Polar Bear's bayonets donated to Michigan Heroes Museum
By Mike Grobbel
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site Director of Public Affairs,
Lois Ullrich was recently rummaging around in her attic when she spotted it - a bundle wrapped with an old blue towel, which her mother had given her years ago and had been promptly relegated to the attic. Lois remembered her mother telling her that it had belonged to her great uncle, Arnold Ullrich, and that he had brought it back with him when he returned home to Mt. Clemens, Michigan after serving in World War One. Intrigued, she brought the bundle downstairs and opened it for the first time in many years.
Inside were two identical steel blades with wooden handles, one bearing a label in her mother’s handwriting that read, “Arnold Ullrich Bayonets W. War I”. Lois knew nothing about bayonets but she did know that Arnold had been one of the 5,000 US Army “Polar Bear” soldiers – the majority hailing from Michigan - who had fought the Bolshevik Red Army in North Russia during the winter of 1918-1919.
Wanting to find a better home for these unusual artifacts, Lois went on-line and found the US World War One Centennial Commission's web site and left a message on their Contact page. She indicated her desire to donate the bayonets to an appropriate institution and asked for the Commission’s help in finding that “better home”.
Chris Christopher, publisher of the Commission’s web site, responded by connecting Lois with Mike Grobbel, who is the president of the Polar Bear Memorial Association and also a board member of the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, MI. The Association conducts an annual Memorial Day service to honor and remember the 234 American soldiers who died during the North Russia military intervention, while the Museum’s collections include the stories of 50 “Polar Bear” soldiers, including that of Mike’s grandfather.
Mike met with Lois the following week to accept her donation of the two bayonets on behalf of the Michigan Heroes Museum. The bayonets are in very good condition and the museum’s staff have subsequently identified them as being “British Pattern 1903” bayonets. This type of bayonet was designed for use with the British Magazine-fed Lee Enfield rifle and the markings on these two bayonets indicate they were manufactured by the Wilkinson Sword Company in London, England. Since none of the American troops who went to North Russia were ever issued that British rifle, it’s likely that Lois’ great uncle acquired the P-1903 bayonets in a trade with a British Army soldier as a souvenir.
Arnold F. Ullrich (Sept. 30, 1892 – Aug. 21, 1952) served as a Private in the 339th Infantry Regiment’s Medical Detachment. The 339th, along with the first battalion of the 310th Engineers, the 337th Field Hospital Company and the 337th Ambulance Company comprised the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (abbreviated ANREF and later known as the “Polar Bears”). The ANREF troops arrived at the port of Archangel, Russia on Sept. 4, 1918 where along with British, Canadian and French forces, they intervened in the Russian Civil War on the side of the White Russians. During his time in Russia, Pvt. Ullrich managed to survive the harsh Arctic winter, battles with the Bolshevik Red Army and the Spanish Influenza pandemic that killed more than 60 of the American troops during their first month in Russia.
Following his discharge from the Army in July of 1919, Arnold, or “Boots” as he was known by his friends, went to work as a bookkeeper for the Macomb County Road Commission. In 1921 Arnold was invited to join the Old Crowd, an exclusive group of approximately 300 men who were all long-time residents of Mt. Clemens and who had been having one-day reunions every August since 1880. Their reunions were an annual opportunity for friends to spend a relaxing day fishing and socializing on nearby Lake St. Clair. Arnold was elected president of the Old Crowd in 1952 and had the honor of leading the band and parade of members through the streets of Mt. Clemens from the courthouse to the dock where they would board the excursion boat. Unfortunately, Arnold collapsed just as the parade began and was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Because he had been a life-long bachelor, Arnold’s personal effects were passed on to Lois’s grandfather and that is how she eventually came into possession of his war souvenirs.