Part 3 – “B” Squadron RNWMP

The activities of “B” Squadron RNWMP and their activities are provided below and includes of members who were there.  The history of the Squadron is provided in this comprehensive historical account of the Squadron’s  creation, deployment, activities, challenges and return to Canada, their story is being broken down into six parts:

On Route to Vladivostok and Initial Impressions

Vladivostok – Strategic Location

Vladivostok has been the most eastern city in Russia and is their Pacific Ocean Naval Fleet base.

In 1860, Russia gained access to the Pacific Ocean when China lost to Britain during the Opium War.  In the Treaty of Peking, Russia was granted portions of Manchuria, Pacific coast areas of Vladivostok and the southern port of Port Arthur which was an ice-free port.  As a result of this treaty, the Russian Count Nikolav Muravvov-Amursky established a  Vladivostok as a garrison town and a naval outpost.  The site was named after a Russian fortress on the Caucasus Sea called Vladikavkaz.

In 1891, the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway commenced.  It was completed in 1916 and connected Vladivostok with Moscow – a distance of 5,778 miles.

With Russia being defeated in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, it was forced to give up control of Port Arthur and the northern territory of Korea.  Based on this loss, Russia retreated to the garrison city of Vladivostok.  This resulting move provided the Russian with the only partially ice free port on the Pacific Ocean.  Consequently in extremely cold temperatures, ice breakers would frequently need to break up ice in the entrance to Vladivostok harbor.

From 1904, Vladivostok gradually turned into a large European-type center for culture, trade and industry in the Russian Far East.   However, the Russian people would continue to be suspicious of Japanese interests in the area.

With the outbreak of World War I, Vladivostok was a strategic port from which military munitions, equipment and food were sent by the United States and Japan to support Russia’s participation in the war.  The importing of supplies exceeded the capacity of the Russian government to ship material to the European area of Russia.  Consequently, supplies filled all available warehouses in the Vladivostok and the surrounding area.

Goods were piled on the docks or on barges until, eventually, recently arrived supplies had to be placed in temporary shelters I the hills near the city or even left in the open, frequently without any covering.  It became impossible to be certain exactly how much there was or what was either rotten or stolen.  When the main Allied contingents arrived late in autumn of 1918, a special correspondent of the New York Times noted:

 During the war scores of great warehouses were constructed to house the perishable goods, and when these were stacked to the rafters and it became impossible to erect buildings as fast as the supplies came, everything, from cotton to unassembled motor-lorries, were piled in open fields and lots and covered with tarpaulins.  Outside the city… are hills and fields of munitions and materials, rotting, rusting, decaying and wasting.   There is a hill of cotton shipped from the United States tucked under mounds of tarpaulins.   There are 37,000 railway truck-wheels and heavy steel rails in such quantities as to make it possible to build a third track from the Pacific to Petrograd.  There is enough barbed wire to fence Siberia  There are field guns, millions of rounds of ammunition, and a submarine, automobiles, shoes, copper and lead ingots.”[1]

With the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II and the Alexander Kerensky Provisional Government in 1917, the Bolshevik supporters in Vladivostok took control of the city in the spring of 1918.

As a result of two Japanese citizens being killed in Vladivostok, Japan ordered their Navy to land troops on April 4, 1918 under the pretext of protecting their citizens living within the city.  Americans were suspicious of Japan’s actions and felt it was a motive to expand their influence into Siberia and Manchuria.

At the same time, a British warship entered the harbour and landed the members of the 25th Middlesex Battalion which had been stationed in Honk Kong.   Shortly thereafter, the French landed 1,150 troops from Indo-China (Vietnam).

In August 1917, the Kerensky government evaluated Czar Nicholas II and his family to Tobolsk in the Ural Mountains for the purpose of protecting them from the rising radicals.  In Tobolsk, they stayed in the former Governor’s mansion and lived in relative comfort.

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks took control of the Russian government.  Czar Nicholas followed the actions of the Bolsheviks and believed that various plots were underway to rescue them and smuggle them to safety.

On April 30, 1918, the Romanov family were transferred to Yekaterinburg where they were imprisoned in a two storey house.

In May 1918, the Czech Legion invaded Central Russia on their way toward Vladivostok.  With the advancing Czech Legion, the Bolsheviks decided to execute the Romanov family to avoid them being rescued by the Czech Legion and the White Russian forces.  The date of execution was July 17, 1918 and they were murdered by 10 Bolsheviks in the basement of the house.  Their bodies were randomly buried the surrounding area.

On June 29, 1918, 17,000 Czech Legion troops disembarked from their Trans-Siberian trains and overthrew the Vladivostok Bolsheviks within 24 hours.  In so doing, they took control of the city and were supported by the Japanese troops.

In early August 1918, President Woodrow Wilson ordered American troops to land in Vladivostok and advised the American people – “the Americans were sent to Vladivostok to help the Czechs in that area and not to get entangled in the Allied project of re-constituting an eastern front against Germany.[2]

American troops landed on August 18, 1918 and were followed by soldiers from other Allied countries.

It became clear to the War Office that Japan was not interested in sending their forces from Vladivostok to the Ural Mountains to support the new White Russian offensive against the Bolsheviks.  Consequently, Britain and France would take the lead role in coordinating support for the new White Russian government.

The common interest of all Allied countries was to support and supply equipment to the evacuating Czech Legion.  Britain and France negotiated with the leaders of the Czech Legion to remain in Russia and support the new White Russian government.  The American government agreed to help maintain the Trans-Siberian Railway and re-open the coal mines just north of Vladivostok.

In the following weeks and months, the Allied Intervention Force increased to the point that the following countries provided the corresponding number of soldiers.

 

 

 

In early September 1918, British Major-General Alfred Knox met Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak in Japan and discussed the situation in Russia.

Kolchak had been the former commander of the Black Sea Fleet and was an envoy for the Kerensky government.  As such, he travelled abroad to meet with government officials in Britain and the United States.

Knox encouraged Kolchak to return to Russia and become involved in the Allied plans.

Shortly thereafter, Kolchak returned to Vladivostok and boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway on September 21, 1918 and reached Omsk on October 13, 1918.

Five days after Kolchak arrived in Omsk, British Lt. Colonel John Ward and his 25th Battalion – Middlesex Regiment also arrived in Omsk.

At the time, Omsk was the new capital for the White Russian government.  Allied Forces were being sent to Omsk to support this new government in their plans to take action against the Bolsheviks.  Once the Bolsheviks had been defeated, the White Russians agreed to re-open the Eastern Front against the Central Powers (German & Austria).

It was the intent of the War Office that the “B” Squadron RNWMP would be quickly deployed to Vladivostok and shortly thereafter advance onto Omsk.  The remaining Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force members would be deployed to Omsk once they had adjusted to living conditions in Siberia.

Advance Party – “B” Squadron

On October 11, 1918, Captain (Superintendent) Arthur ‘Bill’ Duffus and the 17 members of the “B” Squadron RNWMP left Victoria on board the Steam Ship (SS) Empress of Japan.  They were a component of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force – Advanced Party which consisted of a total of 680 soldiers.

On board the Empress of Japan, Bill Duffus became good friends and drinking buddies with a fellow officer from the 85th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery – Raymond Massey.  Massey would later become a famous Hollywood actor and movie star.  His brother (Vincent Massey) would become the Governor General of Canada in 1952.

 

 

In later years, Raymond Massey recalled his adventures on the Empress of Japan and with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force in his book entitled “When I Was Young.”

After a week under canvas in the rain at Esquimalt, British Columbia, we boarded the C.P.R. liner Empress of Japan.  We took two and a half weeks to get to Vladivostok through the Straits of Hakodate.  German submarines had never operated in the Pacific, no evasive course was necessary.  Our time was the best the old ship could do.

 The weather was atrocious, even for the Pacific.  Once in a pitching sea, the whole lot of us were nearly washed overboard as the fantail stern dipped below water and the corpse prematurely disappeared.  At one point in the voyage, there were thirty cases of flu among the six hundred troops.

 The advance party was top-heavy with officers, over sixty of us crowding the little saloon where we messed.  The only complete unit aboard was General Elmsley’s force headquarters which accounted for some twenty officers and about thirty other ranks.  His actual staff numbered six.

 At midway on our voyage to Vladivostok, Private Fellowes (Artilleryman) mentioned that he had written a little farce that he thought might amuse the officers’ mess.  He let me read it.

The script made me laugh, and I showed it to a couple of friends.  Hertzberg of the sappers and McKellar of the machine gun company agreed we should put it on.

With the general’s permission, I became the producer.  The show was for officers only and, though cleaned up considerably, was pretty raw for those days.  It dealt with the adventures of a beautiful woman spy aboard the Empress of Japan. 

 

 

 

The cast included officers commanding the machine gun detachment, the engineers, myself,  the author and, to play the master counterspy, Captain Duffus of the Royal North West Mounted Police, who in the dramatic finale got his man – or, rather, woman.

It was a smash hit on its only performance in the little saloon.  The general laughed uproariously.  So did the rest of the captive audience.”

On October 26, 1918, the Empress of Japan docked in Vladivostok harbor. As the soldiers disembarked, they were entertained by the music being played by a Czech Legion brass band.

According to Raymond Massey, “the next morning, we marched through Vladivostok to our quarters in what was known as East Bar racks.  The barracks were not too bad after they had been cleaned up.  We officers were luxuriously housed in the (Russian Naval Hospital) military jail, each of us having a cell to himself with a board bed.

A brief inspection of Vladivostok later next day confirmed our first impression that here was one of the strongest inhabited smells on earth.  The sanitation of this Far Eastern spa was served – or should I say, stirred – by Manchurian coolies.  In great numbers, they passed to and fro with huge wooden barrels on wheels, drawn by tough little horses, each of these ‘honey carts’ an olfactory catastrophe.  The coolies themselves added a malodorous piquancy to the general stench.

This drab and treeless town was the eastern terminus of the five-thousand-mile Trans-Siberia Railway.   Its harbor, with the aid of ice-breakers, could be used the year around.

The railway station was the only sizeable building in town.  It looked like a huge, sprawling church. 

Since the station was to a certain extend heated, it provided shelter for nearly seven thousand refugees every night, a heartbreaking sight.  Vladivostok’s normal population was about forty thousand; but during the winter of 1918-1919, an additional one hundred and fifty thousand derelicts crowded into the town and its vicinity.  Their living conditions were appalling.  Their only hope was to go south to China and that hope was faint.  Money was the major necessity and most of the refugees were penniless.  Inflation had wiped out their savings.  These victims of the Bolshevik terror were from all classes.

The Red Cross did magnificent work in Vladivostok, as did other relief organizations.  The trickle of refugees south to China was speeded up and some made their escape direct to America by sea.  But a large number met death in Siberia.[3]

Trooper Frank Hood (“B” Squadron RNMWP) wrote in the “The Siberian Sapper” edition on January 11, 1919 described Vladivostok as – “Many buildings have been erected which although not built according to North American ideas, are substantial, the facings and finishing of most of them being done with the idea to effect. 

Many of the old buildings are still to be seen in various stages of decay, while others look scarcely a day older.  The streets, although kept in repair, have not been greatly improved.  But the warehouses along the harbor front have given to the city a look of prosperity which it did not possess before.  The presence of troops, however, makes it difficult to get a thorough idea of what it would be like were they not here, and one cannot gauge its financial status under present conditions.”[4]

The main task of the advance part was to find adequate accommodation for the Canadian contingent.  “Both the Japanese – in surprisingly large numbers – and the Americans had already arrived.  They had naturally taken the best barracks.  After the establishment of the headquarters offices, the advance party turned to the renovation of tsarist barracks at Second River, at Gournastai, and at East Barracks (at the east end of the Golden Horn) made available by the White authorities for use by the brigade.  Some of the barracks were filthy, having been used by refugees, but all were of sound construction.”[5]

Raymond Massey described the conditions of the military barrack facilities in and around Vladivostok – “In theory there were sufficient barracks to house a hundred thousand troops in Vladivostok area.  In fact, ninety percent of these buildings were only partially completed and quite useless.  There must have been forty or fifty of them, planned to house a company and placed in groups of four scattered about in the vicinity of the city.  They were without windows and only partly roofed-over.  Each unit had an overhanging plumbing facility on the second floor, obviously incomplete.  From this upper floor, protruding earthwards about three feet, were six pipes of about ten inches in diameter, and that was that.  After visiting four or five of these half-done shells, I asked the Russian officer why the buildings were left in the same unfinished state.  His cryptic reply was “Many rich people in Russia!’ I knew what he meant.”[6]

It was decided that the most suitable accommodation for the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force was the Gornostai Bay Barracks which was situated 8 miles northeast of Vladivostok.  German and Austria-Hungarian prisoners-of-war were used to assist in the cleaning and preparing the selected barracks for the forthcoming Canadian troops.

Raymond Massey described some early experiences at the Gornostai Barrack prior to the arrival of the main body of “B” Squadron RNWMP – “Gornastai was a beautiful place.  According to Corporal Konowal, the barracks had been constructed for a guards regiment and we found in the former officers’ mess the liveries for twenty mess servants, all neatly packed away in chests.  There were also stables for two squadrons of cavalry and we readied them for the Mounties.  Captain ‘Bill’ Dufus was at Gornastai with me; an inspector in what was still in 1918 the Royal North West Mounted Police, he had been in the force when Charles Dickens’ son was an inspector.

We had a pleasant little cottage and one of the Austrian prisoners was a good cook.  He even produced a schnitzel that wasn’t veal. 

Czarist vodka was an unknown quantity to most of us, Duffus included.  We both discovered its effects one evening as Gornastai when we divided an Imperial quart.  We consumed it in the approved Russian manner with no heel taps.  As the contents of the large bottle diminished, our intellectual powers and clarity of vision increased.  The problems of the ages were solved with incredible facility.  It all seemed so simple.   I remember that perpetual motion was the final subject of discussion.  As the inspector solved this riddle, he rose from his chair with dignity and deliberation and collapsed on the floor.  I inquired, ‘What’s the matter, Bill?’ Next moment, I found myself prone beside him.  I heard Bill Duffus, ‘I may not be able to move but, damn it, I’ve never been able to think better.’ I had to agree.[7]

On November 2, 1918, General James Elmsley sent a message to Major-General S.C. Mewburn, the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defense.  In the message Elmsley stated – “The general situation here is an extraordinary one – at first glance one assumes that everyone distrusts everyone else – the Japanese being distrusted more than anyone else.  Americans and Japanese don’t hit it off.  The French keep a very close eye on the British, and the Russians as a whole appear to be indifferent of their country’s needs so long as they can keep their women, have their vodka, and play cards all night until daylight.  The Czechs appear to be the only honest and conscientious party amongst the Allies.[8]

On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed ending World War I.  As such, there was a confusing exchange of telegrams between Prime Minister Robert Borden in London and the acting Prime Minister in Ottawa.  The general indication was that the Canadian involvement in Siberia would continue as originally planned.

Four days later, “all elements of the Allied Intervention Force marched down Pushkinskaya in what was proclaimed to be a peace parade.  It wasn’t too happy a description.  Many of the thousands who watch us pass were refugees for whom peace was a meaningless word.”[9]

Raymond Massey provided additional comments about the parade by stating – “But the parade confirmed what we had been told many times by people who knew the facts of the revolution that the presence of allied troops, however small in number, made possible the growth and spirit of resistance to the Bolsheviks.  Without us, the newly organized White Russian troops would ‘melt- away.’ As Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada, wrote just about this time.[10]

As our little collection of odds and sods of the advance party marched by the crowds, we heard wild cheers.  The American regiment of infantry, a British infantry battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and the French instructors all got the same reception.  But a battalion of Japanese passed to resentful silence.  The crowd was cool even to the Czech battalion.”[11]

On November 18, 1918, an Omsk coup d’état revolt resulted in Russian Admiral Kolchak becoming the supreme ruler of the new White Russian government.  It is suggested that Kolchak’s coup was supported by the British 25th Battalion and two Cossack regiments.  British Lt. Colonel Ward later stated “It is certain that Admiral Kolchak would never have gone to Siberia, nor have become the head of the constitutional movement and government of Russia, if he had not been advised and even urged to do so by the Allies.[12]

On November 23, Prime Minister Borden in London advised the Allied War Office of the following:

To undertake an offensive campaign in Siberia against the Bolsheviks… we attach the greatest importance to maintaining the British and Canadian troops we have already sent, and reinforcing them to the full extent originally contemplated, in order to improve the general situation, to strengthen the hands of the Omsk Government and to assist the organization of the Russian forces now being raised so as to enable them at the earliest possible moment to stand on their own legs and enable our forces to withdraw.[13]

Main Body of “B” SQUADRON

With the main body of “B” Squadron boarding the SS Monteagle in Vancouver on November 17, 1918, the horses received special attention.

According to Major George Worsley, “the horses were led on board through a covered-in gangway and taken direct to their stalls on the second deck, and gave little trouble.  An extra blanket was supplied in cases of cold weather. 

 We laid anchor at five PM and passed Victoria in daylight on a beautiful evening.  The ‘Monteagle’ we found to be very comfortable for all ranks.  The Officers’ accommodation was particularly good.

We had several storms and occasionally very cold weather, but nothing to bother either horses or men to any extent.  We expected to lose a fair percentage of our horses as the weather is unusually severe in these latitudes at times, close to the Aleutian Islands.  We kept one NCO and ten men continually on duty with our horses and by constant vigilance and the assistance of Captain Campbell, a very painstaking Veterinary Surgeon.  We lost only three horses (A-11, A-36 & A-101) from pneumonia during the voyage.

Each day the horses were moved about on the lower deck from one stall to another, the ventilation carefully watched and wind sails provided wherever the air became overheated.

During the voyage, the men were exercised on deck with physical training and exercises, and many concerts were got up by Captain Smith of the YMCA and Major McCausland, the Senior Chaplain.

Lt. Colonel Brook, DSO, AA& QMC, was the Commanding Officer of the ship.  Two ex-members of the Force were on the Staff of the Expedition: Lt. Colonel R.(Richard) Stayner (NWMP Reg. #3333) DSO, MC; and Major F. Cartwright (NWMP Reg. #O.108)  DSO – Assistant Provost Marshal.[14]

The galley was manned entirely by orientals, being a CPR ship.  Weak milk and lumpy porridge for breakfast along with heavy ships bread.  Noon meal Curry and rice, tea and bread.  We were told that it was the regular ships fare but being the first aboard they were not really prepared for us with better food to come.  We put up with much same the next day but at night we sat at our tables and pounded the tables with our cups and dishes until the cooks closed the galley.  Finally, Major Worsley and most of the ships’ crew came into the mess and wanted to know what was wrong.  After hearing our complaints, Major Worsley told the Captain of the Monteagle that he demanded a full good meal for everyman and w were told to remain at the tables while more good food was provided which we did receive, followed by good meals for the rest of the trip to Vladivostok.

 

Living conditions on board, being of a temporary nature, were not of the best for the ranks.  Always below decks suspended from the ceiling, in very close order.  When the ship rolled, we rolled with it.[15]

Trooper Randolph Holding recalls that he didn’t enjoy the voyage from Vancouver to Vladivostok – “The outward journey across the great ocean consumed eighteen days.  The ship rocked on every wave.  For eleven days we were horribly seasick.  One minute, I was afraid I was going to die.  The next, I was afraid I would not.  As we leaned over the rail, vomit shooting out, one man would bet with the comrade next to him as to which one had the strongest stomach.  As we came into the great Vladivostok harbor, we passed through a chanel cut out of the solid rock.  Ours was the first really big troop transport to pass through.  A man could reach out and touch the rock walls on either side.[16]

On December 17, 1918, the SS Monteagle docked at Vladivostok wharf and it took several days to unloading men, horses and supplies.

Upon arriving in Vladivostok, Major Worsley’s made the following observations – “The harbour is very fine one, and the City quite impressive on first viewing it from the sea.  There is a great deal of shipping done, all the trade for Manchuria and Siberia passing through this port and connecting with the Great Siberian Railway.

There are a number of impressive buildings all over the City, nearly all for Government use.  The drainage and watering system are exceptionally poor the people relying on sun and rain for sanitation.  It has pavement for a short distance on the main streets but mostly the streets are cobble stones.  There is a street car system which is poorly organized and much over-crowded.[17]

 

Trooper Randolph Holding’s first impression of Vladivostok was – “Every train from European Russia brought more.  On top of this, troops from seven foreign nations put additional strain on the precarious situation.[18]

The first casualty upon landing was “Zota” Sgt. Major Tim Griffin’s reliable mount.  He is buried on a knoll overlooking the harbor, and may have met a better fate than the bulk of the other police horse which were (eventually) turned over to the Russians in the spring of 1919.”[19]

After disembarking from the SS Monteagle, the Squadron was temporary quartered at the Russian East Barracks where make shift stables were constructed of galvanized iron.  The provided barrack space was comfortable and a welcome improvement over sleeping conditions on the ship.

Three days later, the entire Squadron set off for the Gornostai Bay Barracks.  It was at this military facility that the Squadron would continue their mounted, rifle and sword training.

 

In the next article entitled “Part 4 – Squadron Activities in Siberia (December 1918 to June 1919),” the various activities of Squadron members will be outlined.  These stories will include never before published accounts about their Siberian adventures.  Stories told will from individuals who were there.

 

Check out – Part 4 – Activities in Siberia (1918 – 1919)

 



[1] MacLaren, Roy – “Canadians In Russia: 1918-1919” Macmillan of Canada (1976), page 127-128.

[2] Bradley, John – “Allied Intervenion in Russia – 1917-1920” (Weidenfeld and Nicolson (1968) – page 107

[3] Massey, Raymond, “When I Was Young” – McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (1976) – Chapter 24.

[4]  Hood, Frank (Reg. # 7428), “Impressions of Vladivostok: 1904 and 1919” – The Siberian Sapper Newspaper, January 11, 1919 (Volume 1, No. 2).

[5] MacLaren, Roy, “Canadians In Russia: 1918-1919” (McMillan of Canada)(1976) – page 151

[6] Massey, Raymond, “When I Was Young” – McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (1976) – Chapter 24.

[7] Massey, Raymond, “When I Was Young” McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (1976) – Chapter 24.

[8] MacLaren, Roy, “Canadians In Russia: 1918-1919” – MacMillan of Canada (1976) – page 154.

[9] Massey, Raymond, “When I Was Young” McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (1976) – Chapter 24.

[10] Massey, Raymond, “When I Was Young” McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (1976) – Chapter 24.

[11] Massey, Raymond, “When I Was Young” McClelland and Stewart Ltd. (1976) – Chapter 24.

[12] Jsit, Benjamin – “From Victoria to Vladivostok:Canada’s Siberian Expedition, 1917-1919” – UBC Press (2010) – page 82.

[13] MacLaren, Roy, “Canadians In Russia: 1918-1919”  – MacMillian of Canada (1976) – page 160.

[14] Worsley, George – “Report to Commissioner on “B” Squadron RNWMP” – October 19, 1919.

[15] Stewart, John (Reg. #7417) – interview on December 8, 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta.

[16] Holding, Randolph (Reg. #7389) – interviewed on July 6, 1983 at Tompkins Saskatchewan.

[17] Worsley, George – “Report to Commissioner on “B” Squadron” – October 19, 1919.

[18] Holding, Randolph (Reg. #7389) – interviewed on July 6, 1983 at Tompkins Saskatchewan.

[19] Stinson, J.V. (Reg. #6256)

– “Siberian Expedition: “B” Squadron, RNWMP Police (Cavalry)” – Scarlet & Gold magazine (forty-seventh edition) – page 57.

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software