The piece of our Anzac history in Russian cemetery
IN a lonely cemetery in the remote northern town of Arkhangelsk (Archangel) in Northern Russia, lies a little known piece of Australia's Anzac history in the form of the gravesite of Sergeant Samuel George Pearse, VC, MM.
Samuel Pearse died in the battle of Emptsa when he fighting with the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment, on August 29, 1919, during the Bolshevik Revolution. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic actions that day. Here is Samuel's story.
Samuel George Pearse was born at Penarth, Glamorganshire, Wales, on July16, 1897, the son of George and Sarah Pearse, and completed his early education at Penarth Boarding School before the family decided to migrate to Australia in 1911 where they took up a farming property at Koorlong, near Mildura in Victoria. Samuel, his two brothers, and father, arrived out before the rest of the family and over the next 3 years, Samuel, who was now 14 years of age was employed in fruit-picking, farm labouring, trapping rabbits to sell, shooting foxes, and a short period working as a deck hand aboard the paddle steamer Viola that worked the Murray River.
Caught up in the war fervour created by the heroics of the Gallipoli campaign at the time, Samuel decided to enlist in the AIF on July 5, 1915, just prior to his 18th birthday and was immediately accepted and was posted to 9th Infantry, 2nd Machine Gun Company. After completing basic training Samuel sailed on HMT "Star of Victoria" bound for Alexandria in Egypt. He was sent to relieve forces on Gallipoli and remained there until the evacuation in December 1915.
After a short time in Egypt, Samuel was transferred to the 2nd Brigade on the Western Front, France, in early 1916 where he was promoted to Lance Corporal then later Corporal. Samuel was at once caught up in the heavy fighting in the Somme where he was awarded the Military Medal in September 1917 for outstanding bravery in the Battle of Menin Road, near Ypes. This is what his citation read: "Normally this man is a runner……and throughout he showed an utter disregard of danger in carrying messages, guiding parties and bringing in wounded men on every return run".
He was twice wounded, and on 19th May 1918, he was sent to England to recover from his wounds and illnesses, sustained in the trenches. It was here that he met the love of his life in Catherine Knox, a serving member of the Women's Australian Army Corps, and they were married at Durham on June 1 1919 just prior to his discharge from the AIF on July 18, 1919.
Samuel was a born soldier and was eager to continue this role after the Armistice was signed in November 1918. When the British Government was calling for ex-military to join a volunteer force raised to relieve British and allied troops already in Russia, who were sent to help with the withdrawal of allied forces that had supported the Czar in the Russian Civil war, Samuel was among 200 former AIF members to enlist, and was allotted to the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Machine Gun Corps. They were formed into two companies which now included 200-300 Australians. The Companies, named the North Russian Relief Force, were to be commanded by Brigadier-General L. W. Sadlier-Jackson and it set sail for Russia, arriving on 5th June 1919.
Samuel and his Company were involved in their first major action against the Red Army (Bolsheviks) on July 23, where Samuel and his men were involved in skirmishes in a blockhouse situated in the wooded terrain of Oberzerskaya, where they routed the rebel Russians with bayonet and bombs. On the Dwina front on August 10th a successful attack was launched by the Australians where they inflicted heavy losses on the Bolsheviks and took more than 3000 prisoners.
On August 29 the two Australian companies which included Samuel, were routing the Bolsheviks on the railway station near Seleskoe and attacking an enemy artillery battery. Pinned down by barbed wire entanglements and under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, Samuel rushed forward and cut his way through the barbed wire thus clearing a path for his troops to assault the machine gun position, then charged the blockhouse single- handed, killing the occupants with bombs. A few minutes later Samuel was cut down by other Bolshevik machine gun fire but not before he had cleared a path for his men.
Sergeant Samuel George Pearse, 22, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on that day.