St Petersburg awoke this morning to find itself in a state of siege. A more perfect and lovely day never dawned. There were five degrees of frost; the air was crisp and invigorating, and the sky almost cloudless. The gilded domes of the cathedrals and the churches and the frost-encrusted roofs and façades of the houses brilliantly illuminated by the sun formed a superb panorama as I looked out of the hotel windows, wondering what the day would bring forth.
I noticed a significant change in the bearing of the passers by. Instead of flocking up the steps of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, as usual on Sunday morning, they were all silently winding their way, singly or in small groups, in the direction of the Winter Palace. The waiter who brought me my coffee informed me that all was quiet, and certainly when I strolled out later no signs of disorder were visible anywhere. The Grand Morskai and the Nefski Prospect wore their normal Sunday morning aspect, except that fewer women and children were in evidence, and that there was considerably less vehicular traffic than usual.
Joining in the steady stream of working men, I proceeded along the Admiralty Gardens in the direction of the Winter Palace. No observer could help being struck by the look of sullen determination on every face. As the people turning the corners came within view of the Winter Palace they craned their necks, and, with eager eyes directed on the square, attempted to see what was happening. Already a crowd of many thousands had collected, but was prevented from entering the square by mounted troops drawn up across each thoroughfare.
Presently the masses began to press forward threateningly, and the cavalry advanced at a walking pace, scattering the people right and left. Many curious observers at this point, thinking it prudent, disentangled themselves with some difficulty from the constantly swelling crowd, and re-gained their homes. I myself returned to my headquarters. On the way I passed several military patrols, and in the side streets I saw many companies of soldiers, with arms piled, joking and laughing, having wrestling bouts, and going through a pantomime of knouting each other. Others were noisily gossiping round large fires kindled in the middle of the street.
Event has succeeded event with such bewildering rapidity that the public is staggered and shocked beyond expression. Down to the last moment no one seemed to believe that anything serious was likely to happen. Clinging to their traditional trust in the efficiency of the knout, people shrugged their shoulders, and said that there would probably be a few scuffles, but that the demonstrators would be easily dispersed. Within a space of two hours the city has been plunged into a state of open revolution.
[The events in St Petersburg became known as Bloody Sunday. The report above is an edited extract from the Manchester Guardian– click here for the full article.]