Russia again dominated the headlines in London one hundred years ago. After the Cabinet Secretary visited Poland, Winston Churchill raised the prospect of British troops fighting Russia again. As the Red Army approached the gates of Warsaw, The Times declared the situation was “tragically serious”. Meanwhile, the Labour Party, with Soviet funding, held anti-war rallies and Lenin’s deputy, Lev Kamenev arrived in London with a trade delegation. In Moscow, 16 soldiers languished in the Ivanovsky prison and in Baku 31 sailors were suffering in an even worse jail.
Hansard records the resulting debate in the House of Commons on 9th August. Viscount Curzon, MP for Battersea South, who had commanded a Royal Navy battalion at Gallipoli, neatly summarized the conflicting Government policies when he asked the Prime Minister: “How the Soviet delegation to this country is composed; whether any further news has come through with regard to our officers and men retained as prisoners at Baku; whether the Government have any information as to whether Bolshevik money is being spent in revolutionary interests in Great Britain and if so, what steps are being taken to deal with it and with those who are responsible; and whether it is proposed to continue negotiations irrespective of the Polish question while such a state of affairs exists?
It is not surprising that Leon Trotsky said: “Lloyd George is like a man playing roulette and scattering chips on every number”.
The Ivanovsky Prison where 16 British prisoners were held in August 1920
Congratulations to the British Red Cross for their magnificent humanitarian deeds since 1870.
Many Red Cross volunteers served abroad in World War I after permission was granted by the War Office for them to work with the Royal Army Medical Corps. Some of these courageous medics journeyed to Russia with the British Military Missions, or to the two Anglo-Russian hospitals in Petrograd.
Lady Muriel Paget and Lady Sybil Grey opened a hospital on Nevski Prospekt in 1916 for severely wounded soldiers and followed this up with field hospitals in the Ukraine, where British nurses witnessed the misery of the Eastern Front. Across the Neva river, the British Colony Hospital continued to look after patients when the Dmitri closed down after the revolution. The matron, Mrs Violet Froom was described as Ambassador, Parson and everything combined in a Government report. It is certainly true that Captain Brian Horrocks and the last British prisoners-of-war were extremely grateful for the care and comforts that she provided when they passed through in October 1920.
See chapters 1, 4, 5, 9, 12, 15 & 16 for VAD, Red Cross and medical stories in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
The British Colony Hospital on the Vassily Ostroff in 2019
On 29th June 1920, Brigadier Joss Percy left Sevastopol with the remnants of the British Mission to Southern Russia. The 150 officers and 450 soldiers had been supporting Generals Deniken and Wrangel in the Crimea. They left behind dozens of British soldiers, airmen and sailors who died in the campaign, including the last British soldier to be killed in action in World War I, Captain William Frecheville of the Royal Engineers.
Percy, who was knighted and promoted for his work in Russia, was born John Samuel Jocelyn Baumgartner, but changed his German sounding surname to Percy at the beginning of the war. A virulent anti-Bolshevik, he went on to be King Zog’s Inspector General for 12 years and instigated the successful reconstruction of Albania before Mussolini’s invasion in April 1939.
The Royal Navy’s evacuation from Batum was completed on 10th July, leaving the way clear for Brian Horrocks and the British prisoners-of-war in Siberia to be escorted to Moscow four days later. For further details, see Chapter 14 in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
When Captain Francis McCullagh was interrogated in Lubjanka, he refused the offer to work as a double agent for the Soviet Union. Eventually, he was released with dozens of other prisoners and crossed the frontier into Finland on 15 April 1920. He was picked up by the head of the MI6 section, John Scale, who debriefed him in Helsingfors before he returned to England on the SS Dongola with the Reverend Frank North and a young Dmitri Tolstoy disguised as the son of his nanny, Lucy Stark.
In London, he was interviewed again by a Military Intelligence officer, Commander Boyce, at the Savoy Club Adelphi at the end of May and then in June by Lord Emmott’s Committee to Collect Information on Russia, which reported to the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. The information McCullagh gives in these interviews is quite different to the story he tells in his memoir published the following year. For more on this, see Chapter 11 of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.