‘Russia…is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’
Winston Churchill’s words were never truer than in 1917, when the Russian Revolution morphed with dizzying speed from the orderly abdication of the Tsar to the barbaric murder of his entire family, and the violent seizure of power by Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
Yet the outside world was slow to grasp what was happening. Russia had long seemed due for change, and the western European powers were eager to keep the new Soviet state as an ally in the war against Germany. Politicians and public alike were unaware that a reign of terror not equalled since the French Revolution was gripping a nation the size of a continent.
It was left to a handful of British adventurers to expose the brutality of a new order which was to shake western democracy to its very foundations.
Who were these whistle-blowers? Some were diplomats or spies; others were scholars, novelists or journalists; one was a clergyman. Then there were the English governesses: young women hired to look after the scions of aristocratic Russian families, yet who suddenly found themselves living in perilous circumstances, their employers sworn enemies of a murderous new regime.
John Ure, who himself lived as a diplomat in Russia and knew several of these extraordinary men and women personally, brings their stories unforgettably to life. Once again – in the words of The Sunday Times – ‘his adventurous spirit sweeps across continents and through history’.
Sir John Ure fought as a 19-year-old officer with the Cameronians in the jungles of Malaya during the Emergency. He went on to read history at Cambridge and joined H.M. Diplomatic Service. His first posting, at the height of the Cold War, was to Moscow, where he had frequent contact with Khrushchev (and played poker with Shostakovich). During this time he travelled extensively in Central Asia and the Caucasus, often shadowed by the KGB, and penetrated across frontiers into Afghanistan and Iran. He served in the Congo during the civil war of 1961, in Portugal during the revolution of 1974, as under-secretary for the Americas in the Foreign Office during the Falklands War, and later as ambassador to countries as varied as Cuba, Brazil and Sweden.
Ure has written more than a dozen widely translated historical and travel books, including a history of the Cossacks. He has served on the council of the Royal Geographical Society and as chairman of the judges of the Travel Book of the Year award. He describes his recreations in Who’s Who as ‘travelling uncomfortably in remote places and writing about it comfortably afterwards’.