Soviet sailor seeks Scottish sweetheart (67 years later)

Posted on 16 February 2011

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Kostya in sailor uniform, 1945

The romantics of this world might have already waved a teary farewell to Valentine’s Day, but 87-year-old Konstantin is already used to it. It’s the 67th time that he has had to make do without his Scottish sweetheart.

(Original article in Russian)

In the summer of 1944 Konstantin and his Soviet sailor colleagues journeyed to the port of Rosyth on the Firth of Forth in Scotland as part of a mission by allied troops to protect the Arctic Convoys.

More importantly, they had been charged with bringing a gift from the Brits back to the Soviet Union: a battleship, HMS Royal Sovereign (photo), later renamed Arkhangelsk by the Soviets.

In Dunfermline, up the road from Rosyth, Konstantin – or Kostya as the locals knew him – met two local young ladies, Nancy and Janet.

Nancy, who was in her late teens at the time, particularly caught his eye. Kostya was there for only a short while, during which they met regularly, going for walks together with his tovarishch Grisha, who accompanied Janet.

And although their relationship was purely platonic, Kostya now wants to get back in touch.

This inspired a long-overdue letter to the BBC Russian Service, who he has charged with finding the two lasses from Dunfermline, who would now be in their early- to mid-80s.

“I’ll settle for anyone who knew them. It might be a bit late, but my only wish is to thank Nancy and her family, and by extension the Scottish people, for the sincerely warm and friendly welcome they gave me and my sailor comrades back in 1944,” Konstantin continues.

“I want them to know I’m still alive – despite the wars we lived through – and that I haven’t forgotten them.”

‘A story you won’t forget in a hurry’

In April 1944 a fleet of Allied forces ships was tasked with securing the Arctic Convoys. They left from a number of sea ports around the White Sea and Kola Bay in the Soviet Union’s arctic north, setting sail for the Scotland.

Each fleet carried a small number of Soviet sailors – and on 8 May 1944, “salaga” (rookie) Kostya landed in Greenock near Glasgow.

They then travelled by train to Dunfermline and the eastern port of Rosyth, today home to the UK’s fleet of nuclear submarines and the Trident missile system.

“Someone had obviously told them we were coming. I’ve never seen anything like it – the streets were lined with well-wishers waving placards to welcome us. People were leaning out of their windows to catch a glimpse: after all, Soviet sailor wasn’t something you saw every day in Scotland,” reminisces Kostya.

“I can only describe it as some kind of euphoria owing to the solidarity of the two countries.”

A day later, two young local girls caught his eye – Nancy and Janet.

“They just froze when they saw us: they’d never seen Soviet sailors before. I was in my best summer sailor uniform. Nancy’s eyes were wide open. We said hello to one another and quickly made friends.

HMS Royal Sovereign (courtesy Maritime Quest)

No need for words

Kostya and Nancy starting “chatting” using a hotchpotch of Russian and English, hand gestures and miming.

“There was a real spiritual connection between us,” says Kostya.

Sixty-seven years later, the hunt is on for Nancy and Janet – or at least their children or grandchildren.

The trouble is that the only a few tantalising clues to go on are: a first name (Nancy), her friend’s name (Janet), and a vague address (Dunfermline… as of 1944).

Actually, this is one more clue. By way of a parting gift, Nancy asked the Soviet Sailor for a souvenir.

At this point Kostya gets a bit sentimental.

“I won’t tell you exactly what it was; it was made of metal and it was all a rookie Soviet sailor boy with no medals or commendation could give,” says the 87-year-old from his current home in Minneapolis,

They met once more after that, and he remembers that Nancy’s father had mounted the metal object on a pin for her to wear as a brooch.

“She was wearing it with such pride. She’d polished it up beautifully. I don’t think they can be too many girls in Dunfermline with a brooch from a Soviet sailor,” Konstantin tells the BBC Russian Service.

In Kostya’s short time in Scotland the pair met only occasionally, but each time was thick with emotion.

“For me at least, it’s etched firmly in my memory,” jokes Kostya.

“When the fleet left mainland Scotland, people from all the coastal towns came out to wave us off. It was usual as Soviet fleets usually left under the cover of darkness in secret.”

“On deck, saluting as we left, that was the last time I saw Nancy and Janet – they’d come to see us off. Heartbreakingly, I don’t think they saw me.”

Royal send-off

The fleet was sent on to the Scapa Flow, Orkney. But there was one more lady yet to catch his eye.

King George VI and the then Princess Elizabeth, only in her teens at the time, organised a dinner to send the Soviet crew off in style. Kostya was lucky enough to be invited.

“I remember that young Elizabeth danced with some of the Soviet officers. I’ll never forget that.”

Kostya was later sent on to fight for his country, including in the Continuation (over Karelia) and Korea Wars, where he finally received his first medals of recognition.

Now living in the US, he hopes that a union will be possible – either in real life or via the Internet.

“I’ve been taking English lessons twice a week, so I hope we’ll be able to communicate.”

Ben Tavener, BBC Russian Service

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