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Michael Walsh




As with all wars, soldiers and civilians alike were sucked into the maelstrom with little or no control over which area of political ideology fate had placed them. Thus it was that men under arms found themselves fighting for causes, wearing the uniform and owing allegiance to nations and causes they little understood.

More tragically millions of civilians in Europe found that overnight they had become Soviet citizens and their land given as booty to the Kremlin's dictators under deals made by the allies.

Millions thus caught up were marked down for deportation to the Soviet gulags or liquidation. Such being their fate these unfortunates were never consulted as the war 'to guarantee the rights of nations' drew to a close, nor was any regard placed on the legality or morality of this trade in human slavery and misery.

As a matter of government expediency the British Army and Merchant Navy were conscripted to become essentially a part of the Soviet killing machine.

Up until June 1945, 50,000 displaced persons, mainly Cossacks surrendered themselves to the British Armed Forces in southern Austria. In outright defiance of international law, conventions and civilized standards of morality, the British Government exceeded their authority, even that of the deplorable Yalta Agreements, by rounding tens of thousands of civilians up and forcibly transporting them to the Soviet Union and Communist Yugoslavia of which most were not citizens.

Delivered to the Soviets at the frontier, and with the collaboration of their British Army guards to whom they had surrendered, these tragic families, often split up to make their capture easier, were machine-gunned in large groups. Those few, small bands of desperate people who managed to escape usually committed suicide or were hunted down, shot and captured by British soldiers accompanied and assisted by armed units of the NKVD - forerunners to the K.G.B.

This story in terms of terror, callousness and sheer brutality finds little to equal it in the history of mankind. Here is a glimpse of that tragedy; a small part of the whole that stuns the mind in its horror.


"At 0730 hours on June 1st, I went with Major Davies to Peggetz Camp . . . at the camp I saw a very large crowd of people, numbering several thousand, collected in a solid square with women and children in the middle and men around the outside. There appeared to be an evenly spaced cordon of uniformed men round the whole crowd. A body of fifteen to twenty priests was assembled in one part of the crowd, wearing vestments and carrying religious pictures and banners. At 0730 the priest began to conduct a service and the whole crown began to chant.

"Cossacks and soldiers alike have vivid memories of that scene. Towering over the crowd was a wooden platform with a makeshift altar and a large cross. Around the platform were the priests, all in brightly colored vestments . . .

"Davies addressed the crowd through an interpreter and told them that it was time they began loading (to be transferred to the Red Army). He writes that, 'The only result was a tightening of the crowd.' He told them that they had half an hour in which to finish the service, and when this time was up he gave them another half-hour. But there was no sign that the prayers were about to end. Davies then realised 'that appeal to this crowd for voluntary movement was useless and that they would have to be forcibly evacuated.'

"He formed his men up along the unfenced side of the square. Some were armed with pick-helves, others with rifles loaded with live ammunition. The riflemen had bayonets tied to their belts. He gave them the order to fix bayonets."

Major 'Rusty' Davies described how his men executed a perfect drill movement 'like guardsmen at Buckingham Palace', after which he didn't think the Cossacks; men, women and children would resist. They did.

"Even when the soldiers advanced into the crowd with their clubs and bayonets, the Cossacks carried on praying and refused to move. Like a herd of animals facing an attack by predators, they had hidden their women and children in the middle of the crowd, while along the edge was a line of young men resolved to defend the tribe.

"In Davies's words, 'the people formed themselves into a solid mass, kneeling and crouching with their arms locked around each others bodies.' The soldiers tried taking hold of individual Cossacks and pulling them away from the mob. Ivan Martynenko remembers how 'the whole crowd trembled and rocked as the soldiers tugged at it, but they were not able to prise anyone away'." - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell

Major 'Rusty' Davies went on to describe how an isolated pocket of 200 people were loaded onto trucks:

"As individuals on the outskirts of the group were pulled away, the remainder compressed themselves into a still tighter body, and as panic gripped them, started clambering over each other in frantic efforts to get away from the soldiers. The result was a pyramid of screaming, hysterical human beings under which a number of people were trapped. The soldiers made frantic efforts to split this mass in order to save the lives of those people pinned underneath, and pick-helves and rifle butts were used on arms and legs to force individuals to loosen their holds." - Major 'Rusty' Davies

"They were like a lot of sheep in a fog, all piled one on top of the other. I think there were six suffocated to death." - Archie Read, now a farmer in Scotland


"The young Cossacks once again linked arms around the outskirts of the group and did their best to protect them from the soldiers' raids. The women and children were obviously easier to capture and could be loaded with less violence. Often the father of the family would see this happening . . . he would be momentarily blinded by the thought of his wife or child being taken to the Soviet Union without him. Many Cossack men flung themselves from the mob to save a relative, and once they were out it was easier to seize them." - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell

"The soldiers beat the Cossacks about the heads with clubs. Blood was drawn, and as the men lost consciousness the soldiers picked them up and threw them into the trucks . . . Some of them regained consciousness and jumped out of the trucks, whereupon they were grabbed, beaten again and thrown back in. Once a truck was full, the machine-gunners got on board and they were driven down to the railway line t be thrown into the waiting goods wagons." - General Naumenko, The Great Betrayal

"People were rushing past my legs, scared out of their wits. Everything was mixed up; the singing, the prayers, the groans and the screams, the cries of the wretched people the soldiers managed to grab, the weeping children and the foul language of the soldiers. Everyone was beaten, even the priests, who raised their crosses over their heads and continued to pray.

"I prayed to God to help me to get to my feet. I managed to get up and ran with the crowd through the broken fence into another field outside the camp. There, many people, led by priests, fell to their knees and continued to pray." - Zoe Polaneska

Not surprisingly, the nightmare turned many Cossacks to thoughts of suicide. Dmitri Frolov says;

"I got into the woods and saw several people there hanging from the trees.' This was confirmed by several British soldiers, including Davies, and there can be no doubt that a number of Cossacks died in this way."


"More terrible still were the suicides that took place on the bridge which spanned the River Drau. After the fence broke, many Cossacks found themselves briefly in an unguarded area. 'The river seemed our only salvation. One jump into the raging stream and all would be ended.' Many people made for the bridge, most of them aiming to escape into the hills, but a few resolved to end their lives.

"The soldiers too ran towards the bridge to stop people from crossing it, but many Cossacks had crossed before an effective barrier could be formed. Zoe Polaneska was one of these. She remembers tearing a piece of her skirt to try to bandage her legs, which were streaming with blood, and soldiers firing machine-guns over the heads of the fleeing Cossacks to try to bring them to a halt. But they poured across the bridge like ants and were quickly in among the trees. It was then that she saw with her own eyes women and children jumping off the bridge into the water.

"What shocked the soldiers most of all was that the Cossacks were not only drowning themselves, but also their children." - A typical case is described by the émigré writer, Fyodor Kubanski:

"A young woman with her two small children ran to the edge. She embraced the first child for a moment, then suddenly flung him into the abyss. The other child was clinging to the bottom of her skirt and shouting, 'Mama, don't! Mama! I'm frightened!"

"Don't be afraid, I'll be with you,' the frantic woman answered. One jerk of her arms and the second child was flying into the waters of the River Drau. Then, she raised her arms to make the sign of the cross. 'Lord, receive my sinful soul', she cried, and before her hand reached her left shoulder she had leaped in after her children. In a moment she was swallowed by the raging whirlpool."

"General Naumenko estimates that twenty or thirty people were drowned in this way."


"Davies's most terrible memory, and one confirmed by many other witnesses, is of a Cossack who first shot his wife and three children, then shot himself. He (Davies) found them himself by a sharp dip in the ground, the wife and children lying side by side on a grassy bank and the man lying opposite them, a revolver in his hand.

"Davies says:  'I think it was this that brought the horror of it all home to me, that a man could do such a thing. He remembers as he looked at the bodies, how could the man have killed these four people? Could he have got them all together and then shot them quickly, one after the other? Davies thought this unlikely. If he had done it this way there would have been confusion and disarray. The bodies would not have been so carefully lined up.

"What the man must have done, Davies concluded, was to take one child to the bank, kill him, then go and collect another child, kill him, and so on until all four were dead and he could be sure that none of his family would fall into Soviet hands.' Naumenko writes that the man's name was Pyotr Mordovkin and that his wife's name was Irina."

"Davies wrote in his report: 'Terrified and hysterical people threw themselves on their knees before the soldiers begging to be bayoneted or shot to death as an alternative to loading'."

"He went on to describe how soldiers broke down completely, 'There were soldiers pushing people along with rifle-butts - with tears streaming down their faces'." - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell


"The camp was only a few hundred yards away and Smith (Corporal Donald Smith 'B Company') could hear the commotion. 'These poor devils are going back to be shot.' an officer told him. Then the first trucks began to arrive.

"Smith remembers, 'frightened, desperate old people and children crying', as well as 'two or three aged men with white hair and beards, their heads bleeding from being beaten with rifle-butts.'

"Smith writes: 'We helped the aged, who were praying all the time. Some of the children had been separated from their parents. Some were, I think, too shocked even to cry or to pray, but climbed into the vans quietly to squat in a corner. I was at this point sickened'."

"Davies came down to the train and saw it standing there, full of screaming people, waiting for the signal to depart. In all, 6,500 Cossacks were sent East that day. Zoe Polaneska describes the scene: 'The flags and the platform where the priests had been had all collapsed. I had a good look round and saw some patches of blood where people had been killed. Everyone was wondering from one barracks to another as if in a daze, looking for his or her families. Some of the people had lost their husbands, some their children and some their wives'." - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell

On June 2nd, the soldiers were able to dispatch 1,858 Cossack civilians and on June, 3rd a further 1,487. Captain J.V Baker was the British officer at the actual hand over.

"As each train arrived the Soviet soldiers would march down the length of it and station themselves, two men opposite each truck, about 30 or 40 trucks per train, about thirty people per truck. At the word of command they undid the padlocks and let the people out. Baker's only job was to count the people, to check the numbers against his list and hand over the equivalent number of ration packages.

"He was disgusted by the state of the trucks. The trains had left in the morning and they had arrived at seven or eight o'clock each evening. They just had little gratings, barred gratings for ventilation. There were men, women and children in the trucks, but the only sanitation they had was a galvanised dustbin.

"It was not an uncommon sight to find dead bodies in the trucks. I can't give numbers, because I didn't go along inspecting the whole train, but I would say at an estimate that there were seven or eight bodies in each train on arrival. One of them had managed to cut his throat somehow or other with a piece of barbed wire. In other cases they managed to strangle themselves with scarves or pieces of material twisted and fashioned into a rope. The others in the trucks could possibly have stopped this happening, but they probably thought, 'if there's someone wants to kill himself, maybe that's the best way out.'"


"The prisoners were treated coarsely but not brutally, at least not in Baker's presence. 'They were pushed and shoved, but there was no resistance, no fighting or trying to get back or away. They were all completely docile, resigned to their fate.' The soldiers collected them all quickly into groups and marched them away. Baker says, 'some of them didn't get very far, I'm afraid. At the back of the station there was a wood, a copse, and they seemed to be marched behind this copse.

"Shortly afterwards there were quite a number of sustained bursts of machine-gun fire. I can't say for certain what happened, because I couldn't see the shooting, but I am pretty sure that a lot of them were shot there and then, not on the siding itself but just around at the back of the wood'."

The Reverend Kenneth Tyson, the battalion's padre described how,

"many soldiers had been to see him in the previous forty-eight hours, gravely disturbed at the thought that they had used such violence against women and children, and that they had sent thousands of harmless people to their deaths."

"An Austrian railway official ran up to me and asked me to come and take a look at the train. I went into one of the carriages and found the place a total shambles. The whole train was bespattered with blood. They were open plan carriages and I remember the bloodstains where bodies had been dragged right down the corridor between the seats and down three or four steps. The lavatories were absolutely covered with blood and it looked as if people had locked themselves in, presumably to commit suicide."

"Owen Frampton, a British officer spoke to some of the soldiers who had been guarding the train. 'Their story was that the train was taken only a few hundred yards across the frontier before it was halted. A number of Cossacks, mainly officers, were then taken from the train and shot. We too heard that Cossacks had been breaking windowpanes and disemboweling themselves with splinters of broken glass. He says, 'After that I just walked off the job. I went to the Colonel and told him that I just couldn't carry on with it. He hauled me over the coals, but in the end he didn't take it any further'."


In describing the hunt for fugitive Cossack groups of civilians through the hills, Lieutenant C.J. Heather describes coming upon a group of about a hundred.

"They ran down a gully and into some undergrowth. We fired some shots into the undergrowth and shouted, 'Kommen sie hier.' This failed to bring a response. Heather then gave the harsh order to spray the whole area with bullets. This was done and the desired results were obtained because the fugitives (presumably the survivors) emerged with their hands raised. They were taken down the valley and put in a prison cage to await deportation eastwards.

Hunting civilian fugitives was too demanding:

"But the Cossacks had very little spirit left with which to make the best of their predicament. There were only five roads out of the valley and British units quickly blocked these. There was little chance of escape into the chaos of post-surrender Central Europe. They all knew that their friends and members of their families were already in Communist hands, so their morale was low, too low for them to endure a long period of survival in the open. Their wives and small children encumbered many of the men. They would never be able to dodge the patrols, and anyway their children needed proper food." - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell

".... they fell quite easily into the hands of the search parties.

Kenneth Tyson accompanied one such party and described what happened.

"They climbed several thousand feet up the Spitzkoffel mountain near Lienz and came upon a party of fifty, mostly old men and women, with a few younger women and children."

Tyson was amazed at the variety of equipment they had with them.

"Trunks, suitcases, bundles of bedding and crude camp equipment - to this day I wonder how they carried such weights, and where they got the strength to lift and climb no mean mountain. And it was chiefly the women who did so! I don't know how they did it, these old men and women, carrying quite enormous cases on their backs, old-fashioned black leather trunks.

"I helped one old woman coming down, and in a way I regret having offered to do so because I didn't think I was going to get down myself. It was the sheer weight of this thing. But she had been carrying two, and not downhill, but up a very steep climb. I suppose they were driven by sheer desperation." - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell


Another such patrol, consisting of two Red Army officers and four British soldiers, set off into the hills on horseback. Sergeant A. Kennedy who was in command described how they donned civilian clothes as a disguise, and found a group of Cossacks.

"The Cossacks ran off, leaving just a few, mainly women and children, who were too weak to move. One soldier spotted a Cossack in the distance, aimed his rifle at him, fired and saw him drop. Kennedy reported that, 'As the Cossack was not seen to rise again it was assumed that he had been killed.' - The Last Secret. Lord Bethell

On June 16th, Captain Duncan Miller commanded a convoy of three British and sixteen German trucks carrying 934 Cossacks. 'Strict precautions were taken to prevent any escapes. There were soldiers ahead with Sten guns in each truck and scout cars at the end of the convoy with machine-guns mounted. But no one tried to run away. Their will was broken and they were resigned to their fate. They reached the border at Judenburg that evening and McMillan was asked by Soviet officers to take the prisoners to Graz, deep inside the Soviet zone, where large numbers of Cossacks had already been taken.

They drove through the night and arrived at Graz about dawn. Macmillan remembers being guided to a small railway station where there was a barbed wire enclosure. We saw the Cossacks being unloaded from the trucks. First they were searched. All personal valuables, especially money and watches were taken from them, even the packets of food they had been give for the journey. Then they were marched away. No British soldier saw them again, and, as McMillan says, 'It didn't take much imagination to know what was going to happen to these people.'

Many British soldiers who were there have testified that they heard the rattle of machine-guns nearby just a few moments after the prisoners were removed. 'We thought that machine-gunning must be the finish of them. We thought they were just taken back there and slaughtered. That was our general view."


The soldiers described how the Russian soldiers then provided them with breakfast.

"The meal was a jolly occasion, with much talk of allied unity and many toasts were drunk in neat Vodka."

A few were killed by the guards during the journey and many others died through disease and general weakness brought about by terrible conditions. When anything like this happened it was the British whom the prisoners blamed as 'those responsible for our misery'. One survivor had written;

"I never once heard anyone cursing the Americans or any other the other allies. All our fury, hatred and threats were directed against the English."

In all, 50,000 Cossacks were handed over to the Soviets, another small tragedy in a series of far greater tragedies sweeping across post-war defeated Europe. The bitterness lives on in Yugoslavia today.

FOOTNOTE: Many of the Cossacks handed over were not part of any agreement, some were foreign nationals including at least one who had earned British decorations, were unwanted even by Stalin, and their deportation was strictly illegal. These 50,000 civilians who had surrendered to the British Army, were simply a problem to be disposed of. No less than eleven countries were similarly disposed of:


".... as the armies of the Third Reich pulled back, they desperately formed a line of resistance to hold all points in the east to keep Asiatic Russia out of Europe proper.

"It was Hitler's belief that Britain and the United States would recognize the threat posed to Europe by Communism, and he was keen to sign a separate peace treaty with the West and return eastern Europe  to self governing states. The Third Reich armies who fought and died to hold this 'Defend Europe' line died in vain. It had already been agreed that the West would abandon to Communism eleven European countries.

"As late as February 1945 Hitler sent a message to his emissary, Mihailovich, the Chetnik leader, to convey to the British his preparedness to hold on to all eastern territories, whatever the German losses. His only condition, that the United States and Britain would fill the vacuum with the full co-operation of the German armed forces. Britain and America refused, telling Mihailovich to make the offer to Russia instead." - Prince Michel Sturdza, Former Foreign Minister, Rumania. The Suicide of Europe


Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria Albania and Eastern Germany. .


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