If you have read my blog before, you might remember that my grandfather, Paul Woronoff (Pavel Voronov) was close to the last Imperial Family of Russia and was apparently one of the love interests of the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna. It was reported that the Grand Duchess Olga was extremely saddened to hear of his marriage to another Olga, my grandmother, née Countess Olga Konstantinovna Kleinmichel. However, my grandmother had previously met the Grand Duchess Olga and her family and, after my grandparents wed, my grandmother kept up a correspondence with at least three of the Grand Duchesses – Olga, Tatiana and Maria.
I have been very fortunate to have been sent copies of some of their letters (most likely dated using the old style calendar), which are housed in the State Archive of Russia, also known as GARF. The letters have been translated for me by a Russian lady living in Melbourne, Anna Panarina.
In December 1914, Russian troops – by all accounts severely handicapped by a lack of training and weapons – were fighting in World War I. My grandfather had been transferred from the Imperial Navy to the Russian Army. I do not know where he was located during that December but, in early December the Grand Duchess Olga wrote to my grandmother to say she had unexpectantly met with my grandfather in what is now Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
Later GD Olga wrote to my grandmother expressing her feelings at the time:
From the State Archive of Russia, Fund 673, inventory 1, file 253, pages 8-9
25 December 1914. Tsarskoye Selo.
My dear, sweet Olga!
Thank you very much for your lovely letter and things for the poor which made me very happy.
This Christmas feels so strange, especially when thinking about those who are now at this terrible war. If only it would finish soon. I’m thinking a lot of you these days, dear Olga. May God give you strength to endure this difficult time and reunite with your husband who must also be thinking a lot about you, especially now.
In hospital, every morning we are going to the dressing changes and operations. In the last few days, we didn’t go because there was no time, and this evening we are going to the Christmas celebration at ours.
So long, dear Olga. I hope we’ll see each other one day.
I’m kissing you warmly, with love,
From the State Archive of Russia, Fund 673, inventory 1, file 253, page 14 (photo of Olga Nikolayevna with her signature, followed by the text of the greeting)
I’m warmly congratulating my dear Olga with Christmas. May God give you all the very best. Kissing you warmly. I will be thinking of you a lot these days, how hard it must be to be apart for the first time at the Christmas celebration. Please pass my greetings to your husband if you write to him. I wish him too all the best.
God bless you darling,
The photo above is of the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna as a nurse during WWI, from the personal collection of the author.