On 23rd December 1919, the Siberian Army fought its final battle, whilst the despondent “Supreme Leader”, Alexander Kolchak was held up in his train carrying the Imperial Treasury, by the Czech Legion at Krasnoyarsk.
Reporting on the comprehensive defeat, the Manchester Guardian commented: “the shattered remains of Kolchak’s army scattered and all stores, munitions and practically all artillery were lost”. General Kappel issued orders to establish a defensive line near Krasnoyarsk, but this proved impossible as 45 echelons of the White Army were stuck on the railway line with frozen engines stalled between Bogotol and Kozulka.
The following evening, the last British contingent out of Omsk made the best of their situation. Forty people, squeezed into a carriage designed for 16, ate their Christmas Eve supper of soup, rice and vodka. A whisky bottle was shared and they held an impromptu sing-song until 11.30 pm with a magnificent rendition of Helen of Troy and Give Me The Moonlight.
The last British group that escaped from Omsk in the winter of 1919
On 31st October 1919, the Soviet Government announced that it had captured Petropavlovsk, an important trading town on the river Ishim. In doing so, they cut off two British officers serving with Ataman Dutov’s Cossacks, Captain Phelps Hodges MC and Lieutenant Paul Moss, from their railway route to safety.
The only way of escape was to cross the infamous Gobi Desert by horse and camel. It took them over four months, but eventually they reached the British mission in China and from there, returned to England. Writing about his experiences, Phelps Hodges claimed: “No phase in history is more full of material for the historian or novelist than those four years of bitter civil war in Russia”.
Captain Phelps Hodges MC of the Royal Field Artillery, crossing the Gobi Desert in 1919