Fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia

[The Luton News: Thursday, June 26th, 1919]

Just two days before the armistice would be signed, a letter from Lutonian L-Cpl A. C. Payne (Royal Marines on HMS Serie) with the naval force in Russia told how his war had not ended and he had been sent to battle the Bolsheviks. He wrote:

“Having written an account to you of my experiences on a monitor at Constantinople and the Dardanelles in January last, I must let you know I have lefts that theatre. After some time in the Black Sea, we returned to Constantinople, and the ship paid off her commission.

“Imagine our grief when, instead of coming home, we were immediately told off for the Caspian Sea Naval Expeditionary Force to fight the Bolsheviks. After a long trip we arrived at Batoum [Batumi], the first Russian port. What a sight! People almost starving, and no clothes or very little food.

“After five days in the train (cattle trucks), passing Tiflis [Tblisi] and many notable Russian towns, we arrived at Baku, the British naval force headquarters. This town was a little better for food, but it is a pitiful sight to see the poorer classes. We have to change our English money for Russian paper roubles. We got 80 roubles to our English £1, and it was formerly worth about five shillings or six shillings in English.

“You can gather the state of things in Baku when I tell you the price of tea and sugar. A font of sugar, that is 14oz, is 50 roubles - that is equivalent to 12s 6d in English money – and tea per font is 45 roubles, equal to 11 shillings in English. Bread was a luxury to the poor Russian classes.

“At the beginning of March we had trouble with the Bolsheviks. After a small action, we brought in seven Bolshevik ships on the Sunday morning.

“People were being shot, and no one was, or is now, allowed out in the town without being heavily armed. The place is full with refugees fleeing from the Tartars or Georgians.

“We spent some time in Baku, and afterwards were put on Russian merchant ships with English guns on, and sent out to sea to encounter the Bolshevik fleet. These Russian ships, some of them captured ones, are nothing like English ships. But our sailors, as usual, make themselves comfortable anywhere, and most of them are comparatively happy.

“But, as might be expected, after two-and-a-half years away from England, we are all rather anxious to get back to dear old Blighty and enjoy a well-earned leave.

“I am not permitted to say how the Caspian campaign is progressing against the Bolsheviks, or how many times we have been in action, but that will be learned later. There are one a 100 or two of us up here in this lonely spot, the Caspian Sea, and as far as I know only two Luton lads are here. Besides myself, there is an Able Seaman named James. We were together in the Bulgarian bombardments, and we hope to finish this 'stunt' together.

“We very rarely get a mail here, but every time we have one I am always sure of the good old Luton News and can read about the town I am anxiously waiting to see. The Luton News is read over and over again by the lads aboard the ship who hardly ever get a paper. We should be very glad if someone would kindly send us some books or magazines or games.”