Canadian soldiers in Siberia in 1919
Some years ago a friend who works in the field of gentrifying old neighborhoods in New York found some letters, written in French, in an abandoned apartment building and asked me to translate them. My French, however, is not very good…
At a Russian barracks called the Riviera near Vladivostok
March 19, 1919
It is finally ….to give you my news in a certain fashion… As I said in my letter of February, the (Name of boat – Tomax?) is already at the dock.
This embarkation is going to happen immediately.
There was nothing yesterday but then all our baggage and our gear….
to the Riviera and…a train.. will carry us there in an hour. I have had a pleasant surprise!
The immense barracks lie in a valley with stations and diverse stores. The …who dominate the seaside and the bay… in the village can all be found within twelve kilometers
I have no fear of finding barracks life… I would say it is perfect but…
I have the feeling that we are at the beginning of a (constitutional?) drive…important militarily and internationally.
It is a true novel but an actual situation and the Allied organization (blurred) ! Something in our newspapers does not give good sense here and the need will be there
the need is great for a unique order and …I believe by the Japanese!
The Americans are content to do business. (Business is business.)
And we…. too much of the world.
The French are near us in Omsk and same plus less or organize a badly defined front on the coast of the Aral Sea.
They are all more active than the British who are not as bad as the Canadians.
The town presents a curious aspect with the (Tajiks?), the Italians, the free Russians…
I find these races almost as curious as the Japanese and the Chinese.
The police are assured by the international detachment and all is calm.
Up to fifty kilometers from the city.
The cannon (or trucks) of the Allied fleet inspire great respect.
In this fashion all regard them as watch dogs (literally earthenware dogs)
and regret the trading of one for the other…
The population appears to be majority Bolshevik but not able to say because the Allies provide them with food and without them, they will be in a famine.
Life is made very simple for the Europeans and Americans who have a beneficial exchange rate.
The ruble goes at this moment …eleven… one hundred fifty francs is worth more than 300 rubles.
We are rich gentleman in this court here…and the high life is for us very cheap.
Diverse rumors circulate and are all about the situation in general.
In all cases elementary precautions border on preventing an attack on the city but not far….
Near Karbine but further than Omsk(?)
The security of the railroad is confronted by small detachments that get on the train in a hunt for loot.
Those people disperse when they pass through (blurry)
they arrive and wait for rear attacks on the food or the munitions trains.
Because of this it is necessary to escort them all.
The travel service is organized almost all the way to Karbine but not quite that far.
The scheduling is irregular and …..
The biggest job of the soldiers who preceded us is to protect these trains and their passengers.
Others drive the trucks and the autos that come from America.
I ignore in this fashion absolutely that which lies ahead…stay here for now at first.
Here it may not be interesting but it is peaceful…
To go to Vladivostok or depart from Omsk but again it is necessary to arrive in order to leave for France.
If I am here, there are two routes, the Orient Express to Marseille and the return via San Francisco, going backwards.
If I am in Omsk the return will be via the Black Sea and the Mediterranean after leaving from Odessa.
One way or another, it will take me at least 45 to 50 days and it is impossible for me to foresee where or when from here.
In any case, don’t worry about me.
The temperature is that of a normal winter at home.
Yesterday there was a little snow but today the weather is clear and dry.
Heat and warm clothes.
I am able to await the return with patience.
I hope this letter finds you all in good health, Papa, Mama (or Emma?), Emmanuelle, Lea, and the little ones. In any case, I send to you all my greatest affection and despite the distance, the greatest kisses from your son and brother.
It is clear that the writer was serving in the Allied forces sent to Russia to suppress the Bolshevik Revolution, and may be a French Canadian. He knows the mission is a failure. He is eager to return home. There is no way of knowing if he ever did.
The University of Victoria has a good introduction to Canada’s Siberian Expedition.