Thropton WI, February meeting

Engrossing Russia

Thropton WI welcomed three new members and two visitors to its February meeting.

With great pleasure, we sang Happy Birthday to one of our members, who was celebrating her 85th birthday.

We noted an interesting competition that the National Federation of WIs is organising – a 500-word essay on a letter to your younger self.

It was something we could all think about, even if we don’t actually put pen to paper.

At the moment we are planning trips for the year.

In late spring we plan to visit an alpaca centre, followed by lunch nearby.

Our proposed summer outing will take us to the Lake District, and we thought autumn would be a good time to explore Newcastle’s Victoria Tunnel.

In the next few weeks some of us will travel to the Gertrude Bell exhibition at the Great North Museum.

Every month there is Win’s Walk to look forward to.

For the most recent walk, we took the Spiritbus to Sharperton, and then on foot by road, track and muddy field to the pub at Alwinton. After a leisurely lunch we had a scenic trip home by bus.

Rothbury couple Sandy and Wilma Hunter delighted us with a fascinating account of their time living in Soviet Russia when Sandy was working there as an air attaché.

Sandy, a serving RAF officer, undertook many months of Russian language tuition and training with service intelligence.

It seems that Wilma enjoyed learning Russian a great deal more than her husband.

In 1971 the couple departed for Moscow, with luggage containing everything they would need for a two-year posting.

They lived in the same enclave as the Western diplomatic community and representatives of the world’s press.

Their flat, expensively furnished by the Foreign Office, included furniture from Hampton Court. From home they brought all the china required to entertain 24 people.

Friendships made back then have been maintained to this day.

Living among many nationalities, they ate every sort of cuisine, and endured repeated indigestion.

One meal served to them ingeniously contained lentils in each of the seven courses. Fortunately, the wine was plentiful.

Diplomatic receptions and parades were only part of the experience.

Sandy’s work as a licensed observer involved travelling across Russia. They calculated that in two years they covered over a quarter of a million miles, noting and photographing what was going on.

Much was done in winter when the lack of leaves on the trees exposed more to see. Their activities had to be legal so as not to embarrass the British Government.

Wilma brought along a large handbag, which she unpacked for us.

She said that when she travelled in Russia she always had it with her. It contained essentials like disinfectant, loo-roll, soap, torch, binoculars, fresh-air spray, first-aid kit, their documents and Sandy’s camera.

Part of Sandy’s training had been in taking photographs covertly.

Under surveillance when they were together, Wilma had much more freedom in Moscow when she was alone.

With her Russian language skills she was able to get tickets for cultural events, which were barred to them when applied for officially.

Every three months throughout this posting, Sandy and Wilma visited Helsinki to enjoy the freedom of being in the West.

They explained that this partly relieved the stress of being constantly listened to and watched.

This engrossing talk provoked many questions, which continued after the meeting ended.

Our next meeting is on Wednesday, March 2, at 7pm, in Thropton War Memorial Hall.

Ingrid Kilner‘s talk is entitled ‘A year behind the veil’.

Visitors will, of course, be very welcome.