Ransome was not a spy, say Swallow fans

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LOVERS of Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome's evocation of childhood on Windermere, are rallying to the author's defence after a claim by a historian that he was an agent for the forerunner of the KGB.

Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University has alleged that Ransome was once the "most important secret source of intelligence on British foreign policy" for the Cheka, the secret police of Bolshevik Russia. For devotees of Ransome's 11 classicsailing stories, published between 1930 and 1947, the allegation was an outrage.

Last week the global network of Tars, as members of The Arthur Ransome Society call themselves, were exchanging faxes on the claims that the author of novels set in the Norfolk Broads, Essex marshes and Scottish islands as well as the Cumbrian lakes "idolised" Feliks Dzherzhinsky, the Cheka's murderous chief.

As a newspaper correspondent during the Bolshevik Revolution, Ransome was well known in the Kremlin, played chess with Lenin, and eventually ran away with and married Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia Shelepina. But he was not a spy, say two experts on Ransome's Russian days.

Professor Andrew's attack was denounced last week by both Hilary King, a former diplomat who was once commercial counsellor at the British embassy in Moscow, and Greg Palmer, a Russian-speaking historian who owns Ransome's old yacht Peter Duck, which he sailed into Estonian waters during the Revolution.

Mr Palmer said: "Ransome was under suspicion at different times of being a Bolshevik agent or a British agent, but no one who has written about him has taken these claims seriously. In the Biographical Chronicle of Lenin, published in 1974, three meetings between Ransome and Lenin are recorded. None of these seems like a meeting with a Bolshevik agent. The Bolsheviks never regarded Ransome as a Bolshevik, Marxist or even a fellow-traveller."

Mr King said: "To regard Arthur Ransome as some sort of Bolshevik agent is to misread his character and attitude completely. Rather, he saw himself as a sort of intermediary, explaining each side to the other in the British interest.

"Andrew's claim about Ransome `idolising' Dzerzhinsky as his `main hero' cannot be justified. He wrote a letter to his mother in 1918 in which he said he had met only three Bolsheviks he liked. I know of no evidence that the number could have included Dzerzhinsky."