On Sun. 21st Mar. 1920 we received orders to evacuate Novorossisk. By Tuesday 23rd Mar. 1920 we had packed up nearly all our stores & had broken up all our engines, both air and motor & had all our preparations made for the evacuation.
I am back with some news. I have undertaken an MA in Art and the workload at the moment is such that I can’t give as much time to this blog as I have been doing. However I don’t want to abandon it altogether. So I will still post when I get a chance and when I do I will post on a Sunday as before. We may move a bit slower though and posts won’t necessary follow on from each other. I am toying with the idea of allowing myself 30 minutes per post and see what I come with. So let’s go…
So we are leaving. The ‘Bolshies’ had taken Ekaterinodar on March 18th (Smith, 2010). General Holman, head of the British Mission, would be last to leave that city. (Kopisto, p.169).
By the end of February, Holman had instructed the unloading of supplies to be stopped at Novorossisk and transferred to the Crimea where (the dashing) General Wrangel would direct the last of the White resistance. In the absence of any coherent action from the White Army officers, most who were intent on fleeing, members of the British Mission were armed and organized to defend their base and the harbour of Novorossisk. Trenches were dug, machine gun posts and barbed wire were installed in the key points of the city. In the two weeks leading up to the evacuation the 2nd Battalion of Royal Scots Fusiliers under Lieutenant Colonel R. K. Walsh (a Waterford city name and perhaps worth some later investigation) were shipped in from Constantinople where they were based (Wright, p.423).
Despite this and as the Reds weren’t enough to deal with, the Green Guards nearly captured the city twice in March (Smith, 2010) even before the evacuation proper was underway.
This time the British took over the command of the evacuation right from the beginning. The events in Taganrog and other cities had convinced the British that the White troops could not be trusted to obey orders in such circumstances (Kopisto, p.168). Despite this the evacuation would result in harrowing scenes on the docks and from the departing boats.
Holman, who had been made an honorary Cossack (Smith, 2010), had pledged to evacuate the families of the White soldiers. A decision my granddad noted in his account…
A few days before the evacuation one of our generals named General Holman promised the Russian General Denikin that the British Troops would see that all the women and children were got away safely which we did alright & were nearly being captured ourselves over getting them away first.
This would be a difficult chore for the British Mission. They managed to register and evacuate 50,000 refugees by March 22nd but half a million more refugees had arrived in March alone, and clogged the city and docks desperate to get away (Kopisto, p.168). Many of them would fail to do so. Not only did the British have to organise an impossible evacuation but the supplies they had brought, much of which had not reached the frontlines, were scattered about the docks and had to be destroyed or pushed ito the harbour, a task my granddad would also be involved in
In the comings weeks I’ll post descriptions of the evacuation, including one by Russian writer Konstantin Paustovsky and some other accounts of individual tragedies. After that we will look briefly at the fate of the mountain supplies the British had sent. Then we will board our ship and sail under shelling away from a shore vivid with the conflagration which destroyed the last of the White Army’s hopes, and so much more besides.
…and that took 56 minutes. Must try harder…
Further Reading & References
Kopisto, L., (2011), The British Intervention in South Russia 1918-1920, Helsinki:Helsinki University Press.
Smith, J., T., (2010), Gone to Russia to Fight:The RAF in South Russia 1918-1920, Stroud:Amberley Books.
Wright, D., (2017), Churchills Secret War:The British & Commonwealth Intervention in Russia, Solihull:Helion Books.