Well I have been a way awhile, buried in my MA and it looks like that will continue for some time yet as I have a research paper to do and a deadline looming. However for some light reading I have finally received The Last Train Over Rostov Bridge from the library. I had not being able to locate a (cheap) copy online so I ordered a copy from the library-the only copy in the entire Irish library system so I was told-months and months ago but they didn’t send it to me as it was ‘missing pages’. I assumed it was irreparably damaged. But I decided to try again recently and presto it arrived, minus a couple of pages near the beginning but otherwise in perfectly good nick.
I wasn’t that enthusiastic about reading it as in the course of my research I saw that Aten’s book had got a bit of a bashing from historians. Written in 1961 by Captain Marion Aten, who was in South Russia with the RAF at the time my granddad was there, it was long used as a source book for this period. However when it turned out some of Atens’ account was inaccurate it put the kibosh on the rest of it and, if I remember rightly, it was often dismissed as a sort of Boy’s Own account. In fact, though it is a rollicking good read, it jibes very well with all of my research. Sure there are details, like the romance, that I suspect are embroidered, and of course attitudes to women were a little, how shall we say, backwards?But those were the times. All in all I am getting through it quickly.
There is a lot about characters we are familiar with, including conversations with and descriptions of our old pals Wrangel and Holman as they go about their business (including hanging recalcitrant station masters), as well as the frustrations about the military strategy insisted on by Denikin. It doesn’t stint on descriptions of hardship either, the refugees, the illnesses, the bandits, the deaths, the irreperable damage.
We are introduced to the Camel Sopwith, which seems more like a cardboard box held together with string than an aeroplane. Dog fights and attacks on Budyonny’s cavalry are described in detail down to a wound on the face of a falling horseman shot down by Aten’s guns. The every day details are numerous and descriptive and in many ways, despite it being written forty years after the fact, which has coloured it slightly, this book of all the others has brought me back to that time as I understand it through my other research. I have swooped down in my Camel, coming into a bumpy landing on the steppe, jumped out and after a quick check with Charlie the mechanic, hoisted myself up the steps into our HQ in a train carriage to shoot the breeze with the boys, to have Kink tear strips off me, to josh the cook Chowderill about his samovar collection and his imitation jewel stash, tripping over mascot Clarence the pig on the way to the fire-place we tore from some mansion not unlike the ones I had seen in Blighty, and installed with the cherubs arse side out, where I will lean as we deconstruct our latest battle. While perhaps taking some details with a pinch of salt I would recommend it as a door into that other time…
Aten, Captain Marion & Orrmont, Arthur, (1961), Last Train Over Rostov Bridge, London:Cassell & Company.