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Letter from Rev. W. R. Foote.


Recently I have written but little about the war as you get the news by telegraph a few hours after the event happens. However, even in Wonsan, we have twice had a ripple of excitement. Near the end of April I left home for an extended itinerating trip and was enjoying myself visiting prosperous groups in the country, when one day I met a messenger from Edith, saying that when she wrote the note, three Russian cruisers had appeared at the entrance of the harbor and that a torpedo division had entered the harbor and torpedoed the Goyu Maru, the only steamer in the harbor at the time, and had returned to the cruisers. It was expected that they would immediately come back and burn the city. I was one hundred miles away when I received the letter and immediately turned homeward. My Korean pony carried me day and night so I made a quick trip into Wonsan.

When the Russian vessels appeared, the Japanese – 2000 live here – thought that the Japanese fleet, which had only left four hours before, had returned, and so were unconcerned until the torpedo boats were close to the shore.

The torpedoed Goyu Maru almost immediately sank. I was out to see her a few days ago. She lies on her side, and is only two feet below the surface. The crew were given twenty minutes to get away, which they took advantage of. The Goyu was anchored quite near our house, and Edith saw the torpedo launched. It made a rent about three feet wide by ten feet long in the side of the boat, and sent up a huge column of water, but did not cause a very loud explosion.

The Japanese, expecting their settlement would be burned immediately, fled to the neighboring villages. The British proconsul sent word to his nationals to be ready to leave at a minute’s notice. Everything however remained quiet until after dark, when a light was seen entering the harbor. Then there was a general rush. Jean and John were asleep. Edith wrapped them in blankets, as there was not time to dress them, gave each into the arms of a Korean, and, with the other foreigners, ran for safety. But it proved to be a false alarm as the Russians had moved off and this was a little coaster from Tusan.

Although it was a lively day things would have been far livelier had not a dense fog prevailed. The Japanese squadron was just outside the Russian squadron, neither of which saw the other. As the Japanese squadron consisted of twenty-three battleships and cruisers, and the Russian only of three, we can imagine what the result would have been.

As the Russian squadron steamed north to Vladivostok it passed between the Japanese battleships and cruisers lying outside, and a torpedo flotilla, lying near the coast for shelter, and in doing so met a Japanese transport with about three hundred on board. They notified the Japanese that they would capture or sink the transport and asked them to go on board one of their boats. The Japanese refused and the transport was struck with two torpedoes. Still the Japanese refused to surrender and continued to fire until the water was up to their waists on the ship’s deck. Some went down with the ship, some were taken by the Russians, others swam ashore, some of them saving even their rifles. This is the way the Japanese fight, and, until the Russians make up their minds they will win or die, they cannot be victorious. As the Russians passed further north they picked up a small coaster, the Hayinora, of little value.

For a few days all went quiet here, but it was not long until word came that a large number of Cossacks had left Vladivostok for Wonsan. Mr. Robb and Mr. Olson were the only two foreigners in Song Chin when they arrived there. Mr. Robb called on the chief officer who returned the compliment and made a favorable impression. As they approached Ham Hung, Mr. McRae went to that city and advised all Christians, with their hair cut, to leave at once, as they might be taken for Japanese, which advice they followed. Mr. McRae waited until the scouts arrived and when he called upon them was told to hoist the Union Jack over his buildings. They did not suspect that he would reach Wonsan before they did, but he quietly slipped away on his bicycle, reaching here that night. The next day the British women and children were advised to leave Wonsan. So all was hustle and hurry; packing of trunks and nailing of boxes went on all day and nearly all night, and the next day they left for a Buddhist temple up in the mountains, twenty-five miles from Wonsan.

We have two warm friends, an English lady and her son, who have a beautiful home on the end of the peninsula just across the harbor, three miles distant by boat and seven by land. Some time before, they had invited us to stay with them in case of trouble, and as we considered their residence quite out of the reach of Cossacks we were only too glad to accept their kind invitation. After I ha sent Edith and the children across, I set to work making Union Jacks, as I was left alone to watch the property. We did not anticipate any danger from either Russians or Japanese, both of whom are exceedingly kind to us; but our houses are just in their firing line, being situated on the top of a hill which the Japanese would defend, and which the Russians would have to take before they could enter Wonsan. For rifle shots we would not care so much, but it was reported that the Russians were following the Cossacks with artillery. Mrs. Grierson is the only foreign woman in Wonsan and she is ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

In the meantime the Japanese infantry in Wonsan, of about 800 men, were busy intrenching themselves in Wonsan. Trench after trench has been dug. The nearest one is just back of our house and the outside one ten miles nearer the Cossacks. On June the third, before daylight, thirty Japanese soldiers were sent fifteen miles on the big road above Wonsan, and they took up their position where the road followed a gorge through a low hill. How many men were between that point and Wonsan. I do not know, but in Wonsan all was lively and the soldiers were either in the trenches or digging new ones. We were all interested thinking that the Cossacks would soon arrive. No one knew in what numbers. The Japanese women and children and many Koreans were leaving Wonsan with what effects they could carry. I had not moved anything out, feeling sure the Japanese could defend their position.

About 4 o’clock in the afternoon the Cossacks approached the place where the thirty Japanese scouts mentioned above unbeknown to even the Koreans living near, have taken up a concealed position commanding the road. The Cossack, scouts twenty-nine in number, not knowing their danger, came near the hill where the Japanese were. Two of their number passed the enemy and the others thinking all was safe moved on until suddenly the crack, crack, of the rifles and the whiz of bullets brought eight of their number to the ground, two fatally wounded. As quick as a flash the Cossacks dismounted, clasped their dead and wounded comrades in their arms, sprang to their saddles, wheeled about, and galloped off without even so much as seeing the enemy.

The wires are down north of Wonsan, and just where the Russians are we do not know, but we have good reason to believe that not more than 225 are in the vicinity of Wonsan. They burn villages, and consequently harass the Koreans, but not their enemy. Meanwhile the Japanese soldiers have not relaxed their vigilance. On the 4th inst., about 250 more infantry arrived from Seoul, and as many more on the 5th. Although there is no word that the Russians are near today, the trenches are full of Japanese, and they are busy wheeling ammunition up to the hilltops.

Personally we do not anticipate any danger and as I said only have taken precautions for fear we should be in the firing line of artillery.


Wonsan, Korea, June 7, ’04