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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Seek WWI-Era Graves in Far North




Britain's Defense Ministry said Monday it was investigating a report that a grave uncovered in northern Russia may contain the remains of British servicemen sent to fight the Red Army during Russia's Civil War.


A spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry confirmed that the British authorities had been notified about the grave, which was previously undocumented, earlier this fall and that a special division of the ministry, the Army Casualty Cell, has started to investigate the case.


But in a telephone interview from London, the spokeswoman said the process of identifying the remains in the grave was still "at the very early stage" and that it could be years before it is completed.


The Guardian newspaper quoted Army Casualty Cell chief George Pappadopoullos as saying that "delicate negotiations are being dealt with at a fairly senior level" to allow the British side to excavate the grave and examine the remains.


About 10,000 British troops under the command of Major General Edmund Ironside landed in northern Russia in the summer of 1918 to intervene on the side of the anti-Bolshevik White Army. By the time the force returned home in 1919, 1,000 of them had perished on Russian soil, according to some estimates.


After the war, Soviet textbooks depicted the campaign as an example of how "world imperialism," had attempted to thwart the Bolshevik Revolution. The graves of the British servicemen who had died were left unmarked.


The Guardian reported in its Monday issue that a Briton working in the Murmansk region was given an account of the grave, near the town of Kandalashka, by a local resident. He passed the information on to the British authorities.


Kandalashka is a White Sea port in the south of the Murmansk region and was one of the sites where British servicemen are believed to have been involved in military action.


The British troops came ashore in the northern port cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in the summer and fall of 1918 under the pretext of protecting armaments supplied by Britain to the tsarist army before the revolution.


With World War I still raging, Britain feared German troops could occupy northwestern Russia and seize the armaments, a historian of the Russian Civil War, Nikolai Rutych, said Monday in a telephone interview from his home in Paris. Apart from a few skirmishes, British troops were not involved in any major fighting in the area, instead encouraging other forces to do the fighting for them.


The British only advanced as far as about 200 kilometers south from Arkhangelsk and were evacuated from the area in the summer of 1919.


Rutych said that according to Ironside's memoirs, "The High Road to Command," a total of about 100 British soldiers under his command were killed in skirmishes, while another 1,000 died of disease and hypothermia. Most of the troops who served in the intervention force had already been injured while serving on the battlefields of the western front and were mobilized from hospitals in Britain.