Wednesday, 30 December 2009

OOPS!!! Escaped British POW's arrested on their return to England in 1919

Sometimes I get sidetracked as I look for  information  relating to  British Naval Operations in the Baltic   and  I go off on a completely different path to the one I'd planned but that's one of the reasons why I so enjoy this hobby as you never know where it will take you!

On this occasion I was looking for information about the poor morale  amongst the  so called "volunteers" out in the Baltic and somehow I stumbled on this ......

Sir THOMAS BRAMSDON asked the Secretary for War whether the three soldiers recently released from captivity in Moscow were arrested by a military policeman on their arrival in Hull; whether they were confined for the night in cells in the police station; whether they were refused newspapers and their freedom; and, if so, what is the reason for this treatment, and will these men be set at liberty?

Mr. CHURCHILL I will answer at the same time two private notice questions on the same subject. I regret that a mistake should have been committed in this case owing to a misunderstanding of the expression "escaped prisoners" which occurred in the telegram received from Helsingfors about these men, and was repeated in the War Office message. Orders were, of course, issued at the earliest moment to send these men on leave to their homes.

[The Private Notice Questions were:
Mr. LUNN To ask the Prime Minister whether Privates Richards, pickard and Davison, ex-prisoners from Russia, on arrival at Hull on 29th November, were handed over to the
military police; whether they were then kept over the week end in military cells at the
police station; whether for two days they were allowed no papers, were fed on Army rations, and were not allowed to smoke, or to see their friends and relations; whether these men are now detained in hospital, and for what reason; and whether the arrest and detention of these men represents the considered policy of His Majesty's Government towards returned prisoners of war, or was it the act of an irresponsible official; and what steps is it proposed to take in this matter?
Mr. HAROLD BRIGGS To ask the Secretary of State for War if he has knowledge that the three Privates, Davidson, Pickard and Richards, who have recently been released by the Bolshevists and handed over to the British authorities by Mr. Litvinoff, have been detained by tine Military Police, and are not permitted either to see or communicate with their relatives, and does he consider such action is justifiable or lawful?]

Sir C. KNLOCH-COOKE Is it possible for a. Minister to answer a private notice question at the same time as a starred question? Is it not the rule that private notice questions cannot be given on a subject covered by a question on the Paper?
Mr. SPEAKER Private notice was given of two questions with regard to a matter already on the Paper. I do not see anything improper in it.
Mr. W. THORNE Has an apology been sent to the men in question?
Mr. CLYNES Will any consideration be given to these men in the form of some recompense?
Mr. CHURCHILL I am not prepared to give any undertaking. I share my right hon. Friend's feelings of regret that men returning from hard service and misfortune abroad should have met with so unceremonious and chilling a welcome on their arrival in their native land.
Mr. HOGGE Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what actually happened?
Mr. CHURCHILL I have done so. By mistake they were detained in Hull by the police and
authorities, but as soon as the mistake was known and telegrams could be sent
stating the facts, they were released on leave and sent to their homes.
Mr. ROSE Are any steps being taken to punish the people who made this mistake?
Mr. CHURCHILL I do not quite understand how the hon. Member can at one moment be so fall of sympathy for these men, and so full of malevolence towards people who may unwittingly have made a mistake.
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY If these men were escaped prisoners from Russia, what reason was there for arresting them and putting them in the cells?
Mr. CHURCHILL If they had been described as escaped prisoners of war escaping from the enemy, no doubt the mistake would not have arisen; but they were described as escaped prisoners.
Mr. DEVLIN Was not the whole thing caused by the belief that these men were in Ireland?

I love it that these documents are now online and it's a bonus that  Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY has taken an interest. 
HC Deb 03 December 1919 vol 122 cc396-8 396

Friday, 18 December 2009

Memorial event for HMS "Dragon" on the eve of the Remembrance Day (17/11/2009)

I've recently noticed this on the British Embassy in Riga website. The website also contains  photographs of the ceremony itself.

"Today we salute and honour bravery. The bravery of those men who died in the defence of the freedom and integrity of an independent Latvia. Not only sons of Latvia but also foreign friends who made common cause with them - including from Britain and France. We remember them all." 

Deputy Head of Mission, Daniel Grzenda 

Thank you to Yury Melkonov for this photograph.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

John Stephen Stroud 1881-1919

My Great-Grandfather John Stroud was born on the 5th May 1881 in Southwark, London. During his childhood  he lived in Rotherhithe close  to the River Thames and the busy Docks and later he was employed as a Blacksmith's Boy, at least that was his occupation on joining the Royal Navy aged 17.

After his training (HMS Northampton) between April and September 1899 he  served on the cruiser HMS Calliope before being based at HMS Pembroke at Chatham.

I haven't even started to look into John's Naval career between 1899 and World War 2 as I've been so fascinated with the mysterious turn of events which leading up to his death,  in 1919. I know from his records that he served on many ships including HMS Monarch (3 Nov 1899-31 Dec 1899) and HMS Terrible  (1 Jan 1900-21 Mar 00) during the 2nd Boer war and literally saw the world during his time at sea.

His daughter, my Great Aunt told me that he loved the Navy and used to bring back presents from faraway places including China.  Though only young at the time she had memories of being picked up by her father and being fascinated by the  shiny buttons on his uniform. My Aunt also remembers the letter arriving informing her that John had been killed in action, her Mum's distress  and the journey by tram to see John's parents. So Elizabeth his wife was like so many of that generation became a widow and  the 2 girls grew up without a father. Elizabeth did not remarry and later warned  her daughters not to fall in love with a sailor as it would break their heart.

I don't remember seeing photos of John or hearing of him as I was growing up,  and it was only a chance conversation with my Nan towards the end of her life when she mentioned that her father,  having survived 20 years in the Navy, including service during war conditions and WW1 had died while on a "secret" rescue mission  in Russia when he  was 38. My Nan said that the family were not  told about the mission as it was all so secretive and unfortunately she died before information became more easily available and travel to  the now  Independant Latvia was possible. I think she would have been so interested in the Remembrance events that take place each year in Riga and so pleased that the men killed in action during this campaign have not been forgotten.

Mr Charles Edward Coles R.N. Gunner

Mr Charles Edward Coles R.N. Gunner was at his action station in after control when an enemy shell burst on deck in rear of No 5 Gun killing 9 men and severely wounding 1 officer and 3 men, also setting alight the charge which was just being loaded into gun. Mr Coles at once went to the spot and took prompt action personally removing the wounded clear of the burning cordite and extinguishing the burning clothing of the wounded men.

There are 2 others singled out for praise,  Lieutenant The Hon. Trevor Tempest Parker R.N. Gunnery Officer and Engineer Commander Walter Robert Fendick R.N. and the name  Lt. Comdr. Harvey and "The Senior Naval Officer" appears at the bottom of the page. 

Unfortunately,  I can no longer see the reference for this document.  

HMS Dragon log for Saturday 18th October 1919 at Riga

Occasionally, I see something in the records that seems out of place and quite unrelated to what I am looking for but is nevertheless quite fascinating as it gives an insight into life in the Navy at this time.

This entry in the log,  dated the 18th October 1919, appears to have been written only hours after the 9 men/ boys had been killed and as their bodies were being prepared for burial by other probably traumatised  young  seamen. Elsewhere, 4  wounded seamen were probably having their wounds tended  and  repairs were taking place on board the ship....I would imagine it was a scene of chaos!!!!!

"The following articles were found missing after H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and Staff disembarked from Dragon for "Renown". Towels,two. Sheets Linen, three. Pillows feather, one" 

well I wonder what happened to them and if they have ever been found or if they will ever just turn up on ebay.  I would imagine that the pillows would have been difficult to hide.......I've heard about towels going missing in hotels but...  

Next to this was another quite "random" entry 

" I had occasion on this day to reprimand ...(name indistinct) Gunner(?), W. Roberts, Shipwright and W.Skelton Gunner  for having during the month of September exceeded the amounts allowed by King's regulations for Warrant Officers Wine Bills" I had to read this a few times but I'm pretty sure that's what it says.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


"Bermondt, who has been trying to take Riga (middle of October) with
, a force described as Russian but r e a l l y consisting largely of
troops from von der Goltz's corps, is said to be a Cossack Colonel
of some military experience, who organised a volunteer force
against the Bolsheviks at Kieff in 1918. On the withdrawal of
the Germans from the Ukraine he was arrested and sentenced to
death but escaped. His wife is said to have been killed by the
Bolsheviks at Petrograd. His r e a l name is Prince Avalov-
Bermondt, and he  is described, as a wealthy landowner of Finland
("Morning Post", "Stockholm Telegram", October 16th, 1919)"

I found this quote hidden in some documents that I had downloaded on the National Archives website and I found the photo on google  images. It seems to be used on alot of other websites. I've no idea when  and why it was taken.

I will try to locate a reference for the quote later if anyone needs it. It's amazing how many records are now online compared with the early 1990's when I got hooked on this hobby! 

Chatham War Memorial

Chatham War Memorial

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Chatham War Memorial

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Chatham War Memorial

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Chatham War Memorial

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Saturday, 14 November 2009

British Naval operations at Riga 13th-15th October 1919

Over the years I've tried  to understand the timeline of the British Naval action near Riga during October and especially in the days before HMS Dragon was shelled. 

13th October 1919 

"an ultimatum was forwarded by the British Admiral commanding in the Baltic to the Officer Commanding German Troops, whose Headquarters are at MITAU, ordering him to withdraw his troops from positions in the vicinity of DUNAMUND by noon on 15th October.
At about 2130 thirteen refugees were brought off to "PRINCESS MARGARET" IN "DRAGON"'s motor boat.
The situation was reported to be satisfactory.

14th October 1919

At about 1800 firing was observed to be in progress up the river beyond the Destroyers and flashes of heavy gunfire were observed in a South- Westery direction. Three more refugees were put on board at 2100.
Situation reported satisfactory. Lettish detachments reach Dvina Bridge this morning but were forced to retire. Lettish detachments reach KEKKAU area and are maintaining their position.

15th October 1919

The French Commodore's written orders for the bombardment were received on board at 1100 and, as the British Admiral's ultimatum had not been complied with, the Allied Flotilla, being still at anchor inside the entrance to the river, opened a brisk fire on German positions on the Western bank at 1114.

"PRINCESS MARGARET" shortened in to short stay and remained in positions, with steam on engines , ready to move if necessary.

"DRAGON" having received her orders proceeded to a position to the Westward of the river entrance with a view to enfilading the fortress of BOLDERAJA and commenced firing at 1135...... 1145 "CLEOPATRA" arrived , obtained Commodore's orders from "PRINCESS MARGARET"  and proceeded to bombard positions near "DRAGON"

At 1215 "WINDSOR" arrived , obtained Commodore's orders from "PRINCESS MARGARET" and proceeded into river to join Flotilla.

At 1307 the Allied Flotillas were observed to be moving up the river, firing on the Western bank as thet proceeded; Lettish troops at this time were crossing to the Western bank in tugs.

At 1347 " CLEOPATRA" commenced firing, in conjunction with "DRAGON", on enemy's communications in the direction of the MITAU road.  The enemy was not observed to return the fire of the Flotilla or Light Cruisers.......

At 1337 "ABDIEL" reported that Lettish troops had taken DUNAMUNDE Fortress and soon after they had occupied BOLDERAJA. Several fires were seen to break out on the Western bank and apparently ammunition dumps were exploded. The beacon at the entrance to the river is also observed to be on fire. This beacon is believed  to have been used by the enemy as an observation post. During the night it collapsed."

Reference ADM 137/1667

There are some questions/ comments  I have about this situation....

Who were the "refugees" ?

 How close were the ships to the "Western bank"? and how close to Riga would they have been.....  I get the impression the ships were quite close and would have been quite a target even at night. 

Friday, 13 November 2009

John Stephen Stroud 1881-1919

John Stephen Stroudmy  Greatgrandfather,  was one of 9 seamen killed in action at Riga in Latvia  when their gun position took a direct strike from one of several shells fired by German and White  "Bermontian" forces under the leadership of  Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. 

Although I've been really interested in  this events for many years information was really hard to find at first   and I can well understand why the Naval campaign in the Baltic between 1918 and 1920 is often referred to as a "forgotten War" being overshadowed by the scale of events during World War One.

Gradually, information has became more readily available thanks to the internet and several books that have been published.  I can now  better understand the situation in the Baltic and why the signing of the Armistice did not signal the end of war conditions for the many so called "volunteers" who served in the Baltic during 1918-1920 and those like John and the other  15 Royal Naval Officers , 91 Ratings, 4 Royal Air Force Officers and 1 Airman killed in action. 

 I now have lots of small pieces of information from a variety of sources  and it's too much for 

I've therefore decided to set up this blog to complement the website. 

I'm hoping to post the little snippets of information that I have obtained in the hope that other families of the crew that were killed in action or families and descendants of crew who served during that period whether on Dragon or any of the other ships might want to get in touch and perhaps contribute their own stories.

Today is Remembrance Day and this is my contribution to ensure that the names of these boys and men are not forgotten.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Ship's Log for HMS Dragon 5th Day of August 1919 Conception Bay NF

3.35 Their Majesties the King & Queen & T.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Princess Mary, Prince Albert, Prince Harry & the Duke of Connaught came on board, inspected the Prince of Wales apartments& walked around the upper deck.

3.50 Their Majesties left ship

National Archives Ref ADM 53/40157


at 3 minutes into the pathe video there are 5-6 seconds of HMS Dragon sailing into New Brunswick with HRH the Prince of Wales ....blink and you will miss it!!! 

More Hansard transcripts: "The grant of a clasp to the War medal for service in the Baltic has been approved"

Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is aware of the complaints made by the crews of certain of  His Majesty's ships in the Baltic owing to the lack of fresh provisions and of canteen supplies; and whether any steps have been taken to improve matters?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr Long) The answer to both parts of the question is in the affirmative.

Major Hirst asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that many seamen in the Baltic are ill informed as to the objects of the service; whether he will consider the expediency of having the men enlightened as to the vital national interests involved; and whether he can hold out any hope of rewarding their service by the grant of an extra bar to the War medal or of a gratuity?

Mr Long The necessary steps have been taken in regard to this matter. The grant of a clasp to the War medal for service in the Baltic has been approved.

Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy May the House be informed what are the vital national interests involved in this matter, seeing that although the seamen of the Baltic have been given full information the House has been told nothing?

HC Deb 03 December 1919 vol 122 cc373-4

Does anyone know why the clasp was never issued?

also I just thought I'd  like to acknowledge Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy and his fascinating questions on conditions in the Baltic and the fate of the crew of HMS Dragon. I would love to have been a fly on the wall!!  


Monday, 9 November 2009

Harsh conditions experienced by seamen serving in the Baltic 1919

Admiral Cowan (S.N.O Baltic) in a letter of the 10th of November asks for a plain and definite statement to the fleet, as to the conditions of service in the Baltic and the nature of any proposed recognition for it, to be issued without delay. He gives as his reasons the increasing stress of service in the Baltic due to the wintry weather and the few attractions on shore getting less, consequent signs of irritation and incipient insubordination. In investigations he invariably notes the desire to know

"why we are here-why we are fighting the Bolsheviks-
"why it is not definately stated why we are at war and 
"under war conditions-why it has been inferred in parliament that all out here are volunteers for this service" 

Reference National Archives  ADM 1/8570/291

Hansard transcripts: HMS Dragon struck

 Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

"I at once bow to your ruling. May we have some details about the lamentable death of nine sailors on board His Majesty's ship "Dragon"? This vessel was fired upon by Bermondt's artillery, and we know that nine gallant men were killed, blown to pieces, and one officer and four men wounded. She was delayed in getting away from danger, and was deliberately fired upon by the Russians who were supposed to be helping. Is it a fact that His Majesty's ship "Dragon" had both anchors down, and the cables were not even on the slips, when fire was suddenly opened on her? ...."

Hansard HC Deb 10 December 1919 vol 122 cc1368-478  

Pavel Bermondt-Avalov: What happened to him after 1920?

From time to time I ponder what happened to Bermondt-Avalov and whether he was ever questioned and held to account for his actions in the Baltic.

Online transcripts of debates in Parliament (Hansard Feb 20th 1920) available here show that there were questions  about his fate.

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1920s → 1920 → February 1920 → 12 February 1920 → Commons Sitting → ORAL ANSWERS TO QUESTION.
HC Deb 12 February 1920 vol 125 cc199-200 1
15. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can state the present whereabouts and activities of the Russian Colonel Bermondt; and whether it is intended to demand satisfaction from this officer for the killing of nine seamen on board H.M.S. "Dragon"?
The ADDITIONAL UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lieut.-Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood) As regards the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question, according to the latest information, Colonel Bermondt is stated to be in a nursing home in Berlin in a semi-insane condition. As to the second part, no decision has been reached since the reply of the Prime Minister to the hon. and gallant Member on December 18th.
Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy Are the Government taking any steps to obtain satisfaction? Is anything being done, or are these nine men to go unavenged?
Sir H. GREENWOOD Every step has been taken that can be taken in the interest of the dependents of the men who were, unfortunately, killed when on duty. We do not know what steps have been taken against an ex-colonel in a semi-insane condition in a Berlin hospital.

but then there is so little information online (at least) to explain what happened to him between 1920 and his apparent full recovery, a  move to West Europe, the writing and  publishing of his memoirs and his death  in the 1970's in  New York City (according to Wikipedia and trawl though the internet)

I understand the memoir was written in the 1920's in German. I'd love to know what he says about his time in Riga. It all sounds quite murky to me