Mrs Constance Harding – Head of British Secret Service in Russia?

While Captain Brian Horrocks and the other prisoners-of-war captured in Siberia were languishing in Ivanovsky, a British lady was suffering the same fate on the other side of the Bolshevik capital in August 1920.

Mrs Constance Harding travelled officially to Moscow as a correspondent of the New York World with letters of introduction from Maxim Litvinov.  Soon after she arrived, a secret policemen posing as a Russian journalist, named Mogilevsky, deceived her and took her to the headquarters of the V-Tcheka at Lubjanka 2.  In this fearsome jail she was stripped, searched and then placed in a solitary lice-infested cell with a wooden bed.

Mogilevsky had interrogated Francis McCullough on Easter Sunday and now he accused Constance of being the Head of the British Secret Service in Russia.  He told her that Mrs Marguerite Harrison of the Baltimore Sun was responsible for her arrest and tried to coerce her to work for the Soviet Government, but she refused. After a torrid nine weeks in Lubjanka, she was transferred to Butyrka Prison where she joined Miss Maxwell and other “grave offenders” excluded from the Treaty of Copenhagen prisoner exchanges.

Constance was finally released as part of David Lloyd George’s trade negotiations on 26th November 1920.

Further details of Mrs Stan Harding and Mrs Marguerite Harrison are in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners and British Parliamentary Report (Russia No 1 1922 HMSO Cmd 1602).

Who is this Duchess?

Having heard nothing from his son for nearly a year and no update from the War Office since his capture on 6th January 1920, Charlie Hayes approached a Duchess, who wrote to the former Senior British Commander in Siberia, Major General Sir Alfred Knox on 20th August 1920 seeking information about Captain Eric Hayes of the Norfolk Regiment, who at that moment was languishing in the Ivanovsky prison in Moscow with fifteen other prisoners-of-war.

In his response, Knox claims to have “done all that I could since my return, to worry high or subordinate officers at the Foreign Office and War Office” and he had “even written to The Times!”  He distances himself from the railway mission, which Churchill had placed under his command, by claiming “only two of the fifteen belonged to my Mission” and limply concludes: “I hope you will use your great influence to get something done by the Government”.

I have not been able to discover the identity of this Duchess.  She is unlikely to be royal, otherwise Knox would have addressed her differently to “Dear Duchess”.  My guess is that this is Gwendolen Mary Fitzalen-Howard, wife of the 15th Duke of Norfolk, a generous philanthropist, but since writing the book Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners, I haven’t been able to confirm this with corroborating evidence.  Can anyone help?




Conflicting British Policies on Russia

Russia again dominated the headlines in London one hundred years ago.  After the Cabinet Secretary visited Poland, Winston Churchill raised the prospect of British troops fighting Russia again.  As the Red Army approached the gates of Warsaw, The Times declared the situation was “tragically serious”.  Meanwhile, the Labour Party, with Soviet funding, held anti-war rallies and Lenin’s deputy, Lev Kamenev arrived in London with a trade delegation.  In Moscow, 16 soldiers languished in the Ivanovsky prison and in Baku 31 sailors were suffering in an even worse jail.

Hansard records the resulting debate in the House of Commons on 9th August.  Viscount Curzon, MP for Battersea South, who had commanded a Royal Navy battalion at Gallipoli, neatly summarized the conflicting Government policies when he asked the Prime Minister: “How the Soviet delegation to this country is composed; whether any further news has come through with regard to our officers and men retained as prisoners at Baku; whether the Government have any information as to whether Bolshevik money is being spent in revolutionary interests in Great Britain and if so, what steps are being taken to deal with it and with those who are responsible; and whether it is proposed to continue negotiations irrespective of the Polish question while such a state of affairs exists?

It is not surprising that Leon Trotsky said: “Lloyd George is like a man playing roulette and scattering chips on every number”.

IMG_1565The Ivanovsky Prison where 16 British prisoners were held in August 1920

150th Anniversary of British Red Cross

Congratulations to the British Red Cross for their magnificent humanitarian deeds since 1870.

Many Red Cross volunteers served abroad in World War I after permission was granted by the War Office for them to work with the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Some of these courageous medics journeyed to Russia with the British Military Missions, or to the two Anglo-Russian hospitals in Petrograd.

Lady Muriel Paget and Lady Sybil Grey opened a hospital on Nevski Prospekt in 1916 for severely wounded soldiers and followed this up with field hospitals in the Ukraine, where British nurses witnessed the misery of the Eastern Front.  Across the Neva river, the British Colony Hospital continued to look after patients when the Dmitri closed down after the revolution.  The matron, Mrs Violet Froom was described as Ambassador, Parson and everything combined in a Government report.  It is certainly true that Captain Brian Horrocks and the last British prisoners-of-war were extremely grateful for the care and comforts that she provided when they passed through in October 1920.

See chapters 1, 4, 5, 9, 12, 15 & 16 for VAD, Red Cross and medical stories in Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.

IMG_3998The British Colony Hospital on the Vassily Ostroff in 2019