Interest in Russia sparks exhibition extension

Our landmark exhibition is being refreshed and extended, thanks to exciting new discoveries, information and objects loaned by museum visitors.

Hostile Environment: the British in Russia 1918 to 1920 ran between June and December last year.  It covered the often overlooked Operations Syren and Elope, where thousands of British soldiers got sent to Russia after the November 1918 armistice, and found themselves fighting in the Russian Civil War.

The updated exhibition opens on Monday 20th January.

Such has been the interest, positive feedback, and contact from relatives of some of those who served, we have decided on a short extension to display all the newly found material.


“It’s the only exhibition in the UK marking this forgotten part of the First World War, and we are delighted to be able to extend it,” adds Lynda.

“Thanks to our extensive collection of personal archive material, including the diaries of two soldiers who served at the time, we have been able to tell the complex story of why British and allied soldiers were sent to Russia; a country in the grip of revolution and bitter civil war.

What has been astounding is the reaction to the exhibition. Not only has it been a real eye opener for museum visitors who have praised it for revealing a little known period of our history, but it has also generated new information and objects to display from people who have made contact with us entirely as a result of the exhibition. As a curator, that’s such an exciting thing to happen because it proves the museum is a living, ever evolving thing.

This exhibition really sparked the imagination, and brought something completely new to people who thought may have known what to expect from their visit, but ended up being surprised.”

Battling the elements, a determined enemy and unreliable allies, Hostile Environment reveals the hidden stories, including murder, mutiny, suffering and sacrifice of soldiers sent to Russia; 1300 of them from the Yorkshire Regiment. Twenty seven didn’t return.

One of the most popular parts of the original exhibition were the numerous ‘personnel files’ detailing the lives of the ordinary men; factory workers, builders, miners, gas workers and weavers, some of them already veterans of the Western Front who found themselves soldiering in extraordinary circumstances. The refreshed exhibition showcases even more of those stories.

George Fensome’s tragic story can now be told, thanks to his great niece making contact with the museum.

“We now have a link with the family of the last Yorkshire Regiment soldier to die in the First World War, thanks to a Facebook post put out by the local press in Bedfordshire, where he came from,” says The Green Howards Museum’s Director and Curator, Lynda Powell.

“George Fensome met a tragic end, but now we can tell his story more fully in this year’s version of the exhibition. The diaries of soldiers Stanley Harrison and Fred Neesam featured prominently in the 2019 exhibition, but now visitors can read a new diary, thanks to the links we’ve made with another soldier’s relatives. We’ve also been able to understand the impact their experiences had on them in civilian life, as well as laying some myths to rest through our family history research service, which has also provided material for the new-look exhibition.”

Hostile Environment: the British in Russia is on from Monday 20 January to Thursday 26 March 2020. Anyone who came to visit the original exhibition will be able to see the refreshed version free of charge, as admission to the museum allows unlimited repeat entry for 12 months.

Plan your visit.

Learn more about this forgotten part of history at our Museum Talk:  Thursday 30 January at 6.30pm.  Find out more and book your seat.