Over the last several issues, we have been following the adventures of St. Aloysius Academy alumna Alice Holmes who served with the American Red Cross in Russia during the first world war. Her experiences have been diverse and not without their ups and downs. In this final installment we read that once again, Alice and her traveling companions have found themselves temporarily stranded. Having made the journey from Russia to Bergen, Norway, in January 1917, they discovered that the exigencies of wartime could (and did) disrupt plans and force changes in travel arrangements. Amazingly enough, although the war was raging not far from them, their location in a neutral country and having sufficient funds at hand allowed them to make the most of what could have been a most difficult situation. Having been forced to leave the ship in Bergen, and not knowing when they might continue, they became tourists!
There was a ferry to take us from the steamer to the town and there was much to see there of interest. But we kept our quarters on the steamer and each night were back to it thinking that we might sail on the morrow. At the end of the month we were told to get off as the steamer had received permission to sail without passengers. So there we were left in Norway and we made good use of the time to see the people and to get acquainted with their customs. We traveled to Christiana, then to Stockholm, Sweden. There we went through the Palace of the King and stayed at the Grand Hotel Royal, claimed to be the most magnificent hotel in the world. We had ample time to enjoy the wonderful, gorgeous scenery of these northern countries and to watch the occupations and sports of the people.
The Swedish people are more aristocratic than the Norwegians. In Norway we found so many who knew English, but in Sweden the French and German languages were more in use.
From Stockholm we went once more back to Christiana and then to Bergen. During this ride we saw some of the most magnificent scenery. The trains had a snow-plough in front of the engines to make their way through the heavy [drifts] of snow. It seemed to us that we were snow-bound, for looking out we could see nothing but snow-capped mountains on either side.
At Bergen, we boarded the steamer “S.S. Bergensfford” bound for New York. War had been declared between the United States and Germany so I abandoned my idea of a visit to England and took this first opportunity of returning to America.
At 11:30 that night the three whistles blew and we knew that this time the English permission had been given and the ship began to sail slowly out of the harbor. The next morning about nine o’clock we had what was to us a very amusing experience—a life belt drill—for full well we knew that the voyage before us might prove one of peril. There were 1,145 passengers on board and mostly Americans. We kept a sharp lookout for submarines, etc., but all went peacefully until suddenly the steamer stopped on the high seas. This proved to be no danger for us however, for it was an English Man of War. The officers boarded our steamer to examine it and in the meantime we amused ourselves throwing oranges and fruit to the sailors who had remained in the row boats beneath.
The English search being completed we continued on our way without any more interruptions until we reached Halifax, Nova Scotia. By an English law we had to first anchor at an English port. We remained in Halifax four days until the examination was over, then we set sail for New York.
Just the day before we were to reach our destination the captain came in and to our utter amazement announced that he had found a Stowaway. Now a stowaway is a person hidden on the steamer for some secret purpose of his own and this meant trouble indeed for the ship.
We would have to remain on board in new York for a long time until the English authorities could be satisfied. You may imagine our consternation but finally our anxiety was relieved and we laughed heartily when he told us that the stowaway was an innocent little new born babe. We were all asked to give a name for the little baby girl and quite a variety of names were suggested, but the one that won the father’s heart (he was a Swedish American) was “Unda Marina” (One born on the sea).
Gradually the shores of America came in sight—the Statue of Liberty was visible and the joy and exultation on board knew no bounds.
Our perilous voyage was over. We had come to a safe harbor and eagerly we scanned the shores for faces of friends and loved ones. It was good, so good to me to see once more my dear mother’s countenance and to feel myself safe within her loving embrace.
After spending some time in New York, I returned May 3rd to Columbus, and here I found so many friends and such a warm welcome.
Also I heard of our Alumnae Reunion to be held this month, and of this the Alumnae number of the Echoes and was asked if I would not write an account of my journey. Of course I was only too glad to do so, but the diary which I had kept had to be left in Russia, as nothing written might be taken out of the country. It is in safe keeping there, to be sent to me after the war. In the meantime I had to rely on my memory and yet I trust that this account will prove of interest to my readers and onetime schoolmates.
It was a trip of unvaried interest for me, as traveling through a foreign land, among unknown scenes must always be—a trip full of delightful experiences and yet overshadowed by the sad and tragic scenes of the war. I was not in the war zone—going and returning through neutral countries, and having [been] for the greater part of my stay [in] Russia where no actualfighting has taken place; still, all through the neutral countries, Norway, Sweden, etc., there were soldiers on all sides—big, strong, stalwart men—being prepared in daily drill, in case of their country’s entering the conflict—there was the Russian hospital, there were the refugees from Bucharest, there were the passports to be had at every port we passed through. I have been in Europe before. Indeed you all know that my native land is England, that I spent five years in a French school, but in those days you needed not passports to go from one country to another for peace reigned and the peoples of the different nations were as friends. But now that so many are engaged in deadly warfare there is nothing but suspicion and distrust on all sides and even in the neutral countries strangers are carefully watched for they know not if you come as friend or foe. But our party received none but courteous treatment on all sides; we met with no specific dangers or perils, so we enjoyed the trip to the utmost. It was a rare opportunity afforded us and we appreciated it—every minute of the journey bringing its note of human interest whether of joy or of sorrow. But it is over now and we are glad—so glad to be back once more in the land of the Stars and Stripes.
--Alice M. Holmes
[Echoes/St. Aloysius Academy; Alumnae Number; Vol. X No. 11 June 1917]