Today in Postal History





Siberia to United States
August 23, 1920

This censored  cover was sent from Vladivostok to Chicago.
There are four Vladivostok CDS.

After censoring, the cover was closed with some wide gummed paper tape
and a boxed Russian censor's stamp was added on the reverse.

At the end of World War I, the United States sent the Army Expeditionary Force (AEF)
to Russia to stabilize a confused situation in Siberia
after the 1917 Russian revolution
led to the release
of large numbers of World War I prisoners of war.

The POWs included Austrians, Hungarians, and Germans.
There were also thousands of Czechs who had defected on the
Russian front during the War and hoped to aid the Allies.
Their safety was the proximate excuse for the expedition.
In addition to Americans, English, French, Canadian, Italian, and Japanese troops were sent.
There were even Belgians, Serbs, Arabs from the Middle East, and Chinese.

The first American troops landed in Vladivostok in August, 1918.
As the Russian Civil War was still underway, the force was ordered not to interfere.
Of course, the war ended in November, 1918, and confusion increased.
The displaced prisoners all wanted to return home but were detained by post war and post revolution red tape.
The last of the AEF departed in April, 1920, after twenty months of very difficult duty.

The enclosure is YMCA stationery provided troops of
the United States American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to Siberia.
I believe this letter sheet was from the detritus left behind after their April departure.

The stationery was headed:
ON ACTIVE SERVICE
WITH THE
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

The writer dutifully followed the admonition at the bottom of the front:
TO THE WRITER: Save by writing on BOTH sides of the paper.
It went on to advise the recipient:
To the folks at home: Save food, buy Liberty Bonds, and War Savings stamps.

The letter is in German and is addressed to Dear Brother-in-Law and Sister.
It starts by thanking them for their letter of June 29 which enclosed $2.
As near as I can tell, the letter sounds homesick.

The writer (who has nice penmanship, fortunately) says he is leaving along with the
"Czech staff" after being a prisoner - the Czech Legion troops
(which issued stamps of its own) were among those intervening to stop the Communist revolution.*
The Czech Legion had been built by the Russians from dissident Czech
prisoners of war who had been conscripted to fight in the Austro-Hungarian army.

After Russian surrendered the Legion went to Siberia
since they could not go westward to home and hoped for help from the AEF.
There were as many as 40,000 to 50,000 in the Legion on their arrival in eastern Siberia.
They controlled the Trans-Siberian Railway at one time.
They departed from Vladivostok in 1920, where the letter is postmarked.
Their courage gained them favorable coverage from the United States press and
was responsible in part for the creation of Czechoslovakia after the war.

The cover is franked with a block of four of the 1909
15k red brown and deep blue Imperial Eagle (Scott 81).
There is also a pair of imperforate 1k orange Imperial Eagles issued in 1917
by the Provisional Government during the Civil War surcharged
with a bold black 70 in 1919 by the anti-Bolshevist provisional
government set up at Omsk by Admiral Aleksander V. Kolchak.*
The cover bore 2 rubles postage.
The surcharged stamp is listed as Scott 9 under Siberia.

*Thanks to David Benson for helping identify the source of this pair.
Thanks, too, to Michael Engel for his help in understanding the content of the letter.
Editor's Note:  Admiral Kolchak was executed February 7, 1920, after being taken by the Bolsheviks.

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