Back in the early nineteen-fifties, I was a small boy living on a mixed arable farm a mile to the west of the town where I live here in Suffolk. My father was the farm foreman. World War II ended three years before I was born, and yet rationing and the Home Guard was still in existence. The brick-clad place I now call home was originally one of the wooden prefabs built at the end of the war, used to house the POW’s here in Beccles while they were working on local farms.
Besides growing wheat, barley, oats and sugar beet, plus several varieties of apples, the farm had a thousand pigs, bred for bacon. Dad had hired a short tempered Belgian former Foreign Legionnaire to look after the latter.
Besides the two local lads who cycled the mile from Beccles each day to work on the farm, there were Italian POW’s.
There was one other foreign farm worker – a white Russian Cossack. Every man on the farm was loath to approach him. In short he terrified them. But not me and the pigman’s kids. Every day mum sent us out to the fields with the worker’s lunch. Young kids have a knack of knowing who to trust when it comes to adults. We loved our big Russian Bear, and he was always happy to see us. Whenever we were in his company we knew we were safe, especially if we’d done something to anger our fathers. When I was four years old, after I had been given a severe walloping for some minor infraction of dad’s rules, I told him with an air of indignation that if he ever beat me again I’d tell my big Russian friend. Needless to say it never happened again. To this day I still don’t know what made dad stop…
For years I had a small keepsake from him. He had carved several small representations of our village church out of a piece of apple wood with his knife, which he gave to me and the other kids when it was time for him to go. I mislaid it several years back in one of my trips back and forth between the UK and New Zealand.
While we could not speak Russian and he could not speak English, it made no difference, we understood and cared for each other.
To this day I still don’t know whether or not he survived the purges carried out by the murderous NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, once the Cossacks were forcibly repatriated beyond what was the Iron Curtain as per an agreement by the then British government to appease Stalin. I will never ever forget him for as long as I live. Paticularly those wonderful moments when he burst into song in his rich base baritone voice, often with a tear in his eye, as we kids sat with him completely spellbound…
Пока мы не встретимся снова (until we meet again tovarich) 😉