Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

3 posts categorized "Russian Revolution"

06 December 2022

Papers of Sergey and Emilie Prokofieff

A wonderful new collection, which was recently acquired for the India Office Private Papers, has now been catalogued and is available in the British Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room.  The Prokofieff Papers relate to the life of Sergey Tarasovitch Prokofieff (1887-1957) and his wife Emilie Prokofieff (née Rettere) (1903-1997) in pre-1947 India.  The papers illustrate the modernising works taking place in an Indian Princely State in the first half of the 20th century, and the friendship between a Russian emigré couple and the Gwalior Royal Family.

Sergey Prokofieff was born in June 1887 in St Petersburg, and studied to be an engineer at the Ports and Roads University between 1906 and 1912.  He then worked on irrigation and water projects in Crimea, Bokhara and Tashkent.  In 1920, following the revolution, Sergey escaped from Russia by walking from Tashkent to British Persia, and then on to Ahmednagar in India.  He joined the Public Works Department in Bombay as a Senior Assistant Engineer on projects related to the Tansa water works.  In 1927, he became Executive Engineer in the Indian State of Gwalior, and worked on many water works projects around the State, later acting as a consulting engineer.

Photograph of Tansa water works showing a pipeline and railway built above the lakePhotograph of Tansa water works  Mss Eur F761/4/2  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1927, Sergey visited France, and while in Nice met Emilie Rettere.  Born in Moscow in 1930, Emilie was the second of four daughters.  Her father was a coffee merchant with a string of coffee shops around the city, her mother was from Brittany and the family retained connections with France.  In 1918, the family were caught up in the revolution, with Emilie’s father arrested and held for a time in the feared Lubyanka jail.  On being reunited, the family fled to France and settled in Nice.  Sergey and Emilie were married in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Bombay in 1931, and lived together in India until Sergey’s retirement in 1954, when the couple returned to Nice.  Sergey died in January 1957.  Emilie moved to London in 1958, and died in 1998.  Both Sergey and Emilie wrote memoirs about their life in India that survive in the collection.

Blueprint of a design for a comfortable bungalow Design for a comfortable bungalow Mss Eur F761/4/11  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Prokofieff Papers consists in large part of material relating to Sergey’s work as an engineer in Bombay and Gwalior.  This includes articles written by Sergey on engineering subjects, papers and reports on water works projects in Bombay, Gwalior and Ujjain, and photographs showing construction works in progress and completed.  The couple formed a friendship with the Maharaja of Gwalior and his family, which Emilie maintained after Sergey’s death.  

Greetings cards from the Maharaja of Gwalior Greetings cards from the Maharaja of Gwalior Mss Eur F761/1/5  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The collection contains letters and greetings cards from members of the Royal Family to her and photographs from social events in India, for instance the wedding of Princess Kamala Raja Scindia in 1934 and the races of elephants given on 5 May 1935 by the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior on the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Papers of Sergey Tarasovitch Prokofieff (1887-1957), Engineer, and his wife Emilie Prokofieff (nee Rettere) (1903-1997) are searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts, collection reference Mss Eur F761.


05 September 2019

A librarian’s death on Lake Onega - Roger James Chomeley

The British Librarians’ memorial at the British Library records the names of 142 persons who died during the First World War.  Two died after the signing of the Peace Treaty at Versailles on 28 June 1919.

Captain Roger James Chomeley M.C. of the Cheshire Regiment died during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.  The Allies began to withdraw their forces from North Russia in June 1919, but it was a long, drawn-out process.  Chomeley was drowned on Lake Onega on 16 August 1919, aged 47.

Steam tug Azot captured from the Bolshevik forces on Lake Onega  1919Steam tug Azot captured from the Bolshevik forces on Lake Onega, 1919 © IWM (Q 16793)

A naval court of inquiry reported:
‘Captain R. J. Cholmeley was on board the Russian steamship Azod, one of the lake flotilla, on Lake Onega, and on the night of August 16, 1919, he was washed overboard while overhauling machine guns which were required for action at daybreak the following morning.  The vessel was heavily laden, and there was a very heavy sea, hence this imperative duty was most dangerous.  The court considers that Captain Cholmeley sacrificed his life in the execution of his duty’ (Brisbane Courier 20 February 1920).

Studio photograph of Roger James CholmeleyRoger James Cholmeley, lecturer in Classics, The University of Queensland, c1910?  Fryer Library Photograph Collection

Roger James Cholmeley was born at Swaby, Lincolnshire in 1872, the son of the Rev. James Cholmeley and his wife Flora Sophia. He studied at St Edward’s School in Oxford, before gaining an open classical scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, graduating in 1894.  He afterwards taught at Manchester Grammar School and the City of London School.  Roger married Lilian Mary Lamb in Oxford on 12 August 1896.  They had one daughter Katharine Isabella born at Wimbledon in 1903.

Having already served with the East Surrey Volunteer Corps, Cholmeley enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry at London in March 1900.  He served in South Africa until June 1901. He obtained a commission and, on his return to the UK, continued to serve with the volunteers and the Territorial Force.

In 1901 Cholmeley published his edition of The Idylls of Theocritus.  He returned to South Africa in 1905 to take up a post as professor of Latin at the Rhodes University College at Grahamstown, where he also acted as librarian.  In 1909 he moved to Australia, teaching classics at Scotch College, Melbourne.  In 1911, he was appointed to a lectureship in classics at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, combining teaching with sorting out the University Library.

On the outbreak of the First World War, Cholmeley once again offered his services.  He was initially employed as a military censor in Australia, a post using his considerable knowledge of French, German, Russian, Dutch, and Greek.  He was rejected by the Australian authorities for active service, so in June 1915 he sailed to the UK where he obtained a commission in the Cheshire Regiment.  Chomeley wrote the preface to a revised edition of his Theocritus on the voyage over, lamenting the war’s interruption to scholarship.

Cholmeley's preface to his new edition of The Idylls of TheocritusCholmeley's preface to his new edition of The Idylls of Theocritus shelfmark 2280.d.10 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Despite his age, Cholmeley served with the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment on the Western Front, being wounded twice.  In September 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions as brigade intelligence officer.

After the Armistice, Captain Cholmeley was posted to Northern Russia.  In expectation of his return from military service, the University of Queensland promoted Cholmeley assistant professor of classics, but he died before he could take up the post. 

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
Damien Wright, Churchill’s secret war with Lenin: British and Commonwealth military intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-20 (Solihull: Helion, 2017), pp. 75-85.
Ian Binnie, 'Captain Roger James Cholmeley, MC', Moseley Society History Group
The Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 20 September 1919, p. 9
Brisbane Courier, 20 February 1920, p. 2
J.M.S., 'Roger James Cholmeley', The Classical Review, 34 (1920), pp. 76-77
R. J. Cholmeley (ed.), The Idylls of Theocritus (London: George Bell & Sons, 1901).
R. J. Cholmeley (ed.), Principiorum Liber (London: Edward Arnold, 1910).
R. J. Cholmeley (ed.), The Idylls of Theocritus, new ed. (London: George Bell & Sons, 1919)
Albert C. Clark, Journal of Hellenistic Studies, XLI (1921), pp. 152-154


02 May 2017

India Office Records on the Russian Revolution

The India Office Records and Private Papers contain many items relating to the Russian Revolution and its effects on global politics. Russia and Britain had pursued an aggressively competitive relationship throughout the 19th century over the issue of influence in Asia, commonly known as ‘The Great Game’.  The India Office therefore routinely received Foreign Office and War Office reports concerning Russia.

Eastern Report No.78, 25 July 1918

Eastern Report No.78, 25 July 1918 - IOR/L/PS/10/587 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One report which the India Office Political Department regularly received from the Foreign Office was the weekly Eastern Report prepared for the War Cabinet.  The reports gave news, information and analysis of events concerning Russia, the Middle East and Asia.  The report shown here, No.78, dated 25 July 1918 gave news of the death of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.  Under the heading “The Ex-Emperor murdered”, the report stated that the following wireless message had been sent out by the Russian Government: “Recently Ekaterinburg, the capital of the Red Ural, was seriously threatened by the approach of the Czecho-Slovak bands.  At the same time a counter-revolutionary conspiracy was discovered, having for its object the wrestle of the tyrant from the hands of the council’s authority by armed force.  In view of the fact the presidium of the Ural region council decided to shoot the Ex-Tsar, Nicholas Romanoff.  This decision was carried out on the 16th July”. The message erroneously stated that the “wife and son of Romanoff” had been sent to a place of security.  In fact Nicholas, his wife and children were all killed on the night of the 16/17 July 1918.

'Appreciation’ or comment on the report by Sir Mark Sykes

IOR/L/PS/10/587 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The reports generally were forwarded with an attached ‘Appreciation’ or comment on the report by Sir Mark Sykes.  In his appreciation with report of 25 July 1918, he noted that “once a man has been unjustly killed, the errors attributed to him diminish in popular estimation, while the acts of his murderers are more and more open to popular condemnation”.  Copies of the reports were sent to the Government of India, but without the appreciations.

Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919

Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919 - Mss Eur F281/89 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another report received by the India Office looked at the military aspects of the events in Russia between November 1917 and February 1919, and was prepared by the General Staff of the War Office.  This summarised Allied military intervention in North Russia with the purpose of preventing the transference of enemy troops from East to West, and to deny the resources of Russia and Siberia to Germany.  The revolution in Russia was seen primarily through the lens of the First World War.  The introduction to the report stated that: “The political destiny of Russia was no immediate concern of the Allies except in so far as might, in the event of an inconclusive peace, assist in the continuity and enhancement of German military power”.

Map of European Russia

Map of Russia - Mss Eur F112/562 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File 705/1916 Pt 3-4 The War: Eastern Reports, 1917-1919 [Reference IOR/L/PS/10/587]
Short History of Events in Russia from November 1917 to February 1919 (General Staff: War Office, Mar 1919) [Reference Mss Eur F281/89]
Maps of Russia and the Russian front, 1917-1918 [Reference Mss Eur F112/562]

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths  - Our major new exhibition is open until Tuesday 29 August 2017. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

Russian Revolution - image of soldier used for exhibition publicity


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