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Rescue of the Russian Royal Family - April 1919 #RoyalMarines

HMS Marlborough to the rescue

HMS Marlborough was a veteran of Jutland was an Iron Duke-class battleship, she had a crew of 995 officers and enlisted men; during wartime this increased to up to 1,022, which would have included over 100 Royal Marines.

Recommissioned at Devonport on 12th March 1919 and assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet, as part of the 4th Battle Squadron, along with her three sisters and two Centurion-class battleships. During this period, she served in the Black Sea during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War to support the Whites against the Red Bolsheviks.

On 5 April 1919, Marlborough arrived in Sevastopol before proceeding to Yalta the following day.

The ship took Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and other members of the former, deposed Russian Imperial Family including Grand Duke Nicholas and Prince Felix Yusupov aboard in Yalta on the evening of the 7th.

The Empress refused to leave unless the British also evacuated wounded and sick soldiers, along with any civilians that also wanted to escape the advancing Bolsheviks. The Russian entourage aboard Marlborough numbered some 80 people, including 44 members of the Royal Family and nobility, with a number of governesses, nurses, maids and manservants, plus several hundred cases of luggage.

About 35 officer’s cabins were vacated and additional bunks were installed, with the Empress taking over the Captain's cabin. On the morning of 12 April the ship anchored off Halki Island, about 12 miles (19 km) from Constantinople, due to some uncertainty over the final destination for the former Russian Royal family.

On 16 April Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich and his wife the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the Grand Duke Peter Nicholaievitch and his wife Grand Duchess Milica, Princess Marina, Prince Roman, Count and Countess Tyszkiewich, Baron and Baroness Staal, Mr Boldyreff and Dr Malama with their respective servants left the ship and boarded HMS Lord Nelson destined for Genoa. They were replaced by Count Dimitri and Countess Sophia Mengden, Count George and Countess Irina Mengden, Countess Vera Mengden, Count Nicholas Mengden, Madame Helena Erchoff and two maids.

On the morning of 18 April, Good Friday, the ship sailed for Malta. The ship departed on 18 April, bound for Malta to deposit the Russians, before returning to Constantinople.

A Royal Marines Story

Eager to leave home and serve his country, George Gravestock told the enlistment officer that he was over 18 years old when he joined the Royal Marines in April 1915. In reality, George was only 27 days past his 16th birthday. Still a boy, George’s medical records show that he grew 4 inches taller over the course of the war.

Serving in Belgium, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea, his most exciting episode was his time on the HMS Marlborough in April 1919. Less than a year after the execution of his cousin Tsar Nicholas II, King George VI agreed to grant refuge to the surviving Russian royal family. The ship was tasked with the evacuation of 17 Russian royals – including the late Tsar’s mother, sister, aunt, cousins, and grandchildren – from Yalta in Crimea to the British naval base in Malta. During the rescue operation, George patrolled the grounds of the Dulber royal palace at Koreiz on the Black Sea.

Thinking of his girlfriend Ethel at home, he cut a rose from the royal gardens, which he would later send to her.

On the journey to Malta, the crew of the Marlborough did their best to lift the spirits of the Russian royals, including the Dowager Empress Marie, who was the sister of the Queen Mother, Alexandra. At Easter, the Marines painted Easter eggs for the Romanov children and played with the royal dogs.

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