Grigorii Rasputin and Oswald Raynor
The following article is from the October 20th, 2013 edition of The Birmingham Mail. The author Paul Cole owns the copyright presented below.
Historians believe Smethwick-born British agent Oswald Rayner wielded gun that fired fatal bullet
Popular myth has it that sinister Russian monk Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, shot several times by his rivals and finally drowned in the river.
Not so, say modern historians investigating the mysterious death of the mystic who had the Romanovs under his spell until his murder in 1916.
They believe he was shot dead by a British spy – from Smethwick , in Sandwell, just west of Birmingham
Experts say the fatal shot, from a Webley revolver, was fired by Oswald Rayner, a British Intelligence agent.
The near-supernatural stories spun by the authorities in the aftermath of Raputin’s were to hide Britain’s role in the killing.
“Of all the strange and unlikely claims you will hear, this is the unlikeliest of them all,” says Dr Chris Upton, Reader in Public History at Newman University, Birmingham. “That the man who killed Rasputin – the mad monk and guru of the Russian court – came from Smethwick.
“Yes, I hear you say, and Peter the Great once had a shop in Harborne. But suspend your disbelief and I’ll lay the evidence before you.
“It’s 1916, and the Great War is devouring nations and manpower across Europe. Lined up on the battlefield are the central powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary, and facing them the British, the French and the Russians.
“But Russia is on the point of political and economic meltdown, and its leaders split over its continued participation in the war.
“On the one side of this debate stands the Tsarina, with her reputed German sympathies; on the other men like Felix Yusupov, flamboyant businessman and nephew to the Tsar, and the Grand Duke Dimitri Romanov, who perhaps has ambitions to be Tsar himself.
“Neither the British nor the German governments could remain entirely impartial in all this. Should Tsar Nicholas pull out of the war, a third of a million Russian soldiers would be removed from the eastern front, tipping the balance towards the Central Powers.”
At the centre of this tangled web, says Dr Upton, was the man British Intelligence called ‘Dark Forces’, the Siberian mystic and faith-healer Grigori Rasputin, who had found favour at the top table.
His apparent ability to treat the Crown Prince Alexei for his haemophilia gave him extraordinary and unbridled influence with the Romanovs. It was said that Rasputin was chief among those who wished for peace with Germany.
“There was a queue of people, then – Russian as well as British – who would like to rid them of this turbulent priest,” says Dr Upton.
“All this might seem a far cry from the young boy who was born the son of a local draper in Soho Street, Smethwick, in 1888. But Oswald Rayner was a bright lad, and in 1907 he won a place at Oriel College, Oxford, to study modern languages.
“By the time he left university Oswald was highly proficient in French, German and Russian. He had also formed a close – some say homosexual – relationship with the same Felix Yusupov, who was at University College, and happened to be a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club.
“Rayner was initially called to the Bar, but his linguistic skills made him much more useful elsewhere, and in 1915 he was recruited by the Army and sent to Petrograd by MI6.
“Here, he teamed up with a little coterie of British agents, and was also able to renew acquaintances with his old chum, Yusupov.
“Here, too, Rayner would have heard of the plot to kill Rasputin. The monk was lured to Yusupov’s palace in St Petersburg on the night of December 29, 1916, and brutally murdered. According to the popular version of the story, Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, shot several times and finally drowned in the Nevka.
“The reality is that only two of these were correct –he was certainly beaten with a cosh and shot, and then his body dumped in the river. Unfortunately for the plotters, the river ice prevented the body’s disposal, and it was later recovered.
“The Tsar himself was convinced that British agents had a hand in Rasputin’s death, and told the British ambassador as much. Two recent books by Michael Smith and Richard Cullen have come to the same conclusion, arguing that Rayner’s link with Yusupov was the central pivot of the plot.
“Cullen argues that Rasputin’s post-mortem examination showed evidence of three gunshots, from three different firearms. And the final fatal shot, from a Webley revolver, was fired by Oswald Rayner himself.”
As Russia disintegrated into revolution, none of the perpetrators ever faced trial. Rayner continued to work for British Intelligence for the next few years, both in Russia and in Sweden.
And in 1927 the spy collaborated with Yusupov on the translation of his friend’s book, Rasputin: His Malign Influence and Assassination – which failed to mention British involvement.
Rayner went on to become Foreign Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and died in 1961 in the Oxfordshire town of Botley.
© Birmingham Mail. 21 October, 2013