A face in the crowd

This is a photo and an experience I will never forget.

It was 1990 and I was travelling to England the long way round on the Trans Mongolian Express.

What a turbulent year it was. In 1989 it was thought China was heading for an internal revolution. While the world watched via the media of TV the students caused an up rising, it was centred in Tiananmen Square. Who can forget the image of a lone student in front of the tank as it weaved to avoid him and he kept pace with it, not letting it pass. It made world-wide headlines.

The Berlin Wall came down.

Gorbachev was the premier of Russia and the buzz word was “Peristrioka”, democracy.

Czechoslovakia was holding the first democratic elections for many years.

It was an amazing period to travel through these regions. I have many memories of events and people I met but the one that stands out most is when I was allowed the very rare privilege of watching the last Victory Day celebration in Red Square in Moscow. It was the first time tourists had been allowed to witness this special day when Russia would show its military strength to the world. We were given a pass with our name on it and had to go through 6 check points. At the time I was so impressed and moved by the atmosphere that I wrote a poem/prose about it…

The Last Victory Day Celebrations 

To the accompaniment of drum and bugle they marched and halted in rows six deep around the massive square.

Thousands of fresh-faced Russian youngsters, dressed in uniforms of death.

The political walls of the Kremlin loomed on the right

St Bazils domed and turreted presence, a caricature of religion, in gaudy bright array,

backed by the red bricked façade of Gum, department store of communism, half empty to this day.

Atop the tomb of Lenin the dignitaries assemble, Gorbachev surrounded by decision-making men

A wave of solid sound reverberates around the ranks of soldiers as three loud cheers were commanded.

Then silence……….

The crisp air of winter caused tendril breath to rise, and the wind whipped flags, cracked in the lull.

The clock above the Kremlin struck ten……

Then the boom of a dozen cannons shattered the momentary stillness and reverberated around the square. The acrid tang of cordite hung in the air.

From the distance a rumble, like thunder, grew and the cobblestones trembled beneath our feet as the military advanced.

The old tanks of the Crimea slowly trundled into sight. Then faster and faster the machines of war came by.

The squadrons of ever-sophisticated weapons roared across from right to left.

For an hour they kept coming, the senses numbed by their procession.

Overwhelmed, as we were meant to be, by this show of Russian, sabre rattling superiority.

From the guns of Crimea to the deadly accurate missiles of the future. Juggernauts of destruction.

Looking round I saw a frail old man,with medals on his chest, standing rigidly to attention, with tears of remembrance in his eyes.

A woman clutching a young child to her side.

A chill brushed my skin and a lump rose in my throat. I thought of all the horror depicted by these machines of war and uniforms so drab.

Now it is all over, never to be repeated, with military pomp and style the soldiers march away to the beat of drum and bugle.

All that is left is the vibration of their passing, the mournful, staccato flapping of the flags and the pervading smell of cordite.


My camera was an Olympus SLR and the used film had to be carried in my back pack until I finally arrived in England to get it developed. So I had no idea how the images would look till 6 weeks after I had taken them. When I finally saw that image of all those young soldiers standing at attention with the one face in the crowd turned towards me it brought back all the emotion of the moment.

So when Erica asked us to show “a face in the crowd” for this weeks WP photo challenge I immediately remembered this

By 1991 the situation inside the Soviet Union had grown more chaotic. Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms were not going as expected, with the Soviet economy falling into depression, and a torrent of nationalist movements sweeping across the USSR, the country’s very existence was being called into question. This would be the last military parade of the Soviet era, and the final one in Russia to commemorate the October Revolution. By the end of next year the USSR would cease to exist as a political state.

The 1990 October Revolution Parade was the last parade commemorating the 1917 October Revolution during the Soviet Union‘s existence. It celebrated the 73rd anniversary of the revolution. It was the first and last parade attended by Mikhail Gorbachev in his position as President of the Soviet Union. At the chimes of the Kremlin Clock, Gorbachev gave an address to the nation. It would be the first and last time a Soviet leader made an address on Lenin’s Mausoleum during an October Revolution parade.

Attempted assassination of Gorbachev

At 11:00 AM, an hour after the parade began, an attempt to kill President Gorbachev was made by Alexander Shmonov.[4] The two bullets he fired missed and he was tackled to the ground by crowds of demonstrators. Shmonov was the last would-be-assassin of the Soviet period before the USSR’s dissolution in 1991. He was sent to forced treatment which took a heavy toll on his mental state. Three weeks prior to the parade, Shmonov bought a double-barreled hunting rifle. He took out his rifle and was spotted immediately by the police, and as he was taking aim, an officer ran over and jerked the rifle by the barrel as the crowd jumped on him. Soviet Central television did not broadcast the assassination attempt and resumed its regular broadcasting at 11:25 AM. ( Wikipedia)


    • It was an emotional journey. Word Press gives me the opportunity to recall those moments. No digital photography back then so no second chance with the photos. It was just hope they came out ok.


  1. I remember that time. I remember not understanding the significance of what was happening. I was in college, One of my roommates said that what we were watching on television was of historical significance. I can not imagine what it was like to be there at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a momentous time. The Berlin wall came down, communism in Russia was challenged and China had its first tentative steps towards consumerism and look at it now… Looking back I realised what an amazing time in history I had travelled through.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was wrapped up in motherhood at that time so a lot of what was happening around the world went over my head. What an amazing experience you had fascinating photos and your poem really evokes the time and place. You get the award for best response to the challenge by far Pauline 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such great photographic memories – and the face in the crowd is amazing serendipity! Looking back and realizing that you were witnessing history is special…and taking the Trans Mongolian Express must have been such a unique adventure too.


    • That was back in the day of film photography and it was hit and miss as there was no instant checking to see if you had got it right and photography was so expensive, buying film then getting it developed. In comparison digital is marvellous


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