An extraordinary story is coming to Bruton Museum in October. It’s a tale that sounds more like fiction than fact, but it’s all true: a Russian girl is sent to seduce and spy on English embassy employee in Moscow during the Second World War. They fall in love. He is sent back to England; using forged papers, she manages to catch up with him before his ship sails. Reunited, the pair persuade Stalin to allow them to marry and they escape on one of a convoy of ships, all of which were sunk except theirs. She is the first Russian war bride to reach Britain. It is 1942.
On the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, a new book is being launched that tells the true story of how Nora Korzhenko and John Murray met in Stalinist Russia. In the lead up to WWII, John had been working in Riga, the owner of a cigarette factory, while also helping the Latvian government to buy munitions from Britain. By the time war broke out, he was working in Helsinki for the British Legation, then sent to Stockholm followed by Oslo. On his return to Riga, John discovered that he was being sent to the Embassy in Moscow, although his departure was delayed by the Soviet secret police who tried to recruit him. Eventually he joined the staff of Sir Stafford Cripps in Moscow, which is where Nora was ordered by the NKVD, precursor of the KGB, to meet and seduce the young John Murray.
Nora’s story before she met John was one of turmoil – her father was a Russian general employed by the NKVD. When Molotov took control, Gen Korzhenko was discredited and Nora’s life changed from a cushioned one, to a life where she foraged for food and somewhere to sleep. She was pressured into working for the NKVD, became adept at linking up with foreign officials, and so it was that Nora, codename Swallow, met Murray.
How the pair eventually fell in love, how Nora followed John through Russia on forged papers to the northern port of Archangel, how she persuaded Stalin to allow them to marry, is the stuff of fairy stories. They married and lived in London, where Nora published her tale I Spied for Stalin, enjoyed her celebrity as an adviser on Hollywood film Anna Karenina, meeting stars Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson, yet never gave up on her Russian background.
Thirty years later, John Murray, too, wrote the story in A Spy Called Swallow, and now their sons have added to the tale of love and espionage under Stalin’s gaze with a new prologue and epilogue. Join Peter and Leeroy from 6pm on Wednesday, 25 October, for vodka, music and a taste of authentic traditional Russian food to celebrate the lives of two extraordinary people at Bruton Museum, High Street, Bruton, Somerset. Copies of their book Nora & John: The Russian Love Story, published by GB Publishing will be available at a reduced price on the night, or from Amazon and Waterstone’s.