Australians In Siberia

More than a hundred Australians served in Russia after the Revolutions in 1917. The majority fought with the British forces in North Russia, where two soldiers, Sergeant Samuel Pearce and Corporal Arthur Sullivan, earned the Victoria Cross. Several also ended up in Siberia, including Captain O’Brien of the Australian Light Horse who arrived in Omsk on 29th January 1919 and 30 year-old Captain Ernest William Latchford MC of the 38th Infantry Battalion who taught musketry with the Training Team at Irkutsk.

One of the last prisoners to escape from Russia, Captain Dwyer Augustus Neville was born in Australia on 18th April 1892. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in February 1917 and transferred to the Royal Air Force when it was created in 1918. Just before the fifth battle of Ypres, he was forced down while on patrol over the Comines Canal and captured by the German Army, but was repatriated on 13th December 1918.

Volunteering for service in Siberia, he was captured on the retreat from Omsk in December 1919 with Lieutenant Colonel Eric Johnston, but then left behind in hospital when he contracted Typhus. Amazingly he survived this ordeal and almost a year later was sent to Moscow where he joined Brian Horrocks, another who had the ignominious distinction of being a prisoner-of-war in both Germany and Russia in World War One. Returning to Australia, Dwyer lived until October 1979 and is buried at Buderin Cemetery, Queensland.

Captain Ernest William Latchford MC in Siberia 1919

Left Behind in China in 1921

When the British mission in Siberia closed down, a few officers were left behind in Manchuria. Leading this group was Brigadier William Beckett who had been in charge of the British Railway mission during the retreat from Omsk, including those who were captured at Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk. He had been awarded the CBE in the 1920 honours list and as penance for losing his men, he was placed under control of the “British Minister, Pekin” and employed at Harbin as the representative on the Inter Allied Technical Board of the Trans Siberian Railway until 1923.

Several British soldiers were demobilized in Shanghai. One of these was the doctor who had written the final report of the British medical mission and handed over the X Ray machine in Krasnoyarsk, Captain James Alexander O’Driscoll LRCP. On 17th January 1921, he was living at 14 Museum Road and wrote to the War Office to claim the outstanding money it owed to him on discharge.

The situation in Manchuria remained tense as the fighting between the Red Army and the Japanese backed Ataman Semeonov’s forces continued until September 1921. At the same time a major influx of Han Chinese changed the demographics of the country overtaking the Manchu as the most populous ethnic group in North East China.

The First Head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary

When Major General Knox was recalled to England at the end of 1919, he passed command of the British Military Mission to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wickham, who was originally commissioned into the Norfolk Regiment and awarded a DSO during the Boer War.

As head of supply in Siberia, he dispatched millions of pounds worth of British arms, ammunition and equipment to Kolchak’s army on the front line, but in January 1920 he had to organize the evacuation of British personnel and help those captured by the Red Army. He sent dozens of telegrams updating Winston Churchill (they had both been to the same school) about Leonard Vining and the other prisoners and put together a resupply train for their relief. However, once the British captives were transported to Moscow, Wickham closed down his headquarters in Vladivostok and returned via Shanghai to England.

He was immediately posted to Ireland at the height of the struggle for independence to organize the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He remained in charge for 25 years, earning a bipartisan reputation for his integrity and civil manner. One of his greatest challenges was organizing the defence of Northern Ireland during the Second World War, but after it ended, he could not resist one final overseas challenge when he was invited to lead the British police mission in Greece during the communist insurgency, for which he was knighted in 1952.

Charles Wickham is on the right of this photograph of Major General Knox and his staff officers in Siberia. Cecil Cameron is on the left and the cheery face at the bottom is Henry Wellesley who was awarded an MC and Bar in Iraq before arriving in Russia.