Calling on an old friend in Grand Vaux the other day, I was shown a remarkable document, dated 1912. It was a passport, but not the kind we use to-day; a large thin piece of parchment, printed in embossed black lettering with many flourishes and curliques. it stated that 'His Brittanic Majesty George V's Ambassador to H.M. the Emperor of All the Russians, had been granted permission to allow Miss Anna Fauvel Renouf to visit St. Petersburg, capital of Russia'. By some mischance, there was one incorrect word in this much signed, stamped and endorsed document, and this error eventually caused a great deal of terror and discomfort to a young Jersey girl sixty odd years ago.
"However did you come to visit Russia and what was it like in the Tsar's time?" I asked Mrs Renouard, now in her eighties, but full of go and a popular member of the Women's Institute.
“Well, I always longed to travel, but never dreamed it would be possible" she told me. “All I had ever done was a few trips to Britanny. I was living with my parents, engaged to a young farmer and getting my trousseau together. One day I was visiting my aunt, Mrs. de la Haye, who ran a private hotel at Mont Orgueil Villa in Gorey, right opposite the Castle. She wanted to go into town in to shop and asked me to take tea into the guests. I was rather a shy young thing those days and said I didn't think I could manage it”.
"Nonsense” she told me, "you can easily take up a tray and serve the teas" and off she went. It happened that there was a charming girl of about my age, a Mrs. Mead, daughter of a judge in Pietermaritzburg, wife of an army major, who was staying there with her daughter Elizabeth. She took a great fancy to me and one day when I was helping my aunt, she asked me if I would spend a year with her in South Africa as nurse- companion, while she visited her father, offering me £4 a month. Believe me, that was a good salary in those days, what a chance to save for my trousseau and see the world as well!
"Full of excitement I went home to ask my mother. who immediately said no. My duty was to stay at home, helping her on the farm and preparing to get married. I appealed to my father who was sympathetic, but wouldn't go against my mother, that was the way it was in our family. I was over twenty-one, but in 1911 daughters did what they were told!"
“Then I asked my fiancé what he thought, and to my surprise he was all for it. 'You go' he said, 'you'll never get a chance like this again - I'll work hard while you're away and have a home ready for you'. Between us we talked my parents round and promised to be faithful to each other, a promise we both kept, for longer than we thought. Though" - she gave a reminiscent chuckle, "it wasn't always easy for me, all those officers on the ships in their smart uniforms!"
"So we sailed for South Africa in the 'Durham Castle' and stayed in Pietermaritzburg. I had never seen Africans before and was alarmed at first, but it was a wonderful change to be waited on hand and foot. We went over the Boer fields, a terrible sight even after so many years. Then Major Mead, by then a Colonel, was offered a post running a tallow factory in Russia, so we came back to England".
"Did you go over to Jersey and see the family?"
"I'm afraid I didn't for if I had they would never have let me go off to Russia".
I asked Mrs. Renouard her impressions of this huge country in pre-revolution days.
"I suppose one of the first things that struck me was that there was no middle class, only the very rich and the very poor, far too many of the latter. Although the Revolution didn't come until five years later, the people were in an ugly mood, you could still see the terrible results of the 'Bloody Sunday' massacre in St. Petersburg in 1905. Legless, armless people, cripples with ghastly injuries, they used to get themselves to church on Sundays, propelling themselves on little wooden sleds. The churches, which were very beautiful were always full in those days. White slave traffic was rife and girls, particularly if they were good-looking, were always being spirited away. The Meads took the greatest care of me and never let me out of their sight".
"I found the Russians frightening people and they didn't seem to care for we foreigners. I remember a time when all the servants just walked out and left us with no fires lit and no food in the house. They robbed us right and left anyway. After that we had Finnish servants who were much better. I saw the Emperor riding on his horse in great pomp, looking very like his cousin King George the Fifth. We went many times to the Winter Gardens which were really magnificent, in fact St. Petersburg in those days was a beautiful city".
“It was all immensely interesting, but I had stayed away from Jersey far longer than I had meant to and simply had to leave the Meads and return to my family and my fiancé. Sir Ivor Maxwell of the British Embassy took me along to the Russian authorities to get my exit visa and then came my alarming experience. There was this one little word that was missing or incorrect on my passport, and immediately everyone looked very threatening. They shut me up in a small room with two armed guards and I had visions of being thrown into gaol or banished to the salt mines in Siberia. However, after two hours that felt more like two years, Sir Ivor evidently sorted things out for they released me and I returned to Jersey via England in the Russian ship 'Imperaliza Alexandra”*.
“That was the end of my adventures, Arthur was waiting for me, we were married and lived at Swan Farm, St. Saviours, which belonged to Colonel Christopher Riley, the present Major Riley's father. Later he asked us to come and farm the land at Trinity Manor and we were there many happy years",
The Renouards had three children, two boys and a girl. Mrs. Renouard is now a widow, but she has some wonderful memories and is probably one of the very few people in Jersey who has lived in Russia in pre-Revolution days.
Jersey Illustrated Vol. 2 No. 5
* Imperatriza Alexandra