Beyond Holy Russia
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Colophon: Half-Title, Title, Copyright, Dedication

8. A Time of Strife

Graham and Vera were living together at 60 Frith Street when the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his historic broadcast in September 1939 announcing that “this country is now at war with Germany”. Vera was working as London correspondent for the Belgrade newspaper Stampa, having previously been employed by a paper in Sarajevo, although it is not exactly clear what her position entailed. She certainly filed news stories on a routine basis during the first few months of the War, taking them in person to be approved by the British authorities, before sending them on to Yugoslavia for publication. Graham was at fifty-five too old for military service. Nor could he continue with his peripatetic lifestyle since war-time conditions made international travel impossible. He and Vera decided to stay in London at the outbreak of war, unlike some of their friends, who joined in the exodus from the city convinced that it would soon become a target for German bombers. The War created a huge change in the rhythms of London life. The streets and railway stations became crowded with young men and women in uniform. The shops began to empty of goods. More challengingly for Graham, the literary world became increasingly “comatose” in the face of paper shortages and changing tastes. He filled his time by cycling around the London streets, delivering his own letters, as well as settling down to a number of new writing projects.1 Vera passed her days writing articles and dress-making. No air-raid shelter was installed at Frith Street, despite the threat of bombs, since the house was blessed with a sturdy cellar that its occupants hoped would provide sanctuary should the Luftwaffe appear in the skies above London.

The start of hostilities dented sales of Graham’s books. Even his recent Moving Tent failed to find many buyers (thousands of copies were also lost when the publisher’s warehouse was bombed). It was for this reason that he set out to write a number of new works designed to respond to the demand for “books about the war interest”.2 He quickly produced a book From War to War which provided a list of the key international developments of the previous twenty years, and was, in Graham’s own words, “like those jottings one makes before going on a platform to make a speech”.3 A more substantial work – and an even more unlikely one from the pen of Graham – appeared in 1940 under the title Liquid Victory. This book examined the critical role played by oil in fuelling modern warfare. It was generally well-informed, reviewing the oil-producing capacities of the major world powers, including the attempts by Nazi Germany to increase its production of synthetic oil. Graham was convinced that the anticipated “war of attrition” would in effect become a war of “attrition of oil supplies”. He also correctly suggested that the liberal powers were far better placed by dint of geography to secure access to major oil reserves than members of the axis coalition. Although one of the main themes of Liquid Victory was that “oil is on the side of the democracies”, he could not resist a jibe at “so-called democratic government[s]” that were seldom “controlled by principles, but by men who usurp the authority of the principles”.4 Graham was often uneasy in the years that followed about the ethics of the diplomacy pursued by the British government in defeating Nazi Germany and its allies. He was particularly critical of the alliance established with the USSR in the summer of 1941, and angrily condemned the readiness of London to surrender Yugoslavia to communist control during the final months of the War. There were indeed times when Graham seemed more appalled by the behaviour of Britain’s Soviet ally than he was by the activities of the country’s actual enemies.

One of his acquaintances later suggested that Graham hoped that Britain would ally itself with Nazi Germany in order to do joint battle against Soviet Russia, adding that it was only following the German invasion of Holland and Belgium, in the spring of 1940, that he began to reassess his views. The claim, if true, is not as shocking as it may sound. Throughout the 1930s, there was no shortage of political figures in Britain who believed that Stalin posed a greater threat to Britain than Hitler (it was one of the reasons Lord Halifax, Foreign Secretary from 1938 to 1941, had initially supported the appeasement of Nazi Germany).5 The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which paved the way for the carve-up of eastern Europe, in any case diminished sympathy for Soviet Russia beyond a small core of committed communists.6 Graham issued an updated version of his biography of Stalin shortly before the Pact was made public, and although the book was still subtitled ‘An Impartial Study’, its tone was more hostile than the earlier edition published in 1931. At the start of 1940, Graham also made a broadcast in the BBC’s Men of the Hour series, telling his audience that “Stalin considers himself an Asiatic”, adding that his attitude towards his fellow men and women was shaped by the fact that he originally came “from an area [Georgia] where life is cheap”. Graham noted that the Soviet leader’s decision to enter a pact with Hitler in August 1939 was evidence of his fundamental “opportunism”.7 Before Hitler turned his forces eastwards, in the summer of 1941, the status of the Soviet Union in British diplomacy and propaganda was extremely problematic. Although there were some senior figures in the British government who hoped that the two dictators would before long break with one another, opening the door for some kind of understanding between London and Moscow, there were plenty of people who believed that it was only a matter of time before war broke out between Britain and Russia.

Stephen and Vera lived in London throughout the period of the Phoney War, which lasted from September 1939 through to the spring of 1940, when the British expeditionary force was evacuated from Dunkirk.8 Many families who had been evacuated following the declaration of war began to drift home, believing that the absence of bombing raids proved that earlier warnings about the danger of massive civilian casualties had been exaggerated, whilst the cafes and pubs filled with men and women in uniform attached to military units that had nowhere obvious to go. The fall of France in May signalled the start of a new phase of the War. In July and August, the Luftwaffe carried out extensive attacks on British military targets and harbour installations, despite repeated harassment from RAF fighters in the Battle of Britain. In September, a change in German tactics led to the start of huge aerial attacks on London, heralding three months of almost daily (and nightly) raids. Tens of thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands of buildings damaged in the destruction that followed. The residents of London faced months of uncertainty and fear, as the routines of everyday life were ripped apart. The emergency services learned to deal with the horrendous aftermath of attacks like the one that took place at Trafalgar Square, not far from Frith Street, when a bomb hit the nearby tube station where dozens of people were sheltering.9 For Graham himself, the Blitz represented an assault on the physical and psychological landscape of a city that he had known and loved all his life.10

Graham had long been concerned about the consequences of major bombing raids on London. In 1936 he had predicted that if bombers ever appeared over the city then:

London must come under the spell of fear because of its vast population, its quarter-educated submerged masses. The capital is one great terrible trap. What with heavy poison gases filling the obvious refuges of the underground railways, fire devastating the panelled Georgian houses and the jerry-built erections of wood and brick of the Edwardian age, the falling tenements of the slums, terror is bound to seize the city in time of aerial attack.11

In that same year he contributed a short story ‘5,000 Enemy Planes over London’ to a collection edited by John Gawsworth, which described a future conflict in which Italy and France declared war on Britain (Germany remained neutral), and sent their bombers to destroy London. It told how the population fled in panic to the shelters, or headed out into the countryside, leaving factories and offices deserted as “widespread terror” gripped the country. The story concluded with a prophetic warning that “No country that is not supreme in the air can reckon winning a modern war [...] The new air war aims at an invasion of the mind”.12 The events of 1940 and 1941 gave Graham the chance to see whether his grim pre-war predictions would become true. He chronicled events in the capital in a detailed ‘Air Raid Diary’, which was probably intended for publication, but was also prompted by his desire to record the experiences of a city at war. It provides a valuable insight into his own reaction to the Blitz, as well as a record of the impact of mass bombing on the life of the city around him.13

When the first major air raids took place on London, on the night of 7 September 1940, Stephen and Vera were picking fruit near Chingford in Essex, in the garden of a cottage they rented for weekend visits. Even on the borders of Epping Forest, several miles from the East End, their cottage shook as bombs fell and anti-aircraft guns fired back into the sky. The Anderson shelter at the cottage had flooded, a perennial problem with the design, and they took cover under a large pear tree, lying on the ground counting the German planes flying overhead “like storks crossing a continent”. The two of them decided to return home to Frith Street, despite the risk, and on the first part of their journey by bus to Chingford Station they looked towards “the eastern sky suffused with crimson”. At Chingford they boarded a train which, they were told, could travel no further than Hackney Downs. As it crawled eastwards towards the London suburbs, they could see the docks on fire, and at Stratford saw another train which had taken a direct hit ablaze on the adjacent track. A few hundred yards further on, Vera was soaked by water from a fireman’s hose as they passed an explosives warehouse that had lost its roof in a blast. When Stephen and Vera finally reached central London they found that Tottenham Court Road station was closed, forcing them to make their way on to Leicester Square, where they emerged into a throng of pedestrians being marshalled by police and air raid wardens to nearby shelters. The pair trudged home to Frith Street, incongruous figures with heavy sacks of fruit over their shoulders, passing through chaotic streets of frightened Londoners confronting a new and horrific threat.

Although the East End took the brunt of the Blitz in London, the West End was also hit, and Graham had a number of near misses when out shopping or surveying the damage caused by previous raids. On one occasion he was forced to flee a Soho market, taking shelter in a nearby shop, as a bomb fell destroying the stalls and scattering the shop-keepers’ money to the four winds. He was particularly saddened by the destruction of St Anne’s Church in Soho, on 24 September 1940, which he mournfully described as the “mother” of the seventeenth-century houses that surrounded it. Graham also ventured eastwards from time to time to see at first hand parts of London that had been damaged more severely than his own. A few days after the start of the bombing, he went to St Paul’s Cathedral, “surrounded by hosepipes coiled about as by an enormous boa constrictor”. Nearby buildings lay in “smoking ruins” whilst at each side street there was “a vista of burning buildings [...] looking up Cheapside from the Bank” was an endless parade of “high ladders, water towers, and helmeted firemen in silhouette on top of them”. On another occasion he walked down Oxford Street, just a few hundred yards from his home, surveying shops with smashed windows whose contents had been strewn across the pavement. Perhaps even more unsettling than the immediate sights and smells of destruction were the rumours of horrors that had supposedly happened elsewhere (“all back of Fitzroy St blown up” or “all Edgeware Road gone”). Graham was himself on occasion inclined to hyperbole, particularly when reports began to circulate of the damage suffered by provincial cities like Coventry, following the extension of the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign beyond the capital. Mostly, though, he tried to preserve a more judicious tone, writing in his diary on 17 October 1940 that “the war on London is methodical and mechanical. It is no Blitzkrieg, no mere assault, but a factory operation [...] It goes on unhasting [and] unresting till its object is achieved, and the ruins of the metropolis become uninhabitable”.

Graham could not miss the misery that surrounded him as he walked through the devastated streets of the city he had known since he was a boy. A few days after the bombing started, he noted in his diary that by six o’clock in the evening there were long lines of Londoners queuing to enter the public shelters, which only opened when the siren sounded, leading to a stampede to “get the best places” where it was possible to lie down. He added forlornly that there were too few such shelters which were, in any case, little more secure than the basement of a house, since they could easily be destroyed by a direct hit. The deep shelters provided by the tube stations were little better. On one occasion, when coming back from the cottage at Chingford, Stephen and Vera passed through a station where:

thousands of people [...] were settling to spend the night underground, children, babies, dogs, would-be smart flappers looking woebegone as they lay on the platforms and train after train passed them [...] nearly everyone had brought something to sleep on and a pillow or cushion. The air was hot and thick, the stink appalling. For there are no WCs. In the train one’s head began to throb in a splitting headache. Vera says “And this in the biggest and richest city in the world”.

Graham added grimly that the onset of winter was likely to lead to more problems, as flu and other diseases took hold of a population whose health was already weakened by exhaustion.

The household at 60 Frith Street did not have to rely on tube stations for shelter, preferring to head to the basement when the siren sounded, even though its members knew that it would provide little protection against a direct hit. Nor was such a prospect unlikely. Graham diligently noted down details of the bombs that fell on Soho, including one in Great Windmill Street in November, and another in Frith Street itself just a couple of hundred yards from his home. A few weeks earlier, three houses had been gutted in Dean Street, although Graham slept through the explosion, exhausted after many nights without proper rest. His perennial fear was that he and Vera would be trapped in the basement in a firestorm that would suffocate them to death. The most frightening moment for the occupants of 60 Frith Street took place just before New Year. On 30 December 1940, following a comparative lull over the Christmas holiday, Graham faced what he believed to be “the greatest and worst raid so far”. Such a judgement was partly clouded by personal experience. In the early evening there was suddenly a loud crash,

like a collapsing china shop. Our back windows, frames and all, had gone [...] soot in bushels came out from the chimney and lay inches deep on the carpet. Cat ran up the chimney. Pictures fell. We went down to the basement to hear the clatter of many fire bombs falling. The street and workshop at back lit up like day. Old woman with canary begged to be sheltered. We did not stay long below, but returned to clear up the terrible mess. Didn’t do badly, but we have a very draughty flat.

The damage was not fully repaired until the War was over, but Stephen and Vera had already become thoroughly accustomed to a life shorn of pre-war comforts. Gas and water supplies were often cut off, whilst any journey was made difficult as streets damaged by blast or fire were closed down, requiring lengthy detours to cover short distances. The constraints of rationing were also beginning to prove increasingly irksome. Graham complained bitterly throughout the War about the problem of getting adequate supplies of food and wine, with the result that he and Vera increasingly ate at one of the numerous local restaurants in Soho, in order to avoid the queues for supplies. They also feverishly bottled supplies of plums and tomatoes “as a store against winter”.14 There were nevertheless limits to what even the most determined residents of London could do to manage the soul-sapping business of daily life in a capital city at war. The challenge of obtaining new furniture for Frith Street at one point became so bad that Graham even sketched out in his head “an essay [on] the advantages for entering the second-hand furniture trade instead of literature”.15

Graham’s Air Raid Diary for 1940-41 gives an interesting insight into the way in which Londoners became accustomed to the extraordinary circumstances in which they found themselves.16 His entries give little evidence to support the familiar myth that the Blitz created a new sense of community based on shared hardship. He noted how in some parts of London it was possible to find expensive hair-dressers that had set up business in special shelters to provide their customers with regular service even during the fiercest raids.17 Nor did he conceal the episodes of bad temper and squabbling that broke out in shelters populated by the less fortunate. At the same time, though, Graham’s diary also reflects the astonishing stoicism exhibited by many Londoners during the Blitz. Even after a night of heavy bombing, workers still travelled into the city centre to see if their offices and factories were standing, whilst the sounding of the air-raid siren was usually met as much with weary resignation as real panic.

Graham’s own household at Frith Street seems to have been remarkably phlegmatic at dealing with the challenge of nightly bombardment. By February 1941, Stephen and Vera were both working at the BBC, requiring them to travel daily through the broken streets of London to Bush House, where they had to do a full day’s work, despite having spent the night in the confines of their Soho basement (or sometimes, in Graham’s case, fire-watching on the roofs of nearby houses). The two of them had, of course, known considerable hardship earlier in their lives, Graham in the trenches, and Vera as an “orphan” forced to survive the turmoil of war-torn Yugoslavia. Such experiences doubtless bred a certain toughness of spirit (although by the spring of 1942 Graham was fretting about Vera’s fragility in the face of the stresses of daily life).18 Like all their fellow-Londoners, though, neither had any experience of how to cope in the surreal atmosphere of a war-torn city where the routines of urban civilisation were daily under threat. And yet, within a few days of the start of the Blitz, Graham was able to note laconically in his diary that, after visiting one scene of utter destruction, he popped into a nearby store to buy a much-needed new shirt. The juxtaposition of devastation and normality had, in just a short period of time, come to seem almost normal to him.

The outbreak of the War inevitably disrupted cultural life in London, prompting E.M. Forster’s grim dictum that “1939 was not a year in which to start a literary career”. It would nevertheless be wrong to assume that the literary scene closed down altogether (although one cynical journalist writing for the Daily Express suggested that it might be no bad thing if it did so). The poet Stephen Spender recalled in his autobiography that the War created “a revival of interest in the arts. This arose spontaneously and simply, because people felt that music, the ballet, poetry and painting were concerned with a seriousness of living and dying with which they themselves had suddenly been confronted”.19 Those who were able to meet this demand found themselves in a privileged position. Whilst plans to exempt some better-known writers from conscription came to nothing, in the face of opposition from the War Office, there were always plenty of young intellectuals who, for reason of health or conscience, were not called up for military service. Many of them congregated in the area surrounding Graham’s home in Frith Street. Pubs like the Highlander in Dean Street and the Marquess of Granby on Rathbone Street became the setting for alcohol-fuelled squabbles about abstruse questions of poetry and prose. The coffee bars of Soho also witnessed an influx of literary types, many of them working in the near-by BBC and Ministry of Information, both of which expanded enormously in the months following the declaration of war. Graham chose to remain largely aloof from this world of alcohol and literature. Although 60 Frith Street had been something of a cultural salon in the 1920s, Graham had never been very interested in the quarrels that periodically transfixed a section of the capital’s intelligentsia, and his surviving correspondence reflects his impatience with the petty jealousies of those who talked “day and night” but did little.

Graham’s closest literary ties were with middle-brow writers who, like himself, had little in common with the literati who pored over Horizon when it appeared each month. The Australian romance writer Maysie Grieg and her husband Max Murray were frequent visitors to Frith Street. So too was Grieg’s first husband, the American Delano Ames, who worked in London for military intelligence during the War, before becoming famous as author of the Dagobert Brown and Jane Hamish detective novels. Graham’s sister, the publisher and writer Eleanor Graham, was also a regular visitor to Frith Street, where she took refuge from German bombs in the cellar of her brother’s house (her flat in nearby Bloomsbury was not blessed with such a sturdy facility). Vera was no great lover of company, in part because she was self-conscious of her irregular marital position, whilst some who knew her felt that she was always unsure how to fit in to English society. Graham too, despite being “a good mixer”, was increasingly uncomfortable in large crowds. During the thirty five years he lived with Vera in London, the two became increasingly detached from the world around them, preferring to develop a few close friendships rather than immerse themselves in “Society” in all its myriad forms.

Whilst the challenges of daily life absorbed a good deal of Graham’s attention during the early years of the War, he still had to face the practical problem of earning a living. George Orwell spoke for many writers when he complained that “the money situation [was] becoming unbearable”. Vera Brittain recalled how “the grim inexorability of war” had greatly reduced many “civilised forms of employment” including journalism and literary work.20 The difficulty of making a living through writing was certainly one factor that prompted Graham’s decision to begin work for the BBC at the start of 1941 – an aspect of his life discussed later in this chapter – but he also needed to find other outlets for his prodigious energy. A few months after the start of the War, he accepted a request by the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association (AECA) to edit a new publication, which subsequently appeared under the cumbersome title of Stephen Graham’s Newsletter about the Orthodox Churches in War-Time. Graham had not previously had many dealings with the AECA, but members of its General Committee identified him as the best person to publicise the plight of the Orthodox Church, at a time when the Nazi-Soviet pact was reshaping social and political life throughout eastern Europe.21 The Foreign Office also gave its blessing to the project, apparently hoping that the Newsletter would foster the perception that Germany posed a fundamental threat to religious freedom, helping to re-enforce the broader propaganda message about the horrors of Hitler’s government.

The first issue of the Newsletter gave a clear signal that Graham did not believe that Nazi Germany posed the only, or even the principal, threat to religious freedom in Europe. His attention instead remained firmly focused on developments in the USSR. His opening editorial roundly declared that “We believe that, sooner or later, the anti-God regime in Russia will founder”, adding that “a crash in Stalinism is inevitable”.22 He pursued this theme even more strongly in the second Newsletter, which examined the situation in the territories occupied by the USSR and Germany during the months following the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Graham argued – or at least seemed to argue – that the Nazi Government had treated the Orthodox Church less brutally than its Soviet counterpart.23 His claims created a furore within the normally sedate world of the AECA hierarchy. The General Committee received a number of letters of complaint from its members. Their concerns were echoed by the Bishop of Lincoln, the President of the Association, who feared that Graham was “unwittingly” producing “anti-British propaganda”. Graham himself went to Lambeth Palace to discuss the subject with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s secretary. He was also invited to attend a meeting of the AECA’s General Committee (where discussion actually showed that his views commanded a good deal of support).24

Whilst the immediate crisis was smoothed away, Graham’s views on Russia became more controversial in the following years, once Hitler’s fateful decision to invade Soviet Russia meant that the USSR and Britain became allies in the fight against Nazism.25 Although the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had for many years been as bitter a critic of Stalin as any member of the British establishment, he moved quickly to welcome Soviet Russia as a new ally in the fight against Nazism following the start of Operation Barbarossa (Hitler’s attack on the USSR in June 1941).26 In his broadcast just a few hours after Germany launched its Blitzkrieg, Churchill described developments in eastern Europe as “one of the climacterics of war”, following this up with a resounding offer of support to “Russia and the Russian people”.27 This dramatic turn of events changed the way in which the USSR was perceived in war-time Britain. Senior figures at the BBC immediately began to discuss how they could provide more positive coverage of Soviet Russia, without provoking “hostile and cynical reactions” from an audience accustomed to viewing the country with suspicion and distaste.28 The question of Stalin’s harsh treatment of the Russian Church was of particular concern to those responsible for fostering a less negative image of the USSR amongst the British public. At the start of the War, the Ministry of Information established a Religions Division designed to harness religion to the cause of victory, by portraying Nazi Germany as the greatest threat to religious freedom across Europe.29 It produced a publication called Spiritual Issues of the War that carried numerous articles attacking the axis powers, as well as other pieces encouraging readers to view the conflict as a kind of metaphysical struggle, a conflict “between light and darkness which God puts before us all”.30 The Division also produced a regular Orthodox Church Bulletin which, amongst other things, sought to provide a positive picture of the religious situation in the USSR.

Leading figures in the Church of England played their part in efforts to build closer links between Britain and Russia. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, supported the translation into English of a Soviet propaganda publication The Truth about Religion in Russia.31 He also gave his blessing to a visit to Russia by Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York, in the autumn of 1943. Garbett was well-received in Moscow, where he gave speeches condemning the “treacherous and unprovoked Nazi attack”.32 On his return home, he gave a press conference declaring roundly “that there can be no doubt that worship within the churches [in Russia] is fully allowed” and that “anti-religious propaganda has come to an end”.33 It was not an edifying performance, but the Archbishop was only too well-aware of the importance of the Anglo-Russian alliance to the war effort, and he hoped to play his part by persuading his fellow-countrymen that Stalin had relented in his previous harsh treatment of the Church.34 Like many previous British visitors to the USSR, he may also have convinced himself of the absurdities which he proclaimed to the world.

The change in the military and diplomatic situation created by Operation Barbarossa had consequences for both the AECA and Graham’s Newsletter. The Association’s General Committee discussed developments at its meeting in July 1941, recognising that some of its members were likely to be perturbed at finding their country allied with a government that had for years ruthlessly attacked religion in all its guises. The minutes cautiously noted that there were “different points of view” on the subject, leading the Committee to refrain from issuing any formal pronouncements for fear of stirring up division among members.35 The mood changed a few months later, though, when the Annual Meeting of the Association approved a motion expressing its “admiration [for] the heroic resistance with which the armies of the Russian people are opposing the onslaught of Nazi oppression”. Its leaders also approved plans for a Thanksgiving Service to honour those who had died during the fighting in Russia.36

Graham found it difficult to come to terms with the more positive mood towards Russia that became a staple of British life following the outbreak of war between Moscow and Berlin. He responded by downplaying developments in Russia in his Newsletter, focusing instead on the situation in Yugoslavia, which had been occupied by the axis powers in the spring of 1941. When he did write about the USSR, he grudgingly acknowledged that the Russian Church was being allowed to play a greater role in the country’s life, but described such a development as a cynical attempt to use religious and patriotic motifs to mobilise the population behind the War.37 When Stalin made the decision in 1943 to re-establish the Moscow Patriarchate, Graham dryly remarked that such a “remarkable event” had only come about because it was “politically expedient”, adding that the move was governed, above all, by the desire to impress Russia’s allies who were now asked “to believe that Holy Russia was never murdered”.38 A number of his editorials provided a curious echo of his younger self, combining a detailed analysis of developments in Europe with a more diffuse sense that the roots of conflict were to be found in the follies of a world that had allowed its sense of the transcendent to wither and die. His readers were divided in their reaction to this approach. Some expressed their enthusiasm, whilst others found such a juxtaposition of the prosaic and the numinous distracting and unconvincing.

Some senior figures in the AECA were concerned that Graham’s Newsletter was too negative in its portrayal of Soviet Russia at a time when the country had become an important ally for Britain. The issue came to a head at a meeting of the General Committee in December 1943, when the Association’s Secretary noted that it was clear that Graham’s sympathies were “with the old Russia”. He went on to add that “it had been evident for some time that he finds himself unable to accept the new relationship between the Church and the State in Russia. This has for some time been a source of embarrassment, in view of the attitude of our own ecclesiastical authorities, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York being officials of the AECA and the News-Letter being published under is auspices”. He added that some “strongly-worded criticism” of the Newsletter had come from the Ministry of Information.39 The precise nature of this criticism is unclear, but it seems that Graham’s Newsletter was viewed with concern by senior figures in the Religious Division, who feared that it might undermine official attempts to promote a positive image of Britain’s Soviet ally. When Graham was told of these concerns he immediately tendered his resignation. The effective dismissal of the eponymous editor of Stephen Graham’s Newsletter was done with the discretion and dignity appropriate for an organisation that included senior figures of the British Establishment amongst its membership. Graham was effusively thanked in the first edition of the Newsletter’s successor – The Eastern Churches Broadsheet – for the skill with which he had written “about current affairs sub speciae aeternitas against the background of an intricate network of political and ecclesiastical relations”.40 Readers were not informed that Graham had in effect been sacked for refusing to respond to the dictates of those who wanted to promote a more positive image of Uncle Joe Stalin and the country he ruled over.

The growing disquiet within the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association about Graham’s response to international developments was not only focused on his attitude towards the USSR. Some senior figures in the organisation were also concerned about his attitude towards the situation in the Balkans. The intricacies of the political situation in Yugoslavia during the Second World War defy easy characterisation. The period was, in the words of one distinguished commentator, “the story of many wars piled on top of one another”.41 In the spring of 1941, the country was invaded by Italy and Germany, forcing the young King Peter to flee to London, where a Royal Yugoslav Government-in-Exile was quickly established.42 In the months and years that followed, occupying axis troops fought with local resistance groups who in turn often fought with one another. The puppet government of Ante Pavelić, established by the Germans to rule over a nominally-independent Croatia, instituted a racial policy that led to the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Serbs luckless enough to be living in the territory of the new and enlarged state. The activities of this fascist regime – the Ustaša – in turn evoked the hatred of countless Serbs who flocked to join the Royalist and nationalist-inspired Chetniks. The Chetniks were led, at least nominally, by Draža Mihailović, who was, at the start of 1942, appointed as Minister of War by the Government-in-Exile in London. The picture was complicated by the emergence of a multi-national communist-inspired partisan resistance, led by Josef Tito, which was often virtually at war with the Chetniks as well as the occupation forces and the Ustaša regime of Pavelić. The complex shifts and turns of events in Yugoslavia during these tortured years have spawned a cottage industry of memoirs and histories seeking to disentangle the rights and wrongs of the period.43 The situation was even harder to understand during the chaos of war itself.

Yugoslavia was of vital concern to the British, since it was one of the most active sites of resistance to German rule, and likely to prove strategically important should the allied powers launch an invasion of occupied Europe from North Africa. The area was also a particular preoccupation of Winston Churchill. It was for this reason that the Special Operations Executive devoted so much attention to the region, directing various initiatives from its regional base in Cairo, as well as broadcasting propaganda from its radio stations in Palestine. The Royal Yugoslav Government in exile was, at first, feted in London, and the young King and his ministers received huge amounts of sympathetic news coverage,44 and enjoyed regular access to leading figures in the British government. When Mihailović was appointed Minister of War, early in 1942, his Chetnik forces acquired a kind of patina as the official resistance group worthy of logistical support by the British.45 The situation soon began to change, though, for reasons that remain controversial today. Detractors of Mihailović – both at the time and since – argued that the General was conspiring with the occupying axis powers to prevent the communist partisans from acquiring too much power and influence. His supporters angrily denied such claims. The reality probably lies somewhere between these extremes. Mihailović was certainly determined to prevent the growth of communist influence in Yugoslavia, but his caution in confronting German and Italian troops was largely driven by his reluctance to act until he was sure that the western powers could provide him with material support. There was nevertheless a major shift in British policy during 1942-43, away from support for the Chetniks and towards the partisans, which was motivated, at least in part, by concern that Mihailović was not a reliable ally. It may also be the case that Mihailović was the victim of black propaganda from left-wing sympathisers within the British government and military.46 This was certainly the view held by Stephen Graham.

Graham repeatedly used his Newsletter throughout 1940-43 to review developments in Yugoslavia. Even before the country’s occupation, in the spring of 1941, he condemned the Roman Catholic Church for supporting “Croat separatism”.47 In his first editorial following the attack on Yugoslavia by the axis powers, he suggested that Croat ministers in the government had favoured cooperation with the invaders. He also bitterly condemned Pavelić, who had of course featured in Alexander of Yugoslavia, as “a bloodthirsty assassin” (a prescient judgement given that news of the scale of the Ustaša’s barbarities was yet to reach Britain).48 The Newsletter for November 1941 attacked the “violently cruel campaign” against the Serbs, and claimed that they were actively supported by the Moslem population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as large sections of the Croat population. By 1942 the Newsletter was praising Mihailović and condemning the Pavelić regime for murdering half a million Serbs. Graham did not, by contrast, say anything about the reports that circulated of Chetnik atrocities against Croats and Jews. Nor did he show much sympathy for Tito’s partisans, even though they played an increasingly important role as the War dragged on, instead suggesting that their animus was directed “as much against thrones and churches” as “against the Germans, the Bulgars, the belligerent Croats, etc”.49

Graham was particularly bitter about the British government’s decision to switch its support from Mihailović’s Chetniks to the Partisans. Writing to a friend in the summer of 1943, he condemned the “poisonous intrigue” taking place against the Chetnik leader in London, adding that “if he ever comes to London he could collect thousands of pounds in libel actions”. He also condemned members of the “German fifth column” in Britain who were anxious “for the British Government to discard Mihailović”.50 By the summer of 1944 he was railing against the “Tito intrigue” as “unspeakably dirty”.51 Graham had no doubt that Mihailović was “a champion of national honour and liberty” – although he did not say whether the nation involved was Serbia or Yugoslavia – angrily dismissing claims that the General was a Quisling who cooperated with the occupation authorities. His sympathy for the Serb nationalist cause rendered his interpretation of events very one-sided, even if it is easy to sympathise with his criticism of Britain’s war-time policy in the Balkans, which played a significant part in facilitating Tito’s eventual bloody rise to power.

The source of Graham’s information about Yugoslavia is something of a mystery. Although there was no shortage of articles available to him in the press, some of his letters suggest that he had knowledge that could not be derived from newspapers alone. Vera was for obvious reasons unable to contact her family who were, in any case, desperate to conceal their links with Graham, fearful that any evidence of Anglophone sympathies might compromise their position in the eyes of the German Occupation authorities. The two of them probably obtained a good deal of information from their work at the BBC. When Graham first joined the Corporation, Russia was not yet at war with Germany, whilst Yugoslavia was still free from axis control. It is not clear what role he was expected to play. The BBC was certainly making plans to launch a new Russian service during the months before Operation Barbarossa,52 and it seems likely that he was initially employed to contribute to this new initiative, which was later dropped when the Soviet authorities made clear their opposition to such broadcasts. The BBC did, by contrast, play an important role after Operation Barbarossa in promoting a more positive image of Russia in Britain, broadcasting concerts of Russian music and discussions of Russian literature,53 although Graham was not included in this process. It may be that his knowledge was considered out-of-date, for it was twenty five years since he had last been in the country. Graham always believed that the BBC regarded him as too anti-Soviet to put on the airwaves at a time when official Britain was anxious to strengthen its alliance with the USSR. It was only later in the Cold War, when Soviet Russia was once again the enemy, that he became closely involved with the BBC’s newly-established Russian Service.

By 1943, the BBC Annual Review described the European Service as “a vast machine [that] broadcasts in twenty-four languages for over thirty-one hours a day”. The Controller of the European Services, the diplomat Ivonne Kirkpatrick, noted that the Service was “not a propaganda service in the usual sense of the term […] it is primarily a news service”.54 Kirkpatrick was much franker in his memoirs, published many years later, when he recalled the huge problems faced by the Corporation in maintaining its reputation for objectivity whilst supporting the war effort.55 Senior members of the BBC worked closely with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information in planning the content of broadcasts, a relationship that was often vexed, requiring numerous meetings to obtain even a modicum of agreement on sensitive issues.56 Such tensions were not simply about questions of editorial control and judgement. Some of the offices of the Political Warfare Executive, which specialised amongst other things at spreading ‘black propaganda’ in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, were located just above the offices of the European Service at Bush House in London.57 The boundary between the PWE and the European Services was extremely porous. Kirkpatrick recalled that, as Controller of the European Services, he was bound “to receive my political guidance from PWE”,58 although in administrative and financial matters he reported to the Board of Governors, with the result that the distinction between ‘black’ and ‘white’ propaganda was not as clear-cut as it sounded. The situation faced by the European Services was made more complicated by the need to carry coded messages in its broadcasts from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to its agents in the field. Although the PWE maintained its own broadcasting stations in North Africa and Palestine, transmitting black propaganda to occupied Europe, it too on occasion needed access to the powerful equipment owned by the BBC.59 Whilst the European Service maintained a degree of autonomy, its operations were embedded in a complex set of relationships that provided limits to its independence.

Graham’s role in this murky world must necessarily remain speculative, but he seems to have been attached to the Serbo-Croat section of the European Service, dealing with broadcasts to Yugoslavia, although the official BBC records do not formally show his presence there. His job was probably that of language supervisor, responsible for overseeing the specialist linguistic aspects of the broadcast, a role he certainly played in the BBC Russian Service when it was established after the War. Vera worked as a translator. The issue of broadcasting in Serbo-Croat was assigned high priority by the British during the War, given the need to encourage resistance to the occupying forces in the Balkans. The PWE used its transmitters to broadcast to the country in order to undermine the authority of the Pavelić government in Zagreb, and attack any Serbs cooperating with the German occupation authorities.60 The Serbo-Croat section of the BBC European Service was itself established just a few weeks after the start of the War, when it broadcast to south-east Europe for fifteen minutes a day (by the end of the War it was broadcasting for more than one and a half hours a day). The members of the section were inevitably caught up in the tensions that divided the Yugoslav emigration in London. The Government-in-Exile periodically called for existing staff to be dismissed in favour of replacements authorised by the King and his ministers – a demand that was always rejected by the BBC. Members of the Croat diaspora complained (probably fairly) that the Serbo-Croat section was strongly biased towards the Serbs. The question of broadcasting to Yugoslavia became still more complex as the British government gradually reduced its support for Mihailović’s Chetniks in favour of Tito’s partisans. Graham’s growing anger about the “abandonment” of Mihailović in 1943 was almost certainly based on first-hand observation of what was taking place at the BBC.

The rhythm of Graham’s life in war-time London continued largely unchanged throughout 1943 and 1944. He was, however, appalled by the changes that took place in Soho, lamenting how every time he went to the Post Office he had to push his way through “a guard of honour of young prostitutes”, touting for trade from the soldiers who flocked to the area.61 Graham was also dismayed by the amount of boot-leg liquor and illegal drugs that flooded the area.62 He looked with a jaundiced eye at “the home-based journalists” who vied with one another “in lick-spittling”, and lamented how “the smugly-placed civilians” gloated over news from the battlefield, secure in the knowledge that their own lives were not at risk now that mass bombing had ended.63 Although lone bombers occasionally appeared in the skies above London, sounding like “low-flying angry wasps”, it was only with the first V1 flying bomb attacks in June 1944 that Londoners once again had to confront the fear of daily bombardment. Graham began a biography of Franklin Roosevelt, but soon gave up on the idea, in part because “the tax situation forces us to write on half-pay”.64 Although it was hard to leave London, he occasionally managed to get away from the city with Vera, leaving behind the “destructive intrigues” he witnessed at the BBC for the pastoral delights of Dorset or Devon.65 The two of them were, however, resident at Frith Street when it suffered minor damage from a bomb in the spring of 1944. More problematic for Graham were the periodic war-time interruptions to the service provided by the London Library, which forced him to trawl the capital’s second-hand bookshops, searching for copies of the books he needed for his writing. Vera meanwhile fretted about the news that Yugoslavia was soon likely to be liberated by the Soviet army. Nor were the two of them spared more humdrum concerns: they were forced throughout 1944 to struggle with a plague of rats, whose numbers in Soho rocketed thanks to the decision by local restaurants to keep chickens in their back-yards, in an effort to ensure they had a supply of meat and eggs to satisfy their diners.

Although Graham’s work in the Serbo-Croat section during the final years of the War mainly consisted of behind-the-scenes production and supervision, he did make a number of broadcasts himself, usually consisting of short announcements and news reports. By the end of 1944, he was established enough in his job to be asked to broadcast a number of Radio Letters in Serbo-Croat. The international political and military situation had by now changed dramatically. The Red Army liberated Belgrade in October 1944, raising the prospect that the communist partisans would dominate the country’s post-war politics, a subject that was inevitably of grave concern to the British government, even though it had long shifted its support to Tito from Mihailović. The BBC’s developing strategy in such cases was to provide foreign listeners with material designed to give them insight into the British Way of Life, in the hope it would prove more appealing than the propaganda blandishments of communism. Graham’s talks followed this pattern. He told a friend in the United States that his broadcasts, which went out on short wave just after 8.00pm on Wednesdays, were about “new developments here, nothing political”.66

Graham’s first Radio Letter was “devoted to the young”, whose voice he believed was largely unheard in public life, since so many of those under thirty were in uniform. Graham told his listeners in the Balkans that there was a desire for change amongst British youth, predicting that when hostilities ended they would no longer be willing to “be found in long queues waiting for old gentlemen to tell them what to do next”.67 In his next broadcast, Graham spoke about the cinema in Britain, describing how even the largest theatre was full from mid-morning, more often than not showing serious films like the recent version of Henry V starring Laurence Olivier. His third broadcast described a recent visit he had made to an aircraft factory somewhere in the English Midlands, where the management made enormous efforts to promote the welfare of its workers, organising dances and employing a workers’ bard who had already published a volume of his “proletarian rhymes”. Such vignettes were calculated to provide an image of Britain as a place where war-time unity had helped to erode class divisions and foster a new sense of national unity. It was a message that the BBC was keen to get across to listeners across occupied and ‘liberated’ Europe.

Other Radio Letters broadcast by Graham in the first few months of 1945 included one in which he reported from a Naval Pageant held at the Albert Hall, taking the opportunity to provide his Yugoslav audience with a brief tour of English seamanship since the reign of Elizabeth I. The following week he described a visit to a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, at which “every seat was sold out and there were many people standing both in the pit and the gallery”. In line with BBC policy, Graham did not conceal the bleaker side of life in Britain, noting in one of his letters how “wide areas of desolation” across London had been colonised by a profusion of weeds and wild flowers. He criticised much of the house-building programme already under way, complaining that the new flats were too small, and arguing that the sheer scale of what was needed required much greater government intervention. Graham also regaled his listeners with a description of the devastation in his own area of Soho. BBC policy had since 1939 been predicated on the assumption that its broadcasts were most likely to be believed, whether at home or abroad, if they did not deny the obvious consequences of war. Graham’s Radio Letters followed this approach, painting a positive but realistic picture of his homeland, designed to appeal to a continent still reeling from the agonies of occupation.

By the spring of 1945, it was clear that the defeat of Nazi Germany was imminent. When news of the surrender was finally announced on 8 May, huge crowds flocked onto the streets of London, thronging Trafalgar Square and stretching up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Hourly services of Thanksgiving were held at St Paul’s, whilst the surrounding streets were, in the words of The Times, “gay with flags” that gave “an almost oriental exuberance of decoration”. Winston Churchill’s car was mobbed as it drove through Whitehall, and the Prime Minister later appeared in front of a huge crowd proclaiming “the victory of the cause of freedom”. The festivities extended to the poorer areas of the city, such as Stepney, where East Enders celebrated in the shadow of bombed-out houses and factories. The Times noted in duly patronising tones that such scenes reflected the sense of community that had allowed “the heroes and heroines of the Battle of London” to survive “the worst the enemy could do”.68

Although the sense of popular relief was palpable, more prescient observers had predicted for some time that the end of hostilities in Europe was likely to signal the beginning of a new set of problems. Graham wrote in a letter in early April that whilst the threat from rockets and flying bombs might be over, the outlook was still “a bit queer”, adding that “the political and economic situation of a dying continent baffles description”.69 His forebodings were based in part on what was taking place in Yugoslavia. Vera had recently discovered that her brother Chedomir and his family had survived the War, albeit “bombed-out and starving”, but she found it impossible to send them any help since “Tito and company do not want any personal intercourse between people in Belgrade and people abroad”.70 Graham tried desperately to find ways of sending them food parcels, but to little avail, noting presciently to a friend in America that “an iron curtain comes down between ‘liberated’ lands and the West”. His use of the words “iron curtain” pre-dated Churchill’s adoption of the phrase by almost a year.

The concern at Frith Street about Vera’s family would have been much greater if its occupants had known what was really going on in Yugoslavia. The victory of Tito’s partisans led to mass murder, as anti-communists and other “socially-undesirable” elements were executed or sent to forced labour camps that few survived.71 The crowds who thronged the streets of London to celebrate the Nazi surrender in the spring of 1945 had no real sense of the scale of the political and humanitarian crisis that was facing Europe. The Labour Government that was elected in the summer of 1945 moved quickly to implement its promises to nationalise industry and establish a welfare state. It also tried to work with the Soviet government over such questions as four-power control of Berlin. It was nevertheless clear within a few months of the end of the War that victory against the axis powers was not going to usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for Britain. The transition to a peace-time economy proved stubbornly difficult, leading to worsening shortages of many basic commodities, whilst the ideological and geopolitical tensions between East and West threatened to explode into a Third World War. The household at Frith Street was forced once again to draw on the stores of resilience that had served its residents so well over the previous few years.

One immediate problem faced by Stephen and Vera was a result of their unorthodox domestic situation. Since Vera did not have a British passport – she was not of course married to Graham – she was regarded as a stateless person in the eyes of the British authorities. There was even a risk that she might be regarded as a Yugoslav subject (raising the horrifying prospect of repatriation). Vera herself was deeply anxious, particularly after she lost her job at the BBC, not least because she was well aware that many Britons wanted foreigners to be deported back to their own countries. She spent the final months of 1945 redecorating Frith Street, half-dreading a call from the Ministry of Labour assigning her to the construction of “prefabricated houses or something of the kind”. She also carried out the household chores, shopping in the streets around Soho, where the rapid withdrawal of American forces had left “our platinum blondes” short of cash.72

Graham kept his job at the BBC, for which he was thankful, since “the prospects of picking up money by writing remain precarious”. He was particularly appalled by the price of alcohol, a lament that ran through many of his letters, in which he half-jestingly blamed enforced abstinence for “a shockingly adverse effect on the character of a lot of people who have gone sour since victory”.73 Although Stephen and Vera did not go without food in the years following the War – not even in the harsh winter of 1946-47 – the daily shortages continued to irk them. Friends regularly sent parcels from America containing luxury foods and items of clothing that could not be obtained in London. Such largesse could not make up altogether for the day-to-day problems facing residents of an increasingly cheerless post-war Britain. Graham was frustrated by the impossibility of buying a new typewriter (he had not been able to replace the one damaged in the bombing of 1940). Nor, given the financial obstacles, were he and Vera able to escape from the frustrations of daily life by resuming their pre-war travels across Europe. The only significant breaks from London life took the form of short holidays to the Isle of Wight or the Hebrides, and a rather longer trip to Ireland, where Graham was delighted to see a number of his books on sale in Dublin.

Graham’s work at the BBC now took place against the backdrop of worsening East-West relations. By the spring of 1946 politicians on both sides of the Atlantic were becoming convinced of the need to prepare for a long-drawn out struggle to contain the threat posed by Soviet communism. Both the Marshall Plan of 1947 and the Brussels Treaty of 1948 were products of this new Cold War mindset. A good deal of attention was also placed on the need to fight a propaganda war, leading the BBC to establish a new Russian Service in the summer of 1946, designed to give listeners in the Soviet Union “a comprehensive picture of life in Britain today”.74 The broadcasts quickly acquired a large following and, amazingly, many letters were sent to Bush House from across the USSR.75 At some point in 1946, Graham was transferred to the new Russian Service, working once again as a language supervisor, which meant that his role was still largely technical rather than editorial. He wrote little about his duties, not least because of the demands for secrecy, but occasional fragments in his letters suggest that he was sceptical about the value of his work. After three years of working for the new Russian Service, he told a friend that he had become weary of getting up at 2.30 in the morning to go to Bush House “to help tell the Russians their number is up”.76

Graham’s attitude towards international and domestic politics during the second half of the 1940s was marked by a degree of cynicism that had been absent earlier in his life. He complained bitterly about the “terrible ignorance” of the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and the US Secretary of State James Byrnes, dismissing them as incapable of mending “the broken eggshells” of a world that had come to resemble “a hundred humpty-dumpties”. He was particularly negative about the Labour government, describing its leader Clement Atlee as “a prune”,77 who lacked the qualities to lead his country through such difficult times. He was also surprisingly concerned about the growth of a Cold War culture in the West, particularly given his recent war-time criticism of attempts by the British government to develop closer relations with the USSR and Tito’s partisans. In April 1946, he wrote to his friend Marion Hay in Florida telling her that the British government lacked any sense of direction since it slavishly followed the anti-Soviet policies of the US administration.78 By August he was railing against the “smiling hypocrisy” of British politicians who sought to present themselves to the world as the saviour of liberty and freedom.79 He added rather elliptically that there were some “fine people in the background” but they were unable to influence politics for the good.

Graham’s letters during this period were full of scepticism about the efficacy of capitalism, despite its pivotal place in the ideological struggle between East and West, suggesting that there could not be lasting peace until a new economic order was established both at home and abroad: “I have nothing against capitalism except that I do not think it can function much longer”.80 Eighteen months later, in 1948, he noted that the appeal of communism was rooted in the poverty and deprivation created by the failures of capitalism. Although such sentiments at first seem odd coming from a man who had always been a bitter critic of the Soviet regime, throughout his life Graham had expressed doubts about “capitalism”, condemning it as a destructive force that undermined traditional societies, and created financial and spiritual poverty for many in more advanced countries like Britain and the United States. He was by instinct reluctant to accept a Manichean dualism that counter-posed the evil of communism with the unalloyed superiority of western liberalism and market economics. Graham was as a result for a time curiously muted in his criticism of the USSR.

During the second half of the 1940s, Graham spent a good deal of time collecting material for a book on Russia that was designed to counter “the stupid anti-Soviet talk” of “those who just as stupidly put over Soviet propaganda a little while back”,81 noting that he planned to show life in the USSR “in positive terms […] I think it might come as a surprise to some that there is no adverse criticism of the regime”.82 He was unable to interest a publisher in his project, although a version did eventually appear in 1951 under the title Summing-up on Russia, in which he was indeed surprisingly restrained in discussing such questions as Stalin’s treatment of the Orthodox Church.83 Whilst he duly condemned the “slave-labour” nature of the Soviet regime, which he accused of betraying the Russian nation, he was ready to acknowledge certain “admirable features” of Soviet life, including the emphasis on education and the attempt to liberate art and literature from the taint of “commercialism”. It would be wrong to see Graham’s words as a complete reassessment of the evils of Soviet Russia. In 1949, he himself noted that whilst he was not “very keen” on the prospect of another war, it might be worthwhile if it liberated the satellite states from Soviet control, words that would not have sounded out of place on the lips of the most zealous proponent of the need to “roll back” communism.84 The softening of Graham’s views towards the USSR during the early Cold War reflected, above all, his sense that neither side could claim a complete monopoly of virtue. It was a position consistent with all he had ever written. He had for decades been convinced that capitalism and communism were both grounded in a materialistic view of life that could never meet the deepest needs of human beings.

The burgeoning Cold War had immediate resonance at Frith Street given the parlous situation of Vera’s family. In the months that followed Tito’s rise to power, the new government in Yugoslavia dismembered any potential source of opposition with great ruthlessness, killing many of its opponents, including the execution by firing squad of Mihailović in July 1946. Vera tried desperately to keep in contact with her family, sending them parcels of clothes and food through an intermediary, at least until the communist authorities took objection to the visitor and barred them from entry to the country. Although she continued to send parcels through the regular post, many were returned, whilst others failed to reach their destination. Nor was the plight of the Yugoslav diaspora in London much better. At the end of 1947, when it had become clear that those who opposed Tito could never return home, Graham told Marion Hay in Florida that the émigrés from the Balkans had become “a melancholy lot”. The women worked in shops whilst their husbands “walk about with empty brief cases pretending to be on important state business”. The only thing that kept them hopeful was a pathetic belief that the United States would soon declare war on Russia and promote a “counter-revolution in the Balkan countries [that would] put a series of Slav De Gaulles in power”.85

The “melancholy” of the situation facing Yugoslav émigrés in Britain was not as desperate as the plight of Yugoslavs who remained on the continent. The British government was surprisingly slow to grasp the nature of the regime that Tito began to establish soon after his rise to power. Many officials in London continued to fret more about the possible escape of Nazi sympathisers from Yugoslavia than about the victims of the new communist government. The decisions that flowed from this suspicion were sometimes tragic in their consequences. When British soldiers handed over a large number of Yugoslav soldiers and civilians to the partisans in May 1945, they effectively, if unintentionally, sent thousands of innocent people to their deaths. In the months and years that followed, countless Yugoslavs who escaped their country ended up in displaced persons’ camps in Italy and Germany, where allied forces worked hard to identify anyone who might previously have played a role in assisting the axis powers. The rights and wrongs of this tangled story still defy easy analysis decades later, and it is perhaps too easy to forget how sheer confusion and weariness warped the judgement of politicians and soldiers during the chaotic years after 1945. Stephen and Vera did not themselves have any detailed knowledge of the intricacies of British policy towards Tito’s government. They were, however, only too well-aware of the plight of those luckless enough to end up in the camps set up to house displaced persons.

Many of the Yugoslav displaced persons were still languishing in camps in Germany and Italy more than two years after the War had ended. At the end of 1947, Vera continued to receive countless “pitiful letters” pleading for help to ameliorate the plight of “those with wrecked bodies [...] the old and infirm, unemployable women and children”. Graham was appalled at the problems faced by “these frozen and starved people”, and was scathing in his attacks on the allied powers responsible for supervising them, believing that the British authorities were waiting for them to “die off” so that “the problem [can] be said to have been solved”.86 By the start of 1948, the displaced persons in German camps had become the “chief interest” for Stephen and Vera, and they routinely dispatched sacks of clothes to those who were virtually destitute. Graham was incensed by the British authorities’ treatment of Yugoslav refugees. One of his old friends, a former editor of a leading pre-war paper, was detained in conditions of “semi-starvation”, even though he had always been “very anti-Hitler” and behaved “almost as if he were a British agent [...] I suppose he has been denounced as a German agent”.87 Graham wrote to the Foreign Office complaining about the case but received only the blandest of responses. The British authorities were in 1948 still determined to identify and punish those who might have played some part in helping the occupying forces in Yugoslavia during the War, even if the country was now on the other side of the Iron Curtain, leading Graham to rail impotently against “cold-blooded” British officials who refused to be moved by the refugees’ plight. He was reluctant to acknowledge, even in his own mind, that some who had fled the Tito regime were responsible for what today would be called war crimes. Not all the victims of communism had themselves led blameless lives. The tragic complexities of the Balkans created new ironies and contradictions, as the hatred and enmities of the Second World War gave place to a fresh set of ideological and political conflicts.

By the start of the 1950s, Graham was resigned to the existence of what he scathingly called “Titoland”. When Vera’s young niece Gordana travelled from Yugoslavia to stay with her aunt at Frith Street, he was appalled by the extent to which she had already become fluent in the Marxist-Leninist verbiage served up in the country’s schoolrooms. Graham was also perturbed by her antipathy towards the vigorously anti-communist Serbian émigré population in London. He nevertheless remained sceptical of the Cold War rhetoric that dominated discussion of international politics on both sides of the Atlantic. He told Marion Hay in Florida that there was something futile about broadcasting to eastern Europe – “telling the Russians what scoundrels they are” – and he fretted at the prospect of a McCarthy style witch hunt being imported into Britain.88 He also questioned the wisdom of the huge military build-up that began in 1949 with the creation of NATO. When Summing-up on Russia was finally published in 1951, it was judged insufficiently anti-Soviet to find a US publisher, at a time when the ‘Red Scare’ was dominating the news, although the British Foreign Office ordered 250 copies for distribution at home and abroad.89 Graham’s jaundiced view of British and American politicians – even Churchill was judged to be “a moral coward” by the early 1950s – meant that he still refused to become a cold warrior committed to the view that the West was in every respect superior to its adversary behind the iron curtain.90

Graham never lost his interest in politics, whether domestic or international, but he was by the early 1950s more interested in other topics. He had from his youth been a voracious reader of poetry, writing his fair share of doggerel before he first went to live in Russia, although he was honest enough to acknowledge that he had few talents as a writer of verse. In the early 1950s he became actively involved in the Poetry Society, which at this stage still had its headquarters at Portman Square in London, and in 1952 he gave a lecture there on the topic of Modern Poetry. Graham’s talk was not a panegyric to recent literary developments. He attacked the tendency of “modern” poets “to change gold into rags and tatters”, and condemned those who claimed that “there is more poetry in honest dirt than the collected works of Tennyson”, before going on to criticise all those who “reject the beautiful of a past age”. He concluded with a rousing declaration that “The tradition of poetry is with sounds and rhythms rather than with a process of images. If our English poetry is to be one with Keats and Shelley, Milton and Shakespeare, the continuity has to be preserved”.91

Graham did not content himself with rousing perorations against anything that smacked of the modern. In the same year, 1952, he published an anthology, 100 Best Poems in the English Language, which consisted in large part of the pieces that he liked to recite aloud whilst walking the roads of Essex when still a teenager. His choices were both traditional and predictable. Shakespeare and Donne were well-represented. So too were Wordsworth and Coleridge. Shelley’s To Night and Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra were also included. The most modern poem amongst Graham’s selection was Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree. ‘Moderns’ such as T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden were conspicuous by their absence.92 Nor does contemporary poetry seem to have featured much in the poetry-reading evenings that still took place from time-to-time at Frith Street. There had always been something accidental about Graham’s engagement with the characteristic motifs of modernism in the 1910s and 1920s. His concern with the themes of anomie and dislocation had been rooted above all in a nostalgic sense that they were products of the modern era that could best be countered by a re-emphasis on spirituality and tradition. Although a close reading of Eliot might have shown Graham that many of his concerns were actually shared by the author of The Wasteland and the Four Quartets, he was by the 1950s convinced that the importance of real poetry rested on the beauty of its language rather than the depth of its thematic concerns.

Graham was by the early 1950s increasingly conscious of the passing years, and he peppered his correspondence with complaints about illness. Nor was the change limited to his physical health. Although he remained quite vigorous until the late 1960s, by the time Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 Graham was increasingly retreating to a private world of family and friends. He frequently visited the flat of Maysie and Max Murray when they were in London – the couple were inveterate globe-trotters – and played host to Delano and Kit Ames on their visits to Britain from their home in Spain. Frith Street also played host for a time to the “crazy poet” John Gawsworth, who had spent much of the War in Africa and India,93 and repaid Graham’s hospitality by appointing his host to a dukedom in the fantasy world of Redonda. The Indian publisher Susil Gupta – who had met Gawsworth in Calcutta – also spent some months at 60 Frith Street (the address was at one point listed as the home of Gupta’s London office). A longer-term tenant was the actor and writer Maurice Braddell, who understudied Noel Coward in the original production of Private Lives, and later wrote the children’s book Little Gorky of the Black Swans. Among other frequent visitors to Frith Street was the writer Hugh Cleveley who was, like Ames, the author of numerous works of detective fiction, including some of the Sexton Blake series of novels. Graham’s old friend Bernard Newman was also a regular guest. Less welcome was Vera’s brother Dimitrije (“a powerful personality used to bending everyone to his will”). Graham was by the start of the 1950s convinced that members of the New Europe group headed by Dimitrije were all “mad as hatters”, sending delegates around the globe to canvass for a new world order, but without any clear sense of how to achieve their leader’s passion for “the union of humanity”.94 Such acerbic comments said more about the strained personal relationship between the two men than it did about the activities of the New Europe group itself.

The rigours of exchange control meant that Graham’s penchant for globetrotting remained doomed to frustration during the early 1950s, although he was frequently overcome by the desire to escape from the confines of London, torn as ever between his love for urban street-scenes and the call of the wild (or at least the gently pastoral). He and Vera tried to spend several days each month on the south coast, walking the cliffs of Sussex, and often headed off to stay on the Isle of Wight. A summer holiday in the Hebrides in 1949 was not a success – the rain and the mosquitoes dampened the mood – with the result that the Grahams subsequently preferred the more welcoming climate of the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly. Graham found the Scilly Isles idyllic, enthusing about the traditional rhythms of life in a place where “the post box has a public telephone so that the postman can watch for the coming of the mail launch and put his old horse to the shafts to bring up the food packets and letters from the landing stage”.95 He also retained his enthusiasm for fishing, developed so many years before in Yugoslavia, and spent days on the rocks casting out his line to catch plaice and mackerel. The annual trip to the Scillies became one of the highpoints of Graham’s year, and descriptions of his time on the island of St Martin’s filled his correspondence. The vast spaces of Russia that dominated his youthful imagination had now given way to a hankering for the more confined life of a small island situated just thirty miles off Land’s End.

The narrowing of Graham’s geographical horizons was not only a matter of financial necessity. When Stalin died in 1953, Graham was already sixty nine years old. His work for the Russian Section of the BBC continued for many years, although his hours (and income) were cut sharply in 1954, as his seventieth birthday approached. He continued to write at an almost frenetic pace, but publishers were less and less inclined to value the work of a man whose interests seemed remote from the demands of a modern readership. His comments on the films and plays he saw in the West End also became increasingly caustic as he struggled to come to terms with contemporary tastes. Graham had in the 1930s been young in mind and body. By the early 1950s he was becoming old both in years and outlook. The echoes of his former self nevertheless still continued to flicker from time-to-time. Although his unappealingly trite 1949 book Thinking of Living consisted mostly of a series of platitudes about the need to “make of your life what you will”, he still took care to insist that “the miraculous force is at the inmost centre of being and drives outwards from there”.96 Even as he approached old age, Graham remained convinced that the world could not be reduced to the sum of its visible parts. Whilst the last twenty years of his life were dominated by financial concerns and worries about his health, he continued to search for the “miraculous force” that had inspired his early trips to Russia so many years before.

1 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Graham to Marion Hay, 10 October 1939.

2 Gawsworth Papers (University of Reading Library), Box 10, Graham to Gawsworth, 18 September 1939.

3 Stephen Graham, From War to War (London: Hutchinson, 1940).

4 Stephen Graham, Liquid Victory (London: Hutchinson, 1940), pp. 51, 96.

5 On Halifax, see Andrew Roberts, The Holy Fox: A Life of Lord Halifax (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991).

6 For a valuable discussion of British attitudes towards Russia in the war years see Philip Bell, John Bull and the Bear: British Public Opinion, Foreign Policy and the Soviet Union, 1941-1945 (London: Edward Arnold, 1990). See, too, the numerous reports commissioned during the period by Mass Observations.

7 BBC Archives (Caversham), Transcript of ‘Men of the Hour: Stalin’, broadcast 7 January 1940.

8 On civilian morale during the phoney war see Robert Mackay, Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 46-58.

9 William Sansom, The Blitz: Westminster at War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 56-57.

10 For a general discussion of Graham’s attitudes toward London, see Michael Hughes, ‘The Traveller’s Search for Home: Stephen Graham and the Quest for London’, The London Journal, 36, 3 (2011), pp. 211-24.

11 Graham, Characteristics, p. 79.

12 Stephen Graham, ‘5,000 Enemy Planes over London’, in Masterpiece of Thrills, John Gawsworth (London: Associated Press, 1936), pp. 339-46.

13 The incidents in this and subsequent paragraphs are taken from Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 12a (‘Air Raid Diary’).

14 Gawsworth Papers (University of Reading Library), Box 10, Graham to Gawsworth, 21 September 1943.

15 Ibid, Graham to Gawsworth, 17 June 1943.

16 For details of the reaction of Londoners to the Blitz see Mackay, Half the Battle, pp. 68-90; Helen Bell, London was Ours: Diaries and Memoirs of the London Blitz (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008); Juliet Gardiner, The Blitz: the British Under Attack (London: Harper Press, 2011).

17 On the ability of parts of the West End to continue despite the bombing, see Matthew Sweet, The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London’s Great Hotels (London: Faber and Faber, 2011).

18 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Graham to Hay, 5 March 1942.

19 Stephen Spender, World Within a World: The Autobiography of Stephen Spender (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1951), p. 286. On literary life in this period see Robert Hewison, Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939-45 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1977). Also see the relevant pages of Hugh David, The Fitzrovians: A Portrait of a Bohemian Society, 1900-1950 (London: Michael Joseph, 1988).

20 Hewison, Under Siege, p. 20.

21 Lambeth Palace Library, MSS 4736, Minutes of the General Committee of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, 4 October 1939; 15 January 1940.

22 Stephen Graham’s Newsletter About the Orthodox Churches in War-Time, No. 1, March 1940.

23 Ibid, No. 2, April 1940.

24 Lambeth Palace Library, MSS 4736, Minutes of the General Committee of the AECA, 29 April 1940.

25 Amongst the large literature on Barbarossa and the Eastern Front see Richard Overy, Russia’s War, 1941-1945 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998); John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

26 On Churchill’s shifting attitude towards Soviet Russia in wartime, see David Carlton, Churchill and the Soviet Union (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), pp. 70-134.

27 The Times, 22 June 1941.

28 BBC archives (Caversham), R51/520/1 (various letters dated June and July 1941). For the BBC’s reaction to how Barbarossa should change its strategy on Russia, see Asa Briggs, The War of Words (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 387 ff.

29 Dianne Kirby, Church, State and Propaganda: The Archbishop of York and International Relations. A Study of Cyril Foster Garbett, 1942-55 (Hull: Hull University Press, 1999), esp. p. 27 ff. See, too, Dianne Kirby, ‘The Church of England and “Religions Division” during the Second World War: Church-State Relations and the Anglo-Soviet Alliance’, Electronic Journal of International History, 4.

30 Spiritual Issues of the War, 30 October 1941.

31 William Temple Papers (Lambeth Palace Library), 38, Martin to Temple, 7 December 1942.

32 The Times, 22 September 1943.

33 Ibid, 12 October 1943.

34 Kirby, Church, State and Propaganda, p. 57.

35 Lambeth Palace Library, MSS 4736, Minutes of the General Committee of the AECA, 30 July 1941.

36 Ibid, Minutes of the AGM of the AECA, 25 September 1941.

37 On the way in which Stalin’s treatment of the Orthodox Church in wartime was linked to diplomatic questions see Steven Merritt Miner, Stalin’s Holy War: Religion, Nationalism and Alliance Politics, 1941-45 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

38 Graham’s Newsletter about the Orthodox Churches, No. 37, September-October 1943.

39 Lambeth Palace Library, MSS 4736, Minutes of the General Committee of the AECA, 30 December 1943.

40 The Eastern Churches Broadsheet, January 1944.

41 Noel Malcolm, Bosnia (London: Papermac, 1996), p. 174.

42 For a useful summary of the Yugoslav Government-in-Exile see Stevan K. Pavlowitch, ‘Out of Context: The Yugoslav Government in London, 1941-45’, Journal of Contemporary History, 16, 1 (1981), pp. 89-118; M.A. Kay, ‘The Yugoslav Government-in-Exile and the Problems of Restoration’, East European Quarterly, 25, 1 (1991), pp. 1-19.

43 See, for example, Marcia Christoff Kurapovna, Shadows on the Mountain: The Allies, the Resistance and the Rivalries that Doomed WWII Yugoslavia (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010); Sabrina P. Ramet and Ola Listhaug (eds.), Serbia and the Serbs in World War Two (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011); Sebastian Ritchie, Our Man in Yugoslavia: The Story of a Secret Service Operative (London: Frank Cass, 2004); Walter R. Roberts, Tito, Mihailović and the Allies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1973); Anne Lane, ‘Perfidious Albion? Britain and the Struggle for Mastery of Yugoslavia, 1941-44: A Re-examination in the Light of “New” Evidence’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 7, 2 (1996), pp. 345-77. For a valuable memoir of the time, see Fitzroy Maclean, Eastern Approaches (London: Cape, 1949).

44 See, for example, Manchester Guardian, 22 January 1942.

45 For a discussion of British policy at this time see Simon C. Trew, Britain, Mihailović and the Chetniks, 1941-2 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998).

46 For an argument along these lines see Michael Lees, The Rape of Serbia: The British Role in Tito’s Grab for Power (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1990). For a discussion of the role of James Klugmann – a Communist operating within SOE who had many dealings with Yugoslavia – see Roderick Bailey, ‘Communist in SOE: Explaining James Klugmann’s Retention and Retainment’, in The Politics of Strategy and Clandestine War: Special Operations Executive, 1940-1946, ed. by Neville Wylie (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 66-89.

47 Graham’s Newsletter About the Orthodox Churches, No. 11, February 1941.

48 Ibid, No. 14, May 1941.

49 Ibid, No. 38, November 1943.

50 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Graham to Hay, 27 June 1943.

51 Gawsworth Papers (University of Reading Library), Box 10, 21, Graham to Gawsworth, 1944.

52 Briggs, War of Words, p. 396.

53 BBC Archives (Caversham), R51/520/1 (various letters and memoranda relating to the reorientation of the treatment of Russia in broadcasts following Operation Barbarossa).

54 Ivonne Kirkpatrick, ‘Calling Europe’, BBC Yearbook 1943, pp. 103-7.

55 Ivonne Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (London: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 157-59.

56 Sian Nicholas, ‘Partners now: Problems in the portrayal by the BBC of the Soviet Union and the United States of America, 1939-45’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, 3, 2 (1992), pp. 243-71.

57 On the Political Warfare Executive see David Garnett, The Secret History of PWE: The Political Warfare Executive, 1939-1945 (London: St Ermin’s Press, 2002).

58 Kirkpatrick, Inner Circle, p. 158.

59 For a discussion of wartime relations between the BBC and PWE see Briggs, War of Words, pp. 418-25.

60 Garnett, Secret History of PWE, pp. 204-5.

61 Gawsworth Papers (University of Reading Library), Box 10, Graham to Gawsworth, 29 April 1943.

62 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Graham to Hay, 27 June 1943.

63 Gawsworth Papers (University of Reading Library), Box 10, Graham to Gawsworth, 29 April 1943.

64 Ibid, Graham to Gawsworth, 29 April 1943; 17 June 1943.

65 Ibid, Graham to Gawsworth, 10 September 1943.

66 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 576, 6, Graham to Hay, 5 April, 1945.

67 The quotes in this and the following paragraph are taken from Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6 (‘Wartime Radio Letters’).

68 The Times, 9 May 1945.

69 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Graham to Hay 5 April 1945.

70 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 5 April 1945.

71 For a brief account see Richard West, Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia (New York: Carol and Graf, 1994), pp. 201-16; see, too, Marcus Tanner, Croatia: A Nation Forged in War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 168-83. For a personal recollection of this time see Ljubo Sirc, Between Hitler and Tito (London: Deutsch, 1989), pp. 74-94.

72 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Vera Mitrinović to Hay, 3 November 1945

73 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 3 November 1945.

74 BBC Yearbook 1947, p. 117.

75 For the establishment of the Russian Service, along with further discussion of the BBC in the early Cold War, see Alban Webb, ‘Auntie Goes to War Again: The BBC External Services, the Foreign Office and the Early Cold War’, Media History, 12, 2 (2006), pp. 117-32.

76 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Graham to Hay, 10 March 1949.

77 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 3 November 1945.

78 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 28 April 1946.

79 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 25 August 1946.

80 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 14 January 1946.

81 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 14 January 1946.

82 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 3 November 1945.

83 Stephen Graham, Summing-up on Russia (London: Ernest Benn, 1951).

84 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 6, Hay to Graham, 10 March 1949.

85 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 9 December 1947.

86 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 9 December 1947.

87 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 28 January 1948.

88 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 7, Graham to Hay, 15 May 1950.

89 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 6 December 1951.

90 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 18 March 1952.

91 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 574, 16a (Jottings for a speech to Poetry Society).

92 Stephen Graham (ed.), 100 Best Poems in the English Language (London: Ernest Benn, 1952).

93 For an insight into Gawsworth’s time on active service see G.S. Fraser, A Stranger and Afraid (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1983), p. 163 ff.

94 Graham Papers (FSU), Box 573, 7, Graham to Hay, 2 October 1950.

95 Ibid, Graham to Hay, 2 September 1951.

96 Stephen Graham, Thinking of Living (London: Ernest Benn, 1949), pp. 23, 77.