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Conrad Fulke O'Brien-ffrench. Artist and Spy.

The ffrench Connection

A Soviet diplomat and a ffrench Princess come to the West

Kathleen Ffrench had been at her palatial residence on the Volga when the tide of the revolution swept over her. She had been dragged off to jail by the rabble. The palace was ransacked; her property was looted; art objects, gold, silver, priceless antiquities – all were lost. She would almost certainly have been shot – as were so many of the ruling elite – had she not been British. Instead, she was interned by the Russians pending repatriation. In 1920, Lady Marling, the wife of Sir Charles Marling was in charge of Red Cross activities concerned with the repatriation of the interned British. She was based at Teroki, close to the Karelian Isthmus.  A small river called Siestro, formed the frontier, the railway bridge having been destroyed. Beside some ruins, a small hut was occupied by Finnish border guards. It was here that Kathleen arrived one cold March morning. Conrad was there to meet her and accompanied her to Lady Marling's headquarters. After three years’ continuous threat of the firing squad, Kathleen was the shadow of her former self. She had lost her aristocratic lifestyle and all her valued possessions during the Revolution and mourned the loss. Conrad helped secure her release and made the arrangements to deliver her to her London house, and thence to Monivea. Rosalind, who had grown accustomed to being the Lady of the house, didn't relish Kathleen's arrival. There was a falling out between them, and, soon, Kathleen was again travelling across Europe, eventually settling in HarbinChina, near the Russian border.  Although they were to meet again, she was never to return from her self-imposed exile.

In the spring of 1920, a Russian Trade Delegation was to have top-secret trade negotiations in London with the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George. This was, perhaps, Conrad's most secret mission to date. One bright cold morning, Conrad was at Bielostrov station, awaiting the arrival in Finland of the Soviet trade delegation headed by M. Krassin. It was 6:30 in the morning, when, after several false alarms, Lt. Daniels of the Finnish army came out of the hut with a white flag. The delegation arrived at the same time. The party came down the snow-covered bank onto the ice of the river Siestro.  Their papers were examined by Finnish officers, and then under heavy guard they were escorted to Bielstrov station and toBritain’s representative – Conrad.  They travelled on by train to Abo. Amid the hundreds of refugees and displaced persons with Lady Marling and her helpers tending to the new arrivals, the delegation slipped unnoticed into the West. Only Conrad’s camera caught the scene. There is a record of his photographs in War Office files. There were 25 members of the delegation.  Abo's chief of police was in full ceremonial dress, complete with white plumed hat when he met the train. He escorted them through passport control, and they were soon on their way toSweden. Conrad and Krassin discussed the “Peaceful Revolution” which was ravaging Russia as it changed into the USSR. Conrad was chilled by the absolutism of the Communists’ version of means justifying the ends, wherein any act, however murderous or violent, was justifiable as peaceful when it hastened the creation of the utopian Communist State. He quotes Krassin:

“The beneficiaries of our Revolution will be those who are three years old. It is idle to criticise a movement such as ours by its offences against the traditions and concepts we are moving away from. . . . When the sod is turned we are no longer interested in that which was formerly uppermost but that which is brought to light, for in that lies our potential.” (DM p. 64)

In Stockholm, Krassin was reunited with his wife and three beautiful daughters. Then they travelled on to London, where they took up residence in Curzon Street in apartments above Conrad’s younger brother, Alexis ffrench an aspiring composer who was to become a successful interior designer.

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Conrad welcomes Krassin to the West

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 Copyright. Paul Atkinson 2007. 00brien.com 
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