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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Eyewitness: The Hungarian Uprising of 1956
By Arnold Hadwin

Fifty years ago Russian tanks rolled across the border into Hungary to quell an uprising against Soviet rule. It was a tense moment for a world in the grip of the Cold War.

British people were moved by the plight of Hungarian refugees and wanted to help. Arnold Hadwin joined an aid convoy and witnessed the extraordinary events.

The scene in a refugee camp in Austria
Many refugees were forced to congregate in camps

In November 1956, the streets of Budapest were covered in blood.

The dream of the Hungarian people of winning political freedom was shattered by columns of Russian tanks. Thousands were fleeing from the invading soldiers.

I was a young reporter on the Oxford Mail. The plight of the refugees prompted local businessmen to provide the vehicles and drivers for an aid convoy.

Readers of the newspaper donated medical supplies, blankets, clothes and food.

I went along in one of the lorries. It was a 1,000-mile journey across Europe - quite an undertaking in those days.

We were due to hand over the supplies to the Red Cross. The scene that greeted us in a refugee camp in Austria, close to the Hungarian border, was a real eye-opener.

Godsend supplies

I saw bedraggled men, women and children.

Some had swum across icy rivers in the face of Russian machine-guns.

Others had spent nights in the freezing swamps close to the border. Our supplies were a godsend.

We pressed on to the Hungarian border. The guard on the Austrian side of the frontier was reluctant to let us through, but agreed that we could spend 10 minutes in no-man's land.

We drove along a crudely-made road that ran about a quarter of a mile to the Hungarian border post.

The Hungarian guards looked very young, and all carried rifles with bayonets. They wore Russian Army jackets.

Members of the relief convoy are greeted by Hungarian border guards
Many of the Hungarian guards were young

We gesticulated at them, holding up a camera and offering them cigarettes. They came over to have their photographs taken, standing just a few feet inside the Iron Curtain.

The guards were all smiles, and some children gathered, wanting to be in on it. It was a prosaic scene. The sun shone and the children enjoyed the sweets we gave them.

But the refugees who made it across the border into Austria told tragic stories. They had seen great slaughter. Relatives and friends had been killed, and they had few possessions.

Yet their morale was excellent, and they were still able to hold their heads high. We helped many of them write letters to family members in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia.

But most of these refugees did not want to travel far from Hungary because they thought that sooner or later they would be able to regain freedom on their own soil.

Anti-Western 'bitterness'

They believed that a Hungarian colonel, a former defence minister, had taken to the hills with 50,000 partisans, who were ready to fight the Russians wherever they found them. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

I detected a certain bitterness towards the West.

They had heard reports on Western radio stations promising help for Hungary. But there was no help; it was just words.

The words were misleading because this was a Cold War stand-off. We knew it, the Russians knew it. The Hungarians didn't.

Russian propaganda denounced the uprising as counter-revolutionary, a Western bourgeois ploy. Nonsense.

Most of the refugees I spoke to were workers - in the factories, fields and universities.

Arnold Hadwin, today
Arnold Hadwin witnessed the events fifty years ago

Many of them were Marxists, but they objected to being economically and racially subjugated by a Russian colonialist power, which paid lip-service to the brotherhood of man while bleeding Hungary dry.

Many years later, I met one of the refugees who found a home in Britain.

Gabriol Toth was barely 19 at the time of the uprising. He and two friends were stable lads at a riding school in Budapest.

They found themselves being chased by Russian troops. A burst of machine-gun fire killed one of his friends and a bullet hit Gabe's leg, leaving a scar he carried for the rest of his life.

He and his other friend decided to escape to freedom, just two of the thousands of refugees who fled into Austria.

Gabe made a new life in England, and started his own butchery business in Lincoln.

He got married and raised a family. But it was 30 years before he felt able to tell them about his painful memories of the uprising.

Gabe died recently. He was not able to realise his dream of becoming a great Hungarian horseman. But he did find freedom.

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