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.
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.