It had been four years since the miracle of Christmas had laid across the trenches in Europe that saw British soldiers playing soccer with their German counterparts in the no mans land between trenches. On November 11, 1918, the war to end all wars had been concluded with the complete surrender of Germany to Allied forces in a railway car outside Compien France.
While the American Expeditionary Force under General Blackjack Pershing returned home to a hero’s welcome; there were 5,000 Americans still locked in combat in Europe, though against a different set of enemies. In September of 1918 in order to reopen the Russian front that the Bolshevik Revolution had closed; American, British, Australian, and Canadian forces had landed in Archangel in northern Russia. There the men of the 339th Infantry Brigade of the 85th Infantry Division would be locked in combat against Red Bolshevik forces as their political masters chased the dream of restoring Russia to non-communist rule.
This Christmas Eve, remember all those men trapped in Russia back in 1918 fighting a war they did not understand for objectives that were impossible to achieve. Remember too the horrible conditions they lived in; of freezing temperatures, exploding frozen trees, and such odd contraptions as ambulance-sleighs because the severe cold immobilized their mechanical ambulances.
And most of all remember those Americans that are still buried in that Russian permafrost, interred where they fell on this all but forgotten front of World War One. To never return home like their compatriots finally did in June of 1919 and thus ending the most frustrating, futile, and quixotic deployment of American fighting men.
For Further Research:
Polar Bear Memorial Association.
Polar Bear Digital Collections - University of Michigan
Images of a Forgotten War - Canadian Expetionary Force in the Great War.