Articles tagged with: Russia

17,000 miles across Soviet Russia

on Thursday, 07 January 2021. Posted in Archives

In the early 1930s, Christopher Fuller (later a director of Jaggards, Corsham) and Duncan Sandys (who would become Winston Churchill’s son-in-law and MP for Norwood) travelled together in what Fuller called ‘a very comprehensive tour of all the more important parts of the entire Soviet Union’. Travelling by foot, plane, train, car and horseback they crossed 17,000 miles of Soviet Russia to explore conditions in the country and the success, or failure, of the Communist experiment.

Map of Fuller and Sandys’ route across Russia (1196/52)

Fuller kept an extensive diary of the trip, which we hold in our extensive collection on Jaggards (1196). Fuller’s diaries (1196/52) are also complemented by around 200 photographs that he took on his journey (1196/53BW) which include images of Leningrad and Moscow, but also of the labour camps that the travellers visited during their trip.

A page from Fuller’s diary showing Russian phrases he tried to learn for the trip (1196/52)

Though the pair visited the major cities, a key aim of their trip was to take in as much of rural Russia as they could, to get a sense for the life of the average Russian ‘peasant’. As such the diaries are not only a fascinating first-hand account of the conditions that ordinary Russians lived in but are also revealing of the extent to which the realities of the heartlands of Russia were almost unknown to the British political class at the time.

To sing, to dance and to cook in all languages

on Thursday, 13 October 2016. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

Matilda Talbot (B. Jul. 15, 1871. D. Mar. 25, 1958) seated on the terrace of the Cheval Blanc, Vezelay, May 1957. Photograph taken by Mr Sam Walker

"My own life has been rather like a kaleidoscope", writes Matilda Talbot in her autobiography. For somebody who experienced the two world wars at first hand, travelled in three continents, and went on to unexpectedly inherit Lacock Abbey, her life was truly kaleidoscopic; a constantly changing sequence of patterns punctuated by bursts of colour.

It was perhaps due to her natural flair for languages, combined with her kind and down-to-earth manner, that many of these colourful experiences came about. She readily accepted invitations to visit old friends and new acquaintances in far-off places, sometimes travelling with her family, but never fearful of travelling independently. When she did travel on her own, she was never alone, striking up friendships with passengers and crew, on-board boats as she tried out her language skills.

Language learning was to become an important element when preparing for a trip abroad and she often came up with enterprising ideas in order make progress. Before spending Christmas in 1908 with Lord and Lady Methuen in their new home in South Africa, she went to the “Dutch Church in Austin Friars” to find a teacher: "I found a verger and asked him if he knew any lady of the congregation might be willing to give me some lessons in Dutch”. From there, her studies continued on deck, which must have made for a curious sight, for she and a new lady acquaintance sat down to read from a "big Dutch Bible"  that she had brought with her from Lacock: "We sat together on the deck and I tried to talk, and she read to me. The captain was highly amused, when he found us reading the Psalms, verse about, in Dutch, but she really was a good help".

Earlier on she had turned her attention to Scandinavia after delivering some illustrated papers at the Scandinavian Sailors' Home, near the West India Dock, where she met a young Norwegian girl, Fredrike Betzmann. A friendship developed between the two young women and they met regularly in London, later holidaying together, first in Scotland and then in Norway. While Fredrike perfected her in English, Matilda and her sister Mary made good progress in Norwegian. "For nearly a month we stayed with Fredrike's family and were soon able to talk Norwegian quite fluently. […] Some of our pleasantest expeditions were in rowing boats up the little inlets of the fjord, going ashore and picnicking where we liked. Looking back, it seems to me that every afternoon was fine".

Besides Dutch and Norwegian, she understood French from an early age which she continued at a day school in London: "We always talked French to our French nursemaid, Emilie, and also to my mother, who spoke French as readily as English". During World War I she put these skills into practice when working for L'Œuvre de la goutte de café which ran a canteen for convalescent soldiers near Paris, and then later at Bussang in the Vosges where troops went to the trenches or returned from them.

A natural talent for languages was helped greatly by her indomitable spirit. While staying in Scotland in February 1925, she writes a letter in Italian despite of her deficiencies in the language: "Today Miss A asked me to help her write a letter in Italian: She recently received a letter from an Italian but still hasn't replied. I tried but it was awful. It's hard: Now everything I think is in Russian" . Undeterred and determined to help her friend, she goes on to explain that with the help of an Italian book and some difficulties, she was able to finish the letter in half an hour and give it to a "quite contented Miss A", who could copy it out in her own hand.

Out of all the languages she learned it was certainly Russian which required her to draw the most on that indomitable spirit. "[Learning Russian] was like paying court to a beautiful woman and capricious woman: she is maddeningly unreasonable and one is furious with her but all the same one cannot cease making love to her".

Although she never visited Russia or the Soviet Union, she learned the language to a high level. She describes the Estonian town of Pechory on the Russian border which she visited twice during the 1930s: "One day we went by train to the extreme south-east of Estonia, to a place called Pechora. There was a monastery there with a wonderful church. […] Everyone in Pechora spoke Russian and very few people spoke Estonian, but the notices were printed in both languages. […] We had a look round the monastery and went into the church for part of the service, but I could not understand a word for the Orthodox Service is always said in old Slavonic".

Matilda Talbot riding in a sledge in Estonia in winter 1938

Also, while in Estonia she experienced a real steam bath where she is beaten with birch twigs to stimulate the skin. On leaving the bathhouse she notes "We had lots of little birch leaves clinging to us which had to be rinsed off. The Russians have a saying about the kind of person one cannot shake off: 'She clings to me like bath foilage'".

The Return of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda)

on Friday, 25 September 2015.

As a self–taught, amateur bird watcher, I am always eager to spot unusual birds, especially if they are in Wiltshire. I am yet to book a date with the Great Bustard Group (a dedicated band of Bustard enthusiasts), who provide an escorted trip out on Salisbury Plain for a reasonable fee. If you want to just go out and spot yourself a Great Bustard, it is very much discouraged. These birds are very private and shy- very easily alarmed. It is best to be guided by the experts so as not to upset the slowly expanding Wiltshire population.

Wiltshire has always been quite partial to the Great Bustard. Not only was it a palatable bird but also popular, especially in Georgian times, as a trophy to hang on ones wall. Even in the early 19th century, when numbers were considerably dwindling, naturalists were still bagging themselves a specimen; this was to prove to others of their sighting to avoid being scoffed at in scientific circles.

Until recently, it was understood that the Great Bustard had been native to Britain for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence has been found in various parts of the country and previous examinations of skeletal remains have been passed off as those of the Great Bustard. Now, with the advance of science and DNA screening, the specimens which have been re examined have been found to be those of the Common Crane (Grus grus). It is now believed that the first migrants came from the Iberian Peninsula during the late medieval period and not before the 16th century. This conclusion has been deduced from the lack of historical documentation ie. household accounts, feast lists and market prices. Also, there is no name for the Great Bustard in Saxon.

Arctic Convoy Veteran Stories Feature in New Slide Shows

on Monday, 27 April 2015. Posted in Military

Arctic convoy veterans living in Wiltshire and Swindon have allowed us to record and keep their accounts of life on board convoy ships in the Second World War.

Their accounts include dramatic moments, like receiving the order for PQ17 to scatter; reflective thoughts on the point of the convoys and memories of those who lost their lives; humorous anecdotes like the time when a man on watch realised the fin cutting through the water wasn’t a deadly torpedo ‘just a shark’.

Local 6th form students were given the opportunity to listen to some of these accounts and select from them those which they found of interest to create audio slide shows to publish on our website. One group were interested in the account of the battle to sink the German ship Scharnhorst, which became known as the battle of North Cape. A dramatic account of direct action against the enemy ship, to reduce the threat against the merchant ships on the convoy route. The second group chose a reflective piece about the 1944 convoy that repatriated 1,000s of Russian prisoners of war who were destined for the gulags.

The last group was fascinated by the accounts of life on board, the camaraderie, cockroach races, deck hockey games and other ways that the sailors passed the time when not on duty. The research helped one of the students understand more about the experiences of her relative who had served on the convoys.

All the slide shows produced by the students can now be seen on this website at http://www.wshc.org.uk/education/arctic-convoy-project.html

The Worst Journey in History

on Saturday, 19 October 2013. Posted in Military, Wiltshire People

Winston Churchill described the arctic convoys of the Second World War as the worst journeys in history; for the sailors not only had to contend with freezing conditions and the very real chance of getting stuck in the ice but also the terror of U-Boats and dive bombers. This all seems a long way from the safety of the present day and from Wiltshire – a county with no coastline. But a few weeks ago Wiltshire Council held a ceremony to honour the residents of the county who served in those convoys and who have had to wait 70 years before they were granted a service medal that recognised their particular efforts. It was a tremendous surprise, and a great honour, for those involved in organising this event to discover that there are 25 men living in Wiltshire who served in those convoys.

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