Churchill's Abandoned Prisoners

The British Soldiers Deceived in the Russian Civil War

Rupert Wieloch

The Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War from 1918-1920 forms the backdrop to this extraordinary story of the fate of 15 British soldiers abandoned in Bolshevik Russia.
Publication date:
March 2019
Publisher :
Casemate Publishers
Illustration :
16 black and white photos
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ISBN : 9781612007533

Dimensions : 228 X 152 mm
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• Tale of extraordinary adventure and human survival against the overwhelming odds of typhus, torture and temperatures below 30. 2019 is the centenary anniversary of British campaign in Siberia at the end of WWI.
• Exposes foundations of the current relationship between Russia and the West and explains why the current Russian government mistrusts the other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Winner of the Britain at War Book of the Month Award for May 2019.

Churchill's Abandoned Prisoners tells the previously suppressed story of fifteen British prisoners captured during the Russian civil war. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 seriously compromised the Allied war effort. That threat rather than an ideological wish to defeat the Bolsheviks was the driving force behind the formation of an Allied force including British, American, French, Czech, Italian, Greek and Japanese troops, who were stationed to locations across Russia to suppor t the anti-Bolsheviks (the ‘White Russians'). But war-weariness and equivocation about getting involved in the Civil War led the Allied powers to dispatch a sufficient number of troops to maintain a show of interest in Russia's fate, but not enough to give the 'Whites' a real chance of victory.

Caught up in these events is Emmerson MacMillan, an American engineer who through loyalty to his Scottish roots joins the British army in 1918. Emmerson travels to England, where he trains with the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps and volunteers for service in the Far East.

The book explains how the bitter fighting ebbed and flowed along the Trans-Siberian Railway for eighteen months, until Trotsky's Red Army prevailed. It includes the exploits of the only two British battalions to serve in the East, the "Diehards” and "Tigers”. An important chapter describes the fractious relationships between the Allies, together with the unenviable dilemmas faced by the commander of the American Expeditionary Force and the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

The focus turns to the deeds of Emmerson and the other soldiers in the select British group, who are ordered to "remain to the last” and organise the evacuation of refugees from Omsk in November 1919. After saving thousands of lives, they leave on the last train out of the city before it is seized by the Bolsheviks. Their mad dash for freedom in temperatures below forty degrees centigrade ends abruptly, when they are captured in Krasnoyarsk.

Abandoned without communications or mail, they endure a fearful detention with two of them succumbing to typhus. The deserted group become an embarrassment to the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George and the War Secretary, Winston Churchill after a secret agreement fails to secure the release of the British prisoners. Deceived in Irkutsk, they are sent 3,500 miles to Moscow and imprisoned in notorious jails. After a traumatic incarceration, they are eventually released, having survived against all the odds.

The spectre of armed conflict between Russia and the West has dramatically increased with points of tension stretching from the Arctic to Aleppo, while cyber warfare and election interference further increase pressure. As a new Cold War hots up it is ever-more important to understand the origins of the modern relationship between Russia and the West. The events described in this book are not only a stirring tale of courage and adventure but also only lift the lid on an episode that did much to sow distrust and precipitate events in World War Two and today.


...a rousing account of resilience and courage [...] this book also provides detailed informance about the experience of British prisoners of war during the Russian Civil War, making it an invaluable source for... anyone researching events of the Russian Civil War.
University of Middle East Technical University, founder and editor of IJORS

Rupert Wieloch has written a genuinely interesting history that provides a useful entry point into the confusion of the Russian Civil War.
War History Online

It is a very informative account of a lesser-known conflict.
Soldier Magazine

This is a fascinating account of a relatively unknown conflict which has drifted out of public consciousness following the overwhelming tragedy of WW1.
Army Rumour Service

Based on an impressive array of published and unpublished sources, this is a gripping account of the adventures and misadventures in Siberia in 1919 of a group of British and American servicemen who were involved in the disorderly Allied intervention in the chaos of Russia's post-revolutionary civil wars and who were captured by the Reds.
Queen Mary University of London, author of The `Russian' Civil Wars, 1916--1926: Ten Years that Shook the World