Hakodate, Japan: 23 September 1918. Various. The postaly used envelope bears the return address “Pvt David Kiddie / A.E.F / Siberia” and is free-franked “Soldiers / Mail / U.S.A.” It is addressed to Andrew Kiddie of Oakland, California. It bears a manuscript annotation “Censored / F. G. Nevato / 1st Vo. Inf.”. It is franked with a 10-sen Japanese stamp (Scott # 122/137) that has been canceled with a circular Hakodate, Japan postmark dated 23 September 1918. A second Japanese transit postmark from Tokyo is dated 26 September 1918. No letter.
Two other items are included in this lot. There is a letter, without envelope, from Kiddie showing that he was assigned to the 31st Infantry Regiment upon arrival in Siberia. There is also a picture postcard showing the USAT Sheridan.
Following the Russian Revolution in the fall of 1917 and the resulting Bolshevik government’s peace treaty with the Central Powers in March 1918, the Entente (Allied powers) faced a major crisis as Germany had been freed to concentrate all of its forces in the west and no longer fight a two-front war. Additionally, the 50,000-member Czechoslovak Legion, which had fought with the Allies became stranded in territory controlled by the Soviets and began to fight its way east to Vladivostok through Bolshevik forces along the Trans-Siberian Railway.
As a result, and in concert with other Allied powers, primarily Japan, President Wilson dispatched 10,000 American soldiers along with a contingent of railway professionals to keep the railroad open, assist the Czech Legion, and protect allied supplies that had been shipped to Vladivostok for use by Czarist Russia to fight the Germans. General William S. Graves, the Commanding General of the 8th Division was placed in charge of the American Expeditionary Force which included two regiments from the Philippines, the 27th and 31st Infantry, as well as several thousand volunteers from the 8th Division at Camp Freemont, California.
Lieutenant Navato’s use of “1t Vo. Inf” And Kiddie’s family member’s address in Oakland, strongly suggest that both he and Kiddie were volunteers from Grave’s 8th Division. After transporting the 31st Infantry to Vladivostok in August, the U.S. Army Transport Ships (USATs) Sheridan and Logan returned to San Francisco where they picked up the 8th Division volunteers, including Kiddie.
It wasn’t long after the ships departed the States on 2 September when the Logan lost the use of two propellers, slowing down the convoy. The slow pace, rough seas, anti-submarine zig-zagging, bad food, and masking after a diphtheria scare made the voyage near intolerable. By the time the ships reached Japan, fuel was running low, so both pulled into Hakodate, one of Japan’s closest ports to Vladivostok, for coal on September 22.
The troops were granted shore leave to visit the town, and while some went sightseeing, others, including officers and NCOs, immediately visited the bars where liquor was plentiful. What resulted, “the Battle of Hakodate,” was one of the most embarrassing drunken riots in the history of the army. Courts-Martial began as soon as the men returned to their ships and continued until the 24th. 18 captains and lieutenants were found guilty of unbecoming conduct and confined to their quarters until they could be returned to the United States and dishonorably discharged.
Kiddie apparently behaved himself as a later letter (which will be included) shows he was reassigned to D Company, 31st Infantry, which was located in Harbin, Manchuria, to protect the Headquarters of the U.S. Russian Railway Service and ensure the Chinese Eastern Railway, a short-cut between Chita on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Vladivostok, was kept open.. Very good. Item #009865
Mail sent prior to the U. S, Army Post Office’s arrived in country on 25 September was sent through Russian, Chinese, and, less frequently, Japanese civilian postal systems. So, in this case, Kiddie’s letter home, which he, no doubt, mailed while on shore leave in Hakodate, was something of a “pre-forerunner” to those other forerunner covers.
(For more information see Opperman and Kugel’s “A Classification System for Siberian AEF Covers” in Van Dam’s The Postal History of the AEF, 1917-1923, the 31st Infantry Regiment Association’s A History of ‘America’s Foreign Legion’ . . ., and Faulstich’s privately-published classic, The Siberian Sojourn.This is a truly rare cover. Opperman and Kugel note that only thirty forerunner covers are known to exist, and ten of those are held by the Smithsonian. This cover is even more scarce than those others. At the time of listing, no other enroute covers are for sale in the philatelic or paper Americana trade. None are recorded by Van Dam, nor are any listed as having ever appeared for auction by Stamp Auction Network, Worthpoint, Live Auctioneers, or Rare Book Hub.