THE COLD WAR: Marriage in Moscow

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A hen is not a bird, nor a woman a human being.

—Russian saying

When Alfred Hall was a proper, young cipher clerk at the British embassy in Moscow, he did a somewhat improper thing: he picked up a Russian girl at a performance of Swan Lake in the Bolshoi. "I brushed up against her," he said. "I apologized. We started talking. She spoke good, if academic, English and there it was." Two months later, Alf Hall and 22-year-old Clara Strumina, student of English (mostly Shakespeare) at the University of Moscow, and daughter of a late army colonel, were married. It was 1945.

First, there was a ceremony in a dark Soviet registry office. Then there was a smart wedding at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Louis, followed by a reception at Clara's home. "There were gallons of vodka," Alf recalls, "and the British and Russians tearfully swore vows of eternal friendship." Less than a year later, Hall was sent back to London. Clara said goodbye at Moscow airport, expecting to get her London visa in a few days. Then & there the trouble began. The Soviet government, which does not like its women to marry foreigners and does not let them go abroad, refused to grant the visa.

Hopelessness. Six months later, alone in Moscow, Clara bore a son, who was named Nicholas. Nervously keeping in touch from London as the months went by, Alf Hall watched Moscow's colony of 34 British brides dwindle to six. Eighteen somehow got out of Russia; ten divorced their husbands and melted back into the Russian throng; two would not get divorces, but did not want to go abroad; three simply disappeared. One of these three was kidnaped as she left a movie at the U.S. embassy and was whisked off to prison on unstated charges. Another got a ten-year sentence for bribing a Soviet official to let her stay in Moscow.

"Being caught between two opposing sides in a cold war isn't fun," said Alf Hall. He pestered British officialdom with requests that he be reposted to Moscow, begged them to pressure the Russians to grant Clara's visa. This militancy was not appreciated by the Foreign Office, which believes its juniors should tend to their tasks and keep out of trouble. "For blotting my copybook," as he put it, Hall was transferred to the Commonwealth Relations Office. Later, he was posted to Ottawa as assistant to Novelist Nicholas (The Cruel Sea) Monsarrat in the Commonwealth press office. He kept up the prodding. Finally the British in Moscow gave Clara a job as a telephonist and let her and her son move into the embassy.

Hope. All the while, husband & wife wrote to each other—more than 400 letters. "The future looked so black," he said, "it was awfully hard to write. It was useless to discuss politics. We fell back upon endless analyses of books that Clara was reading—Shakespeare, Dickens, Jack London." When they could afford it, they telephoned, and Alf noticed that Clara's isolation led her to speak in dated British slang, with such expressions as "ripping" and "top-hole." Alf sent Clara dresses and a fur coat; he sent Nicky, the seven-year-old son he had never seen, a complete Hopalong Cassidy outfit with a "bristling armory of guns."

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