[British Embassy Medical Officer in Cold War Moscow and Bucharest.] Unpublished typed account by T. V. Humphreys of his journeys around Romania and Russia during five years of service, also describing medical aspects and 'Soviet methods of medicine'.

Col. Thomas Victor Humphreys (b.1922), O.B.E., M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O, Royal Army Medical Corps, British Embassy Medical Officer at Moscow and Bucharest [USSR; Soviet Union; Iron Curtain; Russia; Romania]
Publication details: 
December 1952 to January 1953. Romania and the USSR (Russia). Russian locations: Moscow, Leningrad, Peterhof, Tsarskoe-Selo, Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Kharkov, Kiev.
SKU: 22404

Biographical details regarding Humphreys are hard to come by. He features in two Times reports of the indisposition of the pianist Cyril Smith in Moscow in 1956 (8 May and 9 June). On his award of the OBE in the 1958 New Years Honours List he was described as 'lately First Secretary and Medical Officer at Her Majesty's Embassy in Moscow'. On his retirement in 1987 he was described as 'Col. T. V. Humphreys, O.B.E., M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O. (530578) late R.A.M.C.' Primarily a travelogue by a 'convinced monarchist', 'enthusiastic art collector ' and lover of the arts and fine wines (Humphreys has 'a liking for the traditional which strangely enough was never resented in the Soviet Union'), with an emphasis on the many 'lonely, empty Palaces' he visits in Romania and Russia, the account also gives an interesting insight into medical practices behind the Iron Curtain, with comparisons of the state of medicine in the West and at the Western diplomatic missions, and in the Russia and Romania he encounters through meetings with medical men and on visits to hospitals, a whole chapter being devoted to 'Soviet methods of medicine'. 253pp, 4to. In two parts, paginated 1-129 and 1-123, with one duplicate pagination. The complete original typescript, with autograph emendations, divided into 27 chapters (first part, chapters 1-15; second part, duplicate chapter 15-26), and amounting to around 70,000 words. Each page on a separate punch-holed leaf, the entire typescript bound into a red plastic binder. In fair condition, on aged and worn paper, with the first few leaves with tape staining and light rust staining from paper clips and the metal of the worn binder. At the head of the first page Humphreys has given his name and address as 'Major TV Humphreys, OBE, RAMC | Medical Centre | Lisanelly Barracks OMAGH', correcting this to 'Officer Commanding | Medical Reception Station | SAIGHTON CAMP, CHESTER.' A well-written and informed account by a cultured Ulsterman of his five years of service as medical officer in the Bucharest and Moscow British embassies during the cold war. A decade after his tour of duty Humphreys published a ten-page account of the medical aspects of his five years behind the Iron Curtain, in a paper titled 'Medicine and Surgery in Eastern Europe | Some Observations of a Medical Officer and Temporary Diplomat 1952-1957' (Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 1 January 1966). In that paper he remarks: 'So far as I know I am the only doctor to have been entrusted by the Foreign Office with two consecutive diplomatic medical posts beyond the "Iron Curtain", and to have spent as long as five years on these duties. For obvious reasons of policy these posts art temporary and are usually restricted to a period of one or two years.' In describing Romania Humphreys discusses his organisation of the 'Legation medical services'; how the 'ice seemed really broken' by 'a very obscure case' of 'an atypical infective mononucleosis'; the hospitals at Bucharest; and his view of 'Roumanian medicine' ('often more influenced by Soviet doctrines incomprehensible to Western-trained medical minds'). With regard to his Russian experiences he devotes the ten pages of Chapter XXIV to 'Soviet methods in Medicine', beginning with a description of his own work, which consists of 'the medical care of our own Embassy staff and families and on behalf of H.M. Government, those of other Western diplomatic missions as required'. The number of Western missions that used his services and those of the American Embassy doctor was 'considerable', and Humphreys' time 'was constantly occupied with the normal routine of general medical practice, differing from similar work at home only inasmuch as the practice was conducted in several languages, mostly French when English was not used. As in Roumania, a knowledge of the national background of the patients was of immense value in treating their ailments'. As the British Embassy surgery contained no more than 'a supply of drugs and elementary appliances', use was made of the Russian Policlinic; for laboratory and X-ray services and for cases requiring urgent major surgical treatment'. He discusses the arrangements at the Policlinic, and its 'monoglot' doctors ('the basic ideas of Russian medical practice are quite different from those obtaining in Great Britain and America. In Russia each doctor claims to be some kind of specialist and the general practitioner concept is completely unknown here.') Compared with Roumania, he finds 'the sense of frustration often overpowering [...] Approach to the specialist was equally difficult in Roumania but once this had been achieved things were immeasurably easier. Unheard of difficulties were put in the way of my attending as an observer at emergency major operations on my patients [...] The attitude, unthinkable in the West, was "You are not a gynaecologist", (or throat specialist, or whatever the condition requiring treatment) "therefore attendance at the operation cannot be of any interest to you". He compares the Russian medical degrees with those of the Queen's University, where he studied, and explains how how his comment '"Well, I do have a degree in Surgery, you know" [...] worked with gynaecological cases but was not accepted for matters affecting Eyes, Ears, Noses or Throats! Requests for bacteriological examinations of throat swabs were met on occasion with the most provokingly banal statements delivered with an air of profound wisdom, such as "There are microbes in all throats; it is not necessary to do cultures to find this out"'. He describes the treatment of diplomatic cases at the Foreigners' Wing of the Botkin Hospital, and explains how 'official visits by distinguished British doctors' allowed him to visit 'the really interesting units in the specialist hospitals', and gave 'an opportunity to meet officals of the Ministry of Health, good linguists and intelligent and well educated people, who arranged the itineraries of the visitors and accompanied them'. He notes the waning influence of the 'Marxist dialectic', which in the past had 'been allowed to creep into the theory and practice of internal medicine and even the basic medical sciences in the Soviet Union'. He notes 'positive achievements', with reference to 'Dr. Scadding, an authority on tuberculosis', but feels that '[p]remature claims and the urge to the field have not helped the prestige of Soviet internal medicine', giving as an example the 'claims made for a vaccine alleged to cure Disseminated Sclerosis'. 'Overall', he considers, 'there is a cocksureness of the superiority of Russian internal medicine that is neither impressive nor reassuring to the Western medical visitor.' He asserts that nevertheless, 'Russian master-surgeons are second to none in the world', although there is 'a greater tendency to encourage the use of "gadgets" - machines to simplify operations on the stomach, for example'. He discusses 'various visits by British Medical Association and Royal Colleges' delegations', during which he was 'able to see the famous Slivassovsky Institute for Traumatic Diseases in Moscow, and the Vishnevsky Institute of Surgical Science'. At the Slivassovsky blood for transfusion is drawn off from dead bodies for transfusion, and Humphreys is told by the Director fo the Institute that '"Papa Rimski does not approve of the use of cadaver blood". (Papa Rimski is literally "the Pope of Rome".) He then said "what do they think of Papa Rimski where you come from?" This was unconsciously of course a rather delicate question to ask an Ulsterman'. He gives a clear explanation of his position on the question. He notes visits by Estelle Adamson, Matron of the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, and of the future Sir Ian Fraser of Belfast, as part of the British Medical Association delegation which culminates in 'a big reception' given by the Ministry of Health. He describes the visit of a delegation from the Royal College of Surgeons, including Sir Walter Mercer and Professor John Bruce from Edinburgh, and Professor Sir Geoffrey Jefferson and 'Mr. Riddell' from England. ('I have a vivid recollection of seeing Professor Bruce wandering across Red Square in an enormous, indeed magistral, [sic] greatcoat with a Russian fur cap on his head.') In conclusion he recommends 'visitors to the Soviet Union, if they must be ill, to endeavour to have surgical complaints rather than medical ones, if only because the treatments in the former case will appear more orthodox and comprehensible to the patient'. He also notes: 'In almost all other departments of the national life that I encountered, a regrettable characteristic of the system appeared to be an unduly rigid limitation by statute of the service to be given by individuals. A taxi drive will not as a rule help with luggage, for example. It is not his job to lift cases. In the hospital wards, however, there is none of this atmosphere.' Humphreys begins the typescirpt by explaining the 'especial pleasure' his appointment gave him: 'I had in my schooldays a great admiration for and interest in the world of diplomacy, and indeed hesitated before a choice between those further studies that might have led to a diplomatic career, and those necessary for a career in Medicine, my other love'. Of his Moscow appointment he writes: 'I decided, rightly or wrongly, to take the opportunity of seeing something of medical and other conditions in Russia, the vast and ever mysterious land that has intrigued so many career diplomats [...] I knew a great deal about Imperial Russia but next to nothing of the Soviet Union.' The account begins with Humphreys, having been 'selected for the newly created appointment of Medical Officer at His Majesty's Legation in Bucharest', being refused an entry visa by the 'Roumanian [sic] Government', who 'viewed with distaste any addition to the existing diplomatic staff at the British Legation'. He waits for 'eighteen worrying months' before beginning his journey at Victoria Station, London, in December 1952. He describes the 'long and interesting journey that was to end far beyond the Iron Curtain', his 'little package of tickets from Cook's' containing 'a series of evocative place-names: Paris, Gare de l'Est, Arlberg, Orient Express, Basle, Liechtenstein, Vienna, Budapest, Curtici, Bucharest'. He describes his treatment by the Romanian frontier police, and his first view of 'the Paris of the Balkans', and then his presentation to his 'first diplomatic chief, Her Majesty's Minister to Roumania, Mr. W. J. Sullivan, later Sir William Sullivan, K.B.E., C.M.G.', whom he praises highly. He describes the legation, with its two cats 'Mrs. Patch and Pish-Wish, who could be best described as "Attachées honoraires auprès de la Légation de Sa Majeste Britannique'. Topics that follow include his accommodation; his 'first protocolaire call'; his duties and experience of Romanian medicine; the various diplomatic corps at Bucharest; the traces of the 'glamorous pre-war life' of the city; its present 'rather run-down' aspect and limited cultural attractions; restaurants and clubs; palaces and museums in the environs; his occasional visits to Sinaia and its Castle of Peles; the historic background; the village of Predeal; Transylvania; his researches into the origins of the 'Dracula' story with 'my very good friend Paul Smith of the United States Legation' ('no one seemed to know or care very much about vampires. I fear modern Roumania has other troubles [...] In spite of the unsatisfactory results of these researches, I was careful never to travel in Transylvania without a generous supply of garlic'); the Orthodox Cemetery in Bucharest (with an account of the tomb carrying the photograph of 'the loveliest brunette I have ever seen in my life', the edge of which 'had opened in a peculiar way, as if something had burrowed out'); the replacement of Sullivan by the future Sir Dermot MacDermot, with a description of the ceremony of the new minister's presentation to 'the Head of State, President Groza'; a visit to Sofia he was able to make with Group Captain Shaw Kennedy, following the lifting of restrictions on travel; a similar visit, 'one of the first journeys by road made from Bucharest to Vienna by Western diplomats since the recent re-opening to the Diplomatic Corsp fo some made roads from Bucharest out of Roumania', through Transylvania to Alba-Julia, Orades, into Hungary (Budapest) and Austria (extended description of Vienna). At the start of the eleventh chapter (part one, p.78) he realises that having been at Bucharest for two and a half enjoyable years, during which he had 'been able to build up a reasonable if limited field of professional contacts with Roumanian medical collegues', he could 'scarcely expect the Foreign Office to retain me much longer in a post that had been advertised as for one year, as two years was the usual maximum at one Iron Curtain post'. He accepts the offer of the 'similar post of Medical Officer with the rank of First Secretary at Her Majesty's Embassy in Moscow', it being 'the first time that a second post had been offered to a holder of one of the Foreign Service medical posts behind the Iron Curtain'. Topics that follow include: his farewell party at Bucharest; his sea journey to Moscow from Tilbury, following a visit to home to County Antrim; his first impressions of the city; British Ambassador Sir William Hayter; the Embassy. He notes that his duties 'included the care of most of the Western diplomatic missions as well as the British, and also that of the Embassy of Canada'. What follows is scored out: 'The Canadians of course would have been much happier with the American Air Force doctor attached to the United States Embassy, but under agreements between Ottowa and London they were supposed to make use of the British Embassy Doctor.' He continues with a description of his duties in Moscow; his flat in that city; the food and service provided by his Russian housekeeper; the fine wines with which he regales his guests; his many visits to the Bolshoi ballet; a detailed description of places of interest (palaces, museums and mansions) in Moscow and its outskirts, with historical background. He goes on a 'journey to Zagorsk village', to visit the Monastery of St Sergei, 'in Winter and the countryside covered in snow, [...] with a changing panorama made more ethereal by the early start in the crisp morning air [...] The coffin of St. Sergi is constantly being kissed by a never pausing stream of the faithful, and as I was in the company of Madame de Malewsky-Malevitch of the Belgian Embassy, born a Princess Schahovskoy and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, I joined the procession of worshippers to pay respect to the earthly remains of the Saint.' He continues with a description of his acquaintance among the Western diplomatic corps in Moscow; the 'intense social life' of the corps; his antique collecting; the traces of 'old Russia' which are 'still peeping through'; the train journey from Moscow to Leningrad; the sights of that city, described in his usual well-informed and cultured manner. (At one point he writes: 'I managed to enter the Youssoupov Palace thanks to the exertions of a good Russian speaker from the Western Diplomatic Corps who was with me. The extreme reluctance of Russian officials to permit entry to this type of building without long preliminary official démarches is notorious. With bated breath we waited for the decision - could we see a little more of the palace than the hall and the staircase? "This is the Institute for Intellectual Workers," was the first reaction, "no admission allowed". I then claimed to be an intellectual worker myself and begged for at least a cursory glance round.'); the Nevsky Prospect; visits to the Kirov Ballet, the opera house and the 'Little Theatre' at Leningrad; shopping in Leningrad, including at a 'Commission Shop'; his efforts to locate renamed streets and shops, including the Fabergé shop; the Kazan Cathedral', and other religious buildings; Leningrad restaurants; his visits to markets and antique shops (at one of which he was 'rewarded by finding, for 80 roubles, a fine small bronze bust of the Emperor Alexander I, of about 1820'); the Palais Vorontzoff and the Corps des Pages; Rossi Street; the Alexander Nevsky Monastery; a drive to the Smolny Institute, taken 'in company with my friend "Happy" Valck-Lucassen, then Counselleor of the Netherlands Embassy and now an Ambassador', who later helps them gain access to the Taurida Palace, then headquarters of the Leningrad Communist Party; visits to the district around Leningrad: 'Peterhof, (now called Petrodvoretz,) Tsarskoe Selo, (now called Pushkin), Gatchina and Pavlovsk'. His attempt to get into the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe is unsuccessful: 'This was in October, 1957. I walked round the Palace again, and found the office of the foreman in charge. I tried him in various languages without any response, and finally thought he showed a glimmer of comprehension of German. My German is not of a high order, but in the circumstances inspiration came from somewhere, and I spoke for some ten minutes explaining why I wanted to see inside the Palace, explaining that I would never again have the chance, that I understood it was very badly damaged but please, please could I just have a glimpse? Politely the official told me in Russian that he did not understand.' After the chapter dealing with 'Soviet methods of Medicine' described above, Humphreys describes the 'glimpse of Kharkov and Kiev' he was accorded to him on the occasions when he 'went out of Moscow to see British nationals who had become ill by travelling'. In the final chapter he explains how his hopes that 'the Government might decide to establish a permanent Medical Officer Branch of the Foreign Service and that my attachment to the Service I loved so much might thus continue', were dashed. He describes 'the usual lavish farewell parties' he received in his last weeks in Moscow. Looking back on his time among the Western Diplomatic Corps he writes: 'Never since have I been privileged to live among such a galaxy of good brains and charm.' As a 'convinced Monarchist who deplores even the French Revolution', he is unwilling to comment on political matters in the Soviet Union, but he 'cannot help wondering how Russia would have developed as a constitutional monarchy like our own, had the country also been blessed with evolution rather than revolution'. He gives his 'real testament on Russian relations for the future': 'I consider it essential that peaceful relations be maintained with a country so tremendously well endowed with unique art treasures, which many will hope to see some day. Furthermore - I want to see how the reconstruction goes at Tsarskoe Selo!' In a deleted passage he gives his opinion that 'the very real desire of the peoples of the Union for peace', has been 'obscured by the attitude of their Government on international issues'. He ends with a description of his receipt of the OBE, expressing relief that after having 'visited so many empty Palaces during my five years abroad', he was able in January 1958 to visit 'one [i.e. Buckingham Palace] that is, thank God, still fulfilling the proper function of a Royal Palace as the focal point of a nation [...] As the line of recipients of Honours moved slowly nearer the Throne, the first dramatic moment came - the Monarch [i.e. Elizabeth II] seemed to become visible with dramatic suddenness. One's first thought was of how this elegant young figure, looking rather tiny by comparison with the attendant officers of the court, is the cornerstone of our whole way of life and of our political system [...] This unforgettable moment chased away all the sad memories of the lonely, empty Palaces abroad because it is very clear that under God our Palaces will never suffer a similar fate.'