Mr Drake goes to Siberia

I inherited some old photograph albums from my late godmother.  One of the albums was put together by her father (Mr Drake) and records his army service with the 1/9th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which included time in Russia (1918-1919). The 1/9th Hampshires were originally a Cyclists Battalion of the Territorial Army. However soon after mobilisation they dispensed with their bicycles and, having been intended for the East African Campaign, ended up spending the war as part of the garrison in India. Despite being a Territorial Army unit, they spent the entire First World War away from the front line.

In October 1918 they were sent as reinforcements for the British in Russia and as such formed part of a little known British intervention in the post revolutionary Russian Civil War. Following the Russian Revolutions of 1917 the Eastern Front had rapidly collapsed, and the Bolshevik government signed a peace treaty in 1918. The other Allied powers intervened in the Russian Civil War with the aim of ensuring that Russia remained in the war, preventing the Germans from exploiting Russian resources, and supporting a number of allied units which had been operating within Russia. This aid was mainly channelled through Arctic Russia, but one of the units to be supported was the Czechoslovak Legion who were fighting in Siberia. A small multi-national force was sent to Vladivostock.

The Battalion arrived at the port of Vladivostok on the east coast of Russia on 28 November 1918.  They were quartered in cavalry barracks and issued arctic clothing which had been supplied by the Canadians.

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The city of Vladivostock lies close to the borders of China and Korea directly across the sea from Japan. In 1918 it was a Russian city although it was only acquired by Russia from the Chinese Qing Dynasty in 1860 as the final part of Russian eastward expansion.

The photograph album has photos of the city supplemented by post cards.  The captions (written in white ink on a dark ground) are limited but for the most part the photos speak for themselves and some of the buildings can be identified from modern photographs of the city.

The photos show military buildings and personnel, the harbour and a number of street scenes.  Vladivostock was a very ethnically diverse city, with large Asian communities as well as ethnic Russians and the street scenes seem to reflect this.

Vladivostock was the first stop on Mr Drake‚Äôs long journey and subsequent articles will reveal what happened next.  One of the last photos of the city is one of a large imposing railway station which was the gateway to the next step in the journey.

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