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The Cold War

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
A fascinating post and thanks for it, Di. If you haven't already recorded a detailed memoir of your time in 1970s Berlin, you ought to be doing it NOW! For the benefit of your grandchildren and a record of a significant historical period.

I had several trudges through Checkpoint Charlie in October/November 1967 and then in early 1968, only a year or two after the Wall had been built, and I remember the hours spent in East Berlin as amongst the most depressing in my life. Only two decades after Year Zero, the divergence in the success of the two political systems was already starkly obvious and it is little wonder that the East German authorities had to block off the attractions of the West for their inhabitants. What an admission of failure the ugly, brutal wall was.

Chris

PS Sorry, I find I have already written about the above, in post #4. The 52/53 images of the city I mentioned in #7 are still worth a look. Parts of East Berlin hadn't changed much 15 years later.
Any chance of Mike replacing the lost attachments in #1 and #10, please?
 
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brenda barr

master brummie
lRon and l lived in Houston when the Cuban missile was afoot....we were told to stock up on groceries etc...there were fallout shelters all over the up town areas,.mostley in the basements of the very tall buildings, Texans and in fact most americans had no idea what a threat of war could mean never having been invaded etc (still don'nt) but it was a worrying time, of course we were constantly bombarded with news about what to do if there ever was a nuclear attack but thank goodness it never came to that, it was a scary time, lets hope we never come that close again...Brenda
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
My 1970s visit to the USSR during the Cold War .... to the other side of the Iron Curtain !
At Birmingham Airport the passport staff gave us some funny looks when they saw our Aeroflot tickets and Russian visas. At London Heathrow we noticed a man in a grey suit seemed to be shadowing us as we we wandered around looking for the Aeroflot check-in desk, no one seemed to know where it was. Eventually the man approached us and pointed to another airline's desk and said check in there for Aeroflot. We boarded a Soviet Ilyushin 62 (copy of a British VC10) and a grim faced lady flight attendant glared at us and told us where to sit. We left Heathrow flying across East Anglia (over the US air bases) heading out across the Baltic towards Moscow.

At passport control I apparently gave the wrong answer to the border official which annoyed him so much he forgot to stamp my visa. I soon discovered that without the stamp I could not obtain russian currency or travel inside Russia and needed help from the British Embassy. They were surprised that I had got into the USSR without the stamp and said I would not be able to leave without it. I was rather worried by now and they sent me to a russian man who worked in the embassy, he looked at my visa shaking his head but then typed a letter in russian. I looked on as he lit a candle and melted a large blob of red wax on to the letter, stamped it with a seal, put it in an official brown envelope and told me to take it to the Airport, find a high ranking officer and show it to him. At the airport, I looked for an officer with the most gold braid on his hat and uniform, showed him the letter, but he angrily waved me away shouting 'niet'. I stood wondering whether I was in a James Bond film when a young chap sitting at a desk called me in english, looked at the letter and my passport, then opened a drawer to search amongst the largest collection of rubber stamps I had ever seen, chose one and stamped my visa, smiled and told me to leave the airport as soon as possible. Off I went and the next day travelled 800 miles eastward into Russia but that's another story !

Returning home we flew British Airways and when the Captain announced we had crossed the russian border everyone clapped and cheered. The steward said we all looked in need of large doses of champagne and the flight turned into a merry party.
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
I recently read that Russia was flying their large bombers along the English Channel with our fighter jets shadowing them and this reminded me of my visit to the USSR mentioned in the previous post. With my missing visa stamp problems sorted we travelled 800 miles southeast of Moscow and in those strange cold war days we had a few incidents.

At an airport not often used by foreigners we ordered cups of tea and were given mugs full of hot water and teabags which looked home made from folded tissue with safety pins holding them together but the tea was nice. We eventually boarded an old looking TU134 airliner which was not full and I decided to sit by a window to have a look at the scenery. Wrong decision because the women flight attendant shouted at me in Russian and pulled me from my seat into an aisle seat. A Russian sitting nearby whispered in English that foreigners were not allowed to sit by windows on internal flights. I decided not to complain about my seat belt which had a faulty clasp and would not fasten.

Eventually we landed at Kuibyshev (now renamed Samara) and the plane stopped some distance from a hanger type building and all the passenger luggage was chucked out on to the tarmac. A small bus arrived but we found it was only for Russians and it drove off leaving us standing among large jets some with their engines running. Wondering what to do we started walking towards the buildings when another bus arrived which took us straight out the airport for a 70 mile drive to a city named Togliatti where they made Lada cars and Niva jeeps. Our hotel had a floor which only accommodated foreigners with the lift and stairs supervised by a lady who made us sign a book every time we went in and out. Entering my room I had a quick look around for hidden microphones - well I had seen all the spy films of those times.

Next morning we were taken to the large AvtoVaz motor plant and they proudly showed us the cars moving along the production line. In one inspection area we noticed a young couple on the back seat of one of the new cars having a very serious snog! The managers looked embarrassed but we thought it was nice - we were suddenly seeing a different side to Russia.

Day long meetings started and we argued over details in the contract because we had been instructed not to yield too much and sat there mostly saying no. We were not offered mid day meals and becoming hungry we said we wanted to buy some food from their canteen but for some reason we were not allowed to. We then said we would stop the meetings unless we had some food. One of the Russian managers then went out on the shop floor and we looked on as he took lunches and flasks from some workers who grimly watched as he brought their food to us in the office. I did feel slightly sorry for the workers as I ate thick rye bread sandwiches with thin slices of salami.

Having argued over almost every word we eventually signed an agreement and because the Russians thought they had got more out of it than we had, they suddenly became very friendly and offered to take us to a beach by a nearby large lake. The weather was a gorgeous 90F with blue skies so I put on my bright blue flared trousers, flowery shirt, and I had 1970s style long hair and we boarded a bus to the beach. The locals on the bus had probably never before seen British 1970s fashions so we were closely looked at.

On the beach many vodkas and beers were drunk and we had quite a party. I was starting to like Russia but was already thinking about the long journey home because I was due to drive down to North Devon on the Saturday morning. Our journey home was far from smooth arriving in Brum late Friday night, but I did make it down to Woolacombe next day.

These days I am surprised to see that Google Streetview have been to the Samara area and an aerial pic of the beach is shown below. I have had a 'streetview wander' along the roads past the car plant. It is now hard to believe how strange those cold war days could be.

The beach on the lake which
unusually for a lake had slight tides !


The car plant and the trolley buses.
Still sunny weather but a lot more cars.

 
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Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
Very interesting Phil. Enjoyed reading this. Off to watch Smiley's People .... yet again. Viv.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Great story and thanks, oldMohawk! A different world and it's getting difficult to remember the hostility and suspicion. Let's just hope we aren't edging back in its direction.

Chris
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
Hi Chris - It was a different world. When I was a child in WW2, 'Uncle' Joe Stalin was a hero of mine and I used to watch my Nan moving red flags across a map she had on a wall as the red army advanced. Then the Berlin Blockade came and suddenly Stalin wasn't my hero and I was quite pleased when he died. But after some power struggles Krushchev became the new threat and like many others I did my two years National Service ready to take on the enemy !

I worked at a factory in Hamstead and we had Russian engineers over here for many weeks and we were as curious about them as they probably were about us and life here. One of the Russians had a dry sense of humour and I remember asking him what he thought about Britain ..... his answer was .... "Your women are thin but yours dogs are fat" !

Very interesting Phil. Enjoyed reading this. Off to watch Smiley's People .... yet again. Viv.
Hi Viv - Yes I'm watching Smileys People - it's nice to know someone else in the country is also watching it.
It must be a bit puzzling to some of the young ones today. I'm fascinated watching them use the old rotary dial telephones ... no phone memories and speed dialing in those days.

Phil
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
Yes a great BBC series. Watched it in the 80s when it was first shown, now watching the re-runs. Also watched 'Tinker, Tailor .... etc' film quite a few times. But in my book there will never be a better George Smiley than Alec Guiness in the BBC series. Find the Cold War period fascinating. Viv.
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
It was very much a part of my childhood in Birmingham. I remember parents talking about how they didn't like the way the world was moving through the 50s and 60s. I remember frightening discussions about the development of nuclear weapons and anxiety over the Cuban crisis. At junior school one day we heard an explosion and thought that it was the end of the world we'd heard our parents talking about - that would have been about the time of the Cuban Crisis. I have relations in America and remember one aunt when she visited telling us how 'nervous' Americans were about Russia and, to quote my aunt, there was a real fear there of "reds under the beds". So it became very much imprinted on my mind as a child in Birmingham. Viv.
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
I suppose WW2 was very much a hot war.
The cold war to me was something I read about in the papers or saw on TV until our little Birmingham forging company was informed by group head office that we had to install a forging plant in the USSR. We were not pleased with the prospect of having to spend weeks in a country we thought was dangerous and had no idea how to train foreign engineers.

After a few weeks with the Russian engineers at our plant they went to their embassy in London for a few days. While they were away two men walked into my office shut the door behind them and said they were from the Police Special Branch and that one of our Russians was involved in 'clandestine' operations. My first reaction was to laugh but they were serious and told me that one of the Russians had made and received phone calls in my office to someone at an address in London and what did I know about it.

We had noticed that one of the Russians was not an engineer and we jokingly assumed he was a KGB man sent to keep watch on the others. He had seemed harmless to us and the only problem we had was the number of times we had to pick him up from the Sutton Coldfield Police to get him back to his hotel in Boldmere Rd. The police often called us late at night to tell us he was drunk and disorderly in Sutton Parade. I could not imagine him carrying out clandestine operations but who knows.

When the time came for my visit to the USSR my wife was very worried and I was not at all happy but I wanted to keep my job. I have tended to give the lighter side of my visit but when the time came for a second urgent visit I purposely made a mess of renewing my passport so could not go.
 

norfolk brummie

gone but not forgotten
I, with a guitar demonstrating colleague, and two technicians attended a British Fair in Moscow in 1966 for Vox amplifiers. We were then the top UK guitar amplifier company, with The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Shadows and many other top groups endorsing our products. I had to give up two weeks of playing for the trip. Not happy memories.

Our flight out was on Aeroflot. I remember the the interior of the plane having a very depressing appearance, with dark colours.

Our hotel room telephone would ring in the middle of the night, but when we answered it, no one at the other end.....very strange.

We queued for breakfast, and other meals. Our guide, when we were not on the Fair stand, would always be there with us.

In the middle of the Fair, Prime Minister Harold Wilson turned up. I bet he got better treatment than we did.

I remember some young people coming onto the stand, with something wrapped in newspaper. They furtively opened the newspaper to show us a Beatles LP! At that time Western music was frowned on by the Russian authorities.

Getting a Russian company to buy our goods was so complicated. All orders had to go through 'Government channels' for clearance.

We paid a visit, with guide, to the large GUMM store in Moscow. Again, depressing.

At the hotel, I sent some shirts to be cleaned. On the hotel instructions note that I filled in, I put my name, room number, but there was also a section that asked for my laundry number. I put 'NO NUMBER'. They were returned with 'NO NUMBER' stamped on the inside of the collar!!

Russia.....never again.

Eddie

Eddie
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
Very interesting experiences. I remember travelling on Russian trains across Europe and they too were incredibly spartan. No upholstery on seats, drab interiors and a sense that the train was not really running to any particular timetable.

My only contact with a Russian person in the 60s was we had a Russian teacher at school. He was elderly, taught Russian and It was claimed he'd escaped from Russia. Not sure how true that was or whether it was a rumour put around by girls with a vivid imagination. Viv.
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
I, with a guitar demonstrating colleague, and two technicians attended a British Fair in Moscow in 1966 for Vox amplifiers.

We paid a visit, with guide, to the large GUMM store in Moscow. Again, depressing.

Russia.....never again.

Eddie
I had forgotten about the GUMM store - You are right Eddie, you had to see it to believe it.

In 1956 Mr Krushchev and Mr Bulganin visited Birmingham as shown in the Pathe Video below.
Some views of crowds opposite the council house about 2min 40secs into the clip
We let them use a BEA Viscount Airliner for their travel around Britain. The cold war could have become hot if it had crashed.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2XeH49GlJ4
 

Alberta

Super Moderator
Staff member
oldMohawk, you have made my Sunday.

My late dad was one of the police motor cycle outriders and there is a lovely close up of him, in the film
when the camera goes along the line of bikes there is a shot of a sergeant with his stripes and then my dad in front of him,goodness he looks young,LOL.
All the police 'rehearsed' the route from the airport many times and some of police officers were asked if they could billet officers from the Met.
I was 14 at the time and not very interested in the events but my Mom told me in later years the the plain clothes officer that stayed the night with us had a hand gun in a shoulder holster,which scared her a bit.
I just remember his long gaberdine mac and his trilby the uniform for plain clothes officers at that time.
 
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oldMohawk

master brummie
Hi Alberta, It's nice that you saw your late dad in the film. I've just had another look and and spotted him. You could probably pause the film and take a screen shot to have a photo. I was interested looking at all the civic dignataries in the council house and Mr Bulganin looked somewhat more friendly than Mr Kruschev.

A strange event during their visit was the mysterious disappearance of Commander Crabb a naval frogman diver in Portsmouth Harbour near the Soviet ship which had brought Bulganin and Kruschev to Britain. One account of it is here
https://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/9/newsid_4741000/4741060.stm


oldmohawk
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
A lovely find for you Alberta. Just goes to show what great info this forum turns up. Very interesting article too Phil. Viv
 

Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
oldMohawk, you have made my Sunday.

My late dad was one of the police motor cycle outriders and there is a lovely close up of him, in the film
when the camera goes along the line of bikes there is a shot of a sergeant with his stripes and then my dad in front of him,goodness he looks young,LOL.
All the police 'rehearsed' the route from the airport many times and some of police officers were asked if they could billet officers from the Met.
I was 14 at the time and not very interested in the events but my Mom told me in later years the the plain clothes officer that stayed the night with us had a hand gun in a shoulder holster,which scared her a bit.
I just remember his long gaberdine mac and his trilby the uniform for plain clothes officers at that time.

alberta how lovely for you to spot your dad in that clip...what a great start to your sunday...i am sure there must be a way of putting that onto a disc if you wanted to... i bet in years to come your grandchildren would cherish seeing their gt grandad involved in such an important occassion
lyn
 
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W

Wendy

Guest
I am so pleased for you Alberta. How lovely to see your Dad on film, we only usually see them in photo's of this time. Great piece of Pathe News again. Thanks for the link oldMowhawk it was good to watch.
 

paul stacey

master brummie
I think any, who, from our generation lived through the "Cold War", and also served in the armed forces will never trust Russia, I remember both the Hungarian, and Czech, invasions, and am worried for our children with the Ukraine incursions, I am sure I am not the only one to feel this. Paul
 
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