We have received a number of enquiries in relation to Australia’s involvement in the war in Russia. As the Australians involved fought under British units, it is difficult to gain detailed information.
It would appear that the first Australians involved in the conflict in Russia were part of a training team to establish a new Russian force. These men had been involved in active duty in France; three of them being Gallipoli veterans. The Australian group consisted of three officers and six sergeants.
A number of Australians volunteered to serve as part of the North Russia Relief Force (NRRF), most served in the 45th Battalion (Service), Royal Fusiliers and 201st Special Battalion, Machine Gun Corps. A condition of Australian involvement in the NRRF was that Australians were forced to resign from the AIF and then enlist into the British Army for a period of 12 months as Private soldiers. At the conclusion of this period they were repatriated back to Australia by the Australian Government.
Two of the Australians involved in the NRRF were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions. Samuel George Pearse VC MM (Emtsa) was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for extreme bravery in the face of the enemy and Arthur Percy Sullivan VC (Sheika River).
An interesting fact about Arthur is that he was selected as part of the Australian Coronation Contingent in 1937 for King George VI and died as a result of trying to escape from a group of autograph hunters on the way back to the barracks. He slipped on a kerb and fractured his skull and died a short time later. A space was left for him in the actual coronation procession.
1. Australian War Memorial, Encyclopedia, A ‘Pathetic Sideshow’ Australians and the Russian Intervention, 1918-1919 – Jeffrey Grey
2. Australian War Memorial website