The story of last British PoWs of World War is now available to read in the January and February editions of Britain At War magazine.
In the January issue I explain what the soldiers were doing in Siberia and how they were captured by the Bolsheviks one hundred years ago. In the February follow-up, I tell the story about the prisoners’ ordeal and how they managed to return to England just after the Unknown Soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The February magazine can be purchased online at the following link:
In January 1919, the Supreme Leader of the White Government, Admiral Alexander Kolchak was forced to hand over power to General Anton Deniken when he was held up in his train by the Czech Legion 280 miles from Irkutsk. The Allied commander, General Maurice Janin guaranteed the safe conduct of the Admiral and his carriages were coupled to the train of the 6th Czech Regiment. If he could just reach Lake Baikal, he believed he would be safe because the railway line from there was still controlled by the US and Japanese forces.
However, the train took seven days to reach Irkutsk, by which time the Bolsheviks had taken the city and the British and French diplomatic delegations had escaped to the east. On 15th January, his carriages were surrounded by a hundred revolutionary soldiers with machine guns and the Czechs handed the Admiral over to the Red Commissars. That night, Kolchak spent his first night in captivity, although he must have felt he had been a prisoner for much of the previous month.
Admiral Kolchak (fur hat) with Captain Francis McCullough (right) who ran the White Government’s Propaganda in Omsk
On 6th January 1920, two months after escaping from Omsk, a group of fifteen British soldiers were held up in a queue of trains approaching Krasnoyarsk. They put the long halt down to the fact that the locals were celebrating Russian Christmas Eve.
Suddenly, the locomotive in front blew its whistle and their train replied, but it did not move forward. Sergeant Joe Rooney struck up on the banjo and sang “Take me back to dear old Blighty”. Then someone remarked “A Russian officer has just thrown his sword over the bank”.
Several more officers followed his example and all around, they saw White Army soldiers throwing down their rifles and pistols. They had traveled 900 miles by train, sleigh and on foot through the bitter Siberian winter, but now they realized this was the end of their forlorn flight to freedom and the beginning of their captivity at the hands of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
Sledges Used By British Soldiers on the Retreat From Omsk