Saturday, September 2, 2017

Secret agent in Moscow

‘Very depressing telegram from Foreign Office. Sent off long telegram re Trotsky. The other day Pravda published ail the documents against Trotsky and Lenin which they had been able to find, including some of English counter-espionage section! They are sportsmen!’ This is from the diary of Bruce Lockhart, born 130 years ago today, who, at the time, was the young British envoy to the new Bolshevik regime in Russia. Later, he would write an international bestseller about his time as a British secret agent. He lived a colourful life, reflected in his diaries. Soon after his death, these were condemned as highly libellous by the modern historian A.J.P. Taylor, but, nevertheless, were edited for publication in the 1970s.

Robert Hamilton Bruce Lockhart was born on 2 September 1887 in Anstruther, Fife, the son of a teacher. After attending various schools where his father was headmaster, he was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh. He was sent to Germany and France to learn foreign languages. Aged 21, he travelled to Malaya with an uncle who had rubber plantations, and was charged with opening a new rubber estate near Pantai. After three years, and a torrid affair with a local princess, he contracted malaria and was sent home. He joined the civil service, and by 1912 had been appointed a vice-consul for the British delegation to Russia in Moscow. In 1913, while in Moscow, he married Jean Bruce Haslewood, and they had a daughter who died at birth and one son; the couple, however, soon became estranged though did not divorce until 1938.

In Moscow, Lockhart was promoted to consul-general, and was in Russia when Nicholas II was overthrown. However, after returning to London, he was sent back to Russia by Prime Minister Lloyd George as the country’s first envoy to the Bolsheviks, but he was also tasked with setting up a spy network. In 1918, after an attempt on the life of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, he was arrested, imprisoned for plotting against the Bolshevik regime, and feared being sentenced to death. However, after a month he was released in exchange for Maxim Litvinov, the unofficial Bolshevik ambassador in London.

Lockhart continued working for the Foreign Office, with a posting in Prague, until 1922, and then took in a job in banking which involved much travel through Central Europe. Having already started to contribute articles and gossip items to London newspapers, in 1929 he decided to accept a job offered by Lord Beaverbrook on the Standard, a position he kept for nearly ten years. In 1932, he published his first book - Memoirs of a British Agent - which was an international bestseller; several more books followed in the 1930s. He became something of a personality, counting among his friends many well-known political and literary names of the time (Harold Nicolson, Malcolm Muggeridge) as well as high society figures, including royalty (Edward Prince of Wales).

During the Second World War, Lockhart served as director-general of the Political Warfare Executive, coordinating British propaganda against the enemy, but as soon as the war was over he returned to writing, broadcasting and lecturing. He was appointed Knight Commander, Order of St. Michael and St. George (K.C.M.G.) in 1943. In 1948, he remarried (Frances Mary Beck); and he published several more books in the 1950s. He died at a nursing home in Hove in 1970, and is not much remembered today. Some further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Spartacus, Spy Culture (where the full text of Memoirs of a British Agent can be read), or The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Lockhart was a committed and compulsive diarist, leaving behind some 200 volumes containing an estimated three million words. These were initially held by the Beaverbrook Library where the Honorary Librarian, A. J. P. Taylor in the mid-1970s, declared they were highly libellous and should be destroyed. They are now housed in the Parliamentary Archive, in the Houses of Parliament library. In 1973, Macmillan published The Diaries of Sir Bruce Lockhart: Volume One 1915-1938 as edited by Kenneth Young. A second volume (1935-1965) did not follow until 1980. A review can be read at The New York Times. The following extracts are taken from the first volume.

11 January 1918
‘At 12 noon met Litvinov, Russia’s new Bolshevik Ambassador, with Rothstein and Leeper at Lyons’ comer shop in the Strand. Litvinov, more sluggish and slower, heavily built with broad forehead did not strike me as a bad fellow. He does not like German goverment [sic] who banished him from Germany. Both men are Jews. Litvinov is married to an Englishwoman.’

28 January 1918
‘Came on to Helsingfors as apparently we cannot get across the bridge. Arrived at 11.30 a.m. in Helsingfors to find the town in a state of revolution. No rooms to be had. Met Lednitski and wandered off with him and Hicks to see if he could get us rooms at the Polish priest’s. No catch, and as we were on the other side of town we could not get back to the Consulate for the firing. Most unpleasant. Stayed the night in small pension. Met Grove [Consul] and Fawcett, the Vice-Consul, who really runs the show.’

30 January 1918
‘Reached Petrograd 7.30 p.m. Streets in a dreadful state, snow had not been swept away for weeks. Everyone looks depressed and unhappy.’

12 February 1918
‘Robins and Bruce lunch. Robins: “Trotsky was poor kind [of] son of a bitch but the greatest Jew since Christ.” ’

21 February 1918
‘Fears of pro-Boche counter-revolution. Events move so rapidly that it is not possible to keep pace with them. Trotsky seems to have re-established his position.’

26 February 1918
‘Saw Trotsky twice today. Loud in his blame of the French and said the Allies had only helped Germany by their intrigues in Russia. American Embassy left for Vologda with Robins. Sent Ransome down with them. Trouble with Petrov about passport. Determined to stay under all circumstances if Bolsheviks can put up any show.’

12 March 1918
‘Very depressing telegram from Foreign Office. Sent off long telegram re Trotsky. The other day Pravda published ail the documents against Trotsky and Lenin which they had been able to find, including some of English counter-espionage section! They are sportsmen!’

13 March 1918
‘Saw Trotsky today and told him about the dangers of Japanese intervention.’

14 March 1918
‘Received long and stupid telegram from Foreign Office. Three numbers are, however, missing. Trotsky appointed president of the Supreme War Council.’

15 March 1918
‘We are to leave for Moscow tomorrow. Petrograd looked very beautiful. Trotsky now made War Minister. Sent off a very hot telegram on Japanese situation. Lenin made great speech at Congress to show why peace was necessary. He said: “One fool can ask more questions than ten wise men can answer.” ’

9 April 1918
‘Telegram from Hicks re Semenov affair. This looks very serious, worked all day sending off telegrams about the situation. Things are moving towards a crisis. Our people at home are so incredibly stupid that they will drift into tragedy, almost without knowing it. We have done our best and it is difficult to see what more we can do. This stupid affair at Vladivostok has spoilt all the advantages which the German landing at Finland could have given us. Everyone here is against it.’

12 April 1918
‘At 3 o’clock last night the Bolsheviks surrounded and attacked simultaneously the twenty-six headquarters of the Anarchists. The latter were taken completely by surprise, were turned out of the houses they occupied and forced to give up their guns, rifles, ammunition and loot. Over five hundred arrested. Saw Djerjinsky, head of Counter-Revolution Committee who gave us a car to go round and see the results of victory.’

19 April 1918
‘Soviet decree about women having the right to divorce a man for a month and the latter not having the right to refuse. Saw Trotsky - fairly satisfactory but hope is not great. In afternoon had long talk with Chichcrin and Karakhan on subject of agreement. Overwhelmed with work. We have no staff, and it is impossible to get through half of what we ought to do.’

15 May 1918
‘Cromie and McAlpinc left. Went with Cromie to see Trotsky about the fleet. Trotsky said war was inevitable. I therefore asked if he would accept Allied intervention. He replied that he had already asked the Allies to make a proposition. I then said that if the Allies would come to an agreement on this point, would he give me half an hour to discuss things. He said: “When the Allies come to an agreement it is not half an hour but a whole day that I will give.” ’

2 June 1918
‘Arrived in Petrograd. Lovely day. Stayed at Petrograd. Rang up Cromie. . . Feeling in Petrograd quite different from Moscow. Altogether quieter and further removed from the struggle. Anti-Bolshevism very strong and hardly concealed. At the cabaret jokes were made at Bolshevik expense which would not be tolerated in Moscow.

Famine pretty severe and grave discontent among the workmen and sailors. Counter-revolution here possible any day.’

6 July 1918
‘Mirbach murdered today by two unknown people who came to the Embassy with false documents. Murder took place at three-thirty. . . We have been moved to a box on the third floor with the Germans opposite. . . Later the theatre was surrounded by troops and no one was allowed to go out. In night and during afternoon rising by Left Social-Revolutionaries. This speedily squashed. Left Social-Revolutionaries fled.’

7 July 1918
‘Radek came to see me. Mirbach’s murderer Blumkin lived in our hotel in room 221. He was a member of the Extraordinary Commission. The Left Social-Revolutionaries during their short revolt arrested Djerjinsky. . . Their resistance was very weak, but for a time they held the telegraph. This was afterwards retaken by Hungarian war prisoners internationalists. Many of the Social-Revolutonaries have been arrested including Alexandrovich, Vice- President of the Extraordinary Commission. He is to be shot immediately. All papers suppressed. No trains to Petrograd or anywhere, no telegrams to abroad. Yaroslavl said to be in the hands of the counter-revolutonaries.’

21 February 1928
‘In the evening dined with Beaverbrook at the Vineyard - very interesting. He offered me a job beginning with £2000 a year as leader-writer for the Standard and Express. He also showed some interest in Continental shares. He is going to Russia and has telegraphed to ask Chicherin if he can take me. Drank some champagne. Late night.’

28 February 1928
‘In the evening went to see Beaverbrook at the vineyard and got an order for Polyphon shares out of him.’

2 March 1928
‘Beaverbrook’s shares have gone up to 270. Saw Sharp of the New Statesman. He very strongly advises me not to join Beaverbrook.

In tight financial hole. Have no money in bank.’

5 March 1928
‘Lunched with Beaverbrook and then came up to London with Jean Norton by car. . .

In evening dined with Hugh Walpole at Arnold Bennett’s house, 75 Cadogan Square. Arnold Bennett very kind about my book. Michael Arlen, T. S. Eliot, the poet and editor of the Criterion, E. Knoblock, also there.

Yesterday and today broke my pledge.’

14 March 1928
‘Went to see Beaverbrook and asked him to give me £10,000 as discretionary client.’

20 March 1928
‘This is the beginning of a critical week, as I must raise at least £750 in order to meet my debts.’

13 July 1929
‘At Hunger Hill for week-end. Hamish, Nancy Mitford. Ba [Cecil] Beaton, and Count Bismarck here. The latter lives in Rome. He is a grandson of the famous Bismarck and hates the Kaiser. The family has obviously never forgiven the latter for ‘dropping the pilot’. Bismarck is a peculiar-looking young man - very aesthetic. He says Fascism is on the decline and is definitely unpopular and that the good relations between the Vatican and Mussolini would not last. Army is definitely anti-Fascist.’

16 July 1929
‘Dined with Fletcher at the St James’s. He gave me a lot of information about our secret service. The head of it now is Admiral Sinclair, a terrific anti-Bolshevik, who has succeeded the old ‘C.’, Mansfield Cumming. The new ‘C.’ is hard up for men for Russia. Incidentally, discovered that Kenworthy has a bad war-record. During the war he was in command of a destroyer in the North Sea and ran into a merchantman. He was the first man to abandon his ship. The gunner, however, and some of the crew succeeded in patching up the leak, and Kenworthy came back. Kenworthy was relieved of his command - but not by court-martial - and was sent to Gibraltar. During war, too, Kenworthy also attended a revolutionary luncheon at which toasts were drunk to the English Republic. Basil Thomson’s man reported this to Admiralty. Beatty and ‘Rosie’ Wemyss were furious and went to L.G. Latter, however, refused to act. Kenworthy has also made a considerable packet of money out of his deals with Russia. Not a good candidate. . . Late to bed. Went on to club afterwards.’

16 June 1937
‘After luncheon went to see Sir Robert Vansittart and told him my plans to leave Fleet Street and also to become a specialist in foreign affairs. He was very nice and said that he would give me all the help he could. He was interesting on the pro-German feeling in Cabinet. He fears that, as usual, we shall talk vaguely of coming to terms with Germany, latter will respond and think they are going to get something. Then will come the bill - bill we cannot pay. And when we do not pay, there will be the same revulsion of feeling in Germany as there was in 1914, when, contrary to their expectations, we came in. Hymn of hate was result.’

10 August 1937
‘Today, too, I sent off my final letters of resignation to Beaverbrook and Wardell. I said much the same thing in each letter: that I should be fifty on September 2, that the strain of the job was becoming too much for me, that I was already the oldest man on the editorial staff, and that as there is only one rule in journalism - that a man must hold his job by his own efficiency - I was merely taking a decision which would be forced on me in a year or two’s time.’

6 September 1937
‘A letter from Miss Foyle asking me to speak at a literary luncheon at which famous correspondents will speak of how they made their best scoops. Refused. There are no ‘famous’ correspondents and most scoops are ‘fakes’.’

The Diary Junction

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