The last time, we left St. Aloysius Academy alum Alice Holmes in Christiana, Sweden, enroute to her wartime posting in Russia. This month we catch up with her and her traveling companions as they cross the border and make their way to Russia. With the Red Cross in Russia continues:
In the evening we took a train to Haparamda, the Swedish border where the custom officers examined our baggage. We went to the town hotel for our breakfast and not knowing the language we tried to give our orders in German and in French. We were at a difficulty for words to express our meaning, when the waitress, much to our surprise, said, in very good English: “Why don’t you say ham and eggs?”
About 11 a.m. we found the ferry which took us in about twenty minutes to the Forneo, the Finnish border. The customs there were rather lenient but nevertheless we had to write out papers giving information as to where we had come from, what we intended to do, how long we thought of staying, etc., but these papers had the questions written in about five languages, so that we didn’t need any aid in this.
A lunch counter was at the convenience of the passengers, but the Russian food was something new for us and we were rather timid about trying it. However, we managed to find enough to satisfy our appetites for the time being, and boarded the train at about 11 p.m. The views of Finland were rather monotonous, a continuous stretch of large forests and bowlders (sic) and very often a large or small body of water could be seen, for every one has heard that Finland is called “The country of a thousand lakes.”
The Russian trains are not like ours here. There are what they call compartments, two or four berths in a compartment, something similar to cabins on a steamer. The berths are comfortable, but the trains are very slow, probably due to the fact that they have no coal, and use wood to feed the engines. All along the railroad tracks there are wood piles for their convenience.
We arrived in Petrograd, Russia, about 11:30 p.m., September 25, 1916. The streets were very poorly illuminated, due of course to war conditions. Again we were troubled about finding rooms, but were finally settled in one of the hotels for that night.
The Russians are probably the most suspicious of people. It is the only country that in times of peace requires passports, and so we found it a little difficult to convince them of our mission. American Ambassador Francis helped us out by referring us to the Foreign Minister of Affairs, who took the matter up with the Empress’ Physician. He invited us to see the General Soldiers’ Hospital at Tzarskoe Selo (Czar’s Village). There we won our way performing a bone-graft operation.
One of the soldiers whose arm had been wounded and hung limp was brought to us and Doctor Downer took a bone from the leg of the man and grafted it into the right place in the arm. The operation was performed before a large audience and as it was something new in Russia it succeeded where otherwise we might have failed in convincing the Russians of our mission and of our real desire and ability to help them. Immediately the Empress was notified and we received from her a cordial invitation to stay at the Palace of Catherine the Great in Czar’s Village.
Just a few words about our suite of rooms. When the doctor told us of the Empress’ invitation he said in terms of great enthusiasm—“Girls you are to have the grandest quarters you have ever seen. There will even be gold pens for you to write with.” We laughed and frankly said he was giving us a much exaggerated picture, but once we had entered our apartments, we found that he had scarcely exaggerated. We did not find the golden pens on our writing desk but otherwise we were more than surprised at the magnificence and splendor of our rooms. We were occupying the apartments which in times of peace were reserved for Foreign Ministers.
[Echoes/St. Aloysius Academy; Alumnae Number; Vol. X No. 11 June 1917