Russian Revolution and Newmarket
How Newmarket became embroiled in the Russian Revolution
By the year 1917 Russia was in a state of ferment. The war with Germany had been dragging on since 1914 with hugh losses of conscripted soldiers. At home ordinary people were suffering severe shortages of food and coal leading to a wave of strikes. Despite his efforts to suppress the strikers the autocratic ruler, Czar Nicholas II, was losing the support of the army and in March 1917 he abdicated. He and his family were held prisoners by the burgeoning Bolsheviks.
A Provisional Government was set up under Alexander Kerensky in an attempt to placate the proletariat, but his more liberal concessions were not enough.
During the October Revolution (November in the Gregorian calendar), the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and the workers Soviets, overthrew the Provisional Government in St Petersburg. The Bolsheviks appointed themselves as leaders of various government ministries and seized control of the countryside, establishing the Cheka to quash dissent.
To end the war, the Bolshevik leadership signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918. The revolution was opposed by most of the aristocrats, as well as many military officers and middle-class Russians.
In July 1918 the ruling Czar and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks, who feared that the family would continue to be a rallying flag for a counter-revolution. Some serious pockets of resistance remained until 1920, with ‘White’ Russians still loyal to the deposed ruling class government. Most western countries, including Britain, backed the old order, fearing the rise of a militant working class movement threatening established governments.
Civil war erupted between the “Red” (Bolshevik), and “White” (anti-Bolshevik) factions, which was to continue for several years, with the Bolsheviks ultimately victorious. In this way the Revolution paved the way for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and St Petersburg, there was also a broad-based movement in cities throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the empire, and in the rural areas, where peasants took over and redistributed land.
The British government opposed the revolution and was sympathetic towards the established government. Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were all first cousins of King George V, our King however put duty to his country ahead of any family loyalties. He abandoned his cousin and family to their fate, wisely refusing to become drawn into another country’s civil war.
Our government’s support for White Russia came in two main ways:
Firstly, military assistance was sent to help the pockets of resistance in the ports of Archangel and Murmansk (see contemporary press reports below).
Secondly, we agreed to train 1,200 Russian Officers who had been released from captivity by Germany following the truce. It was intended that these officers, after training, would be returned to Russia to help the counter-revolution.
It was decided that Newmarket would be the training place and it is understood that the officers were billeted in the former army camp at Brickfields Stud.
Some of the bitter enmity between White and Red Russians spilled over into the Newmarket Camp. Nor were all members of David Lloyd-George’s coalition government in favour of this action, seeing it as taking sides in another country’s affairs.
The following exchanges took place in the House of Commons between The Secretary of State for War and Air, Winston Churchill and certain members of parliament.
Training of Russian Officers (Newmarket Camp)
HC Deb 13 August 1919 vol 119 cc1296-71296
Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
asked how many Russian officers are being trained at the Newmarket camp; whether there are any other camps for similar purposes in this country; the weekly cost of such camps; and whether a certain number of these officers and their wives have been arrested; and, if so, what is the charge?
There are 1,200 Russian officers being trained at Newmarket, but not all simultaneously, and at present there are 565 in the camp. No-other similar camps exist in the country. The weekly cost of the camp (including the camp staff) is approximately £4 5s. per officer inclusive of their pay at £2 10s. per week with rations. Ten Russians, including one woman, have been arrested on a charge of conspiracy in Bolshevik interests and interfering with the discipline and orderly conduct of the camp. The charge was preferred by other-Russians in the camp and is being carefully investigated.
Mr. C. EDWARDS
Has any authorisation been given to the right hon. Gentleman to use British money for the training of Russian officers to fight against their own people?
Certainly, the Cabinet authorised this expenditure in the ordinary course, subject, of course, to a Vote of Parliament, and we are training these officers in order that they may be able to take charge of Russian troops in those areas over which we have responsibility, and thus enable us to leave those areas.
Captain W. BENN
Is the British taxpayer asked to pay the cost of training a Russian Army to be used against the Russian Government?
The British taxpayer is training these officers who have been released from prison camps in Germany, where they have suffered a great deal and restoring them so that they may go to take over the command of Russian troops who are fighting in areas where our troops are at present involved, and from which we intend to withdraw our troops.
Has an Estimate for this service in detail been laid before this House, and when?
No, Sir; but I think it is covered in the General Vote. If my hon. and gallant Friend has any doubt as to what the opinion of the House would be were such an Estimate put specifically before them, he will, perhaps, take some opportunity of challenging it.
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to consider the opinion of the country on this matter?
The Government is as good a judge of the opinion of the country as the hon.and gallant Member.
Mr. SPEAKER, We have not time for these personal altercations.
….and in the Commons November 4th. 1919
Sir CHARLES EDWARDS asked the Secretary of State for War what had been done with those Russian officers who were imprisoned at Newmarket for insubordination, whether these men and their wives were still in prison
Mr WINSTON CHURCHILL
“All the Russian officers lately training at Newmarket have been sent back to Russia or will be dispatched thither by the first available ship. None is pressed to join the anti-Bolshevik armies.”
Two Russian Offcers are buried in the cemetery at Exning
Nicholas de Meder’s Death Certificate states: Male aged 21, Lieutenant in Russian Army.
Cause of Death. “Not being of sound mind did shoot himself with a revolver at the Russian Officers Camp, Exning on 24th January 1920”. The other officer, Lieutenant Eugene Petrov, is simply recorded as ‘died’.
It was a difficult time for these men, who were very much aware of their homeland being torn apart by civil war and their families caught up in the strife. It seems that the officers were treated as honoured guests by the British establishment who saw them as our allies in the British opposition to the Bolsheviks.
On the other hand, however, all was not brotherly comradeship in the Newmarket Camp as the report (see above) from the New York Times confirms. Newmarket had unwittingly become the remote battleground for some of the bitter recriminations being fought out in Russia. By 1920 the game was up for the White Russians and most of those Officers who had received training at Newmarket had returned home to face a very uncertain future.
Much of the original research for this article was carried out by NLHS member Rod Vincent (the NLHS Webmaster who originally received the query) and subsequently, Tony Pringle and other NLHS Members who have painstakingly uncovered obscure and long-forgotten historical facts. As this is our original research, please reference / credit “Newmarket Local History Society” if you want to use any of this material.
Prior to the article being published online, Rod had had some interesting correspondence with a Russian lady Evgenia Chernozatonskya, this follows below.
This is an account written by Evgenia Chernozatonskya, whose grandfather Mikhail Duzinkevich was one of the officers involved in the military training at Newmarket. She has provided more fascinating details of how the Russian officers came to our town, their life in our town as seen through their eyes, and of the difficulties they faced on return to their homeland. Evgenia’s story is of such interest to local and international historians that large excerpts from her emails are copied below:
“I found your article about Newmarket training camp and was very excited, because my grandfather Mikhail Duzinkevich (Duzinkiewich) said it was the city where he stayed after a series of adventures during WWI. I was a small girl (he died when I was 11 years old), but I remember that he was a Russian artillery officer taken a POW by Germans and then brought to Newmarket. The purpose of his travel and stay in England was never disclosed by him, because in the Soviet times any affiliation with the White movement or Entente meant persecution.
My grandfather said that from England they were sent to the Russian Far East (Vladivostok?) on a steamship and that the travel took months. I am sure that my grandfather Duzinkevich travelled to the Far East, because he was talking about Ceylon and India as places he saw. He also said he crossed Siberia. And he never left Russia (or Soviet Union) after 1922.
He never mentioned how he later made it from Vladivostok to Smolensk, where he married my grandmother in 1921. Unlike most of my generation I was lucky to have two living granddads. Most of my friends (I was born in 1954) missed both – perished in WWII or in Stalin’s purges.
He was in Newmarket with his two old friends, who made the same trip from Newmarket to Russia. Maybe you have any records of Russian officers who were trained in Newmarket between 1918 and 1921? I would be very thankful if you send me anything related to my grandfather Mikhail Duzinkevich (1896) and his friends Konstantin Babievsky and Vassily Perepletchikov (any records about them and about the steamship that reportedly brought them back home, probably to fight in Admiral Kolchak Army in Siberia) Just in case there are records in Russian the names are: Of course you may publish my query in your Correspondence pages. I am very thankful to your History Society, because it is through your efforts that I found that the place my grandfather mentioned existed and discovered the purpose of his stay. You will find the story even more fascinating if I tell you how the idea of this internet research came to my mind.
Three weeks ago, on the Russian Christmas (January 7th, 2013) an old friend of my grandfather, Tamara, age 86, invited me to her house. And there I met a son of my granddad’s friend, the very same friend Konstantin Babievsky, who was together with Mikhail Duzinkevich throughout all his adventures in WWI, and then in Germany and England. I met Babievsky’s son Kirill, age 82, for the first time.
We shared stories told by my grandfather and his father and found them quite similar – which probably means they were true. Same as my granddad, Babievsky did not mention the purpose of his stay in England. He said that that they were sent to fight for Kolchak, but when they arrived to the Far East the war was already lost.
Babievsky’s son did not know the name of the city in England, where our ancestors stayed, but my father (Mikhail Duzinkevich’s son-in law) did! Thus I knew the word to search for.
Here is the outline of the story shared by the two families:
Konstantin Babievsky and Mikhail Duzinkevich were born in the same city (Novozybkov). They went to the same school and left for St.Petersburg (the capital of Russia) in 1914 to go to universities. After the first year of studies they went (probably were drafted) to the Mikhailov Artillery School in St.Pete, from where both graduated as junior officers.
They were sent to the front, were taken POWs, made it to England and then back to Russia on the same steamboat. Their friend from Novozybkov Vassily Perepletchkov was with them throughout all this.
Both Babievsky and Duzinkevich later studied as structural engineers and worked in the construction industry until retirement: Babievsky lived in Tashkent and Duzinkevich in Moscow.
A Russian Officer’s view of their time in Newmarket and eventual return to Russia.
Evgenia Chernozatonskaya has translated passages from a book “Ukraine, 1918”, in a series “Russia Unknown and Forgotten. White Movement”, published in Moscow in 2001.
It a collection of memories. A chapter by former Russian Army officer Ivan Ivanovich Bobarykov (Boborykov), born in 1890, has several pages on the Newmarket officers training school. Boborykov was an operative in the International Committee on POWs (headed by a British Lieutenant Lemon) in the early 1919. He came to Newmarket officers training centre the same year and left it in 1920. Before this he was tasked with recruitment for the White Army among Russian pows in Germany.
He writes in vivid details about his training in Newmarket, including weekly ball dances and visits to the house of the local lord. The school was managed by the British, but there was a Russian General Headquarters oversight for off-duty hours and internal Russian affairs. The head of the Russian authorities in the Newmarket School was Colonel Gasler.
This story by Bobarykov was first published in the Soviet Union in the Journal of Military History back in 1973. I did not know that stories by White officers appeared in the open press. But then I was very young and not much interested in family history at that time.
One more thing that can help to find more facts: my grandfather told us that the large group of Russian officers in Britain, that he was a part of, met with a royalty. He said “Vassily (his friend) learned enough English to answer a question by the Queen”* Again, I do not know, when or where this happened.
There is a line in Bobarykov’s memoire that I thought may relate to my grandfather:
“Soon after our arrival a group of approx.100 Russian officers was dispatched to the Russian Far East to fight under Kolchak”.
Bobarykov himself was later sent to Sevastopol (Black Sea) to fight under Vrangel. After the White Army defeat he left Russia and lived in France, where he was a head of a military school before WWII. He died in 1981.
* Presumably this was Queeen Mary, who may have suffered some conscience over her husband King George V’s decision to abandon his cousin Czar Nicholas II to his fate. It is not known if the meeting took place in Newmarket but it seems likely as a large group of officers is mentioned (webmaster).
“After breakfast we were sent to Newmarket, a city some 150 km from London, where the Officers school was located. Here British war-time officers, who wished to stay in the Army, received additional training and studied military courses. I should note that in England at that time all orders on commissioning to military ranks contained the word “provisional” (the rank was not granted unconditionally (E.Ch).
When the Army was demobilized (after the end of the war), the Military Ministry demoted the officers who decided to stay in the Army by 2 to 3 ranks. Just to give you some examples: by the end of our stay at school our instructor, who taught us line of columns, a first lieutenant, appeared wearing Major shoulder straps. We started to congratulate him, but he explained to us that he had had a major rank at the end of the war, but wore lieutenant’s shoulder straps at school, because he was staying in the army.
Now that he resigned, he was promoted to the major rank again, he said. Later we heard that the school headmaster Colonel Thompson had gone back to India after the school had been closed and that he became a captain there.
Russian officers, who found themselves in Germany and declared their desire to join the White Army, were brought to this school to complete its full course and in addition to this – get a thorough knowledge of the English weaponry. According to the Russian General Headquarters Colonel Gasler, there had been two thousand such officers altogether.
Same as in the International Committee (see above in the same chapter (E.Ch) the school had two lines of subordination and we had two commanders: British senior officers were responsible for our training and studies, and Russian senior officers were in charge of our off-duty activities and internal life.
There was a story that we heard at school: during the previous summer the headmaster wanted to finish the course of studies by that class with a manoeuvre of sorts: a battle of two companies almost equal in size: Russians against British trainees. Crowds of people came to watch this mock battle from adjacent areas. At the most decisive moment the British company used tear gas against Russians.
The British commanders of the Russian company did not bring their gas masks to the manoeuvre and had to flee from the battlefield, leaving their subordinates to their own devices. Therefore Russian officers took charge and finished the manoeuvre.
The school has never attempted to do a mock battle again, because it all ended in a big turmoil: a light breeze brought a tear gas cloud to the highway, where the crowd of onlookers, most of them mounted on horses, was quite thick. The pedestrians attempted to flee, but the horses went mad, became unmanageable and caused a huge disorder among civilians.
Upon arrival to Newmarket we were met by Russian General Headquarters Colonel Gasler, who introduced us to the British school authorities and explained the internal arrangement and general school requirements.
During the early days of our stay each of us was given the same supplies as the British pupils of military school after graduation and promotion to officer rank: all uniforms, brown shoes, some underwear, a small kit with threads and needles, a field binocular, a compass and a revolver. We only had to order long trousers for our own money. We were also told that for the duration of our studies at school we would be paid a salary of 4.5 British pounds a week.
The difference in uniforms between British and Russian trainees was quite insignificant: we wore a Russian cap badge and Russian national ribbons on our shoulder strap. Thus, it was really quite hard to tell us from the British, and one day, when I was visiting the London Tower, a captain approached me asking what regiment I belonged to. He said: “I know all regiments’ insignia, but now I see something different”.
We were advised that we should only leave the school premises wearing yellow or brown shoes and should carry special sticks at all times.
The school itself became a military training center at the war time. The premises had several big barrack-type buildings, which accommodated an administration office, classrooms, a storeroom, a big dancing hall with a stage and big vestibule, and an officers’ club, where you could drink liquors, such as Porto and whiskey, and beer during off-duty hours.
The trainees lived in smaller barracks accommodating 12 to 14 persons each. Residents of two barracks together formed a class, whose members studied theory and received hands-on training together.
All courses were taught using practice as the main method, and instructors tried to bring as much competition as possible in every issue learned.
They talked about something for a while and then divided the class into two groups and asked the groups to perform a certain exercise taking turns, for example, disassemble the machine-gun with eyes shut. At first, we did not take this method seriously, but then became excited by competition and learnt to exceed the requirements quite fast.
Every Saturday the school arranged a big ball that was attended by a lot of young girls and young ladies from the city and its suburbs. Sometimes the local lord with his extended family also joined the party. Very often we had visitors from London: guards officers, who were studying the Russian language with baron Meyendorf, a former associate of the State Duma Chair. (A British officer who spoke the Russian language got a salary increased by a third.) Russian and British officers took turns as hosts of these balls.”
During the first month of our stay, each Saturday the aide of our company’s “part-time commander”, the Russian Colonel, would go from one barrack to another summoning everybody to the ball room. He was urging us to go, emphasizing that such was the Colonel’s requirement.
Our situation was quite embarrassing. We did not know the new dances that were in fashion at that time, and moreover we did not feel like dancing or making new acquaintances. Therefore, all we did at these events was just sitting by the ballroom walls till two a.m. On the very first Saturday, however, Major Wells, the host, approached us with a question: why don’t you dance? He got the same answer from everybody: we do not know the dances.
The same situation repeated next Saturday. Next Tuesday, however, after reading an order, the aide announced: “As Russian officers do not know English dances, our British commander Captain Key’s wife, was so kind as to offer her help. She will be teaching us to dance every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The classes will start at 9 p.m. – he said, adding that the Colonel said he would like to see many people coming to the classes.
Next day the aide went door to door reminding the officers that it was time to get ready for the dance class. 15 minutes later he made another round between barracks and, having noticed that nobody was getting dressed up for the ball, announced that all newly arrived officers should be in the ball room five minutes before the class begins. And just one minute before 9 p.m. he went door to door again, fetching all people still remaining in barracks.
Mrs Key and two other military ladies came on time and taught us various dances till 11.30. And at the fourth and fifth class we saw the ball host Major Wells, who had come with the ladies and spent a whole lesson looking how each of us was doing.
Next Saturday Russians with few exceptions were sitting in their chairs again not intending to dance. When the dances started, Major Wells, who was sitting at the stage with the headmaster – they occupied the places that were reserved for the local lord and other distinguished guests, descended from the stage and approached the Russian officer who was sitting next to the stage.
The Major said a couple of words to him and then took him by his arm and brought to a wallflower lady. Next he repeated the same with other Russian officers. After this Russians preferred to go and dance themselves rather than being dragged.
Shortly after our arrival to the school a party of officers totaling approx 100 men was sent to the Far East to support Kolchak’s Army. In November I was accompanying a sick captain who did not speak English to a big military hospital in Colchester. When we were at the hospital, I saw a group of soldiers and several officers with big squares attached to their chests and noticed that a single letter was printed on each square.
After I turned in the sick officer, I asked the doctor what those squares and letters meant. He said that the object of this arrangement was prevention of venereal diseases spread. Each sick person was required to wear a square with the first letter of the disease that he had. Such a square was attached to clothes right after a person was diagnosed and should be worn until complete recovery. Nobody was allowed to take off his square even during his vacations at home.
We celebrated the Christmas twice. For the British Christmas the English hosts treated us with traditional a English dinner, including a huge roast beef and British plum pudding. The first toast was to His Majesty the King, and everybody drank Porto for this occasion.
On the Russian Christmas we had a Russian menu for dinner, but the most important thing was the ball. The ballroom and vestibule were previously decorated with ordinary stuff like tinsel and glare. We had it all removed and put on our own decorations. We ordered a car of fur-tree branches from Scotland and used them to make garlands. Our artists, – and we had several among us – were commissioned to paint scenes from the Russian life and Russian landscapes for the ball.
Altogether we had around two dozen of such rather big paintings, which we hung on the walls in the ballroom and vestibule. The fur tree garlands served as frames for these pictures. The walls between paintings were decorated with garlands as well. This arrangement gave an impression of a certain austere style to the ball room.
Rumours about Russian Christmas preparations reached not only the city, but also London. We had twice as many guests as usual, because quite a lot of British officers came from London. They were telling us that the event was more impressive than many London balls.
In December, after Kolchak’s and Denikin’s armies suffered a number of defeats, the opposition in the Parliament started severe attacks on the Government criticizing it for its support of the White Movement. Left wing newspapers especially stressed the presence of Russian officers at the Newmarket training camp. Our commanding officers warned us to be extremely careful when talking to strangers and to keep as far as possible from reporters.
In January, our training program was completed, and we were waiting to be taken to the South of Russia. As no date was yet fixed for our departure, in the very last days of January I decided to take a short leave and spend a week discovering London. Yet everything worked out differently. By the end of my third day off, when I came back to my hotel, I found a telegram waiting for me. It was the order to return to the camp immediately, as in four days we were to leave for Russia.
I had to rush back to Newmarket to prepare for the journey properly. On the day of our departure, we found out that about 15 officers were missing from the camp. The situation in the South of Russia by that time was so bad that the English considered the White Cause lost without hope. Our course officers at the training camp thought it quite pointless to send us to Russia and openly offered their help to those who wanted to stay in Britain.
On the day of our departure crowds of Newmarketers came to the railway station to see us off. It was a deeply moving moment and many women had tears in their eyes when through the train’s open windows, they heard the now familiar to them Russian song “Beauties, weep for us in your mountain villages”. They knew the lyrics far too well from their ballroom partners.
The train took us to Tilbury, a seaport situated, as far as I remember, within 20 miles from the mouth of the river Thames. There we boarded the troop transport SS Field Marshall. The transport headed for Constantinople carrying on board military supplies and a small number of officers and their families who were going back to join the English occupation forces in Turkey after a home leave.
We were quartered in a small compartment at the stern with portholes almost at sea level. We slept in naval cots which we had to fasten to the hooks in the ceiling every night. The restaurant where we had our meals was one level up.
It was evening when the transport left the port and went down the Thames to the North Sea. We admired the myriads of lights shining on both riverbanks. Taken the season, it came as no surprise that as soon as we passed through the English Channel and entered the Atlantic Ocean, we were caught in a severe storm. For more than three days the ship was mercilessly tormented by wind and waves. The English kept to their compartments, and just two or three of them could be seen on the deck or in the wardroom. We did not suffer from sea sickness that badly, and only three of us were seriously ill.
When we were approaching Gibraltar, the storm calmed down and we were able to admire the snow-covered peaks of Atlas shining brightly in the sun. When we were passing Gibraltar, it was already dark, and all we could see were scattered lights on both sides of the strait. After that the Field Marshall headed on to Malta and entered the port of its main town, La Valetta. The sea port is situated deep in the harbour, surrounded by high steep cliffs which make it look like a fiord.
Although it was early February, it was so warm that local boys were bathing in the sea. We moored in La Valetta for two or three hours waiting for passengers to disembark and their luggage to be taken ashore. This done, the Field Marshall went out to sea and headed straight for Constantinople. In the Aegean sea we were again caught in a heavy storm.
The waves were so high that they swept over the deck and the spray reached as high the middle of the masts. The transport had to go in circles for about 36 hours before it could move into the Dardanelles strait, as with the waves that high the captain did not want to risk hitting a possible mine.
In Constantinople we were transferred to another transport, SS Baron Beck, a cargo ship operated by the League of Nations which was going to Sebastopol and Novorossiysk, and the next morning we reached Sebastopol.
Shortly an officer from the Commandant’s office arrived on board. He announced that under Commandant’s orders all aboard with the exception of the natives of the Caucuses should get ashore in Sebastopol. All officers arriving from Britain were now under command of General Slaschev, head of the 3d Army Corps, and should immediately report at their regiment.
That is why we were all taken right to the railway station where we were to board the first train going to Dzhankoy, the headquarters of the 3d Army Corps of the Russian Volunteer Army. And that is how our more than a year long journey from Kiev to Sebastopol via Germany and Britain ended.”