24-30 September 1917

  • By Mark Sutcliffe
  • 30 Sep, 2017
Florence Farmborough at the Russian Front, 1915 (painted from a photograph)

24 September

A newspaper printed a report that the English and French armies, on account of the disorder in Russia, wished to sever the alliance. I refused to believe such a thing. In another newspaper I read that the report had been denied. I read also that the British Army had gained much territory in Mesopotamia.
(Florence Farmborough,  Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Diary entry of Joshua Butler Wright, Counselor of the American Embassy, Petrograd
The Kremlin is one of the few things in the world that have not proved disappointing to me in the realization! We spent almost all day there today … The icons are extraordinary and on the whole rather pleasing. The almost idolatrous worship of these people makes us sometimes wonder as to their real capacity for self-government. The kissing of relics offends all laws of sanitation.
( Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright , London 2002)

25 September

Memoir by the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov
The new government will go down in the history of the revolution as the Government of the civil war. The Soviet declares: ‘We, the workers and the garrison of Petersburg, refuse to support the Government of bourgeois autocracy and counter-revolutionary violence. We express the unshakeable conviction that the new Government will meet with a single response from the entire revolutionary democracy: “Resign!”’
(N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: a Personal Record,  Oxford 1955)

Report in The Manchester Guardian
The reports of the Democratic Conference transmitted to this country could not have been more unsatisfactory if they had been deliberately designed to confound, prejudice and dishearten the English people with regard to Russia. Whatever be the circumstances responsible, such a state of affairs is gravely injurious to this country. It poisons Anglo-Russian sympathies, and therefore Anglo-Russian relations, and, by denying us the materials for judging, eliminates all calculation from our estimates of the future course of events in Russia.
(‘The Democratic Conference’, The Manchester Guardian )


26 September

Arthur Ransome headed home by sea on 26 September with a very clear sense of approaching danger; what he had seen at the congress had convinced him that the Bolsheviks were preparing the ground to seize power.
(Helen Rappaport,  Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 , London 2017)

Diary entry of Louis de Robien, attaché at the French Embassy
On orders from their governments the Allied ambassadors today took steps to issue a solemn warning to Kerensky and to convey their anxiety to him. The American Ambassador alone found an excuse to abstain. Kerensky received them in the Winter Palace ... Sir George Buchanan, the doyen, read them the joint declaration. Although this was expressed in the most moderate terms - too moderate, in my opinion - it violently irritated the despot's vanity, and he walked out exclaiming: 'You forget that Russia is a great power!' The Tsar also refused to listen to Sir George in similar circumstances: a few weeks later, he lost the crown!
(Louis de Robien, The Diary of a Diplomat in Russia 1917-1918 , London 1969)

27 September

A railway strike has dislocated rail-transport throughout Russia. Finland has proclaimed herself a republic. Strikes and riots are still rampant, while famine is augmenting the general hardship … Alas! For poor, suffering Russia. We heard of a party of Social Democrats in Petrograd, who had coined for themselves the name of Bolshevik – meaning one who forms the majority. Being such a small party, the name Menshevik [minority] would have been more appropriate! The members professed to be ‘apostles’ of the doctrine of Communism and declared that their objectives were to bring peace to Russia by negotiation; to abolish capitalism; to establish a proletariat dictatorship and to equalise all classes … It was not difficult for us now to guess the origins and aims of those suspicious men who for some weeks past had been inspecting Russian Front Lines and delivering speeches to the troops. It was now quite clear that the Bolsheviki had started an extensive subversive movement.
(Florence Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front: A Diary 1914-18 , London 1974)

Report in The Manchester Guardian
Reuter’s Agency states that Commander Locker-Lampson, M.P., who has been in command of the British armoured-car unit in Russia, arrived in England yesterday … ‘No one,’ said the Commander, ‘has any right to suppose for a moment that Russia will not remain loyal to the Allied cause. The Coalition Government now formed is a fine achievement, and many difficulties will disappear within the next few months.’
(‘The Russian Outlook’, The Manchester Guardian )


29 September

Diary of Nicholas II
A few days ago Dr Botkin received a note from Kerensky, from which we learnt that we are allowed to take walks beyond the town. In answer to Botkin’s question about when these could begin, Pankratov – the wretch – replied that there could be no question of it now because of some unexplained fear for our safety. Everyone was very upset by this answer.
(Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion  , London 1996)

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30 September 2017

Florence Farmborough (1887-1978) went to Moscow in 1908 to be governess to the children of a Russian heart surgeon. When war broke out, she trained as a Red Cross nurse (her parents had presciently named her after Florence Nightingale) and was assigned to a surgical field unit of the 3rd Russian Army Corps. The diary she kept of her four years on the Russian front was published only in 1974, when she was 87. An article in The Times, marking the book’s publication, described it as an ‘astonishing record [that] survived through the advances and retreats of trench warfare, through the Bolshevik rampages, a journey across Siberia and her eventual escape from Russia through Vladivostok’. Florence clearly felt a strong bond with the Russian army – and was grateful to be taken on by the Red Cross (‘I would never have been allowed to work in the British Red Cross’) – but described the changes that occurred in the summer of 1917 like this: ‘It was an inexplicable transformation. We were prepared for any hardship and danger at the front. But when our own men wanted to kill us because we were educated or religious it was much more frightening.’ After returning from Russia she went to Spain and lectured in English at the University of Luis Vives in Valencia. During the Spanish Civil War she worked for General Franco, reading daily bulletins broadcast in English by Spanish National Radio, and in the Battle of Britain she was back in London with the Women’s Voluntary Service. Quite some life. Her obituary in The Times described her as ‘a faithful observer and recorder of the bravery and misery, the day-by-day comments, and the increasing acts of desertion and treachery of the officers and men of the Tsarist Army during the period of its increasing breakdown, which played a part in the triumph of the revolutionaries’.

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)


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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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