11th July 1919 Friday
Mutiny and Murder!
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“On July 11th a big convoy of wounded arrived at our Hospital from Beresnik. Most of them were Russians with self-inflicted wounds of the left hand. We got definite news of the mutiny of the Russian troops up at Beresnik. The Bolsheviks made a big attack, and our gallant Russian allies allowed the enemy to advance right through our lines, afterwards joining hands with the Bolos. Six British officers were murdered in their sleep, and nine others escaped with wounds. Many British soldiers were wounded. The mutinous troops got right down to our gunboats, which they peppered with machine-gun bullets. Many sailors were killed, or wounded. On the way down the river some of the Russian wounded tried to escape. One jumped overboard, and escaped by being picked up by a passing boat. Obviously we have not many friends out here now. We heard too that the Bolsheviks had captured Perm, and that Kolchak’s Army was in retreat. It is about time we cleared out of here!”
The mutiny at Beresnik on July 7th, was a devastating blow to all out in Russia. Dyer’s battalion of whom so much had been trusted had carefully chosen their moment to throw off their sheep’s clothing and pounce like a hungry wolf.
At about half two in the morning eight men from B Company 1st Slavo-British Regiment acting under a corporal Nuchev entered the officers’ billet. The officers of two companies B and C of the battalion were sleeping there. Nuchev shot through a window and killed Captain Aubrey Malcolm Cecil Finch (1) aged 22 as he slept. This was the signal for his accomplices to attack. Three orderlies and three more British officers were shot dead and a further two fatally wounded. At the far end of the room were the Russian officers three of whom were also shot dead and one wounded. The rest of the battalion had by now fallen in and encouraged to join the mutineers in defecting to the Bolsheviks. About twenty of B company agreed to follow and escape to behind the enemy lines. A period of about twenty minutes then passed before they were joined by about another fifty from C company. All in all about a hundred defected. It seems that the mutiny had only originated from B company and the intention was merely to defect as soon as possible.
Captain David Buik Barr aged 25 (2), one of the officers wounded in the attack managed to escape despite being shot and stabbed seven times and swam across the river to alert others in a moored boat as to what had occurred. He had made it to safety and was visited later that day in his hospital bed by Ironside who informed him that he was to be awarded a Military Cross for his efforts.
The other British officers killed were Lt. Gerald Noel Gosling aged 21 (3) Lt. Cecil Francis R. Bland MC aged 21 (4) and Lt. Thomas Comber Griffith aged 24 (5).
To the Allies the news that British officers and men were brutally murdered by men they thought were on their side was an enormous shock. However, the betrayal of trust and the failure to spot the Bolshevik infiltration into the Slavo-British Regt. was a massive blow to allied morale. General Ironside referred to the battalion as “The Experiment” and even after he had expressed massive disappointment at its failure still felt that it was a concept that could be explored in the future.
Douglas’s comment that “It’s about time we cleared out of here” would have reverberated throughout Archangel.
The dream of linking up with Kolchak’s White Army as they fought their way north, but now stalling and in retreat, was now exactly that.
(1) Capt. A.M.C. Finch Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot B40
(2) Capt. D.B. Barr Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot L2
(3) Lt. G. Gosling Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot B49
(4) Lt. C.F.R. Bland Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot B9
(5) Lt.Thomas Griffith Buried Allied Cemetery Archangel plot
Visitors to the War Cemetery in Archangel will benefit from this useful information provided by the Commonweath War Graves Commission.
Archangel, in the north of the Russian Federation, is a town on the eastern side of the Dvina Estuary on the White Sea. The Archangel Memorial is at the far end of Archangel Allied Cemetery, which is on the north-west outskirts of the town of Archangel, adjoining the Lutheran and Russian cemeteries and memorials to those who died in more recent actions. From the railway station, travel along the main road towards the River Dvina. Halfway along this road take the turning on the right hand side called Obvodnyi Kanal Avenue. The cemetery will be found on the right hand side of this road.
Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here