My unlucky uncle.
Posted by Big John on February 21, 2012
I know that this is not a very good photograph, but it was taken more than a hundred years ago and, like so many, it ended up stored away and forgotten until I happened upon it when going through some old family papers.
The picture shows my father’s eldest brother. He was a couple of years older than my dad and was born at the very end of the 19th century which meant that he was conscripted for military service towards the end of World War I. My dad was lucky as that war ended just as he received his call-up papers and he never had to report for duty.
My uncle was not so lucky, for although the war with Germany ended in 1918, he was sent to Russia as a member of a multi-national military force sent to back the Tsarist forces fighting the revolutionary Red Army.
I have tried to trace his military history, and have found only one soldier with his name. He was a private in a battalion which is recorded as being sent to Archangel in 1918, and a War Office medal record card in his name shows that he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
I have no idea what happened to my uncle during his service in Russia, but my father told me that his brother returned to England, after going ‘missing’ for some time, bringing with him a suitcase full of Tsarist bank notes which, of course, were of no value by that time.
I often wonder what happened to that young man when he went ’missing’ in the Russian snow, and how did he come by all that money ? .. Did he meet up with some Bolshevik ‘friends’ ? .. After all, as a poor lad who, like my dad, had slept “five in a bed” in a rat infested ’Victorian’ slum, he had far more in common with the Russian proletariat, than with the people who had sent him there in the name of some bloody king and in support of a despot Tsar: and if he did, perhaps his new ‘comrades’ helped him ‘liberate’ all those paper roubles from some Romanov aristocrat, or perhaps he just found the case in a ditch ? Alas, we can only speculate.
My dad had nine brothers and sisters, and I knew most of them, but as far as I can recall I never met this uncle; which is a pity, for I bet …
… he had a great tale to tell.