MY YEAR IN SIBERIA
PFC HARRY HOYMAN
AEF Siberia Patch
transcribed and edited by
Harry Hoyman Doing His Laundry Before Departing
Camp Fremont, California
The Eighth United States Infantry, with Pvt. 1C. Harry H. Hoyman in its Supply Company, arrived in Vladivostok from the United States on September 2, 1918. Units of the Twenty-seventh and the Thirty-first had arrived from the Philippines a few days earlier and after a long hard march had caught up with Japanese troops guarding and repairing railroad lines to the north of the city. Every little warlord seemed to want to sabotage the railroad. Trains were running as far as Ussurisk on the Ussuri River, where the two American forces joined and stayed in camp for a cold rainy week, but entrained hurriedly when supplies from Vladivostok were cut off. Some Bolsheviks had blown up a bridge.
Headquarters in Khabarovsk, Siberia
The Americans went to the important rail and port city of Khabarovsk on the Amur River where the Trans-Siberian Railroad makes a sharp turn from going north to follow an irregular course through mountains, forests, and deserts westward to Lake Baikal and thence still westward and a little north to Moscow. The Amur at Khabarovsk is the boundary between Siberia and Manchuria and has been the scene of some confrontations between the Russians and the Chinese in recent years because it is Manchuria's nearest outlet to the sea. The Americans spent the winter in Khabarovsk in partly roofless deteriorated brick barracks built for Russian troops during the 1905 war with Japan. The bathhouses and mess hall were separate buildings, the latter a full block from the nearest barracks.
The city that winter was in the possession of a Cossack, General Kalmikoff. The Americans watched his troops take a band of captured Bolshevik men and their families to the edge of the city where they were made to lie on the ground face down. Kalmikoff marched past, indicating certain men, women, and children who were then ordered to run. As they ran, yelling Cossacks on horseback rode them down, lashing them with sabers until all were killed.
Russian Nationals Receiving Red Cross Supplies
A few weeks after the Americans reached Khabarovsk the Armistice was signed. Days later the only notice they ever received of it was a small newspaper clipping pinned on a bulletin board.
Khabarovsk was about the size of Freeport, with mostly one- and two-story unpainted wooden buildings. The people were miserable, torn by rumors and conflicting parties. Even though the Americans were friendly allies helping to guard the precious railroad supplies and went about unarmed, they were often met with unfriendliness and occasionally were shot at from windows and street corners.
Editor's note: It's hard to tell if Harry Hoyman means population or land size when he states "Khabarovsk is about the size of Freeport". Freeport's population at the time of printing (1972) was about 25,000, although it was probably somewhat less in 1918. Harry Hoyman probably meant the 25,000 figure. In 1918 it was approximately 2 1/2 miles by 1 mile wide; in 1972 approximately 3 1/2 miles by 1 1/2 mile wide. AH
The Colonel's Private Sled (in Khabarovsk)
A few blocks from the barracks was a church, the tallest and most imposing building in the city. It was dark brick and stone, but the onion domes were painted and gilded. In spite of many candles it was dark and cold inside, but lavishly ornamented with icons and gilding. A number of Americans, including Hoyman, mingled with the local worshippers on Christmas. During the service several drunken Cossacks came in and shot at the priest. The Americans disarmed the intruders, knocked them unconscious, and threw them out in the snow. Unless some of their friends came along soon, that was the end for them, for it was many degrees below zero.
The Americans were in the greatest danger when several hundred Cossack soldiers, tired of being mistreated, killed their colonel in order to escape and tried to kill General Kalmikoff. They turned up at the American barracks asking for sanctuary one cold midnight. Since the Americans and the Russians were supposed to be friends, H Company was delegated to be a guard of honor in the parade for the fine military funeral given the murdered Cossack colonel. Ordinarily a platoon had just one automatic rifle squad, but "we loaded that platoon with three squads of automatic rifles, just in case." said Mr. Hoyman. While the funeral was in progress, the mutinous Cossacks were marched out the back way several miles to Krasnaya Retchka prison camp, the commander of which was known to be no friend of Kalmikoff. As the time went on, he allowed the mutineers to escape, one by one.
Five Yanks and Five Barracks Guests
HH Second from Left
In May, 1919, part of the American troops were sent into the far interior of Siberia to Verkne-Udensk (now called Ulan Ude) hear Lake Baikal. Since the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Khabarovsk to Lake Baikal had been blown up, they back-tracked to Nickolsk and took the Chinese Eastern Railroad through the Manchurian Mountains to Harbin and then across the weary miles of the Gobi Desert on a rickety little train prone to engine trouble.
One of their many adventures on this trip was the rescue of an Austrian who had escaped from a Russian prison camp. He ran up to Harry Hoyman, who was on guard duty, and begged to be saved. The Americans put one of their uniforms on him and made him the company barber. As long as he was with them he gratefully insisted upon barbering Hoyman free and also made his bed and cleaned his quarters.
Conditions were much as those described in the book "Doctor Zhivago" with rival war lords or bandits ruling what territory they could claim or keep terrorized, some of them operating from more or less fortified headquarters, others dashing about the country in armored railroad trains. The war lord or Ataman from the Manchurian border to Lake Baikal was a particularly unpredictable and unsavory "general" named Semenov.
One July night about one o'clock a bandit gang in an armored train rolled up to the camp and the chief ordered the Americans to be out of Verkne-Udensk by three that afternoon or he would destroy them. Colonel Morrow, who commanded the camp, replied that if the bandits did not leave before two in the afternoon he would order his men to blow them to bits. He ordered his two never-before-used little cannons to be mounted on top of a railroad car and he and the bandits settled down to out-bluff each other.
Finally the commanding officer of the Japanese encampment came and persuaded the bandit leader to leave under Japanese escort at one o'clock in the afternoon, and the twelve-hour vigil was over, but the tension was not, for Semenov declared war on the bandits and the Americans were in danger of being caught in the middle. They had been issued double supplies of clothes and personal items because they were at the mercy of Semenov. If he had ordered them to leave they would have had to walk out - a thousand or more miles across Mongolia and China.
Boarding the Logan for the Trip Home
Instead, orders came from American in August, 1919, for them to return. A year and nine days after arriving in Siberia, Pvt. Harry Hoyman and his fellows took ship from Vladivostok for home.
Sources and Thanks: This account was taken from the History Of Stephenson County 1970, Pages 340-341, published by the County of Stephenson, Freeport, Illinois, copyright 1972 by the County of Stephenson, County Court House, Freeport, Illinois 61032.
The photographs are part of a larger album of photos taken by Harry Hoyman May 1, 1918 - October 29, 1919 which he donated to the Stephenson County Historical Society Museum, located at 1440 South Carroll Ave. Freeport, Illinois 61032. This photo album is currently displayed in their Military History collection, located in the basement of the museum. The help of Suzy Beggin of the Historical Society was essential for producing this article and is warmly appreciated. AH.
On the Way Home - Nagasaki Harbor