Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ten Quotes About the Treaty of Versailles

1.  In Versailles, at dinner, Balfour told Nicolson that after the official opening of the Conference, Balfour walked down the steps with Clemenceau. A.J.B. wore a top hat: Clemenceau wore a bowler. A.J.B. apologized for his top hat. "I was told," he said, "that it was obligatory to wear one." "So," said Clemenceau, "was I."

Charles L. Mee, 1981

2.  [T}his meeting signifies for us the end of this terrible war, which threatened to destroy civilization and the world itself. It is a delightful sensation for us to feel that we are meeting at a moment when this terrible menace has ceased to exist

Woodrow Wilson, Opening Address, 18 January 1919

3.  If it is said that the war is won, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that there is a lull in the storm. At the very least, it is necessary to provide for all eventualities. Recent discoveries have enabled us to pierce the enemy's designs to a greater extent than hitherto. They were not merely a dream of military domination on the part of Prussia, but a definite conspiracy expressly aiming at the extermination of France.

George Clemenceau, Interview, 9 February 1919

4. I was one of the millions who trusted confidently and implicitly in your leadership and believed that you would take nothing less than ‘a permanent peace’ based on ‘unselfish and unbiased justice,’” wrote Bullitt. “But our government has consented now to deliver the suffering peoples of the world to new oppressions, subjections, dismemberments—a new century of war., upon reading the draft treaty, 

Resignation statement of  

U.S. Peace Commissioner William C. Bullitt, 7 May 1919

5.  Those insolent Germans made me very angry yesterday. I don't know when I have been more angry. Their conduct showed that the old German is still there. Your Brockdorff-Rantzaus will ruin Germany's chances of reconstruction. But the strange thing is that the Americans and ourselves felt more angry than the French and Italians. I asked old Clemenceau why. He said, "Because we are accustomed to their insolence. We have had to bear it for fifty years. It is new to you and therefore it makes you angry"

David Lloyd George, 8 May 1919 (Quoted in Lord Riddell's Diary)

6.  The great day of Versailles has come. The victorious peace will be signed in the Hall of Mirrors on Saturday, June 28. The government wishes the ceremony to have the character and austerity that goes with the memory of the grief and sufferings of our country. Nevertheless, public buildings will be decorated and illuminated. The citizens will surely follow this example.

All measures to preserve order have been taken by the government: the public is asked to conform to them for the successful outcome of the ceremony.

The day of Versailles will take place as should such a great day in the world's history.

Mayor of Versailles, Henri Simon, 28 June 1919

7.  Today...the disgraceful Treaty is being signed...The German people will... reconquer the place among the nations to which it is entitled.

Editorial, Deutsche Zeitung, 28 June 1919

8.  This is not a Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, 1919

No political party can acquire any driving force except through hatred; it must hold someone to obloquy. If so-and-so’s wickedness is the sole cause of our misery, let us punish so-and-so and we shall be happy. The supreme example of this kind of political thought was the Treaty of Versailles. 

Bertrand Russell,  1928

10.  We were preparing not Peace only, but Eternal Peace. There was about us the halo of some divine mission. We were bent on doing great, permanent noble things.

Sir Harold Nicolson, British delegate to the Peace Conference, 1933

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Eleven Months to Freedom: A German POW's Unlikely Escape from Siberia

By Dwight R. Messimer.
Naval Institute Press, 2016
Michael Kihntopf, Reviewer

Stories about prisoner of war escapes are always much sought after. All of us can name multiple titles which gave inspiration to us about the underdog outsmarting the cruel captors. For myself, I enjoyed Dragon Master: The Kaiser’s One-Man Air Force in Tsingtau, China 1914 (by Robert E. Whitaker, Compass Books, 1994) which chronicled the escape of German Navy Lieutenant Gunther Plüschow from the Japanese and the British. But this story rivals the Plüschow saga.

Erich Killinger, 1914

Dwight Messimer, former lecturer in history at San Jose State University and army veteran, has given Great War aficionados another saga to add to the many stories of extraordinary daring. In this work, the author vividly portrays German midshipman Erich Killinger’s escape from Russian captivity in Siberia—a feat which borders on the impossible.

Erich Killinger grew up in the Grand Duchy of Baden. His father was a member of the privy council to Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden. Although not part of the nobility, his family did rank itself among the elite. Killinger was groomed at a young age to honor and obey the state. A path in the army would have been expected of him, but instead he sought a position with the budding Kriegsmarine or navy. In 1913, after studying law and economics at Kings College in London and the University of Heidelberg, Killinger entered the Imperial Navy’s officers’ school.

Training was supposed to last for nearly a year but the declaration of war in August 1914 interrupted his training and he was sent to a squadron that patrolled Germany’s Baltic coast. The assignment was not to his liking in that it was too far from the action. A way out was to volunteer for the fledgling Imperial Navy’s air arm, which consisted of heavier and lighter than air aircraft. Killinger was slated to be an observer and was sent to school in September 1914.

Killinger, after graduating, found himself in an unarmed Rumpler 4B-II along the Livonian (Latvia) coast performing both reconnaissance and bombing raids. Finally, he was near the action and participating in it. High in the clouds he had reason to be content, but navy aircraft, and airplanes in general at the time, were fragile things. On 6 April 1915, while Killinger and his pilot were returning to their home base near Memel, the Rumpler lost its propeller which destroyed one of the landing pontoons in its arc to the sea.

Killinger’s pilot successfully executed a water landing despite the damaged landing gear and the two were perched on the one remaining pontoon. Swimming to land was not an option in the freezing Baltic water. Besides, the land was garrisoned by the Russian Army. The crew decided to stay with the half-sunk machine until a German search party might come along. Just how long that would be was anyone’s guess but it was not to be. Instead, a rowboat manned by Russian soldiers showed up first and took the crew prisoner.

German POWs in Siberia

Killinger and his pilot, after a rough interrogation in which they were threatened with hanging or a firing squad, were bundled into the prisoner of war pipeline that entailed a lengthy journey along the Trans-Siberian railway to camps far to the east. The author’s description of POW camps is detailed and extremely interesting. All along the way Killinger planned escapes, but the sheer vastness of Siberia deterred his ambitions until the train they were on neared the Manchurian border. He and three other prisoners launched themselves off the train and into the Chinese snow to begin a trek of hundreds of kilometers to Mukden. The cold was intense and their clothing inadequate, but the real problem was finding food among what could have been a hostile population. China, at the time, was neutral; however, the Russian and Japanese armies controlled most of Manchuria and offered a reward for escapees.

Killinger and his group walked across Manchuria, trading their uniform buttons for food at friendly villages. Finally, at Mukden, Killinger entered a German network of safe houses which successfully got him to Shanghai. It was there that he was given a choice of routes that he could take to get back to Germany. He could go west crossing into Russia again or east across the Pacific and the United States. Another trip through Russia was not to Killinger’s liking, although his three companions chose that way. He chose the other.

Messimer’s narrative of Killinger’s route across the Pacific and through America is extremely interesting to say the least. There are many times when Killinger was nearly turned in because he ignored instructions to keep a low profile, but eventually he made it to New York where the pipeline ended. From there he had to be resourceful on his own. Getting across the Atlantic was far more difficult.

Eleven Months to Freedom is a saga that rivals the Odyssey. It is at times riveting and at other times frustrating in that Killinger’s actions showed his bullheadedness and rashness (perhaps due to class arrogance) to heed advice. It is of little wonder that when he finally got back to Germany, he was hard pressed to convince the authorities that he really was an escaped German naval officer. This book goes on my shelf next to Dragon Master.

Michael Kihntopf

Editor's Note:  Erich Killinger returned to military service prior to the Second World War. After his commissioning in the Luftwaffe, he was found too old to fly, and was—either intentionally or ironically—assigned to command a prisoner of war camp.  His methods were deemed brutal, and he was convicted of war crimes afterwards, serving a five-year sentence. One wonders if he contemplated any escape effort while he was serving his time. Below is a photo of him during the war at his camp. MH

Erich Killinger, Center

Monday, November 28, 2022

Brilliant Dipolomacy by a General: Maude's Proclamation of Baghdad

General Maude Leads British Troops into Baghdad,
11 March 1917

The following proclamation was issued to the inhabitants of Baghdad on 19 March 1917, by Lieut. General Sir Stanley Maude (1864–1917), shortly after the occupation of the city by British forces. The city had been captured from the occupying Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire by the British Army, using mainly troops from India, just a few days previously. That was the high point of the Mesopotamian Campaign, the “forgotten” theatre of the First World War.  Maude was a very shrewd individual who knew just how to charm and flatter the people of Mesopotamia, as modern Iraq was then known, while asserting Britain’s rights over territories that had vast oil reserves.   After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, Maude was then sent to take over the less-than-successful British forces in Mesopotamia in 1916 after the disastrous defeat at the Siege of Kut. He proved to be an inspirational leader, reorganising the whole campaign and leading the so-called Samarrah Offensive which led to the Turks of the Ottoman Empire retreating en masse. Sadly, he died of cholera in November 1917.  British and American need for oil came to dictate all policies in the region. Maude’s wise words were forgotten.

The Proclamation of Baghdad

19 March 1917

Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude

To the People of Baghdad Vilayet: 

In the name of my King, and in the name of the peoples over whom he rules, I address you as follow:- 

Our military operations have as their object the defeat of the enemy, and the driving of him from these territories. In order to complete this task, I am charged with absolute and supreme control of all regions in which British troops operate; but our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Since the days of Halaka your city and your lands have been subject to the tyranny of strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunk in desolation, and your forefathers and yourselves have groaned in bondage. Your sons have been carried off to wars not of your seeking, your wealth has been stripped from you by unjust men and squandered in distant places. 

Since the days of Midhat, the Turks have talked of reforms, yet do not the ruins and wastes of today testify the vanity of those promises? 

It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance, that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad city was one of the wonders of the world. 

Between your people and the dominions of my King there has been a close bond of interest. For 200 years have the merchants of Baghdad and Great Britain traded together in mutual profit and friendship. On the other hand, the Germans and the Turks, who have despoiled you and yours, have for 20 years made Baghdad a centre of power from which to assail the power of the British and the Allies of the British in Persia and Arabia. Therefore the British Government cannot remain indifferent as to what takes place in your country now or in the future, for in duty to the interests of the British people and their Allies, the British Government cannot risk that being done in Baghdad again which has been done by the Turks and Germans during the war. 

But you people of Baghdad, whose commercial prosperity and whose safety from oppression and invasion must ever be a matter of the closest concern to the British Government, are not to understand that it is the wish of the British Government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals. In Hedjaz the Arabs have expelled the Turks and Germans who oppressed them and proclaimed the Sherif Hussein as their King, and his Lordship rules in independence and freedom, and is the ally of the nations who are fighting against the power of Turkey and Germany; so indeed are the noble Arabs, the Lords of Koweyt, Nejd, and Asir. 

General Maude

Many noble Arabs have perished in the cause of Arab freedom, at the hands of those alien rulers, the Turks, who oppressed them. It is the determination of the Government of Great Britain and the great Powers allied to Great Britain that these noble Arabs shall not have suffered in vain. It is the hope and desire of the British people and the nations in alliance with them that the Arab race may rise once more to greatness and renown among the peoples of the earth, and that it shall bind itself together to this end in unity and concord. 

O people of Baghdad remember that for 26 generations you have suffered under strange tyrants who have ever endeavoured to set on Arab house against another in order that they might profit by your dissensions. This policy is abhorrent to Great Britain and her Allies, for there can be neither peace nor prosperity where there is enmity and misgovernment. Therefore I am commanded to invite you, through your nobles and elders and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in North, East, South, and West in realising the aspirations of your race. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

From Freeport, Illinois, to Siberia, and Back — Three Doughboys Remember Their Adventure

AEF Siberia

By Duncan Birdsell, Journal-Standard City Editor, Freeport, Illinois, 1972

Their numbers around Freeport have dwindled to a handful. They are the ex-Doughboys, who back in the final tumultuous days of World War I were tucked away in a remote corner of the world while the Allies beat the German Hun into submission. Jog the memories of Clement Clarke, Harry Hoyman, and Fred Niemeier these days, when the winter cold nips the air and the news wires are full of President Nixon's impending visits to Peking and Moscow. The three retired men, all in their 70s, were part of a somewhat bizarre role played by America's soldiers in World War I. In a sense, they and some 7000 fellow American troops were the forgotten men of their times. Their lot was not the flaming battlefields of St. Mihiel, Chateau-Thierry, and the Meuse-Argonne in France.  


The three veterans interviewed for this 1972 article:

Harry Hoyman:
Born February 20, 1892 died May 1, 1989
Fred Niemeier:
Born January 2, 1896 died May 1974 
Clem Clarke:
Born November 3, 1898 died August 1981
All died in Freeport, Illinois. 



Their story hinged on the railroad tracks that cut through the wastelands of Eastern Siberia— places like Khabarovsk, Spasskoe, and Verkhne-Udinsk, where the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Siberia, were sent to aid Allied troops and secure the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Allied war material after the collapse of the Czarist regime in Russia. "When we went over there, we called ourselves 'the American Exiled Forces, Siberia'." laughs Clarke.

Guarding Railroads Was a Primary Mission

Hoyman draws a parallel to the present arguments about the American role in Vietnam. "Those fellows in Vietnam think they had the original experience," Hoyman reflects. "I didn't know why I was over there in Siberia until I got home."

Historians are still trying to assess the American role in Siberia during the 20 months from August 1918 to April 1920 when the last troops left Vladivostok. The Doughboys were under orders to walk a tightrope with the intrigue and brutality of Cossack leaders vying for power among themselves and with the Bolsheviks (Communists) in the leadership vacuum of Russia.

Other Allied troops in Siberia, the English, Japanese, French, and Czechs, were often pushing national interests. The Americans had been sent to aid the Czechs in leaving Siberia to join the other Allies on the Western Front, but the Czechs showed no yen to depart.


As often happens in the fortunes of war, Clarke, Hoyman, and Niemeier and some 50 other Freeport area soldiers had no idea that Siberia was their destination when they entered the service. "I grew up in Tama, Iowa, and enlisted back in 1916 when I was 17 years old, drove down to the Mexican border and fight Pancho Villa," said Clarke. Visions of Mexico disappeared for Clarke while he was at Ft. Logan, Colorado. He recalls the drill sergeant "telling us we could go to the Philippines and drink ice water or go to the border and drink sand, so we all went to the Philippines."

Surprised to Be in Siberia

Clarke had been in Manila for about a year when the message came that sent Clarke and some 1600 men of the 27th Infantry Regiment from the tropics to the Siberian icebox in August 1918.

Clarke's Company M docked at Vladivostok and was immediately put to work guarding Allied equipment at the harbor before spending two weeks as a flank for a Japanese force fighting the Bolsheviks.


For Hoyman and Niemeier, their Siberian odyssey began at Camp Fremont, California. Both men had been drafted in May 1918 at Freeport and gone to the camp with other Freeport area men to learn trench warfare as infantry replacements in France. "We didn't know where we were going until we got on the train at Fremont to take us to the boat," Niemeier said. "I never heard of Siberia until I got over there."

Both Hoyman and Niemeier set foot on Russian soil at Vladivostok on 2 September 1918, after a two-and-a-half-week troop ship passage across the Pacific. "We were put to guarding the railroad," Hoyman said. "I remember that it rained every day. We later met up with the 27th (Infantry) who had been fighting the Bolsheviks."

That winter of 1918-19 for the Freeporters revolved around a set of barracks at Khabarovsk once used by the Czarists during the Russian-Japanese War of 1895 period. Khabarovsk was an important rail center on the Amur River, along the Manchuria border, located 400 miles up the railroad from Vladivostok.


"Cold? It was colder than hell," recalls Clarke, in reference to nights when the outside temperature sank to 50 and 60 below. "No matter how cold, we'd get outside during the day to drill, exercise, and practice firing," Clarke said. But the troops were well fitted to combat the cold, all three agreed. "We had the best wool clothes there were, regular snow packs and lambskin lined coats," Niemeier observed. Hoyman remembers the Russian natives saying that the Americans would freeze to death in the barracks, but the Yankees quickly devised a good circulation system for the wood burning stoves.


One startling experience shook the Americans that bitter winter. One Sunday afternoon at dusk, with the temperature over 50 below the compound quiet was shattered by the approach of more than 500 Cossack soldiers who were seeking protection from reprisal after their bloody coup against their officers was unsuccessful. Clarke retains today a dog-eared diary which describes the night, when his company was awakened from standby duty. "Was awakened at 2 a.m. by a whistle and someone flashing a lantern in my face," he wrote. "I dressed hurriedly as the whole company was preparing for something. We were ordered outside and hiked to the YMCA. There were about 600 Cossacks who had deserted Kalmikoff and come to us for protection."

The surprised Americans let the deserters build big bonfires within the compound to stay warm through the night and stood guard to protect them.


About 2000 armed and menacing supporters of Kalmikoff gathered during the late night and morning to demand the return of the deserters. The American commander stood firm, refused to surrender them, and later arranged for the safe conduct of the deserters to distant points in Manchuria.

Hoyman remembers a nerve-wracking incident that followed after the deserters were turned loose. "We had to send a guard of honor, detail of about 100 men, to the funeral of Cossack leaders the deserters had shot," Hoyman said. "Our captain told us he didn't know if we'd get our heads shot off or not. Fortunately, the Cossacks didn't take it out on us. They fired a salute at the cemetery and that was it."

Working with the Red Cross in Siberia


While American soldiers were returning to civilian life in the spring and summer of 1919, the AEF in Siberia scattered to widely separated points along the railroad. Clarke's unit wound up far inland near the shores of Lake Baikal after a long train ride through Manchuria. "We had our mules on the train. Every time we turned them loose for exercise we had a heck of a time getting them back in," Clarke laughed.

Company M set up camp along the railroad using the abundant fir trees of the area for tent sideboards. Two basketball backboards were erected in a grassy area in front of the tents. The Americans guarded the tracks from sabotage but generally remained aloof from the Russian internal conflict. Clarke remembers seeing one train loaded with 3000 presumed Bolshevik prisoners who were reported taken from the train and slain. Every week the Americans would walk the 20 miles from their camp to a nearby town checking the trackage.

Although far from home and two months by mail, that area of Siberia did offer diversions. "You could go back of the camp, put a net in the stream, and pull out all the trout you'd want," Clarke said. "There were a lot of brown bear around and an awful lot of deer, just terrific. We lived high on the hog."

Clarke returned to the United States in September 1919 after a run-in with an officer, was furloughed to the reserves, and discharged in June 1920.


During the summer of 1919, Niemeier's unit, Company H of the 27th Infantry was moved back closer to Vladivostok to the town of Spasskoe, where they guarded the railroad. "It was pretty quiet," Niemeier recalls. "Several times someone got into a railroad engine and wrecked some cars. I'd ride some sentry duty on trains."

Niemeier was relieved of duty on 7 December 1919 and remembers the date still because the temperature was about 15 degrees below zero. He returned shortly to the United States where he and Freeporter Ira Sprague were discharged in January 1920 at the Presidio in San Francisco, California.

Some of the other Allied and captured enemy troops which were in Siberia provide Hoyman with some of his most vivid memories. The Freeporter spent the summer of 1919 at Verkhne-Udinsk far in the Siberian interior with a supply unit of the 27th Infantry.


"We had a track meet that summer with some Czechs. I don't know if they ever got home to their own county," Hoyman said. "Then another time we heard a grand opera performed by a band of captured Austrian soldiers." he continued. "They lacked two bass horns so we loaned them the instruments. Our soldiers sat on the edge of their seats for three hours and drank in the music. And you know how soldiers are."

Czech Legionnaires on Parade

Granted the limited number and long distances between the American troops, what accounted for the relatively few attacks on them by the Bolsheviks and sometimes hostile Cossacks, Hoyman believes that the respect for America and its potential was a key. "We carried the American flag with us and I bet a few bucks that's why we're here today," he said.

The trio of Americans brought back some pleasant impressions of the Russian peasants along with the customary wartime souvenirs, which they still have tucked in spots around their homes.


"The Russian peasants were just like anyone else. They'd been trampled on and they'd appreciate anything you'd give them," Niemeier recalls. "They were always friendly to you, at least 95 percent of them."

Hoyman remembers the Russian civilians as "just ordinary people who had no conception of what was going on in the world." Their poverty was typified to him by constant presence of women and children begging outside the Americans' tents, even when the winter temperatures fell to 60 degrees below.

At one time the Siberian veterans of the Freeport and Rockford areas would gather regularly for meetings, but they were discontinued in the early 1940s. If they have the chance would the Freeporters want to return, if briefly, to the Siberian lands? "If they could fly me over and fly me back immediately, "I'd do it," exclaimed Hoyman. "I tell you, that climate over there. At night you could almost reach up and grab a star it was so clear."

Niemeier has no desire to return. "I still think about those days quite often. I would take a million for what I heard and saw, but I wouldn't give a nickel to go through it again," he said.

For Clarke, Siberia today has plenty of allure. "Go there again? I sure would." he exclaims. "I'd be very much interested. I read articles awhile ago by a fellow from the Chicago Tribune who traveled across Siberia and I have a notion to write him."

Sources and Thanks:

Friend and contributor Alice Horner, once a citizen of Freeport, Illinois, found this article.


Saturday, November 26, 2022

"The Lusitania Waits" by Alfred Noyes

A short story written during the war by Alfred Noyes, most famous for the adventure poem "The Highwayman," who was working under John Buchan at the British propaganda ministry.  It is said to be a tale of vengeance and the supernatural.  Read on, if you dare!

The Lusitania Waits

On a stormy winter's night three skippers—averaging three score years and five—were discussing the news, around a roaring fire, in the parlor of the White Horse Inn. Five years ago they had retired, each on a snug nest-egg. They were looking forward to a mellow old age in port and a long succession of evenings at the White Horse, where they gathered to debate the politics of their district. The war had given them new topics; but Captain John Kendrick—who had become a parish councilor and sometimes carried bulky blue documents in his breast-pocket, displaying the edges with careful pride—still kept the local pot a-boiling. He was mainly successful on Saturday nights, when the Gazette, their weekly newspaper, appeared. It was edited by a Scot named Macpherson, who had learned his job on the Arbroath Free Press.

"Macpherson will never be on the council now," said Captain Kendrick. "There's a rumor that he's a freethinker. He says that Christianity has been proved a failure by the war."

"Well, these chaps of ours now," said Captain Davidson, "out at sea on a night like this, trying to kill Germans. It's necessary, I know, because the Germans would kill our own folks if we gave 'em a chance. But don't it prove that there's no use for Christianity? In modern civilization, I mean."

"Macpherson's no freethinker," said Captain Morgan, who was a friend of the editor, and inclined on the strength of it to occupy the intellectual chair at the White Horse. "Macpherson says we'll have to try again after the war, or it will be blood and iron all round."

"He's upset by the war," said Captain Davidson, "and he's taken to writing poytry in his paper. He'd best be careful or he'll lose his circulation."

"Ah!" said Kendrick. "That's what 'ull finish him for the council. What we want is practical men. Poytry would destroy any man's reputation. There was a great deal of talk caused by his last one, about our trawler chaps. 'Fishers of Men,' he called it; and I'm not sure that it wouldn't be considered blasphemious by a good many."

Captain Morgan shook his head. "Every Sunday evening," he said, "my missus asks me to read her Macpherson's pome in the Gazette, and I've come to enjoy them myself. Now, what does he say in 'Fishers of Men'?"

"Read it," said Kendrick, picking the Gazette from the litter of newspapers on the table and handing it to Morgan. "If you know how to read poytry, read it aloud, the way you do to your missus. I can't make head or tail of poytry myself; but it looks blasphemious to me."

Captain Morgan wiped his big spectacles while the other two settled themselves to listen critically. Then he began in his best Sunday voice, very slowly, but by no means unimpressively:

Long, long ago He said,

He who could wake the dead,

And walk upon the sea—

"Come, follow Me.

"Leave your brown nets and bring

Only your hearts to sing,

Only your souls to pray,

Rise, come away.

"Shake out your spirit-sails,

And brave those wilder gales,

And I will make you then

Fishers of men."

Was this, then, what He meant?

Was this His high intent,

After two thousand years

Of blood and tears?

God help us, if we fight

For right and not for might.

God help us if we seek

To shield the weak.

Then, though His heaven be far

From this blind welter of war,

He'll bless us on the sea

From Calvary.

"It seems to rhyme all right," said Kendrick. "It's not so bad for Macpherson."

"Have you heard," said Davidson reflectively, "they're wanting more trawler skippers down at the base?"

"I've been fifty years, man and boy, at sea," said Captain Morgan; "that's half a century, mind you."

"Ah, it's hard on the women, too," said Davidson. "We're never sure what boats have been lost till we see the women crying. I don't know how they get the men to do it."

Captain John Kendrick stabbed viciously with his forefinger at a picture in an illustrated paper.

"Here's a wicked thing now," he said. "Here's a medal they've struck in Germany to commemorate the sinking of the Lusitania. Here's a photograph of both sides of it. On one side, you see the great ship sinking, loaded up with munitions which wasn't there; but not a sign of the women and children that was there. On the other side you see the passengers taking their tickets from Death in the New York booking office. Now that's a fearful thing. I can understand 'em making a mistake, but I can't understand 'em wanting to strike a medal for it."

"Not much mistake about the Lusitania," growled Captain Davidson.

"No, indeed. That was only my argyment," replied the councilor. "They're a treacherous lot. It was a fearful thing to do a deed like that. My son's in the Cunard; and, man alive, he tells me it's like sinking a big London hotel. There was ladies in evening dress, and dancing in the big saloons every night; and lifts to take you from one deck to another; and shops with plate-glass windows, and smoking-rooms; and glass around the promenade deck, so that the little children could play there in bad weather, and the ladies lay in their deck-chairs and sun themselves like peaches. There wasn't a soldier aboard, and some of the women was bringing their babies to see their Canadian daddies in England for the first time. Why, man, it was like sinking a nursing home!"

"Do you suppose, Captain Kendrick, that they ever caught that submarine?" asked Captain Morgan. They were old friends, but always punctilious about their titles.

"Ah, now I'll tell you something! Hear that?"

The three old men listened. Through the gusts of wind that battered the White Horse they heard the sound of heavy floundering footsteps passing down the cobbled street, and a hoarse broken voice bellowing, with uncanny abandonment, a fragment of a hymn:

"While shepherds watched their flocks by night, All seated on the ground."

"That's poor old Jim Hunt," said Captain Morgan. He rose and drew the thick red curtains from the window to peer out into the blackness.

"Turn the lamp down," said the councilor, "or we'll be arrested under the anti-aircraft laws."

Davidson turned the lamp down and they all looked out of the window. They saw the figure of a man, black against the glimmering water of the harbor below. He walked with a curious floundering gait that might be mistaken for the effects of drink. He waved his arms over his head like a windmill and bellowed his hymn as he went, though the words were now indistinguishable from the tumult of wind and sea.

Captain Morgan drew the curtains, and the three sat down again by the fire without turning up the lamp. The firelight played on the furrowed and bronzed old faces and revealed them as worthy models for a Rembrandt.

"Poor old Jimmy Hunt!" said Captain Kendrick. "You never know how craziness is going to take people. Jimmy was a terror for women and the drink, till he was taken off the Albatross by that German submarine. They cracked him over the head with an iron bolt, down at the bottom of the sea, because he wouldn't answer no questions. He hasn't touched a drop since. All he does is to walk about in bad weather, singing hymns against the wind. But there's more in it than that."

Captain Kendrick lighted his pipe thoughtfully. The wind rattled the windows. Outside, the sign-board creaked and whined as it swung.

"A man like Jim Hunt doesn't go crazy," he continued, "through spending a night in a 'U' boat, and then floating about for a bit. Jimmy won't talk about it now; won't do nothing but sing that blasted hymn; but this is what he said to me when they first brought him ashore. They said he was raving mad, on account of his experiences. But that don't explain what his experiences were. Follow me? And this is what he said. 'I been down,' he says, half singing like. 'I been down, down, in the bloody submarine that sank the Lusitania. And what's more,' he says,'I seen 'em!'

"'Seen what?' I says, humoring him like, and I gave him a cigarette. We were sitting close together in his mother's kitchen. 'Ah!' he says, calming down a little, and speaking right into my ear, as if it was a secret. 'It was Christmas Eve the time they took me down. We could hear 'em singing carols on shore; and the captain didn't like it, so he blew a whistle, and the Germans jumped to close the hatchways; and we went down, down, down, to the bottom of the sea.

"'I saw the whole ship,' he says; and he described it to me, so that I knew he wasn't raving then. 'There was only just room to stand upright,' he says, 'and overhead there was a track for the torpedo carrier. The crew slept in hammocks and berths along the wall; but there wasn't room for more than half to sleep at the same time. They took me through a little foot-hole, with an air-tight door, into a cabin.

"'The captain seemed kind of excited and showed me the medal he got for sinking the Lusitania; and I asked him if the Kaiser gave it to him for a Christmas present. That was when he and another officer seemed to go mad; and the officer gave me a blow on the head with a piece of iron.

"'They say I'm crazy,' he says, 'but it was the men on the "U" boat that went crazy. I was lying where I fell, with the blood running down my face, but I was watching them,' he says, 'and I saw them start and listen like trapped weasels. At first I thought the trawlers had got 'em in a net. Then I heard a funny little tapping sound all round the hull of the submarine, like little soft hands it was, tapping, tapping, tapping.

"'The captain went white as a ghost, and shouted out something in German, like as if he was calling "Who's there?" and the mate clapped his hand over his mouth, and they both stood staring at one another.

"'Then there was a sound like a thin little voice, outside the ship, mark you, and sixty fathom deep, saying, "Christmas Eve, the Waits, sir!" The captain tore the mate's hand away and shouted again, like he was asking "Who's there!" and wild to get an answer, too. Then, very thin and clear, the little voice came a second time, "The Waits, sir. The Lusitania, ladies!" And at that the captain struck the mate in the face with his clenched fist. He had the medal in it still between his fingers, using it like a knuckle-duster. Then he called to the men like a madman, all in German, but I knew he was telling 'em to rise to the surface, by the way they were trying to obey him.

"'The submarine never budged for all that they could do; and while they were running up and down and squealing out to one another, there was a kind of low sweet sound all round the hull, like a thousand voices all singing together in the sea:

"Fear not, said he, for mighty dread

Had seized their troubled mind.

Glad tidings of great joy I bring

To you and all mankind."

"Then the tapping began again, but it was much louder now; and it seemed as if hundreds of drowned hands were feeling the hull and loosening bolts and pulling at hatchways; and—all at once—a trickle of water came splashing down into the cabin. The captain dropped his medal. It rolled up to my hand and I saw there was blood on it. He screamed at the men, and they pulled out their life-saving apparatus, a kind of air-tank which they strapped on their backs, with tubes to rubber masks for clapping over their mouths and noses. I watched 'em doing it, and managed to do the same. They were too busy to take any notice of me. Then they pulled a lever and tumbled out through a hole, and I followed 'em blindly. Something grabbed me when I got outside and held me for a minute. Then I saw 'em, Captain Kendrick, I saw 'em, hundreds and hundreds of 'em, in a shiny light, and sixty fathom down under the dark sea—they were all waiting there, men and women and poor little babies with hair like sunshine....

"'And the men were smiling at the Germans in a friendly way, and unstrapping the air-tanks from their backs, and saying, "Won't you come and join us? It's Christmas Eve, you know."

"'Then whatever it was that held me let me go, and I shot up and knew nothing till I found myself in Jack Simmonds's drifter, and they told me I was crazy.'"

Captain Kendrick filled his pipe. A great gust struck the old inn again and again till all the timbers trembled. The floundering step passed once more, and the hoarse voice bellowed away in the darkness against the bellowing sea:

A Savior which is Christ the Lord,

And this shall be the sign.

Captain Davidson was the first to speak.

"Poor old Jim Hunt!" he said. "There's not much Christ about any of this war."

"I'm not so sure of that neither," said Captain Morgan. "Macpherson said a striking thing to me the other day. 'Seems to me,' he says, 'there's a good many nowadays that are touching the iron nails.'"

He rose and drew the curtains from the window again.

"The sea's rattling hollow," he said; "there'll be rain before morning."

"Well, I must be going," said Captain Davidson. "I want to see the naval secretary down at the base."

"About what?"

"Why, I'm not too old for a trawler, am I?"

"My missus won't like it, but I'll come with you," said Captain Morgan; and they went through the door together, lowering their heads against the wind.

"Hold on! I'm coming, too," said Captain Kendrick; and he followed them, buttoning up his coat.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Eyewitness to War & Revolution, Part 4 of 4

Editor's comment: This is the final of four excerpts from the recently published book Four Thirds of Our Life, the autobiography of Nina Alekseevna Krivosheina. Krivosheina lived through revolution and the two world wars that enflamed Russia and Europe in the 20th century. The volume was translated and annotated [with notes in brackets] by our Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester. The series has been presented each Thursday in November 2022. MH

4.  Escape from the Soviet Union

Translator's comment: By the end of 1919, it was clear that Nina Alekseevna had to escape the country and become an émigré, as had her father not long before.  Her  immediate family left the country by different routes and at different times when deprivation descended after the Bolshevik coup. Here is her story of flight against large odds. Nina's only option was across the ice to the haven of Finland. She was one of a group of five that made the attempt: the Finn, Soder, who guided them; Zakharov, who had worked in Nina Alekseevna’s father’s business in Petrograd; an Englishwomen, Mrs. Allan; and Nina Alekseevna and her first husband. KW

The temperature started falling again, but it was a light frost, and on 19 December 1919 we put into place the plan we had worked out earlier. . . We went to Finland Station by tram, all separate. When we crossed the Okhtinskii Bridge, I saw that there wasn’t any ice on the Neva, just floating grease ice [second stage in the formation of solid sea ice]. We boarded a suburban train (around five o’clock in the evening) that went as far as Beloostrov. We sat apart on two cars. Zakharov was in my car, and Soder stood in the vestibule, with the other two in the next car. At first it was empty, since few people were traveling to the Finnish front, but then a large group of young people got in the car, all of them in overcoats and caps with red stars. Some carried shovels and some pickaxes. They were all around eighteen to twenty, maybe slightly older. In charge of them was a man of about thirty, a Russian, a little better dressed, also quasi-military, with a pleasant, open face. The train moved on, and I didn’t even notice. While we traveled, for around an hour, this leader loudly and impressively lectured about the benefits and importance of conducting Sunday services, the whole time referring to the words of Comrade Lenin. 

The entire young group—around fifteen or twenty of them—listened attentively and fortunately (for me) watched the speaker with eyes riveted; simply no one paid me or Zakharov any attention. However, my appearance could have given them cause to wonder. I was wearing a real sealskin coat (the first and last valuable clothing in my life) and a marvelous white ermine hat on my head that was decorated with a black motif in rare black karakul lamb, with fine white suede gloves on my hands and on my feet the infamous snow-white boots with triple soles. Zakharov, of course, could’ve remained unnoticed as just a passenger, but the whole time we were traveling to the station at Gorskaya, where we all got out, he pretended to read Pravda, which was upside down. So, really, no one paid us any attention—after all, there were people then who were casually wearing their precious things from their former life; maybe my neighbors in the rail car were thinking that I was going to spend Sunday at a dacha. 

As arranged, when we left the train, we went separately and were to meet up at the shoreline only when it was getting dark. As I walked along the forest, I felt I had gotten lost, but then I heard a whistle, and it turned out that Zakharov had followed behind me, and when he saw that I was going to the opposite side, he was letting me know where to go. 

When it was completely dark, all five of us convened, then walked down to the shore of the bay; it was about seven-thirty; the trenches seemed to be right alongside—we could hear the soldiers talking and laughing. We put on white robes with hoods. It wasn’t easy wearing them on top of our overcoats. Then we tied ourselves together with a rope about a centimeter thick, and they gave me the mountaineering pole that Soder had carried up till then. We walked in silence, not even a whisper. We each carried in a pocket a box of matches and a packet of acrid snuff to throw in the eyes of anyone who tried to seize us—now it seems that this was right out of a children’s book, from the adventures of Nat Pinkerton [Nat Pinkerton, King of Detectives, German adventure series in the early 20th century]. No one had any money, but in my right coat pocket I had a little black Tibetan stone god, a gift from my cousin Vsev. Bogdanov (I swore to him I would keep it always. I have it to this day.) I wore a ladanka [small receptacle for holy items] with a simple icon of the Mother of God, which had hung since childhood above my bed, as well as another small ladanka with a very modest amount of gold items. 

I was the first to descend the rather steep shore onto the ice with a mountaineering pole in hand. I immediately fell into the water up to my waist. They dragged me out, and thanks to my overcoat and the boots I barely got wet. Within a few minutes we went down a little farther, and there we could stand [on the ice]. I went forward immediately in the direction of a distant small island. For a long time, I walked in front, tied by the rope to the others; I didn’t weigh much then (I had lost a lot of weight), and my boots gave me stability even on the most fragile ice. 

It was bright because of the snow, and everything was visible, although then it gradually became foggy. The cold wasn’t too intense, five or seven degrees below zero [20-23F]. The walking soon became difficult, and we were more often encountering chunks of ice and snow. As first in line I had to scramble about and then hop directly below onto the dark “floor,” and it often seemed to be just the water. However, it was ice, very thin, in places not more than a centimeter, and the evil crackling that rang out frequently behind us showed that the water had frozen not long ago and only just a little. Thus, with some short rests, we walked and scrambled for about three hours and started to tire out. A bit of land rose up, and we became concerned—where were we actually going? 

A Fort and Lighthouse at Kronstadt

Soder calmed us down, saying, “Everything’s fine. That’s a fort; we’ll go around it, and soon Finland will appear.” A little flame, which was visible from the start, became still brighter, and there were indeed fires off to our right. The icy surface seemed endless. Suddenly I tripped on something and fell down. It turned out to be a heavy cable. What was that? We stopped in a complete panic. I walked a few paces more and saw a streetlamp in front of me, a street and audible voices. We were just a few steps from Kronstadt. 

We stood in horror, dazed, stock still. The Kronstadt coast security, of course, heard how in the quiet the fresh ice crackled under our feet, and they started to cast two powerful searchlights about that made it brighter than day. 

Soder said, “While it’s still lit, keep still without the slightest movement so that not even a shadow moves, however hard it is.” Thus it continued, how long I don’t remember: they shined the searchlight for about twenty minutes, then darkness, then the light again. We walked during the darkness, trying to be quieter, back beyond the streetlamp and the voices. Again, they shone the searchlight, and there was no movement and almost no breathing in that theatrical lighting. 

We felt no fear; we just weren’t up to it. But it was nearly over, and after four or five searches, the sailors, not having detected us, apparently went off to bed. When it became clear that now we had been left in peace, we sat down on the ice to rest. We conferred in whispers—which direction to go in now? Finland was somewhere to the right of Kronstadt, but from which corner? Fortunately, we had an excellent compass. We struck a match and obscured the flame with a sleeve. The compass persistently showed west to be not where we had thought. We decided to go thus: an hour to the west, an hour to the north, we feared drowning in the open sea or simply going back to the trenches at Gorskaya. We made short halts for two or three minutes. The ice piles on our route soon stopped, and we almost ran along the smooth, even ice. Around three in the morning, after a halt, I refused to stand up, saying, “Let me sleep, just for twenty minutes. I just can’t—and don’t want to—walk anymore.” Again, Zakharov saved me; he silently walked up to me and slapped me with full force on both cheeks, shouting in a loud whisper and speaking informally, “Get going now and stop fooling around. I’ll show you what tired means.” “How dare you speak to me in that way!” I shook with outrage, and he said, “Do you want more? I can go on.” So I almost ran, and at this rate I went on ahead of everyone, not stopping for a minute, no fear or exhaustion remaining, only—quickly, quickly…

Toward nine in the morning, it was completely light, and suddenly the coastline climbed out of the fog, with pine trees and a red wooden cottage. How could we figure out where we were? Who would clamber up onto the shore? We stood there a few minutes. Then I turned to Soder. “You must find out where we are. You said you knew the way, and we’ve been wandering now for twelve hours already. It’s light, and we can be seen. Go and find out where we are.” He understood and answered in his Finnish accent, “Everything’s fine. Wait here.” After a minute, we heard his joyful shout. “Come! It’s Finland!”

A legless man and his wife lived in the cottage. They didn’t speak Russian, but now everything was quickly taken care of. In an hour, some soldiers in sledges arrived and took us about ten kilometers to Terijoki, where we were interrogated (Soder was critically useful here), and soon, at about twelve noon, we were in a spacious dacha on the seacoast—in quarantine, where we had to stay for an entire two weeks. 

Later, Nina and Her Son in Paris, 1936


The four articles in this series are excerpts from the recently published volume Four Thirds of Our Life, the autobiography of Nina Alekseevna Krivosheina.

Four Thirds of Our Life is available now in hardcover at  and is coming soon in paperback at Amazon.