Arrived 3 p.m. I was to have tad tea with Kuchik Khan at Resht, but he cannot arrange before Wednesday [28th August] and I cannot wait so long – so I must again return without accomplishing this important work. Enzeli is looking very nice and clean. Bray is very ill and I sent him to hospital and taken on Lieutenant Grosvald of the Russian Army in his place – a good fellow, but not a patch on Bray.
There were one or two people killed by the shelling last night and there was a most uncalled for panic. Left at 8 p.m. for Enzeli. Weather fine.
Fierce North Gale, but we weren’t quite sick, got into Baku at 3 p.m., awful dust storm. Bob [Keyworth] came on board to report all well. I begin my 35th year of service. I don’t fancy I ever meant to stay as long as that, but it has been 35 years of happiness and the last 21 with doubled happiness. The Turks shelled the town at night, but did not do much harm. We want to arm some of these merchant-men, but cannot get the revolutionary Government to agree to it – they fear we might use our new fleet to down them. It has suddenly turned quite cold and I suppose the real hot summer is over. We get not butter or milk or fats of any kind – I don’t miss them at all but doctors seem to think they are necessary.
4.30 p.m. we have just fought the first naval battle of the Caspian, and not very nobly. Never got to Derbend at all. Just off Derbend a suspicious looking vessel, probably Bolshevik, signalled to us to come alongside. The Captain asked me for orders – I said is she any sort of ship with authority to make such a demand. He said, No, it is the Usbeg*, long since in Bolshevik hands – whereupon I said “full steam ahead!” On this the steamer opened fire with some small gun, probably a 3 inch, fired some 4 or 5 shots for a period of a quarter of an hour all round us, and close, but no hits and we, being able to steam faster, got away. Changed course and now steam back to Baku to insist on mounting guns on all ships – otherwise we shall get done in some day by one of these pirates.
* I cannot identify this vessel but it is worth noting that Usbeg can mean a ‘member of a Turkic people of Uzbekistan and neighbouring areas’ (definition from here).
I attended the Russian Church Service yesterday and I’m afraid the people looked more at me than at the holy images. To-day I was cinematographed, so my features go down in history.
To-night I sail for Derbend. The situation here is critical from a military point of view, but good from a political. But changes come rapidly and the present Government may be thrown out any minute. Bicherakov is doing splendidly and I feel I deserve credit for the one thing that I have trusted him throughout against everyone’s opinion. The War Office cable me not to trust him, the Baghdad people do the same, all Russians do the same. Had I not fought against their views the fat would, indeed, have been in the fire. Bicherakov has been magnificently successful so far, and all my success has been due to him. I am teaching the people here to understand him. The Chief of Staff, Avitisov, hates him, however, we have sent the Chief of Staff off on sick leave and things will be better. Bob [Keyworth, Stalky’s brother-in-law] does very well in command here and the scheme is one of those rare ones where an artillery man is the best man. Got wireless on board and sailed at 9 p.m. for Derbend, weather fine. We heard Alexiev had taken Astrakhan which was good news, now we hear not A. but anarchist sailors from the Baltic which is bad news. I am always being cinematographed and to-day I was filmed while addressing some refugees on board a ship going to Krasnovodsk. Baku is terribly weak and I hope it will not fall during my absence.
* I cannot identify Alexiev or Avitisov; if anyone else can I would be very interested to know more.
Yesterday and to-day I visited the whole front line, about 10 miles long, South on Sea to North where right flank is open, enabling Turks to get round and make trouble in our rear in East of peninsula. Armenian citizen soldiers very slack, no discipline and no organisation, holding the line with a stiffening of the North Staffords on both flanks. We are gradually putting British Commandants into the Armenian Battalions, and we have our officers also with their Batteries. My car ran along the front for a while within 3000 yards of the Turkish guns, quite in the open, and they never fired a round at us, so I suppose they are pretty short of ammunition. Our line is terribly weak on the right, and that the Turks do not take the town shows they have very poor spirit. Their batteries are only 6000 yards from the town and harbour and they could shell us any minute if they wanted to. The oil-fields are very interesting. Baku is a very fine town with splendid business houses, but the surroundings are hideous and barren, and the tall chimney stacks of the oil-works are dreadful to look at.
I have interviewed the 5 Dictators who rule the town, at an official reception – also the 10 members of the Armenian National Council, also the C-in-C, Gen Dokuchaieu and his staff, and had to have the latter to dinner last night.
Arrived Baku. We lived through the roughness all right and did not miss a meal. Day was cool and just a nice strong breeze.