George Hubert Wilkins
SIR HUBERT WILKINS
Wilkins (on the photo to the left - Wilkins during his last Antarctic expedition
with Australian flag) was born on 31 October 1888 at Mount Bryan, South Australia,
100 miles north of Adelaide. He was the
youngest of 13 children. His upbringing, on the lonely farm at the edge of
the Australian outback where he witnessed devastating droughts, was a motivation
for his life's work. In 1903 his parents moved to Adelaide and Wilkins
enrolled in the University but never completed his courses. He became interested
in cinematography and moved to Sydney where he
worked in Australia's pioneer
film industry. He then left for England to work as
a newsreel cinematographer for Gaumont.
to London in 1909 Wilkins
worked as a Gaumont cinematographer covering many
international events including the Balkans War in 1912. But he still wanted
to become a polar explorer. He was offered his first trip to the Arctic as cinematographer
with the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913 led by Vilhjamur
Stefansson. He walked thousands of miles over
unexplored territory, learnt to live off the polar ice and developed his revolutionary
ideas for polar travel. In 1916 he returned to Point Barrow, Alaska, to learn
the world had been at war for two years.
When he learnt
about the war, Wilkins went to France where he
was appointed an official photographer with the Australian War Records Office.
From November 1917 until the end of the War Wilkins was responsible for Australia's photographic
record of fighting at the Western Front. He constantly risked his life working
forward of the front line and refused to carry firearms. He became the only
Australian official photographer, in any war, to receive a combat decoration.
He was awarded the Military Cross twice. At the end of the war he travelled to Turkey to make a
photographic record of the battlefields of Gallipoli.
When he returned
to England from Gallipoli,
Wilkins learnt that the Australian government had offered 10,000 pounds for
the first All-Australian crew to fly an aeroplane
from England to Australia. The Blackburn
Aircraft Company, which had developed a long range bomber during the war,
had entered one of their planes. Wilkins was appointed navigator.
With the other
members of the crew, the Blackburn Kangaroo left
England on 21 November 1919. Problems were
experienced with the engines and the plane was forced down over France. Repairs were
made and the flight continued, but eventually, still with engine problems,
the plane crashed landed in Crete.
Air Race Wilkins returned to England determined
to continue polar exploration. He joined Dr John Cope on the Imperial Antarctic
Expedition. It was Wilkins first trip to the Antarctic, but the expedition
lacked funds and achieved little. Next Wilkins was appointed Naturalist on
what was to become Sir Ernest Shackleton's last
expedition to the Antarctic. This expedition left London on the Quest,
a ship that had been hastily prepared and continually gave trouble. As it
was being repaired in South America, Wilkins
went on ahead to South Georgia Island to photograph
the flora and fauna. When the Quest arrived six weeks later Wilkins learned
that Sir Ernest Shackleton had died on the voyage.
as Naturalist on the Shackleton expedition so
impressed the British Museum of Natural
History that they offered him an expedition of his own. The Museum wanted
to collect flora and fauna specimens from outback Australia and the islands
of Torres Strait. This became
the Wilkins Australia and Islands Expedition
and for two years Wilkins travelled to remote
areas of Queensland, Northern Territory and the Torres Strait filming,
photographing and collecting specimens for the Museum. At the end of the two
years he wrote to the Museum saying he wanted to continue his work in the
to fly over the unexplored areas north of Alaska. He first
purchased two Fokker aircraft but found them too large for landing on ice.
He sold one to Charles Kingsford Smith who renamed it the Southern Cross and
it became the first plane to fly the Pacific Ocean. Wilkins
bought a Lockheed Vega. With pilot Carl Ben Eielson he flew across the Arctic Sea, from Barrow
in Alaska to Spitsbergen, Norway. It was the
first time such a plane flight had been made and the two men became international
celebrities. Wilkins was knighted and chose to be known
as Sir Hubert, rather than Sir George.
With the same
Vega they had flown over the top of the world Wilkins and Eielson now travelled south to explore Antarctica. They arrived
at Deception Island on the Graham Land Peninsula in November
1928. Their flights exploring the Graham Land Peninsula were the
first time anyone had flown a plane in Antarctica. Wilkins
had planned, if possible, to fly to the South Pole, but on Deception Island
he was unable to find a runway long enough to get the Vega into the air with
sufficient fuel to complete the distance. Nevertheless it was the first time
in history undiscovered land was mapped from a plane.
Returning to America after his pioneering
flight in Antarctica, Wilkins was
invited to be aboard the largest airship of the period, the Graf Zeppelin,
as it attempted the first around the world flight. Wilkins agreed and joined
the flight to make a film record. The Graf Zeppelin flew from Lakehurst, New York, across the Atlantic to Germany. From Germany it made the longest
non-stop flight up until that time - from Germany, across Russia to Japan. From Japan it crossed the
Pacific and America to return to
New York. Six years later
Wilkins would be aboard the airship Hindenburg as it made its maiden voyage
from Germany to America.
After a second
season flying his Lockheed Vega in Antarctica Wilkins planned
his most ambitious expedition. To take a submarine under
the Arctic ice to the North Pole. Constant delays prevented the submarine
getting away on time to reach the polar ice cap before winter and the submarine
constantly broke down. Still determined to prove that submarine travel under
the ice was possible, Wilkins continued north to the edge of the ice pack
to discover his submarine had malfunctioned again. Nevertheless, with his
partly disabled submarine he was still able to sail under the ice to prove
it could be achieved.
After his Arctic
submarine expedition, which many people considered a failure because he did
not reach the North Pole, Wilkins organised three
expeditions to the Antarctic to assist American millionaire explorer, Lincoln
Ellsworth become the first person to fly across the Antarctic continent. When Russian aviators went
missing while flying from
America via the North Pole, Wilkins was called
in to head the search.
In 1938 he returned to Antarctic with Lincoln Ellsworth, again
assisting in the discovery of new land. At the outbreak of World War Two Wilkins
immediately offered his services to the Australian Government, but it had
no need for a polar explorer, now aged over 50.
offered his service to the U.S. Army which
retained him to teach Arctic survival skill to U.S. soldiers.
After the war he remained as a consultant to the U.S. Army. The
United States Navy were developing nuclear submarines for sub ice travel
in the Arctic and consulted
Wilkins on his pioneering 1931 expedition. Wilkins died on 30 November
1958 in a hotel
room in Massachusetts. As a mark
of respect the U.S. Navy took
his ashes to the North Pole in the nuclear submarine Skate. On 17 March 1959 the Skate
became the first submarine to surface at the Pole, where it held a memorial
service and scattered the ashes of Sir Hubert Wilkins.
There is a
relatively unknown page in his biography – the trip to Soviet Russia in 1922 with
a secret mission from the USA Government.
Apparently, the mission didn’t bear any intelligence character and Wilkins
had been requested to collect information about the conditions and efficiency
of the famine relief efforts of the American non-Government organizations.
Along with this kind of assessment Wilkins left interesting notes about the
economical and political conditions in Russia during that hard time of transition
from military communism to the New Economic Policy (NEP)
John Hipwell’s web site “Searching For Sir Hubert”)]
The spirit of Soviet Russia
is met on the Southern frontier as solid and clean cut as a wall. On one side
– a few neatly uniformed Polish officials with bright buttons, cultured mustaches
and military bearing, keenly alert on their duty, control menial staff of
thin faced, less than average-sized individuals. Officials and men show that
development of shrewd discernment born of competitive culture. They are ready
at once to take advantage of the weaker intellect or a favorable opportunity,
but they have understanding sufficient to acknowledge superior forces. On the other side, a company of round faced youth in
a variety of red spattered greatcoats saunter back and forth or stand in
groups gaping curiously at the train as it draws up at the station. No officer
or anyone seems to be in authority and no one is conspicuous. With rifles
slung or carried at the trail, and revolvers on their belts, the soldiers
line the train on either side. Alternately, they cough and wipe their noses
on their sleeves while they wait for passport officials to board the train.
The train is short, but after a half hour’s wait the passport official arrives
at the middle carriage.
He is a red-cheeked boy
of about 18 and small for his years. He has a ragged coat with sleeves turned
back four inches, the other parts are large in
the same proportion. (He had a brand new, blue-faced uniform when I returned
some three weeks later). He was supported by another youth a year or so his
senior, who could read Russian, but who evidently
had difficulty in reading the Latin script. They collected the passports and
carried them off leaving the passengers as to their fate. The train moved
on and the soldiers jumped from the footbridge, half a dozen of them scrambling
for the butt end of a cigarette improvidently discarded by an American traveler.
So the border is crossed
but that does not necessarily mean that one can go on to Moscow.
For twenty minutes the train stops at the Custom House at Niogoroloje. Here a crowd of scrubby hide-cloaked porters
board the carriage. These are Government servants and are older than the
soldiers. In their assorted woolly sheepskin coats and rough haired fez towering
high above their stubbly faces, they look like the toughest band of bandits
that one would have expected to meet in the Middle Ages.
Contrary to expectations,
few Russians grow whole time beards; they grow them on the installment plan,
fourteen days or so at a time. Once in the Custom House one meets with another
type, Jews, Georgians and those with Teuton
blood. Every bag is opened and three or four men gather round each bag and
if anything unusual is discovered, they call their friends to view it. Food
baskets are necessary, for there are no restaurant cars on the train and
the food is mauled by the dirty hands of the Customs Officers. Packages such
as dates or raisins are stirred with grimy fingers and parcels of sandwiches
are opened, and their contents inspected.
Over any special paper is
a general consultation: each man states his opinion as to the possible contents
from its general appearance, and then it is laboriously read aloud by two
or more officials in concert. If it provides sufficient amusement or is sufficiently
indefinite, they hand it back and in some cases it is asked for again, so
that those who have been too busy before may have a chance to see it. If
the paper is neatly typed and its contents state briefly and concisely what
it means, it is apparently looked on with grave suspicion; its direct precise
language is the mark of the Intelligenzia, and
it is both in triumph from group to group and finally taken to an outside
hut which is the office of the political control department. During the wait
one may go and buy tickets and pay for
baggage that has been registered. The baggage department was found in a third
class railway truck, with a ticket window at the side, but no one stood at
the window either in or outside. Everyone crowded through the door and clamoured round a greasy individual with hair and beard
of equal length, some three weeks growth. Many hands, full of money and baggage
tickets, backed by many languages, were thrust towards the booking clerk,
for he booked seats as well as cashiered for the baggage. They crowded him
so close, that he could neither see, nor write. With the side stroke of a
swimmer, he waved the people back at intervals, and, writing fast, he talked
and rattled the beads of his counter with his left hand, until checked again
by the crowd.
No order prevailed. Here
the idea of communism was that each one had an equal chance of thrusting the
other aside and getting in first. A woman had been squeezed out three times,
and when the clerk at last attempted to select her papers, they were thrust
aside by a porter who than placed his baggage papers in the hands of the
clerk. For twenty minutes or more the scene continued, before I had a chance
to get my business done and leave them struggling.
Meanwhile in the Custom
House, the baggage had been passed and taken to the train, but the man with
the special papers had not returned. As the train was about to leave, my papers
were brought back to me, but another special courier was left standing on
the station as the express drew out. This meant a three days’ wait or a journey
to Moscow in the slow train on
third class, hard board seats.
The journey to Moscow
was uneventful except for the dripping of the tallow candle with which the
car was lighted, on the feet of my traveling companion as he slept. Gas or
electric light is rarely found on Russian trains…
At the Moscow
station there was a frenzied rush and struggle for the exit. Everyone pushed
and battled for himself and each one received the same careful scrutiny
and attention as he passed the gates… In the town itself, a few shops had
lights burning brightly in the windows, and the goods most conspicuously
displayed, were Xmas toys of German manufacture, garden flowers and sweets.
Several food and clothing shops were large and well stocked, and there appeared
to be no shortage of general supplies. The price of luxuries such as first
class seats in places of amusements, late supper restaurants and high grade
linen and clothes, were equivalent in English money to London
prices. This means, of course, that these things are beyond the reach of
the Russians with the exchange at 150 to 200 million roubles to the pound.
The maximum official salary
paid by the Soviet Government at that time was 500 million roubles per month with certain allowances such as free
housing, and food in some cases. Free living is not as a general rule given
to the Government servants, and officials, whose wages range from 200 to
350 million a month without extras, must live on the simplest fare. A man with a wife and four children,
for instance, can exist on 200 million roubles
a month. Their fare is rye bread, a little fat, sugar, and an occasional meal
of cheapest meat. Very few vegetables are obtainable at reasonable prices.
White bread is about double the price of black bread, and is probably much
less nourishing, but it is the desire of every individual to conspicuously
show his wealth by buying white bread. Coal is not available, and wood for
one fire for a month costs 20 million roubles.
The better class foodstuffs seem to be plentiful in all the markets visited,
but there is little sold. The peasants even with the help of the foreign missions, have to fall back on their supplies of edible
grasses that are gathered during summer… Preserved in bulk, as they are,
these grass have an appearance of ordinary hay.
They are pounded in wooden troughs and mixed with rough rye flour for making
Light physical, but otherwise
trying vocations are very poorly paid. A chief clerk, for instance, in a
Government Department gets ten million a month, a room and a rye bread, and
a foreigner whom I know was offered a post as adviser to the chief of a political
Department at a similar salary together with a room and living of the maximum
luxury allowed to the Government officials; i.e., white bread, meat once
a day, potatoes and vegetables. Yet even with this diet, a lean pinched face
is seldom seen, for the Russian lower classes are a full faced rosy cheeked
Theatres, operas, cabarets
and high class hotels are crowded mostly by foreigners from the bordering
states, but the cheaper cafes are full of citizens. It is interesting to note
that the word “comrade” is no longer used by the Russians when addressing
their friends. The word “citizen”, or its equivalent, now takes its place.
Prices of theatre seats
range from 5 to 35 million and vacant seats are rarely seen. In theatre bookings
the apotheosis of Communism is found. Twenty or more ticket speculators sell
tickets openly at the entrance of the Bolshoi
Opera House during the day and immediately before the performance. Neither
is the spirit of communism is evident in the Government Departments; in fact,
it is not in evidence at all in Russia.
Each individual department, while thoroughly curios as to the wishes of
an applicant for special permits, shoulders the responsibility of decision
on to the next department and so on, until the accumulated notes of exchange
are finally ambiguously O.K.’d and signed as inconspicuously as possible by
one bolder than the rest.
Wearied by repeated presentations,
the bearer carries the permit to the scene of action only to find that the
final signee is not the immediate head of the
Department concerned, and so his signature is worthless without further backing.
Only by strict application and continued personal effort can one receive special
permission to do anything or see anything, but that which is especially arranged,
and one wonders if the ordinary British method of straightforward commonsense
behavior would not allow one to pass unquestioned and unmolested in any part
eastward on the Southern railway, the journey is through the lowland steppes
that are dotted with fair sized forests in close proximity. East and west
for 1000 miles, or, perhaps more, one is never out of sight of a village except
in the few forest areas. Tall, slim spires above the gilded domes of churches
spike the grey, snow horizon in almost every direction and this holds good
even 100 miles from the central railway. With sufficient rain the land is
fertile and while the people suffer now from the last year’s drought, their
grass crops are fairly plentiful. Numerous stacks of grass hay and many of
better quality are seen in the heart of the famine area, and two things besides
the drought conditions have brought about the present need. First the lack of horse power with
which to gather harvest, and, second, the man power not economically
applied is responsible for the loss of a great deal of grain that was left
standing in the field. In many little supervised districts the peasants,
fearful of the tax imposed on grain in kind, buried their half dried harvest
underground and this is now a rotting mass and mildewed, useless for any
purpose. With the obvious lack of Communistic principles amongst the peasants,
the system of yearly land allotments and of different areas each year does
not tend to get the best from any agricultural areas. It is true that land
needs resting and the same land may not be cultivated each year, but peasants
questioned in each case admitted that as they were not sure of getting the
same plot of land from year to year for future working, they would not, therefore,
tend it as thoroughly as they might. Simple and lovable
for their cheerful, childlike disposition as they are, the peasants are not
without that native cunning found equally in mankind and which is associated
with cultured avarice in higher civilization.
There is the evidence of so-called culture and development in its lower forms
in the Government departments as conspicuously in Soviet Russia as in any
other country of the world. A tip or a bribe is never refused and its even asked for by those with sufficient or insufficient
education. One wonders if, by the time the bulk of the population have reached
the stage of learning of the present official class, whether the officials
will not have evolved to the same state of mind as those of pre-revolutionary
The Soviet educational policy
as laid down seems sound, but so far it is known only to those who study official papers.
On enquiry into a particular case, - an outlying district of thirty six villages,
- on paper there were 27 schools, 18 controlled by high class teachers and
assistants; others were second class teachers; attendance 3000 to 3500 children.
On actual investigation there were found 8 buildings set aside for schools,
5 of them being occupied, and in three of these were first class teachers
dealt with the few mixed scholars; the attendance for the district was less
than 1000. As an average there was one book of instruction for every forty
children. The explanation given at the Government district office was that
they could not find educated people who would teach in school at the outlying
districts and they had no money for schools as yet. We asked from where they
expected the money to come. “From the export of grain in the future,” – was
the reply. But there were millions of bushels of grain and thousands of tons
of supplies that had to be taken to Russia
last year by relief organizations in order to prevent the people from starving.
“By what means will greater
harvests be produced,” – we asked, and it seems that they expect foreign
small capitalists to come to Russia
with manufacturing concern or agricultural machinery with which to help
with the agricultural industry. These small concerns are allowed to exploit
the country to the best advantage free of tax, but the Government retains
50% of the profits. Each concern must have at its head a Russian Government
official and it is expected that in five years the Government will be in
a position to dispense with the aid of foreign capitalists, and these small
concerns will then be asked to leave Russia
and their organizations will be taken over at a Government valuation.
“So you must depend on the
capitalists of other countries to help you,” – I said. “Oh! Yes, – was the
reply, - we need the help of the capitalists in other countries, but we always
intend to be communists in Russia…”
Without a tremendous staff,
relief organizations cannot supervise the supply of material to the actual
individual, and the Government bodies acting as local famine relief committees
do this work under the general supervision of the district relief worker.
The relief worker has to depend to a certain extent on Soviet official reports,
and they often find these very incorrect.
Applications for food for
children’s homes that do not exist, for instance, the cutting down of rations
in the various homes, and the supplies so accumulated is the material, no
doubt, that enables the Soviet Government to boast they are even now exporting
grain to Poland. This statement is not generally believed to be true, but
if there is any movement of grain from Russia, it is necessarily on a very
small scale, and it does not in any way remove the need to continue feeding
the Russian peasants for this winter at any rate, for without the help of
the foreign missions, thousands would be starving. Considering the areas covered
and the numbers concerned, a very small percentage of the supplies fail to
reach the suffering. As a matter of fact, the statistics show that the greatest
losses occur while the food is in transit and before reaching the Russian
border where it is controlled by the careful, personal attention of the relief
workers in the field. In the matter of business organizations one finds the
relief committees equally, if not more, efficient than the average business
house in other countries, and there is no doubt as to the sincerity of their
efforts not only to relieve individual suffering but to enable an unfortunate
people to recover from war, famine and exploitation.
The Soviet Government, while
anxious for the work of the relief organizations to continue, take advantage
of the work being done to gain support of the people, for instance, they
put up posters in children’s homes and other institutions that are maintained
by the Relief organizations, stating that “this is what is being done by the
Government for the people”, and they also encourage the peasants to believe
the rumour, that the reason for high taxation
is to pay the organizations for the present relief.
The peasants, whose previous
experience does not lead them to expect anything for nothing, readily believe
that some day they will have to pay.
One looks back as the train
draws away from the borders of Russia,
to the four square feet of blood-red rag that is like a tattered shirt-tail.
It flutters and tugs at a thick, tall mast that would carry the sails of a
full rigged ship. This straining emblem of Red Russia and the bulky pole are
symbolic of Russia’s
condition today. The mighty tree, shorn of its limbs and roots, its vital
organs, greedy and grasping though they might have been, cannot live by
the aid of the fluttering blood-red flag that flies this way and that as
the four winds blow. Even the trunk must rot and decay unless – but it is
not my province to foretell the future.
These notes are only to
do with the present.
Buzuluk County in the province of samara was once of the great wheat-growing centres
of Russia – then came war, revolution,
the Allied blockade and lastly – the three year famine.
The Friends International Service was one of the first relief Organizations
to reach the famine area, and since the Fall drought,
and the renewal of famine conditions, the Quakers have found it necessary
to continue their work in Buzuluk county, and
at the present time there are ten Quaker centers
in the 54 volosts in this area.
Food supplies arrive several times a week along the Tashkent Railroad
from London (en route two months) or from America (en route five months). This food is sealed in wagons,
and inspected and unloaded by Mission workers upon
its arrival at Buzuluk station. It is stored in
warehouses at the station and distributed in monthly rations at the various
centers – transported by sledge convoys drawn
by camels, milch-cows or horses. These peasants haul the food for rations,
receiving a double supply to render them fit for the hard journey over the
steppes which often takes five days, according to distance and weather conditions.
Monthly rations are distributed to over 200000 people, including adults and
children, who would otherwise starve.
Mission members don vermin-proof uniforms, which are also fleece lined
as a protection against the cold, before leaving for tours of inspection at
the Quaker Centers. These uniforms are kept in
boxes of naphthalene to prevent typhus infection.
At the villages, Mission workers weigh and distribute food to the Local Famine
Committee. This Committee distributes monthly rations to the destitute peasants.
These people prefer to receive their supplies at home; for many of them have
not sufficient clothing to keep them warm, and are unable to attend the Mission kitchens, which have therefore to be closed in winter. The family receive rations for a month at a time, but there
is not sufficient food to go round, and they have to fall back on the edible
grasses in supplementing the rations. They have learned to chop the grass
and mix it with flour for making bread.
Last August malaria was brought into Buzuluk
district by the returning Tashkent refugees – it spread to almost every village and thousands died.
The Mission has established a Clinic for the examination and treatment
of these malaria cases, as well as other infections. There were no facilities
for the treatment of patients in the Buzuluk hospital,
and the Quakers equipped this Hospital Theatre.
The children have a clinic for examination and vaccination, and
hundreds of post famine cases receive special diets in the Hospital kitchen,
where they are fed from improvised tin cups made from milk cans. Many of them
wear clothes made from sacking – nothing is wasted.
The Mission runs a Hospital of 100 beds for infectious diseases.
Patients are brought here by the Mission car.
One of the greatest hardships in Russia today is the great shortage of live stock resulting
from war and famine. The Quakers have imported 1000 horses from Turkestan, at an average cost of 3 pounds sterling. In some
centers these horses are used for Mission work, hauling, ploughing etc. In this village there is but one
horse to eighteen people, and the mission sells horses to the peasants on
the instalment plan. In this way a peasant becomes the owner of a horse within
a year and at the same time is self-supporting and not an object of charity,
or pauperized by feeling that one can get something for nothing. The possession
of a horse is all that is needed to establish a peasant family upon a sel-supporting basis, and it is the importing of horses
that is felt to be the greatest need in reconstructing the agricultural life
of the Russian peasants.
Both adults and children are required to work for their rations.
Children sweep their school grounds of snow, or learn vocations and industrial
trades. Adults who have no work, no longer spend
the winter upon their stoves, but go to school for the first time in their
lives. Women revive art embroideries and old flour sacking, or darn, knit
socks, weave, spin etc. Whenever there is any work to be done, the Mission
requires the peasants to work in return for food or clothes – but the great
pity is that there is so little material with which to work, and no market
wherein to sell in any real sense of the word; for few have monet with which to buy the necessities of life – and
in winter there is little the men can do. They mark the sides of the roads,
which otherwise would be invisible in winter, they make valinki for the children’s homes in return for rations
– and thus, gradually home industries are being revived, and the work of reconstruction
There are 11000 children in the 26 homes in Buzuluk alone. Every center
has many children’s homes, which are supplied with food and clothes by the
Quakers. The teachers and personnel of these homes also receive rations from
the Quakers, for the people are too poor to give them food. Even in the schools,
where the children are required to supply the teachers with food, the Quakers
have to supplement the rations of the teachers in order that they may live.
There is a great scarcity of books. In most schools there is but one school
book for fifty children. The teachers help the children to learn organized
games, and endeavour to give them the
occupations, but the shortage of books renders it difficult to give the children
regular instruction in the children’s homes. These homes are composed of orphans
from the war, and many are post-famine cases. As the winter progresses, those
peasants who have not sufficient food to keep themselves and their families
alive, journey to the towns, and desert the children in the hope that they
will be cared for in the Children’s homes. A child who gets into a Children’s
home is considered to be most fortunate. Members from the Mission in Buzuluk go to these
Homes to entertain the children with music. The Friends supervise 130 homes.
The mission is also loaning horses to the peasants for house building,
and for the hauling of grass for fuel. Last year the thatch roofs of many
houses were used for fuel. This year there is a law against such house destruction;
for it has necessitated the congestion of families into overcrowded houses,
in the endeavour to keep warm. There are not sufficient horses to haul wood
from the forests which are often great distances away from the villages. It
is estimated that by next July there will be 250000 peasants in need, but
if the crops are good, this will be the last year of relief work; for the
goal is in sight and permanent results should be reached by the fall with
the new harvest. This year the yield was only 25 percent in excess of the
famine yield of last year, let us hope that next year will see the Russian
peasant well on the way to agricultural prosperity.
The Russian Government cannot, through lack of resources, cope with
the situation unaided. The starving peasants have been forced to kill or
sell their horses and camels for food, and at least 20000 horses are needed
to re-establish the ploughing industry, and good seed is needed to insure
the crops. More tractors are needed to facilitate thy ploughing, and the peasants
are quick to respond and learn to run the tractors rapidly. They are eager
and capable of helping themselves if they are given encouragement and outside
help; for without the Quaker feeding, the famine conditions in Buzuluk County would return within the three weeks. We cannot let 200000 people
starve, when carrying on a few months longer will insure their future.
THE AMERICAN RELIEF ORGANIZATION (ARA)
I saw very little of the working of the unit except at the headquarters
of the supervisor of the Minsk District. At this place where the population
is 87% Jewish, the staff is controlled by two American workers and about 20
Americanized Jews who returned from America during the revolution with the
expectation of finding congenial conditions in the Soviet Russia. They now
without exception heartily wish they had not returned and are using every
means in their power to obtain permits to return to the USA. Many other local people are employed.
In the Minsk district the Organization deals mainly with the distribution
of parcels forwarded by people in America to their friends in Russia. Under the 10 dollar food parcel scheme people hand
10 dollars to the ARA together with the address of a person in Russia an d
the ARA undertake to deliver a parcel of food that would cost in America 10
dollars minus the charges for purchase and delivery. At first the worth of
food actually delivered to the individual in Russia, at the rate of exchange,
was great deal more than 10 dollars, and in some districts food was practically
unobtainable. The food parcel came to Russia in thousands and the other foreign Relief Organizations
poured food into the country. Then the value of the food parcels decreased;
now the same amount of foodstuffs contained in the 10 dollar parcel could
be purchased in Russia fro perhaps 4 dollars. This had led to a great deal
of comment and throughout most of the districts visited one hears constantly
of the “fraudulent practices of the ARA”. The agitators
bring this difference in values to the notice of the people and the people,
not being able to understand the intricacies of modern finances any more than
the educated people can in other countries, forget the late difference in
values and readily believe what they are told from day to day… They consider
only present conditions. They know that that food parcels distributed by the
ARA are paid for in America and they cannot understand that any other organization
such as the Society of Friends would actually distribute food without payment,
if not beforehand, at some future data. Their experience in the past has not
led to expect them something for nothing. They readily believe the Soviet
officials who do their best to make them believe that it is the Government
itself, and not the Relief Organizations, that is feeding them. The peasants
believe the reason for the heavy taxation is in order to pay back the relief
Organizations that are now supplying the food and hospital equipment. The
belief is fostered in every way by the Government and even in buildings maintained
by the relief Organizations posters are to be found announcing that “this
institution is an example of what the Government is doing for its people”.
The ARA is the only unit that has determinedly set out to combat
these assertions and they exhibit counter posters announcing that their gifts
are the donation of the American people. However, the judgement of the American
officials and the strong feeling exhibited in Russia towards the distribution
of food parcels purchased at a greater cost than the same amount than the
same amount in local markets would cost has led the ARA to discontinue the
collection of money for food parcels and they are now handling articles of
clothing and whole cloths. At present the relative values are in favour of
the purchase of these from America, but before long this phase of Relief work will assume
the conditions now found in connection with foodstuffs. The private establishments
and Government stores in Russia are beginning to import clothing material from other
countries and the prices will soon come down.
The ARA depends to a very great extent on local help and Governmental
reports, and in consequence they often find in their periodical inspections
that false statistics are given. Many schools and children’s houses, non-existent
are included in ration lists and to many existing institutions the issue from
local committees is short. The ARA apparently deal more severely with the
cases of this kind than any other relief Organization and the week of my
visit to Minsk no less than seven arrests of Government officials
were made through the direct appeal of the ARA. Statistics show that the actual
loss of material en route by rail to distributing centers
is not very great and it is sugar and grain that the greatest losses occur.
Precautions such as sealing trucks are resorted to but planks from floors
or trucks are sometimes removed and foodstuffs in bulks are stolen. Owing to the fact that several
relief Organizations are at work in the field and independent imports are
to be found, it is difficult to trace the source from which foreign goods
that are sold in public markets are obtained. The percentage of losses, however,
is considered by the relief workers in charge as not exceptionally great.
The advantage taken by the Soviet Government to use the work of
foreign relief Organizations as an example of what they themselves are able
to do for the people is the most conspicuous feature to be noticed on a tour
Ohio State University Archives. Papers
of Sir George Hubert Wilkins (RG 56.6), Box 13#18