their eyes, and begged Admiral Koltchak to order these hostile political bodies out of Ekaterinburg. The admiral offered them a town in the rear where they might discuss politics to their hearts’ content, without danger to his army. This, however, did not suit their plans, for their obvious object was to destroy the integrity of the new Russian army. Admiral Koltchak in desperation ordered the leaders to be arrested and the conspiracy to be broken up. General Gaida, though a Czech officer, put the admiral’s order into effect, and handed the prisoners over to the Commander-in-Chief, General Surovey, at Chilliyabinsk. General Surovey, under pressure of the Czech Council and Chernoff’s Committee, released the prisoners, and began to hunt the famous young General Gaida out of their hitherto equally famous army. To save himself from disgrace at the hands of his political enemies, the general resigned his commission in the Czech Army, and by joining the Russian Army was instantly re-established in his position as Commander of the Russian armies on the right. Thus fell the glorious Czech legions from their high pinnacle of fame, killed as all armies must be the moment they join in party strife.

From the point of view of purely Russian tactics, it was necessary to strike south from Ufa, with the object of effecting a junction with the Orenburg Cossacks under General Dutoff, and if possible linking up with the forces of General Denikin in South Russia. But no exact or reliable information could be secured as to the strength and equipment of Dutoff or Denikin.

On the other hand, it was known that an Anglo-American force had landed at Archangel, which it was presumed would be well supplied with winter equipment, and if once a junction could be effected with this force, a channel for European supplies could soon be opened. Every cartridge, gun, rifle, and article of clothing had now to be shipped almost round the world, and brought over about six thousand miles of more or less disorganised railway communication. Koltchak had men, but no means for making them into fighters unless supplied from outside. It was felt certain that if his armies could smash their way through to Perm, and hold a point somewhere between there and Vatka, the junction of the Archangel and Petrograd Railway, the slightest movement of the Archangel expedition would result in a combination which could and would move straight forward to Petrograd, and free north Russia from the Terrorists.

Originally I was to have operated in the centre with a detachment of the 25th Middlesex Battalion and four machine guns, and authority had been given for my part in the advance. The complete defection of the Czechs, however, threw the time-table out of joint, and not even the restless energy of the Supreme Governor could make up this loss for nearly four weeks. In the meantime the cold became so intense that the British contingent, being only B1 men, had to drop out. General Gaida, with his divisional generals, Galitzin, Pepelaieff, and Verzbitzky, pressed forward their preparations, and after a splendid series of movements captured Perm with 31,000 prisoners and an enormous booty of war material. The losses of the Russians were about 6,000 killed, of the Bolsheviks about 16,000. There were practically no wounded, for any man who sank in the snow was dead in an hour. Thus did the admiral consolidate the power that had been entrusted to him.

The Terrorists were completely demoralised, so that the army advanced to Glasoff, 80 miles east of Vatka and 60 miles south of Koltass. We were now only about 300 miles east of Petrograd, and there we waited for seven months for the Archangel move, which never came off. For some time the country was so absolutely clear of enemy forces that small parties of men passed unmolested from Glasoff to Archangel and from Archangel to Glasoff. Eventually the Terrorists got the correct measure of this Northern expedition, contained it with a slight screen, and concentrated huge forces to press us back over the Urals once more.



The tenure of a dictator’s office is very uncertain. He issues his orders, but if the army chiefs can escape from executing them they do so, on one pretext or another. The Russian character is most peculiar in this respect. It will obey one thing only–force. Patriotism and public spirit, as we know them, do not exist to any great extent. Every man looks at every order from the personal point of view–“How will this affect me?”–rarely, if ever, “How will it affect the country?”

It is remarkable how much Koltchak had already accomplished, but it seemed that his career might end at any moment, in spite of every precaution of his friends. Of these he had not many; no real dictator should expect to have any. No man will have many friends in Russia who puts personal questions second to the public welfare.

The preparations for the Perm offensive were well under way, when a dispatch came from General Dutoff, stating, “That in view of the pressure by our forces on their left the Bolshevik leaders had decided to, what they called, ‘organise their enemies’ rear.’ That seventy of their best propagandist and most capable agents and officers had passed between his columns and were now distributed somewhere in our midst.” All we could do was to wait, and see where this treacherous movement would show itself first.

The fact that Koltchak had declared for the calling of a National Assembly, elected by universal suffrage, to decide the future government of Russia, so soon as order was restored, had shattered completely the vision of the old army officers of a quick return to absolutism. His declaration against extremists on either side had driven Bolshevik and Tsarist into practically one camp. He was well known as a student of English customs and institutions and a pre-revolution advocate of constitutionalism. The Tsarist section hoped that his assumption of supreme authority was proof that he had discarded his democratic principles, but gradually his official declarations to the representative of the British Government leaked out and spread consternation in the ranks of both sections of the Absolutists. The Bolshevik leaders have never made any bones about their fear and dread of democracy as understood in England, and have declared they would prefer a return to the old regime rather than have a Constitution like that of England or America forced upon them. Hence there is no real difference of principle between the Bolshevik and the supporters of the old regime, only a difference as to who should wield the power. For the moment they let this minor point slip into the background, and combined for the destruction of the man who was the enemy of both.

About midnight, December 23, Russian Headquarters gave me the alarm. Shots were being fired in all directions, and a spent bullet struck my carriage while I was getting into my clothes. Horsemen in little groups were surrounding the Staffka without much sign of order. Having inspected my battalion at their emergency quarters, I called for a personal guard to escort me to Headquarters. I regret there was no impressionist artist with us to record the weird procession my guard made. When sheepskin coats were provided for my men for use in a cold, snowbound country, it is a real English touch that they should have been black in colour, making my men a perfect target both night and day. Their fur caps were a dark brown of the well-known Nansen type, the half-moon peak making the head of the wearer a good mark at midnight up to 300 yards. The cap is pointed, and has much the appearance at night of a small mitre. What with huge fur boots, black pointed caps, and long black coats, there was nothing to indicate the British Tommy in the line of black monks that moved silently forward over the frozen snow. The temperature was such that as the slight wind brought the water to one’s eyes the drops froze to hard white spots of ice at the corners. Breath from the nostrils froze before it could leave the nose, and from each nostril hung icicles, in some cases 2 inches long, which again froze to the moustache. The eyebrows and eyelashes and the protruding fur edge which enclosed the faces of the men carried a wonderful display of hoar frost, and gave the appearance of white lace frills, such as are seen on “granny’s” caps.

As we entered the Russian Headquarters, which were crowded with more or less excited officers and men, my guard lined up on each side of the vestibule, and without a word proceeded to unsling rifles and fix bayonets. The Russians, who were even now debating on which side they were going to slide down, looked at my soldier monks, and at once themselves fell into line. There was no longer any hesitation. “Anglisky soldats” were in possession of Russian Headquarters, and the reputation of English soldiers in emergencies like this is known all over the world. I interviewed the Chief-of-Staff, General Lebediff, as to his orders for suppressing the revolters and went downstairs to find the vestibule empty except for my “monks.” No one who was not there could believe the absolute transformation that the mere presence of a few English soldiers had on this critical situation. In revolutions every rule and safeguard of society is uprooted; the people feel as in an earthquake, nothing is secure, everyone doubts his neighbour. If those who are prepared to support authority can only discover at the right moment one little group round whom they can rally, and who they know will think nothing of death in performance of duty, the danger is over at once. Hesitancy disappears, and the normal is instantly produced. We filed out to find the infantry in their ranks, and the horsemen mounted in line, under their officers, awaiting orders.

I proceeded through the town to the residence of the Supreme Governor. On our way we passed parties of soldiers and Cossacks hurrying to their posts, who eyed us suspiciously, but on seeing me at the head in the uniform of a British officer, ejaculated loudly to their command the magic word “Anglisky,” until like a talisman the word passed from sentry to sentry and street to street, and “Anglisky” became the password which held the whole town for law and order. We passed towards the admiral’s house without challenge until the Cossack and Serbian guard at the actual entrance called us to halt pending the governor’s orders. The order soon came for us to enter. The admiral was ill, very ill with inflammation of the lungs, but as brave as ever. My “monks” lined up in the vestibule in the same manner as at Headquarters, and even the personal Serbian guard had to make way for these queer-looking visitors. I got the information required. The revolt was very serious, but I was able to inform the admiral that effective measures had now been taken to provide for all eventualities. I begged leave to depart, which was granted, but not before my men had been given food and a taste of Russian vodka, which appears to be the only effective antidote to the cold of a real Siberian winter. I returned, to find that the fact that the English soldiers were out was known in every house in Omsk, and numerous requests from the highest to the lowest for protection had been received on the telephone. I give no names, but the fact shows what a remarkable influence the presence of a few British soldiers had in steadying the situation.

My orders were to take no part in the internal affairs of Russia, but it is the duty of every commanding officer to take all possible means to protect his command. If I had remained in my quarters and made no sign until these Royalist and Bolshevik enemies had obtained possession of the town, I should have presented a dainty morsel which they could have masticated at leisure. I had to show my hand early enough to make sure it did not go against me. It turned out that I marched from my barracks just when news had been brought of the mutiny, under Royalist and Bolshevik leadership, of two companies of the 8th Regiment of the new Russian army. A body of Bolsheviks at Koulomsino, on the other side of the river, had taken up arms and were bent on the destruction of the bridge over the Irtish, which formed the means of communication with the armoured trains of H.M.S. _Suffolk_, and our naval detachments at Ufa. The Czechs (our Allies), who had the same orders as myself, on learning that the Tsarists were also in the conspiracy, frustrated this scheme by instantly moving forward a company for the protection of the bridge, which arrived just in the nick of time. Had we acted strictly to orders, Heaven only knows what the result would have been. British and Czech both had to act on our own judgment, and while, technically, we disobeyed orders, we fulfilled the policy of each country and protected our commands.

It cost nearly a thousand lives to restore order, but the lawless elements, top and bottom, were taught a lesson they are not likely to forget. This happened in the middle of the Perm offensive. It did nothing to assist the Bolshevik cause, but it did much to embitter the struggle.



The foregoing incidents gave place to more personal matters. About