6-12 August 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 12 Aug, 2017
Life at Tobolsk during the first few months was another idyll of domestic calm and undisturbed tranquillity. The ex-Tsar breakfasted, studied, walked, lunched, exercised, dined, taught history to Alexis, and held family reunions in the evening to an extent never possible before. Special religious services were held for the royal family in the town church and they were permitted to leave the house for that purpose. The children prepared and enacted dramatic pieces in French and English. The townspeople showed themselves courteous and sympathetic, frequently sending gifts, particularly fresh food, and saluting the members of the family respectfully or blessing them with the sign of the cross when they appeared at the windows of the Palace. It was only the unending monotony, the drab Siberian monotony, that oppressed, together with the almost complete absence of news.
(Edmund Walsh, 'The Last Days of the Romanovs',  The Atlantic , March 1928)

6 August

Memoir of Pierre Gilliard, tutor to the tsar's children
What reasons had the Council of Ministers for transporting the Imperial family to Tobolsk? It is difficult to say definitely. When Kerensky told the Tsar of the proposed transfer he explained the necessity by saying that the Provisional Government had resolved to take energetic measures against the Bolsheviks; this would result in a period of disturbance and armed conflict of which the Imperial family might be the first victims; it was therefore his duty to put them out of danger. It has been claimed in other quarters that it was an act of weakness in face of the Extremists, who, uneasy at seeing in the army the beginnings of a movement in favour of the Tsar, demanded his exile to Siberia. However this may be, the journey of the Imperial family from Tsarskoe Selo to Tobolsk was effected under comfortable conditions and without any noteworthy incidents.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

7 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
We only know a few details about the Imperial family’s journey. The departure from Tsarskoye took place in the early morning … The town of Tobolsk, where the Tsar and his family are to be interned, is a long way from the railway. Rasputin was born near there. The Grand Duchesses are supposed to have told Kerensky that the Empress’s dearest wish is to build a big church there, so that people can pray to God for the martyr … Saint Grischa Rasputin, the patron saint of the tovariches … it’s just what they need. In fact, one had to admit that there is something impressive about the fulfilment of the prophecies of this man who never ceased to foretell that, if he met with a violent death, the Empire would collapse during the month after his disappearance.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

9 August

Train 293 for Finland arrived at Udelnaya Station. The driver was Guro Jalava, railywayman, conspirator, committed Marxist. ‘I came to the edge of the platform’, he later recalled, ‘whereat a man strode from among the trees and hoisted himself up into the cab. It was, of course, Lenin, although I hardly recognised him. He was to be my stoker.’ The photograph in the fake passport with which Lenin – ‘Konstantin Petrovich Ivanov’ – travelled has become famous. With a cap perched high on a curly wig, the contours of his beardless mouth unfamiliar, wryly upturned, his deep small eyes are all that is recognisable.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Letter to the Central Executive Committee of Soviets on behalf of positional soldiers
Comrade Soldiers and Workers,
All of us positional troops ask you as our comrades to explain to us who these Bolsheviks are and what party they belong to because we don’t know them or their opinion. Our provisional government has come out very much against the Bolsheviks. But we, positional soldiers, don’t find any fault with them at all … We are little by little going over entirely to the side of the Bolsheviks. But in order for us to find out exactly about the Bolsheviks, we are turning to you, comrades, as our advisors – explain all this to us.
With respect, all the positional Soldiers, 9 August 1917, Active Army, Sirebrov, Soldier
(Mark D. Steinberg, Voices of Revolution, 1917 , New Haven and London 2001)

10 August

Mistrust between prime minister [Kerensky] and general [Kornilov] was such that Kornilov arrived with a substantial and provocative bodyguard. This was a body of Turkmen fighters from the so-called Savage Division of volunteer soldiers from across the Caucasus … As Kerensky watched in alarm from the Winter Palace, the red-robed warriors came jogging into view down the wide streets, surrounding Kornilov’s car, brandishing scimitars and machine-guns. They took up positions around the palace door like enemies preparing for a parlay.
(China Miéville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution , London 2017)

Resolution of the Conference of Public Figures [representatives of business and industry, the nobility, educated society and former officers, convened in Moscow between 8-10 August]
The time has come openly to admit that the country … is on the verge of ruin. The government, if it realises its duty, must acknowledge that it has led the state on the wrong road, which must be abandoned at once for the sake of saving the country and freedom … The only government is one that cuts itself free of all traces of dependence on committees, soviets and other similar organisations.
( The Russian Revolution 1917-1921 , ed. Ronald Kowalski, London 1997)

11 August

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
I got into a train at one of the stations before Yaroslavl but the train was already overflowing, and in all classes you had to stand up all night. In Yaroslavl, by using my title of Central Ex. Com. member, I penetrated into an almost empty military carriage. I was delighted at my success, but something rather disagreeable happened as a result. I was naïve enough to remove my boots, which were gone when I happened to wake up an hour or two later … In Moscow, astounding the crowd with my stockinged feet, I made my way to the station-master and spent about two hours telephoning to people at random, to see whether some friend could bring a pair of boots to the station for me. This was all quite typical of travelling at this time.
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record , Oxford 1955)

12 August

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
There is again a certain amount of excitement in the town. Cossack patrols and machine-gun carriers are massed in the Winter Palace square, ready to intervene. During the last few days one has felt that things were going badly again. … One feels it, like one does when one knows that a storm is coming, even though one cannot yet hear the thunder.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


12 August 2017

In a series of three articles for The Atlantic in 1928, the journalist Edmund Walsh looked back on the final days of the Romanovs. One of his key questions was why Kerensky sent the family to Siberia rather than Crimea, where many royalists found safe refuge and from where many eventually escaped. The growing threat of Bolshevism was a major factor later cited by Kerensky: the fear that if he offered them sanctuary there would be further unrest which in turn could lead to calls for the royal family to be put to death: 'I will not be the Marat of the Russian Revolution!' Kerensky had said back in March. So he sent two agents called Vershinin and Makarov to Siberia to select an appropriate location, far from Moscow and the threat of mob violence. They chose Tobolsk, a town of twelve thousand inhabitants, some two thousand miles from Petrograd. The judge who later cross-examined Kerensky at a judicial enquiry into the family's murder, gave little credence to Kerensky's protestations that it was for their own good that Nicholas and Alexandra and their children were sent to Tobolsk; rather it was so that the 'dethroned Autocrat of All the Russias [should] be made to taste the bitterness and dreariness of exile in Siberia, must be made to experience the icy blasts of that House of Dead Souls to which he and his ancestors had banished so many Russians!' And not just the family; with them went forty-six court attendants who had volunteered to accompany them on this dismal journey.

A hundred years ago, Russia overthrew a monarchy and started off on a path that led to 70 years of communism. Follow events here week by week through eyewitness accounts.

By Mark Sutcliffe 31 Dec, 2017
Russian Christmas postcard, 1917
By Mark Sutcliffe 16 Dec, 2017
Child's drawing of a Bolshevik, November 1917. The flag reads 'Down with the war and the bourgeois'; the child's inscription reads 'The Bolshevik. A Bolshevik is someone who is against the war'. (State Historical Museum, Moscow) 
By Mark Sutcliffe 09 Dec, 2017
German officers welcoming Soviet delegates at Brest-Litovsk for the Peace Conference. Soviet delegates left to right: Adolph Joffe, Lev Karakhan and Leon Trotsky, the Head of the Soviet Delegation © IWM (Q 70777)
By Mark Sutcliffe 02 Dec, 2017

‘The whole of Petrograd is drunk’ – Anatoly Lunacharsky, Commissar for Enlightenment
(painting by Ivan Vladimirov of the looting of a wine shop, Petrograd, 1917)

By Mark Sutcliffe 25 Nov, 2017
General Nikolai Dukhonin, last commander of the Tsarist army, killed by revolutionary sailors on 20 November
By Mark Sutcliffe 18 Nov, 2017

A peculiar atmosphere prevailed at the conferences of the highest administrative councils of Soviet Russia, presided over by Lenin. Despite all the efforts of an officious secretary to impart to each session the character of a cabinet meeting, we could not help feeling that here we were, attending another sitting of an underground revolutionary committee! … Many of the commissars remained seated in their topcoats or greatcoats; most of them wore the forbidding leather jackets. In the wintertime some wore felt boots and thick sweaters. They remained thus clothed throughout the meetings.
(Richard Pipes, quoting the Menshevik Simon Liberman,   A Concise History of the Russian Revolution , London 1995)

12 November

The Bolsheviki are forming councils, committees, sub-committees, courts, leagues, parties, societies; they are talented talkers and gifted orators. The masses of the people flock to their call. Already they have established the nucleus of the Proletarian Republic and drawn up their political programme; and, what is more surprising, they have successfully organised the Red Army – in great part drawn from the disloyal soldiers of the Imperial Army. One and all wage war against the ‘intelligentsia’ and the ‘bourgeoisie’ – nicknames given to the educated people and to the middle-class or ‘idle rich’. There is no doubt that Lenin and Trotsky are intent on exterminating the Russian intellectual classes.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Alexandre Benois, who is president of the Fine Arts Commission, told me that the damage done to the Winter Palace is not as bad as people thought. It is confined to the theft of a few objects in the rooms of Alexander II and Nicholas I.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

13 November

Report in The Times headed ‘Bolshevism repudiated at Washington’
M. Bakhmetieff, the Russian Ambassador, has officially repudiated the Bolshevist regime in Petrograd. He has addressed to Mr. Lansing a long letter which explains that he will continue to carry out the duties entrusted to him at the Embassy regardless of the Bolshevists or any other temporary rule of violence in Russia … M. Bakhmetieff declares in his letter his confidence that the sound, constructive element in Russia will soon arise and sweep aside the Bolshevists or any others who, in opposition to the true spirit of the nation, seek to betray the Allies and withdraw from the war.
(From our correspondent, New York, The Times )

In a highly sensational speech, delivered before the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, Trotsky expressed the hope that General Dukhonin would act in conformity with the policy of the Government … The peace ‘decree’, Trotsky continued, marked the beginning of a new era in history. It came as a surprise to the routine-loving governing classes of Europe, who first regarded it as a mere party manifesto, not as an act of the Russian Government … The greatest hostility was exhibited on the part of England, ‘who plays a leading part at the present juncture and who has suffered least from the war, while she stands to gain most. France, who had suffered most, responded to the Russian revolution with the bourgeoisie Ministry of M. Clemenceau, which was the last effort of French Imperialism. Italy, disillusioned by her losses, welcomed it with enthusiasm. America had joined in the war, not for the sake of ideals, as President Wilson declared, but with a view to financial and industrial advantages.
(Report in The Times )

14 November

Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador to Russia
In my opinion, the only safe course left to us is to give Russia back her word and to tell her people that, realizing how worn out they are by the war and the disorganization inseparable from a great revolution, we leave it to them to decide whether they will purchase peace on Germany’s terms or fight on with the Allies … It has always been my one aim and object to keep Russia in the war, but one cannot force an exhausted nation to fight against its will.
(Sir George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia , London 1923)

Report in The Times headed ‘Escape of Ex-Tsar’s Daughter’
American audiences are shortly to have the privilege of listening to appeals on behalf of the Russian people from a young woman who will be presented to them under the simple name of Miss Tatiana Nicolaievna Romanoff. She is understood to be the 20-year-old daughter of the deposed Tsar. On the authority of M. Ivan Narodny, of the News Bureau of the Russian Post Office in New York, the American newspapers today publish romantic accounts of the escape of the former Grand Duchess from Tobolsk. Miss Romanoff, according to these accounts, underwent a fictitious ceremony of marriage with a son of her father’s former Court Chamberlain, Count Fredericks, and thereby gained a certain measure of freedom from observation, which she utilized in order to make her escape to Kharbin for Sand Francisco. M. Narodny, who prefaces his narrative with the observation ‘these are strange times in Russia,’ says that the Tsar’s daughter when she arrives here will work for the Russian Civilian Relief Society. She will write short fairy stories, give dance performances, and desires to lecture to American women on conditions in Russia.
(From our correspondent, New York, The Times )

15 November

Diary entry of Alexander Benois, artist and critic
In my heart of hearts I am convinced that in his soul and in his being the Russian is freer than anyone. Even under the tsarist regime there was nowhere in the world with such freedom (even to the level of libertinism) of way of life, conversation, thought, as in Russia. Even our proverbial ‘right to disgrace’ is only an expression of the freedom that is within and inherent to everyone, based on racial characteristics but nurtured in the Christian idea of ‘the kingdom of God being within us’.
(Alexander Benois, Diary 1916-1918 , Moscow 2006)

16 November

Pauline Crosby, wife of American naval attaché, in a letter home
In general the news is: Petrograd is still here; a part of Moscow is no longer there; many handsome estates are no longer anywhere; the Bolsheviki are everywhere.
(Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

From somewhere torches appeared, blazing orange in the night, a thousand times reflected in the facets of the ice, streaming smokily over the throng as it moved down the bank of the Fontanka singing, between crowds that stood in astonished silence. ‘Long live the Revolutionary Army! Long live the Red Guard! Long live the Peasants!’ So the great procession wound through the city, growing and unfurling ever new red banners lettered in gold. Two old peasants, bowed with toil, were walking hand in hand, their faces illumined with child-like bliss. ‘Well,’ said one, ‘I’d like to see them take away our land again, now!’
(John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World , New York 1919)

17 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
Things are happening fast, and yesterday Trotsky was able to make a triumphant announcement to the Assembly of Soviets (which has been joined by the Council of Peasants, which up to now had remained with the opposition and had rejected all contact with the Bolsheviks). The announcement is to the effect that armistice negotiations have begun.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

18 November

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
The Allies here continue to give an impression of complete confusion … Meanwhile Trotsky keeps the score and no longer misses a single false move on the part of his adversaries. He has become very self-assured and has not hesitated to send a very firm note to Sir George [Buchanan] asking for two Russian anarchists who are being held in England to be released immediately … People say that the Commissars even contemplated shutting up Sir George himself as a hostage in Peter-and-Paul.
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)


18 November 2017

The report by the New York correspondent of The Times of the escape of Tatiana, one of Nicholas II’s daughters, must have been one of the first accounts of the Romanov children avoiding their terrible fate at the hands of the Bolsheviks; a fate that was proved decisively through DNA tests only in the 1990s. Such romantic stories – or as we now call them, ‘fake news’ – subsequently became legion, focusing on Anastasia and Alexei in particular. This report is interesting precisely because it is so early, when the family was still alive and reasonably well in Tobolsk and yet to be moved to Ekaterinburg, where they were all murdered in July 1918. It’s also, frankly, bizarre, with mention of the Grand Duchess preparing to give dance performances to the American public. It makes one wonder what would have become of the former imperial family had they been offered asylum by George V or indeed been spirited away from the Crimean coast like many of their circle. In exile the children would no doubt have married, had children of their own – their grandchildren would be easily alive today, perhaps even back in favour with the current regime. Stranger things have happened (are happening).

By Mark Sutcliffe 11 Nov, 2017
The Winter Palace during a spectacular light show to mark the anniversary of the revolution,
as per the Gregorian calendar. 5 November 2017
By Mark Sutcliffe 05 Nov, 2017
Red peasant, soldier and working man to the cossack: 'Cossack, who are you with? Them or us?'
By Mark Sutcliffe 28 Oct, 2017
Students and soldiers firing across the Moika River at police who are resisting the revolutionaries,  24 October 1917
© IWM (Q 69411)
By Mark Sutcliffe 21 Oct, 2017
Revolutionaries remove the remaining relics of the Imperial Regime from the facade of official buildings, Petrograd
© IWM (Q 69406)
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