Sunday, November 30, 2014

WHEN JOSEF STALIN LOOKED AT ME


On this day, minus two, many years ago, Josef Stalin looked at me and I looked at him.

It was in Teheran, in the British embassy compound.  My father said I wasn't to go to school. He didn't say why, only that it was a very important secret. Soldiers had previously set up tents on the lawns and marched through the compound in heavy boots, or stood at corners, at ease but watchful, with their rifles slanted beside them. They drove growling armoured vehicles. Everyone going in and out of the compound had to have a special pass, scrutinised by the Ghurkhas on the gate. Even the old man at the back gate stood smartly on guard instead of sleeping in the shade as he usually did.

On this day, minus two, my father and I were the only people, apart from the old man, who watched the back gate of the embassy open. A black car drove into our compound from the Russian embassy opposite. The old man saluted - surely his finest moment.

"Watch" said my father. "This is history happening. One day you'll be glad you saw this.  The man in the back of that car is the most powerful man in the Soviet Union.  His name is Josef Stalin."

I watched the car move slowly by, the back windows covered with blinds.  As it passed us Josef Stalin zapped up the blind and he stared out at us as we stared back.

On this day, 30th November, 1943, my father stood beside me in the small crowd of people in the sunshine outside the chancery. The soldiers were there too, at attention, eyes staring straight ahead, rifles bristling, brasses glinting. There was an atmosphere that fizzed and I felt it, head to toe.

"Watch" said my father. "The man sitting there with the fat cigar is Winston Churchill, who is the man making the decisions about this war for Britain. He is having his photograph taken because today is his sixty-ninth birthday." The photo­graphers snapped and flashed. Then two other men came out and joined Mr Churchill, and the photographers snapped and flashed again.

"Josef Stalin is the man in the uniform" said my father. "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the suit, is the president of the United States. Watch carefully, because this is history too. These three men are the most important people in the world right now, and what they talk about and decide at the conference here will affect the course of history for a long time to come."

After the conference the soldiers went away, taking their tents and guns and growly vehicles away with them.  It was winter, and soon deep drifts of snow covered everything.

 

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