On 8th March 1919, Winston Churchill wrote a letter…

…to the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George about the Government’s policy on Russia.

The War Secretary confirmed that the Prime Minister had: “decided that Colonel John Ward and the two British battalions at Omsk are to be withdrawn”.  One week later, he sent Major Leonard Vining and Warrant Officer Emerson MacMillan to Siberia on the SS Stentor.

Little did he know that they would be captured by the Red Army and not released from their Moscow prisons until November 1920.

Read about their amazing story in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners: The British Soldiers Deceived in the Russian Civil War, available from Waterstones and independent bookshops later this month.

https://www.casematepublishing.co.uk/churchill-039-s-abandoned-prisoners.html

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The Ivanovsky monastery in Moscow where the British were imprisoned in July 1920

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In February 1919, Churchill’s volunteers…

…arrived in Siberia to support Admiral Kolchak’s White Army.  Lyddon Morley deployed to Irkutsk with ten soldiers to help train the Russian soldiers, but he was not allowed to make any changes to the syllabus until he “donated” 15,000 sets of British uniform to the 8th and 14th Siberian Rifle Divisions.

Meanwhile other British soldiers from the Middlesex and Hampshire Regiments guarded the trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway and repulsed many attacks by bandits and Bolsheviks…

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Prinkipo Proposal

At the Paris Peace Conference, US President Woodrow Wilson proposed a ceasefire in Russia and a  gathering of all the civil war contenders and Allies on Prinkipo Island, in the Sea of Marmara, on 15 February 1919.

The Bolsheviks accepted, offering terms but not a ceasefire.  However, the White Government in Omsk, led by Admiral Kolchak and encouraged by Marshal Foch and Winston Churchill, refused to participate.

While Prime Minister David Lloyd George and President Wilson were both absent from Paris,  Foch and Churchill, believing the Soviet government to be weak, proposed a military expedition to Russia, but French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, refused to support the scheme.

How different it would have been if the Allies had not underestimated the support for the Bolsheviks, or the logistic challenges of sustaining military operations in far-away places such as Omsk.

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One Hundred Years Ago Today…

Emerson MacMillan and Dallas Ireland were caught in the middle of the tumultuous crowds that gathered at Mansion House in Dublin, when the new Members of Parliament declared independence for Ireland.

Read about their extraordinary love story that provides the backdrop to Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners, available from Casemate UK.

https://www.casematepublishing.co.uk/recent-catalogues

 

 

Churchill’s Promotion

One hundred years ago, the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, appointed the MP for Dundee, Winston Churchill as his third Secretary of State for War.

Within a week, he journeyed to Paris for the opening of the Peace Conference with delegates from 26 countries.  By then, he was already in deep disagreement with the Prime Minister over the Government’s policy on Russia, which he described as “nebulous” in a note to the Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

Leading the large anti-Bolshevik  contingent in the House of Commons, Churchill wished to increase the British commitment and support the White Government in Omsk, led by Admiral Alexander Kolchak.  However, Lloyd George,  representing the wider view, wished to withdraw British troops from Russia after the Armistice.

Only volunteers from the British Army deployed to Siberia in 1919. One of them was an electronic engineer, named Emerson MacMillan, who was sent to repair and operate the Trans-Siberian railway.  Little did he know that he would become one of the last prisoners of war in World War One, suffering an horrific ordeal with his fellow inmates.  Their story is told in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners, which will be launched in London in March 2019.

IMG_1561.JPGOne of the Moscow prisons, where the last British Army prisoners of World War One were held. 

Centenary Armistice Lecture

“All the Services’ charities are precious, but I am especially full of admiration for the work of Combat Stress and am tremendously honoured to be invited to join the list of distinguished speakers who have stood at this lectern…

Reflecting on reconciliation, everyone in the audience who supports veteran’s charities will be acutely aware not only of some of the challenges of care, but also the wider issues of human resilience.  I know as we approach the Centenary of the Armistice many people’s thoughts turn to the symbolic poppy, but I hope that you will also remember the leading veteran’s mental health charity, which is particularly busy in the run up to Christmas.”

I was delighted to meet the generous sponsor of the event at RUSI, Hilary Meredith and the Chief Executive of Combat Stress, Sue Freeth:

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Armistice Event in Whitehall

The Armistice discussion next week will explore whether it matters or not who was the last soldier to be killed in World War I and what sort of person came out of the trenches at the end of the war.

There is a media narrative that oversimplifies the story about those who fought in the War to End All Wars and alienates many who continued to serve their country all over the World.  There are disturbing similarities in today’s media – do we need a fresh perspective that balances the case in the Generation Z era?

All proceeds are going to Combat Stress – tickets are available at:

https://www.combatstress.org.uk/support-us/armistice-lecture-0

Combat Stress

 

Cambridge Student Union Vote

By voting against a motion for the Union to “ensure that remembrance day becomes a well-established and well-marked event across the university”, its student members have isolated themselves from the hundreds of alumni and staff from the 31 colleges who will be attending the centenary services of remembrance in the college chapels and churches of Cambridge.

On Sunday, 11th November, the Remembrance Sunday Service and Armistice Day ceremony will take place as usual in the beautiful Christopher Wren designed chapel of my old college, Pembroke.  The wreath laying ceremony at the War Memorial that commemorates hundreds of Pembroke students who died whilst serving their Country will, as ever, be a moving event.

It is not glorifying war to remember the fallen, the wounded and the families who grieve.

 

Centenary Armistice Talk

On 1st November, I will be giving the Centenary Armistice lecture at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, London.

Titled  Armistice 1918: The End of the War to End All Wars? the talk will discuss the aftermath of the First World War for the people affected and remind the audience that 1919 was full of conflict all over the World.  The event is in aid of Combat Stress, the leading Veteran’s charity for mental health.

Tickets are available at:

https://www.combatstress.org.uk/support-us/armistice-lecture-0

Combat Stress

 

Army Negligence Case Ended

It is gratifying that the two young officers facing court martial in Bulford over the death of three soldiers in Wales have been acquitted.

The tragic accident, that took place in 2013 when I was working as head of Defence Training Capability, shocked everyone in the Army.

We all have the utmost sympathy for the grieving families, but there have been too many recent cases of lawyers chasing soldiers doing their best for Queen and Country.  The Army must be allowed to maintain demanding tests for soldiers hoping to serve in elite units.  In the long term, this will save lives on the future battlefield.