Canadian Connections

With over 4,000 Canadian soldiers serving under command of Major General James Elmsley in Vladivostok and a dozen of these mentioned in the Siberian Honours, there are many Canadian Connections to Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners. Remarkably, more than half the soldiers captured by the Red Army at Krasnoyarsk in January 1920 had a strong attachment to Canada before, or after the War.

The Banjo playing Bertie Prickett and Edward Stephens, who were both born in England, joined the Canadian Army and were members of the Expeditionary Force in Siberia, but transferred to the British Army when the Canadians were recalled in the summer of 1919. In contrast, Captain William Dempster was born in York County, Ontario, but joined the British Army and was awarded the Military Cross in Flanders, before volunteering for service in Russia and ending up in the British Railway Mission.

The youngest soldier, 20 year-old Bernard Eyford, was born in Manitoba to an Icelandic family. He was conscripted in Winnipeg on 15th July 1918 and served in the 260th Battalion Canadian Rifles, but his training as telegrapher led to his transfer to railway troops and eventually to joining Leonard Vining’s group. The oldest soldier, Fred Walters emigrated from Birmingham with his young wife Emily to Canada and moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. His attestation paper shows that he was a rivetter and plate worker when he joined the Army.

Emerson MacMillan’s family had emigrated from Scotland to Canada in the 1820s, but he was working in Philadelphia when he joined the British Army in 1918. During his training with the Inns of Court OTC, he volunteered for service in the Far East and was with Leonard Vining all the way from the Clyde, where they boarded the SS Stentor together in March 1918, through their Russian ordeal, until they said farewell to each other in London in November 1920.

Percy James’ connection came after the Second World War when two of his daughters married Canadians and he emigrated with two of his sons to Ontario, where he lived a happy life in Toronto. The final connection is with Sapper Smith. Both Leonard Vining and Francis McCullagh confirm that he was Canadian, but I haven’t been able to find his army details, or anything about him other than a contact in Kent on the back of the HMS Delhi photograph. However, this address at Willesborough, near to the Royal Engineer garrison at Chatham, no longer exists. Can anyone help?

William Dempster and Bernard Eyford after their capture at Krasnoyarsk

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