Winston Churchill

Fighting for and against Russia

In March 2022 there is a war raging in Europe, though Vladimir Putin denies that Russian forces have invaded Ukraine and are instead engaged in a ‘special military operation’. He also justifies his peacekeeping mission by saying that Ukraine is not a real country but a historical part of Russia. Russian spokesmen have also threatened Finland and Sweden with ‘military and political consequences’ if they were to join NATO. As anyone with the briefest knowledge of history knows that borders have shifted as Empires wax and wane. The Ottoman Empire used to rule parts of Ukraine but no one seems to be suggesting that Turkey should still control these. These border shifts apply equally to countries such as Sweden and Finland. Indeed the relationship between Russia Sweden and Finland is an interesting one and curiously impacted on members of the Parker expedition.

Finland was once ruled by Sweden and this status only changed during the Napoleonic Wars. Russia initially joined the alliance of European monarchs opposed to Napoleon. However, after a series of disastrous military defeats by the French celebrated in streets names and stations across France Tsar Alexander I made peace with Napoleon at Tilsit and switched sides

Tsar Alexander used the peace with France to try and make gains for Russia. He pressured Sweden to switch sides and join the alliance against Britain but when they refused Russia attacked Sweden and the two countries fought a war between 1808 and 1809. The end result of the war was the loss of Finland for Sweden and the creation of the Grand Duchy of Finland as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. It stayed that way for a century.

The events which changed it were the seminal early events of the 20th century, namely the First World War and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. So when the Parker Expedition took place the Finns on it came from within the Russian Empire. They were Valter Juvelius and Pertti Uotila.

The expedition fizzled out shortly before the First World War and the decision of the Ottoman Empire to side with Germany and so against Russia and Britain made all the members of the expedition enemies of the rulers of Jerusalem. Most of the members of the expedition also joined up to fight in the war. In the case of Pertti Uotila this was for Russia against Germany.

Pertti Uotila (front) in the uniform of a Pihkova/Pskov Dragoon officer

He went to St Petersburg and trained at the famous Nikolai Cavalry College. On graduation he became an officer in the Pihkova/Pskov Dragoons in the Russian Imperial Cavalry and fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious.

Pertti Uotila in Finnish cavalry officer’s uniform

After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the Heimosodatot or Tribal Wars. The British opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported those fighting against it. They landed a force in Murmansk in Northern Russia to help in the fight. Winston Churchill said the policy was ‘to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State’. Many groups including the Germans were fighting here and their identity was not always clear.

Uotila’s friendship with the Old Etonians, made in the heat of Jerusalem, now proved crucial in the cold of the Artic Circle. The British did not want any weapons they provided to local forces to reach either Bolsheviks or the Germans, so they were initially suspicious of a group of Finns fighting in German-supplied uniforms. Out of these strange-looking soldiers stepped Uotila to help sort matters out. He negotiated with the Royal Navy officers and convinced them that they should supply his Finnish forces with arms and munitions. His connections to the British establishment were vital in persuading the Royal Navy officers they could trust him. One of the foremost proponents of Britain’s policy in Russia was Winston Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1918 he was minister of munitions. Pertti had spent time in Jerusalem with Gordon Wilson, who was married to Winston Churchill’s aunt.

These battles were not Uotila’s last fight with the Russians. After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two weeks later, the Soviets marched into Eastern Poland, as agreed with Germany. They also invaded Finland, and the two unequally matched nations fought the three-month Winter War. Uotila, now almost sixty, rejoined the Finnish Army. Despite the mismatch in sizes, the Finns were largely successful in defending their country against its much larger neighbour.

Finnish forces in the Winter War

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The connections to Russia

Pilgrims, pogroms a mad monk and the seceding Finns

The Grand Duchy of Finland

Several members of the expedition were Finns and at the time of the expedition Finland was part of the Russian Empire.

Sweden were the rulers of Finland until the start of the 19th century. During the Napoleonic Wars, Russia initially fought against Napoleon. However, after a series of crushing defeats, celebrated in street names and stations across Paris, Russia swapped sides. Russia then demanded that Sweden do the same and ally with them against England. When Sweden refused, Russia declared war and captured Finland. Finland became an autonomous province within the Russian Empire. However, Russian was never adopted as the primary language.

Valter Juvelius lived in Viipuri, a town which today is known as Vyborg, is close to Saint Petersburg and now part of the Russian Federation.

As Finland was part of the Russian Empire it was involved in the First World War against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empires. Pertti Uotila joined up and became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany.

1916 painting of Pertti Uotila and his brother

Pertti (front) is in the uniform of a Russian Pihkova lifeguard dragoon

Pogroms

The expedition arrived in Jerusalem at a time the city was expanding rapidly. Immigration drove most of this. There were many sources of this immigration, some came from other parts of the Ottoman Empire, but many were from outside and they came from all faiths. Certainly, Jewish immigration was a large driver. The Yemeni Jews were small in number, but they were joined by large groups driven by the same way as the Sephardim several hundred years before; persecution of Jews by Christian European monarchs. In the late-nineteenth century, the ruler was Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Chaim Weizmann described the results:

“I can remember the stampede — the frantic rush from the Russian prison house, the tremendous tide of migration which carried hundreds of thousands of Jews from their ancient homes to far-off lands across the seas. I was a witness in boyhood and early manhood of the emptying of whole villages and towns”

The vast majority of these migrants did not go to Jerusalem or the Holy Land. Between 1888 and 1914, two million Jews left Russia, and of this 85% went to the United States. However, some did come to the Holy Land. In this wave of immigration, between 1881 and 1903, which has become known as the First Aliyah, nearly 35,000 Jews arrived in Palestine.

Easter Pilgrims

As well as people who came to live in Jerusalem, there were the pilgrims who visited the city briefly. The biggest group of these were Russian pilgrims. Every year thousands of Russian Orthodox Christian pilgrims would flock to the city. They were mostly impoverished peasants who travelled from their village in the interior of Russia to the port of Odessa to embark for the Holy Land.

The Russian government subsidised the boats. They were often overcrowded and any poor weather led to seasickness and unbearable conditions. Once they arrived in the Holy Land, most of the pilgrims would walk from Jaffa to Jerusalem. They were filled with religious devotion and would visit multiple Christian sites in the Holy Land. They would return to Russia in possession of mementoes the pilgrims believed would help ease their path to heaven. These could be shrouds washed in the river Jordan or measured against the stone where Jesus’ body was supposedly washed after his crucifixion. They would also return to Russia with earth from the Holy Land, which would be put in their coffin when they died.

The mass of pilgrims was a tremendous economic benefit for the city. Beggars flocked to Jerusalem during the annual Russian pilgrimage and disappeared again when the last boat has gone home. This influx was even though the Russian peasants were poor themselves. Candlemakers, icon painters, shroud makers and olive wood trinket-makers worked all year round to meet the demand at Easter. Not all returned to Russia. Some died in Jerusalem, happy in the belief that this would also speed their passage to heaven. Others fell victim to the temptations of the city. Rasputin, who performed the same pilgrimage in 1911, and who knew more than most about temptation, said that nuns should not go to Jerusalem ‘so huge is the seduction, so envious the enemy’. Many sadly ended up in poverty or prostitution.

Rasputin

After the members of the Parker expedition were discovered digging in the Dome of the Rock riots broke out and wild rumours flew around. One of these was that the Russian pilgrims had been armed and planned to massacre the city’s Muslims. At the same time after one day of disturbance troops sealed off the Russian Compound in order to ensure that there was no violence against the Russian pilgrims.

Finnish Independence

In 1917 following disastrous battlefield losses Russia experienced two revolutions. The second one brought the Bolsheviks to power and ended Russian involvement in the First World War. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Pertti Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious.

After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars. The British opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported those fighting against it. They landed a force in Murmansk in Northern Russia to help in the fight. Winston Churchill said the policy was ‘to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State’. Many groups were fighting here and their identity was not always clear. Uotila’s friendship with the Old Etonians, made in the heat of Jerusalem, now proved crucial in the cold of the Arctic Circle. The British did not want any weapons they provided to local forces to reach either Bolsheviks or the Germans, so they were initially suspicious of a group of Finns fighting in German-supplied uniforms. Out of these strange-looking soldiers stepped Uotila to help sort matters out. He negotiated with the Royal Navy officers and convinced them that they should supply his Finnish forces with arms and munitions. His connections to the British establishment were vital in persuading the Royal Navy officers they could trust him. One of the foremost proponents of Britain’s policy in Russia was Winston Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1918 he was minister of munitions. Pertti had spent time in Jerusalem with Gordon Wilson, who was married to Winston Churchill’s aunt. This was not Uotila’s last fight with the Russians. After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two weeks later, the Soviets marched into Eastern Poland, as agreed with Germany. They also invaded Finland, and the two unequally matched nations fought the three-month Winter War. Uotila, now almost sixty, rejoined the Finnish Army. Despite the mismatch, the Finns were largely successful in defending their country.

Pertti Uotila

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Winston Churchill’s connections to the Parker expedition

Winston Churchill had close connections to several members of the Parker expedition both by marriage and friendship.

The closest link was to Gordon Wilson who was part of the expedition between 1910 and 1911. Gordon married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill in 1891.  She was the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. One of her brothers was Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill. So she was Winston Churchill’s aunt.

At the time of the marriage, Winston was still at school and wrote to his mother asking for permission to attend the wedding. He had fun at the wedding and afterwards wrote to ‘Mamma’ saying that he regretted having to leave the wedding early as he was “making an impression on the pretty Miss Weaslet”.

Although she was his aunt, there was only a nine years age difference between the two of them and they knew each other well.  Winston met the couple regularly and became friends with Gordon and other members of the Wilson family. Gordon had already become famous when he was at Eton. He helped thwart an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Gordon was born in 1865 in Wimmera in Victoria in Australia. He was the eldest son of Sir Samuel Wilson, who had made one of the greatest fortunes ever in Australia. In 1881 Sir Samuel brought his family back to the United Kingdom and sent Gordon to Eton. In 1882 Queen Victoria was travelling between Windsor railway station and Windsor Castle when a lunatic named Roderick Maclean aimed a pistol at the Queen. There were many Eton College boys in the crowd and Gordon Wilson happened to be standing near the attacker. He heard Maclean fire a shot and looked round to see Maclean with his right arm raised to fire again. Gordon and another schoolboy called Leslie Murray Robertson tackled him. Gordon grabbed Maclean by the arm and hit him over the head with his umbrella. Murray Robertson grabbed Maclean as did Police Superintendent Hayes. Wilson and Murray Robertson helped to overpower Maclean and were later presented to a grateful Queen at Windsor Castle.

Newspaper image of the assassination attempt

Perhaps helped by his fame in saving Queen Victoria and certainly helped by his father’s fortune Gordon married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill in 1891. The wedding was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by the Prince of Wales and a host of English aristocracy. It was a match that suited both families. Lady Sarah was an acerbic and challenging character. The Churchill family worried about her marriage prospects and the difficulty of ‘finding any sort of husband’ for her. They were much relieved when Sarah became engaged to Gordon Wilson and the prospect of her being ‘settled down and well off’. For the Wilsons the match continued their progress up the social ladder. It connected them with one of the most famous aristocratic families in the country.

Winston Churchill helped make his name in South Africa during the Second Boer War. He was in South Africa writing for the Morning Post newspaper and was captured by and escaped from the Boers. Lady Sarah and Gordon were both in South Africa during the war. Gordon Wilson was appointed as aide-de-camp to Colonel Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell was in Mafeking. Lady Sarah remained in the town with her husband. In the early days of the war the Boers pushed back the British. They besieged British forces in Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. Gordon pressed his wife to leave and head to safety away from the fighting. She did eventually leave the town. However, Sarah did not go far and, together with her maid, stayed in a Boer-dominated area close to Mafeking on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. When food ran low, Sarah moved. She did not hide from the Boers and travelled to see the wreck of an armoured train the Boers had attacked.

Lady Sarah Wilson

While she was staying close to Mafeking Lady Sarah would see members of the press passing who were bringing information to and from the besieged town. One of these was a Reuters correspondent who used carrier pigeons. One of these pigeons carried a message mentioning Lady Sarah which the Boers shot. They read the message and they captured Lady Sarah. After negotiation she headed back to join her husband in the besieged town. Back in Mafeking, she found out that the Boers had captured the Daily Mail correspondent. Alfred Harmsworth, the newspaper’s owner, asked Lady Sarah to replace him and she agreed to send the newspaper reports of the siege. Together with Baden-Powell’s inventive and successful defence of the town her reporting made headlines across the Empire.

After the end of the siege Lady Sarah travelled with another officer’s wife to Pretoria where they found the city full. She tried the Grand Hotel and was initially told that the hotel was full but then was told that there was an officer leaving shortly. Lady Sarah was told

‘the gentleman occupying it was packing up his belongings preparatory to his departure. Great was my surprise at discovering in the khaki-clad figure, thus unceremoniously disturbed in the occupation of stowing away papers, clothes, and campaigning kit generally, no less a personage than my nephew, Winston Churchill, who had experienced such thrilling adventures during the war, the accounts of which had reached us even in far-away Mafeking.’

In the years before the Parker expedition, Winston socialised with the Wilsons. In October 1904 he wrote to a close friend.

‘I dined last night with Gordon and Sarah and we had a good old yap. Sarah’s tongue is becoming even more vicious than it used to be but I was amused.’

The friendship was so close that when Winston that in 1907 when Winston was Under-Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, he undertook a five-month trip to Africa accompanied by Gordon Wilson. They travelled thousands of miles following the Nile’s course through lands that were then coloured pink on maps but are now Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. They then returned by steamer from Mombasa. While he was in Africa, Winston wrote to King Edward VII. He said how pleasant it was to have Wilson with him ‘for he is an excellent traveller never not of spirits or tired or bored or vexed whatever may hap(pen).”

Gordon Wilson front row left, Winston Churchill seated next to him

The friendship extended to other members of the Wilson family. Winston Churchill lived at a flat in 105 Mount Street in Mayfair in London between 1900 and 1905. This is the same address recorded as Clarence Wilson’s residence on the shareholder documents for J.M.P.F.W.Ltd. I do not know when Clarence Wilson moved into 105 Mount Street but it is possible that he and Winston Churchill were neighbours. Clarence certainly knew Winston well enough to sent a wedding gift to him and Clementine on their marriage in 1908.

There is nothing in the archives that I have found which proves Winston Churchill talked to Gordon or Clarence about the expedition but given their closeness it is hard to imagine that they did not. Jerusalem, Palestine and a possible Jewish state was a topic that interested Churchill. In 1904 he had opposed the Conservative Aliens Bill which sought to limit Jewish immigration into the United Kingdom following the pogroms in Russia and Poland. He said the Bill which the Conservative government had introduced was

‘expected to appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners, to racial prejudice against Jews, and to Labour prejudice against competition; and it will no doubt supply a variety of rhetorical phrases for the approaching election.’  

He also wrote private letters in 1906 and 1908 expressing sympathy for the ‘a safe and settled home under the flag of tolerance and freedom’ and ‘that Jerusalem must be the ultimate goal’.

The expedition was extremely successful in gaining agreement from the Ottoman Imperial government to undertake the expedition and dig close in Jerusalem. There have been many explanations given for this. One is simple bribery. It is almost certain that they bribed Ottoman ministers. The accounts of the expedition show a disproportionate cost to secure the concession. Another explanation which is very plausible is that the Ottoman authorities believed that the gains of the expedition would help pay off a great deal of their debt. The Ottoman government had significant financial problems and a 50% share of the proceeds of the expedition would go a long way to do this. Members of the expedition valued the Ark and the other Temple treasures at £40 million which is the equivalent of £4.5 billion in 2021. This would have been very welcome to the Ottoman government. Another way that Montagu Parker gained the agreement of the Ottoman government was to emphasise and perhaps even exaggerate his establishment connections. Parker’s father had been a government minister and his brother sat in the House of Lords. However, many newspapers said that he was related to Lord Morley a government minister, which is not true. At the time that Parker was negotiating with the Ottoman government Winston Churchill was a member of the British cabinet. He was appointed as President of the Board of Trade in 1908. In 1910 he was appointed to one of the great offices of state Home Secretary. He held these posts when Gordon and Clarence Wilson were digging in the Dome of the Rock. There is no proof that the expedition used this connection, but on the other hand, it is hard to imagine that they would not have used them.

A few months after Gordon returned from Jerusalem he was promoted to command of the Royal Horse Guards. When Gordon died in action in November 1914 Winston attended the Memorial Service in Mayfair and also wrote to Lady Sarah. He wrote that Gordon’s death is ‘the end of the world’. He wrote

‘It is much better for a soldier to die this way than any other – in this greatest of all wars – in command of the Royal Horse Guards on a glorious field. I am so deeply grieved – and for your sorrow I cannot find words.’

In her reply, Lady Sarah wrote to Winston how ‘that trip in E(ast) Africa you took together was always one of his (Gordon’s) happiest recollections.

One final connection of Winston Churchill to the expedition was a visit to Saltram, the Parker family seat in 1950. Montagu Parker became the 5th Earl of Morley a year later. In 1950 Churchill was the leader of the Opposition and held an election rally called ‘The Plymouth Fair’ He spoke at the rally and it is safe to say that it was not one of Churchill’s greatest speeches though he did talk about the dangerous situation around the Korean War. The rally, though well-attended, was a bit of a damp squib. As the video shows it was a very rainy July day in South West England.

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The connections to Australia

One of the richest families in Australia

The Wilson family was the largest source of funds for the Parker expedition. By the end of the expedition they had invested over 40% of the capital invested in the venture. This money came from a fortune made in sheep farming in Australia.

Samuel Wilson, was born in County Antrim in Ireland. He was the sixth son of a farmer. In 1838, when criminals were still being transported, two of Samuel’s elder brothers emigrated to Australia. The brothers had read about the healthy climate and opportunities in the new colony for settlers with capital. Despite stiff opposition from their parents, the brothers sailed to Australia. A third brother joined them a few years later and together they bought a farm north of Melbourne. Samuel Wilson was still a child at this point but when he was 22 he sailed to Australia at the height of the Australian gold rush. He initially worked on the goldfields around Ballarat but soon joined his brothers in farming. They prospered and by 1874 Samuel Wilson farmed almost 3 million acres of land, owned about 600,000 sheep and had built a fortune. In 1875 he bought Ercildoune farmstead near Ballarat and made it into one of the most important and (now) historic farmsteads in Victoria. He also owned the Yanko farms in New South Wales.

He had four sons who were all born in Victoria Australia: Gordon, Wilfred, Herbert and Clarence. He also had several daughters, two of whom survived to adulthood.

Samuel was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1875 and a few years later brought his family back to the northern hemisphere to England. He rented Hughenden Manor, once the home of Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister and sent all four sons to Eton.

Gordon made his name at Eton where he helped stop an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. He later joined the army and married Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. One of her brothers was Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill. It was not just the sons who married well. Clarence’s sister Maud married the 15th Earl of Huntingdon who claimed descent from Robin Hood.

All four sons volunteered for service in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Gordon served with Colonel Baden-Powell at the siege of Mafeking. Lady Sarah remained with him for much of the siege.

Clarence was wounded twice in early 1900. The second time so severely that he was invalided back from South Africa. In February 1901 his brother Wilfred was mortally wounded in an attack on Boer positions at Hartebeestfontein in the Transvaal. There is a stained glass window in memory of him in All Saints Church in Learmonth in Victoria paid for by his brothers. Herbert Wilson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry.

All brothers were accomplished horsemen. Herbert, or Bertie as he was commonly known, was considered to be one of the finest polo players of his age. He was a member of the team which won a gold medal in polo at the 1908 Olympics in London.

Clarence Wilson was a part of the expedition throughout and the singest biggest investor in the expedition. He also provided the transport for the expedition to get to and from Palestine. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the expedition used two of his steam yachts, the Water Lily and the Dorothy. He persuaded his brother Gordon to join him in Jerusalem from late 1910 to April 1911.

Other geographical connections

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