BEYOND THE BAIKAL
From Baikal to Irkutsk is a short run down the left bank of the Anghara. We arrived at Irkutsk about the same time as a small detachment of Japanese troops, who were acting as a guard to their traders and their stores, who usually travel with the army. The Japs have very pretty bugle calls for different military purposes, mostly in the same key, with a sort of Morse code for the different orders, but a Japanese bugle band is the most terrible thing in the world of sound. It makes one either swear or laugh, according to one’s taste. They gave us an exhibition in moving off from the station, which everyone who heard will never forget. I was rather surprised to find that the Jap traders had established themselves at Irkutsk, as their headquarters were at Chita, which was also the centre of their agent, Semianoff. Why they came to Irkutsk at all is a problem. It was generally understood that some of the Allies were prepared to concede them only the fairest part of Siberia up to Lake Baikal. Perhaps they had heard whispers of the mineral wealth of the Urals.
Irkutsk, situated on the right bank of the Anghara, is a rather fine old town for Siberia. Its Greek cathedral has a commanding position, and contests successfully with the Cadet School for supremacy as the outstanding architectural feature first to catch the eye. The town is approached by a quaint, low wooden bridge which spans the swiftly running river. When we saw it the battered remnants of human society were grimly collecting themselves together after some months of Bolshevik anarchy and murder. Whole streets were merely blackened ruins, and trade, which had been at a complete standstill, was just beginning to show a return to life. Putting out its feelers, it had taken upon itself a precarious life not yet free from danger. The 25th Battalion Middlesex Regiment was the only British unit in the country; it had spread itself out in a remarkable manner, and shown the flag on a front of 5,000 miles. In spite of its category it had brought confidence and hope to a helpless people out of all proportion to its strength or ability.
A public banquet (the first since the Revolution) was held ostensibly to welcome Volagodsky, the Social Revolutionary President of the Siberian Council, but really to welcome the first British regiment that had ever entered and fought in Siberia. It was a great occasion, and the first real evidence I had seen of possible national regeneration. Even here it was decidedly Separatist, and therefore Japanese in character; a glorification of Siberia and Siberian efforts, completely ignoring the efforts of other Russians in the different parts of their Empire. Evanoff Renoff, the Cossack Ataman, led the panegyric of Siberia, and the President and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a long, watery-eyed young man, joined in the chorus. They were doubtless all well pleased