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December 28 the Staff of the Canadian contingent under Lieutenant- Colonel Morrisy arrived, and, as one might expect, revolutionary plans in connection with the distribution of my battalion, and other matters, were instantly proposed. Some of them were actually carried out, with the result that a strained feeling became manifest in the British camp at Omsk, which caused me to propose to Brigadier-General Elmsley that my headquarters should be transferred to Vladivostok. Luckily the arrival of the 1/9th Hampshire Territorial Battalion on January 5, 1919, under the Command of Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson, led to an improved condition of things all round us. This officer gripped the situation at once, and took such steps, in conjunction with the High Commissioner, Sir Charles Eliot, that I was prevailed upon to withdraw my request for the removal of my headquarters. Colonel Johnson was a great accession of strength to those who held the purely English point of view, and his battalion, recruited as it was from my home county, helped to make all our relations wonderfully cordial. General Elmsley replied later refusing my request, so that everything fitted in just right.

On January 8 a parade was called to present General Stephanik with the Legion of Honour and Major-General Knox, the Chief of the British Military Mission, and myself with the Croix de Guerre. It was a real Siberian day, “62 below,” and in five minutes ten men had frost-bitten ears. General Ganin, the French Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces, made the presentations on behalf of the French Republic, uttering a few words to each recipient. I received the hearty congratulations of all our friends, which kept me warm the whole day. I thanked Colonel Pichon, who took over from me the command of the Ussurie front, and with whom I acted for some time, for this great honour. I felt sure that my decoration was the result of his reports upon myself while acting together under very awkward circumstances.

Towards the middle of January the British High Commissioner conveyed to Admiral Koltchak an extremely sympathetic message from the British Government. The French High Commissioner followed next day with a similar message from the French Government, except that it distinctly referred to the possibility of help and recognition. The Allied representatives felt more happy and secure as a result of these felicitations than they had done for some time, and the Russian authorities began to feel it possible to press on with the work of “resurrection.” A new page in the history of a great recovery had been added to Russian records. Exactly four days later a wireless message came through from Paris to say that the Allied Council had declared that it could give no help or recognise either side; that the different parties and Governments existing in Russia must bring about an armistice, and send representatives to the Turkish “Isle of Dogs,” near Constantinople, and arrange a compromise with each other. In other words, that the Bolsheviks were to be recognised as legitimate belligerents, with whom it was quite possible to shake hands and sit down to draw up an agreement as to the proper method of conducting a policy of rapine, robbery, and murder. Needless to say, every Britisher was disgusted, and every genuine Russian patriot simply amazed. At one swoop down went all our hopes! We were crushed as much or more than the Russians, because we had the honour of our countries to defend, and defence seemed impossible.

A sudden reaction against the European Allies set in at once, and became so violent that a Russian gentleman made an abusive speech to the Allied officers as they sipped tea in a well-known restaurant, and the public refused to allow the guard which was called to arrest him to carry out the order. This feeling was undoubtedly exploited by the Japanese for their own purposes.

A very tense condition of affairs existed, when on January 31 I asked for a special interview with Admiral Koltchak that I might introduce my colleague and comrade, Colonel Johnson, and talk over the situation. The admiral was out walking by the river, quite unattended, but in full view of the guard at his residence near the river bank. It was his first walk since his illness, and he looked quite recovered. The talk naturally veered round to the Allied declaration in favour of the Bolsheviks and the situation it had created in Omsk. The admiral’s attitude was quite simple. “We can talk and make compact with every party and Government in the different districts of Russia, but to compromise with Bolshevism, or shake the hand, or sit down and treat as equals the men who are outraging and murdering the Russian people–never! No decent Allied Government acquainted with the facts would ever expect it.”

I asked him to consider the question as in no way decided by the Paris message, that I felt sure there must be some points connected with the decision that required further elucidation. “Yes!” said the admiral. “There must be some facts with which we are not acquainted, for while the British Government advise an arrangement with the Bolsheviks they continue to furnish me with generous supplies for the Russian Army.” I left quite satisfied that he still retained his faith in the friendship of England.

There was one queer point which needs to be placed on record. Admiral Koltchak observed that the Japanese were still causing him much trouble. They had been unable to approach him personally but had been “getting at” his officers, whose business caused them to make frequent visits to the Ural front. They made statements to the effect that the only state which was in a position to help Russia was Japan. The other armies were war-weary and clamouring for demobilisation and therefore unwilling to fight the Bolsheviks. If Admiral Koltchak was compelled to make a reasonable arrangement with Japan, their army would guarantee to liquidate the Bolshevik forces in two months and establish a monarchy satisfactory to the Russian officers. This propaganda had reached the front, and had been referred to as assuming very serious importance by his front-line generals in their dispatches. To counteract this pernicious influence, he was proposing to visit the front himself to point out the impossibility of Japan, as one of the Entente Allies, being able herself to execute such a programme. I asked him how this propaganda began and who engineered it. He answered: “General Muto and a staff of twenty-six officers and intelligence assistants are working hard here in Omsk to influence Russian opinion in their direction.” Finally the Supreme Governor said, “I make no complaint against these very excellent Japanese officers, they are only carrying out the orders of their political and military chiefs, but it makes my work of restoring order much more difficult.”

There were other little rifts within the lute. The Russian officers are Royalist almost to a man, and will remain so, for they are all most childlike in their adherence to this principle. Some gossip informs one of them that Prince Kuropotkin is still alive and has been seen on the Russian frontier. “Oh!” he exclaims. “Then the admiral will be handing over his power to Kuropotkin directly he hears the prince is alive!” Next day he may be told that the prince is not a soldier and his enthusiasm at once oozes out of his finger tips. The next day some British supplies arrive, and then he is all for reliance upon the Allies. A few days later, the Government not having been recognised by the Powers according to his wish, he curses the Powers and becomes morose. The day following he hears in a restaurant that Demitri-Pavlovitch is hiding as a peasant in Siberia, and he is immediately in about the same ecstatic condition as the shepherds who beheld the Star over Bethlehem. Every possible–or impossible–person under the sun becomes to him a potential saviour of his country; never does he think how he and his comrades themselves might save her. The Russian officer, indeed, is “just a great, big, brave, lovable baby, and nothing else.” “Gulliver’s Travels” ought to have an immense circulation should it ever be translated into the Russian language. The “Arabian Nights” appears as an unimaginative narrative of humdrum events compared with the stories in current circulation in Omsk and Siberia generally.

The two following extracts from my diary record incidents which occurred at this time.

“February 1, 1919. Last night three Bolshevik conspirators entered the officers’ quarters of the 1st and 2nd Siberian Regiment disguised as Russian soldiers. The first intimation outside that anything was wrong was rapid revolver shots inside. The sentry captured one of the imitation soldiers as he tried to escape from the building. In less than two minutes the conspirators had shot five officers, two of whom were mortally wounded in the stomach. One conspirator was shot dead, one was captured, one got away. The knout was applied to the prisoner, and at the hundredth stroke he gave the whole conspiracy away. Over fifty arrests followed his confession, with the result that all is again quiet in Omsk.”

“February 3, 1919. Lieutenant Munro has just arrived at Omsk from Vladivostok with comforts from the ladies at Shanghai, Hong-Kong and Singapore. Words fail to describe the feelings of both officers and men as they received these tokens of love and remembrance from their own countrywomen in this cold inhospitable climate. It is a beautiful feeling, and though the actual work performed is the effort of a few, the whole sex receives a crude sort of deification from these womanly acts. The way one of the commonest Tommies looked at a small wash-flannel that had evidently been hemmed by hands unused to work of any description, and asked me if I would give the lady his thanks, would have gone to the heart of the fair but unknown worker could she have witnessed it.

“I heard news of general insubordination among the Canadian troops that had just arrived at Vladivostok. If all the information received could be relied upon, the sooner they were shipped back to Canada the better. There is enough anarchy here now without the British Government dumping more upon us. I can see that it is a great mistake to mix Canadians and British troops in one Brigade. Naturally, British soldiers carry out orders; if other troops do not, then the British troops have to do all the work. The situation produced is that the highest paid soldier does no work and the lowest paid all the work. It soon percolates to the slowest Sussex brain that discipline does not pay. Nothing but the wonderful sense of order in the make-up of the average Englishman has prevented us from becoming an Anglo-Canadian rabble, dangerous to Bolshevik and Russian alike. I am told that Brigadier Pickford had done his best to maintain order and discipline in his ranks; that he had been compelled to make very awkward promises to his troops which having been made had to be fulfilled. In all the circumstances it was generally agreed that the proper thing to have done was to send the Canadians home to their farms, and leave the few Britishers who were there to carry on. We had established excellent relations with the Russians which it would have been a thousand pities to spoil.”

CHAPTER XV

MORE INTRIGUES

While the loyal Russian officers were being murdered in their beds, other events not less important were happening. When Admiral Koltchak assumed supreme authority the Directorate was surrounded by a party of Royalist officers as turbulent and lawless as Trotsky himself. Private code messages passed between these officers as freely as if they already had the power in their own hands. The first intimation that Koltchak had of these conspiracies was a code message from General Evanoff Renoff to General Beloff, General Bolderoff’s Chief of Staff, which unfolded many of the aspirations of these men, and showed their objects to be exclusively personal. I read these messages with great interest, as they gave me an excellent insight into the mainsprings of the revolution and incidentally into the character of the average Russian officer. General Antonovsky, of the old Russian Military Academy, who also assisted in the drafting of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the Germans, was a participant in the scheme, and was within an ace of becoming the admiral’s Chief of Staff. Everything was working splendidly, when the cipher message from Renoff opened the ball. Beloff was sent to the east, and Antonovsky to the south, and the Absolutists became broken up.

On February 1 my liaison officer informed me that as he waited in the corridor of headquarters, General Beloff came out of General Lebediff’s room. A little later General Antonovsky came out of another room, and then these two were suddenly joined by a certain Cossack general of a very truculent type. I knew that this boded badly for order, and I warned Koltchak’s young aide-de-camp. Shortly after it was reported to me that an attempt had been made to exchange a sham guard for the real one at the Supreme Governor’s residence. That night I held our direct wire from Colonel Johnson to my ear till 12.30 A.M., and found that it was tapped by Russian Headquarters. General Knox had got to know things, and took certain action, with the result that I sent my officer to Russian Headquarters with instructions to inform General Lebediff we were anxious for the Supreme Governor’s safety; that if any harm was contemplated against him we should hold him responsible unless he made us acquainted with the danger in time to avert it; further, that if the Absolutist officers thought they could murder Admiral Koltchak and proclaim an absolute Monarchy without the sanction of the people of Russia they were mistaken; that whoever, whether high or low, attempted to destroy the present Government and throw Russia back into violence and anarchy would be treated as enemies by the British soldiers. General Lebediff answered that he knew of no special danger threatening Admiral Koltchak at the moment, but he thanked Colonel Ward for his offer to help protect the Government in case of necessity.

The conspirators broke up at once, but the cunningest of the lot remained to weave again by social strategy the continuous web of Russian disorder. We knew that there were elements at work for a counter-revolution quite uncontrolled by, but acting with, the cognisance of officials of the Koltchak Administration. In revolutions sudden outbursts on the part of even a small party may soon jeopardise the whole organisation of State. Colonel Johnson and myself agreed that it was necessary to concentrate our forces, and in approaching the Russian authorities on this subject, we added further to the demoralisation of those who were in the conspiracy. We protested that it was our own safety that we had in view, but the conspirators did not believe us. I knew that the admiral’s train had been for some days standing ready to take him to the front. On February 3 Omsk was informed that the important Japanese Mission (previously referred to) had started from Irkutsk on the last stage of its journey to the Supreme Governor. The governor’s aide-de-camp informed me at the same time that the admiral was starting for the front at 5 P.M. on February 7.

General Knox was anxious that there should be no evidence of weakening in our support of the Omsk Government, as in case of disorder our position was by no means secure. After consultation it was decided to offer the admiral a personal guard for his journey, to consist of fifty men and one officer from the Hampshire Regiment. This was accepted and referred to the Chief of Staff for confirmation. It was then reported to General Ganin and the French Staff. They at once protested that to have a purely English guard would lower French prestige in the eyes of the Russians. They quite agreed that there ought to be a guard, but it must be half English and half French, and to this we at once agreed. We therefore reduced our number to twenty-five. Then, however, the French Staff pointed out that they had no troops in Omsk, and they could not leave the Staff without a cook. The greatest number of orderlies they could spare was nine, so it was suggested that the guard should consist of forty-one English and nine French soldiers. This took the negotiators’ breath away entirely; the first proposal was destructive of French prestige, the second was enough to destroy France altogether! Really France is much too beautiful and gallant a country to have this sort of stuff put forward on her behalf, but there it was. So the admiral’s guard consisted of nine soldiers with one officer of each nationality–twenty all told.

One point we did get home on. At the time appointed for the admiral’s departure, an English guard of honour miraculously appeared on the scene, together with Russian and Czech guards. There _could_ be no French–yet French prestige continued to stand just as high as ever it did. I give these facts in the most friendly spirit, but with a hope that English officers will always understand that, however much we smile at the peculiar gyrations of the word “prestige” as understood by our Continental neighbours, it is very real to them, and strange exhibitions of it are seen on occasions.

The Supreme Governor had arrived and shaken hands with the Russian, English and Czech representatives, including Sir Charles Eliot, the British High Commissioner, and General Bowes, the Chief of the British Military Mission to the Czecho-Slovaks. The French representative was late. When the ceremonial was nearly complete, a French officer (not above the rank of captain) elbowed his way to the front and vigorously brushed aside the British High Commissioner and general, and stood with his back towards them as though they were mere outside spectators who had no business there. The same evening the incident was being discussed amongst a group of Russian and English officers, when a Russian officer of the highest position observed, “You English have the queerest notion of national prestige of all the countries I have been so far acquainted with. Any ordinary Russian, Kirghis, Tartar, or Mongolian officer seeing a French captain brush aside the representatives and generals of another state would instantly decide that he only did so not because of want of politeness, which one-half the world does not understand, but because the nation to which he belongs was so great and powerful there was no need to be deferential to any of the others, and especially so to the state whose representatives allowed themselves to be so easily brushed aside.”

We had many conferences upon the condition of the Russian workman, and whether it was possible for the Allies to do anything to help them. British officers were making desperate efforts to organise and equip forces capable of dealing a death-blow to the Bolsheviks in the early spring. General Knox worked like a Trojan, and gave more inspiration to the Russian Government than all the other Allied representatives put together. In fact, without his sagacity and determination we should have been better employed at home. He travelled from “Vlady” to Omsk, from Omsk to “Vlady,” as though the 5,000-mile journey was just a run from London to Birmingham. His great strength was that he made up his mind on a certain course, and stuck to it, while everyone around him could never decide upon anything for long. If you want anything done, don’t have Allies. Allies are all right when a powerful enemy is striking you or them; it is then quite simple; mere self-preservation is sufficient to hold you together for common protection. Let the danger pass, let the roar of conflict recede in the distance, and Allies become impotent for any purpose except spying on each other and obstructing the work in hand. There was no evidence that anyone, except the English, was doing anything to smooth the way for the new Russian Government, but by sheer energy General Knox had brought together personnel and stores sufficient to justify belief in the early success of his plans. Then there suddenly arose another sinister figure which threatened to upset all our calculations–namely, a well-timed revolt of the railway workmen, calculated to cripple our communications and make the movement of troops and supplies impossible.

CHAPTER XVI

RUSSIAN LABOUR

General Dutoff, as I have previously recorded, had informed us that Bolshevist agitators had passed through our lines on this treacherous mission, and for months nothing had been heard of these emissaries of mischief. Now that we were approaching the critical point of the 1919 operations rumblings of an unmistakable character were heard in all directions. The necessary military measures had been taken, but in our English eyes suppression was not enough. We have learnt in our country that the workmen are the backbone of the State, and that when labour is badly paid the heart of the State is diseased. Russia has no ideas about labour at all. The autocracy never gave it a moment’s consideration. The last Tsar’s idea of labour reform was to abolish good vodka, and he lost his life. The officer class, that forms so large a proportion of Russian life, never gave the subject five minutes’ consideration. There is not a single general labour law upon the statute book of Russia, and the horror of it is that those who have hitherto pretended to lead the Russian workman refuse to demand laws to protect their labour. They believe that “law” is the last thing that a workman robbed of the most elemental rights should think about; that the only way for a workman to obtain rights is to abolish all “law.” And this they have done with a vengeance! The professional Russian labour leader is an anarchist and nothing else, and in Bolshevism he has given a glimpse of his policy in practice.

This, then, was the problem with which we had to deal, and with only a few weeks at our disposal. To the Russian workman it was a social question; to us it was both social and military. Finally, General Knox asked me to undertake a pacific propaganda along the railway to see if it were possible to persuade the workmen to keep at work and give the best service possible to their country to secure the restoration of order. I came to the conclusion that if anything could be done to give a more staple and practical outlook to the Russian labour mind it was well worth trying to accomplish it.

At the outset I was faced with the difficulty of not being in a position to offer anything definite to the workmen in return for their willingness to assist the combatant branch of the Russian service in its new crusade against anarchy. With nothing to offer it seemed hopeless to ask for so much. The only man who could pledge the Government was the Supreme Governor himself, so I wrote to him as follows:

[Copy.]

OMSK, SIBERIA.

_4th February_, 1919.

To His High Excellency, Admiral Koltchak, Supreme Governor.

Sir,–I have been requested by Major-General Knox, Chief of the British Military Mission, Siberia, to undertake a tour of the railway works along the Siberian Railway to address the workmen, and appeal to them as a British Labour representative to give their best service to the Russian State during the present and coming military operations, and to join no strike movement, or do anything to hamper the transport of men and supplies until the military operations against the enemy are completed.

I have pointed out to General Knox that, while I am quite willing to undertake this mission to the railway workmen, I fear it will be quite useless unless I can promise, on behalf of the Russian Government, some improvement in their condition.

1. For instance, I am informed that some of the railway and other Government workmen have not received any wages upon which to keep themselves and their families, for in some cases many weeks, and in other cases months. If this is true, it is impossible to expect workmen to be satisfied, and the wonder would be that they agree to work as well as they do.

It would be necessary for me to be able to promise that such things would be rectified, and wages paid regularly in future.

2. There are many things absent in Russia which industrial communities like England find necessary elements for industrial peace. I admit that very little constructional reform work can be executed during the present disturbed condition of the country, but it would help immensely if I could tell the workmen that I had the authority of the Russian Government that directly order had been restored, laws for the protection and help of the Russian workmen and their organisations, on the lines of those already working so effectively in England, would be adopted by the Russian Government.

If I could get something definite from Your High Excellency upon these points, I believe it would do much to help in the work for the pacification of the labouring classes of Russia, and greatly strengthen Your Excellency’s hold upon the hearts of the Russian people.

(Signed) JOHN WARD.

(_Lt.-Colonel, M.P., C.M.G., Commanding 25th Bn. Middlesex Regiment_.)

[COPY.]

OMSK.

_February 5th_, 1919.

SIR,–In reply to your letter of February 4th, I wish to inform you that I have learned with the greatest satisfaction that you are willing to undertake the important mission of addressing the workmen of our railways and calling them to give their best service to the cause of Russia in this crucial moment of our national existence.

The two questions which you have raised in your letter should not be left without a prompt answer, and I therefore would like to bring to your knowledge the following:–

1. The imperative necessity of orderly and regular payment of wages to the workmen has been the object of my personal anxiety, and pressing measures in that direction have been urged by the Government. The railways being considered by us just as important as the army, you will understand that everything in its power will be done by our Government to help the threatening situation in that respect.

2. As for the second question which you have mentioned in your letter, I venture to assure you that the Government has already stated in its official programme that the workmen will find protection and help in the laws which shall be enforced and have to secure their organisation on lines similar to those of democratic states in Europe. The Government has actually a special Department of Labour which is preparing the future legislation on this question, following the general course of constructive reform work which I hope to be able to pursue with all the energy and vigour that the military situation will permit.

I take this opportunity to renew the expression of my profound appreciation of the interest you take in our situation and of the valuable assistance you so generously offer in this most important matter of pacification of the labouring classes in Russia.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) A. KOLTCHAK.

Lt.-Colonel JOHN WARD, M.P., C.M.G.,
_Commanding 25th Bn. Middlesex Regiment_.

This is believed to be the first correspondence ever conducted by the head of any Russian Government upon a purely labour subject. It shows that in supporting Admiral Koltchak we had at least this fact to recommend our policy: that he was a democrat, and anxious that his country should be in labour matters amongst the first flight of nations.

The question now to be solved was: What attitude would the anarchist adopt to this new evangelism?

I was ready to start on my journey when there began such a blizzard as is occasionally described in the literature of Polar exploration. For forty-eight hours from the south came a furious gale. It was not too cold, only about twenty degrees of actual frost, but with the wind came blinding snow–not snow such as we see in England, but fine snow, like white dust. It beat on your face, found its way between the flaps of your head-covers, where it thawed and ran down your neck and chest and saturated your underwear. It smashed straight on to your eyeballs, and froze in cakes to your eyelashes and cheeks, so that in five or ten minutes you were blind and unable to find your way or move in any direction. All sentries had to be withdrawn and sent to the nearest shelter, for it was impossible to locate oneself or see a building till you blundered up against it. A note in my diary records that “a guard of eighteen Russians and one officer walked away from their post and have not been seen since, and six days have passed.” Roofs were torn off the houses, and the strongest buildings rocked in a most alarming manner. The snow piled itself up against the houses till it covered the windows on the ground floors and half-way up those of the second. This southern gale took twenty-four hours in which to blow itself out, and a four days’ calm followed, during which the snow was cleared from the railway and traffic resumed. The next startler was a message from Irkutsk stating that a terrific gale was breaking down from the north–a recoil from the one just described–accompanied with sixty degrees of actual frost, making it impossible to live out of doors. This storm struck Omsk on February 20, and no words can describe the complete obliteration of man and all his works accomplished by such a gale. Nothing can live in the intense cold created by such a wind. Hence movement and life cease, and King Frost has the whole field to himself. In a few hours the earth is levelled; all the indications remaining of the ordinary log dwellings are a few snow-banks with a row of dark posts from which smoke is emitted, showing that there are human habitations underneath. By February 22 this storm had worked itself out and we were able to proceed.

The influence of the Koltchak Government could be seen in the orderly management of affairs connected with the railway and supplies generally. Not till we reached Kameragh could we observe any sign that there still remained unextinguished embers of the social inferno through which the country had passed. At this point the line was guarded by a strong detachment of troops quartered in trucks on the siding. The officer in command informed me that an attack by revolters had been made on the line at this point, who had held up the traffic for some hours, but had been driven off before any permanent injury was accomplished. The revolters did not wait after the attack, but set fire to the station and departed. He suggested that it might be as well to be ready for sniping, and for worse things, should accident force the train to come to a standstill between here and Krasnoyarsk. We arrived at the latter place, however, without incident on February 25.

Krasnoyarsk is a fairly large town on the River Yenesei. The fine bridge over the river is the point to which the eyes of the revolters are constantly directed. The garrison was composed of one company of the 25th Middlesex Regiment, an Italian battalion recently formed from amongst the Italian prisoners of war and armed by the British, about four hundred Cossacks, and a company of Czechs belonging to the 10th Regiment, who arrived that morning. There were numbers of Bolsheviks inhabiting an elevated part of the town. These met on the old Russian New Year’s Day and passed a resolution that it was necessary to execute all army officers wherever they might be found isolated from their comrades. The army chiefs replied by ordering all guns to be trained on the Bolshevik part of the town and one round of shell from each of the eight guns to be planted in the Bolshevik quarters for every officer murdered. No officers had been murdered up to that time. A party of Serbians who had been armed to assist in protecting the inhabitants were caught selling arms and ammunition to the Bolsheviks; they were surrounded in the middle of the night and disarmed, one Cossack being killed. The 25th were “standing to” during this operation in case their assistance was required.

We started for Irkutsk on the 25th, having been warned that the road to Kansk was practically dominated by the revolters. About 8 P.M. we arrived at the headquarters of General Affinasiaff, who came into my car and gave a minute description of the situation. The enemy forces numbered about 8,000, and those of the Russian Government about 3,000. For about one hundred versts the Russian forces, in small detachments, were allowing themselves to be pinned to the railway.

It was very interesting to hear a clear statement as to the cause of the revolt and to find that the chief point of the grievances set forth in the revolters’ own proclamations. In great part these opponents of the Government consist of rich peasants, who already possessing land which in many cases was equal in extent to the County of Rutland, had in 1917, under the order of Lenin and Trotsky, taken forcible possession of the furniture, horses, farmhouses, carts, carriages, land, etc., of the big landholders, who with their families had been massacred by these same rich peasants.

The next important element among the revolters were the escaped prisoners of the old regime, who, being released by the Bolsheviks, had taken to the forest to avoid recapture–probably the wildest and most savage set of men in the world. They were illicitly fed and protected by the aforementioned wealthy peasants with a view, firstly, to buy off their hostility to themselves, and, secondly, to secure their help to resist the civil officers of the new Government who were appointed to inquire into the methods by which these wealthy peasants became possessed of their dead neighbours’ lands and properties; thirdly, to enable these wealthy peasants to resist the payment of taxes, not only those that were in arrears, but any that would become due in the future. This was the point dealt with in their proclamation, wherein it was stated that inasmuch as it was the people who lived in the towns that forced the revolution, therefore it was unjust to ask the peasants to pay for the damage done by those in the towns; further, that it was the people in the towns who kept on fighting one another, and until they had finished their quarrelling the peasants would not pay any taxes or do anything to help the Government; fourthly, this unholy partnership enabled the wealthy peasants to resist the mobilisation ordered by the Koltchak Government for the same reasons.

As I have already pointed out, every minor Government and general, including General Denikin, made haste to show their submission to Omsk when Admiral Koltchak assumed authority, the only exception being Colonel Semianoff. He, it was known, was accepting a regular subsidy from the Japanese to enable them to resist the extension of the admiral’s power towards Vladivostok, and it was under their instructions and protection Semianoff refused to recognise the authority of the Omsk Government and issued insolent manifestos against the Supreme Governor. The peasants inhabiting the western side of the Baikal seized upon this fact and said in their proclamations that inasmuch as Colonel Semianoff had refused to allow Koltchak’s orders to operate on the east side, and was supported therein by one of the Allies, there was every reason why they should do the same on the west side of the lake. It shows what a tremendous influence Japan had either to create order or to make order impossible. She and Semianoff between them provided these revolters with just the argument they needed. By so acting Japan created and extended the area of anarchy and made the task of her Allies and Koltchak more difficult than it might otherwise have been.

This may not be a very logical position for the peasants to have taken up, but anyone who knows anything about Russia will see that it fitted their psychology to a fraction. These people are more ignorant than our worst educated agricultural labourers. They own and live on huge tracts of land, in most cases as large as a great English estate. Their method of living is many stages below that of our landless farm labourer. Their ignorance is colossal, their cupidity and cunning the envy of the Armenians, who openly confess that in a bargain the Russian peasant beats the Jew to a frazzle. The order of the Soviet Government to the peasants to take possession of the landowners’ estates and property was the trump card which Lenin and Trotsky played to secure immunity in the provinces while they massacred and robbed the property owners in the towns. These men, who are the natural enemies of all political progress and social reform, and who should have exercised a steadying effect upon the empty idealism of the professional classes, were too busy robbing their neighbours to be able to exert any influence upon the major events of the revolution. While perfectly willing to use the revolution–whose principles they abhorred–for their own personal aggrandisement, this wealthy peasantry are now equally unwilling to render the slightest help in the restoration of order.

It was with profound interest that I read these documents, which entirely exploded the English legend of the landless Russian peasant pining for a few acres of land.

We arrived at Irkutsk and proceeded to investigate the situation. When we passed here four months before it was the centre of Siberian life; official indolence had, however, again reduced its status to that of a third- or fourth-rate town.

I was anxious to know how the new Rumanian Division under French auspices was progressing. Fourteen thousand rifles that could be ill afforded from the front had been left here some six weeks previous by one of our British supply trains. I found that the local Russian military authorities knew nothing, nor had they ever been consulted about it. They knew that not more than three thousand Rumanians lived in the district, and these had mostly embraced the opinions of the Bolsheviks. I made inquiries through the usual English channels, but they were equally uninformed. A visit to the Russian railway department elicited the fact that a French officer had signed the necessary orders for the trucks containing the rifles to remain at Irkutsk, that three thousand rifles had so far been unloaded, and that there was a French proposal to send the remainder to Tomsk, where it was hoped they might be got rid of amongst some Serbian bands with Bolshevik tendencies. This may or may not represent all the facts, but it indicates the unmistakable necessity that English help shall be given only by English hands.

Russian officers were beginning to recover their old characteristics, and nightly filled the entertainment halls and restaurants and led the gaieties of the town. Very little thought was given to the grim struggle their half-clad comrades were waging with the forces of anarchy along the Ural mountains.

British Consul Nash kindly entertained Colonel and Madame Frank and myself, and generally helped me in the organisation of this end of my campaign. He did not think much of my objective, but he helped all the same.

CHAPTER XVII

MY CAMPAIGN

I held my first meeting in the repairing shop at Irkutsk at 3 P.M., March 4. It was a big crowd of working men and women. The Russian women work on the railways in such employments as carriage and wagon cleaners, snow and ice shovellers, and even repairing gangs on different sections of the line have a sprinkling of the fair sex.

This audience listened to an explanation of the rise of the trade union movement in England with the greatest attention. The large majority accepted the proposition I tried to expound, that no question could be settled by the disputants merely killing each other off; but there were present about half a dozen members of the International World Workers, slouch-hatted, unshaven, and exactly true to type as seen at meetings in East London, Liverpool or Glasgow. These were not workmen employed on the railway; one kept a barber’s shop, one was a teacher, one a Russian doctor, and one a Russian solicitor; but they were the officials of the only form of union that exists in Russian Siberia, a revolutionary circle composed of the very worst elements in the towns, bound together by one common purpose, the spoliation and assassination of every decent man, whether bourgeois or workman, who refuses to support a policy of anarchy. These five or six determined ruffians formed a kind of Blood Brotherhood, and behind a veil of anonymity issued mandates to, and in the name of, the Russian workmen, which, backed up by a system of murderous terrorism, the workmen were powerless to resist. It was quite a usual thing to find each morning dead men of all classes in the streets who had been murdered during the night by members of these circles. There was no system of law or police; every vestige of justice was uprooted, and these crimes went unpunished. The irony of it was that these acts were avowedly done in the interest of progress and reform and in the sacred name of Labour!

The Irkutsk Circle asked questions which were not calculated to elicit a single fact connected with labour, either in Russia or England, but were just the usual clap-trap monkey business, such as:

“Why should we be satisfied with half, when we have the bourgeoisie down and can take all?”

“Why should we allow law to be re-established, which was always used by the few to rob the many?”

“Surely it is less unjust to allow the many to continue to rob the few?”

“In destroying the landlord and capitalist are not the Russian proletariat merely taking back its own property?”

“Is it not a fact that the more systematically and effectively we annihilate the bourgeois and landlord class, and all the institutions belonging to them, the easier it will be to erect the new order?”

These are all very subtle and difficult to answer briefly at a meeting of Russian workmen, not one of whom can read or write. It was wonderful foresight which placed Madame Frank, the editress of the _Russian Army_, as correspondent for this labour mission. She fastened on to each question in turn and gave instance after instance of how the suggestions they contained had worked out in practice, to the total destruction of all that was good and honourable in Russia. Then with magnificent play on the words “the new order” in the last question, she drew a picture of this _new order_ as exhibited in practice in that part of Russia under Bolshevik control. The influence of this little lady upon these simple Russian workmen was really remarkable. It was quite evident that the workmen would prefer the old regime to the new if Bolshevik tyranny is the only possible outcome of the new order.

Our next stop was Imokentievskaya, where the head of the works looked as though he would have preferred execution rather than take part in a workmen’s meeting. The professionals had been left behind, and the audience was composed entirely of the railway workers. They presented many characteristics of the average English workmen and hungrily received information relating to the methods of the best organised English trade unions. They had no idea of the things we had done and the progress we had made in bettering the working conditions of labour generally. Their professional leaders had disposed of the British movement by describing our organisation as “bourgeois trade unions,” and always referred to our trade union activities as though we were organised and internally managed by the capitalist. They were surprised to learn that we were the only exclusively working-class organisation in the world; that the officials must have worked at the trade whose society they managed; that we did not, like themselves, allow doctors, lawyers, and mere politicians to manage our affairs, but insisted upon having our trade unions in our own hands. One real old “Russky” engine-driver asked: “If the English workmen found it so advantageous to keep their organisations exclusively working-class, why did not the Germans do the same?” I answered, “When a movement starts wrong it is very difficult to put it right; that outsiders all over the world struggle for a place in the trade unions, and if once they get in they either break themselves or the union rather than get out, and those who can’t get in hang on outside like limpets and refuse to be kicked off; that the Russian workmen in organising their trade unions must start right and keep them free of every element except the working class.”

We stopped at Zema, the scene of a sharp encounter with armed strikers a few months previous. The meeting in the works was a great success. It was remarkable to find that though in my previous meeting with these workmen I took the attitude of a military dictator, they showed no resentment and had rigidly observed the agreement which had been entered into at the point of the bayonet. They were delighted to find that I, too, had performed my part of the contract in not forgetting their interests when opportunity presented itself.

Nesniodinsk was not on my list, but a special request having been presented for me to address the workmen there, we made the necessary arrangements and visited this place on Sunday, March 8. It was perhaps the largest meeting held up to that point. The official heads had caused a special platform to be erected in a huge engine-repairing shop, and themselves took the greatest interest in the whole proceeding. It was a very harassing business, but if as an outcome the seed of orderly progress was sown, the effort was entirely worth while.

Our carriage was fastened to the rear of a slow-moving train going west, and we did not arrive at Kansk till the evening of the 10th.

Kansk is the most easterly point of the area of revolt and a fairly large depot for the railway. Some interesting facts about the revolt were picked up from the railway officials. The revolt began suddenly on December 26, at the same time that it broke out in Omsk and Kolumsino, and at first was aimed at the possession of the railway. The military guard at Kansk consisted of one officer and fifty men. The officer posted his sentries at different points some distance away, and the soldiers who acted as his personal guard awoke to find their sleeping-place and arms in the possession of half a dozen armed men. The marauders shouted “Your officer is dead,” and ordered the men to lie still while they removed the rifles. This done, they proceeded to the quarters of the officer, who, finding his men already disarmed, bolted without firing a shot. The total strength of the Bolsheviks was fifteen men, and these fifteen held the station and a town of over five thousand inhabitants up to ransom for twenty-six hours! At the end of that time a squadron of Cossacks approached, and the Bolsheviks left, taking with them about 80,000 roubles belonging to the railway and post office. During their short stay they committed all sorts of barbarities. They murdered the railway school-mistress and tortured her husband by stripping him and pouring cold water over his naked body, finally driving him out into the snow, where he quickly froze to death. The charge against their two victims in this case was that they, by their calling, were teaching the youth of Russia to become young _bourgeoisie_, instead of leaving all men and women equal as nature intended.

This garden of autocracy grows some strange plants. These banditti, known in England as Bolsheviks, are entrenched not more than 60 versts distant, protected from Koltchak’s vengeance by the deep snows of the Siberian winter, which make it impossible to operate away from the railway.

We held a splendid meeting of the workmen in the enormous workshop, remarkable for the quiet enthusiasm and the evident hope of better times. It was quite clear to me that the Russian workmen were tired of the Revolution. They were promised an Eldorado and realised Hell instead. They merely wanted to be shown a way out of the social nightmare. They passed a vote of thanks to me and the English workmen for whom I spoke.

We started for Krasnoyarsk on the 12th, and before long found it necessary to get the machine guns and hospital equipment ready for instant use. After standing to arms all night we arrived, at midday on the 13th, at Klukvinah, the Russian Headquarters, and discovered that the Government forces had driven the enemy back from the railway, and that the remainder of our journey to Krasnoyarsk would be practically safe. We arrived about 9.15 P.M. on Wednesday, the 13th.

Colonel Frank, Madame Frank, myself and the Czech interpreter, Vladimir, were passing through the station on our return from the town about 12.30 midnight, when a rather exciting incident occurred. The station commandant approached Colonel Frank and appealed to him for help to send home a party of Serbian soldiers who had procured drink without payment at the point of their swords and revolvers, and had stripped a young woman passenger and exposed her for their orgies. Other bestial things were alleged against them, but no one had so far dared to interfere to restore order. After a moment’s consideration Colonel Frank decided to go into the buffet and ask them to go quietly home, and if they refused, to secure force to arrest and remove them. I naturally followed.

It was a big stone-floored room with the door at one end and a long bar at the other. The alleged Serbian soldiers were seated in a cluster on the right in front of the bar at the far end of the room. Colonel Frank advanced to them and said, “Brothers, you have had enough to drink, you are keeping all the attendants from their proper rest; it is time for you to go home.” It was like an electric shock. About a dozen of the ruffians sprang to their feet hurling every possible Slavonic epithet at this brave Russian officer who was merely performing a public duty. One dark-visaged Serb cavalryman drew his sword and tried a lunge at the colonel across the table, and while the colonel watched this infuriated aborigine a Serbian officer close behind Frank tore the epaulette from the colonel’s uniform and trampled it underfoot, shouting, “Death to this officer of the old regime!”

I picked up the epaulette just as the other Serb, sword in one hand and revolver in the other, edged round the tables to the centre of the room for his attack upon my liaison officer. I did not think of drawing my own weapon, and so far it was man to man. Colonel Frank kept his eye fixed upon his antagonist, and now advanced towards him, ordering him to put down his arms and leave the room. But the Serb was out for blood and made a slash at the _polkovnika’s_ head, the full force of which he evaded by ducking, though the sword severed the chin strap and button of his cap and carved its way through the thick band before it glanced up off the skull, helped by his right hand, which had been raised to turn the blow. At the same instant Colonel Frank fired point blank at the man’s face; the bullet entered the open mouth and came out of the cheek, which merely infuriated the man more. Up to this moment the man had only used his sword, but now he began to raise his revolver. Before he could raise it hip high, however, the colonel shot him through the heart. Though the revolver dropped from his helpless hand, he crouched for one instant and sprang, clutching at the colonel’s face, while four or five of his fellow Serbs attacked the colonel from behind. The foremost of these ruffians, a Serbian officer, fired at the back of the colonel’s head and missed, but his second shot struck Colonel Frank on the left temple at the moment his real assailant had made his death spring, and down they both went, apparently dead, the Serbian on top. The other Serbs sprang forward to finish the Russian officer with the usual ugly dagger which Serbian robbers always carry. The body of the dead Serb, however, formed a complete shield, and this, coupled with the fact that we all thought the colonel dead, saved him from mutilation.

I was not quite an idle spectator, but the fact that at the critical moment I discovered I had no weapon except for my cane reduced me to helplessness so far as dealing with this gang of murderers was concerned. Directly the fight began every Russian, including the armed militiaman who was supposed to keep order at the station, bolted from the room, leaving the women and children to look after themselves. Madame Frank went to the assistance of her husband and covered him as only a woman can, and as she grasped her husband’s revolver the Serbs slunk back a pace, while I lifted his head and signed to the Serb officer who had fired at the colonel from behind to lift the dead Serb off the colonel’s body. This he did and then proposed to the band surrounding us that they should kill us all three. Their knives glistened and a small automatic revolver was making a bee line for me, when a voice like the growl of a bear came from the direction of the door. The whole band instantly put up their weapons. I had stood up to receive my fate, and over the heads of our would-be murderers I saw a tall dark-bearded stage villain in a long black overcoat which reached to the floor, stalk across to the group. He looked at the body of the dead Serb and then at the prostrate Russian officer who at that instant began to show signs of returning consciousness. “Ah! Oh! Russky polkovnik,” he roared, drawing his revolver. “Our dead brother demands blood.”

I could not stand and see a wounded friend murdered before my eyes, not even in this land of blood. I stepped over both bodies and placed myself between this monster and his victim. I raised both hands and pushed him back, saying, “I am Anglisky polkovnik, and will not allow you to murder the wounded Russian officer.” He answered that he was “Serbian polkovnik,” and I said “Come into the other room,” and by strategy got him away. His friends, however, told him something which sent him back quickly to finish his job, but as he re-entered the buffet he encountered about a dozen British and Czech soldiers with fixed bayonets, and it was not so difficult now to convince him that it was not quite good form to murder a wounded man.

We carried the Russian colonel to the British hospital, and as the leader of the Serbs had declared a blood feud, extra guards were placed on my wagon and the hospital. These ruffians were armed from our supplies under the direction of French officers. Directly the Russian military authorities began their investigations to bring this band to justice they, through the Czech commander, received orders from General Ganin, the French Allied commander, to move to Novo Nikoliosk out of Russian jurisdiction.

It is not very clear at present why the French gave their protection to these and similar disturbing elements in Siberia. Perhaps the reason will show itself later.

Krasnoyarsk is a huge railway depot with building and repairing shops employing about 3,000 workmen. To get at both shifts it was necessary to hold two meetings, one for the inside and the other for the outside staff. The first was a very silent, interested crowd, who listened to my address as though they understood its meaning and purport. The gallant “Russky” _polkovnika_ with bandaged head and hand translated the first part, Madame Frank the second. The impression created by this brave woman, who had herself commanded a company in the trenches before Kerensky destroyed the army, was very great. There was no mistaking the effect of her words as these oil-stained workmen raised their _papahas_ to the message from the English trade unionists which she delivered.

This town was the centre of international intrigue. There was an Italian battalion about 1,500 strong, the Czech 12th Regiment of about 200, and the British Middlesex Regiment, 220. To maintain their prestige the French were arming the Lett revolters as fast as the Russian General Affinasiaff could defeat and disarm them. The Italian soldiers were in very bad favour with the inhabitants and the local Russian civil and military authorities. Robberies and assaults were of almost daily occurrence, and at last the authorities made definite official complaints to the Allied Headquarters and asked that the Italian soldiers should either be kept under proper discipline or removed from the country. The main complaint, however, of the Russian officials was based on the open hostility of the Allied officers led by the senior of them to everything Russian.

It is such an easy matter to make friends with the Russian people that this attitude of her alleged helpers was very saddening. When I landed at “Vlady” my orders were to remember that we English had come as friends to help Russia on to her feet, and I always tried to keep that in mind. I often wondered what instructions could have been given to my Allied colleagues.

The next call was at Bogotol, where, under instructions from Consul Peacock, I inquired into the imprisonment of an Australian subject named Savinoff. The authorities produced the _dossier_ of his case, which when translated proved him to be a Bolshevik leader and second in command of an armed band that had attempted to murder the local authorities. His trial took place shortly after, with that of Titoff, his chief, who was one of the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet who ordered the murder of hundreds of the naval officers of the old regime.

The meeting maintained the usual standard of interest, and the chief of the works, whose face bore traces of the tortures inflicted upon him under Bolshevik rule, was delighted with the new hope we had brought to himself and his workmen.

Our next meeting was at Taiga, and it was quite a great event. A special platform had been erected in the big workshop, around which swarmed nearly two thousand workmen. The people looked upon the meeting as the new birth of Russian life. No meeting had been held for two years, except the underground gatherings of conspirators. I appealed to the men to discard disorder and take a hand in the orderly reconstruction of the new Russian State, in which they were now guaranteed a place. Madame Frank’s translation made a profound impression upon these toil-worn men and women. It was clear that the people were tired of the horrors of revolution and yearned for peace and quiet.

I here interviewed General Knox, who was on his way to Omsk on important matters which had been brought to my notice.

We arrived at Novo Nikoliosk on the morning of the 23rd, and proceeded to make arrangements for the meeting to be held on the same day. I visited the various commands, as usual, and held long consultations with General Zochinko, from whom I gathered much information as to the situation in this important district. It was interesting to hear some news of our old friend, the _Voidavoda_ of the Serbian band. He and his gang had arrived from his excursion to Krasnoyarsk on the day that a banquet was held by the newly-formed Polish regiment. As chief of his band he was invited, and delivered an oration of a particularly patriotic character which had won all Polish hearts. He was in a great hurry to get away next morning, fearing that we were following behind. He said nothing about our encounter, and the Russian officials became suspicious of his anxiety to get away. They brought a squad of soldiers to examine his trucks, and found an enormous amount of loot from Krasnoyarsk, as well as contraband goods upon which he had to pay duty to the amount of 130,000 roubles. Having squeezed this toll out of the “bounder,” they gave him a free way to Ekaterinburg, where things are very scarce, and where he would be able to sell out at a good figure.

General Zochinko told us some funny stories about the French Staff’s attempt to form a powerful counter force to Bolshevism from the German and Austrian war prisoners. In Novo Nikoliosk the Allied Commander, General Ganin, had released some hundreds of Austrian and German Poles from the prison camps and formed them into regiments. In his haste to get these units complete he forgot to inquire into the antecedents of the officers chosen to command them. So careless, in fact, were the French that the Russian authorities awoke one morning to find one of their most dangerous prisoners, a well-known German officer spy, von Budburg, in full command of this alleged Allied force. Von Budburg had, like a true patriot, taken care to choose his subordinates from men of the same type as himself.

Later on the French Staff became aware of the nature of their handiwork and sought help and advice from the Russian military authorities about disarming their new German Legion. A sudden descent on their quarters by another Polish unit, with some new Russian units standing by to render help if necessary, ended in these French proteges being disarmed and got back safely to their prison camp.

Allied help to Russia is like a jig-saw puzzle, a mystery even to the man who devised it. A straight-forward recognition of the Omsk Government would have been an honest hand for honest work, but where would Allied diplomacy have come in? Diplomacy is only necessary when there are ulterior objects than mere plain, unambiguous assistance to a helpless friend. What are these hidden objects? The Allies had better be cautious how they proceed in the diagnosis and dismemberment of this great people or they may find themselves on the operating table with this giant holding the knife. In spite of the Biblical legend I prefer England to be a pal with Goliath!

We arrived at Barabinsk on the morning of March 26, and after arrangements for the meeting were completed, took a walk round the market. A Russian market is a thing of joy and colour. There are no buildings: just a huge space in the centre of the town where thousands of shaggy, ice-covered horses stand each with an ice-covered sledge. The peasants, men and women, in huge fur coats which reach to the snow-covered ground, harmonise perfectly with the cattle they control. Their fur coats form a study in colour–patchwork coats from calfskins which combine every shade from white to rusty red; goatskins, from long straight black to white; curly bearskins from black to brown and brown to polar white; wealthy peasant women, with beautiful red fox furs hiding neck and face, their eyes glistening through the apertures which served the same purpose for the first and original tenant. The sledges contain everything–wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, rough leaf tobacco, jars of cream, frozen blocks of milk, scores of different types of frozen fresh-water fish from sturgeon to bream, frozen meats of every conceivable description, furs–in fact, the finest collection of human necessities to be found in any one place in the world. Prices were very high for home produce and simply absurd for foreign or distant productions. Colonel Frank was in need of a small safety pin (six a penny at home), and found that the price was seven roubles–14s. 3-1/2d. old money, and 3s. 6d. at the rate at which the British Army are paid. Everything else was in proportion.

A very fine meeting was held in the works, and much good done in securing the confidence of the workmen in the efforts of the Supreme Governor, Admiral Koltchak, to create order out of chaos.

We arrived at Omsk on the morning of the 28th, and on the 29th I gave a lengthy report to Admiral Koltchak, who expressed his hearty thanks and impressed upon me the necessity of continuing my journey to the Urals. He had received from the official heads of departments reports stating that the effect of my mission had been to improve the general attitude of the workmen all round. And he was most anxious that this effort to enlist the workmen’s interest in an ordered State should be pushed forward with vigour.

A further discussion upon general affairs, especially the policy of the French command in Siberia, took us through tea. I have absolute confidence in the character of the admiral, but the pigmies by whom he is surrounded are so many drags on the wheels of State. There is not one that I would trust to manage a whelk-stall. They have no idea of the duty of a statesman. Little pettifogging personal equations and jobs occupy the whole of their time, except when they are engaged upon the congenial task of trying to thwart the Supreme Governor. The patriotism of the front officers and soldiers, and the medieval chivalry of the Cossack are the only things left upon which to rebuild Russia. This naturally limits the architectural features of the new edifice, but the pioneer is always limited to the material at hand.

CHAPTER XVIII

OMSK RE-VISITED

It is quite interesting to watch the oscillation of the Omsk mind from one orientation to another. At the time I left for the East the stream of favour flowed strongly in the English direction. General Knox started on a tour of Siberia in connection with the formation of the new Koltchak army; Sir Charles Eliot went to Hong-Kong; General Bowes was left to deputise for General Knox, and Colonel Robertson for Sir Charles Eliot. In three short weeks every sign of British influence had disappeared. The English were nowhere; the favour was shared equally by France and Japan.

The Japanese had either learned how to behave themselves towards the Russians or they had received instructions from home. During the first three months I was in Siberia their arrogance was simply sublime, but after the armistice with Germany–upon whose power to defeat the Allies they banked their all–they were a changed people, so far as outward appearance and conduct were concerned. They talked about their alliance with England, their friendship with Russia, their love of France. When the Japanese try, they can make themselves very agreeable; indeed, so charming that it is impossible to resist their advances. That was their attitude then to all except the Chinese, whom they hold in the greatest contempt, and to the Americans, whom they fear. With a clear field their new policy made great headway.

The French methods are quite different. Theirs is a drawing-room attack, and at this sort of thing the ordinary Britisher cuts but a sorry figure. Hence the field was also pretty clear for them, and they made full use of their opportunities. With a judicious word over a cup of tea an editor who refuses a bribe finds his or her talents a glut on the market. A joke around a _samovar_ reduces the rank of a particularly Russophile general. The glorious time they are having reaches its climax when you hear the polite condolences to the victims uttered in exquisite French.

But Colonel Robertson had gone to “Vlady,” and his place had been taken by a typical Britisher in the person of Consul Hodgson, who took a correct measure of the situation, and in less than forty-eight hours herded the whole caboose back into their own compounds. It is surprising that the influence of one virile, definite personality can be so great, and it proves how necessary it is that in this seemingly endless turmoil only the best men should be burdened with the responsibility of our representation. I started on my mission to the Urals with absolute confidence that, in the absence of General Knox, our interests in Omsk would not suffer so long as they were in the hands of our senior consul.

After infinite trouble with Russian official elements, I started on my western journey on April 5. The mission consisted of Colonel Frank (liaison officer), Madame Frank (translator), Regt-Sergt.-Major Gordon, in charge of an escort of twenty-two N.C.O.s and men, with one machine gun. We were now entering the district behind the Ural front. These towns had not long been cleared of the Bolsheviks, so that it was interesting to discover how far their ideas had gained possession of the minds of the people. The new Russian armies were rapidly pushing forward. Their progress had been made more general and persistent since the end of November, 1918, the date on which the Czechs finally refused to take part in the great Perm offensive. When they read in the English papers of January, 1919, how the Czech, Italian, French, and Allied forces had inflicted defeat upon the Bolsheviks at Perm, it caused a grim smile to pass over the faces of the Russian officers who did the job. Not a single Czech, Italian, French, or Allied soldier fired a shot after Admiral Koltchak assumed supreme command. There is one notable exception. The armoured trains from H.M.S. _Suffolk_, under the command of Captain Wolfe Murray, continued to fight along the Ufa front well into January, 1919. Only the intense cold and the necessity of recoupment and re-equipment caused them to retire to Omsk. The British Navy fighting on the Urals was the only reminder the Russian soldier had that the Allies of his country had not entirely deserted her.

We arrived at Tumen on April 7, and held a fine meeting of the workmen, who seemed quite pleased to hear that the Bolsheviks were not likely to return. These workmen looked upon the Bolshevik rule as on some horrible nightmare. They cared for little else so long as you could assure them on this point. So ghastly was the dream from which they had awakened compared with the flowery promises held out to them that I readily believe “Ivan the Terrible” would have been received at that moment as a saviour. This was a dangerous feeling which I tried my best to combat, for the excesses of the Bolshevik regime have prepared the way–and were deliberately intended so to do–for a return to absolutism.

We arrived at Ekaterinburg at the same time as General Knox arrived from Chilliyabinsk. His first words were congratulations on my C.B., news of which had just arrived. I visited Consul Preston, and read the evidence he and his French colleague had collected relative to Bolshevik outrages on the workmen of the district. It was too sad to think about. This was the place where the Tsar and his family were imprisoned and murdered. Of them it could be fairly alleged that they were responsible for the crimes of the old regime; but what crimes have the poor workmen and peasants committed that the most fiendish cruelty should be reserved for them? I give it up! Perhaps there is some reason or justification; all I can say is I have not heard it, neither can I imagine what it can be.

I held a meeting of railway workmen and officials, and was surprised at the attention and earnestness of the audience. They hungrily devoured every scrap of information as to our English trade union organisation and work, and requested that a further meeting should be held next day in a great carriage works in the centre of the town. This proved to be one of the most remarkable gatherings I have ever attended. A fine platform had been erected at one end of the main workshop. A sea of faces under huge multi-coloured _papahas_ spread over the floor, while every carriage was covered with human ants; even the beams of the building carried its human freight. Clearly it seemed to me that the resurrection of Russia had begun; the destruction of Russia began from the head, its re-birth is from the ground.

CHAPTER XIX

IN EUROPEAN RUSSIA

Nevanisk is situated just over the European boundary of the Urals. Before the Bolshevik came it was a great iron centre, one firm alone employing three thousand workmen. When I arrived there the various works were practically derelict and its vast collection of machinery idle. The streets were deserted, and it was estimated that half of its inhabitants had been destroyed. It was, and now it is not. The few remaining inhabitants were valiantly pulling themselves together, and if order and some sort of law could be established, they were confident that they could rebuild their life again. We talked to them and encouraged them to continue their struggle against the blight that had defiled their homes and their country. Their hopes seemed to revive from our assurance of English working-class sympathy. I am pleased they did not know that we had some people mad enough to wish to inflict similar wounds upon our own country.

A pound of sugar cost thirty-five roubles, a pair of 3s. 11d. goloshes two hundred and fifty roubles, one pound of bread seven roubles. These were the things we wished to buy, and so made the discovery of their price; we bought bread only, as the thing we could not do without. Typhus was raging in almost every house. General Knox was inoculated, but I decided to run the risk. Doctors had largely disappeared, owing to the hatred of everybody with a bourgeois education.

I wonder what sort of jokes or fun G.B.S. could make out of it. There _is_ fun in it somewhere. The contrast between the original idea of the revolution and the outcome of those ideas are so grotesque in their realisation that it looks as though some hidden power were indulging in a Mephistophelian laugh at the expense of mankind.

We next arrived at Taighill, where the same effects had been produced, though on a smaller scale. It was Palm Sunday, and the great bell of the cathedral was booming through the surrounding pine forest calling the faithful to prayer. In the square of the town near by a statue of Alexander II lay in the mud, having been thrown down by the revolutionaries. Quite near a white figure of a woman, intended to represent the Enthronement of Liberty, had been hurled from its recently constructed base, and formed the roadside seat of five or six of the raggedest starvelings to be found in the world. An inscription on Alexander’s statue states that it was raised to commemorate his emancipation of the peasants from serfdom. The Bolsheviks had not time to write _their_ inscription; but it did not matter–the empty houses and deserted streets were quite enough. By means of much elbow labour they had smoothed out the inscription on the statue of the Tsar Liberator and for the time made all things equal again.

The meeting at Taighill was a repetition of the others, and we passed on to Kushva. This place had been badly mauled. The Bolshevik Commissar was evidently an anarchist pure and simple. All the hatred of class and creed which had generated under the Romanoffs found expression in this man’s deeds. The amount of venom which he put into his administration and work was worthy of his cause. The effect of his policy, however, produced results exactly opposite to those he hoped for. The first evidence of his zeal lay upon the snow in front of the railway office. A huge steel safe with the door wrenched off and the contents missing indicated the strength of his principles. The official who had lost the key was thrown into the well near by to stimulate the memory of other safe-owners; but this official was not alone in his glory, for several railway workmen who refused to help rob this identical safe found a watery grave with their superior. Altogether over seventy people met their death in this well, workmen, _bourgeoisie_–all in one holocaust. But the majority were of no class; their only offence seemed to be that they had called themselves Social Revolutionaries. They have been the subject of the most bitter hatred by the Bolshevik leaders. The Bolshevik contention is that for men or women to call themselves Socialists, and then to hesitate to take a hand in the complete extermination of the bourgeois ruling classes, now there is a chance of doing so in Russia, is to act the part of poltroon and traitor to the cause. The “treachery” is all the greater if the objector is a workman or a workwoman.

The Bolsheviks are quite honest about their purpose–the transfer of power and property by murder and robbery from the _bourgeoisie_ to the proletariat. If a member of the proletariat is so mad that he refuses or hesitates to act his part in this scheme, then those who have been called by the force of events to assume a dictatorship on his behalf are entitled to destroy him as an unconscious enemy to himself and his class. In the same way no mercy can be shown to the Social Revolutionaries who, while professing allegiance to definite proletarian domination, shrink from definite action now that the time for action has arrived.

The Bolshevik Commissar of Kushva, acting on this principle, succeeded in a short time in raising a formidable opposition amongst the workmen in the surrounding districts. When the local school-mistress, a girl of seventeen, found a temporary grave in this sort of Black Hole of Calcutta the wells of Kushva and Taighill became a dreadful portent to the simple Russian _mujik_.

The opposition began at the big Watkin Works, where over six thousand men were employed. Though possessing no military organisation, the workmen decided to resist by force the entrance of the Bolshevik Terror into their midst. With the help of several young engineers they managed to regiment themselves into some kind of military order. They selected with great skill the strategic positions for fortifications, and held the whole district against the repeated attacks of the enemy. Once the Bolshevik line of the Urals west of Ekaterinburg struck from north to south, from Kunghure to the Caspian, as the crow flies, for three thousand versts, except for one great loop enclosing the Watkin Works. But in November, 1918, the Bolshevik line swept forward, submerging these valiant workmen warriors. Admiral Koltchak’s Chief of Staff naturally concluded that the workmen had given up the struggle and had made terms with their hated enemy.

This surge forward of the Bolsheviks had been greatly assisted by the unfortunate defection of the Czech forces, who had left the front at the suggestion of their local National Council. General Gaida had thrown up his Czech commission, and had been given command of the right wing of the new Russian army. The admiral proceeded at once to put his new army to the test by an attempt to recover the lost ground and, if possible, save the remnants of the Watkin workmen. Everybody now knows how, in a temperature of over “60 below,” these recently mobilised Siberian recruits re-established the fighting fame of the Russian soldier by sweeping the Terrorist forces from their positions and entirely destroying them at Perm. Imagine General Galitzin’s surprise when the advance began to find these Watkin workmen still holding their district and rendering valuable help to their relieving comrades! The Kushva Soviet Commissar had built better than he knew.

This district is remarkable for the valuable and extensive deposits of iron and sulphur, which seem inexhaustible. One huge hill has a store of about 800,000,000,000 tons, almost untapped except for uncovering work necessary to estimate its capacity.

The Revolution in Russia may alter a few things, but it can scarcely effect much change in the character of its people. This iron mountain is an illustration of the mixture of mediaevalism and modernism to be found in Russia’s industrial development. The summit of the mountain is capped with an Orthodox Greek church, and desperate efforts have been made to secure its removal to a less exalted and less valuable site. I was informed that the mere suggestion proved almost fatal to its originators, and by so narrow a margin did they escape that the proposal is not likely to be repeated. I made the suggestion quite innocently, and produced such a storm that only my foreign ignorance provided me with a satisfactory excuse. I was asked: “Would you take God from His place over this work?” One other thing I noticed everywhere. There was not one important workshop from Irkutsk to Perm without its altar, candles and all complete, and scarcely a business or Government office without its ikon facing you the moment you entered.

I attended the Orthodox Easter celebration at Perm. The whole edifice was crowded with people of every walk in life. I was not merely an interested spectator, but one who believes that where man worships he appeals to the same God no matter by what name He is called.

I watched this crowd, each holding a long lighted taper, stand for hours making the sign of the Cross, while the gorgeously-robed priest chanted the service and made sundry waves with his hands and gave certain swings with the incense-burner. The responses were made by a group of men with beautiful, well-trained voices, but the people looked spiritually starved. Not one took the slightest part in the service beyond an occasional whispered murmur, nor are they expected to. They stood outside the pale; there was no place for them. I must say that I contrasted this isolation of the congregation with the joint act of worship as performed in our churches, both Free and Anglican. I looked at these “Christian” men and women and thought of the butchery of Petrograd and Moscow, the wells of Kushva and Taighill, and the ruthless disregard of human life by both sides in this brutal internecine strife. I wondered whether I had stumbled upon at least one of the causes. At any rate, I did not forget we also had the heroes of the Watkin Works.

Nadegenska is the extreme north-west point of the Ural system of railways, and is famous because of its great privately-owned steelworks. These works were originated by a poor peasant woman, who developed the whole district until it has become the most northerly Asiatic industrial centre in the Russian Empire. The contrast in treatment at these privately-owned works compared with those owned by the Government is significant. The Soviet Commissar knew nothing about the business himself, and appointed Works Commissars, still more ignorant of their duties, to control the establishment. The result was that production fell to such a point that the experts refused to work under such incompetents and gradually escaped to other outlandish districts. The manager stuck to his post during the battle of Perm, and by a judicious distribution among the Bolshevik Commissars of the surplus roubles of the Tsar remaining in his possession got them out of the works without damage. This was an unheard-of situation, for nowhere else have the Soviet Commissars left anything they could destroy.

It was interesting to notice that nearly the whole of the machinery in these works was either of German or American make, the latter always predominating; there was some English and some Belgian, about an equal amount of each. I heard a curious statement at Kushva to the effect that the German firms were always prepared to build and fit out a big works, and run it for one year, without asking for a penny. Of course they always first carefully examined the possibilities of the locality, but the managers assured me that it was rare for German machinery to be equal, either for use or wear and tear, to the English, nor was it as cheap; but they could always get long credit from German firms, and that was most important in developing new enterprises.

We set off for Perm, with a stop on our way at the Vackneah Turansky Works. These works employed from four to five thousand men, doing everything from smelting to the making of engines, carriages, shells, guns, etc., and were the best equipped workshops I saw in the Urals. The only complaint was lack of orders. The old regime did everything–nearly all this great mineral district was developed under the personal care of the Tsars. The Bolsheviks have destroyed the State control of these establishments, and already the _bourgeoisie_ are casting hungry eyes upon this great industry and the Omsk Ministers are rubbing hands over the loot they hope to collect during this transfer. How vain the hopes of those who looked to the Revolution to develop public control of all natural resources! Already the State lands are parcelled out amongst the wealthy peasants, who as a result of this robbery will establish a great landed aristocracy, and, if I do not misread the signs, a similar fate is about to overtake the great State industries with the creation of an aristocracy of wealth.

At Turansky we picked up Sergeant Coleman, of the Durham Light Infantry, the only Englishman who weathered the journey from Archangel with a party of Russians who had started from the north to try and get into direct touch with the Russian Army. They had made a circuitous route and avoided the districts held by the Bolshevik forces, and therefore had nothing of interest to report to us. The whole party, under a Russian officer in English uniform, were attached to my train and taken to Perm, where instructions awaited them to proceed at once to Omsk.

While examining the damage done during the street fighting at Perm we encountered a mob of the Red Guard who had marched over their own lines at Glashoff and surrendered to General Gaida. They were drawn up four deep in the market-place for a roll call. I studied their faces and general appearance, and came to the conclusion that if the progress of the world depended upon such as these the world was in a very bad way. They were Kirghis, Mongols, Tartars, Chinese, mixed with a fair sprinkling of European-Russian peasants, workmen and others mostly of the lowest type, but with just enough of the “old soldier” element to make them formidable. A strange idea struck me that I would like to speak to these men. The proposition, made almost in jest, was taken up seriously by my liaison officer, Colonel Frank, who interviewed the commandant of the station, Colonel Nikolioff, upon the subject. He at first took up a hostile attitude, but when he gathered the substance of my proposed address he consented, and arranged the meeting at the camp for 6 P.M. the following evening, April 22. Of all the meetings it has been my privilege to hold, this was the most unique. The Bolshevik soldiers stood to attention and listened to me with great interest. One or two were sailors, and some others could understand a little English, as could be seen by the way they conveyed in whispers the points of the speech to their neighbours. Madame Frank translated, and in beautiful Russian drove home each point. Hers was a magnificent performance. As she repeated my word-picture of their untilled fields, destroyed homes, outraged women, and murdered children, not the ravages of an alien enemy, but the work of their own hands, Russian against Russian, tears trickled down their war-scarred faces. Clearly these men felt they had been deceived, and would willingly endeavour to rectify the injuries of the past. Some volunteered their services at once to help their Mother Country to recover from the ravages they had made and administer justice upon those who had led them into madness, but Colonel Nikolioff asked them to remember that their crimes had been very great, and nothing but time could heal the wounds and soften the bitterness their conduct had created. Some asked that it should be remembered that they were not Bolshevik in principle, but had been forced to become soldiers in the Red Army, from which they could not desert until their villages were captured by the Koltchak army, as their whole families, held as hostages for their good conduct, would have been massacred. This they asserted had been done in numberless cases where the families were in Bolshevik hands.

The value of the rouble in Perm at that time was about one penny. My officers and men were paid at the rate of 40 roubles to the L1. The prisoners’ camp was about three and a half versts distant, and the duration of the meeting was one hour and five minutes; the droshky hire for the journey was 100 roubles per droshky. Everything was in proportion. For instance, common cigarettes were 1 rouble each. If I had smoked twenty a day or used them between myself and my numerous official visitors, half my colonel’s pay would have gone. There must surely have been something wrong in fixing the rate of exchange at Harbin or “Vlady,” 5,000 versts away, and leaving officers at the front in a stage of poverty not one whit better than the people whose all had been destroyed by the Revolution. I have no remedy to offer, but it is not very satisfactory to receive your rouble at 6d. and spend it at 1d. What is more! If I had been paid in L1 notes or sovereigns, I could have got something approaching 200 roubles for each at the Perm rate! Wages had increased under Bolshevik rule, but prices were such that one of the petitions we had to forward to the Government at Omsk on behalf of the workmen was that the wages and prices should be the same as under the old regime.

On April 24 the ice on the Khama started to move about 5 A.M. It was a very imposing sight. It moved first as one solid block, carrying boats, stacks of timber, sledge roads–everything–with it. The point near the bridge held for some time, until the weight behind forced some part down and crunched its way through in one irresistible push; the other part rose over the resistance and rolled like an avalanche over and over, smashing itself into huge blocks which were forced into a rampart fifty feet high, when the enormous weight broke the ice platform on which it was piled, and the whole moved majestically off towards the Volga. Then one experienced the peculiar illusion of gliding along the river; it was necessary to plant one’s feet far apart to prevent a fall. The Khama near Perm is over a mile wide, and this method of Nature to herald spring to these snow- and ice-bound regions lacks nothing so far as grandeur is concerned. During the next few days millions of tons of derelict timber passed on its way to the Caspian. The careless Russian never thinks of hauling his spare stock off the ice until the ice actually begins to move. He tells you that the proper time for the ice to move is between May 1 and 5; that if it moves a week earlier it means good crops, which would balance the loss of the timber, so that he has no cause to complain.

It is no part of my business to deal with atrocities such as have disgraced the proletarian dictatorship of Moscow. Where I could not avoid them in my narrative of events, I have done so without reference to the revolting details which everybody so hungrily devours. History shows that it is not possible to avoid these excesses whenever the safeguards of civil order are swept away by the passions of the mob. Our own revolutionaries should remember this before and not after the event. They should be considered not as a risk but as a certainty when once the foundations of order are uprooted. At Perm the breaking of the ice revealed some of the truth, and it formed quite sufficient evidence of the callous behaviour of the Bolshevik administrators.

Below a steep bank a few yards from the Terrorist headquarters a small shed was erected on the ice. It was called a wash-house, and during the day washing was done there. At night the place, apparently, was, like the streets, deserted, but as a square hole was cut through the ice, it was an ideal place for the disposal of bodies, dead or alive. The people knew that after an inspection of the better-class homes by officers of the Soviet if there was evidence of valuable loot; the whole family would quietly disappear, and the valuables were distributed by sale, or otherwise, amongst the Soviet authorities. If a workman protested against this violence, he disappeared, too, in the same secret fashion.

The poor women who used the shed during the day for its legitimate purpose told from time to time grim stories of blood and evidence of death struggles on the frozen floor as they began the morning’s work. Several thousand people were missing by the time the Koltchak forces captured the town.

The ice in the shelter of the bank began to thaw before the more exposed part of the river, which enabled the people whose friends and neighbours were missing to put a rude and ineffective screen below the shed in the hope of recovering the bodies of some of their friends. I knew about the shed but not about the screen, until I was informed by Regt. Sergeant-Major Gordon that he had seen several hundred bodies taken from the river. The following morning I walked into the crowd of anxious people who were watching the work. The official in charge told me quite simply that they had not had a very good morning, for three hours’ work had only produced some forty bodies. I looked at these relics of the new order; they were of both sexes and belonged to every condition of life, from the gruff, horny-handed worker to the delicately-nurtured young girl. A miscellaneous assortment of the goods, among other things, revolutions are bound to deliver.

We held a big meeting in the great railway works which created quite a sensation. The fact that the English were at Perm spread back to Omsk, and four days later Japanese and French Missions put in an appearance. If the French came to maintain their prestige it was a pity that they did not choose a better agent for their purpose. I had been invited to lunch with a very worthy representative of the town, Mr. Pastrokoff, and his wife. I arrived to find the good lady in great agitation. A French officer had called and informed the household that a French Mission had just arrived composed of three officers; they would require the three best rooms in the house, the use of the servants and kitchen; that no furniture must be removed from the three rooms he saw under pain of punishment, etc. The lady protested and told the French officer that even the Bolsheviks had not demanded part of her very small house when made acquainted with the requirements of her family, but the officer had replied that any inconvenience was outweighed by the great honour conferred upon her house by the presence of officers of the French Army. It would not be polite to the glorious French Army to repeat Madame Pastrokoff’s reply. It only shows how stupid it is to send to foreign countries any but the best men to represent a great and gallant nation. I naturally reminded Madame that she was a Russian, living in her own country, under her own Government, and she must report the case to the Russian authorities, who would doubtless provide accommodation for the French Mission if necessary.

The Pastrokoffs, coupled with the vivacious Madame Barbara Pastokova and her husband, were among the most homely and interesting people it was my pleasure to meet in the Urals. If you have never been in Russia you know nothing of hospitality; you only squirm around the fringe of the subject. The hospitality of our friends at Perm was truly Russian, and I was sorry when we had to leave. M. Pastrokoff told me of the following incident of the early relief of Perm from the Terrorist.

General Pepelaieff’s army was stretched along the railway from Perm towards Vatka, the junction of the Archangel Railway. The temperature was over “60 below,” the men were without clothes, thousands had died from exposure, and other thousands were in a ghastly condition from frost-bite. There was little or no hospital accommodation, and the Omsk Ministers were deaf to all appeals for help, they being more concerned as to how they could shake off the Supreme Governor’s control than how best to perform their duty. In the early days of February the feeding of the army became a pressing problem, and still the Omsk Ministers remained silent. On February 10 Pastrokoff received an imperative order to appear at General Hepoff’s office. At 11 A.M. he arrived to find nine of the wealthiest citizens of Perm already collected. Looking out of the windows they saw a full company of Siberian Rifles surround the building with fixed bayonets. The general entered the room and sat at his table, they remained standing. Looking at, and _through_, each one separately, he delivered this cryptic speech: “Gentlemen, I have brought you here to tell you that out on the railway between you and your enemies lie the remains of our brave army! They have little clothes, but plenty of wood, so their fires may prevent their bodies from being frozen, but ten days from now there will be no food, and unless food can be secured, nothing can prevent their dispersal or starvation. I have determined that they shall neither disperse nor starve. The Omsk Ministers have forgotten us, the Supreme Governor has given his orders, but these paltry people who ought to assist him do nothing. We must do their work ourselves.” Reading down a list of the necessities of his army he said: “You gentlemen will produce these things within ten days. If on February 21 these supplies are not to hand, that will be the end of everything so far as you ten gentlemen are concerned.”

“He allowed no discussion,” said M. Pastrokoff, “and if he had we should have been discussing it now, and the Terrorists would have re-occupied Perm. I returned home and felt cold in the feet. I had a guard of fifteen men placed on my person, the others the same. I knew that some of my companions in distress were muddlers, but sent for my friend —- and drew our plans for carrying out the general’s orders. We were greatly helped in this determination by witnessing the execution of a company and platoon commander of one of our regiments under General Hepoff’s orders for having allowed thirty men of their company to desert to the enemy during an affair of outposts. We saw we had to deal with a man who never went back on his word.”

On February 18 the general sent his aide-de-camp to inform the ten that it would be necessary for them to put their affairs in order as they would be taken to the front for execution, so that the starving soldiers might know their immediate chiefs were not responsible for the condition of the army. M. Pastrokoff was able to prove the things were on the way, and only the disorganised condition of the railway made it necessary to ask for a few days’ grace. The general granted four days, at the end of which the goods were delivered as per instructions. “What did the general then do?” I asked. “When his soldiers were fed he burst into my house and kissed me, and would have gone on his knees if I would have allowed him. He has been here several times since, and we have become great friends. He is a true Russian!” added Pastrokoff proudly.

We returned to Ekaterinburg on April 29, and were surprised to find that General Knox and the Headquarters Staff had removed from Omsk and taken up position there. The Hampshires were about to move up; barrack and other accommodation had already been secured. The first echelon arrived the following morning. An Anglo-Russian brigade of infantry was in course of formation and seemed likely to prove a great success. It offered employment for the numerous officers and N.C.O.s who had arrived and for whom no proper place for work had so far been provided. It was truly a stroke of genius for our War Office to flood us with officers and men as instructors for the new Russian army, scarcely one of whom could speak a word of Russian! I feel sure the Russians and ourselves will get on well together, we are so much alike. Omsk and Whitehall are true to type; they each first exhaust the possibility of error, and when no wrong course is left, the right road becomes quite easy. The only difference is in the motive. Ours is mostly because social influence is always on the side of educated mediocrity, and theirs because self, coupled with corruption, is their natural incentive to all exertion. We have a different standard; all our theories of Government preclude the possibility of hidden personal advantage in the transaction of State business. The Russian view is that no competent official could be expected to conduct business transactions for the State unless he personally gains some advantage. If an official neglected a private opportunity so obvious, it would justify the suspicion that his scruples would make him unequal to the proper protection of the State. In other words, the official who is poor at the end of a decent term of office never should have been trusted with the interests of the community. It is strange to hear them catalogue the proved cases of corruption amongst officials of other countries. They never forget a case of this kind no matter in which country it occurred. They argue that they are no worse than others, forgetting that these exceptions only prove the rule, whereas in Russia the honest official is rather the exception. After all, public opinion decides the standard of conduct adopted by a country. Morals change with time, also with countries and peoples. A harem would be a nuisance in London, but stands as a sign of Allah’s blessing in Constantinople.

I returned to Omsk on May 3 to find that the snow and ice had given place to a storm of dust which crept through every crevice of one’s habitation and flavoured everything with dirt and grit. It was, if anything, worse than a sandstorm in the Sudan. The Sudan type is fairly clean, but this Omsk variety is a cloud of atomic filth which carries with it every known quality of pollution and several that are quite unknown. I don’t remember being able to smell a Sudan storm, but this monstrous production stank worse than a by-election missile. The service of a British soldier on these special trips is not exactly a sinecure. The people at home who pay can be sure their money is well earned before Tommy gets it. The south wind sweeps up from Mongolia and Turkestan, and while it brings warmth to our frozen bones its blessing becomes a bit mixed with other things before we get them. I only mention it, not to complain! We never do in war-time!

A special dispatch from London arrived on May 5 which delayed my starting for Vladivostok. If the object at which it aimed could have been secured it would have been a beam of light upon a very sombre subject. I had a lengthy conference with General Knox upon my tour to the Urals and the facts gathered as to the mineral and productive resources of the districts through which I had passed. The London dispatch also occupied our attention, and as the Supreme Governor had fixed the next day for my final farewell interview with himself, the possible course of our conversation was also considered. It was arranged that my journey to “Vlady” should be delayed until the matter referred to in the dispatch had been dealt with in accordance with instructions.

My audience with the Supreme Governor was very cordial, and he especially thanked me for the help I had rendered himself and Russia in the dark days of November and December, 1918. He expressed the opinion that my mission to the workmen had been a great success, and was the first piece of definite work so far accomplished in the reconstruction and resurrection of the Russian State. He pointed out that his own labours were devoted to the one object of restoring order to the country, but that this work could only be performed by a powerful army. England had rendered him all help possible, but still the military problem engrossed all his thoughts and precluded his taking active part in the work of social reconstruction. He thought his Ministers and other assistants would have been able to help in it, but he had been sadly mistaken, and his experience had taught him that it was necessary to learn everything himself and therefore he was all the more grateful for my assistance. We took tea together, during which he informed me that he was about to start for the front to arrange for a further push along the northern line towards Vatka in the direction of Petrograd, with the chance of forming a junction with the forces at Archangel, and if General Knox would consent he wished me to remain at Omsk until he returned. General Knox placed the London dispatch before the Supreme Governor, and I remained to assist in settling its details.

On May 7 the Chief of the British Mission, Major-General Knox, asked me to assist him in drafting the reply to the London dispatch. The heads having been agreed to by the Supreme Governor, it was necessary to consult with the Minister who assisted him with his foreign affairs. He is distinguished by a sort of cleverness which borders very closely to cunning. In a few years he will probably make a very able diplomat of the old type, but whether that is the sort of equipment which will serve under the new order, now in the throes of birth, remains to be seen. He is Republican, having lived long in America, and honestly believes that Russia must be directed in her orientation towards Republican countries rather than to the evidently permanently and exclusively Monarchist country, England. There I think I know more of his Russian fellow-countrymen and better understand their character and sentiments than he! But he is very young, very able, and his name is Sukin, and he has time to learn.

In accordance with the wish of the Governor, the dispatch and draft were shown to him, and a few hours later, while dining with a Cossack general, I was asked if I knew anything about a dispatch from London that was making a great stir amongst the members of the French and American Missions. I answered that being a regimental officer, not attached to the English Mission, dispatches were not my business, though as a rule if important dispatches arrived, I heard about them; I had heard of no dispatch which could upset the French or American Missions.

I informed Consul Hodgson, who was representing the High Commissioner in his absence, of this, and it was decided to hurry on with the construction and completion of the draft. It was completed in its final shape by General Knox and myself in his train at the Omsk Vatka in front of the Russian Staffka, 9.30 A.M., May 9, 1919.

Much of this Russian “Bill of Rights” had to be pushed down the throats of the Russian official elements. The Supreme Governor never wavered over a single point; his large democratic sympathies were satisfied by his signature to what he hoped would be the foundation of Russian liberty. How fortunate for Russia that she had such a man to call upon in her hour of need! No matter what the final result of his efforts may be, whether success or defeat, his was the mind and personality that enabled this great people to bridge what looked like an impossible gulf and turn their faces to the sun.

How fortunate it was that at this critical hour in Russian history England was represented by Major-General Knox! I had never heard of him till I went to Siberia, yet in him we have a man combining the courage of the soldier with the higher qualities of a statesman, ready made for the special business in hand. The British Empire doubtless, like Topsy, “growed”! It is more an exhibition of race luck than genius. The way in which we occasionally drop the right man in the right place is not an act of Government so much as a stroke of chance. We make awful bloomers in these matters sometimes, but in this case our luck stood by us to some purpose. More than once, when the timidity of the “Politicals” had almost destroyed Russian faith in our honesty of purpose, the robust honesty of his personality turned the scale in our favour. Every Russian trusts him, except those who have forgotten they are Russians. They hate him. That is the real certificate of his worth. I can quite understand the fear of some Labour elements at home that our presence in Siberia may be used by reactionaries to re-establish the old regime. Had I been at home I might have had the same feeling. But I was there, and knew that it was our very presence which made that for the moment impossible. The excesses of the Bolsheviks made the people, both peasant and workman, hanker after the comparative security of the Tsars. The reactionary elements would have been only too pleased to see our backs; our presence was a safeguard against the absolutism for which some of them scheme. The weariness of the peasantry and workmen with revolutionary disorder gave the opportunity to reaction to establish another absolutism which was only restrained by outside influence. Major-General Knox does not write polished dispatches upon army movements under his command, but he perhaps performed greater service to humanity and democracy by his patient and efficient handling on the spot of one of the great world problems.

CHAPTER XX

MAKING AN ATAMAN

General Evan Pootenseiff arranged a parade of the 2nd Siberian Cossack Regiment outside Omsk on May 14 to say “Good-bye” to the “Anglisky Polkovnika,” his officers and soldiers. Needless to say, we were all there, and it was an occasion that will be remembered by all who had the honour to be present. Those who look upon the Cossacks as a sort of untrained irregular cavalry had better revise their ideas at once, for fear of further future miscalculations. The evolutions of this force in every branch of cavalry work are simply superb. The Cossack control of his horse, either singly or in combination, is not approached by any army in the world. The parade was under the immediate command of the Assistant Ataman, Colonel Bezovsky, and the wonderful display of horsemanship was loudly applauded by the English Tommies, who were the most interested spectators.

The parade over, the officers adjourned to an extremely artistic Kirghis tent pitched on a treeless plain, where lunch was served; but the viands were left untouched until the toast of “His Britannic Majesty” had been drunk in good Tsaristic vodka. Then it became a real military fraternisation. Officers inside, soldiers out. No civilian was allowed to approach within three versts, except the old Kirghis chief who, dressed in his picturesque native dress, had travelled over fifty versts to attend the function of making an English Ataman. The band of the Cossack regiment tried valiantly to enliven the proceedings with music, but the English marching choruses soon silenced all opposition. Then the Cossack commander called his men around, and giving time with his cowhide thong, led them through some of the most weird Cossack war songs it is possible to imagine. The difference in our mentality was never so well illustrated as in the songs of the two people. Ours were lively, happy, and full of frolic and fun; theirs were slow, sad wails, which can only come from the heart of a long troubled people. The songs of Ermak Tinothavitch, the conqueror of Siberia, were fierce and martial, but the strain of tragedy ran through them all.

Then the Cossacks placed their commander upon two swords and tossed him while singing the song of Stenkarazin, the robber chief, and at the end drew their swords and demanded toll, which took the form of five bottles extra. I was then admitted to the fraternity and presented with the Ataman’s badge, and after due ceremony with a Cossack sword, by the regiment, admitted to their circle. I went through the sword tossing, and gained freedom for 100 roubles; and here my narrative of the making of a Cossack had better end. Sufficient to say I never met a freer-hearted set of men in my travels round the world than these dreadful guardians of the Tsars, and if in course of time I get tired of England, I shall claim my kinship with these freemen of forest and plain. These men so love liberty that not even the Tsars dared interfere with their rights.

CHAPTER XXI

HOMEWARD BOUND

On May 17 Omsk was excluded from the Vatka (station), and by this indirect means became aware that the Supreme Governor was returning from the front. The Cossack Guard lined up outside, while detachments of Russian infantry in English uniform occupied the platform. The Russian Tommies looked quite smart, and except for their long, narrow, triangular bayonets, might easily have been mistaken for English troops. While awaiting the train, General Knox informed me that two of our proposals, “Women’s suffrage” and “Universal education,” had been cut out by the reactionaries. Why are the churches of the world so hostile to the popular education of the people? The Church is quite prepared to allow the people to receive educational instruction if controlled by the priests. It prefers to leave them in ignorance and the easy prey of Bolshevik charlatanism rather than allow free play for intelligent thinking. Women’s suffrage was opposed by quite a different set of men, mostly those who make enormous display of deference to drawing-room ladies, and look upon us Englishmen as wanting in gallantry because we do not kiss every feminine hand we shake. On the whole I think it is good to have pushed them ahead so far. Measured by Russian standards, it amounts to a revolution in ideas of government. The great thing just now is to fix some point beyond which the pendulum shall not be allowed to swing towards reaction. The workmen are sick of strife and would gladly go straight back to the old regime as an easy way of escape from Bolshevism. This is the danger from which English diplomacy has tried, and is trying, to guard the Russian people if possible.

Thus, having finished my work at Omsk, I asked that arrangements might be made as quickly as possible to transport my escort and myself to Vladivostok. The arrangements were completed by May 21, when I announced myself ready to begin the first stage of my journey homeward. The Supreme Governor surprised me by proposing to visit me in my carriage at the Vatka to say “Good-bye.” At 7 P.M. he came, attended by his aide-de-camp; he was very gracious in his thanks for my services to the Russian people. He said my voice, presence and influence had aroused the better elements to throw off the feeling of despair which had so universally settled upon them. He did not presume to calculate the good I had done, though none appreciated it better than himself, since we had been thrown by circumstances into personal contact with each other. Without attempting to form an estimate of his character, I considered his visit and words the act of a gentleman, and as such I appreciated it.

I could but recall the last time he visited me in those dark, doubtful days of November, when I, who had no thought or place in my make-up for the word “Dictator,” suddenly found myself in the presence of him who had that moment assumed such a position, and what was more serious for me, found myself forced on my own authority, unaided by one word of warning or counsel from others, instantly to decide not only my own attitude but also, to some extent, that of my country to this last act in the drama of a people grown desperate. Once having given my promise to help, he never found that help withheld at critical moments later. The British forces were few, but they were disciplined and knew their own mind, and this was what every other party, both Russian and Allied, lacked. Every Allied force had its “Politicals” at hand, and therefore were powerless for any purpose. The Fates had sent ours to Vladivostok, 5,000 versts east, at the very moment when their presence and general political policy would have paralysed correct military action. The month which intervened before they could exert direct influence upon the situation enabled us to consolidate the new orientation. The greater part of this time we were “in the air,” having cut our own communications, and no countermanding orders could interrupt or confuse the nerve centre. At first the “Politicals” were inclined to be angry, but with such a tower of strength as General Knox in support they soon came to look upon the proceedings as a _fait accompli_. Later they confessed that their absence at the supreme moment was the act of a wise Providence. The very nature of their business (had they been present) would have created delays and difficulties that might have proved fatal to success.

Except for some quaint fetish about the necessity for maintaining the usual diplomatic forms, there is no necessity for delay in emergencies of this description. If an ordinarily intelligent Englishman, with a fair knowledge of English history and a grasp of the traditions and mentality of his countrymen, cannot carry on, how are people miles away, with no opportunity to visualise the actual situation, to instruct him? Diplomatic methods and forms are all right for leisurely negotiations, but are useless in urgent and dangerous occasions. If my work fails, as even now it may, I shall be subject to severe criticism; but I shall get that even if it succeeds, so what does it matter so long as in my own mind I did the best in the circumstances?

My journey east was broken at Krasnoyarsk to enable me to interview the new commander, General Rosanoff, who had taken in hand the suppression of the revolt of the Lettish peasants north of the railway. South of the line all hostile elements had been dispersed. The line cut through the centre of the Bolshevik field of operations. The Czechs guarded the actual railway, and while they prevented large forces from moving across it, they took but little trouble to prevent miscreants from tampering with the rails, as was evidenced by the scores of derailed trains in all stages of destruction strewn along the track. This naturally involved great material loss and, what was still worse, a huge toll of innocent human life. One train, a fast passenger, accounted for two hundred women and children, besides uncounted men. Fairly large Russian forces were now placed at General Rosanoff’s disposal, and by a wide turning movement from Krasnoyarsk in a north-easterly direction, and with a large cavalry force operating towards the north-west from Irkutsk, the whole gang would, it was hoped, be herded towards the centre, and a few weeks would probably liquidate the whole disturbance. The Krasnoyarsk and the Ussurie movements of the Bolsheviks were under the direction of able officers appointed by the Red Guard Headquarters at Moscow, with whom they were in constant communication.

Passing Irkutsk, we again struck the Baikal–looking more glorious than before. The warm south-west winds had cleared the snow from the western hills and thawed the ice from that half of the sea. The other half was still ice-bound. In the morning sunshine the snow-covered mountains in the east pierced the heavens with the radiance of eternal day. The disappearance of the sun only adds to their beauty; they alone seem to know no night. As we travelled round under the shadow of these giants the temperature fell many degrees below zero, and the cold from the water penetrated the carriages, necessitating fires and warm furs, in spite of the June sunshine.

I had received intimation that it would be of service to the Omsk Government if I would call upon Colonel Semianoff and use my good offices and my newly-conferred honour as a Siberian Cossack Ataman to recall this erring son of Muscovy to the service of the State. I knew that British pressure had been applied to persuade the Japanese to cease their financial and moral support–both open and secret–to this redoubtable opponent of the Russian Government, and it was rumoured that British wishes had at last been complied with. It was common knowledge that the illegal floggings, murders, and robberies committed under the alleged authority of Colonel Semianoff would not have remained unpunished a day if he had not been under the protection of one of the most numerously represented Allied forces. Whatever faults may be alleged against Admiral Koltchak, cruelty or injustice cannot be included among them. I well remember his fury when it was reported to him that some eighty workmen had been illegally flogged by Semianoff’s soldiers at Chita. His poor dilapidated reserves were ordered to move at once to their protection. Semianoff prepared his armoured trains and troops to receive them, but the same Allied Power which fed, clothed, and armed his troops kept at bay those who were ordered to avenge the wrongs of the Russian workmen.