Insights

The 1956 Revolution Through the Eyes of the British Legation

During late-October and early-November in 1956 the Hungarian people fought for their freedom and independence, rejecting both Communist totalitarianism and Moscow rule. The history of the 1956 Revolution is well known in Hungary and elsewhere. On the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Revolution, we re-tell the story from the perspective of the Hungarian and British staff of the British Legation on Harmincad utca in Budapest. As you move along the timeline that runs from the outbreak of the Revolution on 23 October 1956 to the devastating Russian assault on Budapest, you can read and hear the voices of those individuals.

1956

October 23
Oct. 23. 08:22
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

“Mrs Fry and I are currently on route to fulfill an engagement at a Government scientific laboratory, five miles outside of Budapest. Leaving the city we have just observed several columns of men, women and children walking along in a purposeful and orderly manner. Given the sheer amount of people it must be a funeral for someone of considerable official importance.”

October 23
Oct. 23. 09:17
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

“Something appears to be awry.  The Director who welcomed us at the laboratory was called away to the telephone.  When he returned he seemed concerned.  He’s now expressed his apologies, explaining that he’s been summoned to the Ministry in Budapest.  His assistant is continuing the tour.”

October 23
Something serious is unfolding
Oct. 23. 09:27
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

“I can’t help but wonder if something serious is unfolding.  It is becoming apparent that the assistant is preoccupied.  I’m sensing that it would be politic to conclude the tour, as for whatever the reason, the warmth of the visit has started to evaporate.  We shall shortly be returning to Budapest.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Uvaterv

October 23
People everywhere are hurrying to Petőfi square
Oct. 23. 10:08
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

“My thoughts about a funeral taking place were somewhat wide of the mark.  It now appears to be abundantly clear that something momentous is occurring.  People everywhere are hurrying to Petöfi Square.  We are not yet sure why, but we’ve decided it best if Mrs Fry returns home.  I’m heading to the Legation now.”

 

photo: FORTEPAN/Papp István

October 23
Regeczy recollections
Oct. 23. 10:10

László Regéczy-Nagy's recollections of learning of the Revolution and Legation reactions. 

October 23
I've just boarded a train back to Budapest
Oct. 23. 10:12
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

“I’ve just boarded a train back to Budapest to find out what on Earth is happening.  I was in Sárospatak this morning, helping my family with the grape harvest, when I heard a news report stating that the “counter revolution” had been put down.  This is the first I have heard of something happening in Budapest.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 23
Oct. 23. 10:25

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Demonstrations in Budapest”. Confidential. 23 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122393

Demonstrations, peaceful so far, began in many parts of Budapest early this afternoon and are continuing. The national flag is much in evidence and national songs are being sung, while the slogans are mainly for solidarity with Poland and an independent foreign policy. The initial assembly point was the statue of – General Bem, the Polish Commander in the 1848 revolution in Hungary, where at least ten thousand gathered before marching to the Parliament building.

 

2. Such leadership as is discernible seems to come from the students with the assistance of the workers, although many of those marching in the columns of demonstrators are middle-aged, well-dressed people. So far from there being any military or police interference, both forces have been well represented among the demonstrators. Indeed, one column of about five hundred strong was composed solely of army officers singing national songs. On the insistence of the demonstrators, the national tricolor with Communist emblems was run up over Parliament building, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Security Police Headquarters and the main barracks.

 

3. Mr Imre Nagy has delivered an open-air speech to a large audience, but I regret that details of it are not yet available. It is understood that Gerő will broadcast tonight on his return from Yugoslavia.

 

4. My immediately following telegram contains translation of main points in a students’ manifesto which has been distributed wholesale throughout the city and is being acclaimed by the crowds. Copies were delivered at this Legation by students wearing Hungarian cockades.

October 23
Mark Russell crowds are converging on the Petőfi monument
Oct. 23. 11:35
MR

Mark Russell

Third Secretary

“Crowds are converging on the Petöfi monument in a highly emotional, indeed at times almost hysterical state.  I’ve been observing events as they unfold for a while.  At Bem square the crowd had swelled to an enormous proportion, with loudspeakers calling upon the people to rally around the student leaders who had drafted the 16-point demands.  Now at the Petöfi monument, emotion is running higher than ever.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Házy Zsolt

October 23
Noel Cowley - Gerő Ernő's radio speech
Oct. 23. 11:49
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

“Ernö Gerö has cut short a visit to Yugoslavia and a short while ago broadcast to the nation.  From what I’m hearing, his speech has greatly disappointed the Hungarian people.  He said that there will be no loosening of the ties with the Soviet Union and that everyone should abandon the demonstration and return to their homes.  It is fair to say that the speech has done much to irritate the feelings of the thousands of demonstrators massed in the city.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Rádió és Televízió újság

October 23
Mark Russell - Hungarian flags with the Rakosi insignia cut out.
Oct. 23. 14:53
MR

Mark Russell

Third Secretary

“I’ve seen numerous Hungarian flags flying with the Rákosi insignia cut out.  Workers have arrived from Csepel Island to bolster the crowd’s numbers and people in the crowd are also openly laughing!  I’m aware that this may not sound unusual, but for years during the Communist rule no-one in Hungary has really dared to laugh openly, for fear of it being interpreted as a mockery of the system.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Fortepan

October 23
Mark Russell Shots have been fired at the Budapest Radio
Oct. 23. 18:06
MR

Mark Russell

Third Secretary

“The confrontation appears to be escalating around the Budapest radio station, and indeed, shots have been fired.  Hungarian tanks first arrived at the scene to help disperse the crowd, but the soldiers in them went over to the side of the demonstrators.  Indeed it was the major who commanded the soldiers to defect who was one of the first casualties, having been shot by the AVH.  This, plus the tragic death of a young girl has only escalated matters.  The crowd of demonstrators, who have recently been armed by workers from arms factories in Csepel Island are now overrunning the natural bounds of restraint.  I don’t foresee an immediate resolution to this current conflict.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 23
W.D. David Heroes Square, Budapest
Oct. 23. 21:45
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

“I’ve just been witness to jubilant scenes in the Heroes Square where an enormous crowd rejoiced as they managed to pull down the most hated statue in Hungary.  It was the monstrous image of Stalin - The Russian dictator who had inflicted so much misery on Hungary through his most apt pupil, Rákosi.  The statue, which had been made from melting down many historic statues of old Hungarian heroes, was toppled to the ground and then broken into small pieces so that it could never again be put together.  I was given a piece of the statue which I intend on keeping.”

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Hofbauer Róbert

October 23
I've been out all night observing events
Oct. 23. 23:47
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"I’ve been out all night observing events.  As I write this, fighting is still continuing unabated around the radio station.  I’m just returning to the area of conflict following a brief visitation home to change in to more practical clothing.  During my journey back in I met up with a column of Russian tanks arriving in Budapest."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 24
Oct. 24. 08:32
MR

Mark Russell

Third Secretary

"The lights in the Legation burnt-bright late last night. By the time we all went home at midnight the demonstrations were out of control.  Soviet intervention in the early hours has not come as a surprise."

October 24
From peaceful demos to a major uprising
Oct. 24. 09:27
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Nobody is in any doubt that the peaceful demonstrations of yesterday have now developed in to a major uprising.  My staff and I have this morning set about assessing the situation.  The people of Hungary have the bit between their teeth and there is no holding it."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Kurutz Márton

October 24
Historical Moment
Oct. 24. 14:58
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Despite the perilous nature of the situation, our initial feelings are those of exhilaration and excitement.  This is clearly a historical moment in the long, eventful history of Hungary.  One can’t help but feel a sense of privilege in being here to witness it."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 24
Centres of Resistance
Oct. 24. 18:20
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"From what we understand from the bloody fracas at the radio building, armed groups of what people are calling Freedom Fighters, have established themselves and centres of resistance in numerous parts of Pest.  The Legation is in the fortunate position of receiving a good amount of information.  The telephone is still operational and the members of staff are all observing events and reporting back.  The main bastions are the Killián barracks, however, there appears to be no area of central command, and co-ordination between the groups appears to be non-existent."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 24
Danube bridges blockaded by Sovjet tanks
Oct. 24. 20:12
MR

Mark Russell

Third Secretary

"We’ve received news that the Danube bridges and all the main streets are blockaded by Soviet tanks. Any movement is now dangerous and the bridges can not be crossed. We have no alternative, but to stay in the Legation and prepare a camp.  There is a sense of being ‘cut off’ from our homes, and indeed, our loved ones."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Házy Zsolt

October 24
Telegram 40
Oct. 24. 21:10

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Budapest demonstration turns anti-communist”. Confidential. 26 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122374.NH.1011086

It is too soon to offer any very firm comments on the immediate causes and likely results of events here during the last 24 hours. But at least it is clear that what were designed as orderly peaceful demonstrations quickly became more anti-Communist and anti-Russian than anything else; and that the demonstrators, although it was students of the Technical University who touched off the spark, ended by being drawn from virtually all sections of the community. Our publicity will, no doubt, emphasize that the workers of Csepel Island factories, those whom the Communists might have hoped would be the last to desert, were among the most militant and numerous of the demonstrators. The duration and intensity of the fighting testifies, moreover, to the strength and determination of those opposing the régime. Finally, Russian intervention – Warsaw Treaty or no – can hardly commend itself to opinion anywhere outside the Soviet bloc.

 

2. Beyond that, it is reasonable to suppose that the students who started the affair were prompted by recent developments in Poland, coupled with some apprehension that Gerő, who is hardly less unpopular than Rakosi, had been confirmed in power following his talks with the Russian leaders in the Crimea, and Tito in Belgrade. To what extent supporters of Imre Nagy encouraged the students, if at all, is impossible to guess. But Nagy himself cannot have doubted the inevitability of his early return to important office and, although his prior knowledge and connivance in the initial demonstrations must be certain, he, therefore cannot have wished matters to go anything like as far as they. As things are, he can hardly hope to overcome the popular conviction that he shares responsibility for bringing Russian forces into Budapest, even though Gerő may well have asked for them before Nagy joined the leadership.

 

3. At all events, Nagy is now Prime Minister and Gerő remains First Secretary, a sharing of power broadly reflected in the new Politburo. How long this ill-assorted pair can run in double harness seems problematical. 

October 25
Oct. 25. 09:37
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"I’ve been informed by Joan Fish, The British Consul, that two British subjects are marooned in a hotel in the middle of Pest."

October 25
Oct. 25. 11:05
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"It has been agreed that Joan Fish and I will travel together to the hotel where the British subjects are stranded to retrieve them.  I did suggest that I travel alone, but Joan was having none of it, suggesting that I was ‘holding her skirt against her’."

October 25
Oct. 25. 12:30
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Mission accomplished, but not without incident.  We travelled together to the hotel in my official car, Union Jack flying.  We arrived at the hotel only to find a disabled Russian tank and a few dead soldiers scattered in front of it.  The building had suffered a great deal of damage and was being used as a local Russian headquarters.  On approaching the door to enter, a Russian sentry brusquely knocked my Diplomatic Corps Pass out of my hand and barred our way.  Thankfully a Russian speaking member of hotel staff was on hand to help persuade the officer to let us enter.  After a short time we emerged unscathed with the British subjects, and as an unexpected bonus we also acquired the company of a Frenchman and a German."

October 25
Oct. 25. 13:02
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"After crossing a number of serious obstacles, I have passed the main avenue, partly taken by Nationalists."

October 25
The countryside
Oct. 25. 13:13
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"I have now arrived at Harmincad Utca and have just been summoned by Mr Fry to give an account of what is happening in the countryside." 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Pesti Srác2

October 25
Telegram 40
Oct. 25. 15:40
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"​It is too soon to offer any very firm comments on the immediate causes and likely results of events here during the last 24 hours. But at leat it is clear that what were designed as orderly and peaceful demonstrations quickly became more anti-Communist and anti-Russian than anything else; and that demonstrators, although it was students of the Technical University who touched off the spark, ended by being drawn from virtually all sections of the community."

October 25
Telegram 43
Oct. 25. 16:04

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“On the situation in Hungary”. Confidential. 25 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122376.NH.1011089

The Hungarian Tricolours without the Communist emblem, now flying on many public and other buildings throughout the city, while orderly crowds carrying their flags and signing patriotic songs are moving about at will. Without controlling their Government they appear to have as close to controlling Budapest as is ever likely.

 

2. But the casualties have been very severe, even amongst the women and children, and the populace are terrified of massive reprisals. The success of this revolt against Communism is clearly in the balance and, as I see it, we have a magnificent opportunity to tip the scales. Is there not justification for placing the situation at once before the United Nations, giving the widest possible publicity to our action? The mere fact of our application would be beneficial?

 

3. But you will already have considered the possibilities open to Her Majesty’s Government. I would therefore offer only my impression that the fleeting moment is here.

October 25
Deplorable events
Oct. 25. 16:15
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"I have just witnessed a most deplorable event.  Several thousand people were gathered in a large square in front of the Parliament buildings.  The crowd was completely unarmed and contained a large number of women and children in a peaceful demonstration.  Suddenly machine-guns opened fire on the crowd.  I’d estimate the number of casualties to be in the region of six hundred.  I was walking in that part of the city at the time and saw the whole tragedy unfold.  The horror and carnage of the scene would appall the most hardened of imaginations, and the shocking event need no elaboration."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 25
Oct. 25. 16:41
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"Responsibility for the shooting has been placed both on the AVH and the Russians, but most certainly Russian tanks took the larger part.  "

October 25
Oct. 25. 17:36
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"Lorries have arrived at the scene and the bodies are being carted away by the wagon-load.  It would seem that the enormity of the debacle has not gone noticed by the authorities."

October 26
Józska Molnár and the Military Attache
Oct. 26. 10:56
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"A Hungarian colleague, Józska Molnár is currently helping the Military Attaché.  Józska is elderly, half blind and half deaf, but the second that the shootings began on the street he appeared to become 20 years younger.  The two of them have been patrolling the streets of Budapest, taking pictures of the Soviet tanks’ locations."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 26
Oct. 26. 13:18
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

In what would seem to be a gesture to the people, Imre Nagy has replaced Hegedüs as Prime Minister.  Nagy has already appealed to the people to lay down their arms and cease fighting.

October 26
The support of the Hungarian Army and the blue police
Oct. 26. 15:23
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"It would appear that this appeal will go unheeded.  Reports suggest that the Hungarian Army and ‘blue’ police are defecting to the side of the people."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Pesti srác2

October 27
Telegram 53
Oct. 27. 09:53

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“British measures to help Hungarian people”. Confidential.
27 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122377.NH.10110/116

I have been considering what practical steps we might take to demonstrate sympathy for the Hungarian people and to exploit propaganda opportunities. There seems to be two fundamental principles:

we must do nothing to encourage the idea that military support might be forthcoming; and
anything we do must be done at once, while resistance continues.

 

2. These would be met, I think, if the Western Powers were to offer to send immediately a convoy of food and medical supplies from the Austrian border to Budapest. Both are badly needed and such an offer, though almost certain to be rejected by the Communist leaders, could neither be misconstrued nor encourage false hopes. Rejection would enable us to demonstrate the indifference of the Communists to the welfare of the Hungarian people. Acceptance, unlikely though it is, would have obvious practical advantages which I need to enumerate. In either event, the Russians will probably make some such gesture and there is much to be said for getting in first.

 

3. If you are prepared to consider such an offer, which to be effective propaganda would necessarily have to relate to a substantial quantity, I suggest that it should be broadcast direct and frequently to the Hungarian Government. I should naturally try to transmit it officially, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has for some days appeared to be closed.

October 27
Heavy fighting in Buda
Oct. 27. 14:43
Wife of Leslie Fry

Penelope Fry

Wife of Leslie Fry

"There has been heavy fighting in Buda, some of it in the residential areas amongst the houses.  Fresh food has run out and we no longer have any bread.  One small blessing however, during these times of turbulence and isolation are that most of the telephones remain operational and I have been trying to keep in touch with as many families as possible, offering sanctuary in the Residence to any of those in distress."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Pesti srác

October 27
Oct. 27. 15:54
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation


"It has become apparent that some movement across the Danube bridges is now possible. I’ve made the decision to recover the families of the British staff from their beleaguered isolation and house them at the Legation."

October 28
Oct. 28. 08:14

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Possible evacuation of British subjects”. Confidential.
29 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122380

The possibility that we should have to evacuate families, non-essential staff and British subjects has been constantly in mind. But this prolonged resistance to the Russians could hardly have been foreseen, and hitherto it has been wiser to sit tight than to attempt to move so many people from so man parts of the city. The problem is complicated by the fact that the majority of our scattered British community are elderly women, with most of whom it has been completely impossible to keep in touch.

2. I am much disturbed now by the rapid spread of fighting in Buda where relatively little open ground will give greater scope for artillery fire and the houses this afford less cover. Moreover, there are increasing reports of indiscriminate Russian firing everywhere. It seems possible that the Russians are trying, or will try to force matters to a conclusion before the Security Council proceedings can get far. Hungarian resistance would be stimulated by them.

3. After informing my United States colleague (who is considering the same problem) and with the unanimous approval of my senior staff, I have therefore sought an interview as soon as possible with the Minister of Foreign Affairs or his deputy to discuss this question. Unfortunately, the only official with whom I can establish contact is junior and, although well-disposed, his ability to arrange anything quickly is doubtful.

4. Whether or not I can contact or gain assistance from the authorities I intend to try in the first phase to concentrate the women and children of the staff at the Chancery premises in Pest. The building is solid, we have provisions here and the basement (in which we have set up alternative wireless arrangements) will be adequate. Another important consideration is that, although some risks may be run in the course of this concentration, moral – which I do not need to say is high – will be sustained by our all being under one roof.

5. Whether it would then be desirable to try to get a convoy of British subjects through to Vienna can be decided only in the light of circumstances. The main road might well be impassable at any point and side roads in this country are hazardous to say the least. It might, therefore, be preferable to make either for the Czech frontier at Szob, or for Subotica in Yugoslavia. But where ever the convoy headed perhaps its greatest difficulty would be to extricate itself from Budapest.

October 28
Oct. 28. 09:37
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"The families of the British staff were recovered early this morning, and as they slipped across the river all were safely gathered in without incident.  They have now joined the campers in the Legation."

October 28
Oct. 28. 09:46
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"The arrival of the families has resulted in no little relief felt by those already living in their offices, as there will now be someone to do the cooking!"

October 28
Nagy Imre's speech on the radio
Oct. 28. 19:52
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Imre Nagy has this evening addressed the Hungarian people via the radio, and announced that agreement has been reached with the Soviet Government for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Budapest.  Nagy also announced that negotiations have begun, to settle relations between the Hungarian Peoples’ Republic and the Soviet Union with regard to the withdrawal of all Soviet forces stationed in Hungary."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Jánosi Katalin

October 29
The only means of communication to the West
Oct. 29. 09:27
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"It has become apparent that the Legation radio, which is in direct contact with Whitehall, is the only means of communication from Hungary to the Western powers outside.  This places on me an immense responsibility in keeping the free countries of the world fully briefed on the course of events in Hungary."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Budapest Főváros Levéltára

October 29
Oct. 29. 10:16
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"Rumour has spread that the Legation is the only place that has a 24/7 radio contact with the West.  As a result different members of revolutionary groups keep turning up to inform us of what is really happening.  I have been tasked with interviewing these revolutionaries." 

October 29
Oct. 29. 10:34
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"The Legation staff are currently intensely busy due to the vast amount of information that we are receiving.  Staff are working all hours, day and night and the Hungarian translators employed by the Legation are coping with a prodigious amount of material."

October 29
Regeczy-Nagy recollections
Oct. 29. 11:14

László Regéczy-Nagy relates the story of the Legation having the sole radio connection to the outside world and how he gathered information to inform the West.

October 29
A young revolutionary
Oct. 29. 12:47
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"I’ve just interviewed a young revolutionary who escaped from a Soviet camp in Ungvár.  He has given me a detailed account of how captured revolutionaries have been transported to the Soviet Union.  I’m putting a report together to pass the information on."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 29
Oct. 29. 16:33
Wife of Leslie Fry

Penelope Fry

Wife of Leslie Fry

"We received a shock at the Legation this evening when Daily Mail correspondent, Noel Barber was delivered to us with blood streaming from his head.  He had been shot with a sub-machine gun by a Russian sentry whilst travelling around the city with a fellow journalist companion and a Hungarian friend.  They somehow managed to get him back to the British Legation and it was here that my war service in a hospital was of use.  I swabbed him down, staunched the wound and generally kept him alive until a Hungarian doctor arrived at the Legation.  He put 40 stitches in Noel’s scalp, but we now need to somehow transfer him to a hospital."

October 29
Dead heroes cannot peel potatoes
Oct. 29. 18:28
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

‘Dead heroes cannot peel potatoes.  Do your duty but take no unnecessary risks’.  Advice given to me by my father whilst on leave from France during the First World War.  This advice came to mind this evening following a hazardous journey in which we came under fire, successfully delivering injured Daily Mail journalist, Noel Barber to a nearby hospital.

 

Fotó: FORTEPAN/Fortepan

October 30
Telegram 72
Oct. 30. 12:09

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Mikoyan’s visit to Hungary”. Confidential.
30 October 1956 | PRO.FO.378.122378.NH.10110/172

The fighting reported in paragraph one of my telegram No. 489 is still in progress.

2. The temper of the city again looks ugly, and fighting may well spread throughout it once more. The régime announcement that the Russians would withdraw within twenty four hours of the Nationalists handing over their arms to the Hungarian Army may conceivably be accepted at its face value. But I doubt it, and am reasonably certain that there can be no genuine cessation of hostilities in the city while any Russian force remains here. Without their withdrawal no political concession offered by the present régime will appease the Nationalists; and existing Russian forces seemingly overwhelming have not yet succeeded In partly expending them. The position in the rest of the country is known to you.

3. If, therefore, the Russians are determined to keep this country Communist, they will have to send in reinforcements and embark on an even more drastic campaign of repression. But they may be unwilling to face this prospect, if only for the future of Communism in uncommitted countries and elsewhere; in that event the logical alternative would be to withdraw at once, even though (as they surely must recognise) this would almost certainly involve the régime’s collapse.

4. I do not exclude other possibilities, but these may have been the alternatives facing Mikoyan when, as reliably reported, he arrived in Budapest yesterday. (I now hear he left this morning). If so, the decisive factor influencing the Russians may be their prestige rather than the fate of the Hungarian régime, which Russians must now regard as impotent and unreliable.

5. On this assumption, our problem is to devise a face-saving formula that will permit Russian forces to withdraw, ostensibly at the request of the present Hungarian régime, without their appearing to have been turned out by anti-Communist Hungarian people.

6. I cannot pretend to offer an answer to this problem, which may well be under consideration already. My purpose in raising it is simply to emphasize its importance. If we can get the Russians out, the Hungarians may safely be left to settle their own destiny; it will not be Communism. I would suggest, therefore, that, whatever negotiating position we adopt, the vital point to be secured is the withdrawal from Hungary of all Soviet armed forces. 

October 30
Oct. 30. 14:56
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Dr Edith Martin, a missing British subject who I have been pressing the Hungarian Government for information for sometime, today walked in to the Legation following the opening of the political prisons.  Hungarian by birth, but a British subject by marriage, she has spent seven years in solitary confinement after disappearing over the years.  For her own safety, we have immediately sent her to Vienna by car."

October 30
Sovjet withdrawal
Oct. 30. 15:27
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"The Soviet Government in Moscow have announced that they will negotiate a withdrawal of their armed forces, not only from Budapest, but from the whole of Hungary."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 31
New targets
Oct. 31. 10:00
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"As Russian troops begin to withdraw from Budapest the emphasis of the fighting has changed from an onslaught on the Russians to an all-out hunt for members of the AVH."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Pesti Srác2

October 31
Telegram 77
Oct. 31. 14:00

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“On the spirit of Budapest”. Confidential.
31 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122379

The spirit of Budapest now seems to be that of cautious expectancy, with no (repeat no) dropping of guard. For example, an armed civilian patrol (please see paragraph 4 of telegram under reference), when asked whether they would accept Mr Nagy as leader of the Government, replied “we are for no one. We are waiting to see what happens”. In the villages just beyond the city my Military Attaché reports that the former political parties are already reorganizing themselves.

 

2. I am not competent to offer suggestions on tactics in the United Nations. But I would say (a) that the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from Hungary must be our main and constant objective; and (b) that if we cannot secure this, we should do all we can to ensure that promises now being broadcast to the Hungarian people by their Communist Prime Minister Mr Nagy, be kept to the letter (cf. my telegrams No 510 and 518).

 

3. If it were all possible to obtain some form of United Nations supervision of either (a) or (b), possibly in context of Assembly discussion of 1950 [sic.], or at the worst a continuing interest in developments here, so very much the better.

4. Although the thought may at this stage seem altogether premature, I would add that neutrality on the Austrian pattern might perhaps suit this country (and us). 

October 31
Diplomatic travel has just become rather more complicated
Oct. 31. 14:57
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"Diplomatic travel has just become rather more complicated.  AVH men have resorted to attempting to flee the country in vehicles with diplomatic plates.  As a consequence, any diplomat driving through the city is a suspect.  Many roadblocks are currently being patrolled by youths.  Being held up by a professional soldier is one thing, but to have a 12-year-old point a tommy-gun at one’s head while one’s papers are examined is another thing all together!" 

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

October 31
Telegram 74
Oct. 31. 16:45

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Events at the Radio Building, Budapest”. Confidential.
31 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122379.NH.10110/203

The opening phase of the revolution down to 6.00 p.m. on October 23 was fully described in my telegram No. 404.

 

2. At that time the crowds had moved from Bem Square to the Parliament buildings where they remained  shouting slogans and demanding the appearance of Nagy. Typical slogans were “down with Gerő”, “down with Rákosi”, “down with the Stalin statue”, “out with the Russians”. This crowd remained in Parliament Square until well after 8 p.m. At eight p.m. Mr Gerő made his broadcast speech, as described in my telegram No. 408, and subsequently Mr Nagy addressed the crowd requesting them to have confidence in him and to disperse in an orderly manner. His appeal had no effect and the crowd then moved off in the direction of Stalin Square.

 

3. The crowd had already been gathering in that Square since about 7 p.m. and also at radio building. The task of pulling down the Stalin statue took almost two and a half hours and was completed only at about 9.25 p.m. This crowd, in high good humour, then moved off to join crowd already at Radio building.

 

4. Meanwhile, at radio station the following event had taken place. By 6 p.m. a squad of A.V.H. police had taken up positions inside the radio building. Soon after 7.30, when people began to gather there, a deputation from the crowd attempted to enter the building to demand that students’ 14 Point Resolution (please see my telegram No. 405) should be broadcast. In fact, the deputation were unable to gain entry until after Gerő had made his speech at 8 p.m. When finally they got in, the radio Authorities agreed that some of the points in the manifesto should be broadcast. This was announced to the crowd by the deputation who appeared on the balcony of the building. The demonstrators, who had already been informed of the gist of Gerő’s uncompromising speech, were already getting angry and demanded that all points should be broadcast. About 9 p.m. a further delegation of about eighty people succeeded in gaining entry to the building and at the same time some A.V.H. reinforcements arrived.

 

5. Precisely what happened next will probably never be known, but it is clear that A.V.H. guard inside the hall shot one member of the deputation, who were compelled to withdraw in confusion.

 

6. The news of the murder spread through the crowd at once and tempers broke. Students climbed the scaffolding in order to try to enter the building. The A.V.H. at first attempted to scatter the crowd with tear gas. When this failed they fired a volley killing three people.

 

7. The crowd withdrew temporarily, but returned to the attack and attempted to batter down the door. At this point a lorry drove up and was attacked by the crowd in the belief that the men inside were A.V.H. reinforcements, an approaching ambulance was also stopped and found to contain ammunition. Next an approaching lorry belonging to normal city police appeared, was stopped by the crowd demonstrating, emptied of the men inside it and burnt.

 

8. It is not clear at exactly what time considerable A.V.H. reinforcement (about three hundred) arrived, but it must have been nearly 10 p.m. when six or seven large lorries appeared at radio building each carrying between twenty and thirty men armed with tommy guns. Firing from A.V.H. opened almost at once and it is reported that eight more people were killed at this stage. Shooting continued and at this time some of the demonstrators must have obtained arms.

October 31
Telegram 75
Oct. 31. 17:05

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Tanks at the Radio Building, Budapest”. Confidential.
31 October 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122379.NH.10110/204

The Hungarian Army tanks appeared on the scene about 10.15 p.m., then drove into the city and made for the radio building. Their hatches were open and the crews fraternised with the crowd making no attempt to restore order. Four tanks in fact reached the radio building and the Colonel in command attempted to mediate between A.V.H. inside the building and demonstrators. He and another officer were shot down by the A.V.H.

 

2. Thereafter the demonstrators rapidly acquired additional arms and ammunition. Individual Hungarian soldiers and city police handed their weapons to the demonstrators and ammunition trucks driven by workers appeared. Some sore of ammunition dump was set up in the neighbourhood of the radio building from which demonstrators were quickly able to replenish their stocks.

 

3. Following outburst of serious fighting at the radio building a further crowd moved on to the offices of Szabad Nep, the Party paper, where A.V.H. men again fired on the crowd. Fighting thereafter spread and the sound of firing went on throughout the night.

 

4. At 4.30 a.m. the main Russian armoured column entered the town along Balaton Road, drove straight into Pest, where they tried at first to restore order by a display of force. They did not open fire straight away. The situation, however, was by this time out of hand and Russian forces were soon in action. Bursts of machine gun fire were continuous and, although there was a lull between 7 and 9 a.m., by 9.15 very heavy firing had started once more. The subsequent course of events has been fully described in my telegrams.

 

5. The above account of outbreak of revolution is based on reports of several reliable eye-witnesses. Much of it can be directly confirmed by member of my staff.

November 1
W.D. David's Blitz comparison
Nov. 1. 14:46
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

"Parts of the city now look as bad as London had been during the Blitz!  The Military Attaché and I have been about the city as much as possible in order to obtain information for daily situation reports and it’s fair to say that fighting has done incredible damage to the city.  There are overturned trams, cars and lorries.  Glass is everywhere." 

November 1
Nov. 1. 17:36
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"It’s clear to see that the UK has great sympathy for the Hungarians.  It’s magnificent to see how much they care for a tiny, far from important country.  For example, the Consul recently witnessed the arrest of a woman via the Legation’s window.  She was shocked and moved by the scene.  It was heartening to see such emotion."

November 1
Telegram 88
Nov. 1. 18:04

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Nagy’s proclamation of Hungarian neutrality”. Confidential.
1 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122379.NH.10110/223

I have just been called urgently to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was told that new Soviet forces were entering Hungary from sub-Carpathia. Mr Imre Nagy, President of the Council of Ministers, acting in his capacity of Minister of Foreign Affairs, had made a vigorous protest against this to the Russian Ambassador. He had demanded the immediate removal of these troops and had declared that the Hungarian Government were withdrawing from the Warsaw Treaty and proclaiming the neutrality of their country. The Soviet Ambassador had undertaken to transmit this message to his Government and to seek an immediate answer. Mr Nagy, the official went on, was about to broadcast this news to the nation. Meanwhile, he wished me to be given a note verbale for transmission to Her Majesty’s Government.

 

I was then handed the Note, which was in French. It went beyond what I had so far been told, in that it said that the Hungarian Government were addressing themselves to the United Nations organization and asked for the aid of the four Great Powers in defence of Hungary’s neutrality.

This, I was told, meant a guarantee of the kind given to Austria.

 

3.[sic] Full text of the note verbale is given in my immediately succeeding telegram.

November 1
Telegram 81
Nov. 1. 20:58

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Situation in Hungary”. Confidential.
1 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122379.NH.10110/228

In present confused circumstances it is impossible to say how representative my “partisan” visitors' views are of assessed strength and unity of his associates. But certainly these views differ in one significant point from those expressed by Jozsef Dudas, the head of nationalist committee which is in administrative control of the city. Dudas, it seems, is ready to have Nagy and Kadar in a caretaker government, which would prepare the way for free elections, provided it included adequate nationalist representation. Presumably with that in view, Colonel Maleter (see paragraph 2 of my telegram No. 506) has been appointed Senior Deputy Minister of Defence. He is a nationalist Communist.

 

2. Meanwhile, Nagy (who is acting, I am told informally by Ministry, as Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as Prime Minister) has announced that negotiations with the Russians have already begun on withdrawal of Soviet troops and Hungary’s repudiation of her obligations under the Warsaw Treaty. I understand that he is also negotiating with the Social Democrats and about to have talks with Bela Kovacs also. Both seem willing to accept him as temporary head of caretaker coalition government if he will guarantee the holding of free elections.

 

3. To complicate matters, in several parts of the country there are nationalist organizations in control, but so far without objective policy. The exception is the “Trans-Danubian National Council” which combines several nationalist committees in Western Hungary. (I should explain that to Hungarians the word “Trans-Danubia” means Western Hungary). And there is now Cardinal Mindszenty to be reckoned with; his authority will certainly be considerable.

 

4. In the next few days therefore much will depend on whether:

(a) the various nationalist councils and other organizations decide to set up a single directing body chosen solely from amongst themselves (i.e. a quasi-military dictatorship) or prefer to accept a caretaker coalition government;

(b) the system under leaders such as Nagy and Kadar succeeds as they are undoubtedly attempting, in taking over leadership of the revolution.

 

5. From our point of view there would appear to be two dangers threatening Hungary. The first is that the fervent nationalist (my “partisan” visitor) by refusing any collaboration with the Communist might plunge the country into anarchy, risking renewed Russian intervention. The second is that, in their anxiety to restore ordered government and to negotiate a quick Russian withdrawal from this country, anti Communists might accept a coalition government which despite inclusion of respectable names would leave, at least temporarily, Communists with a preponderance of power.

 

6. I remain convinced, however, that if Russian forces go, Communists will sooner or later follow. If that is right, first danger is the greater.

November 1
Telegram 82
Nov. 1. 23:07

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Hungarian neutrality declared by Nagy”. Confidential.
1 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122379.NH.10110/226

Since I began dictating this series of telegrams, Budapest Radio has made an announcement in terms of the Note, adding that it had been communicated to the United Nations Organization and to all Missions here. In fact, however, Note appears to have been given so far only to the Americans, French, Yugoslavs and myself.

 

2. Mr Nagy himself broadcast about three hours after my visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Surprisingly, he said nothing about Russian troop movements and his protest against them. Speaking in a calm voice, he proclaimed Hungarian neutrality and asked that all countries should respect it. Hungary would not join any bloc; she was now independent and neutral; and he begged Hungarian people to return to their senses. Cardinal Mindszenty broadcast shortly afterwards. After praising the achievements of this country’s youth, he said he would examine the grave situation in which Hungary found herself and speak again two days hence.

 

3. Neither broadcast was consistent with gravity of the Note, a discrepancy I cannot at present explain. But whatever the explanation, the fact is that the present government of this country have withdrawn from the Warsaw Treaty, have informed the United Nations of Hungary’s neutrality and have asked that it be guaranteed by the four Great Powers. Should not the Security Council take up this renewed Soviet intervention, which the Russians cannot represent as being at the request of Hungarian Government or justified by the Warsaw Treaty? Alternatively, is there any prospect of the General Assembly considering the issue urgently and either requesting the Secretary General to investigate it or send a commission of enquiry?

November 2
WD David on the evacuation
Nov. 2. 09:30
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

"It was decided that I should take a convoy  of wives and children out of Budapest to Vienna. The Legation is too crowded and, as much of the fighting has died down, it was worth trying to get out. On our way we experienced a very frightening hold up by a Russian type 54 tank which was situated across the main Vienna road. The turret was closed down, and it traversed its main gun so that it was pointed directly at my car.  I stopped, with the whole convoy doing likewise behind me.  I stepped out of my car holding out the Union Jack which I had attached to a broomstick. I then walked towards the tank feeling very small. The turret popped open and I asked the officer in my poor Hungarian if we could proceed. Thankfully, he managed to obtain permission for us to move and we slowly, cautiously drove through followed by 38 other vehicles."

November 2
Nov. 2. 09:47
MR

Mark Russell

Third Secretary

"We are soon to begin the evacuation of the British community.  My family car shall be at the head of the convey and in it, my infant son, Neil who will be one month old tomorrow."

November 2
39 cars
Nov. 2. 11:32
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

"We are a convoy of 39 cars and I have a feeling that this journey may end up taking us a great deal longer than the two hours that it would usually take during to the number of checkpoints that we are encountering."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

November 2
Nov. 2. 14:19
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

"We have just experienced a very frightening hold up by a Russian-type 54 tank which was situated across the main Vienna road.  The turret was closed down, and it traversed its main gun so that it was pointed directly at my car.  I stopped, with the whole convey doing likewise behind me.  I stepped out of my car holding out the Union Jack which I had attached to a broomstick.  I then walked towards the tank feeling very small.  The turret popped open and I asked the officer in my poor Hungarian if we could proceed.  Thankfully, he managed to obtain permission for us to move and we slowly, cautiously drove through followed by 38 other vehicles."

November 2
Nov. 2. 15:55
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

"We’ve had more trouble.  This time with an AVH check-point.  They wanted to throw their weight about and were obviously smarting from their defeat in the country.  They tried to make me turn the convey back, but I became angry, called for an officer, and after using every official-looking stamp that we could find, we eventually made it through."

November 2
Nov. 2. 18:23
WDD

W.D. David

Air Attaché

"We’ve successfully reached Vienna.  I’ve made my report to H. M. Ambassador, Sir Geoffrey Wallinger and he and all of his staff were most helpful, quickly taking over the task of caring for the British families."

November 2
Nov. 2. 19:31

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Situation in Hungary”. Confidential.
2 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122380

The city remains quiet, and the little firing was heard in late afternoon was almost certainly no more than part of A.V.H. hunt.

 

2. In the north east of the country a Russian force is reported to have occupied railway station at Nyiregyhaza and to be defending the railway line thence to the Russian frontier. A large convoy of Russian lorries, guarded by tanks moved eastward this afternoon through Vecses. On the Austrian side of Gyor a Russian force is across the road to Vienna and drawing closer to the frontier. According to nationalist sources, Soviet bombers have flown towards the south of the country, where at least two airfields, Szeged and Kecskemet, are in Russian hands.

 

3. Mikoyan is alleged to be here again; and from Mr Nagy’s broadcast this evening it seems that the Russians are ignoring his suggestion that a joint commission should be set up to consider the introducing of the withdrawal of their forces. Meanwhile the old political parties in this country are trying to reorganize.

 

4. I have had no response yet from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to my request to be informed at once of Russian reply to Mr Nagy’s protest (paragraph i of my telegram Nr. 536). Indeed, telephone call to Ministry this afternoon failed to obtain an answer. Possibly this was because a sharp skirmish is reliably reported to have occurred there between nationalists and some members of A.V.H. who had taken refuge in the top storey of the building.

November 3
Nov. 3. 17:52
Interpreter

Zalatnay István

Interpreter

"Two outstanding men have been leading the Legation in Leslie Fry and ‘Kit’ Cope, the Head of the Chancery.  It is clear to see that Fry has a strong military background and that he also likes Hungarians.  I am now leaving the Legation for the first time since October 25th, having worked day and night for the last 10 days."

November 4
The Russians have returned!
Nov. 4. 07:15
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"The Russians have returned!  Having remained at my post all night, I was awoken this morning by the sound of heavy gunfire.  During the night they encircled the capital and opened up with artillery and mortars sited on the hills in Buda.  Some 2,500 tanks have re-entered the city.  The fighting has begun again."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

November 4
Nov. 4. 09:05
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Due to the weight of the Russian counter-attack we are seeing an influx of British subjects coming into the Legation.  Indeed nearly the whole of the British Press have sought sanctuary within the building.  A fair few are continuing to take photographs out of the windows of the Legation."

November 4
Telegram 95
Nov. 4. 09:34

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“The Legation as a refugee shelter”. Confidential.
4 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122330.NH.10110/226

I am taking into the Legation such Commonwealth citizens, families of Hungarian staff and members of our domestic staff as are presenting themselves. I shall also take in any wounded who may appear.

 

2. A number of appeals for refuge by other Hungarians, notably a group of distinguished writers are being made to me. With the utmost reluctance, I am refusing them on the grounds that we are already nearing the end of our provisions and that I should not in any event be able to resist a Russian demand to surrender those taking shelter here.

November 4
Nov. 4. 12:49
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"There is currently a considerable, and worrying amount of fighting taking place around the Legation."

November 4
Nov. 4. 16:21
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Nostalgic memories of my early training as a subaltern in the Ghurka Regiment were just evoked when a machine-gun bullet whistled through the window of my office.  I was sitting at my desk at the time and the bullet came to rest in the ceiling above my head."

November 5
The Russian 'steam-roller'
Nov. 5. 14:46
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"There is no doubt that in this second assault on the city, the Russian ‘steam-roller’ is well at work.  Points of resistance are being reduced to rubble by heavy bombardment.  Fighters are standing their ground, contesting every attack and are only giving up when the buildings around them are smashed to pieces.  If ever there was a fight to the finish this is it, but against what odds and with what desperation?"

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

November 6
Nov. 6. 17:29
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"Our radio operator, Jimmy Green has informed me that he has reached the end of his tether.  He has been on his set for two days and two nights without sleep and claims that he can go on no longer.  I can see only one thing for it.  We need to pay a visit to the secretary’s office and share a bottle of champagne."

November 6
Nov. 6. 19:54
Head of Legation

Leslie Fry

Head of Legation

"The champagne appears to have done the trick.  We are now both feeling considerably more revived."

November 7
Telegram 100
Nov. 7. 15:08

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Heavy fighting in Budapest”. Confidential.
7 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122383.NH.10110/371

A reliable Western observer, who managed to get through part of the city this morning, has just given me the following report (1.30 p.m. local time).

 

2. There are large concentrations of Russian armour along the Danube, around the Ministry of Defence and Parliament building and in the centre of Pest at Stalin Square. Bitter fighting is in progress throughout the length of the four main streets of Pest, where barricades and destroyed Russian tanks are impeding further Soviet attacks. The Palace and Imperial Hotels, together with the surrounding houses, are in flames.

 

3. Heavy fighting is also going on in the Var area of Buda, which is practically destroyed. The Soilert Hill region, until last night the scene of intensive fighting, is now firmly in Russian hands and Nationalists there have been annihilated. Resistance in the Thokoly area has also been eliminated at last.

 

4. Many of the Russian prisoners in Nationalist hands are Ukrainians and Armenians, I was told, and Hungarian boys of 12 years of age were seen carrying arms for the Nationalist forces. The Russian tanks in some localities appeared to be disorganized and were firing wildly. Other tank units were foraging in the country-side for food. A detachment of Russian infantry had been seen last night, (this is the first reliable report I have had of their presence).

 

5. This and other reports strengthen the conviction expressed in paragraph 2 of my telegram 597; until there is United Nations intervention or the Russians withdraw, fighting will undoubtedly continue. All accounts agree that the Hungarians are displaying suicidal bravery and are determined to resist to the end. Meanwhile, it is now reasonably certain that the Kadar “Government” is in Szolnok (see paragraph 4 of my telegram 609). 

November 8
Nov. 8. 12:00
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"Russian tanks have taken it upon themselves to park outside the Legation on the pretence of protecting us from a friendly demonstration by Nationalists."

November 8
Nov. 8. 13:43
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"Some of the British secretaries in the Legation are amusing themselves by teasing the soldiers in the tanks from the upper windows.  They are throwing balls of paper at them."

November 8
Nov. 8. 14:02
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"I think it is fair to say that the Russians are not amused by the secretaries antics. In fact, one commander can contain his anger no longer and has driven his tank up to the Legation doorway, thrusting his gun right inside!"

November 8
Telegram 103
Nov. 8. 14:31

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Russian behaviour in Hungary”. Confidential.
3 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122385.NH.10110/408

A Hungarian Red Cross car has just brought supplies to Her Majesty’s Legation from the Austrian Legation Red Cross stores. I see no reason whatever to doubt the following information given to me by the two doctors and nurses who manned it:

 

The Hungarian people would never accept Kadar and his so-called Government. The Nationalists know that the amnesty terms would not be observed, and few therefore would surrender.
A Soviet aircraft had come to Budapest yesterday bringing with it “important Russians”.

 


The captain commanding a detachment of Soviet tanks, which our visitors had encountered some days ago, had asked them where he might find a responsible Nationalist Commander to whom to surrender what was left of his unit. He explained that three small Hungarian boys had put some of his tanks out of action with bottles of lighted petrol, though each in turn was shot down in the act of throwing these primitive weapons. This had convinced him that Hungarian resistance sprang from something so fundamental that he and his men would not go on fighting it.
Red Cross Headquarters and several hospitals had been severely damaged by Russian firing. At the gates of one hospital a crowd of civilians seeking sanctuary had been shot down by Russian tanks. Russian tanks guarding another street had fired on the Red Cross workers attempting to succour the wounded; eventually the workers threw ropes to those wounded who could grasp them and be pulled beyond the tank.

 


Russian wounded were refusing to return to their units and even to go to hospitals in Russian hands, since they knew that they would be shot for having left their tanks; Russian orders were that in no circumstances was a man to get out of his vehicle.

See my immediately following telegram.

November 9
Nov. 9. 18:36

TELEGRAM FROM MR FRY, BUDAPEST TO FOREIGN OFFICE

“Bitter fighting in Hungary”. Confidential.
9 November 1956 | PRO.FO.371.122335.NH.10110/740

Buda was the scene of some bitter fighting this morning but both there and on Csepel Island, where a large fire is blazing, fighting seems now to have ceased (5 p.m. local time).

 

2. The Russian suppression of a revolt, begun without organisation and without arms has cost Budapest almost as much damage as would have been caused by a major battle between opposing armies. Many areas of the city have been devastated, and few have been untouched. Glass lies everywhere and now, with the onset of winter, what remains of the population faces hardship not only from hunger, but from cold. Since so many industrial areas have been badly affected the task of reconstruction cannot be quick.

 

3.  The people are splendidly uncowed. The national flag, with the Communist emblem cut from its centre, flies everywhere, even in place of the Red Star torn from the summit of the War Memorial. Queues, though very long at every food shop open, are orderly; many householders are already clearing away the debris; there is no sign yet of return to work ordered by the Russian Commander, and everyone is ostentatiously ignoring his tank patrols. Soviet armour and guns continue to guard all keypoints.

 

4. My United States colleague, whom I have just visited, tells me that according to one of his sources, Kadar is trying to persuade Nagy and his lieutenant, Losonczy, to join his “Government”. If true, this represents a step towards realism which must certainly be taken sooner or later, if only because the Kadar “Government” as at present constituted stands no chance of obtaining any degree of willing cooperation from the Hungarian people. But only six days ago Nagy was being called a traitor and obviously the Russians can no longer trust him. While, therefore, I do not doubt that the Hungarian Communists would like to have Nagy back in the fold, I am not sure that the Russians would accept him yet. For the time being, the rumour I think, had better be treated with reserve. 

November 4
The Russians have returned!
Nov. 4. 07:15
NC

Noel Cowley

Military Attaché

"The Russians have returned!  Having remained at my post all night, I was awoken this morning by the sound of heavy gunfire.  During the night they encircled the capital and opened up with artillery and mortars sited on the hills in Buda.  Some 2,500 tanks have re-entered the city.  The fighting has begun again."

 

Photo: FORTEPAN/Nagy Gyula

Aftermath

"The Hungarian people showed the sullen courage of despair. Their capital had been ravaged, their numbers depleted by violence, deportation or flight. Poverty and unemployment most surely lay ahead, as well might lie yet further repression. There was little left for them to lose. Yet by their bravery, their unity and their discipline they will always keep their honour. I am confident, moreover, that their sacrifices have not been in vain, whether for their own country or for the world." – Sir Leslie Fry

  • Some 20,000 to 22,000 Hungarians were killed in Budapest alone.
  • 200,000 refugees fled the country, seeking sanctuary elsewhere. Of these, 20,000 settled in the UK.
  • Leslie Fry and Mrs Fry became Sir Leslie and Lady Fry in recognition of their work in Budapest.
  • Jimmy Green, the radio operator who Leslie Fry revived with champagne, was awarded the M.B.E in recognition of his services.
  • Mark Russell led a varied and distinguished life in the diplomatic corp, holding positions in London, Bucharest, Washington and Ankara.
  • Noel Cowley was declared a persona non grata by the Hungarian régime and given 48 hours to leave the country.
  • István Zalatnay continued to work at the Legation/Embassy until 1989.
  • W. D. David aka Dennis "Hurricane" David was dubbed "The Light Blue Pimpernel" for his part in helping 400 Hungarians to escape after the failure of the revolution.
  • László Regeczy-Nagy was arrested on the evening of 19 June 1957 and, after 14 months of interrogation, was imprisoned for six years as punishment for his service at the British Legation. Upon the change of regime, and with a rank of Brigadier General, László worked for Árpád Göncz, President of Hungary.
  • 60 years later, the British Embassy still operates from Harmincad utca 6. As in 1956, our Hungarian staff are at the heart of what we do, making a valuable contribution to the enduring strength of the relationship between our two countries.