Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Odessa to Vancouver the Long Way via Vladivostok

William Warm (1909-2007), the husband of my second cousin once removed had one of the most interesting life stories I have yet discovered. Sit back and buckle your seatbelts, it will be a wild ride -- not everyone you meet steals a train!

William Warm's life travels
He was born on 13 Dec 1909 in Millirowa near Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine). In Nov 1914, Russian soldiers stormed into town and led all able-bodied men away, including William's father, John. The men were conscripted into the army and served as soldiers or paramedics.

Not long after the men were taken, the Russian soldiers returned in the middle of the night and rounded up all the women and children. They were jammed into cattle cars and traveled east by train. Then they disembarked and were loaded onto sleighs and continued east in sleigh convoys until they finally arrived in Vladivostok, Russia. Many died along the way. The Warms, however, were reunited with their father. The family were prisoners in Vladivostok unil May 1917 where they cut timber for the Russian Army.

When the Russian Revolution came to Vladivostok, Russian army discipline broke down and the prisoners were able to get a train together with the help of German soldiers. Five families organized the effort and ran the train with a couple hundred people onboard, including the Warms. When they ran into warfare, they would back up the train and wait until the coast was clear. It took three months for the train to get to Moscow.

Under the jurisdiction of the Red Cross, the Warm family was sent to Koenigsburg, East Prussia, which was still under German countrol.  They were cleaned up, deloused and given clean, warm clothing. Later they were sent on to Gdansk, Poland.  John Warm, William's father, was conscripted into the German army and sent to the Western front. When the war was over, he returned to his family in Gdansk. John served in both the Russian and German armies during World War I.

The Warm family lived in Gdansk until 1924 when it was declared a free city and the Germans were kicked out. The family then moved to Berlin. In 1927, they traveled to Bremen, Germany, along with twelve other families and boarded the S/S Seydlitz bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

North German Lloyd Line's S/S/ Seydlitz
They were met in Halifax on 27 Aug 1927 by Rev. Emil Wahl, a member of the German Baptist Church mission, who had arranged for the families' travel. They were transferred to the Canadian Pacific Railroad and traveled to Winnipeg, Canada.

Winnipeg, Manitoba, train station
Rev. Wahl learned that immediate help was needed to harvest a bumper grain crop in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. William joined the group that helped with the harvest and stayed until spring. In July 1930, he hopped onboard his one-speed Opel bicycle that he brought with him all the way from Berlin and headed to Vancouver. This trip alone is worth a separate post. In August 1930 he arrived in Vancouver and stayed with his uncle, Dave Janzten.

All this happened to William Warm before he was 21!

William and Norma (Grapentine) Warm and children about 1952
Photo courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa


  1. My goodness; what an early life William had! And then, once in Canada, to bike from the Prairies to Vancouver on the west coast! I want to hear that story one day :)

    1. Thanks for the reminder, Yvonne. I will have to finish the tale of the bike ride. It involves bears!