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.
Date Published :
May 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
16 black and white photos
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Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612007533
Pages : 272
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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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 support 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 organize 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 freezing temperatures 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 specter 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.

About The Author

Rupert Wieloch is perfectly placed to write about Libya. He was appointed as the Senior British Military Commander before Gadaffi was captured and killed, he had privileged access to the new Libyan government and drafted the first Defence White Paper forthe Libyan Chief of Defence in 2012. He was the first foreign representative to visit Tobruk after the revolution, establishing the basis for a multi-million pound international contract to refurbish the airport and military base at El Adem. He led the immediate response after the Islamic attack on the British war graves in Benghazi and was present at the Battle of Bani Walid, known as the start of the second civil war. His previous books are Belfast to Benghazi and Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners (Casemate), which was long-listed for the 2020 Wolfson History Prize.


Chapter 1 – Philadelphia Parting
Chapter 2 – It’s A Long Way to Vladivostok
Chapter 3 – Diehards and Tigers
Chapter 4 – American Integrity
Chapter 5 – Railroad to Omsk
Chapter 6 – Trotsky or Kolchak
Chapter 7 – Remain to the Last
Chapter 8 – Dash for Freedom
Chapter 9 – Captured in Krasnoyarsk
Chapter 10 – Downing Street Dilemma
Chapter 11 – A British Spy Escapes
Chapter 12 – Deceived in Irkutsk
Chapter 13 – Three Legged Ted
Chapter 14 – Moscow Monastery
Chapter 15 – HMS Delhi
What Happened Next


" entertaining and lively narrative of the experiences of fifteen British prisoners of war in the Russian Civil War...This work provides a solid foundation upon which other scholars might further analyze the significance of the events under discussion."

- Journal of Military History

"Rupert Wieloch has written a genuinely interesting history that provides a useful entry point into the confusion of the Russian Civil War. [...] A book like this puts flesh on bones we would rarely know but for diligent and enthusiastic research."

- War History Online

"...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"

- International Journal of Russian Studies

"...well worth a read for anyone who wonders why the West’s relations with Russia have generally been testy over the past century."

- StrategyPage

“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. It serves as a timely reminder of such a policy’s perils to armchair promoters of regime change in the contemporary world. The soldiers themselves, who were part of a protracted prisoner exchange in 1920, emerged from the Russian quagmire with laurels (albeit that the men were lean and pallid and ‘dressed in all manner of strange garments’ accrued in foetid cells of the Cheka); those who launched them unprepared into the Siberian swamp, and were prepared to use them as pawns in a greater game, did not.”

- Dr Jonathan D. Smele, Queen Mary University of London, author of The “Russian” Civil Wars, 1916–1926: Ten Years that Shook the World

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