People often ask me, “Bob, what on earth happened to Russian men of conscription age who were living in Britain during the First World War?” My response is always the same; After the revolution in 1917, Russia withdrew from the war, which meant that any Russian men of a certain age living in Britain suddenly became eligible to serve in the British army. Previously, they could only serve their birth nation, even though Britain and Russia were allies. But, if they went on to serve with good conduct they could, at the end of their service, apply to become naturalised Britons with the added bonus of not having to pay the normal fee. It was an early form of “fast-tracking.”
I happen to know all this because I read about it in a blog about ‘friendly aliens in our fighting forces’ on the National Archives website;
The article goes on to give details of one particular Russian named Samuel Ostroi. He had served with the British Army as a Private in the Labour Corps and was demobbed in 1919 and became a naturalised Briton in 1920.
What’s the point of all this?
Well, when Di and I had finished putting Little Rock Cabin together and were fitting-out the interior, we were, at one point, looking for a suitable vessel in which to store the cabin cutlery. We always look for interesting bits & bobs to use or adapt in our cabins and make a good deal of it ourselves too, but the cutlery vessel had to perform a specific task. It would have to be robust enough to take metal objects being casually tossed into it and also be heavy enough not to fall off the shelf each time a fork or spoon were removed. And, if possible, be either attractive or odd in some way.
I realised we had just the thing! An old piece of First World War trench art in the form of a 4″ brass shell case that I’d found about 25 years ago in an old house that Di & I had bought to fix up. It bore the legend, “A souvenir from Vimy Ridge, 1918. Pte. S. Ostroi, 557089.” It polished up beautifully and proved to be perfect for the job, but it was my curiosity to know more about the man who’d made it that eventually led me to the blog on the National Archives website. Ostroi is an unusual name, so when I saw mention of a Samuel Ostroi in the search results, I wondered whether this could possibly be the same man. Amazingly it was! His military number confirmed it. Of all the examples that could have been used, the author of the blog had chosen the Case of Samuel Ostroi to illustrate this little known historical anomaly, and here it is, at Little Rock Cabin in France, the very same (shell)case of Samuel Ostroi.