Mikhail Rodzianko

Mikhail Rodzianko

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Mikhail Rodzianko, the son of a wealthy landowner, was born in Ekaterinoslav, on 9th March, 1859. A senior army officer, Rodzianko became involved in politics and favoured an extension of democracy in Russia.

Rodzianko was elected to the third Duma and in March, 1911, became its leader. He was a loyal supporter of Nicholas II but was willing to criticize failings in his administration.

He strongly disapproved of Gregory Rasputin and during the First World War told the Tsar that he believed him to be a German spy. He told the Tsar: "I must tell Your Majesty that this cannot continue much longer. No one opens your eyes to the true role which this man (Rasputin) is playing. His presence in Your Majesty's Court undermines confidence in the Supreme Power and may have an evil effect on the fate of the dynasty and turn the hearts of the people from their Emperor".

Alfred Knox later claimed "I saw Rodzianko for a moment and told him that I was frightened that things were taking a turn that might endanger the continuance of the war." Rodzianko replied: "My dear Knox, you must be easy. Everything is going on all right. Russia is a big country, and can wage a war and manage a revolution at the same time." Rodzianko was aware of the serious problems that faced the country and in 1916 he tried to persuade Nicholas II to introduce reforms and to appoint a Duma government.

On 10th March, 1917, the Tsar had decreed the dissolution of the Duma, but Rodzianko before he knew of this decree, had sent the following telegram to the Tsar: "The situation is serious. There is anarchy in the capital. The Government is paralysed. Transport, food, and fuel supply are completely disorganised. Universal discontent is increasing. Disorderly firing is going on in the streets. Some troops are firing at each other. It is urgently necessary to entrust a man enjoying the confidence of the country with the formation of a new Government. Delay is impossible. Any tardiness is fatal. I pray God that at this hour the responsibility may not fall upon the Sovereign."

On 13th March, 1917, the Russian Army High Command recommended that Nicholas II abdicated. Two days later the Tsar renounced the throne. The Tsar and his immediate family were arrested and negotiations began to find a place of overseas exile. P. N. Milyukov persuaded David Lloyd George, to offer the family political asylum in Britain. However, George V, who feared that the presence of Nicholas would endanger his own throne, forced Lloyd George to withdraw the offer.

Rodzianko supported the Provisional Government but disapproved of Alexander Kerensky and encouraged Lavr Kornilov to march on Petrograd in August, 1917. Harold Williams believed that the Kornilov Revolt dramatically changed the situation and dramatically increased the influence of the Bolsheviks: "The Kornilov Affair has intensified mutual distrust and completed the work of destruction. The Government is shadowy and unreal, and what personality it had has disappeared before the menace of the Democratic Assembly. Whatever power there is again concentrated in the hands of the Soviets, and, as always happens when the Soviets secure a monopoly of power, the influence of the Bolsheviks has increased enormously. Kerensky has returned from Headquarters, but his prestige has declined, and he is not actively supported either by the right or by the left."

After the October Revolution Rodzianko emigrated to Yugoslavia. During his last few years he lived in poverty. Mikhail Rodzianko died on 24th January, 1924.

Profiting by the Tsar's arrival at Tsarskoe I asked for an audience and was received by him on March 8th. "I must tell Your Majesty that this cannot continue much longer. His presence in Your Majesty's Court undermines confidence in the Supreme Power and may have an evil effect on the fate of the dynasty and turn the hearts of the people from their Emperor". My report did some good. On March 11th an order was issued sending Rasputin to Tobolsk; but a few days later, at the demand of the Empress, the order was cancelled.

I saw Rodzianko for a moment and told him that I was frightened that things were taking a turn that might endanger the continuance of the war. He said: "My dear Knox, you must be easy. Russia is a big country, and can wage a war and manage a revolution at the same time." It was, however, precisely because Russia was a big - and unwieldy - country that the situation was dangerous. In Petrograd there were some 219,000 factory hands and some 150,000 mutinous troops, and these constituted inflammable material that was internationalists were working day and night to ignite. Leaflets were distributed advocating the murder of officers. The outlook was black.

The situation is serious. The capital is in a state of anarchy. The government is paralyzed; the transport service has broken down; the food and fuel supplies are completely disorganized. Discontent is general and on the increase. There is wild shooting in the streets; troops are firing at each other. It is urgent that someone enjoying the confidence of the country be entrusted with the formation of a new government. There must be no delay. Hesitation is fatal.

The situation is growing worse. Measures should be taken immediately as tomorrow will be too late. The last hour has struck, when the fate of the country and dynasty is being decided.

The government is powerless to stop the disorders. The troops of the garrison cannot be relied upon. The reserve battalions of the Guard regiments are in the grips of rebellion, their officers are being killed. Having joined the mobs and the revolt of the people, they are marching on the offices of the Ministry of the Interior and the Imperial Duma.

Your Majesty, do not delay. Should the agitation reach the Army, Germany will triumph and the destruction of Russian along with the dynasty is inevitable.

Mikhail Rodzianko

Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko (Russian: Михаи́л Влади́мирович Родзя́нко ) (1859 – January 24, 1924) was a Russian politician.

"M. Rodzianko was an exceptionally tall and powerful man". [ 1 ]

He came from an old Ukrainian noble family of Rodzianko. He was educated at the Corps des Pages, served in Her Majesty's Regiment of the Cavalry of the Guard, and was later appointed Kammerherr of the Imperial Court. He also, later, served as Marshall of the Gentry and as President of the Provincial Zemstvo Executive. [ 2 ]

Rodzianko was one of the founders and leaders of the Octobrist party. He was a deputy of the Third Russian State Duma, and was elected the Chairman after the resignation of Aleksandr Guchkov in 1911. He then continued as the Chairman of the Fourth State Duma until its dissolution in February 1917.

He remarked on the meeting between Rasputin and Tsar Nicholas II: "It marked the beginning of the decay of the Russian society and the loss of prestige of the throne and of the tsar himself."

Mikhail Rodzianko was one of the key politicians during the Russian February Revolution. He presided over the Provisional Committee of the State Duma, and, among other things, led abdication talks with Tsar Nicholas II.

When Rodzianko met Tsarevich Alexei for the first time, he introduced himself as "the fattest man in Russia". [ 3 ]

He emigrated to Serbia in 1920, where he died in great poverty in 1924. [ 4 ] His nephew Aleksandr Rodzyanko was one of the leaders of the White Army.

Rodzianko urges the Tsar not to take command (1915)

On August 25th 1915, Mikhail Rodzianko, the President of the State Duma, wrote to Nicholas II, urging the Tsar to reconsider his decision to take command of the Army:

Your Imperial Majesty,

“Supplementing my verbal report, which I had the honour to lay before you on August 24th, I make bold to beg Your Majesty again not to subject your sacred person to the dangers in which you may be placed by the consequences of your decision.

Sire! You are the symbol and the standard around which all the nationalities of Russia rally. This standard cannot and must not be dragged into the stress and storm of the ordeals that have come to us. It must shine radiantly as the torch for all the strivings of the nation and serve as the invincible bulwark of all the sons of Russia and as the promise of security for their minds, alarmed by these events.

Sire! You have no right, in the face of the nation, to allow anything to happen that might possibly cast the faintest shadow to fall upon this sacred standard.

At this dreadful hour of peril, unprecedented in the history of Russia, when the possibility arises of a heavy Teuton yoke over the Russian land, you, Sire, must be beyond and above those organs of government which shoulder the duty of immediately repulsing the enemy. You cannot act as executive: you must be judge, a benign encourager or implacable punisher.

But if you, Sire, should take over the direct command of our glorious army, you the last refuge of your people, who will then pass judgment in the event of failure or defeat? Is it not really obvious, Sire, that you will then voluntarily have surrendered your inviolable person to the judgment of the people? And that is fatal to Russia. Consider what you are laying hands on – on your own self, Sire!

Our native land is going through a painful crisis. General mistrust surrounds the present Government, which has lost confidence in itself and will power. All idea of authority has been shattered by its disorderly measures, and yet, more than ever before, there has now grown up in the country a realisation of the need for a firm, unshakable faith in oneself and in the popular strength of the Government. The minds of all the Russians have reached a state of an unprecedented strain, fearing for the fate of Russia.

The nation is impatiently longing for a power which will instil confidence and lead the country into the path of victory. Yet at such a time, Your Majesty, you decide to displace the supreme commander-in-Chief, whom the Russian people still trusts absolutely, The people will interpret Your step in no other way but as inspired by the Germans around You, who in the minds of the people are identified with our enemies and with treason to the Russian cause.

In the popular mind, the result of Your Majesty’s decision will be a realization of the hopelessness of the situation and of the chaos which has invaded the administration.

Sire! The situation will be even worse if the army, deprived of a leader enjoying its absolute confidence, loses its courage. In this event defeat is inevitable, and within the country revolution and anarchy will then break out, sweeping everything from their path.

Your Majesty! Before it is too late, revoke your decision, no matter how hard it may be for you. Retain Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich at the head of the army. Reassure alarmed and agitated minds by forming a government of people who enjoy your confidence and are known to the country by their public activities.

Sire, it is not yet too late! On bended knees, I beg you fervently not to delay the decision which will protect the sacred person of the Russian Tsar and the reigning dynasty.

Sire, give heed to this truthful word from the heart of Your loyal servant.”

August 25th 1915

Mikhail Rodzianko

It seems that kinship never fades, no matter what happens. In Moscow, Rodzianko claims that he heard that in Riga, Emperor Wilhelm II visited an Orthodox cathedral, kissed the icons and ordered that Nicholas II be mentioned during the service.

It's fine to mention him, but how - they should think about that.

Source: "Novyy Satirikon", 1917, №36

Photo: Imperial War Museums

It's an important day at the Palace: interrogation of Rodzianko is taking place.

Source: Blok A., Zapisnyye knizhki, 1901&ndash1920, 1965.

The Conference of Public Figures welcomes you, the Supreme Leader of the Russian Army. The Conference declares that any attempt attempt to undermine your authority in the army and in Russia will be considered criminal, and joins its voice to the voices of the officers, the cadets and the Knights of George. See more

In this terrible hour of grave tribulation, those in Russia who continue to think put their hopes and faith in you. May God help you in your great trial, may you restore the greatness of the army and save Russia!

Source: Anton Denikin. Ocherki russkoy smuty. Bor'ba generala Kornilova. Avgust 1917 g. &ndash aprel' 1918 g.

A different course of events could not be expected. However, people's minds start to clear up, thank God. Of course, all false teachers lost their authority. Ideas of communism were completely wrecked. Now it's obvious that instead of the motto "liberté, égalité, fraternité", people prefer cruel despotism based on violence, blood and murders. See more

After 1905 the motto "pacification, and then reforms" became extremely wrong. Now we shouldn't be leftists or rightists, socialists or bourgeois – we must be Russians, who love their Fatherland, who believe in its strength despite this temporary humiliation. All we experienced – is a disease, grievous disease but contributing to the growth.

Source: Rodzyanko M. V. Krushenye Imperyi, Moscow, 1992.

I got an invitation to come see Rodzianko at breakfast. During our conversation, Rodzianko expressed an optimistic view on the situation in the Black Sea. I've told him that I am experiencing the same internal turmoil as everyone. For now, I can contain this motion, by appealing to the remnants of reason, See more

but at present there are signs that this reason is disappearing and I am on the verge of the same explosion that happened in the Baltic Sea, and that I do not at all believe in good outcome, which is in appearance only.

Source: Pokazaniya Kolchaka ot 24 yanvarya 1920, Leningrad, 1925

Rodzianko, the chairman of the Duma, has become a frequent visitor to our house. Once, catching sight of me, Rodzianko came straight out with a question: “Moscow wants to declare you Emperor, What do you say?” This wasn’t the first time I had heard this. Soon, Admiral Kolchak and Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich came to me and repeated: “The Russian throne has not, in the past, been achieved through inheritance or election. It has been seized. See more

Take advantage of the opportunity. You know best. Russia cannot exist without a Tsar. But confidence in the Romanov dynasty has been shattered. The people no longer want the Romanovs.” And to think, this proposal springs from a murder. The man who, by killing Rasputin, hoped to save the monarch, is now being encouraged to seize the throne himself!

Source: Kn'az' Feliks Usupov, Memuary, Moscow, 2007

I would like to say what I think about Kerensky. He is an unprincipled man, who changes his convictions, does not think deeply and is extremely superficial. His empty, semi-hysterical speeches don't correspond with his inner disposition. I boldly declare that no one has done as much harm to Russia as Kerensky. He is two-faced and always flirts with all political movements. Having no will power, he patronises the Bolsheviks!

Source: Rodzyanko M. V. Krushenye Imperyi, Moscow, 1992.

Разгромлен Окружной суд и Главное артиллерийское управление, а также Арсенал, из которого было похищено около 40 тысяч винтовок рабочими заводов, которые сейчас же были розданы быстро сформированным батальонам красной гвардии.

Source: Rodzyanko M. V. Krushenye Imperyi, Moscow, 1992.

The Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich arrived in Petrograd, and we had a meeting with him in the company of the Chairman of the State Duma, his comrade Nekrasov, the secretary of the State Duma Dmitriyukov and member of the Duma Savich. See more

The Grand Duke was informed of all the details of the state of affairs in the capital and it was pointed out that it was still possible to save the situation: he had to take over the dictatorship of the city of Petrograd, force the staff of the Government to resign and to demand, by direct wire, the manifesto of the Emperor to grant a responsible ministry. The indecisiveness of the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich contributed to the fact that the favourable moment was lost.

Source: Rodzyanko M. V. Krushenye Imperyi, Moscow, 1992.

I walked along side the motorcars toward the Duma. I popped into Radzianko's office. I inspected Miliukov. He was silent. But for some reason it seemed to me that he was stuttering. I was bored an hour later. I left.

Source: Mayakovskiy V. V., Avtobiographiya // "Ya sam", Berlin, 1922, №9

When it became evident that the government was no more, it simultaneously became apparent that it wasn’t viable to remain without a government for so much as an hour. And that the State Duma Committee, which was promptly swamped with appeals for directives, would therefore have to don Monomakh’s hat.

Rodzianko was in two minds for a long time. What would this prove to be, he kept asking – an insurrection or not?

Source: Shulgin V.V., Dni: zapiski, Belgrade, 1925.

Most humbly I report to your Majesty, that the popular disturbances which have begun in Petrograd are assuming a serious character and threatening proportions. The causes are a shortage of baked bread and an insufficient supply of flour, which are giving rise to panic, but most of all a complete lack of confidence in the leadership, which is incapable of leading the nation out of this difficult situation. In such circumstances there will undoubtedly be an explosion of events, which may be possible to contain temporarily at the price of shedding the blood of innocent citizens, but which it will be impossible to control if they persist. See more

The movement could spread to the railways, and the life of the country will come to a standstill at critical time. The factories, which are producing armaments in Petrograd, are coming to a halt due to luck of fuel and raw materials, the workers are without jobs, and a hungry unemployed mass is being launched on the road to anarchy, elemental and uncontrollable…
The government is completely paralysed, and totally incapable of restoring order where it has broken down. Your Majesty, save Russia, humiliation and threaten. The war cannot be brought to a victorious end in such circumstances, as the ferment has already affected the army and threatens to spread, unless the authorities put a decisive end to the anarchy and disorder. Your Majesty, without delay summon a person whom the whole country trusts, and charge him with forming a government will command the support of the whole of Russia, which will once more regain confidence in itself and its leaders. In this hour, unprecedented in its terror and horror of its consequences, there is no other way and there can be no delay.

Russia struggles with legacy of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution

MOSCOW – They played key roles in Russia's 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which triggered a civil war that killed millions, devastated the country and redrew its borders. A century later, their descendants say these historic wounds have not healed.

As Russia approaches the centennial of the uprising, it has struggled to come to terms with the legacy of those who remade the nation. The Kremlin is avoiding any official commemoration of the anniversary, tip-toeing around the event that remains polarizing for many and could draw unwelcome parallels to the present.

Alexis Rodzianko, whose great-grandfather was speaker of the pre-revolutionary Russian parliament and pushed Czar Nicholas II to abdicate but later regretted it, sees the revolution as a calamity that threw Russia backward.

"Any evolutionary development would have been better than what happened," Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, told The Associated Press. "The main lesson I certainly would hope is that Russia never tries that again."

He said the revolution and the civil war, combined with the devastation of World War II and the overall legacy of the Soviet system, eroded Russia's potential and left its economy a fraction of what it could have been.

A similar view is held by Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Kremlin-connected lawmaker whose grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov, played an important role in staging the Bolshevik power grab on Nov. 7, 1917, and served as a member of the Communist leadership for four decades.

Nikonov describes the revolution as "one of the greatest tragedies of Russian history."

The anniversary is a tricky moment for President Vladimir Putin.

While he has been critical of revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, Putin can't denounce the event that gave birth to the Soviet Union and is still revered by many of his supporters. But Putin, a KGB veteran, disdains any popular uprisings, and he certainly wouldn't praise the revolution, which destroyed the Russian empire.

"The last thing the Kremlin needs is another revolution. The last thing Russia needs is another revolution," Rodzianko said. "And celebrating the revolution saying: 'Hey, what a great thing!' is a little bit encouraging what they don't want, and so they are definitely confused."

He believes the befuddled attitude to the anniversary reflects a national trauma that still hurts.

"To me, it's a sign that people aren't quite over it. For Russia, it's a wound that is far from healed," he said.

The Kremlin has blamed the U.S. for helping to oust some unpopular rulers in former Soviet nations and for instigating Arab Spring democracy uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Putin has also accused Washington of encouraging big demonstrations against him in Moscow in 2011-2012.

Nikonov echoes Putin's claims of outside meddling.

"Our Western friends are spending a lot of money on all sort of organizations, which are working to undermine the Russian government," he said.

The government's low-key treatment of the centennial reflects deep divisions in Russia over the revolution, said Nikonov, who chairs a committee on education and science in the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament.

A nationwide poll last month by the research company VTsIOM showed opinions over the revolution split almost evenly, with 46 percent saying it served interests of the majority and the same number responding that only a few benefited the rest were undecided. The poll of 1,800 people had a margin of error of no more than 2.5 percentage points.

During Soviet times, Nov. 7 was known as Revolution Day and featured grand military parades and demonstrations on Red Square. After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia stopped celebrating it, although the Communists still marked it.

"There is no way you can celebrate the revolution so that the majority of the public would support that," Nikonov said. "There is no common interpretation of history of the revolution, and I don't think it's possible in any foreseeable future. So I think the best way for the government in that situation is just keep a low profile."

Vyacheslav Molotov remained a steadfast believer in the Communist cause until his 1986 death in Moscow at age 96. Nikonov, his grandson, believes the revolution denied Russia a victory in World War I.

"At the beginning of the year, Russia was one of the great powers with perfect chances of winning the war in a matter of months," he said. "Then the government was destroyed. By the end of the year, Russia wasn't a power, it was incapable of anything."

Nikonov insists the current political system can meet any challenges, adding: "I don't think that Russia faces any dangers to its stability now."

Putin has famously described the 1991 Soviet collapse as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," but he also has deplored the 1917 revolution. This ambivalence is rooted in his desire to tap the achievements of both the czarist and the Soviet empires as part of restoring Russia's international clout and prestige.

"He will not celebrate this event," said Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. "It couldn't be used for the legitimization of Putin, because he's a counterrevolutionary. For him, Lenin disrupted a great empire."

Putin uses the symbols of various eras to burnish national glory. He has restored the Soviet-style national anthem and kept the imperial tricolor flag and double-headed eagle coat-of-arms.

He has ignored demands to remove Lenin's embalmed body from its Red Square mausoleum for burial. But he also has encouraged the steady growth of power and influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and conservative elements in society. Monuments and shrines to Nicholas II, who has been glorified as a saint, have sprouted across Russia, although they are still far outnumbered by statues and memorials to Lenin.

Rodzianko said his great-grandfather, Mikhail Rodzianko, quickly regretted pushing the czar to abdicate.

"He always tortured himself," he said. "'Could I have done anything else to prevent this?' was the phrase that I heard he apparently used."

Days after the monarchy fell in February 1917, the Duma speaker found himself sidelined as too conservative for the new provisional government. When that liberal entity was swept away by the Bolsheviks, he joined the White movement in the civil war against the Reds, then left Russia after its defeat. Mikhail Rodzianko died in Belgrade in 1924.

While Rodzianko's great-grandfather fought for the White cause, Nikonov's grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov, was Lenin's right-hand man throughout Russia's revolution and civil war.

Molotov later became No. 2 to Josef Stalin, serving as his prime minister and then foreign minister in the 1930s-1940s. He fell from favor in Stalin's last years in 1949, his wife was arrested and sent to the Gulag.

"My grandmother was arrested under the accusation of being the head of a Jewish conspiracy in the Soviet Union," Nikonov said. "They had to divorce, and that was the only chance for them to survive. Because one of the reasons she was arrested was to prepare the next trial against Molotov, and he knew that pretty well."

After Stalin died in 1953, Molotov won her quick release from prison.

Molotov's predecessor as Soviet foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, also played a key role in the revolution and spearheaded the Bolsheviks' first contacts with Britain in 1918. Litvinov was foreign minister in the 1930s and ambassador to Washington during World War II before his death in Moscow in 1951.

His grandson, Pavel, became a dissident and was one of seven people who protested the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in a Red Square demonstration that earned him five years in Siberia. He then left for the United States, where he has lived since then.

Pavel Litvinov said in an interview in New York that his grandfather "tried to create a better life for the Russian people and probably the whole world," and believed in Lenin but was disillusioned under Stalin.

Pavel's son, Dima, joined Greenpeace and spent more than two months in jail in 2013 for a protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic.

"I think it's a family tradition to challenge authorities and to fight for the right thing," Dima Litvinov said in Stockholm, where he lives. "There is a sort of a link, a similarity. We're fighting against injustice, and if that means we have to question and challenge authorities — well, that's what we do."

Dima Litvinov said his great-grandfather "would be horrified by the extreme nationalism and religious intolerance that is going up in Russia."

"I think he would want to challenge and oppose all of these things," he said.

Dima Litvinov said Russia now faces some of the same problems that led to the 1917 revolution.

"Russia, in a way, hasn't moved on," he said. "People feel detached from the ability to affect their fate and the government. The authorities like it that way."

Associated Press writers David Keyton in Stockholm, and Kate de Pury in Moscow, contributed to this report.

Presidential Library

9 (21) February 1859, in the village of Popasny, Novomoskovsk County, Yekaterinoslav Province, in the family of Colonel Guard was born Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko, Russian politician, leader of the "Union of October 17" party, the chairman of State Duma of the third and fourth convocation (1911-1917) and the Interim Committee of the State Duma (1917).

In 1877 Rodzianko graduated from the Page Corps and became a cornet in a Cavalry regiment, but five years later left the military service. In 1883 he was elected an honorary magistrate of the Novomoskovsk County, Yekaterinoslav Province, and in 1886-1891 served as a district leader of the nobility. In 1892 Rodzianko was granted the rank of gentleman of the monarch’s bedchamber, in 1899 - the title of chamberlain of the Imperial Court.

In 1900s Mikhail Vladimirovich served as chairman of the Yekaterinoslav district council, was engaged in editing the "Yekaterinoslav Zemstvo Herald" newspaper, and attended in the congresses of rural and urban workers. In 1905 Rodzianko became one of the founders of the Octobrist Party, "The Union of October 17," was a member of its Central Committee.

In 1906 he was elected to the State Election Board of the Yekaterinoslav Zemstvo, but due to the election to the State Duma of the third convocation , he resigned his seat in the upper chamber. In the 3rd Duma Mikhail Vladimirovich was chairman of the Land Committee and a member of the Resettlement Committee. In March 1911 he replaced A. I. Guchkov as chairman of the Duma. Since the beginning of the 4th State Duma, Rodzianko was elected its chairman, and thereafter was annually re-elected to this position. After the Octobrist Party split in 1913-1914, he joined the faction of the Zemstvo Octobrists.

The outbreak of the World War I found Rodzianko in Nauheim (Germany) where he had been treated. Believing it necessary to bring the war "to the victory, in honor and dignity of the dear fatherland," he was almost unconditionally supporting the authorities in the first months of hostilities, but under the influence of defeats at the front, went into opposition.

During the World War I Rodzianko was against Emperor Nicholas II assuming the duties of the Supreme Commander, and also demanded the resignation of several ministers, especially the chairman of the Council of Ministers I. L. Goremykin . In April 1915 Rodzianko traveled to the Austrian Galicia occupied by Russian troops. In July 1915 he participated in the creation of the Progressive Bloc, becoming one of its leaders, and at the same time - the official intermediary between the State Duma and the supreme authority.

In August 1915 Rodzianko was one of the initiators of the establishment of the Special Meeting to discuss the activities intended for national defense, leading the Evacuation Commission soon formed by the Meeting. In February (March) 1917, he was elected chairman of the Interim Committee of the State Duma, held talks with leaders of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet about the members of the Provisional Government, and, on behalf of the Committee, discussed with Headquarters the issues of abdication of Emperor from the throne by telegraph. Under the leadership of Rodzianko in April-August 1917 were held the so-called private meetings of the Duma members who discussed the political and economic situation in the country.

During the October Revolution Rodzianko was in Petrograd trying to organize the defense of the Provisional Government, but after the defeat he moved to the Don. There he was with the White Army of General A. I. Denikin , attempting to recreate the Meeting of the State Duma members of all the four convocations. However, his attempt proved unsuccessful, and in 1920 he emigrated to Yugoslavia.

January 24, 1924 Mikhail Rodzianko died in the village of Beodra in Yugoslavia. May 7, 1924 his remains were transferred to the New Cemetery in Belgrade.

Lit.: Глинка Я. В. Одиннадцать лет в Государственной Думе. 1906-1917. Дневник и воспоминания. М., 2001 Родзянко М. В. За кулисами царской власти. М., 1926 Он же. Крушение империи (Записки председателя Русской Государственной Думы). Л., 1927.

Downfall of a Dynasty: The February Revolution

The slogan “Daite khleb – Give us bread!” echoed throughout Petrograd as 90,000 people gathered to strike against the tsar, Nicholas Romanov (“February Revolution”). The demonstration began on March 8 th , 1917 when working class women marched through the capital’s streets angry over food scarcity, overgrown breadlines, and the seemingly indifferent tsar.

They ardently demanded for change – anything to at least put more food on the table. Evolving into a large scale revolution, the insurgency lasted less than a week, but their influence forced Nicholas to abdicate the throne.

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Downfall of a Dynasty: The February Revolution

The events leading to the February Revolution had left the nation simmering, and Petrograd was the outlet. Nicholas’s rationing of bread infuriated his subjects.

On top of food scarcity, Russia was poorly equipped to fight in the Great War. The tsar’s command over the army was less than stellar, and while he was commanding troops, he left his German-born wife Alexandra in charge of the country. In addition to these problems, Nicholas’s repeated dissolving of the Dumas, a “workers government” with the final say in the tsar’s laws, fueled the Russian peoples’ anger (“Why”).

The populace was suffering, and his subjects were ready to revolt.

The revolution began small, but within a few days it amassed underground activists with men and women from all around the city.

The day the February Revolution began, Nicholas was on a train to Stavka, blissfully unaware of the upheaval taking place. The next day, March 10 th , the mass of people in Petrograd had grown larger, and they were yelling “Down with the war!” and “Down with the tsar!” Incensed mobs of workers destroyed police stations however, in Stavka, Nicholas paid little attention to the frantic reports streaming in about the riots in Petrograd (Siegalbaum).

He merely observed the quality of the refreshing air, and he wrote to Alexandra saying, “My brain is resting here. No ministers, no troubling questions, no demanding thought” (Fleming 161).

Rioters in Petrograd during the February Revolution (Russian Revolution) The foremost banner says, “Long Live the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies” (Fleming 245).

By then, most city workers were on strike, bringing the entire city to a halt there was no electricity and no water. They waved banners, chanted, and threw rocks and chunks of ice at the police.

Nicholas’s desperate ministers offered their resignations if only the tsar were to return, yet Nicholas could not grasp the seriousness of the situation, refusing to return. Instead, he called armed soldiers to quell the revolt.

On March 11 th , demonstrators taking to the streets early were greeted with posters declaring it was forbidden to assemble, and if they did so, the strikers would be immediately and forcibly disbanded. Nevertheless, they surged through the streets.

In reaction, the soldiers fired.

Two hundred strikers lay dead and forty were wounded. The soldiers, many who were country boys recently deported from their villages, were sickened at the sight and sympathized with the demonstrators. They had had enough. Many troops emptied their rifles into the air and joined the revolution (Fleming).

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One furious officer commanding a company refusing to fire ordered they “aimed for the heart.” The soldiers shot him instead. The Duma president, Mikhail Rodzianko, pleaded with the tsar in a telegram:

“Your majesty, save Russia she is threatened with humiliation and disgrace… Urgently summon a person in whom the whole country can have faith and entrust him with the formation of the government that all people trust… In this terrible hour… there is no other way out and to delay is impossible.” (Fleming 163)

Nicholas ignored the telegram and continued his evening playing dominos declaring, “That fat Rodzianko has written all sorts of nonsense to me, to which I shall not even reply” (Fleming 163).

Monday, March 12, the uprising was still growing in numbers and strength.

The tsar’s own army joined the revolutionaries, and the whole city was in chaos. They raided the arsenal, set prisoners free, looted shops, and burned police stations and other government buildings.

Instead of putting out the fires, firemen cheered and watched the buildings burn. With Nicholas oblivious and absent, the people needed order and leadership, so the Duma stepped up and temporarily took charge to calm the revolt. Nevertheless, the Duma did little to abate the people’s anger (Fleming).

Nicholas Romanov on the imperial train, the location of where he writes the Abdication Manifesto (Emperor Nicholas II).

Days later, March 15 th , Nicholas’s train arrived in Pskov, delayed by revolutionaries who had seized control of the tracks. Suddenly, telegrams began to flood in from Nicholas’s most valued generals.

In order to save the war effort, the country, and his dynasty, Nicholas would have to resign his autocratic power. Hours later, after heavy chain smoking and pondering the telegrams, he wrote his Abdication Manifesto, giving up the throne in favor of his brother Grand Duke Michael (Fleming).

In Petrograd, when the mob learned of the news, they exploded with anger. They wanted a republic, not a new tsar. They inundated the streets screaming “Down with the dynasty!”, toppling all tsarist symbols. In the Winter Palace, Nicholas’s picture was slashed with bayonets.

A new tsar would only incite more violence and possibly a civil war, so after carefully listening to reports of Petrograd, Michael declined the throne and 304 years of Romanov rule came to an end (Fleming).

After Nicholas’s abdication, revolutionaries dismantled any tsarist symbol including the bronze statue of Alexander the III, Nicholas’s father (Alexander III).

The nation reveled at the demise of the Romanov dynasty. Red flags were hung from roofs and balconies. Everyone was singing, dancing and marching in parades.


  1. ^ Store sovjetiske encyklopedi (1969–1978) , avsnitt, vers eller paragraf Родзянко Михаил Владимирович , besøkt 28. september 2015

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These 7 Heroes Turned the Tide of Battle (And Changed History)

Warfare brings about great deeds and dire circumstances. In the aftermath of the world’s greatest conflicts, some soldiers and commanders become footnotes in the history books, whereas others are able to rewrite the book itself.

Here is a brief list of our historical greats: leaders and the commanders who, for good or ill, changed the course of world events forever.

“Yasha” Botchkareva and the Battalion of Death

In May 1917, Duma (the Russian parliament) President Mikhail V. Rodzianko summoned Maria “Yasha” Botchkareva, a Siberian peasant, to St. Petersburg to hear her plea to organize a women’s battalion for the coming summer offensive. During her lifetime, Botchkareva had fled from her drunken and abusive husband, enlisted in the Russian Imperial Infantry, suffered two wounds in combat, and won three decorations for bravery under enemy fire.

“You heard of what I have gone through and what I have done as a soldier,” Botchkareva stated to Rodzianko’s assembly of soldiers’ delegates to the Duma. “Now, how would it do to organize three hundred women like me to serve as an example to the army and lead the men into battle?”

Botchkareva later recalled that she was granted authority then and there to form the First Russian Women’s Battalion of Death.

Howard W. Gilmore

On February 7, 1943, while on patrol in the South Pacific, U.S .Navy Commander Howard W. Gilmore, commander of the USS Growler and his crew carved out a place for themselves in navy legend, and set a standard of duty that is remembered in the submarine service today.

Growler had departed Brisbane, Australia, on January 1, 1943, to partrol shipping lanes between Truk and Rabaul in the Bismarck Islands, off the northeastern coast of New Guinea, an area that was bristling with Japanese aircraft and armament.

On the night of February 4, Growler spotted a Japanese convoy of merchant ships with two patrol boats as escort. Opting for a surface attack, Growler slipped through the darkness to get a head of the Japanese ships.

What happened next made submarine and military history.

John Steinbeck

A fuming John Steinbeck vented his frustration over World War II to a friend on March 15, 1943. Employed by the government in home front duties, the Pulitzer Price-winning author of The Grapes of Wrath expected a big military push to come soon, and he wanted to be overseas, not stateside, covering the war.

As an accredited journalist, Steinbeck could still write and yet be in the thick of the fighting. But his temper flared as he told his friend, “From what I have so far, if I go into the army I would prefer to be a private. The rest is very like the fraternity system at Stanford. I have not been notified of rejection by the way.”

He would get his wish and more, participating in the Salerno invasion and serving alongside a special commando unit that would enable him to blur the role of journalist and soldier.

Louis XIV: The Sun King of France

Louis XIV of France is remembered as the Sun King, the most resplendent figure of his age, the man who snatched dominance of Europe from the Spanish and built France into the preeminent power of the second half of the 17th century.

His first main venture into guiding military affairs would be well plotted and practically assured of success it was the conquest of Spanish Flanders. First, Louis made sure he had the money to pay for the venture—his minister Colbert saw to it that the coffers were adequately filled. Louis also made much of organizing and retraining his soldiers, weeding out incompetent commanders. And he waited until his prey was weak—the Spanish empire was in decline and in the year 1666 Spain had a five-year-old sickly king, Charles II.

Even this was not enough. Louis claimed that where he was sending his army was by right his anyway. The argument revolved around six-year-old clauses of his marriage to Marie Therese—the late King of Spain Philip IV’s daughter—and the argument had some validity. Moreover, Louis made a treaty with Portugal so that he could attack Spain through this country if the conquering grew complicated in Flanders. Not even all this was enough he also bribed German princes into neutrality. And he waited until his own army vastly outnumbered Spanish forces in Flanders. Then he gave military command of the campaign to his most experienced general, Turenne.

William B. Hazen: The Civil War’s “Best-Hated Man”

In the course of his 30-year military career, Hazen managed to quarrel with various superior officers, up to and including the president of the United States.

He was reprimanded, court-martialed, and removed several times from command, only to be restored when political allies such as Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield entered the White House. His courageous testimony in the trading post scandals surrounding Secretary of War William Belknap resulted in the secretary’s resignation in disgrace but earned Hazen the lasting enmity of Belknap’s patron, President Ulysses S. Grant, and Grant’s minions, including Generals William T. Sherman, Phil Sheridan, and George A. Custer.

For Hazen, this was all in a day’s work.

Alexander the Great: The “Unstoppable God of War”

Alexander III became King of Macedon at the age of 20 in 336 B.C., upon the assassination of his father, Philip II. In the spring of 334, having spent the last two years settling things in Macedonia and Greece, Alexander set out for the Hellespont to fulfill his father’s plan to bring war to the Persians. The undertaking was made possible by the standing army Alexander had inherited from Philip.

In 334 B.C., at age 22, he met the Persian army at Arisbe, marched east to defeat the Persians in bloody hand-to-hand combat at the Granicus River, and then turned south along the coastline, taking the coastal cities. The Macedonian king then wanted to visit the temple of Jove to see the famous Chariot of Gordion.

“Mad Jack” Churchill

It was May 1940, and the German officer’s unit was attacking toward a village called l’Epinette, near Bethune, France. Five of his soldiers took cover behind a farmyard wall, sheltered from the fire of British rearguards covering the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force to the English Channel. Without warning, one German crumpled, the feathered tip of an arrow sticking out of his chest. From a small farm building on their flank, rifle-fire tore into the others.

While he may have known that his enemy was soldiers of the Manchester Regiment, the German leader could not have known that they were led by the formidable Captain Jack Churchill. It was Churchill’s arrow that skewered the luckless German, while his men’s rifles accounted for the rest. However deadly, bows and arrows were surely anachronisms in modern war. They were formidable soldiers and always had been, precisely the sort of men Jack Churchill was cut out to lead.

But then, so was the bowman.

Originally Published April 11, 2019.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Blinker and the boys in Room 40

EVEN BY THE TSAR’S OWN exalted standards, this was a spectacular own goal.

On 18 January, his government postponed the next meeting of the Duma from 25 January to 27 February. It was an astonishingly imprudent decision, as well as a weak one, and obviously defensive.

That day, the President of the Duma, Mikhail Rodzianko, had an audience with the Tsar and urged upon him a spirit of realism:

Your Majesty, I consider the st a te of the country to have become more critical and menacing than ever. The spirit of all the people is such that the gravest upheavals may be expected…All Russia is unanimous in claiming a change of government and the appointment of a responsible premier invested with the confidence of the nation…

A lesser man might have found that the presence of anointed royalty sapped the critical instinct, but not this one.

Sire, there is not a single honest or reliable man left in your entourage all the best have either been eliminated or have resigned…It is an open secret that the Empress issues orders without your knowledge, that Ministers report to her on matters of state…Indignation against and hatred of the Empress are growing throughout the country. She is looked upon as Germany’s champion. Even the common people are speaking of it….To save your family, Your Majesty ought to find some way of preventing the Empress from exercising any influence on politics….Your Majesty, do not compel the people to choose between you and the good of the country.

The Tsar was not unmoved. He allegedly sat with his head in his hands and wondered

Is it possible, that for twenty-two years I tried to act for the best and that for twenty-two years it was all a mistake?

Rodzianko took no prisoners:

Yes, Your Majesty, for twenty-two years you followed the wrong course.

It is a nice vignette, but it made no difference. Nicholas had sworn to maintain autocracy at his coronation and now justified his obstinacy by his insistence that God himself had demanded he preserve it intact — in order that, one day, it might be handed hand over to his son and heir, Alexei.

There was a world, however, beyond whatever La La Land was inhabited by the Tsar and his family — one in which Russian blood and guts were being spilled. On 17 January, General Mackensen’s dramatic successes in Romania were briefly halted on the Sereth as the Romanians had captured the heights between the Casin and Oitoz valleys, taking four guns and many prisoners, but it was a tiny respite. Two days later, the towns of Nanesti and Fundeni fell to the Germans.

Fighting in the west was characterised by a large number of minor engagements — frightening, bloody and fought against the backdrop of deteriorating weather. Haig was determined the Germans would not be able to rest easy in their secure bunkers and dug-outs and so it was that Lens, Neuve-Chapelle and St Eloi were successfully targeted and enemy posts along a 600-yard stretch of the front north of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre were captured on 17 January. The Germans counter-attacked north of Bois des Caurieres near Verdun, but their heart did not seem to be in it, and they were successfully repulsed on 21 January.

Haig was not on hand to see it, having sped off to London awaiting the outcome of the War Cabinet’s deliberations on the proposed offensive outlined to them by General Nivelle.

This was a massively sensitive matter: shorn of official niceties, Lloyd George wanted to find an alternative route to victory to the foul slaughter in the west. At heart he suspected that the British had the stomach to endure it much longer (perhaps not the soldiers, and almost certainly not the civilians). He did not dislike Haig, nor (up to a point) distrust him, but he resented the grand strategy over which he now presided. What, he wondered, about moving against Austria on the Italian front?

Haig had seen Lloyd George on 15 January and recorded that:

the P.M. proceeded to compare the successes obtained by the French during the past summer with what the British had achieved. His general conclusions were that the French Army was better all round, and was able to gain success at less cost of life. That much of our loss on the Somme was wasted, and that the country would not stand any more of that sort of thing. That to win, we must attack a soft front, and we could not find that on the Western Front…

This was hardly a ringing endorsement of Haig’s command. To be fair to Lloyd George, he knew that there was no front in which British soldiers could romp home to an easy victory (that particular myth had been exploded devastatingly at Gallipoli).

At this same moment, the new French commander Nivelle was chafing for a new offensive in the west — spearheaded by the French but with the British in support. The following day, 16 January, he received the War Cabinet’s endorsement of his plans. The Memorandum detailing the agreement was signed by Haig, Robertson and Nivelle, the military chiefs, and not by their political masters. His scheme required the British Army to take over a considerable length of the front to release French divisions for the assault on the Chemin-des-Dames. A heavy British attack would also have to be launched on the Arras front while the French attacked on the Aisne.

Duff Cooper, a future Cabinet minister, later remarked:

The fact was that Nivelle had proved the first and last person capable of persuading Lloyd George that Victory could be won on the western front. Lloyd George believing for the nonce that the thing could be done, demanded that it should be done quickly.

Haig was full of foreboding about the combined efforts of the rookie Prime Minister and the rookie French commander. Ll G sent him a message that same day stressing that the War Cabinet attached great importance to Nivelle’s Plan being carried out ‘both in the letter and in the spirit’. The only concession Haig gained was that reinforcements would be sent and that he could complete the relief of the French with them by 1 March and not at the earlier date of 15 February.

Haig was always a realist. He wrote that

we must do our best to help the French to make their effort a success. If they succeed, we also benefit. If they fail, we will be helped in our turn, and we then have a right to expect their full support to enable us to launch our decisive attack, in the same way as we are now helping them.

Allied progress on other fronts continued to be volatile. On 16 January, Greece at last accepted all the demands made in the Allies’ ultimatum, including making reparations for the destructive demonstrations at the end of last year. That much was good.

Further to the east, in Mesopotamia, efforts to re-take Kut-el-Amara — the town so humiliatingly lost by the British after a disastrous siege ended in April 1916 — moved desperately slowly. General Frederick Maude, charitably described as a cautious and careful commander, was also under orders from London to keep casualties in the campaign to a minimum. This was the problem. Politicians wanted spectacular results at low cost.

In the absence of good news, they also abetted disinformation — lies, in fact. A statement on 22 January from the Secretary of the War Office read:

The enemy have now been driven from the small strip on the right bank of the Tigris in the bend north-east of Kut-el-Amara. The whole trench system on a front of 2,500 yards and to a depth of 1,000 yards is now in our hands, and the right bank of the Tigris from Kut-el-Amara downstream has been cleared of the enemy. Further progress has been made against the enemy’s trenches on the right bank south-west of Kut-el-Amara.

This was tosh: the previous ten days’ of fighting had been ferocious and British losses had been savage. But there was a growing anxiety on the part of British political leaders just now, grounded in the fear that popular support for support for the war was more tenuous than it ever had been.

If they were right, then they were not alone. In Germany, the determination to end the war rapidly had provoked the decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Berlin knew that America’s entry into the war was probably inevitable — an outcome which, most understandably, she preferred to avoid. To this end, an eccentric diplomatic feint was devised by Arthur Zimmermann, Secretary for Foreign Affairs: if the US decided to fight against Germany, then Mexico would attack the US.

On 16 January, the idea was forwarded in a telegram to the German ambassador in Washington to be passed to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavour in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you.

You will inform the President [Mexican] of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and … call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

It certainly reads very improbably today. After two and a half years of war, the explanation for the telegram’s existence owes more to Germany’s desperation than, as some have mooted, Zimmerman having lunched too well.

The next problem for Berlin was how to communicate this — what does one say? notion? caprice?policy seems altogether too thoughtful — to the Mexicans. As Germany had destroyed her own trans-Atlantic cables at the start of the war, she had to use those of other countries, including America’s at this point. The coded telegram was sent on 19 January via the US cable which ran through a relay station at Porthcurno in Cornwall, from where all messages were copied to British intelligence.

Here everything became rather John Le Carre. Unknown to the Germans, the British had a superb decoding team, directed by Admiral ‘Blinker’ Hall and based in Room 40 of the Admiralty. By 20 January, they had decoded most of the telegram. The only problem — familiar to all cryptographers — was what to do next. Clearly its contents were explosive, but Hall stalled, deeply reluctant to do anything which might warn the Germans of the British penetration of their codes.

The sterling work by those in Room 40 had not, however, removed the U-boat menace. On 17 January, the British Admiralty announced the losses in the Atlantic for the month from 12 December to 12 January: ten British and two French ships had been sunk two other British ships had been captured and their crews taken prisoner. The following day, the Germans announced that the missing merchantman Yarrowdale, captured on 11 December by their phenomenally successful commercial raider, SS Moewe, had now arrived in Swinemuede on the Baltic. Nearly five hundred prisoners, taken from different ships, including some American citizens, were now in enemy camps.

It got worse, unfortunately. British Intelligence had alerted the navy to the presence of a German flotilla of at least eleven ships apparently headed for Zeebrugge. The Harwich Force was despatched to intercept them and overnight on 22 January an engagement took place which led to the sinking of HMS Simoom torpedoed by the destroyer S.50: of her complement of ninety, there were few survivors from the original explosion.

In such circumstances, it is not remotely hard to understand why both politicians and the general public were forced to contend with two difficult truths: one was that the present rate of slaughter and loss could not be sustained indefinitely the other was that whoever lost the war faced abject catastrophe.

Such an apocalypse was exactly what was anticipated by Klara, mother of Rudolf Hess. Despite having two sons fighting at the front, she wrote austerely to the future Nazi potentate on 22 January:

When I heard about the peace agreement, I felt dejected rather than relieved. I fear we are settling for too little, after all the blood our nation has spilt. Of course I know that an armistice would mean your safe return, my sons, but your future and that of the Fatherland would be built on shaky foundations. Thank God the German Michael [Germany’s patron saint] has finally had the guts to stand firm until our rights to water and land have been secured. We shall fight on, even if it means hard times ahead of us. Why give in at the time when we have been winning victories? Deceit and lies will not bring victory. It would be cowardly of us to worry about you. Instead we should be proud that through our sons we are fighting for the salvation of the Fatherland.

Cynthia Asquith, daughter of the erstwhile Prime Minister, seems to have sidestepped thoughts of a Gotterdamerung. She integrated the sober narratives of war seamlessly into a bustling social life.

Her diary on 18 January records that she:

Dined with Colonel Freyberg, V.C., at the Carlton Grill Room….Freyberg’s sleeve is covered in gold braid. He has a ghastly red trench in his neck, is very deaf in one ear, and cannot move his arm. In spite of this, he succeeded where others failed in winding up Irene’s little car for us…We went Harry Lauder’s musical play — the first time I have ever seen him. He certainly is extraordinarily lovable — marvellous geniality. His son has just been killed and it is terribly moving when he sings a sort of ‘when the boys come home’ patriotic song….

Lauder, a much sought-after variety theatre entertainer, had toured the country aiding recruitment and raising funds for war charities. He had been appearing in the popular Three Cheers revue in London when he had learned of the death of his only son, twenty-five-year-old Captain John Lauder, of the 8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, who had been shot by a sniper at Pozieres on 28 December.

Lauder felt that ‘everything had come to an end’ and that ‘the board of life was black and blank’. Like so many other bereaved parents, he felt his only job now was to ‘carry on’. Later in the year he persuaded the government to send him to France to entertain the troops.

Once there he took the chance to visit his son’s grave at Ovillers

Five hundred British boys lie sleeping in that small acre of silence, and among them is my own laddie. There the finest hopes of my life, the hopes that sustained and cheered me through many years lie buried……

I wanted to reach my arms down into that dark grave, and clasp my boy tightly to my breast, and kiss him. And I wanted to thank him for what he had done for his country, and his mother, and for me.

Meanwhile, on 21 January, the tireless Cynthia attended a rare real Saturday to Monday party again — really very much like a pre-war one at Panshanger [the grand Hertfordshire home of Lord and Lady Desborough, both still in mourning for their sons, Julian and Billy Grenfell].

Instead of going to church, a party conducted by Lord Desborough went over to see the German prisoners. There are about a hundred of them in the park and they work in the woods. I wasn’t allowed to talk German to them. The specimens I saw were of the meek-and-mild type, not at all ‘blond beasts’. They had rather ignominious identification marks in the form of a blue disc patched somewhere onto their backs: it looked as though its purpose was to afford a bull’s eye to the marksman if they attempted to escape.…

Such voyeurism leaves a bad taste in the mouth, at least today. In Sedan, the teenage schoolboy, Yves Congar, had recently witnessed the horrific treatment meted out to the thousands of Romanian prisoners who had passed through town following Romania’s collapse. The prisoners were starving, often wounded, beaten, kept in the railway station at one stage for fifteen days without food. Some Germans threw food from windows and then laughed as starving prisoners fought for the scraps. Romanians, Russians and Italians were treated as the lowest in the ethnic hierarchy whereas British and French prisoners received preferential treatment. Anyone seen sympathising with prisoners, or attempting to help them, was fined individually and the town itself was forced to pay 50,000 marks for its compassionate efforts.

The British were spared the horrors of occupation, but they could still have it hard at home. A catastrophic fire broke out on the evening of 19 January at the large factory complex at Silvertown, between the North Woolwich Railway and the river Thames. Just before 7pm an explosion erupted. To this day, the exact cause is unknown but, 83 tons of TNT ignited, and there was no doubting what followed. All nine factories caught fire, ignited by the red-hot iron girders flung everywhere. Almost every building in London was shaken by the explosion with half a million windows in nearby shops and houses shattered. It remains the largest explosion to be recorded in London.

According to the Stratford Express

The whole heavens were lit in awful splendour. A fiery glow seemed to have come over the dark and miserable January evening, and objects which a few minutes before had been blotted out in the intense darkness were silhouetted against the sky. That awful illumination lasted only a few seconds. Gradually it died away, but down by the river roared a huge column of flame which told thousands that the explosion had been followed by fire and havoc, the like of which has never been known in these parts.

Thousands of houses were destroyed seventy-three people died with ninety-eight seriously injured and more than four hundred others suffered minor injuries. The damage amounted to £1,212, 661, around £60 million in today’s money. Subsequently, third party claims ran into further millions.

The lesson, however, was learned that no munition factories should be anywhere near civilian housing. In retrospect, it is easy to spot that all the ingredients were in place for a perfect storm: the Brunner Mold Chemical Factory was one of the many munitions plants set up in 1915 (in the wake of the ‘Shell Scandal’) and one of its tasks was to purify trinitrotoluene TNT. Flour mills, oil refineries, Lyle’s sugar factory and domestic properties all surrounded the plant with around 5,000 workers each doing their bit.

Put like that, it sounds so easy, so obvious, and so avoidable. But war was all about the ruthless prioritisation of effort and resources and in early 1917, the struggle had become palpably more desperate. Lowly civilians — women and those unfit to serve — had to take their chances.

Watch the video: The Great War - Part 18 Fat Rodzianko has sent me some nonsense - BBC Documentary (July 2022).


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