Note to the Prime Minister on 27th May

One hundred years ago today, the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George received a note from Lord Curzon about his forthcoming meeting in London with the Soviet Minister Leonid Krassin on 31st May 1920.

The Foreign Secretary listed his main concern as the remaining British prisoners in Russia and described the three categories as: civilians in Moscow and Petrograd;  prisoners-of-war in Siberia; and the naval mechanics recently detained in Azerbaijan.  When the Prime Minister dismissed the problem of the prisoners as an inconvenience, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff accused him of treason and Winston Churchill attacked him for grasping “the hairy paw of the baboon”.

Meanwhile in Irkutsk, Major Vining in charge of the deceived British prisoners in Siberia, wrote in his diary:  “nothing has been sent us and no telegram, or letter has reached us…Our mail, an accumulation of some ten months is at Vladivostok, this could have been sent through ten times over…”.


First International Football in Soviet Russia

It is claimed that the first international match in Soviet Russia was in 1922 when the Finnish Workers’ Sports Team played a team in Petrograd.  However in May 1920, two years before the Finns crossed the frontier, Leonard Vining organised an international match between the British Army and a Soviet team in the city of Irkutsk.

The British, bolstered by a Sikh named Jiht Singh, played four matches, which they lost.  Vining included a couple of rugby players in the team, who lacked skill but flattened the opposition and this brought loud cheers from the spectators on the touch line.  The match against the German and Austrian former PoWs, who were now employed as guards, was a surprisingly friendly affair, but Vining was very irritated to lose 2-4.

Vining kept two footballs in his possession.  One was used in the matches, but in the other, he placed his photographs between the bladder and the outer skin.  These were never found in the searches by the Secret Police and he managed to smuggle them out of the country when he was released six months later.

IMG_2097A photograph smuggled out of Soviet Russia in Vining’s football

British Military Mission to Siberia

On 11th May 1920, Colonel Charles Wickham closed the British Military Mission to Siberia and took the train to Shanghai, where he caught a steamer and returned to the United Kingdom to start his new career with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

He was upset that he had to leave behind the British prisoners-of-war in Irkutsk, but he had sent a positive update to the Army Council and Lord Curzon on 5th March and ensured that a carriage full of supplies was left for them with Captain Norman Stilling of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who was seconded to the Foreign Office.

The supplies included 58 gallons of rum and 7,758 packets of cigarettes.  It was a pity these never reached the prisoners because they ended up on starvation rations, when they refused to work for the Bolshevik commissars.  10 May 1920


VE Day Tribute

My mother, whose name is on the Bletchley Park Roll of Honour for those who worked in Signals Intelligence during the War, was selected to march past Buckingham Palace on VE Day 1945.

She was posted to HMS Flowerdown as a Morse operator soon after her 18th birthday and listened to German and Italian radio messages from Libya and the Mediterranean.  She took down code words for alphabet and cipher for numbers; the hardest part was mid sentence at the end of the page when she had to move the carbon paper and cardboard (everything was recorded in triplicate) without missing a letter.  She reported “Benghazi Gone!” when it was re-captured by the 8th Army in November 1942.

By May 1945, she had moved to HMS Hornbill and after Victory in Europe, she volunteered for overseas work, sailing to Colombo on the SS Athlone Castle before working in Bombay (Mumbai) for ten months.  In 1946, she deployed to South Africa on the aircraft carrier HMS Vindex, joining a female officer and a nurse, whose floor she slept on rather than being alone in a 20 bunk cabin!

VE Day