While the Armistice was declared on November 11th 1918 and the fighting ceased on the Western Front there were other conflicts that continued for several more years. Typical is the involvement in the Civil War in Russia. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project attempts to unravel the involvement of Poole men and those from the Dorset Regiment in that conflict.
After Russia declared peace with Germany following the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas there were concerns that Archangel and Murmansk in North Russia could be used by German submarines. A multi-national Allied force occupied both places in mid-1918 but could not leave Archangel when the Armistice was signed a few months later because the sea was frozen. The force had provided food for the locals who were starving and had also helped anti-Bolshevik forces. The latter involvement was because of concern that the rise of Communism would lead to unrest in many European countries.
In early 1919, it was decided to send a British Relief Expeditionary force to get the British troops out of Archangel, many who were due for demobilisation, and also to assist anti-Bolshevik forces. The 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment became part of the First North Russia Relief Force by becoming ‘Y’ Company in the 2nd Hampshire Regiment.
Nine officers and 240 men from the Dorsets, along with the rest of the Force, set sail from Tilbury on May 13th 1919 on an ‘uneventful’ journey and arrived in Archangel on May 27th. They were welcomed with a civic reception which included the traditional bread and salt. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment describes briefly how they then travelled by barge, which were pulled by steamships, along the River Dwina to Kurgomen; a journey of four days. It was a quiet period as the Bolsheviks had few shells. What struck the soldiers most was that the block-houses in which they were billeted were full of equipment from all different nations.
The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment goes on to describe the ‘Topsa-Troitza action’ in support of the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces. One problem was the terrain they had to cross was marsh-like and ‘not very attractive’. The mules carrying ammunition could not cope and ‘Y’ Company spent much of its time carrying ammunition to the troops in action. The Dorsets did not get involved in the actual fighting which was abandoned after a while. A withdrawal followed which was ‘very trying’ as they could only manage around 1mph because of the conditions. The Dorsets acted as a rear-guard and had two men wounded. The limited success of the action was overturned when several companies of a supporting Russian Battalion mutinied.
Action of sorts was also seen on the Volgoda Railway and the ‘front’ was advanced to Yemsta but these were highly confusing skirmishes with uncertainty over who was fighting whom and why; because of this the British announced on August 8th that they would leave North Russia. September 17th saw ‘Y’ Company leaving Yemsta and make a difficult journey to base before sailing from North Russia on the 27th. By October 8th they had arrived in Crowborough, England.
The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment summed up the involvement in North Russia – ‘as has so often happened, intervention in another country’s internal troubles had proved unsuccessful’. ‘The northern lights by night made a wonderful and awe-inspiring sight’ but the food was ‘poor’ – often just bully beef and biscuit and lime juice was issued to provide Vitamin C.
There was also a naval involvement in North Russia. Various ships saw action including the sea-plane carrier HMS Vindictive on which Able Seaman Reginald Vincent of Poole served. The ship sailed to Baltic in 1919 where it was involved in the multi-national action against the Bolsheviks and its seaplanes attacked the Soviet fleet at Kronstadt on August 18th 1919. It is believed that HMS Vindictive left the Baltic at the end of 1919. Vincent went on home leave in February 1920 and returned to duty where he got influenza which developed into pneumonia. He died on March 16th 1920 at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gosport and is buried in All Saint’s Churchyard, Branksome.
There were also limited actions in South Russia which were connected with the Civil War but also to stop Russian expansion into Persia.
The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in late October 1920 that Mr Hutchings of Wimborne Road, Poole was expecting the return of his son, Leading Signalmen William Alfred Hutchings after he was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Hutchings was a volunteer in a group of thirty men that were carrying out ‘reconnaissance work’ around the Caspian Sea on what was known as the ‘Enzeli Expedition’. He had been taken prisoner in April 1920 and was understood to be amongst fifty men who were held in Baku prison. The conditions in which they were held were described as ‘appalling’. The British Government had been attempting to get them released and hopes had been raised after the Russian Government offered an exchange of prisoners. Hutchings was released in November and eventually returned home.
Private George Leaton, whose parents lived on Everett’s Lane, Poole, was reported as being wounded in Russia in March 1919 while serving in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. The newspaper report does not describe where. He had served in the 1st Dorset Yeomanry during the First World War where he had been wounded in 1915.
Private James Bungay was one of several thousand British troops sent to intervene in the Siberian Campaign. The situation in Siberia was highly confused following the overthrow of the Tsar and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with an anti-Bolshevik Siberian Republic being declared in December 1917. The Czech Legion, formed of former POWs and now supporting the Allies, had found itself in Siberia in their campaign for an independent Czechoslovakia. The American President, Woodrow Wilson, suggested that Japanese troops could assist the Czech Legion in Vladivostock. A Japanese force did land in early 1918 and was followed by various British detachments and a large Canadian force. Vladivostock was declared an Allied Protectorate on July 6th 1918 and on July 10th it was announced that a British regiment would sail from Hong Kong in support. The Allied troops fighting alongside the White Russians in Siberia were from all nations; mainly Japanese and Czechoslovakian, supported by Canadian, French, American, Chinese, Italian and British forces. It is estimated that there were 120,000 troops in Siberia but by early 1919 the early successes were overturned and a withdrawal followed. British and Japanese troops left in the winter of 1919 and Czechoslovakian troops in early 1920.
Private Bungay’s mother, Jane, of Commercial Road, Parkstone received a telegram telling her that James had died at St Stilos, Vladivostok. James Bungay had joined the Hampshire Regiment in 1914 and served for four years in India. He also spent time with the Bedfordshire Regiment. He was then transferred to the 25th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment with whom he was posted to Russia.
‘The first intimation that anything was amiss came with a cable saying he was seriously ill (from influenza and pneumonia),’ reported the Poole and East Dorset Herald. He died of a kidney infection on February 9th 1919 and is buried in the Churkin Russian Naval Cemetery,