World War I

In 1916, the journalist and writer Korney Chukovsky visited Inverness as part of a wartime delegation. Later on, touring the camp of the Australian survivors of Gallipoli, Chukovsky met Andrew Fisher, High Commissioner of Australia in London and three times Australian Labor Prime Minister. He recounted the meeting in the pro-British propaganda book he published upon his return in 1917: ‘England on the Eve of Victory’.  Fisher was a Scot, who started life as a strike leader with the Ayrshire Miners’ Union in the 1880s, and Chukovsky emphasised his Scottish provenance:

‘The son of a coalminer, he worked in Scottish mines from the age of 10; he dragged coal carts down such narrow underground passages that his head would scrape the ceiling. Then when he grew up he became not quite an agitator, but a restless person, and the owners sacked him.  He couldn’t find a job anywhere and was forced to emigrate to Australia, where in a few years he became Prime Minister, the uncrowned king of a whole continent.’ (73)

Chukovsky was amazed by Fisher’s down-to-earth attitude: in a work of wartime ally propaganda, what find could be better than a former East Ayrshire pit boy turned Australia’s ‘Peter the Great’, praising Britain’s fight for ‘world democracy’?  In fact, Chukovsky was no stranger to using Scottish images in the service of Russian pro-British propaganda: just two years previously he had published another book about British soldiers whose cover illustration – a portrait of a stereotypical Scottish private – was taken from the cover of ‘Private Spud Tamson’ (Edinburgh: Blackwood 1915) by R. W. Campbell, ‘the Scottish Captain’ as Chukovsky called him.  Scotland thus literally became the face of the British war effort for the tens of thousands of Russian students and soldiers for whose reading Chukovsky’s book, in its four lavishly illustrated editions, was governmentally approved.  Scottish images appeared inside the book as well.