— The Russian Regiment (SVC) ~ 1927-1929

SVCbadgeFormed in 1853, the Shanghai Volunteer Corps (SVC) was originally called «The British Local Volunteer Corps» and their first taste of battle was in 1854, when they took part in the Battle of Muddy Flat, which happened on the site of the future race course.  You can download a pdf which is all about the Battle of Muddy Flat HERE.

The SVC was disbanded the next year, in 1855, but re-established 6 years later.

Review of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps parade at the Race Course

Review of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps parade at the Race Course

In 1870 the Shanghai Municipal Council took over the running of the SVC . Prior to 1914 some of the national contingents wore distinctive parade uniforms at their own expense, modelled on those of their respective national armies.

The unit was mobilised in 1900 for the Boxer Rebellion and in 1914 for the First World War. In 1916 the British recruited Chinese to serve in the Chinese Labour Corps for service in rear areas on the Western Front to free troops for front line duty. Many members of the SVC served as officers in the CLC.

At various times during its history the Shanghai Volunteer Corps included Scottish, American, Chinese, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, Danish, German, Filipino, Jewish, Portuguese, Japanese, White Russian and Eurasian companies, amongst others. British War Office supplied weapons and a commanding officer.  The German and the Austro-Hungarian companies were disbanded in 1917 when China declared war on Germany.
[Source Wikipedia]

Prior to 1870 the SVC was funded by private subscription but once the Municipal Council took over, they prepared a budget for its operation.

The SVC was divided into three parts – artillery, mounted rangers and infantry – and from 1903 the Corps trained under and were commanded by British officers.

In January 1927 General Glebov formed the Russian unit made up of 150 men, which was under the command of Captain 1st Rank Nicholas G Fomin for the first 3 months, before Captain Thieme took over.  Having so many ex-Tsarist officers, they didn’t have to worry about training the men.

The Russian Regiment of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps

The Russian Regiment of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps

The Russians were divided into two companies and supported by a platoon equipped with four Lewis machine guns.  In 1928 these two companies were merged and became the Russian Detachment of the SVC.

For the next few years, Shanghai enjoyed relative calm and the Russian units served in a peacetime capacity as support for the Shanghai Municipal Police. Russian staff guarded the Ward Road Jail, Rifle Range and Alcock Road Barracks. They formed colourful and impressive guards of honor for the dignitaries.  When the Japanese attached Chinese Shanghai in 1932, the three Russian companies mobilized as the SVC’s Russian Detachment. Numbering 19 officers and 435 other ranks, the units served under the command of Captain Thieme.  Adding a fourth company, the combined units became the “C Battalion, Russian.”

The Russians on their horses

The Russians on their horses (Click to enlarge)

The Russian units did not operate with the same autonomy as other national units in the SVC, however, but worked under the supervision of an “advisor.”  A major’s billet existed for a regular British officer to serve as “Advisor to the Russian Regiment (C Battalion, Russian).”  In addition, the Russian units were alone in being paid for the services in the SVC. This placed them in the category of paid help rather than volunteers. Still, without this salary, many would have become destitute or would have had to compete with other Russians for scarce positions as bodyguards for rich Chinese or foreigners, bank guards, watchmen, nightclub bouncers, and in other similar forms of employment. Thus, the arrangement amounted to a trade-off: the Russians performed duties for which they were qualified and compensated, and the Shanghai authorities, particularly the British, were able to employ refugees with military backgrounds in useful and largely civilian tasks. Maintaining the experienced Russian Regiment was costly, however.  In 1931, the cost of upkeep for the other unpaid all-volunteer units amounted to 212,170 taels, but expenses for the Russian Regiment alone were 228,680.

The Russian Regiment of the SVC

The Russian Regiment of the SVC (Click to enlarge)

Whatever the special requirement, Russian members of the SVC were able to wear a uniform again and to perform duties at which they had real experience. The constant praise and frequent honors that the Russian units received for their drill formations and other military skills must have helped salve the wounds to their pride inflicted in Shanghai.

Suggestive of the confusion that the meld of nationalities and complex political allegiances in Shanghai often evoked, a British military dignitary visiting from Hong Kong, after reviewing the Russian troops, congratulated the Soviet consul in Shanghai on the fine turnout and polished military style of the Russian Regiment of the SVC.

Gratitude, pride, and honor all found clear expression in the pledge that the Russian officers developed for their regiment:

Under the National Three-Coloured Standard, be a Great Russian Soldier, observe the foreign law that protects you, respect the authorities that care for you and serve faithfully for the glory of your regiment and for the good of the community that you are called upon to protect. Develop a sacred love for your Colours, pay them their due respect, and forever guard their inviolability.

The flag for the Russian Regiment

The flag for the Russian Regiment (Click to enlarge)

The colours referred to were those awarded by “Special Order” of Colonel N W Thomas, the British commandant of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps from 1931-1934, which stated: “A Regimental Colour is hereby authorised to be carried by the Shanghai Russian Regiment … consisting of horizontal strips of even width of White, Blue and Red, superimposed by a Badge bearing an eight-pointed Star in gold within which is … inscribed the words: “Shanghai Russian Regiment”.  These colors were consecrated in what was described as a moving ceremony involving the Trooping of the Colours of the Russian Regiment on April 3, 1932. This granting of colors to the Russian Regiment constituted an unprecedented honor in its members’ experiences in Shanghai as stateless refugee soldiers.  Rather than suffering the embarrassment of serving in public military formations and drills flying the old Russian flag with the image of defeat in it it conveyed to onlookers, the regiment could now display a banner that it had helped design.

In addition to new colors, the Russian Regiment had its own chapel, complete with richly decorated wall panels, icons, and other sacred objects. Occasionally, religious services were held outside on the parade ground, with Bishop Ioann Mikhail Maksimovich, vicar of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Shanghai (later canonized as Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco), giving his blessing to the troops and conducting services.

Bishop Ioann

Bishop Ioann (Click to enlarge)

Because so many of the Russian refugees came from military backgrounds, service in the SVC was much sought after, and life as a member offered a sense of belonging and purpose.  The regiment had its own museum, where memorable objects from days in Russia were placed on view. A library brought members together for periods of relaxation, as did the canteen, where they gathered for meals.  The regiment formed an active sporting association, whose athletes became prominent in several sports. Finally, the regiment even had its own string band, which entertained nostalgic Russians with its renditions of traditional Russian folk songs and music.

Throughout its existence, members of the SVC’s Russian Regiment often performed police duties. Some joined the Shanghai Municipal Police, in which a few eventually rose to become officers. The Police Reserve Unit, a specially created riot squad, initially recruited men of proven reliability from the Russian Regiment, although it later relied upon direct hires. Many others worked at more pedestrian tasks, as drivers, cooks, telephone operators, orderlies, and storemen.  Fortunately for them, their overall early military training and provided them with skills applicable to both military and police work.  Inasmuch as these Russians were often regarded with disdain, not only by senior British officers, but even by the British rank and file, perhaps the most important thing about service in the regiment was that it provided comradeship and a sense of purpose.
[Source: “Port of Last Resort, The Diaspora Communities of Shanghai”, by Marcia Reynders Ristaino. Pages 59-62]

The regiment was guided by the military statutes of Tsarist Russia; the Russians who joined had to sign a 13 month contract and could be dismissed for misconduct, dereliction of duty and going AWOL.

Lyov applied to join the Russian Auxiliary Detachment of the Shanghai Municipal Police in 1941 and he was accepted.  This photo shows the last parade of the Russian Regiment, SVC, before it became amalgamated with the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP).



Translation of the back of the photo:

“A general view of the last parade as Russian Regiment S.V.C.”

[Kindly translated by Inna Donaldson]

Lyov must have sent those photos to his mother, who was living in Hong Kong at the time, and that now makes total sense!



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Russian Regiment of the SVC

Photos of the Russian Regiment in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps

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Video showing the Russian Regiment of the SVC on parade …





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