« PreviousContinue »
oap the badge of that very famous regiment, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, on his breast the red, white, and blue ribbon of 1914, and on his arm two gold wound-stripes and no less than five chevrons, one being red. He was engaged in quite amicable converse with three or four civilians of the particular calibre which loafs in the vicinity of publichouses.
Mrs Delia Murphy halted in front of the group, and the police Sergeant quickened his steps. A muttered objurgation broke from his lips-it was evident that she was not going to pass by and go down to her own house without the exchange of words with these gentlemen. The Sergeant, hav. ing come within five paces of her, halted, prepared, in the language of the Navy, to "stand-to" till the action developed, while oursing the luck which threw a man in khaki across the path of Mrs Delia Murphy at that moment. He had not long to wait. A flutter of the pocket-handkerchief, so to speak, opened fire. It was aimed, as the Sergeant perceived, and would have expeoted, at the soldier. But the latter, engrossed in conversation, observed it not. At the moment, however, he raised
his head and laughed, showing a row of white and even teeth, which did credit to nature, or the Army dentist. His laughter moved Mrs Delia Murphy to-so to speak-go over the top. With a widespread sweep of her arms she flung them round his neck in a strangling embrace, and pressed her lips upon his cheek in a resounding kiss. She raised the pocket-handkerchief in salute and her voice in strophe and antistrophe.
"Up the Irish Fusiliers! Sure I knew his mother before he was born! An' it's the dacent boy he is, an' no mistake; an' if anny wan says against that, 'tis Delia Murphy 'll have the Law of them." Her voice rang slightly higher, and the handkerohief sailed out on the breeze.
"The Irish Fusiliers, success to them! Look at him now and the fine grand figure of him and the open countenance of him. May the Lord bless the Irish Fusiliers! Up the Irish Fusiliers! Up the Rebels!"
Not a musele of the Sergeant's face moved, but he turned on his heel and went back to his beat.
THE LITTLE ADVENTURE.
BEING THE STORY OF THE RUSSIAN RELIEF FORCE.
BY GILBERT SINGLETON GATES, 46TH R.F., R.R.F.
THE Complete demoralisation of the Bolshevik brought tranquillity and rest. Billets were plentiful in the captured area. The villagers viewed us with mingled surprise, pleasure, and ouriosity. From a domestic point of view we were most welcome. Had we not large supplies of tea and sugar to exchange for their ridiculously soraggy chickens? Were we not the carriers of liberty and rum, and the protectors of the poor? Assuredly. So, with our advent, there commenced the exhumation from the earth of family treasures hidden from the avaricious eyes of the Bolshevik soldiery. Precious ikons wrapped in straw, well-worn furs, and ancient shot-guns were dug up and restored to their rightful places in the bare dwelling - rooms. The larid Bolo posters proclaiming liberty and equality were torn down, though none dared to replace them with the cheap oleographs of of the "Little Father." Enemy agents were watchful, and reprisals would result if ever the chief commissar of the distriot returned.
The wisdom of gaining favour with the victorious commanders led the peasantry to cast as persions on the sympathies of some of their brethren. Judg.
ing from the allegations, it appeared that the whole community was planning a subtle revenge on the British. In reality each peasant was seeking his own personal security. Finally, we exercised stern authority. All storastas were assembled and warned that villagers were suspected of hiding Bolshevik deserters and agents. Strenuous denials and vigorous headshakings concluded the conference. But the following morning quite a few of the straggling "heroes of the NBrigade headquarters" found their way with comparative ease to the various commanding officers of villages. They were all too apprehensive to be of any value to the Intelligence officer, and were eventually sent to join their incarcerated companions. Nemesis struck down one wretched peasant in Gorodok. Months before we arrived two British airmen had been forced to descend in the forest behind the Bolo front line. They evaded capture for some days by hiding in the dense woods, till a man cutting faggots observed them, and disclosed their refuge to the enemy. Death followed their immediate capture. Another peasant of Gorodok had been ill friends with the betrayer
for some years. Revenge led him to turn informer, not to the British authorities, who would insist upon an official inquiry into the charge, but to the Russian cavalry, whose vengeance was swift and unreasoning. The next morning the betrayer of the airmen was found shot dead in the forest, with his widow weeping over the corpse. Inquiries amongst all troops produced no information. He had just been found shot dead. It must have been an aot of God.
Seoreting rifles and ammunition was another habit of the Russians. An order that all weapons should be delivered up was half-heartedly obeyed. As the warnings grew more frequent and the threats of punishment increased, so the pile of enemy arms grew higher. Yet in searching houses one often found rifles and boxes of ammunition, and no one seemed more surprised than the occupants of the houses at the discovery. But with the captured horses the peasants were even more orafty. They sauntered round the horse lines with an apparently indifferent air. They were studiously examining the animals we had rounded up. With humble mien, an aged Russian approached the transport officer and suggested that a most unfortunate mistake had been made. In cerralling the captured animals the British soldiers, quite by accident, had taken this particular peasant's only horse. It had just been turned out to graze when the soldiers came
along. Naturally they were not aware of the ownership of the horse, but under the eircumstances-the state of the crops, the large family of the owner, and his great needsmight the animal be returned by the all-powerful and just British officer?
Though fairly well versed in Russian cunning, the transport officer, moved by the plausible story, accompanied as it was by manifestations of grief and an accurate description of one of the animals in the lines, accepted it as truth, And the peasant trudged away with the best horse in the stables. An hour later the T.O. realised his folly. Fifty Russian peasants regretted that his men had rounded up their animals. It was not for them to suggest that the soldiers knew of the ownership, but the crops... &o. 111 Only one solution was possible of this dilemma. It meant the recall of the first and more fortunate claimant. His copious tears on having to yield up his newly-acquired horse were a tremendous satisfaction to his fifty compatriots, who had failed so miserably in their efforts.
The actual employment of ponies owned by villagers to move guns was an event demanding an inexhaustible supply of patience. From Seltso to Lipovets is three miles, and with a team of eight ponies, four spares, eight drivers, and large numbers of British officers and men, it took six hours to move an 18-pounder from one village to the other. Various
portions of harness were borrowed for the occasion, deficiencies being made good with pieces of string. None of the ponies had worked in a team before. Each peasant insisted on accompanying his own pony and endeavouring to secure for it as little work as possible. In order to gain uniformity of effort each man was armed with a stick and urged to beat the pony in front of his own. This was done most assiduously, and some cohesion resulted. The roads were appallingly bad, and the gun stuck fast in a persistent manner. The normal method employed by the Russian pony to extrieate a load in such a predicament is first to retreat as far as the harness will allow, and then to plunge forward.
Naturally all the pieces of string would snap upon such a proceeding. With each of the eight ponies performing this movement at different moments on a road two feet deep in mud, in impenetrable darkness, the resultant chaos was as complete as chaos could possibly be. At every short halt the Russian drivers would set up loud ories of "Sleepem and "Scoffem," and when on its eventual arrival at Lipovets the Bolo greeted the gun and its escort with a few shells, the harness was flung down and the whole transport vanished in a few seconds.
This period of our sojourn in North Russia was marked by an increase in our gifts of food and materials to the villagers. It was common knowledge
amongst them that we contemplated a speedy evacuation. Tearful entreaties to remain were apparently reserved for war correspondents at Archangel. The inhabitants of that town had not unnatural misgivings at the outcome of its recapture by the Bolshevik after we had departed. Moreover, with the British forces would depart the most admirable canteens, from which emanated precious whisky and gin, an ample compensation for the absent vodka. Relatiens between the British at the base and the inhabitants at the base had been most intimate. Many marriages had taken place, many engagements had been announced, and the prospects of departure gave rise to dismay among the Archangel bourgeoisie. Dances and social gatherings would end, and the delights of the jazz would be overshadowed by the presence of the Red terror.
In the Dvina villages, however, the inhabitants were absolutely apathetic. Their chief endeavour was to obtain as much food as possible, and bury it before the Bolshevik arrived in the area, and also to dispossess themselves of all their North Russian Government roubles in exchange for Kerensky and Bolshevik money. The coming and going of opposing forces was growing monotonous. First the Bolos, then the British, Amerioans; Bolos, then Bolos, then British again. And as the British proposed to leave-well, the Bolos would come again.
"Nichevo." It was necessary and the depth of water in
to prepare for the arrival of the Soviet. These preparations began to take the form of individual espionage. While apparently friendly and helpful to us, many of the peasants were actually carrying information to the enemy, the results of which became evident when the evacuation began, for the Bolo attacked at the time originally fixed as zero hour. Fortunately the date had been put forward at the last moment, and his plans went agley. Rigid watch was kept on all villagers who sought for mushrooms and lost horses in No Man's Land. One old resident, discovered lurking in a clearing with a rifle in his hands, said he had just stumbled across it in the wood. A search revealed ammunition hidden away in his clothes, and he then volunteered the explanation that he was out shooting duck to sell to the British officers. Those agents who managed to squeeze through the cordon of troops had many weary versts to traverse before they came in contact with the enemy.
Apparently the Bolshevik forces had almost entirely disappeared, save for a few of the "stalwart heroes," who held a ragged line some miles from our advanced posts. The long wait for the evacuation to commence was most tiresome. Having performed the tasks allotted to us, every one in the force looked forward to a speedy withdrawal. But the congestion at the base, the lack of available transport,
the Dvina, contributed to long delay and continuous postponements.
And strange events were to be our por tion before we left for home. The quiet aspect of Seltso village was disturbed one September afternoon by the influx of many able-bodied civilians.
The officers of the British garrison met in conference to decide who these newcomers were. Several contentions were put forward, the fear being voiced that they were Bolo agents, endeavouring to recruit sympathisers and precipitate a rising. Suspioion rose to alarm when sixty young men were discovered in an empty house. They were immediately put under armed guard. Similar happenings were reported from other villages, and amazement ran high. The explanation was that the Russian authorities had returned all men mobilised from these villages. Subsequently, without doubt, these men were responsible for giving to the enemy up-to-date and first-hand information as to the strengths and dispositions of the British and loyal Russian forces,
The native troops serving with us at this time were still seething with discontent. Their attitude was one of independence, and they maintained a policy of evading orders by long argument. It culminated in the disarming of 8 battalion on Troitsa heights. Three sides of a square were composed of Lewis guns and British troops.