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  • Reporting Stalin’s FamineJones and Muggeridge: A Case Study in Forgetting and Rediscovery
  • Teresa Cherfas (bio)

In March 1933, a young Welshman boarded a slow train south from Moscow to Khar′kov, capital of Soviet Ukraine. He had a knapsack full of food, spoke fluent Russian, and was traveling hard (third) class. About 70 kilometers short of his final destination, he got off at a small station and continued his journey on foot. For three days and two nights, he was off the radar of Soviet officialdom. Notebook in hand, he tramped through the frozen wastes of what had once been hailed as the “breadbasket of the world,” recording everything he saw and heard:

I caught up a bearded peasant who was walking along. His feet were covered with sacking. We started talking. He spoke in Ukrainian Russian. I gave him a lump of bread and of cheese. “You couldn’t buy that anywhere for 20 roubles. There just is no food.” We walked along and talked. ‘Before the War this was all gold. We had horses and cows and pigs and chickens. Now we are ruined. We are doomed to die. You see that field. It was all gold, but now look at the weeds.” The weeds were peeping up over the snow. “Before the War we could have boots and meat and butter. We were the richest country in the world for grain. We fed the world. Now they have taken all away from us.”1

The notebook belonged to Gareth Jones. What he did when he left the Soviet Union two weeks later ought, by any reckoning, to have placed him [End Page 775] among the stars of 20th-century reporting. Instead, when he spoke out, he was dumped on by the very journalists whose profession he exemplified, abandoned by his patrons, and forgotten.

To begin with, it was Jones’s name, more than any other, that was associated with speaking out about Stalin’s famine. True, the Manchester Guardian had broken the story one day before Gareth Jones, in three unsigned articles published on 25, 27, and 28 March 1933 under the byline “An Observer’s Notes.”2 But by an accident of history, their author, Malcolm Muggeridge, was able to reposition himself as the sole champion of the starving, while the public record of Jones’s role languished in newspaper archives and his diaries and letters gathered dust in the family home. So there was little reason to disbelieve Muggeridge when he wrote in his 1973 memoir: “no other foreign journalist had been into the famine areas in the USSR except under official auspices and supervision, so my account was by way of being exclusive.”3

The truth is rather different. On 29 March 1933, Gareth Jones had turned up in Berlin, his notebooks full. He held a press conference at which he described what he had witnessed of the lethal consequences of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan. It made headlines in several U.S. papers and was reported in the British press: “Famine Grips Russia. Millions Dying. Idle on Rise, says Briton. Gareth Jones, Lloyd George Aide, Reports Devastation. Tours Farm Areas, Finds Food Gone.”4 (One of the jobs Jones had already packed into his short career was aide to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.) Jones then went back to England and wrote a front-page article, the first of several under his own byline, for the Daily Express.5 The episode should have launched Jones on a career as stellar as Muggeridge’s, but within two years he was dead—murdered by Chinese bandits in Inner Mongolia, a day short of his 30th birthday.6

But history has a way of righting wrongs. For more than 50 years, Jones’s letters and diaries lay in two leather trunks, one under his mother’s bed and another under the stairs at the old family house in Barry, South Wales. An [End Page 776] attempted burglary in 1987 prompted the family to clear the house and move out Gareth’s unmarried sister Gwyneth, living alone and then in her 90s, for her own safety. Gwyneth Jones bequeathed a bundle of her...


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