Mr Korolkoff’s Cossack Troupe

Tucked into the cover of the 1965 Women’s Institute scrapbook, lent by Anna Blomfield, were some photos of people and horses, with this note:

Mr Korolkoff’s Cossack Troupe

Mr Korolkoff lived in the Wye, Lower Rads End, and wintered the horses in the Falcon Barn, and exercised the horses in the field that belonged to the Mund, when the Jennings family lived there. Many local children were taught to ride by them.
That note, on the back of an envelope in the cover of a scrapbook, has led to a delightful tale of adventure and derring-do.

How this page came about

I (EJW) didn’t know anything about this story, and didn’t know who owned the photos I found, let alone who owned the copyright in them. I put this page up with a short description. Three different people from France to Canada found this page online and wrote asking for and offering more information. Julia Da Costa, from England, sent photos. So, I put a note in the printed version of the Eversholt parish magazine in February 2012 asking for help, and had two splendid replies.
Marion Smith of Old Water End, Eversholt, provided her scrapbook with an article from the local papers in 1972. And Terry and Chris Hawkes of Rads End, Eversholt, came forward to say they were owners of the photographs, and would I like to see some more? Marion and later Terry and Chris came round for tea and cake in March 2012, lent their documents for copying, and gave their permission for publication.
Since then, more people have been in touch – we’ve had more comments received about this page than any other on the website! In January 2013, Pat Manning (that’s Patricia, not Patrick!) contacted us to say that she’d mentioned the Cossacks on the “history” page at the Croydon Road Recreation Ground, Beckenham, website. And she’s linked to his page from there! That’ll at least double the number of links to this website…
Thank you very much, Anna, Marion, Terry, Chris, Julia, everyone, for your generous help!
 
Several people have asked for more information about the troupe. We’re trying to get it together! PLEASE, if you’d like to know more, or you do know more, Please leave a message using the comments form at the bottom of this page! We’ll put you all in touch with one another. Members of the troupe include someone called Georges Doudine, 1902-1948, and Damba Oultchinoff, who was alive in 1947.
Click the photos here for much larger copies.

Georges Korolkoff

DSC_0411a
This picture is believed to be Georges Korolkoff (although nobody is quite sure!) Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.

 

Georges Korolkoff was a well-connected and well-respected member of the Russian gentry, if not aristocracy, before the revolution. He fled Bolshevism – the date is not known – and turned up in London, where he met and married Cicely. Terry Hawkes remembers visiting them at home and seeing wonderful pictures of Cicely as a debutante, so she must have been well-off too. Terry says that her impression was that Cicely thought the glamourous and dashing Russian a great catch.
Cicely and Georges lived in The Wye and Alec Boulanoff lived in a caravan around the corner in the yard of the Falcon pub. Alec was something like Georges Korolkoff’s batman. They’d been together a long time. Alec lived in the caravan because it was next to the stables where the horses lived when they weren’t on the road, and the horses were very valuable. The caravan was as much guardhouse as home.
All sorts of people came to visit and stay. Various members of the troupe, and other more mysterious people. Georges was in contact with and perhaps sponsored by and even financed by a variety of other Russian exiles. Georges and Cicely often asked others around to take these visitors in and provide meals, and some stayed with Terry.
 This picture shows one of the mysterious visitors. The man on the left holding the daggers is unknown. Next comes Alec Boulanoff. Terry Hawkes called the next chap, in the suit, "Georges's Swiss Benefactor" and he was apparently another Russian exile of considerable means. The fourth man on the right may be Georges Korolkoff but nobody is sure. Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.
This picture shows one of the mysterious visitors. The man on the left holding the daggers is unknown. Next comes Alec Boulanoff. Terry Hawkes called the next chap, in the suit, “Georges’s Swiss Benefactor” and he was apparently another Russian exile of considerable means. The fourth man on the right may be Georges Korolkoff but nobody is sure.
Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.

In August 2016, Mike Protzenko wrote to say:

“I do have information about the individual that is in the photograph under the Georges Korolkoff heading, in the picture the man on the left with daggers was Ivan Sopilniak. He was part of a troupe that was in Paris 1925, that General Shkuro started. My father Sergei Protzenko came from Bulgaria to Paris with him and 3 other Kuban Cossacks. They performed in Paris, England, Scotland and Ireland.
After the tour was over they returned to Paris and formed new troupes, 2 troupes came to the United States from the original group. A troupe joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show that was headed by, Prince Andronikov and Georgian Prince, and General Savitsky a Cossack that was part of the Tsar’s Imperial guard. Part of troupe was Afansee Boulanoff, in the ships manifest the SS Berengaria his name is spelled (Boulanoff Atanaszi), the arrived on March 26, 1926.
My father Sergei Protzenko and Alexander Melnikoff a Don Cossack, formed another troupe that toured New York, “Maddison Square Gardens”, Cleveland Ohio, and Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The came to the US on the SS France May 12, 1926. They also had a contract with MGM Studio’s to be part of a movie The Cossack in 1928.”

Thanks very much, Mike! So the photo shows Ivan Sopilniak, Alec Boulanoff, “George’s Swiss benefactor”, and Georges Korolkoff. Now we only have to identify the mysterious chap in the suit.

Alec Boulanoff or Afansee Boulanoff or Afanasse Boulanoff or Afanase Boulinof

Following an appeal in the March 2012 About Eversholt for more information, Marion Smith of Old Water End generously came forward with her family scrapbook. She had several articles about Eversholt, one of which was this. It’s a newspaper cutting from “The Evening Post” for Friday, January 14, 1972. What Evening Post isn’t quite clear! Anyone know? But “Dick Dawson” wrote this. [It will still be in copyright, if anyone knows who owns the copyright to this article or the photos, please let me know.]

Alec beat the cowboys at their own game for he’s a brilliant horseman, like every Cossack

It was a nostalgic occasion for 74-year-old Afansee Boulanoff when he went with the Eversholt branch of the Royal British Legion to see Tom Arnold’s Robinson Crusoe on Ice at Wembley Pool this week. For, several years after the last war, Mr Boulanoff — or Alec as he is known in the village — worked with Tom Arnold’s circus as a trick horse rider. It was a familiar pastime for him, because he is a Don Cossack from Russia, and was an accomplished rider by the time he was five years old. Now he has retired, and lives in a caravan behind the Red Lion at Whits End.
And his popularity with the villagers was shown by his election to the Royal British Legion — even though he never served in the British forces. Alec was born on the Don, in the heart of Cossack country. He went to school on a horse, and there learnt how to fight with lance and sabre. “It was a great place in those days. All the time there was music, everybody played sport and rode horses.” In 1914 he volunteered for the Eighth Cossack Regiment, and fought against the Germans. When the Bolshevik Revolution broke out in 1917 Alec went home, and later joined the White Russian Army. After a spell of fighting he was captured by the Bolsheviks.
“The Red Army commissar told me that if I Joined them I would be I forgiven. If I refused I would be sent to I the mines in Siberia. So I joined them.”. He was sent off to fight the Poles, and rose to the rank of Squadron Commander in the Red Army before he deserted, and crossed over the border into Germany. Later, he moved to France and joined the Cossacks, who were billed as The Show of 1,000 Thrills and Infinite Variety. “We had a very successful tour in America, and when we got to Chicago we took on the cowboys in a contest of equestrian skill. “They were quite good but not up to our standards. We beat them by 32 points to 18,” he said.
After Chicago, Alec crossed the border illegally into Mexico — but after a few months there he was betrayed by a woman. “It was jealousy about love,” he said. He was deported back to America and spent a month in San Antonio jail before being deported to France. After that he ran a Cossack troupe with a partner, and rode in Billy Smart’s and Chipperfield Circus — appearing at Olympia many times. His beloved Arab stallion, Caid, died at Eversholt in 1957. “Caid died at the age of 27 — he was a wonderful horse. Little children have come right up to him and he would do nothing,” said Alex.
He is now a naturalised Briton, and has no knowledge of what happened to his family in Russia. But he still regards the Russian people as wonderful. “The hospitality was terrific there. If you were ever lost or late, the people in the nearest house would always put you up and refuse any payment,” he said. “I have lost my love of Russia though. “If you told me now I could go back, I would do so and put flowers on my father’s grave. But I would not stay there, I would return to this country.”

 

Afansee Boulanoff as a young man. 1920s?
Afansee Boulanoff as a young man. 1920s?
Afansee Boulanoff aged 74 in 1972.
Afansee Boulanoff aged 74 in 1972.

 

The original newspaper article actually said (twice) that the Red Lion was in “Rags End”, so whether Afansee Boulanoff’s name was spelt correctly would be guesswork. Were it not for this entry from the London Gazette of 11 November 1952 (light reading after tea in the Williams household, y’know)
Boulanoff, Afanasse; Russia; Don Cossack Rider; The Wye, Rads End, Eversholt, near Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. 18 September, 1952.

That is probably his naturalisation application, although the strange website for the London Gazette prevents me confirming this at the moment.

Thank you, Marion, for contributing this.
Alec’s grave is in the churchyard, and he has a gravestone. “AFANASE BOULINOF died 4 Jan 1978 aged 79 years In God’s keeping”
Terry and Chris Hawkes own the photos reproduced below here. They were given them by Dick Hull, neighbour in Rads End. He was given them by Alec Boulanoff. Dick towed Alec’s caravan from the back yard of the Falcon to the back yard of the Red Lion! Who owns the copyright to these is a total mystery – please leave a comment if you know.
 This is the most poignant and most precious. It was Alec's only possession from Ukraine, and shows Alec as a young man with his mother. It could have been taken in 1914 when he joined up with the Cossack regiment, making Alec 16 years old. Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.
This is the most poignant and most precious. It was Alec’s only possession from Ukraine, and shows Alec as a young man with his mother. It could have been taken in 1914 when he joined up with the Cossack regiment, making Alec 16 years old.
Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.
 Alec played the accordion. He's sitting on the step. The chap in front is unknown. Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.
Alec played the accordion. He’s sitting on the step. The chap in front is unknown.
Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.

Georges Doudine

Julia Da Costa writes from the UK to say:
My mother’s sister was married to Georges Doudine who was the same age as Georges Korolkoff and a member of his trick riding troupe, Les Cossaques Djiguites.
Georges Doudine and Georges Korolkoff must have known each other well over many years. My aunt writes of going to see them in London (ie GK and Cicely) in order to have lunch, sign contracts etc.  In one letter she mentions she has “buried the hatchet with Bibi for the sake of our husbands”; maybe Bibi was Cecily’s pet name?  Georges Korolkoff lived in Cambridge Square in the Paddington area of London and later moved to The Wye at Eversholt, an address which is in my aunt’s diary in the early 1940’s.
I don’t know anything about Georges Korolkoff’s origins.  I can only tell you about my uncle who was born in Kiev, South Russia, now Ukraine in 1902.  He fought against the Bolsheviks, left Russia in about 1920, joined the French Foreign Legion in Constantinople  and then got French citizenship.  He spent some years in Paris which may be where he met Georges Korolkoff, or they may have known each other before, or even been related (see later).  They had lost their family and everything they owned and, like many other White Russian emigres, fell back on their horse riding skills to make a living.  Georges Korolkoff was the leader of the troupe and they toured extensively and raised money for Russian aid charities.  I know a few people who saw them perform.
My aunt had a riding school at Upper Austin Lodge, Eynsford, and she and Georges Doudine were married in 1940.  Sadly Georges Doudine died in 1948 and I learned of their life together through her letters.  Like many in the equestrian business at that time, Georges Doudine was declared bankrupt when he died and the documents pertaining to that start to refer to him as Georges Nicolivitch Korolkoff Doudine, whereas previously his passport and French Foreign Legion papers showed his name as just Georges Nicolivitch Doudine.  Obviously he “frenchified” his Russian name when he joined the Legion and lived in France and that possibly explains why Georges Korolkoff’s name is also spelt the French way.

Ann from Canada – yet another contributor, thank you! – confirms that Cecily’s pet name was “Baby” which maybe mutated into Bibi in a Ukrainian – French – English accent!

 "The Cossacks" the well-known crack team of trick horse riders who were in training at Upper Austin Lodge at Eynsford recently, have been getting ready to tour horse shows and fairs throughout the British Isles, and picture shows their captain, Korolkoff, doing his famous "picking up the handkerchief" trick. Cutting from Julia Da Costa. Copyright of this image remains with her.
“The Cossacks” the well-known crack team of trick horse riders who were in training at Upper Austin Lodge at Eynsford recently, have been getting ready to tour horse shows and fairs throughout the British Isles, and picture shows their captain, Korolkoff, doing his famous “picking up the handkerchief” trick.
Cutting from Julia Da Costa. Copyright of this image remains with her.
 Photo of Georges Korolkoff practising the trick shown above. Photo from Julia Da Costa, originally from her Aunt. Copyright of this image remains with Julia Da Costa.
Photo of Georges Korolkoff practising the trick shown above.
Photo from Julia Da Costa, originally from her Aunt. Copyright of this image remains with Julia Da Costa.

 

The Korolkoff Troupe

The troupe on show somewhere in France. The ads around the ground look very French, and the photographer's stamp says Paris, but the rest is unreadable. Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes. Julia Da Costa notes that all the other photos of the Cosaques Djiguites which she has seen have then in dark hats. Maybe this is some other troupe Alec was involved in?
The troupe on show somewhere in France. The ads around the ground look very French, and the photographer’s stamp says Paris, but the rest is unreadable.
Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.
Julia Da Costa notes that all the other photos of the Cosaques Djiguites which she has seen have then in dark hats. Maybe this is some other troupe Alec was involved in?

 

The troupe on show somewhere hot! Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.
The troupe on show somewhere hot!
Photo from Alec Boulanoff via Dick Hull and then Terry and Christopher Hawkes.

 

From the web on Korolkoff’s Cossacks

From the US magazine Billboard, 24 April 1948:
Jack Edelman, who arrived here recently from England, said that he was working out plans to bring Les Cosaques Djigoutes, Cossack troupe [unreadable] by Captain Korolkoff, to the United States early in 1949. The 20-man entourage, which appeared in England and numerous European countries prior to the war, is being reorganised, and Edelman expects to present them as a grandstand feature at fairs in this country. For a number of years the Cossack troupe has been a feature at the international horse show at Olympia in London. Edelman was made troupe representative in this country just prior to his journey to the states.
Korolkoff’s signature is on an autographed program from 1937 for sale on Italian eBay in 2011 for £60. Many items can be found on the web by searching for “Cosaques Djiguites” which seems to be the most common spelling. However, Korolkoff’s name isn’t associated with them much. Maybe there was more than one version of this troupe?
With kind permission of Pat Manning, here’s a snippet from the Friends of Croydon Road Recreation Ground website, Beckenham:
Ralph Hutchings from Chislehurst lived in Village Way after the war and remembers ‘The Cossacks’ performing in Croydon Road Rec. in 1945/46. He writes:
“With regard to The Cossacks – I remember quite clearly that they seemed to have quite small horses, I think that they wore furry hats (the Cossacks not their horses) and were otherwise a bit drab. Four to six lanes were marked out about 150/200 yards long and they raced to a finishing line. For one race, two or three white objects were laid along the lanes at intervals and the riders had lances and had to collect the objects by spearing them. Another race was similar but the objects to be speared were hanging from wooden poles along the line. The highlight was a race, without the lances, when they slid sideways from their horses then under the belly for a moment and up the other side – all at full gallop. It was just as we had seen the Red Indians at the flicks!”

Korolkoff Family History

There’s an immigration record at Ancestry (sorry, subscription required) for someone that looks very likely to be Georges travelling from Harbin, China, to Vancouver, Canada, arriving 29 September 1924. He gave his age as 23, occupation as “farmer”, religion as “orthodox”, and said he could read Russian. He claimed to have paid his own passage, intended to settle in Canada and was travelling to Wetaskiwin, Alberta. He said he had left sisters Vera and Olga behind in Harbin, at an address I found impossible to read. He travelled steerage.
It’s possible that Georges first arrived in the UK on 15 November 1930 from New York. That entry record is for an engineer aged 36 travelling on to Russia, but it could be him.
Georges married Cicely or Cecily M R O Harcum in Paddington in Q2 1939.
Ancestry.com lists Georges Korolkoff in the phone book in Paddington in 1943, Bayswater up to 1948, and The Wye from 1948 onwards (Ridgmont 73).
Georges arrived at Southampton on a boat from South Africa on 12 September 1958. That record gave his date of birth as 22 October 1902. Cecily had arrived on an earlier sailing, 11 July 1958, and gave her occupation as “Artist”.
Georges Korolkoff died in Q3 1959. He is buried in the churchyard of Woburn Sands catholic church, although there is no memorial. He was only 57.
Cecily is listed in the phone book as the subscriber at The Wye from that date on. She continued to use the name Korolkoff until she died.
The cemetery map
The cemetery map
Georges Korolkoff's grave
Georges Korolkoff’s grave

Cecily continued to live at The Wye after Georges’s death. She remarried James Burnes in Q4 1966. Terry Hawkes tells that Cecily met James on a train and that he was eccentric to the extent of having been arrested in Woburn Sands for standing in the road and directing the traffic, pretending to be a policeman! Cecily died, still living at The Wye, in Q1 1997. She was born (according to her death registration) 30 August 1912.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Mr Korolkoff’s Cossack Troupe”

  1. This was very interesting. My father’s sister married Sergei Protzenko and I know very little about his life. So wonderful to find this tidbit of information.

  2. I lived in eversholt until 1954 and can remember them, but was known as the Don Cossacks I can remember them performing on the recreation ground in the late forties or early fifties

Leave a comment for publication