Story Of 1930s Intelligence Trip To Russia Uncovered In Wiltshire

By Graham Spicer | 03 October 2005
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  • Archived article
Shows a black and white photo of a man in 1930s clothes stood on a sand dune and holding a hat in his right hand

Christopher Fuller, whose trip to the Soviet Union with Duncan Sandys helped provide valuable information to the government. Courtesy Wiltshire County Council

A tale of aristocratic investigators travelling deep into the heart of Stalin’s Russia has been rediscovered at a Wiltshire record office.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Fuller and Duncan Sandys travelled to communist Russia in 1931 as tourists, but were in reality on a fact-finding mission for the Conservative government of the day.

Fuller’s diary and the photographic journal the friends made have now been made available for public viewing at the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office in Trowbridge.

Shows a black and white photo of a Soviet propaganda poster which covers a large wall and features pictures of industrial workers

A propaganda poster photographed during the trip. Courtesy Wiltshire County Council

“The photos were all in great disorder and we have had somebody to reorder them,” Wiltshire County Council’s principal archivist John d’Arcy explained to the 24 Hour Museum.

“Now they are really usable and there is going to be about three albums. The diary is about 30 or 40 pages but there are two or three hundred photos,” he added.

Both Fuller and Sandys were closely tied to the Conservative Party and the men’s observations of Stalin’s regime would have been a useful source of intelligence for the British government.

Shows a black and white photo of a wooden shack which has several small hutches attached to it

The hutches where men slept at the Kusnetsk labour camp. Courtesy Wiltshire County Council

“One of them became a Conservative MP after a few years and the other tried to. They were both connected to Conservative circles and they kept their eyes open and took risks that tourists wouldn’t normally take.”

Sandys became an MP in 1935 and was later a member of Churchill’s wartime cabinet, eventually becoming Lord Duncan-Sandys. Fuller was closely related to the Fuller family of Neston in Wiltshire and the founders of the Fullers Brewery in Chiswick, London.

At the time of their trip Stalin was tightening his grip on the country and implementing the notorious ‘five year plans’ to transform the Soviet economy. Fuller and Sandys travelled from Moscow to the River Orb in Siberia and south to Tbilisi in Georgia and Baku on the Caspian Sea.

Shows a black and white photo of a large Russian cathedral with several onion like domes

Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer immediately before demolition. Courtesy Wiltshire County Council

Fuller’s trip included a visit to the Kusnetsk labour camp in eastern Russia and an extract from his diary describes his experience of seeing a train on the Trans-Siberian Railway transporting prisoners to the gulags where political prisoners were held:

“Quietly and with resignation they seemed to look out on a strange world as they passed to a new and dreaded fate, they know not where.”

“They were ‘kulaks’, political prisoners, taken from the land to timber camps in the heart of the forests of Siberia.”

Fuller also witnessed the destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer in Moscow as the state sought to suppress religion. The cathedral has been rebuilt since the collapse of the communist system in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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