World War I Polar Bears to be in spotlight at county historical museum

Paul Garrod •

   HARTFORD - A part of the history of World War I has not been widely recorded in the history books; however, 100 years ago, 5,200 soldiers, the majority of them from Michigan (at least 18 from Van Buren County) were  stranded in the sub-arctic region near Archangel, in northern Russia, and engaged in bitter combat with the Bolshevik Army.
   The soldiers, known as Polar Bears, fought with the French British, Canadian and local Cossack fighters to hold back the Red Army.
   To mark the centennial, the Van Buren County Museum, 58471 Red Arrow Highway, Hartford, has developed a special exhibit this year, highlighting  the  Michigan Polar Bear soldiers of WWI, with special interest to the Van Buren County  connection.
   Mike Grobbel,  president of the Polar Bear Memorial Association, will tell the story about the American North Russia Expeditionary Force on June 30, at 2 p.m. at the museum. Grobbel is the grandson of Polar Bear Clement Grobbel, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor.
   Grobbel will talk about his grandfather’s experience, as well as other veterans of the campaign. Last year, Grobbel traveled to northern Russia to visit the area that his grandfather experienced a century ago.
   Nancy (Moyle) Brock, of Mattawan, a Van Buren County Historical Museum volunteer, happened on the Van Buren County Polar Bear  connection by way of researching the Mattawan Consolidated School centennial history in 2011.
   In her school history research, Brock said a newspaper headline caught her attention, “School Head Given His Old Position.”
   “What was this guy (Frank G. Davis) doing in Russia?” asked Brock.
   Brock’s grandmother, Mrs. Norman Moyle, principal at Mattawan, served as the district’s superintendent for six weeks while Davis went to Archangel, Russia. Davis  was gone  for about a year, with nine moths of that time  specifically in Russia.
   The jigsaw puzzle of Davis’ time in Russia began to come together in 2017 when  Brock attended a talk by  Gordon Olson, presented by the North Berrien (County, MI) Historical Museum.
   After his talk, Brock said of  Davis’ stay in Russia, “That’s what he was doing in Russia. A World War I Polar Bear.”
   In the spring of 1920, Davis  accepted a  position as superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools. From  then on, Brock said additional information about Davis after his  administrative post at Mattawan, is scarce. His last known whereabouts that Brock was able to  find was that he was a teacher in Bay City, MI during World War II.
   Brock said the 20 men from Van Buren Countycame from Almena, Bangor, Breedsville, Decatur, Gobleville, Hartford, Lacota, Lawton, Mattawan, McDonald, Paw Paw,  and South Haven.
   “Some grew up here and stayed here. Some are connected otherwise,” said Brock.
   Admission to the event is $5 for adults and $2 for  ages five to 12. Museum members and active military are free.
   For more information, contact the museum at (269) 621-2188. 

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes
32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-5080

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