Baker, James

Letter
Date:
October 17, 1941
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
Oct. 17th, 1941

Dear Mom,

I have just been talking to Lady Astor and she has made me feel tremendously bucked about this war situation in Russia. As you know, she get a tremendous amount of inside war information because she knows so many important people and what is more, she can make them talk to her...don't ask me how she does it. It is just one of inexplicable qualities that there is no accounting for. People talk to her as they would to a Father Confessor!!

Anyhow she had just been talking to Admiral Stanley who had just got back from the mission to Moscow and also to Ingersoll, the American war correspondent who has just got back from China via Siberia, Russia, Archangel and British cruiser. And they both are tremendously confident about the whole situation in Russia. According to them, the Russian people and their leaders are absolutely confident they can continue even though Moscow has to be evacuated or if it is besieged as Leningrad is now. Do you remember a few years reading ago about the migration of 50,000,000 Chinese people westward away from the Japanese invasion ...Universities, factories, industry, homes - everything "took up their beds and walked" westward? Well, the same thing is happening in Russia except that this is a planned evacuation instead of a haphazard infiltration. Everything is being systematically destroyed as they evacuate and everything is planned and worked out to the finest detail so that the people just move in and take up their lives exactly where they dropped them when they left them.

They were both tremendously enthusiastic about the wonderful way everyone works such incredibly long hours without a word of complaint, but it appears that they have very little choice in the matter. Just the week before in one factory that they visited, ten men had been taken out and shot for inefficiency. M. Maisky - the Soviet Ambassador, is convinced that England cannot get anywhere until she brings about compulsory conscription of labour but as Lady Astor pointed out to him ‘one just can't take out our unsatisfactory workers and shoot them because - well, that just isn't done, no matter how expedient it may seem.

It seems Lord Beaverbrook - to whom she was also talking this morning is tremendously enthusiastic about everything he has seen in Russia but more especially with Stalin himself. Stalin is still the boss of Russia and everything is subservient to him, even his three generals although they fight bitterly between themselves, follow out his order implicitly. But Stalin is frail or gives the impression of great frailty almost like a man who is kept going by an indominable will, just like Mr. Cox I would imagine. Lady Astor said a few years ago when she met him when she was in Russia with Lord Lothian and GB Shaw, he gave the impression of tremendous strength, vitality and energy but now that seems to have disappeared and been replaced by will alone. So she says that she has now been reduced to the status of praying every night for the continued good health of "Joe" as he calls him: for if he fails, the three generals - Timoshenko, Vorshilov and Budenny would start fighting for control and then "Lord" knows what would happen. Lord Beaverbrook was also impressed by the general air of content, concentration and above all well-fed, warmly-clothed confidence expressed by everyone from the commissars to the "man in the street" and everyone is well-dressed from the standpoint of warmth and comfort at least, if not from that of fashion. But no one in Moscow ever seems to laugh or smile. During the days that the mission was there, they seldom saw anyone smiling and a laugh was never heard. They said they were glad to get away for the city was depressing to English spirits.

Lord Beaverbrook was especially enthusiastic about the reception they got at the railway station. The military guard of honor was especially smart, just as good as any that the guards could turn out in London. But the amusing thing was that after everyone had inspected them - Stalin, Beaverbrook, Harriman, the Commissars and the Colonel, the Colonel turned to the ranks and made a long harangue in Russian, the general gist of which was "did they welcome the foreign gentleman" and the whole guard as one man raised their arms and gave a mighty shout "Yah!!" Imagine that happening in England "The Land of Freedom!"

Lord Beaverbrook also told of a very funny incident that happened to him at the Soviet banquet. You are very lucky to hear of this as it has never before been published or told to anyone. The banquet was very very lavish, 30 courses and wines with every course. Well, as you know Lord Beaverbrook is of full energy and fun, practically irrepressible like a little boy. Well he noticed that Stalin - although he kept passing out all the different wines to his guests, always kept one special bottle by his plate that no-one else had. Well, Beaverbrook had an irresistible desire to taste of this particular wine so when he thought Stalin wasn't looking, he poured a little into his own glass and drank it. He said as far as he could see it wasn't much different from any other wine -no spectacular ‘beverage of the gods' as he had expected. But Stalin - without a word, called for another bottle of wine then poured himself out a glass and ‘tossed' it off. Then he upended his glass over the open bottle. He had seen the whole thing and took this way of saying in a circumspect manner "This is mine! Leave it alone!" Well, as Lord Beaverbrook said ‘Was my face red?' I guess that could qualify as "my most embarrassing moment" don't you think?

Well I guess that's all about Russia for now. I myself think that nothing serious would develop if Moscow fell except for the effect in this country. According to Lady Astor's tip: start looking for a renewed German drive toward the Caspian as it is there that they can make most headway. This drive at Moscow is only incidental for nothing much would be gained if it did fall and the Germans know it. They are going to concentrate further South and soon too.

But Beaverbrook could not conceal his admiration for the German precision and the irresistible way they simply rolled over all opposition even in the face of tremendous odds and ferocious yet heart-rending resistance. They are like a great machine controlled from some remote Master-mind. They don't seem to be made up of separate men at all and that is the secret of their power. You remember Aesop's fable of the bundle of twigs? I hope we can see the lesson and stop this silly bickering between the Services that we have here in England now. These fools that call for an immediate invasion of Europe are crazy. They are willfully blind I think for even my untrained eyes can see that we are not ready and never will be until some drastic reorganization takes place that brings absolute co-ordination between all three Services. But enough of that.

My arm is getting better more rapidly now and I expect to be out soon. I had a row with the Colonel last week and he has paid more attention to me lately. But I am getting heartily sick of it all. But I guess that is all for now.
Love to all

Jim

PS
This is definitely not for print: as it is all rather "shhhhh"! So you know what to do about it.
Jim

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