16 June 2020

Two Russians Sailors buried in Plymouth

Plymouth's large nineteenth century private cemetery at Ford Park contains the graves of two Russian sailors who died while their ship, the Askold, was in Devonport Dockyard for repairs in 1917. One is in good condition; the other is in pieces. The sailors whose remains lie buried in Ford Park lived and died at a time of major change in the Russian Empire, and their stories shed a little personal light on those times. 

Imperial Russian Cruiser Askold

The Imperial Russian cruiser 'Askold' at Kiel in 1901

The cruiser Askold of the Imperial Russian Navy was launched in 1900 at Kiel in northern Germany. She initially entered service with the Russian Baltic Fleet, but only after one year was assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet based at Port Arthur, Manchuria, instead. After seeing action in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War she became the flagship of the Russian Siberian Flotilla. Askold began the Great War as part of the Allied (British-French-Japanese) joint task force pursuing the German East Asia Squadron under Admiral Maximilian von Spee. 

In August 1914 she patrolled the area to the east of the Philippines, resupplying out of Hong Kong and Singapore. In September and October, she was assigned to escort duty in the Indian Ocean. Askold was then assigned to the Mediterranean Sea for operations off the coasts of Syria and Palestine for coastal bombardment and commerce-raiding operations based in Beirut and Haifa. 

In 1915, she was involved in operations against the Ottoman Navy and the Austrian Navy in Greece and Bulgaria, including support for troop landings in the Gallipoli Campaign. She underwent an extensive refit in Toulon, France, beginning in March 1916, which involved the replacement of her guns. The repairs were delayed by lack of materials and manpower. Tensions arose in the crew as the men were forced to live on board, whereas the officers went to Paris. 

On 19th August there was an explosion in her powder magazine attributed to sabotage, and four crewmen were later convicted and sentenced to death. Repairs were completed only in December 1916. Askold was then transferred to the Barents Sea theatre of operations. 

Askold arrives in Plymouth

Askold left Toulon on 27th December 1916, heading for England via Gibraltar. In bad weather, she suffered some storm damage in the Atlantic and reached Plymouth on 20th January 1917 with only 70 tons of coal left. The storm damage was repaired at Devonport Dockyard where she remained until she left for Greenock in Scotland on 23th May 1917.

 A note about the Russian Calendar

At this point, dates become important. At the beginning of 1917, the Russian Empire was still using the Julian Calendar while most of the rest of the world had moved to using the Gregorian Calendar. As a result, dates in Russia were thirteen days behind those used elsewhere. This difference in calendars in conventionally shown as "Old Style" ("O.S." - Julian Calendar) and "New Style ("N.S." - Gregorian Calendar". 

On 13th January 1917 in the United Kingdom it was 1st January 1917 in the Russian Empire - and on board the Imperial Russian Navy's ships. How many people understood this at the time is a moot point when considering the dates of the deaths of these two sailors.

Under the influence of modernising forces in Russia, the calendar changed in February 1918 with the removal of thirteen days: 31st January 1918 was followed by 14th February 1918. Unless otherwise stated all the dates in this article are given as "New Style" dates whether they refer to the Russian Empire and its Navy or Great Britain. 

A note about the Russian Alphabet

At the beginning of 1917 the Cyrillic Alphabet had letters which is does not have today. The alphabet had these letters "removed" during the early Soviet era. But in 1917 those characters were still in use. 

The "February Revolution" of 1917

The main events of the revolution took place in and near Petrograd (present-day St. Petersburg), the then-capital of Russia, where longstanding discontent with the monarchy erupted into mass protests against food rationing on 8th March 1917 (New Style). Revolutionary activity lasted about eight days. It involved mass demonstrations and violent armed clashes with police and gendarmes, the last loyal forces of the Russian monarchy. It came to be known - because of the Julian Calendar in use at the time - as the "February Revolution". 

On 12th March mutinous Russian Army forces sided with the revolutionaries. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on 15th March, ending Romanov dynastic rule, and Imperial Russia. The British government reluctantly offered the former Imperial family asylum in the UK on 19th March 1917. It later withdrew that offer. The officers and crew heard about the revolution and the Tsar's abdication from the English newspapers in Plymouth. Only when he received official notification from Petrograd did the captain of the Askold, Kazimir Ketlinski, make an announcement to his ship's crew, urging them to remain loyal to the Motherland. His reduced the risk of attempts on the lives of the officers by having some men removed from the ship. After that, the ship took an oath of allegiance to the Provisional Government.

Pyotr Ogorielkov - Петръ Огорљлковъ

The grave of Pyotr Ogorielkov in Ford Park Cemetery, Plymouth

We know from Pyotr's gravestone that he was a 27-year-old Stoker on the Askold when he died in March 1917. Pyotr's headstone shows his date of death as 7th March. It uses the Julian Calendar to show the date in Old Style. The New Style equivalent is 20th March.

The gravestone is written in Cyrillic and Pyotr's name is shown as Петръ Огорљлковъ. This inscription shows two Cyrillic characters no longer used in Russian. 

Why does this matter? Because when it came to transliterating Pyotr's name for his death certificate and inclusion in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission there was some confusion which has led to it be recorded incorrectly.

The first character is Љ known as "Lje", pronounced like the "ll" in  "million".

The second is Ъ known as the "Hard sign". 

Before spelling reform in 1918, a hard sign was normally written at the end of a word when following a "non-palatal consonant", even though it had no effect on pronunciation. So Pyotr was written as Петръ before spelling reform and Петр afterwards. And Огорљлковъ is now written as Огорелков. So today his name would be written as Петр Огорелков. This would now be transliterated at Pyotr Ogorielkov and gives a reasonable approximation of the original Russian pronunciation. 

But at the time, as you can see from his death certificate below, it was recorded as Garielkow. And is as as Garielkow that he is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 

Peter Garielkov death certificate

How did this happen? Pyotr died of heart disease in the Royal Naval Hospital, Stonehouse, Plymouth. It seems likely that in the confusion of his death and the need to register it, a handwritten transliteration as Ogrielkow was misread. (The use of the German transliteration of в as w rather than the English v was not uncommon at the time.) 

But look at the date - recorded at 19th March. This does not correspond with the date on his gravestone (7th March (OS) = 20th March (NS). Again, it seems that the confusion of a busy Naval hospital in wartime led to the error. 

Nicolai Yevgrafov - Николай Евграфовъ

The grave of Nicolai Yevgrafov in Ford Park Cemetery, Plymouth

While Pyotr Ogorielkov's death was from natural causes, even though he was only 27, Nicolai's was a very different matter. Is that the reason that his grave is in pieces? The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have confirmed that both of the graves are in their care, but they are treated as "private" graves and no funding is received for them from the Russian government. Nicolai's gravestone shows that he died, aged 30, on 7th April 1917. Again, it gives the date in the Old Style. The New Style equivalent is 20th March. 

Nicolai's name is written as Николай Евграфовъ. Apart from the final ъ (Hard sign), the Cyrillic spelling has not changed since his death. At the time, for the death certificate, it was transliterated as Nicolay Engraffoff and subsequently for the entry in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database it became Nicolai Engraffof

The second letter of his surname is definitely в the letter best transliterated as "v". But on both death certificate and CWGC is has been represented by the letter "n". This gives the name a completely false pronunciation. Nicolai's death certificate reveals that his death was not from natural causes. 

Nicolai's death certificate

Although his gravestone says that Nicolai was a Stoker, he was actually a mechanic in the Askold's engine room. 

As with Pyotr's death certificate, there is a discrepancy between the date recorded on Nicolai's grave and that on the certificate. The grave claims he died on 20th April, while the certificate says it was 11th April. Which is right? Nicolai died an agonising death in the Royal Naval Hospital from a self-administered dose of hydrochloric acid. 

Fortunately, a newspaper report of his inquest provides some background, and confirms that the date on the death certificate is the correct one. 

 So Nicolai's death was due to suicide. He didn't die immediately and was able to tell the Askold's surgeon that he had taken poison "because he felt life was not worth living under the new conditions in Russia." He was the only supporter of the Imperial Russian Family on board. 

That fact that he killed himself did not prevent him having a formal Naval funeral at Ford Park. 

There being no Russian Orthodox priest in Plymouth, a Greek Orthodox chaplain officiated, and the coffin was drawn by a party of Russian sailors on a gun-carriage with a detachment of marines firing shots over the grave.

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