See our front page the day The Great War came to an end

On Nov. 11, sol­diers were fight­ing des­per­ate bat­tle, says Robert Smol.

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS -

Over the last cen­tury, our well-mean­ing at­tempts to com­mem­o­rate Nov. 11 as the end of fight­ing dur­ing the First World War have ig­nored an im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal truth that needs to be rec­og­nized to­gether with ev­ery­thing else that Re­mem­brance Day has come to mean.

That is that while the fight­ing stopped with Ger­many and her al­lies, it was lit­er­ally only just be­gin­ning for the Cana­dian units serv­ing in Rus­sia.

In­deed, as the cease­fire or­der for 11 o’clock was be­ing wired to all Cana­dian units on the Ger­man front, Cana­dian units serv­ing as part of the Al­lied North Rus­sia Ex­pe­di­tionary Force were en­gaged in des­per­ate close-quar­ter fight­ing with the Bol­she­vik Red Army at Tul­gas on the banks on the Dv­ina River south of Ar­changel. By Nov. 13, four Cana­dian sol­diers would die at the hands of the Red Army, and more would per­ish in the largely for­got­ten “Al­lied in­ter­ven­tion” that was to con­tinue in North Rus­sia and Siberia un­til June 1919.

In the clos­ing months of the First World War, the 16th Bri­gade, Cana­dian Field Ar­tillery, con­sist­ing mainly of the 67th and 68th Bat­ter­ies, was one of sev­eral re­or­ga­nized units sent from the Cana­dian Corps in Eu­rope and West­ern Canada to sup­port Al­lied in­ter­ven­tion in Rus­sia in the af­ter­math of that coun­try’s with­drawal from the war in the wake of the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion.

Ini­tially man­dated to pro­tect Al­lied as­sets in Rus­sia from the Ger­mans, the force’s tepidly de­fined man­date sput­tered and stum­bled in late 1918 into a de facto al­liance with the var­i­ous White Rus­sian forces fight­ing the grow­ing Bol­she­vik Red Army in what was to be­come one of the blood­i­est civil wars of the 20th cen­tury.

This was made abun­dantly clear in the early morn­ing hours of Nov. 11, 1918 when the 67th Bat­tery, sit­u­ated on the banks of the Dv­ina River at Tul­gas, was sud­denly at­tacked from be­hind by a force of 500 Red Army troops who, tak­ing ad­van­tage of a thick fog, man­aged to evade the Amer­i­can and Bri­tish in­fantry in the area.

As the Cana­dian gunners des­per­ately strug­gled to turn their ar­tillery around, the unit’s drivers and sup­port troops took up their ri­fles and spread out in front of their guns, man­ag­ing to hold off the at­tack­ing Red Army troops un­til re­in­force­ments from the Bri­tish army ar­rived.

Part of the 67th Bat­tery War Di­ary (unit log) re­port for the af­ter­noon of Nov. 11, 1918 reads:

“By this time (4 P.M.) they were able to get A. Sub gun out of its pit and re­versed and ow­ing to its po­si­tion were able to bring di­rect fire to bear over open sights on the en­emy.”

Two Cana­di­ans, Cpl. Stan­ley Ware­ham and Gun­ner Wal­ter Conville, were killed by the Rus­sian Red Army in the fight­ing that day.

This was not the first time the Cana­dian Army would fight and die at the hands of the Rus­sian Red Army in open com­bat. On Nov. 13, 1918, two more Cana­di­ans (Bom­bardier David Fraser and Gun­ner Frank Rus­sell) from the 68th Bat­tery were am­bushed and killed while on re­con­nais­sance pa­trol by a force of Red Army troops dur­ing the fight­ing at Ust Padenga. Their bod­ies, ac­cord­ing to their unit’s re­port, were left “mu­ti­lated by en­emy with axes.”

For Canada and its al­lies, the First World War “en­core ex­pe­ri­ence” would not end un­til the sum­mer of 1919. Once pa­tri­ated, as with all vet­er­ans of their time, the Cana­di­ans who par­tic­i­pated in the Rus­sian cam­paign man­aged to move on with their lives.

But maybe, on the cen­te­nary of the end of the con­flict with Ger­many, and the start of our “in­ter­ven­tion” war in Rus­sia, a sub­tle thank you is owed to the mem­ory of Cana­dian ser­vice­men who lost their lives on Nov. 11, 1918 and be­yond fight­ing the ide­o­log­i­cal to­tal­i­tar­ian ma­chine that ul­ti­mately bred the likes of Josef Stalin and Vladimir Putin. Th­ese Cana­dian ser­vice­men are wor­thy of our thoughts, prayers and si­lence. Robert Smol served for more than 20 years in the Cana­dian Armed Forces. He is cur­rently an ed­u­ca­tor and writer in Toronto.


The 68th Bat­tery’s gunners with prison­ers in May 1919 in Rus­sia, where the fight­ing went on un­til sum­mer.


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