HIS­TORY

How Cana­di­ans went from ght­ing Ger­mans in Europe to bat­tling Bol­she­viks in Rus­sia af­ter the First World War

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Harry Wil­son* * with files from Erika Rein­hardt, ar­chiv­ist, Li­brary and Archives Canada

How Cana­di­ans wound up fight­ing in Rus­sia af­ter the First World War

KILL BRIDGE SEN­TRY. Stop com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Sta­tion & Bridge. Pre­vent es­cape of en­emy. Pretty stan­dard list of ob­jec­tives to see on a map of a mil­i­tary ac­tion ex­e­cuted in the sec­ond decade of the 20th cen­tury, right? Well, yes — but there is some­thing un­usual about these im­per­a­tives. They were car­ried out not where you might ex­pect — on a shell-pocked bat­tle­field in Bel­gium, say — but amid a re­mote ex­panse of taiga in -40 C tem­per­a­tures more than 3,000 kilo­me­tres away. The list ap­pears on this map, which Cana­di­ans used to plan a sur­prise Al­lied at­tack on Segezha, a vil­lage in north­west­ern Rus­sia, in Fe­bru­ary 1919 — a phrase that should give pause to even novice First World War his­tory buffs. An Al­lied at­tack? In­volv­ing Cana­di­ans? In Rus­sia? Af­ter 1918? Be­gin­ning in mid-1918, Al­lied troops were sent to north­ern Rus­sia to help an­ti­com­mu­nist Rus­sian forces fight Bol­she­viks in a civil war prompted by the Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion. While the lead­ers of coun­tries such as Great Bri­tain and Canada were wor­ried about the threat of Bol­she­vism spread­ing, their more im­me­di­ate con­cern was bring­ing Rus­sia back into the war, from which it had with­drawn af­ter Bol­she­vik lead­ers signed the Treaty of Brest-litovsk with Ger­many and its al­lies in March 1918. That pact saw the Eastern Front col­lapse, which freed up Ger­many to fo­cus on the West­ern Front. By Oc­to­ber 1918, al­most 600 Cana­di­ans had ar­rived at the ports of Mur­mansk and Ar­changel in north­west­ern Rus­sia. About a month later, how­ever, the First World War ended. Yet in north­west­ern Rus­sia, Cana­di­ans such as Lt.-col. John Ed­wards Leckie ( ABOVE), who led the at­tack on Segezha, were still fight­ing, as were other Al­lied troops. Not be­cause they didn’t know about Ger­many’s sur­ren­der, but be­cause Al­lied com­man­ders kept them there, act­ing “partly from anti-bol­she­vik con­vic­tion and partly out of loy­alty to anti-com­mu­nist al­lies,” as his­to­rian Hugh A. Halliday noted in the Jan­uary 2008 is­sue of Le­gion. But with the Great War over, pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal opin­ion soon swung against Prime Min­is­ter Robert Bor­den, who was hav­ing dif­fi­culty jus­ti­fy­ing the con­tin­ued pres­ence of Cana­dian troops in north­ern Rus­sia, not to men­tion eastern Rus­sia, where 4,200 mem­bers of the Cana­dian Siberian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force were sta­tioned around Vladi­vos­tok by Jan­uary 1919. Still, it took Bor­den nine months of po­lit­i­cal wran­gling af­ter the Ar­mistice was signed be­fore the last Cana­di­ans left Rus­sia in Au­gust 1919, their war fi­nally over.

Read more sto­ries about the maps in Li­brary and Archives Canada’s col­lec­tion at can­geo.ca/topic/map-archive.

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