Monday, October 19, 2015

A look at a chapter in RETURN TO RUSSIA WITH FLAG UNFURLED 3

‘One day Staff Captain Hacklin noticed some suspicious spots on the face and hands of a Swedish male Lieutenant visiting the SA childrens home. She asked that he refrain from visiting again for fear he might place the children in danger.… two days later we learned that Captain Ella Olson had also fallen ill. She was transported to a hospital where our officers visited her the following day. On day three she was transferred to another hospital, and the next news we received was that she had died.

The circumstances in Petrograd were at this time insufferable. The officials reported that there were up to 980 cholera cases daily, to which were added small pox, typhoid fever and typhus. The deaths were so numerous that we had to abstain from all funeral ceremonies. In order to bury a child who died in our childrens home, our staff is having to wait at the church graveyard from early morning to late at night. Horse that starved to death would remain on streets for up to ten days before they were transported away. During that period starving dogs would tear large chunks from the carcasses. Hundreds of people died of starvation. They were frightful days. In addition to Captain Olson’s death we had three Swedish officers, including the War College Principal, ill.

We feared that they too had been affected by small pox.

Staff Captain Sjöblom and I went to the morgue to seek out our dead comrade. It was July 5 and a terribly hot day. As we entered we were met by a frightful stench forcing the Staff Captain to remain outside. Inside there were some eighty corpses. , naked, covered only by a dirty, bloody sheet, on which thousands of flies had settled. The aisles were so narrow that one couldn’t move without bumping them. Two men were present organizing the dead bodies and moving them as if they were wooden logs. When we entered the chamber turned black by the disturbed flies. I squeezed through one of the aisles until I saw a piece of paper with Captain Olson’s name on it, and when I lifted the sheet I saw her light colored hair. That was the only thing by which she could be identified, as the disease had transformed her face beyond recognition. We ordered a casket, purchased some wrapping cloths and returned home….

The funeral was to take place the next day and the Colonel wanted us to obtain a flag with which to drape the coffin. But that was almost impossible as there was a shortage of red cloth (at a premium) – and all the shops were closed  - but we lucked out in the end, but it was costly, Officers from headquarters preceded the others to the hospital chapel where the casket rested in order to decorate it with the flag and with some wild flowers. Numerous caskets were placed there, some closed, others open so one saw many naked bodies, contorted by the cholera cramp. When the other officers arrived the procession to the cemetery began with the flag in the lead, and the comrades following the horse drawn hearse. Due some unknown reason the coach driver took us through the most frightful streets. Dead horses, from which dogs sought a meal, were lying here and there. Our hearts were filled with indescribable concern for our sick comrades. People who came out of their homes to see the procession ran away in fear
when they saw the motto on the flag leading our group; Blood and Fire. In reality, something far from a triumphant journey.

An unusual meeting at the gravesite! I had to translate for a number of the speakers.  The stench coming up from the grave was making me physically sick, and the entire time my heart was filled with sorrow….

Captain Olson became the first who gave her life on the Russian mission field. She is resting in an unknown grave. Others followed later. But the Lord knows the place, and He is keeping watch until that day, when the fog will lift and all the ‘whys’ are answered.’

Sven Ljungholm
Liverpool


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