His name was Mr. Guy Beringer – sole Reuters representative in Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg), Russia’s capital in 1917 – the year when the first of two Russian revolutions began, one hundred years ago this month.
Mr. Guy Beringer in Russia
Imperial Russia’s decision to enter the First World War had been a disaster. The fighting cost millions of lives. The winter of 1916/17 was exceptionally cold. Civilians faced mounting food shortages. Fuel started to run short. In March 1917, the Tsar (Emperor) was forced to abdicate. A provisional government made up of former members of the Duma (Parliament) took control – or, at least, endeavoured to.
In Reuters parlance, Beringer was an “old Russia hand.” Accompanied by his wife, he had reported from Petrograd since 1904, when the Russian government ceased to obstruct collection and onward dispatch of internal news by telegraph. He reported on Russia’s disasterous war with Japan. In 1907, he ensured a Reuters scoop, publishing the text of an important Anglo-Russian agreement several hours before its official release.
Sangfroid through heated July Days
Events in Russia moved fast. By July 1917, Reuters house magazine, The Service Bulletin, [rather breathlessly] commended him for his work:
We have to congratulate Mr. Guy Beringer, our Correspondent in Petrograd upon the really admirable reports which he has sent to us respecting the revolution in Russia. From the moment that the trammels of the Russian Censorship were removed, Mr. Beringer sent forth a perpetual stream of news telling in every detail the whole story of the wonderful upheaval there. Knowing that he would have to meet a very active competition, he dispatched the great mass of his first telegrams at Urgent rates and, thanks to this foresight of his, we were able to receive and publish in our morning papers, and to transmit to all parts of the earth, a most ample and satisfactory account of what had occurred.
The Correspondent who is living in times and in the midst of intense popular excitement is apt to lose something of his own ordinary sangfroid. Mr. Beringer seems to have preserved his coolness from beginning to end and has kept us well and accurately informed of each day’s events and experiences………
Beringer’s sangfroid was to be stretched even further in the months to come.
Lubyanka prison conditions… and its food
By October, the provisional government was sidelined, replaced by the Bolsheviks. Moscow supplanted Petrograd as the Russian capital. Life for the Beringers became increasingly dangerous. Following a short but ‘challenging’ time in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison, Beringer was released. He made his way to London and wrote an account of his experiences in The Service Bulletin. Although longer than I would normally reproduce, I think on this occasion, an exception is justified. Here is the excerpt in full:
Did a Reuters reporter create brunch?
One Guy Beringer is cited as the inventor of brunch. The British writer created the repast as an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday lunch in 1895.
“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer wrote. “It is talk-compelling. It puts you in good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
Is this the same Guy Beringer as ‘our’ Mr. Guy Beringer, some 9 years before he joined Reuters? It seems plausible – particularly given this focus on provisions in Lubyanka prison and the food word-play throughout his firsthand account – but I have no proof. Beringer’s earlier life and career remain a mystery.
Additional reporting by David Cutler, Assistant Archivist
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