Emerson MacMillan boarded the Express de Lux in Vladivostok on its ten-day journey to join the British Railway Mission at Omsk. His train was ambushed on a horse shoe bend above a 40 foot precipice and he was lucky to get out alive as the “sleeping cars were held up by faith alone”.
A grizzled old Cossack general asked him to guard the flank while he wired for assistance and Emerson patrolled the railway track with a French major before an American company took over the guard a few hours later.
He wrote about this episode in one of 21 unpublished letters, which form the spine of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners: The British Soldiers Deceived in the Russian Civil War.
British Soldiers On The Trans-Siberian Railway in 1919
Presenting a book to The Prince George Galitzine Memorial Library on Fontanka, St Petersburg in appreciation for their help when I was researching the stories in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
…the legendary future general, Brian Horrocks, arrived in Omsk with eight other young captains, who were part of Churchill’s volunteers to help Admiral Kolchak defeat the Red Army. Among the group was his best friend, who would care for Horrocks when he succumbed to epidemic typhus in Krasnoyarsk and the British spy with Admiral Kolchak at his execution, who wrote the four page secret report presented to the British Cabinet by Winston Churchill in June 1920. For further details, see Chapter 9 of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
…told the Prime Minister “we have a tremendous chance of securing the future of Russia as a civilised democratic state”.
At the time, Captain Tom Jameson was earning the DSO for his outstanding leadership fighting the Bolsheviks on the River Kama, the Hampshire Regiment was forming the Anglo-Russian Brigade in Ekaterinburg and tens of thousands of tons of British arms and supplies were en route to Admiral Kolchak’s White Army along the Trans-Siberian Railway.
For Winston Churchill, the key to success was for President Woodrow Wilson to change his policy of impartiality and he managed to get the State Department to send the American military commander on a fact finding mission to Omsk. Read what happened when General Graves took his Cadillac to the front line in Chapter 6 of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
Next week, I will be giving talks at the Royal United Services Institute in London on Wednesday 8 May and at Hart’s Bookshop in Saffron Walden on Thursday 9 May. Tickets for the Hart’s talk are available over the telephone (01799 524 552), or on their website at:
On Friday 3 May, I am returning to the Imperial War Museum to sign books and speak to visitors in the bookshop from 11 a.m.
The IWM has an excellent archive of photographs and documents from the British military campaign in Russia during World War One. I have used some of their material in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners, including the Jack Papers, which cover the work of Brigadier Archie Jack CB, CMG, CBE. He commanded the British Railway Mission in Siberia and wrote a key letter to Major General Sir Alfred Knox, which led to the soldiers being abandoned in Omsk.
Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners is the book of the month in the May issue of Britain At War; the UK’s best selling military history magazine.
I am grateful for the full page, glowing review written by Melody Foreman.
We had a very engaging audience in Hungerford for the first book talk. My thanks go to Emma and Alex for hosting the event and to Tessa for her introduction and perceptive question about Teddy the three legged mascot in prison.
In the first two weeks of May, I will be giving talks and signing books at the Imperial War Museum and Royal United Services Institute in London, Hart’s Bookshop in Saffron Walden and the Sherborne Literary Society (tickets available through Winstone’s Bookshop).
I will be giving the first talk about the colourful characters and extraordinary events revealed in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners: The British Soldiers Deceived in the Russian Civil War on Wednesday 24 April at the Hungerford Hub.
Anyone interested in why Winston Churchill sent out hundreds of men to Siberia one hundred years ago and how some of them were captured by the Red Army and placed on starvation rations in lice-infested cells should join us at 7.30 pm.
Tickets are available through the Hungerford Bookshop at: http://www.hungerfordbookshop.co.uk/category/events