Clementine Churchill and the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund
Part of our job here at the Archives Centre is to answer all the weird and wonderful enquiries we receive about our collections. Very often this leads to us finding out nuggets of info that we didn’t know ourselves, and this week was no exception.
One topic that comes up now and again is Clementine Churchill‘s chairmanship of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund. Clementine was already well known for her charity work, particularly for the YWCA, but this was probably her most successful appeal. The Aid to Russia Fund was launched in October 1941, and raised over £1 million by Christmas (which would be over £63 million today). Among other sources, it received the Red Cross Penny-a-Week Fund, the proceeds of the England-Scotland International at Wembley in Jan 1942, and those of the England-Wales match in Feb 1943 (which raised £12,500, at that time the biggest sum ever raised by one sporting event). Active collections ceased in 1945, but money still came in, with the final total in June 1947 standing at £7.5 million.
The reason that we receive a lot of enquiries about the Aid to Russia Fund is that Clementine always tried to acknowledge those donations which were sent personally to her. As you can imagine, there were thousands of these, so she couldn’t write to all the donors personally. She wrote out a number of slightly different letters, which were then photographed, and reproduced, and we still have examples coming in now (if you look closely, only the main body of the letter is in Clementine’s writing, not the donor’s name, which is what tells you it’s one of the reproductions).
During the fund’s first 14 months nearly 300,000 tons of supplies were sent to Russia, including 150 tons of drugs, X-ray units, surgical instruments, blankets and clothing. Clementine herself visited Russia in 1945 to see the results, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour by Stalin.
What we didn’t know up until this week was what happened when Clementine actually met Stalin in Moscow, as the only record of this was in the Russian archives. However, thanks to Professor Geoffrey Roberts, who has been researching Clementine’s trip to Russia for his book on Kathleen Harriman (who was acting as aide to her father Averell, the American Ambassador in Moscow, at the time), we now have a copy of the original note in Russian, plus this translation:
Note on Comrade J.V. Stalin’s conversation with Mrs Clementine Churchill, 7 April 1945, at 19.00
Present: Comrade V.M. Molotov [People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs], Mrs M. Johnson [Secretary of the Russia Aid Committee]
[Note: the meeting took place in Stalin’s Kremlin office and lasted about 20 minutes]
Comrade Stalin asked Mrs Churchill if she was tired from the journey.
Churchill replied that the flight wasn’t difficult. In Cairo the plane was delayed for four days because of a sand storm.
Comrade Stalin asked if the arrangements for Churchill in Moscow were satisfactory and were there any shortcoming in that regard.
Churchill and Johnson said thanks for the care shown them in Moscow.
On his own and the government’s behalf, Comrade Stalin thanked Mrs Churchill and Mrs Johnson for their aid to the Soviet people. The Soviet Government wants to award Mrs Churchill a medal and several days ago it asked the British government for permission to do so, but no reply had yet been received. Comrade Stalin asked Mrs Churchill who among her co-workers would she recommend for an award,
Churchill said she would be very annoyed if the British government responded negatively. Churchill recommended an award for Mrs Johnson.
Johnson thanked Comrade Stalin.
Churchill presented Stalin with a fountain pen, saying it was a present from her husband, who hoped it would be used to sign many great documents between England and the Soviet Union.
Comrade Stalin asked that his thanks for the present be passed on and enquired about Churchill’s health.
Churchill said he was feeling fine when she took her leave of him.
Comrade Stalin asked about the health of Sarah and the young Churchill.
Churchill said that they were well. She would tell them about Marshal Stalin’s interest in them. They will think it a great honour. She thanked Stalin for receiving her.
Comrade Stalin said he was honour-bound to receive Mrs Churchill. He asked when she was leaving for Leningrad.
Churchill replied they would leave for Leningrad tomorrow evening and would be there for four days. Then they would travel to Stalingrad. Odessa, Rostov-on-Don and Crimea, returning to Moscow for two days before flying to England, probably arriving before President Roosevelt did. Marshal Stalin must have heard about Roosevelt’s trip to England but it seems his health is bad and that could interfere with his plans.
Comrade Stalin replied that he had heard about Roosevelt’s journey to England but didn’t know he wasn’t feeling well.
Churchill remarked that Roosevelt was very courageous, bearing in mind his invalidity. He was a big and strong personality.
Comrade Stalin agreed with this.
Churchill said she was delighted with the Soviet denunciation of the pact of neutrality with Japan.
Comrade Stalin said the time to do it had arrived.
In conclusion, Churchill once again thanked Comrade Stalin for the meeting.
Comrade Molotov thanked Mrs Churchill for sending him the book about the Duke of Marlborough
Recorded by V. Pavlov [Stalin’s interpreter]
Archive reference: RGASPI, F.558, Op.11, D.277, Ll.61-64
Translation by Geoffrey Roberts (February 2024)
Katharine Thomson, Archivist