Saturday, March 14, 2015

Albert Henry Stopford, The Russian Diary of an Englishman (1916)

An art dealer, freelance writer, British intelligence agent, an intimate to the Russian imperial family... By all accounts, Sir Albert Henry Stopford (1860 - 1939) had a remarkable life. Born into an affluent family of an Irish peer, he grew up in the high society of Britain and travelled widely in Europe. While studying at Oxford, he befriended the sons of the Russian elite, including Princes Felix Yusupov and Serge Obolensky.

In 1915, Stopford travelled to Russia where he remained for the next two years witnessing political and social crisis that engulfed the empire. Despite the turmoil he still managed to travel to various parts of the Russian empire, including Georgia which he briefly visited in the spring of 1916. During the tumultuous events in 1917, Stopford  risked his life rescuing Romanov jewels (including the Vladimir tiara that is now in possession of Queen Elisabeth II of Britain) from the Vladimir Palace in St. Petersburg. He later anonymously published his diary and letters, "The Russian Diary of an Englishman" (London: Heinemann, 1919).


Friday, 17 March [entry in a diary]
After visits to the Grand Duchess and the Embassy, left Petrograd in the evening for Tiflis. Found Terestchenko in the train: we talked in my cabin from 4 to 5. Between Baku and Tiflis saw pelicans and storks fishing in the marshes and camels working in the fields. Arrived at Tiflis 3 p.m.

Wednesday, April 5 [entry in a diary]
Tiflis. General Callwell at luncheon at my Wednesday, hotel—just back from the frontier and Batum. He came to decorate the Russian General who had taken Erzrum, but—the roads being almost impassable—the latter had to come to the frontier to receive his English order.

Friday, 7 April [entry in a diary]
Tiflis. Visited the old churches and Armenian bazaar. In the afternoon saw the new moon and the first swallows.

Sunday, 9 April [an excerpt from a letter]
Tiflis. I must own to you that Tiflis has been a disappointment after all I had been told about it. The hotel life here is delightful—some twenty Georgian officers, en congĂ© or en convalescence, all live or eat in the hotel. Amongst them is the great Tolstoy's youngest son—great fun! They remind me of the Sicilians, and run in and out from their meals all the time. They all have improbable waists, and are hung with poignards [daggers] and swords. They are trying to get up a Georgian cavalry regiment, but the question of horses and saddles is difficult. If they do, I shall join them as invitĂ© on June 15 and do the summer campaign with them: they say I could be of use in many ways. All Georgians are born warriors.

I went to see Prince Napoleon Murat yesterday. He was frost-bitten in the knees in Galicia, and about a month ago he fell down just as he was getting better, and has been in bed for a month, but now he is picking up again. I told him all I could about France: the tears came to his eyes. He is adored here. He was pleased to hear that the Emperor had spoken of him.

I wish Trebizond could be taken while I am here, but the Turks are very strong there and have been reinforcing since the fall of Erzerum. The food is excellent in the hotel—rice with nearly everything and black cherry jam; almond and pistachio tartlets, also wine; so I am all right.

Tuesday,  11 April  [entry in a diary] 
Would have liked to motor over the Caucasian Mountains and take the train at Vladikavkas, but the road is not yet opened and no automobile has come over from there, so took seats in train for Petrograd.

Wednesday, 12 April  [entry in a diary]
The hotel courier, George—whose family had been massacred by the Turks near Erzerum— rushed in and said a motor-car had arrived from Vladikavkas and he had engaged it for me for to-morrow morning.

Thursday, 13 April [entry in a diary].
Left hotel in automobile exactly 6.45 a.m. Reached summit 1.20 p.m. (127 versts). Excellent road cut through deeps now on the top. Arrived at Vladikavkas at 4.

Friday, 14 April [entry in a diary]
Vladikavkas. Joined the train at 5 a.m. which had left Tiflis 38 hours before. Glorious morning; saw the sun rise over the mountains.

Sunday, April 16 [entry in a diary]
Petrograd. Arrived midday.

Tuesday, 18 April [excerpt from a letter]
I came away from Tiflis by the military road across the Caucasus Mountains, 8000 feet high. The road was better than might have been expected, as I was in the first automobile to cross this year. One comes down on the north side through a narrow defile with a dashing torrent. The chauffeur was not very attentive to his car, and preferred looking over the precipices to looking at the turnings in front of him. I had at last to threaten him with personal violence. I had paid for the journey before leaving.

As we flew down this narrow defile there rose suddenly in the middle of it a great detached rock or small hill with a ruined castle on it. It was there that "Thamara" in the Russian ballet lured her victims. Furtively the chauffeur pointed at it with one hand, but did not dare to turn round to say anything, so I leant forward and said, "Schto takoe" ("What is it ?"), and he only said, "Thamara." I looked up quickly, and through a window could picture the voluptuous almond eyes of Karsavina as "Thamara" looking for another victim, and beneath the rocks the bleached bones and nose of dear Mr. Bolm.

There I was, at the foot of the very castle we had so often—sitting in your box at Covent Garden —admired the interior of, and through its window gazed on the view of the defile. I fancied I saw one of her cushions at the window as I flew down the road seeking safety for my virtue and my bones, I think "Thamara" must have lived on trout and mutton—as there is nothing else in the country —and of course on rice, like every good Georgian. After the war I shall propose to you to come out and see the castle and Mr. Bolm's skeleton.

When the Russians got to Erzerum there was not one Christian alive, save six girls in the American Consulate. The guide of the Tiflis Hotel was a Christian Turk, not Armenian, and his town was a little to the south of Erzrum. There all the Christians were also massacred—840, including his old grandmother.

Tell his lordship I saw in the Caucasus herons, storks, pelicans, white eagles with black tips to their wings, many kestrels and buzzards, flamingos, yellow water-wagtails and dark red woodpeckers, magpies and jays, heaps of ducks, I think sheldrakes (but not near enough for me to distinguish), and one kingfisher. All the fruit-trees were in blossom in the valleys at Tiflis—peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries.

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