ESQUIMALT, British Columbia -- Siberia is a long way from Tulameen, British Columbia, but a little part of Russia will always be Canadian. After nearly 70 years of neglect, the small Commonwealth cemetery in the Russian Pacific Ocean port of Vladivostok will get some much-needed attention from the visiting Canadian Navy. 'He sure was a good looking man,' Myra Brewer says of her uncle, Private James Floran Manion. 'I've got a picture of him in his full uniform. I've also got a picture of the grave with flowers on it, sent to my grandfather just after James died in 1918.' Manion was from Tulameen and only 19 years old when he died as member of the almost forgotten and ill-fated Siberian Expeditionary Force. The men were sent to Russia in 1918 just after that country surrendered to the Germans in the World War I. The SEF was to guard Allied equipment against capture by Germans and also by Communist Russians who were sweeping across the country, soon to become part of the Soviet Union. 'The cemetery has been neglected for years probably because the soldiers buried there actually fought against the communists,' Navy spokeswoman Lt. Denise LaViolette said. A four-ship task group will leave Esquimalt on Vancouver Island on Monday, March 18, for a two-month deployment including a visit to the formerly off-limits Russian city still home to the Russian Pacific Fleet. HMCS Protecteur, a 168-meter supply ship built in 1969, will carry 37 military headstones for Commonwealth soldiers, including 15 Canadians, who died in Vladivostok in 1918-19.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Commonwealth War Graves Commission office in Ottawa asked the task group to help by taking over several grave markers. But LaViolette offered to go one better. 'We are taking cement, wheel barrows, rakes, wood, everything we'll need to fix up the cemetery,' LaViolette said. 'All the work is being done on a volunteer basis by 120 Navy presonnel, in their spare time while in port. We even had to turn people away, we had such a good response,' LaViolette said. Workers will have to map out the cemetery to identify where people are buried. They will also erect a memorial to 13 war dead whose bodies were never found. Navy personnel often visit Commonwealth cemeteries when in other countries. HMCS Protecteur will arrive in Vladivostok in mid-April. LaViolette believes this is only the second time since the end of World War II that Canadian ships have visited Vladivostok. The first time was in 1990, just after the fall of communism. Other ships in the task group include HMCS Regina and Winnipeg, two of Canada's newest frigates built in the past two years, and HMCS Algonquin, a Tribal-class destroyer. The main task group will visit Japan, Vladivostok and Korea. After Japan HMCS Regina alone will visit Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines. On the way home the four-ship task group will stop in Hawaii for the RIMPAC '96 exercise, involving the navies of Pacific rim countries Canada, Russia, the United States, Japan, Korea and Australia.