Beneath the frozen ground of Archangel Cemetery, 700 miles north of Moscow, lie the bodies of at more than 20 fallen Scots. They were cut down fighting in a war which is little-remembered, in Britain at least, hot on the heels of World War I.

November 7 marks the 105th anniversary of the revolution which swept the Bolsheviks into power in Russia in 1917, immediately sparking a bloody civil war that would last for the next five years.

The Red Army would eventually emerge triumphant and secure the communists’ grip on power, but not before battling off troops from Britain, America and elsewhere.

Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated in February after an uprising and been replaced by a provisional government, but it became increasingly unpopular as it continued to fight in World War I. Ordinary Russians saw their sons sent to die in the west while they struggled to afford food at home – it’s no wonder Vladimir Lenin’s promise of peace, bread and land appealed.

Following months of unrest across the country, on November 7 (October 25 in the old Julian calendar) Bolshevik forces led an uprising in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) and seized control of the government. Private property and banks were nationalised, private bank accounts and church properties seized, control over the factories handed to workers’ councils (soviets) and an eight-hour working day with higher wages introduced.

Not all recognised the revolution, however, and Russia would descend into a bloody civil war in which Britain, the United States, Japan and France held significant interest. Should the Bolsheviks succeed, they feared, it could spark armed revolution on the home front and even, eventually, the end of capitalist society.

The Herald:

The first intervention by British forces came as Russia withdrew from the war, with a party of Royal Marines landing at Murmansk in March 1918 to prevent Russian supplies falling into German hands. However, the Bolshevik refusal to re-open the Eastern Front soon led to active support for the counter-revolutionary White Army.

British troops first landed at Archangel in August, with allied ships sailing into the port via the White Sea. A French and British force 1,500 strong under the command of Edinburgh-born Brigadier General Edmund Ironside, fighting alongside Russian and French troops, soon occupied the city and began to push south, aided by later reinforcements from Italy, the U.S and Canada. The goal was to “join hands” with the Czechoslovak Legion on the trans-Siberian railway and recruit anti-communist forces on the way.

Initial progress was good, with Guy Warneford Nightingale of the 46th Royal Fusiliers writing to his mother to inform her the advancing army “had a most successful show and pretty well wiped up the Bolsheviks on the Dwina”.

A memorandum from the Foreign Office dated October 25 1918, lauded the gains made and insisted the “growing danger of Bolshevism” could be “put down by force” in Moscow with a “comparatively small army from the Urals”.

A provisional government was formed and an army led by Yevgeny Miller established throughout the region.

By late Autumn the British force advancing from Archangel was 6,000 strong including the Seaforth Highlanders, the Dundee Fortress Engineers and the 2/10 Battalion of the Royal Scots, as well as air and navy support, the latter of which included Clyde built  HMS Pegasus and HMS Nairana. The allies quickly reached and occupied Obozerskaya, around 100 miles south, but the arrival of winter would turn the tide.

The village of Borok was captured in October but lost four days later, while 27 men were killed in an ambush near Topsa. The allied troops were forced to withdraw to a defensive line for the winter and morale was low among the White Russian forces, whose 1st Archangel Battalion mutinied in December of 1918. Ironside ordered that the ringleaders be shot.

By January Henry Wilson, head of the British army, had concluded there was no hope of reaching the Czechoslovaks and “nothing to be gained” from continuing to push south. Newly appointed Secretary of War Winston Churchill, a fierce anti-communist, had long been a proponent of significant intervention in Russia but this was deemed “not practicable” by army chiefs, while withdrawal was dismissed as “tantamount to disowning the anti-Bolshevik cause”.

By April 1919 mutinies and defections among the White Army were increasingly common, with many defecting to the Bolshevik side and turning on the allied forces. Sentiment in Britain was turning against involvement in the Russian civil war, orders ultimately came to withdraw to Archangel and prepare for evacuation, despite the protestations of the ‘North Russia’ government that had been established behind the frontline.

The remaining White Army was abandoned to its fate, with the UK government pledging to continue to assist in the form of munitions and money. The last allied troops withdrew from Archangel on September 27, 1919.

Over 500 British troops were killed in the fighting. There are more than 20 Scots buried at the Archangel cemetery, though the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does not have records for many of the fallen.

They include air mechanic J. McEwan McArdle, 19, from Cardonald. John McCrae, 24, from Kilmarnock. Sailor John Hamilton Ross, 21, Dumbartonshire.

Ironside was promoted to Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and was sent to France in 1940 to try and halt the advance of the Nazi war machine. He proved unsuitable for this role due to a deep hatred of the French, with general Maxime Weygand so infuriated by the Scot that he declared he’d like to “box his ears”.

The Red Army entered Archangel on February 21, 1920. Miller and around 800 refugees fled over the White Sea to Norway, with the former leader eventually settling in France.

In 1937 however he attended a meeting with, ostensibly, two Nazi intelligence agents. They were in fact Soviet NKVD who drugged Miller and shipped him back to what was by now the USSR through a port in Le Havre. He was summarily shot nineteen months later, on 11 May 1939.

The Soviet Union would have the key role in defeating the Nazi war machine in World War II, establishing itself as a world superpower shortly after and sparking the Cold War.

The USSR collapsed in 1991 and communism fell with it, though by then it was surely scant comfort to those lying in the frozen ground at Archangel.

Scots buried in Archangel cemetery:

Matthew Craig Fitch, captain, 29, Bridgeton, Glasgow
J. McEwan McArdle, air mechanic, 19, Cardonald, Glasgow
John McCrae, stoker, 24, Kilmarnock.
John Hamilton Ross, ordinary seaman, 21, Dumbartonshire
Alfred Greig Hourston, first engineer, 30, Leith, Edinburgh
William Tevendale, lance corporal, 40, Edinburgh
J Charlotty, private, Highlands
T Aitken, Colinsburgh
Gordon Hamilton, midshipman, 19, Glasgow
William Johnston, engineer, 37, Kirkcaldy
J A McLaggan, private, 24, Edinburgh
Samuel MacWhirter, private 22, New Cumnock
W J Buchan, lance corporal, 19, Mintlaw
Kenneth MacFarlane Croal, second lieutenant, 21, Dunbar
John Nelson, private, 27, Glasgow
Charles Crook Cooper, private, 18, Langholm
William MacDonald Grier, private, 33, Dumfries
John Gillies, private, 18, Aberdeen
William George Speirs, private, 20, Glasgow
George Scott, sergeant, Glasgow
David Smith Paton, private, 20, Auchinleck
John O'Neill, private, 23, Coatbridge
James Chalmers Stark, private, 18, Arbroath
Robert Scott, private, 21, Galston