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11th November 1918

First up, a bit of WW1 Russian front history right here in the UK:

Today's episode had to be conceived in the context of the rest of what for me was going to be the most solemn day of the entire TOMMIES project

 

I was pretty sure all other media would be concentrating on peace and bells in Europe, so I wanted to touch on that through another context. August 1918 research about the Allied invasion of Russia hadn't come to fruition, but along the way (as is so often true with TOMMIES) I'd come upon two sources: THE HOUSE ON THE DVINA by the Russo-Scot Eugenie Fraser and the towering CHURCHILL's SECRET WAR WITH LENIN by Damien Wright.

 

Chunking through the timeline of Russia 1918, it didn't take long to find the 2/10th Battalion Royal Scots (hereinafter the RS) dying in Russia (in Round One of the Cold War we are still fighting) as part of The Battle of Armistice Day.

 

Also in this episode, the British are involved in setting up one of the first Gulags, an extraordinary story. To add to this, there's a British VAD lady 200 miles upriver in the Russian interior at the 11th November battle squaring off against her opposite number (from the Women's Battalion of Death, naturally), the Scottish woman in Archangel as above, super-antagonistic Yanks and a Chinese serviceman potentially not only winning a Military Medal but actually fighting, overturning practically every single source on Chinese involvement in WW1.

 

So where to begin?

 

The IWM library had a number of books opening out the nature of Allied incursions into Russia. I had no idea that we sort of poked our way in over every border. THE DAY WE ALMOST BOMBED MOSCOW by Dobson and Miller and MEMOIRS OF A BRITISH AGENT by R. H. Bruce Lockhart were good on this, especially the first one for its maps.

 

Life in Archangel comes from a bit in every source (especially ARCHANGEL 1918-19 by General Ironside), but even with my start with Eugenie Fraser I wasn't expecting such a strong connection with Scotland. Indeed, there is a whole department at Edinburgh University devoted to it. I'm sorry I didn't have the time to make contact. CANADIANS IN RUSSIA by MacLaren in the BL stressed a strong Dutch/Archangel connection too.  

 

The Royal Scots have an Official History, with a chapter on 2/10th in Russia. It details events on 11th November on the Dvina, but I picked up the Canadian artillery version of events from the Canadian War Diary website. The Americans came from QUARTERED IN HELL by Dennis Gordon and THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN EXPEDITION FIGHTING THE BOLSHEVIKI by Moore, Mead and Jahns. An American YMCA man, Ralph Albertson, wrote the useful FIGHTING WITHOUT A WAR. A neat Phd thesis by Jonathan B. Reinoehl of Lehigh University, COALITION WARFARE IN NORTHERN RUSSIA 1918-1919 : ANGLO-AMERICAN RELATIONS talked us through unhappy rows between the non-partners.

 

The research on Shute I got from WilliamRev on the Great War Forum; I changed one detail in line with WilliamRev's research because Avin Shah the writer particularly wanted his character to have been gassed.

 

I was tipped off to the presence of the VAD by Damien Wright (she won a Military Medal in October) and we based our character on her: Selma May Valentine. (Although I used quite a bit of Mary Britnieva's ONE WOMAN'S STORY I found in the British Library. The Woman's Battalion of Death character came from the American sources in particular but was filled out from Maria Botchkareva's YASHKA: MY LIFE AS PEASANT, OFFICER, AND EXILE.

 

My heart sank on hearing that British and French soldiers had effectively set up one of the first gulags. This was in Lucy Ash's excellent three part documentary series on Radio 4.

 

One of the actors pointed out the word gulag might not have been used on this day, as it is an acronym of the Russian for "Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Settlements" which was formally established in 1919. But to balance this the very first Soviet-run rather than Allied-run gulag was set up on Solovetski Island only 200 miles across the White Sea from Mudyug in 1918. So I thought that a slang precursor might just be permissible here, especially as there was little chance the story would make sense on the airwaves to anyone it we didn't use the word. So apologies to gulag historians: I think you are technically right. It's a bit like the Mills Bomb/grenade thing in previous episodes.

 

(Stop Press, while I've been preparing this page Lucy and her team have pointed me at a doc they have made for the BBC Russian TV Service, and there's actual footage of Eugenie Fraser! The first time I logged onto it I got the pictures, but it has been a bit erratic since. It is here. But Stop Press Stop Press, there should be an English language version soon I may be able to link to, I'll put it here. )

 

The 2/10th Battalion Royal Scots Regiment had a chapter in their regimental history, and of course everything we wanted in their War Diary at the National Archives. But they were also in a book edited by John Buchan, featuring a chapter by Lt-Col Skeil of the battalion - THE LONG ROAD TO VICTORY. (This plus an awful lot of the above are at good old archive.org.)

 

Other forces. The Royal Marines were ordered off their ships to train and lead pro-Menshevik Russians in a 'Slavo-British Legion'. The local Chinese Labour Corps were recruited among stranded Chinese who had been working in peacetime in the region. We based the character of Wang on these men.  

 

Two Chinese men were awarded Military Medals for bravery in combat just south of Murmansk in December, which as far as I know is news to most: we understand Chinese recruits to have been shelled at or near the front line in France and Flanders, but not to have actually fought.

 

I was led here to this story by THE CHINESE LABOUR CORPS by Gregory James. He exhaustively goes into who was CLC and who was S-BL, but they there seems to be quite a lot of confusion. Certainly the British used labouring men who had been in-country for several years as scouts, especially as they spoke Russian. As neither the CLC war diary nor that of the S-BL exist for 1918, I proposed Wang as a man recruited to be CLC and then made a scout, but capable of exploits carried out by the S-BL men, especially as he would have been up on the front line with 2/10 RS on the Dvina.

 

How do we know about the two MM's? James pointed me at p17 of the DAILY COLONIST published in Vancouver on Dec 2nd 1919 when a shipload of Chinese being repatriated via Canada disembarked there.

 

I quote, removing a lot of padding of a quite extraordinarily racist nature:

 

"These were the fighting Chinamen of the Slavo-British Legion, who have a couple of Military Medals among them. Living in Russia when the Bolsheviks arose, the men found themselves without money for the trip to China and were unable to procure the necessities of life. They enlisted and became part of the Slavo-British Legion under General Ironside in the Archangel area..."

 

And this about their combat role revealed by their medal citations:

 

"...the following, signed by Major-General S. Ironside, Commander-In-Chief of the North Russian Expeditionary Force, is the official record of Liu Tung Fu's valorous action whereby he won the award already named: 'This non-commissioned officer in the operations north of Turchasova between 29th December 1918 and 13 January 1919, set a fine example to the men of his platoon. Four times in one night he volunteered and patrolled in the face of the enemy with two men to Zalesi, being under machine gun fire the whole of the time...Pte Lee Yu, the other Chinese who won the Military medal while fighting with the Slavo-British legion, had unfortunately lost the official record of his deed. Nevertheless both officers and men in the unit know...Pte Lee Yu broke up a determined attack of about 250 Bolshevikis while the guard took the Mission gate at Zalesi."

 

I'd read about Chinese men in the CLC men being put up for Military Medals on the Western Front but these being downgraded as a matter of policy. So these two men represent quite a new story.

 

I chose Charles Davies as the last Russian fatality although discussing it with Damien Wright threw up other candidates - for example a man who died later but of a SIW, or a man who died on a troopship home, another who died of wounds back in the UK. However, Charles Davies is the last man listed in Russia by the CWGC. His biographical details were found here at the Flintshire War Memorials website, so many thanks to them.  

 

One more detail: I wanted to be sure there was flying at this time or the transit of the prisoner from Mudyug up the Dvina couldn't work, and found that and Bereznik aerodrome detailed in DIARY OF A P.B.O. by Shrive in the IWM.

 

We took the 'headlines' for the Western Front from three main books, 11TH MONTH, 11TH DAY, 11TH HOUR by Joseph E Persico (which I won in a WFA raffle, btw), A STILLNESS HEARD AROUND THE WORLD by Stanley Weintraub, and THE GREATEST DAY IN HISTORY by Nicholas Best. I checked all their sources against the usual suspects. If anyone can stand up the story in Best p171-2 of a lethal possible ambush of a British battalion on 11-11-18 I'd be very interested to hear about it. On the information available and in the absence of a footnote, I certainly couldn't.

 

And to end, a bit wind-blasty, but a ps from Compeigne