Embassy Days – Moscow under Stalin, Bangkok without tourists 1949-52

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Embassy life Moscow and Bangkok 1949-52. Nothing could ever be quite the same as working in post-war Moscow and pre-tourist Bangkok in the early 1950s – a period now epitomised as ‘The Forgotten Decade’. After the hardship of the 1930s, the Second World War and the austerity of post-war Britain, it was exciting to be young in the more prosperous though socially still rather starchy 1950s.

When Harold Macmillan told us at the 1959 election that ‘You’ve never had it so good’, we agreed. Jean Floyd was 22 when the Foreign Office sent her for secretarial duties to the British Embassy in Moscow in 1949, shortly after the beginning of the Cold War. It was a time when the outbreak of World War III was regarded as a serious possibility, especially after the start of the Korean War in 1950. The use of atomic bombs was not being ruled out.

The wartime camaraderie with ‘our brave Russian allies’ had become a hollow memory. In Moscow, foreigners were regarded with deep suspicion: Diary, 11 Feb 1950 The other day I asked a woman where No.1 Shop was…. She was initially most friendly and asked me which delegation I was with (there are quite a few ‘Peace Delegations’ around). When I told her I was working in the British Embassy, she scuttled away in terror! And to think she might have been on the point of asking me to tea!

Bangkok was unlike Moscow in every conceivable way. Despite an occasional coup d’état (Diary, 1 July 1951: “Whilst it was still dark, the silence was shattered by loud gunfire. I was sound asleep and nearly jumped out of my skin.”) it was a free society where Thais and foreigners met on equal terms. Notwithstanding the intimidating character of the Soviet regime, Russia made an overwhelming impression on Jean, and one that remained for the rest of her life. This book captures the atmosphere of those distant post-war days and also contains a wealth of historical and cultural detail.

Reviews

Amazon review 25 Jan 2014

Fantastic account of life in Moscow at the start of Cold War!

Jean Redwood’s ‘Embassy Days’ is a fantastic account of life in Moscow at the start of the Cold War.
At 22 Jean is ready for adventure and she gets it in spades: fabulous culture and social life and learning Russian to boot.
This exciting life is then repeated in Thailand and like all good stories Jean falls in love.
All in all a book to enjoy.