The Russian Expeditions

On Nov. 11th, 1918, the First World War came to an end

On Nov. 11th, 1918, the First World War came to an end.

Millions had lost their lives in the great conflict. Locally, 118 young men died during the War. A great many more suffered terrible injuries to their bodies and/or their minds.

While attention then largely turned to the homecoming of the veterans who had been serving overseas, what has since been forgotten is that there were a significant number of Canadians who were still involved in active combat. They were the troops who had been sent to the Murmansk/Archangel area of Northern Russia and to Vladivostok in Siberia.

There were a variety of reasons for the presence of Canadians in those areas.

After the Tsarist regime collapsed with the Russian Revolution in 1917, there was initially a worry amongst the Allies that large amounts of supplies and munitions, which had been sent to aid the Russian army, might now fall into the hands of the Germans.

Moreover, after the first provisional Russian government collapsed and was replaced by a new Bolshevik government, civil war soon broke out between the Reds (Bolsheviks) and the Whites, who were generally loyal to the old regime.

There was panic among the Western Allies that there was a new threat to the world order from the Bolsheviks/communists.

Hence, there was an urgent push to help shore up the Whites.

There was still a pressing need to keep as many troops as possible in France and Belgium, as heavy fighting continued along the Western Front.

Nevertheless, several hundred Canadians, all deemed to be volunteers, were dispatched to Northern Russia during the summer of 1918 to join other Allied units from Britain, France, Italy and the United States. Included in the Canadian contingent were 67 and 68 Batteries of the 16 Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery (C.F.A.).

As the Allied forces pushed southward from Archangel, they faced increasing resistance from the Bolsheviks. On Nov. 11th, the day of the Armistice, the Canadians were embroiled in fierce fighting along the Dvina River. The onset of winter brought some lulls in the combat, but towards the end of January 1919, the Bolsheviks resumed their offensive.

Meanwhile, a contingent of 4,000 Canadians (many of whom were draftees) were sent to Vladivostok on the Siberian east coast.

Once again, they joined with troops from other Allied countries and were there to help support the Whites. Unlike the situation in Northern Russia, the Canadian’s Siberian Expeditionary Force did not face any combat.

Over time, the appetite of the Canadian government to be involved in the Russian Civil War waned.

The country was exhausted from the four long and bloody years of the First World War. The troops in Northern Russia were demoralized by the many setbacks in the fights with the Bolsheviks.

Consequently, in the spring of 1919, the Canadian troops were withdrawn from both Northern Russia and Siberia.

One of the local soldiers who saw service in the Archangel region was Fred Lawson. He enlisted in Red Deer in 1915 with the local 89 Battalion, but was later transferred into the 10 Battalion.

He was severely wounded at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. He consequently spent several months “dangerously ill” in military hospitals in England.

He finally recovered sufficiently to be discharged from hospital in April 1918.

He was assigned to the 16 Brigade, C.F.A. and was initially given veterinary duties. He was later promoted to sergeant and then sent to Russia.

He arrived in Archangel on Oct. 16th, 1918, less than a month before the cessation of fighting in Western Europe.

After a brutal winter on the Archangel front, he was sent back to England in in the spring of 1919. He was then transported back to Canada and was formally discharged from the military in July 1919.

He married Florence Scott on Oct. 10th, 1919, and they settled on a farm southeast of Red Deer in the Grassy Lake district.

They had a family of four children. Unfortunately, Mr. Lawson suffered a lot of ill health from his war wounds. Finally, around the time of the Second World War, he and his wife were forced to give up the farm and moved to a new home in what is now downtown Red Deer.

Fred Lawson passed away on Feb. 4th, 1962 at the age of the age of 70.

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