Slice of history: Silverton resident writes book on Allied involvement in Russian Civil War

January 2022 Posted in Arts, Culture & History

By James Day

Silverton resident Lee Mercer has published a novel about a little-known piece of World War I-era military history.

Lee Mercer on a research trip to the Russian village of Tulgas in 2014.

Along with their French, British, Australian and American allies, Canadian troops fought on the side of the White Russians against the Red Bolsheviks from 1918-19.

In The Archangel Invasion, Mercer tells the story of Canadian Ammon Freeman, who is loosely based on his grandfather, Ammon Mercer, who was wounded at Vimy Ridge in World War I. 

Freeman, unlike his real-life namesake,  moves on from WWI to battle with the Bolsheviks, with hostilities breaking out before the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.

Lee Mercer and his wife, Laurie Chadwick, took a trip in 2014 to Archangel, Russia, and, along with expert Russian guides, toured battlefields, historic sites, trenches, blockhouses and a prisoner of war camp that had been managed by the French for Bolshevik prisoners. 

“The Soviets had turned it into a historical monument to the memory of the prisoners there, and we walked through the barracks surrounded by barbed wire and saw photos of many of the young Bolshevik prisoners,” Mercer said.

Mercer also noted while hiking where the Allied troops fought in the snow in 45 degree below weather “how terrifying the winter of 1918-19 must have been.”

From his research, Mercer notes that Winston Churchill was “convinced that, with enough troops, the Allies could support a victory by the Whites versus the Reds in the civil war. One book I recently finished made a pretty convincing argument on how history would have been altered if the Allies had actually defeated the Bolsheviks. 

“But many of the books, some written by the U.S. and other veterans themselves, explored the experiences of young soldiers who, not really understanding why they were there, did their duty, and returned to tell the tale. Before the intervention was over though, U.S., White Russian, French and British troops had taken their turn in various mutinies and protests against the war.” 

Mercer said that he chose the fictional approach to the material because “there is a plethora of non-fiction books on the Allied intervention in Russia. I wanted to take a fiction point-of-view to add some spiritual and dramatic elements to the story. Almost all the rest of the characters and events in the book are actual historic individuals and events.”

Mercer also used the writing of the book as opportunity to honor family members. His grandfather, after being wounded at Vimy Ridge in 1917 “spent the rest of the war in hospitals in England. In the book, I have him recover and join the Canadian Artillery and serve in North Russia.”

Ammon Mercer named his next son Marne Leroy Mercer. Marne for the famed 1914 WWI battle and Leroy for Leroy Harris, a friend who was killed at Vimy Ridge.

Lee Mercer also is named Marne Leroy Mercer.

The book is available on Amazon. Mercer said he plans to donate the proceeds to efforts to bring about universal health care in Oregon.

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