The Czech company was retiring slowly towards Svagena, and the Cossacks, while keeping in touch with the enemy, were retiring towards the railway on our rear. This was a very startling situation, and required immediate action if we were not to be caught in a trap.
We both decided that a retirement was the only alternative to being completely surrounded.
We there and then drew up the orders necessary to secure that the retreat should be both methodical and orderly. The Czechs were to retire first, past my lines, and entrain at Kraevesk, followed by the English and the French, who were to bring up the rear, which was to be covered by the English armoured train, assisted by the machine-gun section of the Middlesex Regiment under Lieutenant King. So the evacuation of our splendid position regretfully began.
It should be remembered that directly it was decided by the Paris Council that a diversion through Russia was the surest way of relieving pressure on the French front, the English apparently decided to be first in. Though Japan was unquestionably in the most favourable position to send help quickly, she was known to have German commitments of such a character as precluded her from taking the lead in what was, at that time, more an anti-Teutonic than pro-Russian expedition. Her Press was, and had been all through the war, violently pro-German, and however much the Tokio Cabinet might wish to remain true to the Anglo-Japanese Treaty, it was forced to make a seeming obeisance to popular feeling in Japan. If it had been only an English expedition, Japan’s hand would not have been forced; but the American cables began to describe the rapid organisation by the U.S.A. of a powerful Siberian expedition, which gave the Japanese Government ample justification—even in the eyes of her pro-German propagandists—to prepare a still larger force to enable her to shadow the Americans, and do a bit of business on her own. Several months earlier Japanese suspicions had been aroused by the dispatch to Siberia of an alleged civilian railway engineering force to help Russia reorganise her railways, and the immense benefit that this force had admittedly conferred on the Far Eastern populations was acknowledged on all sides. But the very success of American enterprise in this beneficent direction had created in the minds of the Japanese a doubt as to the wisdom of allowing free play to American penetration.