1st July

"July 1st. Arrived at Archangel at 6.30pm. The course up the river was interesting. Many miles of timber ready for shipment were passed. This timber comes down the river in tremendous rafts towed by little tugboats; it is then drawn up into one of the numerous sawmills and cut into different lengths and thickness. On reaching Archangel half the watch were allowed ashore. My watch was aboard. Ones first impressions of the city from the river is an appreciative one but this appreciation goes somewhat of a change after visiting its streets and seeing the houses etc. There were the first evening shadows at the close of this day. They were welcome for somehow, after all, one misses the darkness of night with its sleep and rest. Lying in the hammock this evening I saw one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've ever witnessed. All the colours imaginable. Red, pale green, purple, yellow, just a tinge of pink, and then a blue making a most exquisite picture. Not that the sun set completely, for the night is not dark, just like the commencement of a summers evening at home. The slanting beams of sunlight falling on the golden domes and minarets of the mosques and churches with the multitude of shipping on the wide river, as the foreground, made a most picturesque scene.

Archangel postcard
A postcard Ethelbert brought back from Archangel.

3rd July

"On the 3rd we moved up the river about 7 miles to Solombola for coal. Whilst lying at the wharf we were much interested in watching the Russian women in their boats bringing milk etc from the outlying farms. The milk they carry in little yellow tubs, and other produce in wide chip baskets. Five of the women came aboard and down into our cabin with milk. They did not want roubles, only food, soap or whiskey. Whiskey we had not got but for two pieces of soap (about a pound together), a few pieces of Bully beef, two or three crusts of bread and a little cooked rice we had about 6 gallons of very nice milk. It was a most welcome change from the yellow water of the Ovina, which we had had to drink.

"There is a tramway system from Solombola to Archangel. The cars are very good and run smoothly. The fare is 2 roubles for a distance of some 4 miles. The cars are about the only things that do run smoothly for the roads are terrible. Many of the side roads are soft and spongy and covered with thick grass. A wooden pavement runs either down the centre or along the sides. The main road is covered with rough cobblestones. Ruts, some of them 2 feet deep, are frequent but the drosky drivers take no notice of such trifles, they drive straight on and the poor passenger reaches the end of the journey bruised and shaken. The park is the place of attraction. Crowds gather to hear the band and do their courting during the evening. Along the Troitsky Prospect is a capital YMCA doing good work for the troops. They have a fine lending library greatly appreciated by the men. We could not take advantage of it because our movements are so erratic. It is a puzzle to know how the people manage to live considering the high cost of food and clothing. Oranges were 15 Russian roubles, cheese 12/- to 14/- a lb, chocolate 60 Russian roubles. Clothing of all descriptions is scarce and expensive. Whiskey is 60/- a bottle, eggs 3/- each, cup of tea or coffee 8 to 10 roubles, plate of ice cream 20 roubles (would be 6d in England). Everything is dear.

4th July

"July 4th. Some excitement was caused this evening by a biggish fire close to the wharf. All the houses, with but few exceptions, are built of wood and this one was a very large one and it burnt merrily. Fire engines were soon on the spot. These engines are amusing contrivances. A big barrel fastened to a kind of timber wagon with a hand pump behind. This lot is drawn by three little Tartar ponies. There was one really up to date engine, one of Shard, mason's electric power machines that soon had the fire under control.

"Before leaving Solombola we had quite an exciting experience. At low tide the boat had drifted under the timbers of the wharf, and as the water rose, her sponsons became wedged. A tug was requisitioned to pull us off but in doing this we took a great portion of the wharf with us doing a very considerable amount of damage. Our next berth was near the Garth Castle. Rumour is busy again concerning the future of our packet. One is to the effect that as our boat draws too much water we are to be used as a stationary over-flow hospital ship. Another is that the boat with several others is being sent back to England.

"I went ashore today and had a good ramble about the city. The condition of the roads is terrible in the extreme. The pluck of anyone who rides a motorcar or a motorcycle through Archangel is admirable and I admired the few I saw. My visit to one of the churches was perhaps of more interest than anything else. The few worshippers who were there at this early hour of the afternoon were apparently most sincere. The Russian people as a whole are profoundly religious and the influence of the priests is exceedingly strong. One meets these priests in almost every street, tall men as a rule, with long beard and hair. Dressed in long flowing gowns and tall hats. Their expressionless faces and peculiar garb gives them a very grotesque appearance, something like a very antiquated Father Christmas, only in black instead of white.

6th July

"July 6th. (Sunday). Warm with brilliant sunshine. Watch aboard. First mail arrived after leaving England. Letters were posted on June 15th. Later in day there was heavy rain.

7th July

"July 7th. Braemar Castle was expected today with more mails. Have been told we are to go off on a small paddle steamer SS Smaillie hospital carrier, to go some 160 miles up the river to evacuate some wounded soldiers from a place called Pinega. Probably shall be gone some weeks.

8th July

"July 8th. No mails. Had a most enjoyable afternoon and evening in Archangel.

9th July

"On July 9th our little steamer proceeded up the river at 10am for Pinega. Picked up stores from SS Aro and SS Bacchus. We left at 2pm. The scenery up the river is very beautiful. The weather too is all that can be desired. The Ovina is very wide and for some 70 to 80 miles up, the current is slow, about 5 knots an hour. The evening is far advanced as we near the first stage of our journey. The rays of the setting sun are reflected in the smooth water on our left and the moon is showing up on our right. It is a rare treat. The white churches with their green and brown spires, which we pass at intervals, are exquisitely picturesque. In some of the villages there are queer little windmills looking very quaint and reminding one of Dutch scenes. The scent from the pinewoods, which comes floating on the evening air is deliciously sweet and invigorating. It seems scarcely possible that we are in the war area all is so still and quiet. Our little craft tried to pile herself on a sandbank about nine o'clock but floated off again shortly before 10. The staff of the boat consists of a surgeon Lieutenant, my mate Ernest Stanford and myself. There is crew of ten. My mate and I agreed that this first day on the SS Smaillie is the happiest day we've had since joining the MMR. Life on board the London Belle was most unhappy and uncomfortable. All the staff seemed to be continually at variance one with the other. This is a most welcome change.

"We arrived at Ust Pinega (mouth of Pinega river) at 3am. Had rather a rough night of it. My mate was very unwell. Also there were more visitors than we cared for. Thanks to Keatings we were relieved of their attentions. The weather is extremely hot. Gnats, flies, dragonflies and other insects apparently aware that we were new arrivals gathered in great force to welcome us. The river is falling rapidly and it will be impossible for us to ascend the river as far as Pinega itself that is 100 miles further up. The Bolos are busy around us just now.

10th July

"July 10th. Rain today, the first for some time. It did not last long but helped to cool the air a little. It is very hot. The cabin is too close and stuffy so we are sleeping on the deck. We had to cover ourselves with mosquito netting.

11th July

"July 11th. Had a delightful nights sleep. There was a heavy thunderstorm today. When it had cleared I paid a visit to the village, and went into some of the houses, which were very clean. Saw the girls and lads playing a game of baseball.

12th July

"July 12th. It was extremely hot today. Troops left for Pinega across country, about 75 miles, Bolos have been attacking. They paid this village a visit a few days since.

13th July

"July 13th. Another hot day and the only place to keep cool is bathing in the river. Expecting to take sick and wounded to Archangel either today or tomorrow. Have just heard that the enemy entered the village again last night carrying off one of the civil guard. During the day, in spite of the terrific heat, regimental sports were held in the camp. Trenches have been dug; sandbag defences and gun emplacements have been erected facing the north. Tonight at 10.30 we went several miles up the Pinega River to take in wood. All these river steamers burn wood instead of coal. The wood is sawn up into pieces of from 2 to 4 feet in length, they are then split into halves and quarters, this is done principally by women. Indeed it seemed to me that women did most of the heavy work. After the wood is chopped it is put into stacks on the riverbanks. When a Captain requires wood he stops his boat near these stacks, measures off how much he wants and pays for it when he reaches the next village or destination. It is difficult for him to dodge payment for the authorities know how much his bunkers hold and how long it will last. Also all vessels are checked up and down the river. The man in charge of the wood section also knows how much wood has been taken and what steamers have passed during the day.

"Some girls brought down two badly wounded soldiers in canoes. These girls left their village some 45 miles up the river at 4 o'clock in the morning arriving at Ust Pinega at 6 in the evening. During their passage down they passed through a heavy thunderstorm, which soaked both them and their patients. Everybody admired the pluck and stamina of these young girls for of course there was the return journey to be made. Beside the wounded men they brought the wife of one man (a Mrs Schilling). The thunderstorm reached us in due course and almost washed away our little sickbay. The downpour was terrific. Later on I went ashore further up the Pinega River and gathered some beautiful wild flowers. Many of these are just like our English wild flowers. Also there are plenty of redcurrants, raspberries, bilberries and other fruits, including strawberries. Russia is a wonderful country with vast resources, which need development.

14th July

"July 14th. Today we took on sick and wounded at 10am. The two wounded Russians amongst them. One was shot in both arms, right knee and breast the other in the jaw, breast and shoulder. Fine looking men both of them. The wife also came. Five officers, five men and two orderlies completed the list. Left Usk Pinega at 10.45 arriving at Archangel at 7.45 the same day. The officers were evacuated to Somalic Quay, the remainder we took down to the 85th General Hospital at Solombola. Returned from there to Somalic Quay at 12.45, and tied up at 1.45am.

15th July

"July 15th. Left Archangel for Ust Pinega at 11.14am. During the afternoon quite an exciting little episode broke the monotony. The sparks from the funnel set alight to the stretchers stacked on the roof of the sick bay. Soon the lot was burning merrily. Fortunately one of the crew noticed it and a few buckets of water brought the firework display to a finish. Three of the stretchers were destroyed. This is one of the contingencies we have to guard against when the boat is steaming. Large flakes of red-hot wood fly out of the funnel. Presently one awakes to the fact that the coat, cap or hair is on fire and the occasional hot cinder dropping down the back helps to keep things lively. It is interesting to notice the various customs and habits of the Russian people. The women do their washing by the riverside. It is the women too who bring the produce and manufactures to the market, they also do most of the field work and agriculture labour. As a rule the men seem to be walking about and smoking. They are rough bearded fellows generally with a scowl on their face and almost inevitably dirty. Occasionally one is seen well dressed, clean and especially so if they have been in the army. The people drink their 'chi' (tea) from tumblers, without milk. At first I wondered what it was they were drinking, it looked like a pale wine, they soon told me it was 'chi'. Other drinks are difficult to get and very expensive. If a Russian enters into conversation with an English sailor almost the first thing he asks for is whiskey, rum and tobacco. His idea apparently is that we drink very little else but spirits and that it is our general custom to get drunk. "Anglisky minorga wiskey" he will say (that is "English have plenty whiskey"). So much for the general impression of Angliskey. The weather continues excessively hot although it is not quite so oppressive while steaming up the river. Stopped to bunker at a little village about five miles from Pinega. Soon the entire company of inhabitants were on the beach to see who we were and to 'skulka' some 'milaka'. This was 12 midnight but as light as day.

16th July

"Left again at 1.30am July 16th, reaching Pinega at 2.30. News arrived that the Bolos have raided our communication lines about 20 miles from here. As far as we know the attack was repulsed.

17th July

"July 17th. There was great excitement today upon the arrival of a NACB barge. This will enable us to buy a few more luxuries making a change from macaroni or bully beef. Large supplies of stores, guns, ammunition, troops etc landed here today making a great addition to the camp. Had a beautiful and delightful walk along the cliffs bringing back with me a nice lot of blueberries. Several officers came in for dinner today. Our cooking was quite successful. We gave them a five course dinner. The bilberries were enjoyed by them all. We also cooked a berry like a blackberry in shape but in colour yellow and pink. Did not care for them a great deal there were too many seeds.

"The funeral took place today of a RE soldier who was killed several days ago. The men have a habit when taking their horses for a wash in the river of hanging on to their tails. This is all right if the horse is swimming but a dangerous game if standing in the water. It was so in this case. The man was bathing and hanging on to the horse's tail when it kicked out striking him in the forehead stunning him. He sank and was carried out by the strong current. His body came ashore three days later. It was intended to bury him in the churchyard and a grave was dug but at the last moment the priest objected. So he was taken to a little cemetery outside the village and buried there with full military honours.

18th July

"July 18th. The weather continues very hot although there is a little breeze, which makes it somewhat more bearable. Still lying at Ust Pinega. The natives take full advantage of our fellows camping here. I tried to buy some 'yates' (eggs) they asked 4 Russian roubles (1/-) each. Some excitement was caused today, by an aeroplane circling around the camp and dropping a message, we understand it was an urgent one from Pinega.

"The nights are gradually getting darker. The sun set at 10 o'clock tonight and it was a magnificent spectacle. We sleep on the deck in preference to the cabin, which is too stuffy. Although there was a heavy thunderstorm one night yet I slept on the deck with a couple of oilskins over me.

19th July

"July 19th. Gathered a fine lot of bilberries this afternoon. Left Ust Pinega for Bereznik at 4pm. It seemed likely that we should have some trouble with our Captain who had made up his mind that he was going to Pinega (where his home is) and he did not like going to Bereznik which is right up in the fighting line. Eventually he cooled down and we proceeded on our course. I lost our stiff broom overboard today which is a sad loss for brooms are scarce and difficult to get. We are passing some magnificent country. On the shore the people are very busy haymaking and harvesting. The girls in their varied bright colours, the beautiful forests and glorious sunshine make a brilliant panorama. It is a pleasurable trip altogether, a nice cool breeze is blowing, tempering the heat and making the day most enjoyable. Our little paddleboat is chug, chugging along as though she too was having a good time off it. We pass a number of villages with names too quaint to spell or pronounce properly but they are something like the following, Sto-pe-nor, Co-pe-washo-wo, Cre-voy-a, and many others.

20th July

"July 20th. This is Sunday (at least I think so) somehow one forgets what particular day each one is for they are all just alike. We stopped this afternoon to take in wood. In consequence it will be very late before our arrival at Bereznik. Nights are getting much colder.

21st July

"July 21st. [Two dates for July 21st have been entered into the diary, however both entries are included below.]

"Arrived at Bereznik at one am. It thus took us 30 hours to do the distance of 120 [possibly 150] miles. This is a busy military and naval centre, numerous craft of all sorts, shapes and sizes are lying on the river. Close to us is the Queen Empress, a paddle steamer rather larger than the London Belle. She is a Clyde boat fitted out as a hospital ship. She draws too much water to go further up for the river continues to fall rapidly, neither can she return because of the sandbanks. She will have to remain till the rainy season at the end of August. The large hospital barges are well equipped and very creditable. Aeroplanes and hydroplanes are busy, especially at night when they go off on their bombing expeditions.

"News has come to us of a mutiny amongst some Russian troops. They have murdered their officers (13), English and Russian. We hear that most of the mutineers have been killed or captured. Those captured have been brought down to Bereznik.

"July 21st. The trial took place today of the mutineers, most of them will be shot tonight.

"6.30. Five [could be 5, 10 or 15, or even another number, as it is difficult to read] of the condemned men have been executed on the bank close to us. The weather continues hot during the day but the nights are cold.

22nd July

"July 22nd. A big fire has occurred at the aerodrome, most of the machines have been saved. There is also a large forest fire raging some little distance away. A good many vessels have been stuck in the sandbanks in their endeavours to reach Bereznik. It looks awkward for us too. No mails. Up to date I've only had two from home and three from friends.

24th July

"July 24th. My surgeon has been temporarily transferred to SS Courier. I'm to go with him. We are to go to Troitsa, the most advanced fighting line, 40 miles further up the river, for sick and wounded. Started at 2.30. There are many channels up this section of the river but now that the water is so low there is only one navigable. In some parts the river must be 3 to 4 miles wide. Great sandbanks 10 to 20 feet thick and from – to 1 mile in width stretch across the river. When the flood time comes all these banks are covered and the largest vessels can come up. There must be 40 to 50 feet of water when the river is in flood. It is a fine sight in early spring. Distant villages and the inevitable pair of churches are very frequent. The churches are always in pairs, generally one steeple green and gold and the other brown. We passed the wreck of a Bolo gunboat, which was sunk by shellfire from one of our monitors. Lying on the sands on our right some distance further on are the remains of a British hydroplane just like a bird with broken wings. Its occupants escaped without injury. This part of the river is not so beautiful or interesting as the Pinega River. On either side miles and miles of sand, in the far distance there are some big forests.

"We pass two paddle steamers, their superstructures just above water. They are the Sword Dance and Fandango both used as mine sweepers and gunboats. Both struck mines and sunk. The water here is much deeper. We also passed the remains of an aeroplane smashed up through engine trouble. Troitsa was reached at 11 o'clock.

HMS Sword Dance
The HMS Sword Dance, mined in the Dvina River whilst in action against the Bolshevik Flotilla, September 1919. (Courtesy naval-history.net)