North Russian Relief Force

The following text is from:

Lionel Wigmore, They dared mightily, 2nd revised edition, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1986, pp. 181—182

North Russian Force

No Australian units were engaged in the operations in Northern Russia but a number of men of the AIF who were in England in 1919, awaiting repatriation to Australian, joined a volunteer force raised to relieve British and Allied troops already in Russia. The new force was designated the British North Russian Relief Force. In order to join this body the Australians had first to obtain their discharges from the AIF, and this was done in the UK. They were then enlisted in the British Army, and were alloted to the 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers and the 201st Battalion, Machine Gun Corps. Two companies within the 45th Battalion were composed of Australians. Thus, between 200 and 300 Australians were prepared to accept a further period of vigorous active service.

The volunteer brigade of the relief Force was commanded by Brigadier-General LW de V. Sadlier-Jackson, and arrived in Russia on 5th June 1919.The Australians were prominent in several actions, their first of major importance being on 23rd July. On this occasion, 150 of them had gone with General Ironside when he went to investigate a meeting of White Russian forces at Obozerskaya. It was this group who repulsed a Bolshevik attack on a railway in the area. The Australians surprised the enemy during a relief of their forward blockhouses, killed thirty with the bayonet, wounded many others and set fire to the blockhouses before withdrawing.

Brigadier-General Sadlier-Jackson launched an attack with his brigade, including the Australians, on the Dwina front on 10th August and this also was a complete success. Over 3,000 prisoners were taken and heavy losses inflicted. The objective of enveloping and destroying the enemy was attained, thus opening the way for the peaceful evacuation of British and Allied forces. Nineteen days later, the two Australian companies were again employed in routing the Bolsheviks in a bayonet charge on the railway near Seleskoe.

By this time General Lord Rawlinson had arrived in the country to direct the evacuation of all Allied forces and, on 10th September, the withdrawal to Archangel commenced. This operation was completed by the 23rd, and the troops embarked for home five days later. Of the Australian volunteers, two received the Victoria Cross, Corporal Arthur Percy Sullivan 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers and Sergeant Samuel George Pearse, 45th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers.

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