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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Lance Corporal John Michael Fogarty - A Siberian Expedition Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: January 24, 1886*

Place of Birth: Hazel Hill, Guysborough County

Mother's Name: Catherine 'Kate' Horne

Father's Name: John Fogarty

Date of Enlistment: April 16, 1918 at Halifax, NS (attestation with Canadian Expeditionary Force);

November 15, 1919 at Halifax, NS (attestation with Permanent Force of Canada)

Regimental Numbers: 3181730 (first attestation); 2779985 (second attestation)

Rank: Lance Corporal

Forces: Canadian and Siberian Expeditionary Forces; Permanent Force of Canada

Units: 1st Depot Battalion Nova Scotia Regiment; 260th Infantry Battalion; Canadian Military Police Corps (CMPC)

Location of service: Canada and Siberia

Occupation at Enlistment: Fisherman

Marital Status at Enlistment: Married

Next of Kin: Isabelle 'Belle' Fogarty, Hazel Hill, Guysborough County (wife)

* Michael's birth date is taken from 1901 census records.  The 1891 census states that Michael was 5 years old at that time.  The 1911 census gives his birthdate as January 1885.  His 1918 attestation papers record Michael's year of birth as 1885, while his 1919 enlistment papers list his year of birth as 1886.


John Michael Fogarty was the oldest son and second of nine children born to John and Kate (Horne) Fogarty of Hazel Hill, Guysborough County.  In 1909, Michael married Isabelle 'Belle' Jollimore of French River, PEI.  Their first child, James, was born there in October 1910.  Sometime after 1911, the couple returned to Hazel Hill, where Michael worked in the local fishery and three more children - daughters Laura, Mary and Hattie - joined the family.

After the outbreak of war in Europe, two of Michael's younger brothers enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  James Alexander 'Jim' joined the 25th Battalion at Halifax on February 11, 1915, serving with distinction in Belgium and France and rising to the rank of Sergeant before a serious combat wound in January 1918 ended his military career.  Ernest Vincent enlisted with the Divisional Cycle Platoon at Regina, Saskatchewan on November 25, 1916, but was later transferred to the 28th Battalion.  Twice wounded in France, he returned to the front each time, serving overseas until his unit returned to Canada in May 1919.

Like so many of his generation, Michael was eventually drawn to military service.  While his family circumstances made such a choice difficult, the example set by his younger brothers may have prompted him to do so.  Whatever his motivation, on November 27, 1917, Michael enlisted with the 94th Regiment, a northern Nova Scotia militia unit based at Pictou.  Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, the 94th was instructed to secure the Commercial Cable Company's strategically important Hazel Hill telegraph facilities.  Its presence in the local community may explain Michael's decision to join the unit.

On February 24, 1918, Michael was officially transferred to the 1st Depot Battalion, Nova Scotia Regiment, where he trained alongside much younger men who had been conscripted under the Military Service Act (MSA).  Michael officially enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on April 16, 1918.  While military officials used the standard conscription form for his attestation, the line reserved for his MSA number states "not applicable", indicating that he was not drafted into service.

While Michael may have anticipated following his younger siblings to the Western Front, his military career took a dramatically different direction.  Perhaps due to his age, he remained in Canada for six months as many of his younger Depot Battalion comrades were shipped out to England.  As summer gave way to autumn, Michael was assigned to the 260th Battalion, one of two units designated for service with the Siberian Expeditionary Force (SEF).  He travelled by train to British Columbia, where SEF personnel prepared for deployment at several training camps near Vancouver and Victoria.

Michael and Belle's oldest daughter Laura with her husband, Bob Roberts.
 On October 11, 1918 - the day on which he departed for Siberia - Michael was officially transferred to the 260th Battalion.  Prior to leaving Canada, he assigned $ 15 of his monthly pay to his wife Belle, who also received a monthly separation allowance of $ 30 while he served overseas.


The year 1917 was one of "crisis and pessimism" for the Allies fighting the German forces on the Western Front (France and Belgium).  In March 1917, a revolution overthrew Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and established an ineffective Provisional Government that accelerated the disintegration of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front.  Despite the Canadian Corps' successful capture of Vimy Ridge (April 1917) and Passchendaele (November 1917), Allied offensives on the Western and Italian Fronts failed to break the stalemate with Germany or Austria-Hungary in either sector.

The collapse of a Russian offensive on the Eastern front resulted in a second uprising in which the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the fragile Provisional Government in November 1917.  Fierce opponents of the war, Lenin's socialist government negotiated a peace treaty with Germany, ending fighting on the Eastern Front in March 1918.  As a result, Germany was able to transport the bulk of its Eastern Front troops to France and Belgium, where it launched a massive Spring Offensive in an effort to win the war on the Western Front.

In the meantime, Russia was plunged into civil war as groups opposed to the Bolsheviks refused to accept its socialist government.  Its most prominent foes were the Cossacks of the Don River region and a number of White Russian Generals, spread from northern Russia to Vladivostok, who remained loyal to the Provisional Government. 

As early as December 1917, the Allied Supreme War Council pledged its support for Russian forces committed to continuing the war against Germany on the Eastern Front.  As Russia disintegrated into civil war in early 1918, Allied governments saw an opportunity to re-establish a two-front conflict by supporting forces opposed to the Bolshevik government.  They were also concerned that large stockpiles of Allied war materials stored at Murmansk, Archangel and Vladivostok might fall into Bolshevik hands. 

In response to these concerns, Japanese and British naval cruisers sailed into Vladivostok's Golden Bay in January 1918, while the "Czecho-Slovak Legion", a military force loyal to the Allied cause, seized control of the strategically important Trans-Siberian Railroad from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok.  Small parties of Allied forces also landed at Murmansk and Archangel and guarded supply depots in both locations.

Archangel and Murmansk, Russia.
 On June 28, 1918, the Czecho-Slovak Legion overthrew the local Bolshevik government and seized control of Vladivostok.  By the end of July 1918, White Russian opponents of the Bolshevik government assumed control of the city.  Meanwhile, hopeful of re-establishing an Eastern Front in the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Western Allies formulated plans for a multi-national Siberian expedition aimed at overthrowing the Bolshevik government and replacing it with one supportive of Western interests.

By August 1918, Allied governments agreed to dispatch troops to Murmansk, Archangel, the Caspian Sea and Vladivostok, in an effort to topple Russia's Bolshevik government.  When Great Britain formally asked Canada for a contribution, the Canadian government approved the formation of the Siberian Expeditionary Force (SEF) on August 12, 1918.  The proposed contingent consisted of more than 4000 personnel and included the 259th and 260th Infantry Battalions, the 20th Canadian Machine Gun Company and a mounted squadron of Royal North West Mounted Police, in addition to support personnel.

The 259th Battalion consisted of two companies each from Ontario and Quebec, the latter mainly conscripts from Montreal and Quebec City.  In fact, only 378 of its soldiers were volunteers, a situation that later generated a troubling incident.  The 260th Battalion drew its personnel from across Canada - one company each from Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and British Columbia, with a fourth from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Canadian authorities selected Victoria, BC as the SEF's assembly point and established training camps at New Westminster and Coquitlam.  Troops from across the country converged on Victoria's Willow Camp as the Spanish flu epidemic - transported from Europe by returning Canadian soldiers - swept across the country and was carried west by members of the 259th Battalion making their way to British Columbia.  Seventy-five of its soldiers were hospitalized with the illness, prompting authorities to place SEF soldiers under quarantine and ban all public meetings in Victoria.

On October 3, 1918, an advanced party consisting of Headquarters, administrative, medical, logistics and food services staff assembled at Victoria.  Also attached to the group was a detachment from the 260th Battalion selected for Base Guard duty.  Two Guysborough County veterans were amongst the soldiers chosen for this assignment.  Fellow Hazel Hill native James Edward Feltmate, age 25, the son of Abner and Agnes (Drover) Feltmate, accompanied Michael Fogarty as the advanced party prepared to depart for Siberia.

Map of key locations in Western Allies' Russian missions, 1918-19.

On October 11, 1918, the SEF advanced party, consisting of 62 officers and 618 other ranks (OR), boarded the SS Empress of Japan at Vancouver, BC and sailed for Vladivostok, Russia.  Within twenty-four hours, the challenges of crossing the Pacific Ocean in autumn became apparent as the SEF Headquarters war diary reported: "Weather fine but quite rough, about 30 % of the troops are sea-sick."  Calmer seas prevailed on October 14 and more men were "on deck" as officers organized sports and concerts to occupy their time.

The passage to Russia was not without tragedy.  On October 22, 1918, Headquarters' war diary reported that Pte. Edward Biddle, Base Coy., died of pneumonia following a case of influenza.  The first of the force's 14 casualties - all but one due to illness - Biddle was buried at sea later that day as the "weather became rough and a cold… [and a] heavy sea blew up in the afternoon."  Similar conditions prevailed for several days before the October 24, 1918 war diary entry mercifully reported: "Land in sight on our starboard off and on all morning.  Passed through the Straits of Hagodadi before midnight."

Two days later, two Russian torpedo boat destroyers met the Empress of Japan at 6 am and escorted the vessel into port at Vladivostok.  A Czech Guard of Honor welcomed the Canadians as the SEF's other ranks (OR) occupied temporary quarters in sheds along the quay, while its officers remained on the vessel for their first night in Russia.  The following day - October 27, 1918 - the "weather [was] fine but much colder" as the troops marched off to temporary billets.  The Headquarters war diary lamented a significant lack in manpower for guard duty and work parties, in addition to insufficient storage space for supplies, as the officers set about preparing for the arrival of its remaining personnel.

On October 29, 1918, officers found a suitable location for Base Headquarters: "A building known as the Pushkinsky Theatre… consisting of a small theatre and several billiard and card rooms, has been found to be available for offices… and a guard has been placed over the building."  The task of finding appropriate space for barracks proved more difficult as refugees fleeing the civil war filled many unoccupied buildings.  Headquarters War Diary commented: "The best accommodation has been taken by the Japanese and Americans, making it necessary to arrange to billet Canadian troops outside of town."

Within several days, officers succeeded in securing accommodations for 2800 men and 400 horses, although the building's windows needed replacement and most of its metal fittings had been "stolen by Chinese".  Work parties set about building stoves out of brick and constructing makeshift stovepipes out of corrugated iron sheets in preparation for the coming winter season.  The war diary noted that "the supply of wood is short [and]… everything is very dear", due to shortages caused by the civil war.

On November 5, 1918, Private Michael Fogarty was placed on command to Force Headquarters as a "Base Guard".  One month later, he was attached to Base Headquarters "for rations and quarters".  While in Siberia, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal and remained at Base HQ for all but the last nine days of his service.

Michael and Belle's second daughter, Mary Fogarty McCarthy.
A November 12, 1918 telegram from the War Office interrupted preparations for the SEF's impending arrival: "News received that Germany has accepted the terms of the Armistice and that hostilities on the Western Front ceased."  Three days later, a group of Canadians participated in a celebration described in the Headquarters War Diary:

"All the Allies in Vladivostok took part in a parade through the streets. commencing at 11 AM, and a march past the Allied Commander in Chief….  The parade consisted of troops from the British, French, Italian, American, Czecho, Roumanian, Serbian, Russian, Japanese and Chinese Armies."

While the Armistice was welcome news, it raised significant questions regarding the Siberian expedition's future.  The British government believed that the mission should continue as planned, but the Canadian government, sensitive to public opinion that all Canadian soldiers should return home, contemplated evacuating the advanced party.  Rivalries among White Russian Generals for control of the region further complicated the situation.  By month's end, Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, former Commander of the Czar's Black Sea Fleet, seized control of the Siberian capital of Omsk and declared himself "Supreme Ruler of All Russia".  The coup's implications for the SEF's mission were unclear.

In the interim, as there was little likelihood of Allied forces engaging in offensive action, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden decided that the SEF mission should continue at least until the spring of 1919 and therefore its remaining personnel would proceed to Vladivostok as planned.  SEF Headquarters was informed, however, that Canadian troops were not to move inland nor participate in military operations without the express approval of the Canadian government.

The SEF's first British troops - 32 officers and 924 OR of the 1st 9th Hampshire Regiment - arrived from India aboard SS Dunera on November 26, 1918.  Two days later, the War Office notified Headquarters that "for the present no British or Canadian troops are to go west of the Urals."  A second vessel, the SS Monteagle, arrived at Vladivostok on December 5, 1918 with the first group of Canadian troops - 30 officers, 395 OR and 287 horses, in addition to three Canadian Red Cross officers and one matron.   

Three days later, Canadian Brigadier-General J. H. Elmsley, SEF Commander, authorized the transfer of Lt.-Colonel T. S. Morrissey, eight officers and 47 OR to Omsk.  Their task was to provide administrative services for British troops that followed them to the Siberian capital later in the month.  The Omsk mission proved to be Canadian soldiers' furthest inland advance during the Siberian mission.

Michael and Belle's youngest daughter, Hattie Fogarty Donnelly.
The departure of the second group of SEF soldiers from Canada was marred by controversy.  On December 21, 1918, a small group of the 259th Battalion's French Canadian conscripts refused to leave their barracks, when ordered to do so.  Officers instructed their comrades to remove their belts and whip the mutineers into order.  Soldiers then fixed their bayonets and marched the defiant individuals through the streets of Vancouver at knifepoint and onto the waiting transport ship.  The following day, the SS Teesta departed for Siberia.

SEF Headquarters' War Diary recorded the mission's second casualty on December 30, 1918, when Pte. William J. Henderson (attestation 2772673) died of spinal meningitis.  Two days later, the New Year arrived with ferocity, as described in the day's diary entry:

"Very stormy and cold.  Blizzard blowing from early morning hours till about 5 P.M. when wind slowly quieted down.  Fairly calm towards midnight."

The diary also reported "several cases of frost-bite" amongst a group of soldiers sent to unload a recently arrived supply vessel.

On January 12, 1919, SS Teesta arrived in Vladivostok with 22 officers and 564 OR of the 259th Canadian Rifles, 11 officers and 183 OR of the 20th Canadian Machine Gun Company, and a small group of support personnel.  Officers aboard the vessel reported that Rifleman Harold Leo Butler (attestation 2768761) of the 259th Battalion "died en route and was buried at sea", thus becoming the mission's third reported casualty.

Three days later, the SEF's remaining Canadian personnel arrived aboard SS Protesilaus - 15 officers and 474 OR of the 259th Canadian Rifles, 39 officers and 981 OR of the 260th Battalion, and the mission's remaining administrative staff.  Once again, a soldier - Rifleman F. J. Kay (attestation 3139773) of the 259th Battalion - was reported to have died at sea.

By month's end, SEF Headquarters received notice that the Imperial War Cabinet had decided to continue the Siberian mission a least until the Allied governments meeting at the Paris Peace Conference agreed upon a course of action with regard to Russia.  In the meantime, the vast majority of SEF personnel remained at Vladivostok, occupying their time with sentry duty and administrative tasks.  Quartered in barracks at Second River and Gornstai Bay, off-duty soldiers spent their spare hours playing hockey, soccer and basketball leagues, producing two brigade newspapers, and watching movies in a makeshift theatre.  Occasionally, small groups of soldiers received one-day's leave to Vladivostok, where they frequented the Chinese bazaar and Russian baths.

On February 1, 1919, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden informed SEF Headquarters that Allied leaders had agreed to the early withdrawal of Canadian troops from Siberia.  In the meantime, SEF Headquarters reported increasing Bolshevik activity in the area and two more Canadian soldiers died of pneumonia by month's end.  On March 1, 1919, Prime Minister Borden formally informed Headquarters that "arrangements will be made for the return from Siberia of the Canadian troops early in April."

Map of Vladivostok area (Source: Moffat).

March proved to be the SEF's worst month for casualties, as seven soldiers succumbed to illness - four cases of pneumonia, one each of perio-carditis and spinal meningitis, and one with no recorded cause - while an eighth soldier, Lieutenant A. H. Thring, was accidentally killed.  The war diary recorded the expedition's final casualty from toxaemia on April 5, 1919.  In the meantime, the war diary reported fears of an impending Bolshevik uprising in Vladivostok.  Increasing tensions between the troops and civilian population prompted officers to order soldiers to carry arms with them at all times. 

The mission's only opportunity for military action occurred on April 12, 1919, when Bolsheviks surrounded the village of Shkotova, north of Vladivostok, jeopardizing the city's coal supply.  Brigadier-General Elmsley immediately dispatched a company from the 259th Battalion to the area.  Upon arriving one week later, the soldiers discovered that the Bolsheviks had withdrawn, and the company returned to Vladivostok on April 21, 1919.

That same day, the SS Monteagle departed Vladivostok for Vancouver, with 1080 Canadian soldiers on board.  The evacuation commenced as Bolshevik supporters laid siege to the city, threatened the lives of Allied and White Russian officers, and vandalized vehicles and supplies.  On May 9, 1919, Private Michael Fogarty left Siberia on the SS Empress of Japan, the same vessel that had carried him to Russia six months previously.  The last major detachment of Canadians - 1491 all ranks - boarded the SS Empress of Russia on May 19, 1919 and sailed for home.

On June 1, 1919, Brigadier-General Elmsley and a small group of officers dedicated a monument to the SEF's fatalities at Marine Cemetery, located on a hillside overlooking the Churkin peninsula.  Four days later, the last Canadian SEF members boarded the SS Monteagle and sailed for Victoria.

The remaining British forces departed from Siberia by summer's end, followed by American forces in autumn 1919.  The final members of the ill-fated Siberian mission left Russian soil in March 1920.  Seven months after the last Canadian soldiers left Vladivostok, Bolshevik forces seized control of the city.  Hampered by the end of hostilities on the Western Front and further hindered by lack of consensus amongst participating Allied countries, the Siberian Expedition can only be described as a complete military failure.


On May 21, 1919, Michael Fogarty and his fellow passengers aboard the SS Empress of Japan arrived at Vancouver.  Michael made his way by train to Halifax, where he was officially discharged from the 260th Battalion on May 29, 1919.  Three days later, he was transferred to Headquarters Staff, where he served in an unspecified capacity throughout the summer months.  On October 31, 1919, Corporal Michael Fogarty was officially discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Michael and Belle's son, James Edward, served overseas during the Second World War.
Michael briefly returned to his wife and children, who were living at French River, Prince Edward Island.  A family disagreement prompted him to return to Halifax, where he enlisted with the Permanent Force of Canada as a "Special Guard" with the Canadian Military Police Corps (CMPC) on November 15, 1919.  The following day, Michael was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, based on his previous military experience.  While working in Halifax, he assigned $ 6 of his monthly salary to his wife, Belle.

Throughout the winter of 1919-20, Michael served with the CMPC at Halifax, where its members were responsible for maintaining order and discipline amongst armed forces personnel stationed in the city.  Throughout 1920, the CMPC slowly reduced its operations as the vast majority of military personnel returned to civilian life and municipal police forces assumed its duties.  As a result, Lance Corporal Michael Fogarty was formally discharged from military service on March 4, 1920.

Sadly, Michael and Belle parted ways after his discharge.  His younger brother, Ernest, had returned to Western Canada after being released from military service in May 1919.  It appears that Michael joined him in Saskatchewan after leaving the CMPC, as the 1921 Canadian census identifies 35-year-old 'Michael Fogarty', a native of Nova Scotia, living as a boarder in the Maple Creek, Saskatchewan home of John J. Richardson.

Ernest eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan, but Michael spent the remainder of his years in Western Canada.  On April 29, 1953, he died at age 68, from complications due to high blood pressure, at Drumheller, Alberta.  Having resided in the community for six months, he was laid to rest in St. Anthony's Catholic Church Cemetery, Drumheller.

Michael Fogarty's headstone - Drumheller, Alberta.


Canadian Army Military Police, 1914-1920 - A Brief History. Canadian Military Police Museum.  Available online.

Isitt, Benjamin.  The Siberian Expedition.  Legion Magazine, November 22, 2008.  Available online.

Moffat, Ian C. D.. Forgotten Battlefields - Canadians in Siberia, 1918-1919.  Canadian Military Journal, Autumn 2007.  Available online.

Service file of Lance Corporal John Michael Fogarty, number 3181730.  Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 3165 - 24.  Attestation papers available online.

War Diary of Siberian Expeditionary Force General Staff.  RG9, Series III-D-3, Volumes 5056 & 5057, Reel T-10950, File: 959.  Available online.

War Diary of Siberian Expeditionary Force Headquarters.  RG9, Militia & Defence, Series III-D-3, Volume 5056, Reel T-10950, File: 957.  Available online.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group's website contains links to Siberian Expeditionary Force war diaries that are available online.

A special thank you to Michael's grand-daughters, Patsy (Donnelly) Weeden, Lower Sackville, NS, Ann (Donnelly) and her husband, David Collier, Lakeside, Halifax County, who provided valuable information and family pictures for this post.