The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
Among the pages on this blog you will find another short story, titled ‘Trainspotters’, written for Cheltenham Writers’ Circle as part of our commemoration of the First World War. It is not about the trenches but concerns a strange episode on the Home Front.
In September 1914 a rumour swept Britain that up to a million Russian troops had landed in Scotland and were en route to France via London. Michael McDonagh of The Times wrote:
There is being circulated everywhere a story that an immense force of Russian soldiers – a little short of a million, it is said – have passed or are still passing through England on their way to France.
This great news is vouched by people likely to be well informed, but it is being kept secret by the authorities – not a word of it is allowed in the newspapers – until the Russians have arrived at the Western Front.
The rumour was officially denied on 15 September, but not until the German spy network had reported it to Germany as a fact. In the meantime it had been reported that the Russians had been seen stamping the snow off their boots in Edinburgh.
The usual explanation is that a unit of Scottish soldiers from Rosshire was misunderstood as coming from Russia, but this seems unlikely. Another version is that it was a deliberate disinformation spread by the War Office. More likely it was another urban legend believed by a population eager to believe it.