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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Cudbert Thornhill and the Russian Revolution

Cudbert Thornhill returned to Petrograd during the Russian Revolution. According to one source Thornhill was "the hero of many exciting adventures in Petrograd during the revolution". He was forced to go into hiding but by January 1918, he was back in the capital reporting that the new Red Army was being formed from munitions workers because they were considered to be more intelligent than peasants.

Michael Smith, the author of Six: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (2010) argued that during the Russian Civil War: "Thornhill had been setting up agent networks across the north between Murmansk and the White Sea port of Kem to warn the British of any Bolshevik advances.... Thornhill was allocated as the force's chief intelligence officer, and a number of MI1c officers worked with him."

Paul Dukes and Mansfield Cumming

In the summer of 1918 Paul Dukes was recalled to London for a meeting with Colonel Frederick Browning. In his book, Red Dusk and the Morrow: Adventures and Investigations in Soviet Russia (1922) Dukes reported that Browning explained: "You doubtless wonder that no explanation has been given to you as to why you should return to England. Well, I have to inform you, confidentially, that it has been proposed to offer you a somewhat responsible post in the Secret Intelligence Service. We have reason to believe that Russia will not long continue to be open to foreigners. We wish someone to remain there to keep us informed of the march of events."

Dukes was then taken to see Mansfield Cumming, the head of MI6. "This extraordinary man was short of stature, thick-set with grey hair half covering a well-rounded head. His mouth was stern and an eagle eye, full of vivacity, glanced - or glared as the case may be - piercingly through a gold-rimmed monocle. At first encounter, he appeared very severe. His manner of speech was abrupt. Yet the stern countenance could melt into the kindliest of smiles, and the softened eyes and lips revealed a heart that was big and generous."

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Alexander Falconbridge

Alexander Falconbridge was a surgeon on board a slave ship. As his biographer, Christopher Fyfe, has pointed out, this was "a potentially lucrative employment since surgeons received, as well as their salary, 1s. a head per slave landed, and the chance of eventually becoming a ship's captain". Over the next seven years he worked on four different ships that sailed along the west coast of Africa and to the Caribbean. At first he was a supporter of the slave trade: "Previous to my being in this employ I entertained a belief, as many others have done, that the kings and principal men bred Negroes for sale as we do cattle."

Falconbridge later recalled: "When the negroes whom the black traders have to dispose of are shown to the European purchasers, they first examine them relative to age. They then minutely inspect their persons, and inquire into their state of health; if they are afflicted with any infirmity, or are deformed, or have bad eyes or teeth; if they are lame, or weak in the joints, or distorted in the back, or of a slender make, or are narrow in the chest; in short, if they have been afflicted in any manner so as to render them incapable of such labour they are rejected. The traders frequently beat those negroes which are objected to by the captains. Instances have happened that the traders, when any of their negroes have been objected to have instantly beheaded them in the sight of the captain."

Falconbridge became increasing critical of the slave trade. In 1787 he left it in disgust and went back to working as a pupil with a Bristol doctor. Soon afterwards he met Thomas Clarkson, who along with Granville Sharp, had established the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Clarkson was given the responsibility of collecting information to support the abolition of the slave trade. Falconbridge was willing to testify publicly about the way slaves were treated. He accompanied Clarkson to Liverpool where he acted as his bodyguard. Clarkson later called him "an athletic and resolute-looking man".