A few days before the evacuation one of our generals named General Holman promised the Russian General Deniken that the British Troops would see that all the women and children were got away safely which we did alright & were nearly being captured ourselves over getting them away first.
Many soldiers and their families escaped, as we saw last week, many also died at their own hand or the hands of the Red Army bearing down on the town. However there were civilians in Novorossisk from all points north who had no connection to the Volunteer Army. Some may have managed to pay their way on board one of the ships that had left in the last few weeks, with money or with favours or the favours of their daughters. They would have gone to the Crimea where Wrangel would hold out until November before evacuating 146,000 people, both army and civilian, to Turkey and then to Belgrade. Some would have gone straight to Constantinople and then to all points west, part of the largest refugee disapora in modern history up to that time (Wright, p428).But there were many left behind. Hugh Williamson’s descriptive account describes the Novorossisk thus..
It was a sick, desperate, terrified city with mobs of people surging to every point where they thought there might be hope of safety or evacuation. Amid horses, camels, wagons and supplies, they raised their hands to the ship masters knowing their only alternative to evacuation was death when the Bolshevik cavalry arrived. They even tried to fight their way aboard ships, and when they failed simply succumbed to cold and despair in a numb blank-eyed silence as they huddled over their belongings, all hope gone, all desire to live ling vanished.
In the last week there would be little hope of escape by sea. Some must have survived though. The local prostitutes, many of whom had dressed in British nurses uniforms procured from the mountains of supplies that had so recently poured into Novorossisk yet not reached the front lines, would surely have already left since their business was undercut by the hordes of incoming refugees. Some of the regular residents would have evaded death by the necessity to keep the city operational and by being clever enough to support whoever happened to be in power. I imagine too that there were those who were hardy enough to melt into the surrounding hills and join the Green Guards for the time being.Williamson says..
The strong survived as they always did, because they were ruthless and didn’t mind what they did to survive, but the weak died in thousands upons thousands
Damien Wright in his book Churchill’s Secret War includes this description from Russian Nobel Prize KonstantinPaustovsky winning writer who was there on the Novorossisk docks during the last days…
For a very long time afterward, I was haunted and burdened by the feeling that at some time, in some picture by a pitiless artist, I had already witnessed this epic flight-gaping mouths, torn open by cries for help, eyes bulging from their sockets, faces livid and deeply etched by fear of death, of people who could see nothing but the one, blinding, terrible sight:rickety ships gangplanks with hand rails snapping under the weight of human bodies, soldier’s rifles butts crashing down overhead, mothers stretching up their arms to lift their children above the demented human herd, the children desperately crying, and the trampled body of a woman still squirming and screaming on the quay.
People were senselessly destroying each other, preventing even those who reached the gangway from saving themselves. The moment anyone gained hold on the plank or the rail, hands grabbed and clutched at him, clusters of bodies hung on him. He inched his way forward, pulling them along, but lost his hold, fell together with his terrible human load into the sea and drowned, powerless to shake it off…
Crushed suitcases, bundles and baskets slithered downhill under foot, like monstrous living creatures. Clothes spilled out and wound themselves around shoes and ankles. Women’s petticoats and lace, children’s frocks and ribbons trailed after the fugitives, and the sight of these homely things made their flight even more tragic…
Ships slowly listed under the weight of people clinging to the deck rails and scrambling aboard. Sailors and soldiers tried to keep them out, but they were pushed back and borne down…
We saw the mooring lines being hacked through, and ships sailing away without stowing the gangplanks. The gangplanks slid into the sea with people still clinging on them…
(Paustovsky p.220 in Wright, p.424)
I do not know how many died. A couple of sources I have read say it was in the thousands and it must have been for there were 500,000 trying to get out in those months. I suppose it was small relative to the 3 million who would die of typhus in Russia that year and the further 6 million who would die in the ensuing year of famine but to a person on that quayside, a person crushed by a mindless, soulless mob, a person carried helpless to the edge and then over it to sink into the bitterly cold sea of Tsemes Bay, relativity would have meant very little.
Of this hellish scene my granddad says nothing except that..
…we were nearly being captured ourselves over getting them away first.
What I suppose is there to say?He would describe the town as he sailed away…but we’ll leave that for another post. Before we go, in the next weeks, we’ll look at the Cossacks and the supplies that were left behind.
Further Reading & References
Paustovsky, K., (1968), Stories of a Life, London:Harvill Press.
Williamson, H.N.H, (1971), Farewell to the Don, New York:The John Day Company.
Wright, D., (2017), Churchill’s Secret War:The British and Commonwealth Intervention in the Russian Civil War 1918-1920, Stroud:Helion Publishin.