Oregon Boys In The War

Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918

G.A. Kyle

The following letter from G. A. Kyle, of Portland, Chief Engineer in charge of construction of the Chinese Government Railways, who was captured by Chinese bandits, tells of his experience in a letter to his wife in this city. Mr. Kyle is the father of Marion and Hugh P. Kyle, who are in the Government Service overseas.

My Dear Wife:

Your thoughtful and uplifting letter of the 13th of May was received and I am ashamed not to have answered sooner. Life in the Orient seems to be so fully occupied, and time seems to fly so fast that one does not realize its flight. Time and events crowd each other so closely, that one's private affairs seem insignificant when compared with the world incidents. But even at that, the Kyle family have managed, without any apparent effort on their part, to keep themselves before the public, which is quite a feat in these tense and terrible times.

Last night I entertained the Catholic Bishop, who was responsible Łor my release from the bandits; he went out and talked to them in the mountains at great personal discomfort and danger. I had all the parties that were instrumental in securing my release to a Chinese dinner and had a very pleasant time.

I am feeling better than I did before I was with the bandits, and do not think that any permanent damage, I can discover, was done to my constitution, although the experience at the time was far from pleasant, I assure you.

When they captured us, two of the robbers shot point blank at Mr. Purcell and myself, at a distance of not over ten or twelve feet, and one of the bullets went through the shoulder of both coats that I was wearing at the time. On the day of the battle between the soldiers and the bandits, the day that Purcell escaped, the soldiers had us surrounded and they fought from about five o'clock in the morning until seven in the evening; we were lying flat all day to keep under partial cover while the bullets were flying thick and fast around us. After it got dark the bandits, with their nineteen prisoners, made a break through the encircling line of soldiers, became broken up into small bands, and lost Purcell and seventeen of their Chinese prisoners in their efforts to escape; the band of nine bandits who were with me, held on to me like grim death, while the soldiers were firing on us continually, the bullets flying uncomfortably near me each time. I tried twice to escape but did not succeed. I was with them just thirty days after that time, making fifty-two days in all with the bandits.

I was all alone with them after that, and could only speak a few words of Chinese. We lived on Chinese food and it was not very clean nor palatable; the worst ordeal was the filth, dirt and vermin with which most all the Chinese people are afflicted; but they do not seem to mind much, only it keeps them busy picking the vermin off their clothing.

We traveled every night from ten to forty miles, and slept in the day time, in the dark, damp and filthy Chinese houses; I did not see any daylight the whole of the thirty days that I was alone with the bandits.

Before the day of the battle on March the 25th we had some communications with our friends through messengers; but afterwards I was allowed to receive only one letter during the whole thirty days I was alone with them. They treated me fairly well from their standpoint, especially the leader; but some of the younger ones were continually threatening me, snapping their rifles and automatic revolvers in my face, and telling me that if my friends did not comply with their demands they would kill me. This, with the dirt, filth, vermin, and uncertainty of the situation, made the experience very strenuous and nerve racking; but thanks to a good constitution and a philosophical mind, I managed to pull through in good shape both mentally and physically; and am now as good as ever.

I had a full beard when I returned to Pekin, and was told that I looked like Andrew Carnegie. I have been quite a noted character since my return, as all Americans and English were very much interested in my unusual experience. I have been interviewed numbers of times by newspaper men, both of the Orient and America, and a full history of the case has appeared in many of the papers and magazines. I shall one day write a book of my experience when I have the time, and give the full details to the world.

I expect to start for home about the first of December, and arrive there about the first of the year, unless something different occurs out here. I am very anxious to see you and to feel myself on good American soil once more.

G. A. Kyle.