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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Guest Blog: Howard Weinert on a British Soldier at Archangel in 1919

Howard Weinert has sent me this fascinating letter from a British soldier in Archangel which contains detailed information about the postal service, and the collectible stamps he has been able to obtain from "Master Tarasoff". There are footnotes Howard has provided to explain some of the more difficult points.



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21/2/19

Dear Dad

This afternoon I have a little time to myself, so will write you a few lines to apologize for my last hurried note posted some few days ago.
I am glad to say that at last a regular sleigh route has been opened between here1 and Murmansk and we now have a weekly service of mails to and from that place. Perhaps it will be more correct to say that we shall have, as the new arrangements start tomorrow. This letter will be the first sent by this route and before it reaches you it will have traveled several hundreds of miles by dog or reindeer sleigh before it even gets loaded on a ship at Murmansk.
Navigation even to Economia Point2 has finished now and the icebreakers push for about 10 yards and get frozen in again, before they can get a start. Imagine ice from 6 feet to 10 feet deep. No need to feel “toey”3 when you have got that beneath you. Regular sleigh routes are open between most of the outlying districts, and proper posting points, where there are wigwams and a change of reindeer, are available on the journey.
The Boss has gone today to an island (which figured in the operations here last August) named Modugski4 in the White Sea. It is a good way away and the winter trail is not particularly well marked so I must say I don’t envy him the journey. He is well armed in case of wolves so I suppose he will come back safely.
Well, it is some time since I have had any letters from home now but am daily expecting a mail in. I think I shall be homeward bound in a month or two. A day or two ago a letter arrived marked “very urgent.” I really thought I had got a blighty5. I have since found out from the Records Office that a return of all 1914/15 men eligible for release had to be telegraphed to England, and they had questioned my eligibility. When you think of the date that I left home in 1915 you can see that it was a pretty near thing.
This office is getting snowed in with demobilization forms and returns etc. and I am really inclined to wish that the blooming war was not finished. Last Sunday I spent the whole of the afternoon and most of the evening interviewing each of the units separately and filling in their forms and learning all their past family history. Each man made a full confession of his past life. I can fully sympathize with Fr. Lynch on a cold morning.
How is poor old Bernard6 getting along? I am writing my next letter to him, but will address it to “Hillside” in case he may have moved his quarters or even been demobilized.
I think I asked you in my last letter to keep an eye on the Daily Picture Papers for snaps of the old Sanitary Section. Well, the paper which will probably print them will be the “Illustrated London News.” The Boss has posted by this mail about six prints which they will probably make use of. I did the actual taking of all but one of the pictures. Therefore I am only on one of them, and that is the one where the Sanitary Section (some of it) is leaning against the fence by the billet7. The temperature was so low (even though the sun was shining brilliantly) that I could barely manage to take the cap off the camera.
I am enclosing one or two more snaps with this letter, which will help to swell the collection. No. 1 is taken from the government house and shows the Archangel town hall (the Arkhangelsk gorodskaya duma) on the left, and one of the several fire stations on the right. A toboggan run8 has been erected close to this town hall, and the top reaches nearly three quarters the way up the tower. The gradient is so steep that you run along a perfectly level road nearly the length of Woodville Rd (to St. Marks) and then you reach another big dip which rushes you right far out over the Dvina9.
No. 2 was taken from the bridge of the City of Marseille10 while on the high seas. You can just notice a few men about with their life belts on. The rest of the crew are probably “busy”  downstairs, just longing for a tin fish to pop up and finish them off. No. 3 shows the “North Pole” Picture Palace. I think I sent you a ticket of admission to the place some long time ago.
No. 4 is quite interesting. It shows the pile driving machinery actually at work. The method of working is this. Piles are floated down the river lashed together to form a raft. They are brought alongside the machine, and a haulage chain is fastened round one end of the log. The machinery is set in motion and the log is hauled bodily out of the water and fixed in a vertical position beside the upright shaft of the machine. These logs very often reach three quarters of the way up the shaft. The log is then lashed to the shaft and allowed to slide into the water until it touches bottom. A steam operated hammer (which in the picture is seen at the bottom of the machine) is hoisted to the top of the shaft and allowed to play on the top of the log which it eventually sends many feet into the river bed. When you think that it is a very large dock and when you see what a quantity of piles have to be driven to make even one small corner, you will understand what the building of the place must have been. This view was taken (I think) from the stern of our ship.
No. 5 shows in detail the construction of the walls of a Russian hut. Notice the jointing and remember the carpenter only used an axe. Isn’t it wonderful? I have got several more to send you but I won’t send too many at a time for fear of them getting lost at sea.
Now about the stamps. The registered letter you mentioned has not turned up yet, and if you have not posted it I think you had better hold on to the good stamps. It is a case of throwing pearls before Russians. So far my efforts at sale and exchange have not met with any great degree of success, but I have not started my campaign in earnest yet. I am enclosing one or two specimens which I hope you may be able to make use of. There are four rather nice specimens of the 7 ruble (imperf.). Also three specimens of the 3.50 but unfortunately I could not get hold of any of the inperf. issue. The 40 pfennig German I take to be a German war stamp. I have not seen a copy before. The three German surcharged Belgians are not new to you but I got them for a few kopecks, as I don’t think that specimens appear in my collection. Do you recognize the Finnish stamp? I don’t know it.
As it is now impossible to send or take more than a few rubles out of the country, I shall spend my spare cash on unused Russian stamps. What the dickens is the stamp surcharged “Dardanelles 1 piastre?” I have got one or two Russian surcharged China in tow and there are several others which Master Tarasoff11 will have to disgorge in the very near future. Our English postage due seems to be unknown. I priced them as follows: 60 k (1/2 d), 40 (1 d), 50 (2 d), 1.20 (5 d) and shall hope to do business in a day or two.

Saturday 22/2/19

Didn’t finish this letter last night on account of our Russian class. Did I tell you I had made a start with it again? We have had four lessons so far. It is a terrible lingo to write. Am just waiting this afternoon for a posting sleigh to arrive to take me over to Solombala12 which is a place some little way north of Archangel, and then I want to get back and drive down to the P. O. with this letter. Must stop hurriedly as the sleigh has just this moment arrived.
Best love to you all,

Alban

Excuse hurried ending but I have a good long round to go and shan’t get this letter away unless I finish it now.

1Arkhangelsk was frozen in by January, so once a week mail traveled 300 miles (5-6 days) by sleigh to Soroka, then by train to Murmansk, which was ice-free. 2A new port 16 miles from Arkhangelsk. 3Nervous. 4Mudyug Island was 30 miles north of Arkhangelsk. At the beginning of August 1918, the Allies had to neutralize a Bolshevik battery on the island so that their ships could reach Arkhangelsk. Afterward they established an internment camp on the island for Bolshevik prisoners. 5A wound serious enough to warrant a ticket home. 6The writer’s brother. 7See photograph. 8See photograph. 9Arkhangelsk was on the right bank of the Dvina River, near its mouth. 10British troops were transported to Murmansk on this ship. U-boats (tin fish) were a constant threat. 11A stamp dealer in Arkhangelsk. 12A suburb of Arkhangelsk.

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