Irina Bystrova


Professor Irina Bystrova, Archives By-Fellow, Easter 2017.

I had the great pleasure to spend the Easter Term of 2017 as the Archives By-Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge University. My research was concerned with the formation and development of wartime cooperation between Great Britain and the Soviet Union between 1941-1945.

Churchill Archives Centre houses a genuinely unique collection of documents. Winston Churchill’s digital archive is definitely the core collection, and I spent most of my time studying his documents. The archival material embraces practically all the areas of Great Britain’s policy and relations with the Allies, including the Soviet Union, and especially organization of shipping of Lend lease supplies by convoys across the Atlantic, and to Russia through the Northern route and Persian Gulf. Personal letters and telegrams, minutes of conferences and other documents reflect not only political, military and economic decision making processes, but personal relations between the representatives of the anti-Hitler coalition. The documents reveal the substantial contribution of Great Britain to the implementation of the Lend lease program, incarnated in huge British shipping losses during the war, which Winston. Churchill traced on an almost daily basis. Churchill’s documents also help foster a better understanding of his attitude to the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, and the Red Army; which he often praised as the savior of the world from the Nazis. Included are confrontations with the Soviet Ally, including conflicts about the second front problem and other uneasy issues.

Churchill’s own papers are supplemented by a very interesting collection of documents of his wife, Clementine Churchill, who played an outstanding role in developing relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union during the war. This collection is especially interesting in showing her activities as Head of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, including materials relating to her visit to the Soviet Union in April – May 1945, full of precious immediate impressions on the situation in the USSR and relations with Russia. Her charity activities were rather well-known in the USSR during the war, and she was probably more popular than Winston Churchill himself. Soviet people knew that she had received the Order of the Red Banner. I have decided to devote a special chapter of my future book, and a special article to Clementine Churchill’s outstanding relations with Russia during the war.

Of particular interest are the documents, showing the role of Minister of Production Oliver Lyttleton and Minister of Supply Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitken) in establishing cooperation between the Allies, with the main focus on organizing Lend lease supplies, which originated from the United States, to the USSR. Lord Beaverbrook played the most active role in the early period of Soviet-German war, doing his best in order to “persuade” the Americans to spread the Lend lease program to the Soviet Union. Oliver Lyttleton continued organizing supplies in 1942-1943.

Beaverbrook’s activities can be traced from his intensive personal correspondence with Churchill, for they used to be close friends. Lyttleton’s role was reflected in his personal collection, which is stored in Churchill Archives Centre. His public speeches, as well as his talks during Parliamentary hearings comprise the bulk of materials, which allow the study of the hard day-to-day wartime work on supplies.

Permanent Under-Secretary of State Alexander Cadogan’s collection really amazed me with such splendid and unusual historical sources, such as Scrapbooks, which appeared to be huge volumes, full of informal pictures, cuts of newspapers, personal things, menus, etc. A real ‘picture history’ of foreign relations during the war! His Diary is already famous. Among diaries, the one of General Jacob is to be noted for his bright descriptions of wartime visits to many countries in Churchill’s company, including the Soviet Union.

Personal impressions are a very important part of Soviet-British relations. One of my best books – “Kiss across the Ocean” (2011) was devoted to the personal relations between the Big Three in 1941-1945. The documents of Churchill Archives Centre contribute very much to developing this subject substantially in future.

It is needless to say that I felt the presence of Winston Churchill in the Archives Centre, and in Churchill College all the time, and not only through reading of his documents. Marvellous flourishing nature, large space, amazing green lawns, unique trees and flowers also contributed much to my fellowship. So was a very neat and pleasant atmosphere in the Archives Centre itself.

I am very grateful to Allen Packwood, the Director of the Archives Centre, for making my fellowship possible. I would like to express my special gratitude to Andrew Riley, Senior Archivist, who helped to organize my arrival, made a great tour over the archives collections, and kindly provided me with computer facilities to make my work more productive. All the Archives Centre staff – all the ladies – are very friendly, nice and helpful. I really love the Archives Centre, and would be happy to return to work there again.

— Prof. Irina Bystrova, the Leading Researcher of the Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russian Federation; Russian State University of the Humanities.

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