Tag Archives: russian civil war

ERA 2nd Class William Shaw DSM

As a general rule, Great War sailors from Portsmouth don’t seem to have won as many medals as their counterparts in the Second World War. I’m intruiged as to why this might be. But in the meantime, I have found one sailor who had a pretty interesting career.

William Fleetwood Shaw was born in Portsmouth on 8 July 1889.He was the son of Mr W.F. and Mrs. E. Shaw, of 46 Cleveland Road, Southsea. Shaw was an Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on 28 September 1917, for ‘service with the Royal Naval Air Service on patrol duties and submarine searching in Home Waters’. Quite what an Engine Room Artificer was doing serving with the RNAS is anybody’s guess.

William Shaw was killed on HM Submarine L55 when she was sunk in the Baltic on 4 June 1919. L55 had been targeting two Soviet warships – the Gavril and the Azard. It is unclear whether the submarine was sunk by soviet gunfire, or from straying into a British-laid minefield.

The wreck remained on the Batlic seabed for eight years, until L55 was raised from the seabed by the Soviets on 11 August 1928. The remains of her 34 crewmembers were transferred from a British trawler to HMS Champion – a Light Cruiser. Their remains were buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport in a joint grave. My grandad’s birth certificate states that his father – my grandfather, Stoker Thomas Daly – was on HMS Champion at the time, so its quite possible that one of my ancestors played a small part in bringing William Shaw home! The photograph above shows some of the 34 coffins on the foredeck of HMS Champion, and her sailors and marines maintaining an honour guard. Interestingly, after being raised L55 was repaired by the Soviets, and used until the Second World War.

Interesting how a young man from Portsmouth – an Engine Room ‘tiffy’ – wins a DSM for service with the RN Air Service, is then killed serving in a submarine during the Russian Civil War, and finally finds his way home to Portsmouth almost a decade later.

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Private Bath and the Russian Civil War

Private V. Bath, of the Shropshire Light Infantry and attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, was killed on 5 June 1919. He is buried in Archangel in North West Russia, and is also remembered on the Portsmouth First World War Memorial.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Allied forces fought alongside the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. In June 1918 a combined British and French troops landed in Archangel, to secure the strategically important port. In July they were joined by an American force. Another Portsmouth connection was provided by HM Monitor M33, which took part in the campaign and is now preserved in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The Allies were hard pressed, however, and even after the armistice in November 1918 were short of troops. The North Russian Front was eventually evacuated in 1920. The Allies had missed the chance, in Winston Churchill’s words, to ‘strangle Communism at birth’.

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UPDATED: Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird

Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird, of the Royal Marines, died on 25 October 1943. He was 62, and from Southsea. He lies in Highland Road Cemetery in Southsea, Portsmouth.

Several things seem very interesting about Colour Sergeant Bird.

Firstly, he was very old to be in the forces, even in an administrative or training role. Colour Sergeant is the Royal Marines equivalent of what the Army call a Staff Sergeant, so it looks like Bird was based at the Royal Marines Barracks at Eastney.

But secondly, and most interesting of all, he was a holder of the Russian Cross of St George, 4th Class. This was a decoration introduced by Tsarist Russia for bravery in action, and was abolished by the Soviets after the Russian Revolution.

How did Bird come to win such an exotic decoration? It looks like he must have seen action in Russia at some point, possibly in the First World War or more likely in the Russian Civil War between 1917 and 1923, when British forces fought alongside the white russians against the Bolsheviks.

I have been unable to find any citations for this award, although I have also found that some men who were awarded Russian medals were given them under a false name, to prevent reprisals by Communists.

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I have just downloaded Colour Sergeant Bird’s service record from the National Archives website. It makes very interesting reading.

Born on 8th Novembert 1880 in Wandsworth, London, he enlisted in the Royal Marines in 1898, when he was 17. Although he joined the Royal Marines Artillery – at a time when the Royal Marines consisted of Artillery and Light Infantry – he spent most of his service onboard ship, probably as part of a gun crew. Traditionally, on British Battleships one of the main guns was crewed entirely by Royal Marines. He was present at the Battle of Falklands Islands onboard HMS Inflexible in 1914, in support of the Galipoli campaign in 1915, and at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 onboard Inflexible.

It was for his service at Jutland that the Russian Government conferred the Cross of St George on him. He served in the Royal Marines until 1922 when he was transferred to the Royal Marines Reserve. He carried on in this capacity until 1930 when he turned 50, and was discharged. When the Second World War began in 1939 he was re-engaged as a drill instructor, until he was discharged on 20th October 1942, only 5 days before he died.

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