On 29th June 1920, Brigadier Joss Percy left Sevastopol with the remnants of the British Mission to Southern Russia. The 150 officers and 450 soldiers had been supporting Generals Deniken and Wrangel in the Crimea. They left behind dozens of British soldiers, airmen and sailors who died in the campaign, including the last British soldier to be killed in action in World War I, Captain William Frecheville of the Royal Engineers.
Percy, who was knighted and promoted for his work in Russia, was born John Samuel Jocelyn Baumgartner, but changed his German sounding surname to Percy at the beginning of the war. A virulent anti-Bolshevik, he went on to be King Zog’s Inspector General for 12 years and instigated the successful reconstruction of Albania before Mussolini’s invasion in April 1939.
The Royal Navy’s evacuation from Batum was completed on 10th July, leaving the way clear for Brian Horrocks and the British prisoners-of-war in Siberia to be escorted to Moscow four days later. For further details, see Chapter 14 in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
When Captain Francis McCullagh was interrogated in Lubjanka, he refused the offer to work as a double agent for the Soviet Union. Eventually, he was released with dozens of other prisoners and crossed the frontier into Finland on 15 April 1920. He was picked up by the head of the MI6 section, John Scale, who debriefed him in Helsingfors before he returned to England on the SS Dongola with the Reverend Frank North and a young Dmitri Tolstoy disguised as the son of his nanny, Lucy Stark.
In London, he was interviewed again by a Military Intelligence officer, Commander Boyce, at the Savoy Club Adelphi at the end of May and then in June by Lord Emmott’s Committee to Collect Information on Russia, which reported to the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. The information McCullagh gives in these interviews is quite different to the story he tells in his memoir published the following year. For more on this, see Chapter 11 of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
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.
A photograph smuggled out of Soviet Russia in Vining’s football