Olga Golubtsova

Lend-lease, love and the GULAG: When Soviet girls fell for English sailors

On August 31, 1941, the first convoy with lend-lease supplies codenamed “Dervish” arrived in Arkhangelsk. It brought allied relief – food, tanks, and planes that were desperately needed by the Soviet military in the first months of the war… It also brought along love, or rather English sailors with whom Soviet girls fell in love. Journalist Olga Golubtsova collected their stories for over 20 years. On the eve of the celebrations of Dervish’s 75th anniversary Olga supplemented her book “Lend- Lease Love” with new facts and is now planning to publish it both in Russian and English.

  Ms Golubtsova, what prompted you to write a book about lend-lease and love?

— It took a long time to write, almost 20 years. I published the first report about Arctic convoys in a local newspaper way back in 1991.  Later I published my stories in federal media outlets (Top Secret, Argumenty i Fakty and Rabotnitsa  — Ed.) When I was in Arkhangelsk on Victory Day in 1995, Royal Navy veteran Bill Lose asked me to find his wartime girlfriend — Zina Kuznetsova. I started the search and received a host of letters from girlfriends of allied British sailors. I met with each of these grannies, and wrote articles about our meetings for the press. Their stories piled up over the years and turned into a book.

— When did the first book appear?  

— The first edition of the book "Lend-Lease Love" was published in 2000 or five years after the start of the search. It was a thin book but still a book. I republished it in 2001 because there were many new facts: life did not stand still and quite often my search had a happy end. A new edition went to press in 2007. This time I think it will be its last edition.

Olga Golubtsova on the history of her book "Lend-Lease Love"

— But you will publish "Lend- Lease Love" in English for the first time, right?

— Yes, first time in English.

— Why did you decide to do this?

— My English colleagues often asked me for interviews and published many pieces in different newspapers — the Telegraph and the Independent. Radio and television also covered some of them. I never thought of describing everything in detail in a separate book for the United Kingdom but once my acquaintance, the translator Tatyana Klushina, sent the book in Russian to a fellow translator (Bruce Laird — Ed.) in London. He was moved by the book's stories. This was two years ago. So he asked me why I didn't describe all these stories in detail in English for readers in the UK. So, that is what he suggested.

Just 300 copies of the book in English will be published in Russia. However, talks about publishing it in the UK are still going on in London. To be clear, all our work is volunteer. All of us are working just to get the book out.  

— What about the new book? What has been added and how will it differ from the previous one?

— First, life does not stand still and everything is constantly changing. Over these years I attended the funerals of all my heroines. I had made friends with all of them, corresponded all the time, spoke over the phone and visited them. But the main thing the book acquired was a new chapter about an unexpected turn. Previously I had considered these stories closed.

Poor Yelena Ivanova! She died without ever reconnecting with her British friend Erick Campbell. She had a son, Edward, by him who is no longer alive either. I found Erick with Bill's help (Bill Lose — Ed.) but he didn't want to meet Yelena. He wrote a very touching letter to her — six lines full of love and admiration but explained the difficulty — he didn't want his children to know about this episode in his life.

Imagine, I had almost dotted all the i's when I suddenly got a call from a Russian woman who was a social worker in Cambridge. Mr. Campbell's daughters asked her to find me to put these two sets of relatives in contact. I didn't even believe her at first because there were many inaccuracies in our conversation. She mentioned other names. I decided to double check everything and we started to correspond. And imagine, Erick's daughters Jean and Anna, the aunts of Irina (the granddaughter of Erick Campbell and Yelena Ivanova — Ed.) came to Arkhangelsk. They couldn't explain why their dad preferred to conceal this part of his life from them and were shaken by this story. Now they are all friends and visit each other. Such a wonderful story!

— But how did they find out about it?

— That's a very delicate matter. When Erick was already very old he started losing his memory and telling them fairy tales and fantasies. He mentioned he had a son and a granddaughter in Russia. At first his daughters ignored him but when he died they decided to find out whether it was true or not.  

— Where and how did Soviet girls meet these British sailors?

— There were several venues where allied forces could meet with Soviet people. Imagine the situation… Arkhangelsk and Molotovsk (today the city of Severodvinsk — Ed.) where we are now. In the war years Molotovsk was a small village. It was swarmed by 10,000 foreigners from convoys. The village was crawling with foreigners whereas almost all local men had left for the front.

To prevent foreigners from socializing with Soviet girls in frivolous ways, the authorities established international clubs or inter-clubs for short. Such inter-clubs were set up in Molotovsk (Severodvinsk), Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, but only one of the three buildings, in Severodvinsk, has survived. The clubs offered entertainment. Visitors could dance or watch a movie. By the way, the audience was shown movies that were not allowed in the Soviet Union before, and listened to jazz and other orchestras.

Our girls were sent to these clubs so as not to leave our allies alone. This was an obligation. Girls were given Komsomol assignments and had to go. Zina Kuznetsova, for one, was instructed to go dance in one club. She worked as a typist in the GULAG. She met Bill and they developed a meaningful friendship.

Olga Golubtsova on inter-club

— The lives of all the heroines of your book took a tragic turn after they met the English sailors. Did these girls know about the consequences and what prompted them to be reckless enough to enter into a love affair with a foreigner?

— I was told that some of them dated English sailors to get an additional food parcel because of severe famine. I don't judge anyone! Some of these women wanted to get some extra food to save their children. Eyewitnesses told me many women did it for their kids.

However, I didn't look into such things. I received letters from grannies who had real love stories. I think in 1941-1942 nobody could foresee their outcome.

Yelena Ivanova and Erick even went to the Civil Registry Office to get married. They were so naive and sincere. Their application was denied, of course. When their son was born they went to register him and he received the patronymic of his father — "Erickovich." Erick never denied paternity.

These were not short-term love affairs. They dated each other for several years and probably hoped that after the war… They thought marriages could not be registered because of the war. By the way, both the Soviet and British authorities frowned upon such relationships. British sailors were banned from getting too close to Soviet women. If such cases were discovered, sailors were sent away on the spot. Erick was sent to the Second Front as soon as his commanders found out about the registration of his son in the USSR.

The war ended and the allies left. The mission in Arkhangelsk ended fairly late — I think, in October 1945. The girls remained here and the boys promised to return and write but there were no letters… Purges began. Girls were summoned for interrogations. They were told to describe how it all happened. In a year or a year and a half 130 girls were arrested. Just imagine, 130!

— The price of falling in love with a foreigner was enormous. They paid with their freedom and many landed in the GULAG. Were they given long sentences, and for what?

—  All of them got different sentences. Some managed to avoid arrest. Kuznetsova, for one, had already been a typist in the GULAG. Where else could she be sent? Same as being in a camp, as a matter of fact.

Or take Yelena Ivanova. I read about her case in the archives with her permission. I read all of it and copied it by hand because cameras were not allowed there. Imagine, she was accused of showing a foreigner the buildings of a teachers' college and the Mir Cinema. She was not supposed to reveal the location of these buildings. They had genuine feelings for each other. One heroine of my book, Valentina Ivleva, said she was ready to serve another six years in prison just to repeat this wonderful experience in her life. That's how she felt. 

— What happened with these women after release?

— Their destinies were different. Ivleva was barred from playing main roles at Mosfilm Studios. She only performed in episodes and lived in Strunino, which is 101 km from Moscow. She was banned from Moscow.

Having served ten years in prison, Yelena (Ivanova — Ed.) returned to her research library in a medical institute. She served ten years in a tree-felling camp and once a falling tree broke her ear drum and left her half-deaf for the rest of her life. She could barely hear anything.

After the camp, Kapitolina worked as a manager of a movie theater. Zoya Bredikhina was a very popular leading actress in a drama theater in Severodvinsk.

By the way, almost all of them married well and had a nice life like their boys. You don't choose when to fall in love — during wartime or not. Bill and Zina extinguished incendiary bombs on roofs. This is what they had to do. This was part of their lives.