FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Post Reply
User avatar
Stanley
Global Moderator
Global Moderator
Posts: 40598
Joined: 23 Jan 2012, 12:01
Location: Barnoldswick. Nearer to Heaven than Gloria.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Post by Stanley » 07 Mar 2014, 10:12

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

I can hear you saying “What’s he up to this week?” And you’re quite right, I’m flying off at a bit of a tangent but bear with me, this might interest some of you. It’s a credit to our editor that he allows me to write on anything that interests me and over the last eight years some of the ‘Stanley’s View’ articles have found their way into academic references, we are a publication of record. Another thing you know about me is that I love a good story, especially if they are obscure or unusual. I have such a story for you this week and I don’t think it has ever been made public before. We may have a scoop!

Many of you will have read Arthur Ransome’s wonderful children’s stories. Did you know that in his early days he was a foreign correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and spent a while reporting from Russia in revolutionary times? There have even been suggestions that he was also reporting to the British Secret Service. I knew about his time in Moscow and many years ago read ‘Old Peter’s Russian Tales’ and ‘Racundra’s First Cruise’ which described cruising in the Baltic. In First Cruise he refers to ‘The Cook’ whom I later found to be his Russian lover Evgenia Shelepina but as he didn’t marry her until his divorce in 1924 he kept her under wraps. This was as far as my knowledge went until I was having a conversation with a friend, John Robinson, himself a sailing and naval man and mentioned that I was reading First Cruise again. He told me a story…

In 1970 John started his distinguished curatorial career when he got a job at Liverpool Museum. ( He was to rise through the ranks and become a senior curator at the South Kensington Science Museum which is how I first met him.) In 1971 he was sent to Abbot Hall Museum in Kendal on secondment for a few weeks and it was while he was there that he took in an important collection of books and papers. A taxi and a van turned up one morning and he found he was dealing with Ransome’s widow, the former Evgenia Shelepina. John says “She retained a central European accent and was tall and impressive of stature.” Born in 1894 near St Petersburg she would be 77 at the time. For many years she and Arthur Ransome had lived at Hill Top near Haverthwaite at the bottom end of Windermere but when he died in June 1967 she sold up and after a brief spell in a home in Oxfordshire she moved into a house at Girton near Cambridge. John thinks that her visit coincided with one of her moves and the realisation that she didn’t want to move Arthur’s books and mementos to new storage, donation to the museum was a sensible move. All this is common knowledge, much has been written about Ransome because even today his books are still popular. However, while Evgenia was with John she told him a story and he pieced other parts together subsequently.

As far as we can tell, Arthur met Evgenia in Petrograd (St Petersburg) in December 1917 when he went to the local Kremlin to find the censor. He had written a dispatch, probably for the Manchester Guardian, and needed to get it approved before it could be telegraphed. Remember that we are in the immediate post-Revolution period in Russia and administrative systems were chaotic. Having experienced the early phases of the Revolution as a junior secretary with the Ministry of Trade & Industry, Evgenia had come to the conclusion that Bolshevism represented the best prospect of social justice for most Russians, the Bolsheviks were the Party most committed to making peace with Germany at that time. In her home town of Gatchina she had a friend Mara, who was secretary of the Bolshevik Party in the town, they collaborated in producing a testimonial documenting Evgenia as ‘Delegated by the Gatchina Party of Bolsheviks to the Ministry of Labour’ where Evgenia knew there were jobs to be had. John was given more information in 1999 from Greg Palmer a fellow yachtsman when his widow entrusted him with sailing the ketch ‘Peter Duck’ (formerly owned by Ransome) from St Petersburg to Portsmouth. Greg had done a search in the St Petersburg archives and discovered that Evgenia’s father Peter worked as curator for the Tsar's Imperial Hospital and Charity Institute under the Imperial Court at Gatchina. This status may have given her useful connections.

Once inside the massive fortress in the middle of St Petersburg she led Arthur through a rabbit warren of corridors until they finally entered a dark room and the first thing he noted apart from the large desk was a slight man in a decrepit overcoat huddled over a small stove cooking what turned out the be potatoes. Evgenia addressed the man and told him that she needed him to approve Arthur’s dispatch and she would look after the potatoes while he did this. After a bit of muttering the man moved to the desk and it was only then that Arthur realised he was Leon Trotsky (Born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, son of a Jewish farmer in the Ukraine. After exile abroad for 15 years he returned to Moscow in 1917 and became second in command to Lenin but on Lenin’s death he fell foul of Stalin and had to flee Russia. He was assassinated in Mexico in 1940 on the orders of Stalin.)

It transpired that Evgenia was Trotsky’s secretary so quite unwittingly Arthur had a connection to the very heart of the Revolution, his dispatch was approved and he sent it. In 1919 the couple left Russia and lived in Estonia until 1924 when Arthur got his divorce, married Evgenia and they moved back to England. It was during this time in Estonia that Racundra was built and Arthur and ‘The Cook’ cruised in the Baltic. Large as she was, Arthur records one incident when Evgenia abandoned ship and went home to Riga because a mouse was found on board. Once back in England as a married couple they had 43 years together and when Evgenia died in 1975 she was buried alongside her husband at Rusland near Newby Bridge in the Lake District.

There you have it, a small snapshot of a time when the tectonic plates of world politics were shifting and in the middle of the chaos one of my favourite authors stumbles over Trotsky boiling potatoes in the St Petersburg Kremlin. It tells us so much about the atmosphere in Russia after the Revolution had shattered the status quo. It’s part of a love story as well and I like a good romance! I don’t know whether Evgenia told this story to anyone, if she did they appear to have kept quiet because I can find no trace of it anywhere. If so we have let it loose on the world and if any academics are reading this, trust me, this is prime source material passed on to me by a man who I trust implicitly. I have no doubt in my mind that on that cold winter night Leon Trotsky was indeed boiling potatoes in his St Petersburg office for supper. You can’t get much further down into the roots of history than that. Besides, from what I have read I like Evgenia, she was down-to-earth, forthright and certainly kept Arthur’s feet on the ground. Perhaps not comfortable to live with at times but certainly the sort of woman I would share a foxhole with!

SCG/29 January 2010
1280 words.
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

User avatar
Stanley
Global Moderator
Global Moderator
Posts: 40598
Joined: 23 Jan 2012, 12:01
Location: Barnoldswick. Nearer to Heaven than Gloria.

Re: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Post by Stanley » 07 Mar 2014, 10:17

I've posted this from 4 years ago because I think it's one of the articles missing from Stanley's View. I couldn't find it when I searched. Worth re-posting I think and of course I'm triggered off because I'm reading Ransome again....
By the way, a little known fact; the name Racundra comes from RA for Ransome, C for Carl, the first name of the Ancient Mariner , the German 'und' for and and RA from Evgenia Shelepin, the Cook, for some reason I can't fathom!
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

User avatar
Stanley
Global Moderator
Global Moderator
Posts: 40598
Joined: 23 Jan 2012, 12:01
Location: Barnoldswick. Nearer to Heaven than Gloria.

Re: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Post by Stanley » 25 Oct 2017, 03:10

Bumped for Plaques......
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

plaques
Donor
Posts: 2341
Joined: 23 May 2013, 22:09

Re: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Post by plaques » 25 Oct 2017, 08:37

Thank you Stanley. I've seen Arthur Ransome's name referenced in some books. Although Lenin and Trotsky were relatively wealthy intellectuals in the early Bolshevik years they lived, existed, at a level possibly below that of the average poor Russian. Stalin generally classed as a Georgian bandit did not have the intellectual standing of Lenin or Trotsky but was not far behind. Generally thought to lie between Roosevelt and Churchill. A far cry from what we have in the USA at the present time.

User avatar
Stanley
Global Moderator
Global Moderator
Posts: 40598
Joined: 23 Jan 2012, 12:01
Location: Barnoldswick. Nearer to Heaven than Gloria.

Re: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Post by Stanley » 26 Oct 2017, 03:27

Many believe that Arthur was reporting to the British government as well......
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

Post Reply

Return to “Stanley's View”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users