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Ex-bodyguard to the Czarina
A West Mersea man who served in the Czarina's bodyguard and made a dramatic escape from Russia during the days of the Revolution has died, aged 85.
He was Mr Leo Michael-Smith, of Yorick Road, who died in Essex County Hospital last Thursday.
Mr Michael-Smith served as an officer in the Russian Imperial Guard, and made his escape from a Soviet prison in 1917. Along with other members of his family he came to Britain, much of the journey being made on foot.
Mr Michael-Smith was born in China when his father was working there as a Bank Of Russia official. After arriving in London he took a job with the Foreign Exchange and was later associated with the fur trade. He was naturalised in the 1930s.
Together with his wife he moved to West Mersea during the Second World War when their home in Finchley was bombed. They lived on the houseboat, Othona, at first then became licensees of the White Hart.
They retired from the inn in November 1963 after almost 20 years.
Mr Michael-Smith served on West Mersea Council, was a member of the Yacht Club and a founder member of the Dabchicks Sailing Club. He was also commodore and a trustee of the Dabchicks, and a well-known wild-fowler too.
During the last war Mr Michael-Smith served with the Home Guard at Peldon and reached the rank of lieutenant.
Mr Michael-Smith leaves a widow. The funeral service was at West Mersea Parish Church yesterday.
In 2019 Elaine Barker wrote about Leo Michael-Smith for another article:
Leo was a White Russian and had been born in China in 1898 where his father was employed as a Bank of Russia official. After his father's work came to an end in China the family moved back to St Petersburg where Leo served as an officer in the Russian Imperial Guard. When the Tsar and Tsarina and their family were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in 1917 as a result of the Russian Revolution, Leo was also imprisoned but he escaped and along with his family managed to flee the country, mainly on foot. Leo, his father and brother escaped to Finland while his mother and sister fled to Canada. The whole family reunited in England where Leo became a naturalised citizen of England in 1931, also changing his name by deed poll to Smith. In 1932 he married Winifred with whom he was to eventually run the White Hart pub in West Mersea for the best part of twenty years.
Don Rainbird thinks that, as he was a keen sailor, Leo had met his father, Bruce Rainbird, at the Narrow Seas Club which was founded at Burnham on Crouch in 1932.
Date: October 1983
Photo: Mersea Museum
Image ID IA01_895
Category 1 Mersea-->Pubs
This image is part of the Mersea Museum Collection.